Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Maybe Pass on this Additional Helping of Oliver Twist


by Christie Robb

Have you ever found yourself reading a classic Victorian novel and wondering, “What if this was more like Ocean’s Eleven as directed by Guy Ritchie, but with parkour?”

A modern-day update of the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, Martin Owen’s Twist imagines Oliver as an orphaned parkour enthusiast and Banksy-esque street artist. Oliver is swiftly recruited into a gang of art thieves and tasked with stealing a previously stolen Hogarth painting to salvage the reputation of Fagin (Michael Caine), who was a legitimate art dealer back in the day until his partner stole the Hogarth and pinned it on him.

The movie’s strength is in its depiction of parkour. The practitioners make the London cityscape into their playground, skipping across rooftops like stones on a still pond.

The plot and character development are handled with less dexterity. The teenage thieves are given highly specialized technical skills with no attempt at an explanation of how, for example, a minor might know how to clone a cell phone or fake the credentials of a fine art gallery. The characters are very thinly portraited, with each seeming to get about one emotion to embody.  Raff Law (song of Jude) as Twist is unflappably earnest with no undertone of the emotional baggage that a kid who was orphaned at 10 or 11 and lived alone on the streets of London would have accrued.

Even Lena Headey, who gives a very convincing depiction of rage, can’t overcome the script’s lack of an explanation of why she’s there and what exactly she has to do with everything except being an obstacle because the plot demands it.

Headey and Caine lend the film a certain gravitas it otherwise doesn’t really deserve. There’s certainly none of the concern with crushing, systemic poverty and the social class disparities contained in the source material. Oliver and the other young thieves are dressed stylishly, are glowing with good health, and get to hang out in a clubhouse furnished with classic arcade games, jukeboxes, and foosball tables. The morality of their lifestyle isn’t questioned as much as it is explained away as a romantic Robin Hood kind of thing where Fagin plays Hood and the kiddos are his Merry Men.  

Overall, the film is a rather lackluster adaptation of a classic that misses much of the original’s point. If you want to see young people executing artful feats of athleticism, dodge this flick and put on the Olympics.

Old Bandits Society

Going in Style

by George Wolf

More than once, Going In Style tells us “it is a culture’s duty to take care of its elderly.”

If only the film had a funny way of showing it.

Instead, director Zach Braff takes three screen legends on a caper full of obvious writing, cheap slapstick and dressed up sitcom filler.

An update on the 1979 George Burns/Art Carney/Lee Strasberg vehicle, this new version stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as Joe, Willie, and Al, three New York retirees who’ve just been screwed out of their pensions by corporate shenanigans. While Joe is fighting his home foreclosure notice with a smarmy bank manager, the bank gets robbed.

Joe’s impressed with the heist, and unimpressed with the detective (Matt Dillon) trying to track down the thieves, so why not give stickups a try? Let’s face it, even if the guys get life in prison, how long could that be? Because they’re so old! Man, those age jokes just get funnier the more they’re repeated, don’t they?

No, they don’t, and screenwriter Theodore Melfi, fresh off some fine work with Hidden Figures and St. Vincent, hits a major pothole on his road to straight up comedy. Seeing how these three veteran actors play off each other should be a treat in itself, but too much of the leadup to the actual bank job has the trio stuffing whole roasts down their pants at the grocery or sitting around watching The Bachelor. You know, because the thought of senior citizens watching that show is so outrageous!


It doesn’t help that Braff (Garden State, TV’s Scrubs) has all three actors overdoing the aches and pains of aging for most of the film, and only in the final few minutes, when the longtime friends are apparently rejuvenated by their crime spree, do you get the sense of any realistic characters with natural chemistry. The robbery itself, where Braff shows some stylistic flair and an instance or two of subtle visual comedy, seems stolen from another film entirely.

Perhaps even one that was interesting.




Not So Young and Restless


by Hope Madden

Like writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 Oscar winner The Great Beauty, his latest effort, Youth, offers a visually sumptuous rumination on aging and regret.

Michael Caine leads a marvelous cast as Fred Ballinger, a retired composer who’s done with life. He’s wasting time at a luxurious Swiss hotel, sharing a room with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and hanging out with his longtime pal Mick (Harvey Keitel).

Keitel and Caine shine. A fragile, passionate Keitel delivers his strongest performance in decades as the over-the-hill filmmaker grasping for one last “testament.” Meanwhile, the more restrained Caine is no less heartbreaking. Together they tease out a lived-in friendship that’s a bittersweet joy to watch.

Weisz, equal parts vulnerability and fire, joins a delightfully sly Paul Dano in support of the geriatric leads, all of them part of an unusual and high-brow population at this resort.

A parade of images, both grotesque and gorgeous – and the absurdity of that mixture – is the essence of the film. Sorrentino’s channeling a couple of compatriots with this one. You see the influence of Fellini in many ways, as Sorrentino gives life to poet Pavese’s quote, “The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.”

He’s helped immeasurably by cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, whose lens finds glamour and decay in equal measure, giving the film a dreamy cinematic quality. David Lang’s evocative score emphasizes the hypnotic quality of the visuals. It’s a visual and aural feast, though the concept that aging men see lost vitality encapsulated solely in the image of beautiful young women is wearisome.

This is a film marked, more than anything, by one concentrated feeling: longing. Sorrentino captures this beautifully, and his cast is more than capable of breathing life into characters saddled with a yearning for what is lost.

Segues into elegantly whimsical moments of fantasy are particularly enjoyable, but Sorrentino’s greatest triumph here is the sucker punch awaiting audience and characters alike with the introduction of Jane Fonda’s character.

A salty, aging diva, Fonda offers a swift kick to all this languid, self-congratulatory cinematic nonsense. She’s a blistering triumph, garish and glorious.

There are slow spots and questionable indulgences, but Youth, with the help of a stellar veteran cast, showcases something rarely offered in modern film – the power of age.



Man Against Nature

The Last Witch Hunter

by Christie Robb

Perhaps it’s for the best that I find it nearly impossible to understand the words that come out of Vin Diesel’s mouth. The man sounds like my half-broken garbage disposal when I try to run a bunch of coffee grounds through it.

I don’t think a greater understanding of the dialogue would have significantly improved my enjoyment of the Last Witch Hunter, though. The strength of this supernatural/detective/action movie lies in the visuals.

800 years ago a vaguely Viking looking guy named Kaulder (Diesel) took on a Witch Queen and won, getting cursed by her with immortality in the process. Fast forward to modern day and we catch up with him. He’s older, a collector of art (and apparently of stewardesses), and working with an organization called the Axe and Cross to keep the peace between witches and humanity, making sure that magic isn’t used against humans.

He’s aided by a retiring handler, Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine), who, on the eve of his retirement, is attacked using prohibited magic. With the help of the replacement Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) and good witch Chloe (Rose Leslie), Kaulder must unravel a nefarious plot by bad witches to bring back the Black Plague, force muggle society to its knees, and return the earth to its more natural state.

Let’s set aside the fact that Diesel is completely unconvincing as an 800 year-old man. He seems entirely too well-adjusted and jovial to have seen over 30 handlers die on him.

The plot of the movie is also rather thin. Not enough time is spent explaining the politics of the Axe and Cross, the Witch/Muggle peace process, or the exact rules of “immortality.” However, that time is instead spent on visual effects that range from the grotesque (plague flies squirming around just under the skin), the beautifully stark (an ancient tree set against snowcapped peaks), the whimsical (a witch cocktail bar), and the action-y (flaming swords against enchanted beasts made of wood and bits of human carcass).

Like Vin Diesel, the movie is enjoyable enough to look at. Just don’t spend too much time trying to understand it.


Weekend Countdown: It’s Raining Sharks!


Still high from Sharknado? Has it opened your eyes to the brilliance of terrible, terrible filmmaking? Are you jonesing for more ineptly crafted, heinously scripted, poorly acted waterborne malevolence? We thought so. Here are five of the best worst water terrors ever made. You’re welcome.

5. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Michael Caine has argued that this is not his very worst movie. He may be right, but this delusion of a great white shark who figures out the exact flight Ellen Brody is taking to the Bahamas and follows it so it can continue the Sharks’ gang war against the Brodys sure is bad.

4. Piranha (1978)

An absent minded investigator and the town drunk unintentionally unleash mutant piranha just upstream from a water park on the river. Given that it’s all their fault, they’re pretty self righteous about the whole thing. The fish themselves seem to be flat paper cutouts pasted to popsicle sticks, which is just as terrifying as it sounds.

3. Piranha 2: The Spawning (1981)

James Cameron, everybody! That’s right, his first deep sea adventure did not involve a capsized romance, but flying man eating piranha. That’s right – they fly. Sure, it might look like they’ve just been tossed by someone standing just off camera, but no. Cameron regular Lance Hendrickson should be glad he’s not a black man or a topless woman on this island, because those are these fishies’ favorite flavors.

2. Super Shark (2011)

Eventually, the best of the worst mutant animal films made the leap from the big screen to SciFi network, and few things leap as well as a Super Shark! John Schneider tarnishes his reputation (yep, it’s that bad)  that pits a flying, hopping shark against a tank with legs. It kicks the shark. That’s worth seeing.

1.  Sharktopus (2010)

This is the one film on the countdown most likely to quench the thirst left by Sharknado. Roger Corman – the producer responsible for most of the films on this list, most of the films on SciFi, and quite possibly most of the worst films ever made – gave us this epic tale of a killing machine that’s half great white, half giant octopus. It’s enormous, unrealistic, and it brings an unsatisfying hunger for bad actors.


Those should keep you busy while you wait for Sharknado 2!


Nothing to See Here

Now You See Me

By Hope Madden

In the fall of 2006 we saw back to back films about magicians – The Illusionist and The Prestige. I remember thinking, really? Why?

Well, with just two months separating the release of The Incredible Bomb about Burt Wonderstone from this weekend’s Now You See Me, it’s hard not to scratch your head again at Hollywood’s insistence on our interest in magic.

At least Prestige and Illusionist were half decent films.

Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson lead a group of magicians who seem to pull off a bank heist during their show, and promise more of the same. Mark Ruffalo turns into the Hulk and smashes up their hall of mirrors.

If only!

No, instead he teams with Inglorious Basterds’s Melanie Laurent – an INTERPOL agent – to prove there’s no such thing as magic and that these guys are plain old crooks.

Unless it’s all an illusion…

Cons, comeuppance, love and daddy issues crisscross with lackluster acting to keep you from wondering whether Michael Caine (who was also in The Prestige. Of course he was!) or Morgan Freeman have milkier eyes. They’re both getting quite old. Maybe they should turn down one or two of the films released in any given year. Perhaps see an ophthalmologist.

They both certainly deserve better than this undercooked mess, directed by style-over-substance maestro Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Clash of the Titans). With his characters talking incessantly about sleight of hand, you’d think Leterrier might employ that particular tactic on his own. Maybe razzle dazzle us while the con happens right under our noses.

Instead, perfectly ludicrous tricks and schemes are re-enacted without regard to plausibility. Rather than lifting the curtain to unveil anything tricky, the approach only uncovers some very lazy filmmaking.

Wasting a cast that has accumulated a combined 3 Oscars and another 4 nominations is a trick in itself, but aside from Harrelson’s natural charm, nothing about the performers impresses. Workhorses Freeman and Caine come closest to delivering something akin to acting. When push comes to shove, the usually impressive Ruffalo is badly miscast, Isla Fisher flails against hideous dialogue, and Eisenberg phones in just another turn as a hyper-intelligent dick.

And on top of it all, they play magicians.

Seriously, who gives a shit about magicians?