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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.
Many were concerned that Disney’s revisit to the story of Jungle Book would find it hard to be as fun or as magical as the original. Luckily, however, with an excellent voice cast and an impressive array of visuals, The Jungle Book is something of a technical marvel which manages to retain the heart and the essence of the story’s long-established roots.
Mowgli (Sethi) is a young boy - a.k.a ‘man-cub’ - who was found abandoned in the Indian jungle by a panther named Bagheera (voiced brilliantly by Kingsley) when he was only a toddler. Brought up by a wolf pack - led by leader Akela (Esposito) - Mowgli has been accepted as one of the jungle’s own.
However, there’s one member of the jungle who’s not so keen on having a human living in their midst; vicious Bengal tiger, Shere Khan (the absolutely magnificent Edris Elba), worries that the boy will soon grow into a ruthless man who will bring nothing but destruction and devastation to them all. Coming to the conclusion that it’s in everyone’s best interest if he leaves, Mowgli embarks on a journey through the jungle where he meets and quickly befriends a friendly bear named Baloo (the always excellent Bill Murray) who convinces the young boy to stay, as he finds himself returning home to face Khan.
Infusing the story with plenty of heart and an incredible sense of visual grandeur, director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks pull together elements from both the Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation and Rudyard Kipling’s original collection of stories to great effect. In addition, there are refreshingly darker, less happy-go-lucky moments throughout the film, with Elba’s chief antagonist, Khan, being astonishingly affective as the villain of the piece, while Johansson’s Kaa is just as hair-raising.
The brilliant voice performances, which give their gorgeously rendered and astonishingly real-looking CGI-generated characters plenty of personality, charm and wit, is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the story, with Elba and Murray coming out on top as the most scene-stealing of the bunch. Sethi is equally wonderful as the young Mowgli, filling his character with plenty of genuine childlike wonder, while Walken is absolutely superb as the singing Gigantopithecus, King Louie.
Wonderfully told and gorgeous to look at, The Jungle Book is not only a marvellous technical achievement in filmmaking, but a commendable and surprising achievement in storytelling.
Saddled with an overworked air of mystery that turns into vagueness and a little too much of a sullen atmosphere for its own good, Michael Petroni’s Backtrack finds one seemingly committed and haunted-looking Adrien Brody a little lost for guidance in how to bring about this effectively moody, but not at all frightening ghost-fest fiasco to light.
Set and shot in Australia, Backtrack tells the story of a troubled psychotherapist, Peter Bower (Brody sporting a relatively decent Aussie accent), who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start with wife, Carol (Baird), after the loss of their young daughter Elvie (O’Farrell) to an incident caused by his own negligence. Unable to come to terms with her death and still very much haunted by crippling flashbacks, it takes some time for Peter to realise that a large portion of his most recent clientele – who all seem to be believe it’s 1987 - are actually ghosts, including one spooky-looking young girl named Elizabeth Valentine.
Unsure whether what he is seeing is real or if he’s having some sort of a mental breakdown, Peter decides to seek advice from friend and fellow therapist, Duncan Stewart (Neill wasted in his role), who thinks that there is a connection between his own personal tragedy and his latest array of patients, especially young Elizabeth, forcing him to go back to his hometown and investigate the repeated reference to 1987.
While the presence of the committed and reliable Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody, adds a note of credibility to proceedings, there is still a deep lack of complexity and originality in Michael Petroni’s derivative script which, unlike Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense which clearly is the main source of ‘inspiration’ here, seems to favour the style-over-substance approach. Predictability and familiarity are also plaguing factors and the fact that the audience can probably work out where the story is headed long before its leading man, doesn’t really leave Backtrack with enough storytelling power to pull its self out of the mess.
In the end, it’s relatively safe to say that Petroni’s second feature film – see 2003’s Till Human Voices Wake Us - leaves a lot to be desired. There is a decent idea in there somewhere and the air of intensity is somewhat effective, but what might have sounded good on paper doesn’t really necessarily translate on the screen. It's as if the film tries so hard to set the mood, that it forgets that in needs the occasional pop.