Triple 9

Director: John Hillcoat (2016)

This confused crime drama is a loose tissue of tattoos, muscles and machismo.

Despite the violence, very strong language, drug use and nudity, the lack of focus and ambivalent moral stance makes for an un-involving experience.

Too many minor characters slow the pace and the moody lighting fails to illuminate the blunt action scenes.

Kate Winslet gives tremendous vamp as a glossy Russian-Israeli mafia mol who blackmails a crew of corrupt cops into one last heist.

The gang leader is Michael who’s played  by Chiwetel Ejiofor, an actor rarely given to compromising his character’s intensity in return for popularity.

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul appears as a loose cannon with a drug problem. Again.

Full of epic ambition and clearly influenced by Michael Mann’s far superior Heat (1995), director Hillcoat had a much firmer grip of his material with the taut Australian western The Proposition (2005).

 

Steve Jobs

Director: Danny Boyle (2015)

A terrifically talented cast are in perfect sync in this biopic of Steve Jobs, the charismatic and complex founder of the technology giant Apple Inc.

It’s as smooth, sleek and as tightly engineered as one of their computers or iPhones, but has problems with it’s memory and crashes at the worst possible time.

A binary figure who considered his employees to be with him or looking for a new errr, job, the Apple chief died in 2011.

Ashton Kutcher played him in the poorly recieved Jobs (2013) and he is rebooted here in a perfectly calibrated performance from Michael Fassbender.

Far from PC, he’s a bullying, vindictive and paranoid, a control freak with a messiah complex who inspires a noisy devotion in his disciples.

The university dropout was neither an engineer or a designer but was blessed with an intuitive understanding there are vast amounts of money to be earned through brand design and marketing.

Plus trapping his customers into an operating system incompatible with competing systems or products creates slaves of his customers.

This obsession with creating a closed operating system reflects Jobs emotional inner life. The prophet of the future surrounds himself with an  emotional firewall.

In contrast, sociable Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who wants to create a more flexible, adaptable open system, while urging Jobs to acknowledge the role others have played in the success of the company.

They produced a computer so intuitive to use a five year old could begin to use it without instruction, the five year old being his daughter Lisa, played by Makenzie Moss.

The script is intelligent, sharp and scorchingly funny in its early stages, there’s no romance, sex or violence, except for when Jobs downloads a torrent of abuse on his colleagues, friends and family.

It’s a typically well-researched work by scriptwriter of the Facebook movie The Social Network (2010) Aaron Sorkin. He’s smart enough to wittily flag up the limitations of the structure.

Framed as a three act play, each act focusses on the press launch of a new Apple product: the expensive first Macintosh computer in 1984, the disastrous NeXT in 1988 and the revolutionary classic iMac in 1998.

As Jobs is celebrated, sacked and rises again the drama stalls.

A lack of a martyr makes for a dull finale as the self-mythologising messiah is allowed his moment of destiny defining redemption.

Ridley Scott‘s astonishing Orwellian themed TV advert for Macintosh is seen and discussed.

But it’s never pointed out the Big Brother imagery invoked to attack his rivals products could easily be used to criticise Jobs and Apple itself.

He is creepily aware of the small details of his colleagues’ lives. They form a dysfunctional surrogate family.

Kate Winslet sports a Polish accent and some unfortunate fashions as Joanna, Jobs’ head of marketing and his ‘work wife’. It says something about a corporation when the marketing department represents its compassionate soul.

Jeff Daniels is father figure John Sculley, the ill-fated CEO of Apple against whom Jobs rebels. Seth Rogen plays his ‘bro’ Wozniak.

Few directors possess director Danny Boyle’s consummate command of music to accentuate the visual drama, or have his ability to cajole convincing performances out of young children.

Though Boyle’s attempts to add some visual dynamism through his restless camerawork, he can’t illuminate the dark confines of a dialogue heavy script.

An early girlfriend aside any reference to Jobs’ romantic life is absent. The huge job cuts he instigated on his triumphant return to the company are glossed over.

Coldly calculating in it’s refusal to condemn Jobs for his sins smacks of legal compromise. It’s not possible to libel the dead but one suspects Apple employ extraordinarily expensive lawyers to police it’s brand.

By the end we’re far from convinced of Jobs’ genius, as his only identifiable talent seems to be in rude manipulation, at which he is extraordinary.

A Little Chaos

Director: Alan Rickman (2015)

When love is planted in Versailles, it takes blooming forever to flower in this wilting period drama.

As a pair of lovelorn gardeners work together to build the King an outdoor ballroom, the intrigues of the royal court and professional rivalries threaten their budding romance.

A far more serious impediment to happiness is his adherence to classicism in contrast to her embrace of modernism – but surely love will overcome these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

It’s Paris in 1682 and King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) has announced he will build a palace at Versailles. Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) is the gloomy landscape gardener commissioned to realise the King’s grandiose vision.

Despite being the son of France’s most famous gardener, Andre needs assistance to complete an outdoor ballroom before the King arrives for an inspection – so he tenders out the work.

Widowed gardener Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) applies but is brusquely dismissed for incorporating chaos in her designs. But after one fleeting glimpse at Sabine’s private garden, Andre’s creative sap rises and he is inspired to offer her a job.

As well as being knowledgeable in horticulture and engineering, Sabine is well up for getting down and filthy. But the weather is against her and before anyone can say ‘Titanic‘, she’s up to he knees in mud and up to her neck in water.

Sabine’s immersed in her work to compensate for a childless life. Andre has lank hair and is trapped in a Byron-esque baggy shirt and an unhappy marriage to his rampant pest of a spouse, Francoise (Helen McCrory).

Tasteful sincerity, a talented cast and handsome costumes get bogged down in mannered and misjudged direction, forcing an unsmiling cast go about their work with grim conviction and making it unnecessarily hard work for us to like or sympathise with the characters.

There’s a carriage-coach crash, some jealousy, a bit of plotting, off-hand affairs and plenty of digging. The orchestra is on over-time, ushering emotions on and off stage.

As French labourers saunter off-site for croissants and coffee, it’s difficult to distinguish between pre-arranged professional sabotage and the natural French proclivity against hard work.

When women gather they compete with tales of child-rearing woe like a female version of Monty Python’s four Yorkshireman sketch.

The script assumes some knowledge of France geography – such as the distance between Paris and Versailles – then abandons it’s use allowing characters pop up at a moments notice with news and plots from afar. Or maybe a-near. Who knows?

Steven Waddington appears as a rough-voiced groundsman called Duras. He offers moral and practical support like a chaste Mellors from Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

McCory is full of anger, jealousy and brittle self-loathing but her character seems to have wandered in from Dangerous Liaisons by mistake. Stanley Tucci prances in on turbo-camp for a couple of scenes bringing much needed humour but little drama.

Schoenaerts performance is extraordinarily dull and Winslet – amazingly – isn’t much better. The fleeting moments of quality are in the rare scenes where she and Rickman appear together.

It is in these stagey moments Rickman the director is on confident ground, allowing Rickman the actor to demonstrate his consummate ability and stagecraft. Though it’s reflects poorly on Rickman that he makes Winslet play straight-man to his sad clown of a King.

Rickman unashamedly crowbars his character into proceedings. The King hears confession, absolves guilt and hands out directives for future behaviour, creating an environment where love can blossom.

It’s similar to the role played by Queen Elizabeth I (Judi Dench) in Shakespeare in Love – though I doubt Rickman will win an Oscar for his work here.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Director: Robert Schwentke (2015)

Welcome back to the future for the glossy second instalment of the dystopian action adventure quadrilogy.

Renegade heroine Tris returns to face a series of tests – but the biggest threat to success is herself.

Containing all the strengths and weaknesses of the first film, it balances handsome design and two great female performances with indifferent dialogue, silly stunts and a tiresome abundance of teenage posturing.

The decaying walled city is beautifully realised and accompanying uniforms, guns, trucks and technology are all heavily convincing.

Beginning where the last film ended, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story before being thrust into the action.

Society is divided into five factions, each with it’s own role. Tris (Shailene Woodley) qualifies for more than one faction and therefore as a Divergent she is considered a threat to society.

Tris and her brother Caleb (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) are now outlaws. They’re hiding in the peaceful pastoral faction of Amity along with her boyfriend Tobias and friend Peter (Theo James and Miles Teller). It’s a creepy commune of niceness.

Guilt-ridden over her parent’s death, Tris suffers nightmares and scalps her hair in a self-harming act of penance. Her self-prescribed therapy for her anger is to take plenty of physical punishment through the film.

Back in the city, evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has obtained a box containing secrets that belonged to Tris’s mother.

In order to unlock it’s secrets, victims have black suspension cables plugged into them and are put into a dream-state. In this condition they have to pass five tests – one for each Faction.

We see their subconscious go maximum Inception with exploding digital buildings galore – and death in their dream means they die for real.

Realising only a Divergent will possess the qualities to open it, Jeanine sends sneering Dauntless commander Eric Coulter (Jai Courtney) to hunt down the renegades. She is convinced Tris is the best candidate and is determined to capture her.

His crack troops no know fear, no danger and no tactics – they can’t see a wall without abseiling down it and striking ferocious moonlit action poses. There’s lots of train-hopping action but despite a lot of fighting, there’s a general absence of blood or bruises.

Chased by Dauntless, the four split up. Peter turns traitor, Caleb goes home and Tris and Tobias plan to kill Jeanine.

En route they are captured by the Factionless – now a heavily armed rebel force lead by Tobias’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She asks them to join up. But when Jeanine implants her friends with remote controlled suicide devices, Tris has a difficult choice to make

Winslet wears a killer electric blue dress and Woodley aside has so much more presence than her co-stars. It’s a wonder she can’t crush the rebellion with a single exasperated sigh.

Woodley carries the film with a combination of physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It’s great to see two actresses in roles defined by their actions and not their gender – it’s a shame the film’s not deserving enough of them.

It’s a good job Theo James is so buff and handsome as he’s more than a little dull. He and Woodley share strikingly little chemistry – there’s far more spark between Woodley and Teller and even between Teller and Winslet. Teller’s strutting wind-up-merchant is the only engaging male performance.

No matter how hard the film works to surprise us – and it does work very hard – nothing ever throws us off balance as it prettily plods to the third instalment.

Analysis: Why Johnny Depp flopped with Mortdecai

Mortdecai, the new star vehicle for Johnny Depp has received poor reviews and is expected to bomb at the box office this weekend.

The camp caper centres around the adventures of a moustachioed aristocratic art dealer.

It co-stars Gywneth Paltrow,  Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany – all great performers on their day in their own way – but none could be considered to be box office dynamite.

And nor any more is Depp.

With an A list celebrity status the one-time as the clown prince of the Indie circuit, the fifty-one year old actor is now best known for playing a pantomime pirate.

Last year his woeful $100 million sci–fi flick Transcendence took only $103m gross worldwide on a budget of $100 million.

Lets not forget the ahem, train wreck that was The Lone Ranger: $260m from a $215m budget.

Prior to those The Rum Diary took $24m on a $45m budget.

Those first figures are the global gross takings, for a clearer picture of how truly awful they are one must first deduct the cinemas 50% cut. Nor does the production include the global promotion costs which on The Lone Ranger was guesstimated to be $50m or so. ($30m is reckoned to be a more realistic figure for most films.)

So Production $260m plus promotion $50m multiplied by 2 (accounting for the cinema’s 50%) equals the break-even figue for The Lone Ranger. That’s $620m – well over half a billion dollars – against a $215m return.

Ouch.

But why has Depp’s Hollywood star dimmed so much?

Broadly speaking, when confronted by a dozen choices at the local multiplex, the over 40 crowd will choose a movie depending on who it stars e.g. George Clooney, Sandra Bullock or even Johnny Depp.

Whereas the under 30’s will head towards recognisable franchises; a Fast Furious film, a  Marvel superhero adventure or even a Pirates Of The Caribbean.

An Indie star with a small but loyal following, Depp hit the break-out blockbuster jackpot as Captain Jack Sparrow in the mainstream Pirates franchise.

But Depp’s ageing fan base isn’t sufficiently large enough to take a mega–budget film into profit by itself and younger cinema-goers don’t care about him or his non-franchise films.

So he has big success with Pirates but not so much with the The Tourist. That co-stared Angelina Jolie who has had spectacular success last year with Maleficent so it’s possible to imagine it was she not he who pulled in the punters for that one.

Depp’s only other recent films to make serious money are those directed by Tim Burton. And then only when based on a much loved book such Alice In Wonderland or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

But look what happened to Burton’s Depp-starring remake of TV show Dark Shadows. 

Budget $150m plus $30m x2 = break-even of $360m. Worldwide gross was $246m.

Ouch again.

You have to go back ten long years for Depp’s last unqualified success that wasn’t a Pirates or a Burton film. That was 2004’s Finding Neverland, which yes, was based on a much loved book and co-starred Kate Winslet.

His starring roles immediately prior to that were Secret Window (2004) From Hell and Blow (both 2001) , all of which struggled to cover their costs – even on their mid-price budgets.

So it’s no real surprise that Mortdecai, a film with no existing franchise base, a familiar title or a big name director flops.

Depp has been great before, he’s been pretty good very recently, lets hope he can be great again.

But lets’s forget the silly moustache next time, eh Johnny?

All figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo