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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.
Despite the limited release, there is no doubt that Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father – a surprisingly pulpy action-revenge-thriller about an ex-con who is dragged into a dangerous war with a violent cartel - will have many talking. Written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, Blood Father offers a lean and – feverishly mean – eighty-eight-minutes of violent brutality that’s paired with exciting action set pieces and one of the best performances we’ve seen Mel Gibson offer in a long time.
The story is centred on John Link (Gibson); an ex-con who has recently been paroled and trying to make some sort of a life for himself in a remote southwestern town. Living in a trailer park, John makes his living by working as a tattoo artist while also battling his addictions in a twelve-step program, supervised by mentor, Kirby (Macy).
Without warning, John soon receives a call from his runaway daughter, Lydia (Moriarty) who is seeking help from her estranged father in getting away from a group of Mexican gangsters, following an accidental shootout where she killed her boyfriend, Jonah (Luna), who was a member of the cartel. Asking to stay with her dad, John is soon pulled into Lydia’s dangerous world of drugs and guns, forcing him to break his parole and hit the road with his daughter whom he will do anything for to protect.
While one could point out the similarities with Taken – where a father with a list of ‘special skills’ is pulled in to save his daughter from harm – Blood Father is a little rougher around the edges and a film that actually takes its time in formulating its characters, sketching out their traits, flaws and dynamics before allowing all hell to break loose. First and foremost, this is a story about a father - a former bad man who is trying to make amends after a lifetime of bad choices – and a daughter – a troubled young woman who has fallen in the hands of a wrong crowd – reuniting once more and reconnecting their bond under the most life-threatening of circumstances.
Their relationship is engaging to watch and the performances from both actors exceed the expectations; Moriarty manages to sell her character well, while Gibson is in his element as a deadbeat ruffian whose tough-as-nails attitude is perfectly balanced with his more sensible and sensitive nature. Paced with incredible precision, the action is exciting– there’s plenty of blood and gore - while the dialogue written is smart and strong enough to carry the movie when the action stops.
The only drawback is that there’s a sense of predictability to the movie, but thanks to the superb directorial execution and Mel Gibson’s outstanding performance, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the overall end result.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.