FILM: Blue Jasmine (M)
Blue Jasmine, the late-period offering from the prolific Woody Allen (43 films in 43 years) is a character study of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a New York socialite whose comfortable lifestyle is upended when her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) divorces her and is later jailed for illegal business activities. Financially stripped and mentally unstable, Jasmine is forced to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkin) who lives in a low-end San Francisco apartment with her two sons.
Amidst a community of blue-collar workers, Jasmine’s designer clothes and Chanel products feel comically out-of place, establishing her delusions towards her current situation. The fish-out-of-water scenario is a well-worn comedy device, but here it is used quite jarringly, and is more cringe-inducing than comical.
Jasmine’s destructive character offers somewhat of an oasis in a film of middling subplots and salt-of-the-earth caricatures. This is perhaps a deliberate ploy by Allen, allowing us to be at once repulsed by and understanding of Jasmine’s condescending nature towards these people.
The film jumps between chronologies, juxtaposing the character of Jasmine through two timelines. The first timeline addresses her marriage to Hal, and how their marriage and his business dealings would eventually subside. The second timeline is set in the present, following the fallout of the marriage and the mental, financial and social issues that Jasmine is facing. The non-linear device is interesting, and effectively interweaves the timelines towards an appropriate endpoint.
Cate Blanchett devours the character of Jasmine, embodying everything repugnant and alluring about her. She brings impressive subtlety to a role that could’ve easily fallen into melodrama. The supporting actors are all capable in their roles, but they can’t help but be minimized by Blanchett’s towering performance.
Despite its shortcomings, Blue Jasmine is a darkly funny film that maintains a strong focus on its fascinating central character. Cate Blanchett effortlessly transcends her surroundings, leaving the arguably modest ambitions of Allen’s screenplay for something much more complex and deeply felt.
by Sebastian Moore
For those who haven’t read the books, The Mortal Instruments is a six-part young-adult series written by Cassandra Clare that focuses on the lives of “Shadowhunters” who are half-human, half-angel.
There are also some vampires, warlocks and werewolves—but no zombies because “they don’t exist”.
The heroine of the series, Clary (Lily Collins) seems like your normal New York teenager until one night, while at a club with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), she’s suddenly able to see things invisible to “mundane” or human eyes.
Fans of the series can be happy that this isn’t a Twilight-like remake, but like with any film adaptation of a book, there’s always going to be differences. Visually, the film delivers a mythological feeling with an almost Harry Potter-like vibe, particularly at the Institute: a refuge for Shadowhunters.
Director Harold Zwart delivers a fast-paced and well executed opening half-hour where Clary discovers her new supernatural talents as a Shadowhunter. The acting, however, is not so capably executed thanks to the poorly-written screenplay that delivers plenty of awkward one-liners, mostly to Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) a tall, blond Shadowhunter who saves Clary’s life.
Robert Sheehan (Misfits) as Clary’s nerdy friend is the highlight of the young cast and brings the character well and truly out of the pages.
Prepare yourself for a long but reasonably entertaining film. Be warned, though: there’s an extremely uncomfortable plot-twist.
by Isabella Pittaway
Bruce Willis & Co are back with guns blazing and a long-winded plot in Red 2.
The 2010 debut adventure Red introduced us to the Retired and Extremely Dangerous crew of Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. It was a funny and entertaining film. Second-time around, however, things are not so funny.
Instead we have forced humour, a plot-hole-filled script and many unnecessary action sequences.
Willis reprises his role as team leader Frank Moses who heads across the world to retrieve a nuclear weapon, all the while trying to keep his doe-eyed girlfriend (Mary-Louis Parker) safe.
Malkovich nails just the right amount of chaotic goofiness as Frank’s sidekick, while Mirren as an MI6 assassin is enjoyable to watch—and even Anthony Hopkins joins the fun as a nutty scientist.
But it’s not the veteran star-studded line-up that makes Red 2 seem like an unnecessary sequel; really that’s the only thing going for it.
Director Dean Parisot offers nothing new in this follow-up, displaying a lack of substance and heart. What was so amusing in the first film grew old fast; it might be worth retiring the series.
by Isabella Pittaway
BOOK: Dare Me (Megan Abbott)
There are three off-putting things about Dare Me:
1) it’s written by an Abbott, though unrelated to His Holiness the PM
2) it’s about 16-year-old cheerleaders, and
3) the cover looks like Fifty Shades’ saucy younger sister.
Please, brace yourself and soldier past these bits: the story is a sinister, intellectual thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Pinned down by a discussion of trust and power, the book follows a high school cheer squad as they discover the manipulative quality of their sexuality and a bloodthirsty sense of entitled vengeance. Main character Adelaide (perhaps unappealing thing #4) must navigate the deadly no-mans-land between her nasty best friend Beth and the new cheer Coach, whose glamorous forbidden love and grown-up attention compete with Beth’s pettiness and cruelty.
When one of the characters dies, Addy finds herself abandoned by both players, who deceive and use her for their own ends. The mystery goes beyond the death and focuses instead on Adelaide’s attempt to claw her way through the tangled ‘truths’ being offered by everyone around her.
Against this, the team is still fighting their way to become a tighter, harder crew with their eyes set on the following year’s regional championships. The brutality and violence of a death is outshone by the gruesome injuries that befall members of the team—often caused by intimidation and negligence at the hands of Beth and Coach.
A clever novel with a mature teen voice, Dare Me looks closely at motive, betrayal and friendship. It’s an updated Bring It On with a dark little heart and murderous glint in its eye.
by Ilona Wallace
One of the most intriguing and underrated novels of 2013, Silver’s debut opens on death row. Convicted of murder and sentenced to die, Noa P. Singleton is six months away from her end when a surprise champion appears: Maria, the mother of her victim.
Noa reluctantly unravels the story, flitting between memories of her childhood, to interactions with her criminal father in her teens and before the murder, and finally to her time on death row, working with Maria and her legal secretary to stay the execution.
Scattered through the book are letters from Maria to her deceased daughter, which also reveal startling layers to the story.
As Noa leads us towards the climax—the crime she has (or has not) committed—serious questions about guilt and consequence emerge. With Noa, we are forced to think hard about redemption and ultimate sacrifices.
Noa P. Singleton (and that P. is significant) is an unfortunate character, prickly and recalcitrant, but she will break your heart.
by Ilona Wallace
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