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13: Ensemble Thriller Lacks Consistency
A desperate and naive young man named Vince (Riley) unwittingly assumes another man's identity only to be sucked into an underground world full of violence and money. Unaware of the consequences, Vince is quickly involved in a gambling ring like no other that he unwillingly becomes a huge part of. The only way out alive is to participate in a series of deadly Russian roulette games.
The idea of betting your life on a game where a gun is aimed at the back of your head is quite intense to say the least. But when the whole story of the film rotates around this concept alone, it actually becomes quite tedious. This remake of French film 13 Tzameti (2005) wavers from the intense to the dull quite consistently.
The storytelling develops nicely though, as we are dragged along with Vince as he is wrongfully mistaken for the assumed character, who he only paraded to be for a chance of making a quick buck. As he gets deeper and deeper into the game, he can't back out or quit, as the consequences of revealing himself could be just as deadly.
Though Riley turned in an acclaimed performance as Joy Division’s front-man Ian Curtis in biopic Control (2007), he is still relatively unknown, but as the lead he does a fine job in pulling you into his intense predicament. The all-action Statham is passable as one of the gamblers, but it’s the first time in a while we haven’t seen him knocking heads together, and he has to fall back on his acting ability alone. Rourke and Winstone are both simultaneously charismatic and brutal as always, while 50 Cent’s performance is over the top to say the least.
Georgian filmmaker Géla Babluani actually wrote and directed the original and the fact that he himself directed the American remake should have been a good omen. Unfortunately, Babluani has consciously made several changes to avoid simply reshooting the same film. It’s a no win situation; adapted screenplays are often criticised for not staying true to their source materials, but at the same time, they can be distorted by an unflinching loyalty.
In conclusion, 13 is a passable thriller, which seems to have lost much of the character that made the original film so popular. Hollywood has often sought to recreate European and Asian films in order to recreate their success. Very few succeed and unfortunately 13 doesn’t join that elite selection; it just doesn't come together as the exciting ensemble piece it could have been.
After what seemed like a string of cinematic flops and creative washouts – yes, we mean you, The Counselor - revered director, Ridley Scott, has returned to form in the grandest of ways, delivering brilliantly-executed and stirring deep-space drama, The Martian.
Adapted to the screen by writer Drew Goddard – see 2012's Cabin in the Woods - The Martian doesn't waste any time before plunging into action, opening up with a violent dust storm hitting Mars, forcing the crew of Ares 3 to abort their mission and evacuate. However, after one of its crew-members - botanist-turned-astronaut, Mark Watney (Damon) - is hit with a large piece of debris and separated from the rest of the team, Captain Melissa Lewis (Chastain) is forced to make the tough call and leave him behind.
Hours later, Mark awakens in a pile of red dust, alone and seriously wounded. With his survival instinct very much intact, Mark quickly realises his predicament, as we follow his struggle for survival – especially considering that the next manned mission is no less than three hours away.
Based on Andy Weir's 2011 best-selling novel of the same name, there is plenty to love about this latest space-odyssey, which is not only distinguished by its stunning technical achievements, but also with a moving story of human strength and survival.
Surprisingly, humour plays a big role in the film and, for what it's worth, it's a welcoming feature to Scott’s work which manages to counterbalance the heavier elements of the plot. Beautifully sketched out, the cinematography is in a league of its own – shot mostly in the Jordanian red desert of Wadi Rum – and the CGI used to intensify the vastness of the red landscape serves to create an epic world within the film.
A perennial easy-to-root-for underdog, Damon offers a wonderfully layered performance – a combination of strength and fragility – and watching him alone on Mars is never dull and always engaging. Meanwhile, his esteemed co-stars – including Jeff Daniels as a NASA director and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the director of the mission– all to fit nicely into the overall plot and are given the space to make a mark.
Hollywood’s approach to space and other similarly sticky cosmic subjects has been under-going a significant change; subtlety, intelligence and scientific accuracy have largely replaced the flash and pizzazz of aliens, et al, and The Martian marks a huge, and much-needed, achievement for Scott and for Damon, whose part further cements his status as one of the biggest actors today.
There is very little connective tissue in F. Gary Gray’s sprawling biopic about one of the most notorious and controversial Gansta’ Rap groups of our time, N.W.A. Written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff and a handful of other largely untested writers, Straight Outta Compton may not be the most cohesive of biographies, though there’s just enough affective material to draw on to pack a small punch.
The story begins in 1986, where we come to know drug dealer, Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright (Mitchell), aspiring DJ, musician and father, Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young, and hip-hop poet, O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson, who – all battling their own struggles – form what becomes N.W.A alongside M.C Ren (Hodge), D.J Yella (Brown Jr.) and The D.O.C (Yates Jr.), with Eazy E’s drug money providing funding. As is so often the case though, fame and success begin to slowly create friction between the members.
Unlike their music – a raw and an explicit depiction of everyday life in the ghetto - Straight Outta Compton feels a little bland in comparison and is almost going through the motions with its story, rarely taking the time to us the larger-than-life moments that could have been better captured. Like so many bipoics, the film seems at a loss as to how to cover so much material in a span of a feature-length film that at 2 hours and 20 minutes is already rather long. As a result the film fails to depict the group’s legacy – it’s a little unfelt.
The performances are quite pedestrian, with the sole exception of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s brilliant portrayal of his father, while even the surprisingly versatile Giamatti isn’t able to assert his role in the overall plot. Nonetheless, Straight Outta Compton has the intangible sense of nostalgia that’s farther emphasised by its larger-than-life characters. It’s a film that needed to be made. We just wish it would have been made better.