Film Review: Destination Wedding

Writer-director Victor Levin’s two-hander relies on the charisma of its protagonists. Destination Wedding works rather well for the most part. 

Lindsay is reluctantly attending a destination wedding. She gets talking to Frank, who is equally miserable to be there. Together, they attempt to survive the weekend…

Writer and director Victor Levin has created something a little unusual with Destination Wedding. From the premise, viewers would be forgiven for thinking the film is a formulaic romcom. All the elements are here after all, the abrasive initial meeting, throwing the two protagonists together, the wedding, the exotic location. Yet Levin’s film offers something more interesting than this. Concentrating solely on the protagonists, the film is a dialogue-heavy exploration of a burgeoning relationship between two less likely leads. 

The film is entirely focused on the two leads, even in scenes where there are plenty of others around. It takes a little while to realise that Destination Wedding is going in this direction. The only audible line by someone else is off camera, and not in English. Instead, the film keeps closely with the protagonists as their relationship develops from aggravation, to truce, to romance. 

As expected, the emphasis is on the dialogue. The writing is good overall, with some wry observations. The complaint about destination weddings themselves is right on the nail. Both characters have a misanthropic attitude, which is rather refreshing at first but does get a little tiresome. Overall, it is a positive that the protagonists are less than peppy.

Levin keeps his camera very still, with plenty of lengthy shots. Juxtaposed with the rapid and plentiful conversation, a strong contrast is created. The filmmaker clearly wants the script to tower above other considerations. Winona Ryder delivers a most watchable and convincing performance as Lindsay. Ryder‘s chemistry with Keanu Reeves here is much more persuasive than in their first joint outing Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Reeves gives his usual spiel, yet it works here suitably well.

Destination Wedding should prove the right antidote for those those unimpressed by standard romcoms.

Destination Wedding is available on DVD from 1st July 2019, and on Digital Download now.

Film Review: The Iceman

The Iceman

Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman is a fantastic crime drama with an exemplary central performance.

When Richard Kuklinski unwittingly encounters some gangsters, he catches the eye of a mafia boss who sets him to work. Kuklinski becomes a hitman, responsible for the a vas number of executions. But Kuklinski is also a family man, and they are oblivious to his notorious career…

Director Ariel Vromen, who also co-wrote the screenplay, delivers a memorable crime drama with The Iceman. The outcome of the story may be known to some, but this does not matter as the film is finely crafted to make it compelling viewing.

Based on true events, The Iceman does not shy away from violent depictions. Given its setting, themes, and indeed the casting of Ray Liotta, the film has definite allusions to Goodfellas. However Vromen distinguishes his film from Martin Scorsese’s classic by putting his own stamp on the direction.

The central character Kuklinski is cold, and responsible for such brutal crimes. He is not a character who audiences should find endearing. Yet the skill of Vromen and co-writer Morgan Land is that viewers end up rooting for Kuklinski. Some references to his background are made, but the film chooses to focus on the present day affairs. This makes the filmakers’ achievements all the more pivotal. The Iceman does not rely on a difficult backstory to generate feeling towards the protagonist; the way the story unfolds ensures that he is an absorbing figure.

With a number of great performances under his belt, Michael Shannon is a tour de force as Richard Kuklinski. His performance is both compelling and convincing. Shannon is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Winona Ryder is great as Deborah, while Chris Evans also delivers a strong performance.

Michael Shannon exhibits why he is one of the best actors in contemporary Hollywood with The Iceman. Highly recommended viewing.

Stuff To Look At

All manner of upcoming film-related items to occupy you for at least a few minutes…

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby has some mighty fine artwork. Art Deco reigns supreme in these new character posters. You can view the latest trailer for the film here. The Great Gatsby is out in UK cinemas on 16th May 2013.

The Hangover Part III

This new trailer for The Hangover Part III gives a good idea of the plot of the film. All the regular faces return for this final instalment, directed by Todd Phillips. The Hangover Part III is released in UK cinemas on 23rd May 2013.

21 and Over

21 and Over is a rites of passage comedy from the writers of The Hangover. Jeff Chang’s two best friends come to town to celebrate his 21st birthday, but he has an important interview the next morning. Starring Project X‘s Miles Teller, the trailer lets viewers know exactly what to expect. 21 and Over is out in UK cinemas on 3rd May 2013.

The Iceman

With a stellar cast that includes Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder and Ray Liotta, The Iceman is based on the story of real-life hitman Richard Kuklinski. The critically acclaimed film is due for release in the UK on 7th June 2013.

The Conjuring

Well this looks suitably terrifying. Here is the main trailer for horror movie The Conjuring. Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the film hits UK screens on 19th July 2013.

Film Review: Frankenweenie

Tim Burton could make another film that epitomised his output as a filmmaker, but it would be difficult for him to match Frankenweenie in this respect. For Frankenweenie is quintessentially Burtonesque.

High school student Victor Frankenstein prefers learning about science than playing sport and enjoys the company of his dog Sparky. When a tragic accident occurs, Victor uses the knowledge he has gained from science class to conduct an experiment to bring back Sparky…

Frankenweenie is based on a live-action short film Tim Burton made whilst he worked at Disney in the early 1980s. It is pleasant for fans of Burton’s older work to see him remaking something of his own this time round. A totally original film may have been preferable in terms of output, but at least Frankenweenie is derived from Burton’s original idea.

Frankenweenie is a well executed film. The story has heart, and seems more genuine than some of Burton’s recent efforts. It is a well crafted tale. Despite being based on a short film, Frankenweenie never feels stretched or padded out. It offers more by way of plot and characters to compensate for the longer duration. There is a good mix of humour and the macabre, the latter of which is never really frightening. The film is certainly suitable for family viewing.

Frankenweenie is an unequivocal product of Tim Burton in that it references his own work whilst highlighting his influences. References to Edward Scissorhands, Vincent, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy stories and others can easily be spotted by those who have a familiarity with Burton’s work. Similarly subjects that have influenced his earlier work are made abundantly clear, with monster movies, gothic horror stories, Universal and Hammer horrors all taking a prominent place.

The fact that it is stop-motion animation and shot in black and white gives the film a quaint feel. It appears that a lot of care has gone into the making of Frankenweenie. Burton has chosen to reunite with Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and Catherine O’Hara, further feeding into the theme of going back.

Frankenweenie could only be the product of Tim Burton, which should inform viewers whether they are likely to enjoy it. The film is sweet, and acts like a homage to Burton’s influences and earlier work.

Frankenweenie opens the London Film Festival on 10th October 2012. It is released in cinemas on 17th October 2012.

Film Review: The Dilemma

In the alternate universe of The Dilemma, Kevin James is married to Winona Ryder. Even if you can accept this, you may not be able to endure this mess of a film.

Friends since college, Nick and Ronny work together and spend time together, along with Nick’s wife Geneva and Ronny’s girlfriend Beth. When Ronny catches Geneva in a compromising position, he is torn over whether to tell his best friend or not…

The Dilemma suffers from a number of problems which impede the audience’s enjoyment. Firstly, it is difficult to identify the tone of the film. The Dilemma is not a riotous comedy, nor is it a credible drama. The film flits between a few moments of mild amusement and periods of sentimentalism. It is unclear what the film is trying to achieve, and indeed who it is aimed at.

Most significantly, however, is the fact that the film is incredibly boring for large parts. With a running time of 111 minutes, The Dilemma sometimes feels three times as long. A large part of the blame can be attributed to the lacklustre screenplay. Ronny’s indecision about how to handle the situation is played out for too long. Coupled with this is a script that often descends into corny dialogue between Ronny and Nick. Given how long Ronny wrestles with his uncertainty, it is difficult to summon the will to care about the impact of the revelation.

The Dilemma is a film concerned with a woman’s infidelity, among other things. However, another related incident comes to light part way through the movie. Although this is of a similar stature to Geneva’s cheating, it is merely swept under the carpet. There seems to be a blatant double standard in this regard, which leaves a sour taste.

Although it is nice to see Winona Ryder with a bigger role in a mainstream movie, it is just a shame that the project is this dire. The casting is highly questionable; Geneva and Nick supposedly met in college, yet she looks much younger than him. The talents of Jennifer Connelly are also wasted in The Dilemma. Vince Vaughn offers his usually shtick; the promise of his early years now fading rather. Channing Tatum is amusing with an over the top performance that is responsible for a number of the film’s laughs.

Ron Howard is a competent director, yet The Dilemma appears pretty sloppy work. The music is one of the few positives that the film offers. Overall, The Dilemma does not provide sufficient heart or enough laughs to make it a worthwhile watch.

Film Review: Black Swan

Psychological thriller Black Swan is an aural and visual feast. Despite the tension generated, the film is let down by the lack of depth, thematically speaking.

Ballet dancer Nina hopes to get the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake. She faces competition from new dancer Lilly, as well as the reservations of director Thomas. As she gets deeper into character, Nina starts to lose control…

Black Swan is at times a psychological thriller and at times a horror movie. Director Darren Aronofsky plays with audience perception; the state of Nina’s mind remains ambiguous, and we can never entirely trust what we are shown. Black Swan stops at this, however. There is no deeper exploration into Nina’s madness (real or perceived), and the overriding theme is simply the juxtaposing of opposites.

Black Swan is preoccupied with the idea of doubles. The production has the two versions of the swan; the white and black. Similarly, Nina and Lilly are rivals, but are incredibly similar in terms of looks. The primary focus of the film seems to be exhibiting striking contrast between light and dark, and what happens when these two adversaries collide.

Although this thematic preoccupation isn’t particularly groundbreaking, the film nevertheless is successful in generating a reaction from its audience. Black Swan is effective in provoking tension, and some of the graphic imagery can only be described as abject.

Aronofsky’s direction is flawless. Particularly striking is his use of hand-held camera in the dance scenes. Weaving through the dancers on stage, viewers are catapulted right into the action. The choreography is excellent, and coupled with the fluid camera the film parades a real sense of movement.

Black Swan promotes a highly stylised aesthetic. Some of the costumes are amazing, and the film exhibits a fantastic use of colour. For example, the dance rehearsal scenes are strikingly contrasted by the club scene; naturalistic colour and the emphasis on black and white are replaced by the vibrant flashing lights of the dance floor. Clint Mansell’s score combines well with the music from Swan Lake to accentuate the tension perfectly.

Natalie Portman gives a solid performance as Nina. Her disposition contrasts effectively with Mila Kunis’ Lilly. Vincent Cassel is well cast as Thomas, appearing sleazy but motivated in his work. Barbara Hershey is excellent as Nina’s controlling mother, while casting Winona Ryder as aging prima ballerina Beth was a stroke of genius.

Although the film looks and sounds fantastic, it is let down by a lack of sophistication in the narrative. Nevertheless, Black Swan is one of the most memorable films of the year.

Black Swan is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.