Spling reviews Danny Collins, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and The Good Lie as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
Danny Collins stars Al Pacino in the titular role as an aging rock star, who decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year old letter written to him by John Lennon. The film is written and directed by Dan Fogelman, best known as the screenwriter behind Last Vegas, The Guilt Trip and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Fogelman knows how to get a laugh, pull a heart string and entertain an audience. His latest film proves he can do that from the director's chair, creating a number of parallels for Al Pacino to bring us one of his better performances in the last few years as Danny Collins.
Pacino plays a Tom Jones type singer, whose "Babydoll" track has become a lynchpin legacy, propelling him to stardom and sustaining his decades long career. It's like he was sold on the idea based on Michael Douglas reinvigorating his acting career with a Golden Globe for his take on Liberace in Behind the Candelabra.
He's supported by a strong cast including: Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale. Bening takes on a Diane Keaton type role as an age appropriate love interest, Plummer is the pick of the supporting cast as the long-time manager, Garner serves up a devoted mom and Cannavale adds a layer of meloncholy as an overshadowed and disgruntled working class hero.
While the bittersweet tones tilt in favour of comedy over drama, Pacino carries the film with a charming and sincere performance as the man with many regrets trying to find some late-in-the-game forgiveness. While we go with it, his quest to rewind and "keep it real" does come across as self-serving given his hedonistic track record.
"Guys... give peace a chance, just like starting over, we all shine on."
Danny Collins hinges on a life-changing letter from John Lennon. While this catalyst does provide a conceptual backbone and necessitate a John Lennon soundtrack, it also serves to undermine the film and divide audiences as we try to get to grips with his sudden conversion to Lennonism.
We believe he wants to make right with the world, but how superficial do you have to be in order for one long lost letter from a quasi-spiritual leader to awaken you from decades of living it up and not giving a damn? To make matters worse, Lennon's soulful music is too good for Danny Collins, leaving a gaping chasm between the film's sitcom reality and the music's timeless quality.
For the most part, Pacino manages to schmooze over the kinks playing a variation of his own career with enough star quality and finesse to sell the concept. We're convinced he's been there and done that based on a reasonable opening performance and his own standing as a screen legend.
Unfortunately, his performance doesn't really make up for the celebrity bus-load of schmaltz surrounding his "patter" with a hotel manager, reinvigorating his music career with a piano and trying to win over his estranged family with money and influence. The interactions are sweet and good-natured, but come across as somewhat cheesy and affected instead of transformative.
Danny Collins is pretty harmless and affable stuff, peppering us with product placements and the odd chuckle surrounding his age, washed out fame and contrasts between his new and old life. The comedy drama aims at the Baby Boomers, throwing Pacino and Lennon nostalgia into a sentimental movie about making peace with your self before shuffling off.
Hit Team is a dark comedy caper from director Mark Newton. The film follows the misadventures of an odd couple hit team, who are sent to Los Angeles to kill six people in one day. They find themselves being hunted by their Las Vegas mob boss and his goons after they miss a hit.
Nothing is serious or revered in the world of the ridiculous and somewhat distasteful Hit Team. This low budget hit man flick hurtles along at a quick pace with high-energy performances. It's like one of those short films scripted and voiced by kids, except they've grown up. The jokes are hit-and-miss, the tone is moronic and everything about Hit Team feels like it was originally intended to be animated. The insane, cartoonish antics make it seem as though everyone's role model is Ace Ventura.
It's goofy, over-the-top fun and you can't help but be impressed with how wholeheartedly every actor on the team is going with it. The naive tone and extreme silliness do start to wear thin and eventually you find yourself waiting for a wink to break the fourth wall. The high-energy idiocy is quite contagious as Hit Team enters the so-bad-its-almost-good category of film. Hit Team thrives on beautiful babes, coarse language, fart jokes, frequent references to necrophilia and some really over-the-top dialogue.
"Still want me to put some lead in that pencil?"
Screenwriter and co-lead, Myles McLane, plays the annoying yet pitiful Max. He's a reprobate, an ineffective hit man with the hots for his partner, Ruthie. McLane goes full tilt with animated expressions and boundless Jack Russell energy that keep him entertaining in a Dumb & Dumber kind of way. He's counterbalanced by Emerald Robinson as a kick-ass "Nikita" in Ruthie, whose no-nonsense approach, perpetual job satisfaction and bodacious looks ironically just demand more unwanted attention.
The odd couple run through the City of Angels, creating more, as they pick off one target after another in the most idiotic fashion. Their wild gun-slinging and spree of kills is done with reckless abandon as they attract the attention of competing cop partners, who are just as certifiably insane. Max and Ruthie keep checking in with their musical mob boss, Michael Cunningham, played by Douglas Macpherson, whose Jon Lovitz vibe makes him adorably insane alongside his ditsy bunny.
Hit Team could be a lot of fun, especially if you're planning on inviting a bunch of friends round to watch a dumb movie on purpose. The manic energy and over-the-top antics do run their course, but it thrives on the amusement generated from seeing the filmmakers and cast sticking to their guns. There's not much gore, especially when you consider the number of kills, which are drawn out by much bungling.
This crime caper is nothing more than an excuse to be silly. It's entertaining by virtue of its enthusiastic bungling and animated hijinx, which help smooth its plethora of flaws from script to sound. There's a market for Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, so why can't they extend to wildly dumb caper comedies like Hit Team?
Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is an Afrikaans mystery drama based on the '80s television series of the same name. After acclaimed author, Jacques Rynhard, goes missing, an aspiring journalist attempts to find out what became of him. As our intrepid journalist sets out on a mission to get dirt on the talented man, she uncovers a series of stories from those close to Rynhard as flashbacks rise to the surface.
The film adaptation is contemporary, maintaining aspects from the original series and moving the 20 year gap to have Rynhard's childhood relayed from the '90s. This is a sprawling epic, deftly balancing the past and present as we learn of a talented author's troubled and character-building story.
Quentin Krog brings his acting experience to the fore as director on Ballade vir 'n Enkeling, getting his cast to deliver their best. While DonnaLee Roberts, Christia Visser, Miles Petzer and Edwin van der Walt shine the brightest, the entire ensemble are mostly convincing with one or two perceived lapses. The unevenness isn't enough to derail the film and can be ascribed to the screenplay's jittery third act.
DonnaLee Roberts is sleek, beautiful and determined as Carina Human. Christia Visser has an enigmatic quality as wild child, Lena. Miles Petzer embodies Gert with relentless menace, while Edwin van der Walt's gritty and soulful performance as young Jacques is quietly powerful. Armand Aucamp's likable charisma and good looks have their place, while Cindy Swanepoel's boisterous and spirited fun is infectious.
"I really thought you would've chosen Piña coladas."
After a steady build-up, a number of reveals betray the characters, their motivations and ultimately the audience as a series of contrivances twist-and-turn the story into melodrama. It is based on a TV series and this strange and almost vapid departure opens up more questions than it answers.
Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is largely redeemed by its mesmerising cinematography from Tom Marais. The sense of movement and space adds to the sprawling feel across generations. The poetic quality to the mystery is ever-present and while perhaps there are one or two over-wrought moments, every frame is well thought out and holds artistic merit.
This is carried through in the production values, opting for realistic locations and accurate settings that translate into beautiful backdrops. Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is probably not as suspenseful as it should have been, but manages to lure us in with its atmosphere of regret and wistful romance.
While intriguing, absorbing and at times quite immersive, the film runs too long, almost reinventing itself at one point with a bullying subplot that could have been an entirely different spin-off movie. There are brilliant moments where performance, editing, story and cinematography lace together quite majestically. Yet, the film undermines these with some tinny, confusing story interchanges.
While flawed, Ballade vir 'n Enkeling is still an intriguing, moving and beautifully composed South African mystery drama. Quentin Krog manages to unearth some moving and powerful moments, which are carried forth by Tom Marais's cinematography and some key performances. It's a curious and grand dust land tale, swathed in great beauty, threatened by rusty cogs and powered home by angst-riddled passion.