Broken City (2013)

Broken City (2013)

I love watching actors do press for their latest releases. Not just because it’s a chance to see them talking outside of their roles / hyping up a film that I may or may not give half a damn about, but because of how they “act”. It’s very telling when you see an actor looking unexcited about a project. Generally, that film isn’t going to be worth the film its burned onto. Yes, I’m looking at you Bruce Willis in your TV interviews for A Good Day To Die Hard. You looked disinterested, and boy was I disinterested in the final film. So when I saw Mark Wahlberg on British TV, getting all drunk and lairy when promoting Broken City… well, I knew I had to see the film.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the review, I want to dwell on Wahlberg‘s appearance on a show we have over here called The Graham Norton Show. His fellow guests? Sarah Silverman and Michael Fassbender. These aren’t two unknowns; especially Fassbender who’s now arguably bigger than Wahlberg both sides of the Atlantic. The video above is taken from YouTube and showcases the best bits. I really recommend watching it, as Wahlberg is hilarious / infuriating and gets more rowdy as the video progresses. I loved his drunken approach to selling a movie. Television gold. Seriously, watch the above video. It’s worth it! Even if you just skip to 11min in, it’s worth it.

So, what is Broken City? Well, I’m happy to report that Mark Wahlberg actually starts the movie “on the wagon”… so maybe he was playing this up? Or maybe he just loves the claret? Who doesn’t? The movie focuses on Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) an ex-New York cop who’s now living out his days as a private detective / snoop for anyone that’ll pay him. He’s suddenly offered business by the Mayor of New York: a Mr. Hostetler (Russell Crowe). The task? Spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he suspects of cheating on him. Simple enough? Now add in the backdrop of this being during the election campaign in which Hostetler seeks to retain his role in the city. But things aren’t always as clear as they first appear. There’s a hell of a lot of dirt in this Broken City.

Broken City (2013)

Yeah, I probably should write promo spiel right? In between slurring and interrupting guests, Wahlberg pitched Broken City as an old school film focused on a character driven plot. And he’s right. The film is very much driven by its protagonists and does very well from it. Especially for the first half of the movie. Now, I thought this first half was pacey, had a clear narrative and some really involving characters. The second half? Wow… things quickly became clouded and more and more plot points got thrown into the mix. So much so that I feel it detracted somewhat from the main themes of the film.

What the film did do well was characterisation, so I’ll hand it to Wahlberg there. I thought his and Crowe‘s performances were great. They were never going to set the world alight, as neither stretched themselves to any degree. In fact, you could argue that Mark Wahlberg was once again playing Mark Wahlberg… but I’m cool with that. I can relate to the guy for some reason. He’s an every-man. And Crowe? Well, as you’ll remember from my Les Misérables review, I just like the guy.

Broken City (2013)

Having said all that, the film is “light” and the plot “twist” can be guessed within the first 10 minutes of the run time. This isn’t a great asset for a thriller. You want suspense, you want shock, you want to be guessing “what if?” But with this, you can pretty much surmise how things will turn out. It’s a shame, as I think deep down there’s a great film here. I liked the character-driven focus of the film, as opposed to a number of big, dumb set pieces where cars blow up or fly off freeways. I’m bored of that (although Michael Bay isn’t, so it would seem). If only the film had a deeper narrative then there’d really be something to rave about here.

Broken City isn’t going to set the world alight, nor is it going to be elected to the role of Mayor… if films could be elected Mayor! The film is driven admirably by Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but is let down by a predictable plot. You really can’t be doing with a weak plot when you’re dealing with a thriller. The clue’s in the word “thriller”. You need to be “thrilled”. Unfortunately, Broken City was mostly filler in the latter half, and not much thriller. Clever what I did there, right?

So it looks like Mark Wahlberg‘s appearance on British TV was incredibly representative of the film as a whole. It started off promising and had a coherent narrative that made me keep watching, but as the film / interview progressed, the plot / Mark gradually became far less discernable and increasingly distracted by what was going on around it. It just goes to show that you really can judge a book by its cover film by its press coverage.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

The animated sequel is something that’s hard to pull off owing to the law of diminishing returns. Each subsequent entry in a franchise seems to scramble for a new hook or new way of breathing life into its core set of characters. Not all of them can pull this off. Whilst Toy Story successfully spawned two sequels (although I think the original is by far the best), other franchises, such as Cars, have produced very lacklustre sequels that were thin on ideas. This year we’ve seen two of the “B-list” animated franchises: Ice Age and now Madagascar. Whilst I really enjoyed Ice Age: Continental Drift (so did the box office), others lambasted it for being so thin on character and featuring another nonsensical plot. So how does Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted stack up in comparison?

For those unfamiliar with the series so far, it follows a collection of animals on their wild adventures. There’s Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as a couple of other oddballs including a battalion of penguins and an eccentric lemur called King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). In the past we’ve seen them find a way to get out of a New York zoo and wind up in Madagascar. They then decided they didn’t like it there so tried to fly back home, but got dumped in mainland Africa. And now we see them once again trying to get back to New York, but by way of Europe by serendipitously joining the circus to evade the clutches of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). She’s a bit like Ace Ventura pet detective, but way less likeable, wears less amazing clothes and generally likes to kill her captured animals. OK, so not like Ace… this comparison doesn’t fit… like a glove.

Yep, all pretty regular behaviour…

So there you have it, the typical eccentric plot of a threequel, but how does it fair? Surprisingly well, I must say. It seems like the writers have thrown caution to the wind and embraced every wild idea they could come up with on their late night benders. You want Chris Rock singing an incredibly annoying song about polka dots and afros? You got it! You want a giraffe and a hippo to fall in love and do the tightrope together? You got it! You want a lemur to fall in love with a grizzly bear that rides around on a children’s tricycle? You got it! Yes, the ideas are bombastic and absurd, but they work beautifully in the context of the film.

Now, for me, the biggest thing that I dislike about a film starring Chris Rock is Chris Rock. I just don’t get his humour – it really grates on me. People tell me he’s the “new Eddie Murphy” – but I like Eddie Murphy; that guy has charisma and is genuinely funny. I can’t say the same for Rock, especially in his stand-up. However, all of his utterances that caused me to squirm in my seat are already in the trailer; thus eliminating his annoyances from the film itself as I’d already seen them / heard his schtick. With that said, all of the cast are great – but as ever, this is just voice acting… it’s pretty hard to commend someone for “great acting abilities” if all they’re doing is reading lines. It is funny how this is Ben Stiller‘s best work in quite some time though. I really hope that guy catches a break soon so he can be acting in genuinely funny films again. I just hope the Adam Sandler effect hasn’t enveloped him yet.

What makes the film so fun is the characterisation and therefore the humour. All of the animals’ personalities are conveyed so well on screen owing to the writing and choice of accents / actors. Although once again it’s probably Sacha Baron Cohen that steals the most laughs with his always-eccentric Julian and absurdly Robin Williams-esque accent. His character’s romance with Sonya the grizzly bear is both humourous and at times quite touching (once you get through the absurdity of a tutu-ed bear on a tricycle). Also, mention has to go to the visuals. I’ve never thought of the Madagascar series as being mind-blowingly beautiful but there are some spectacular scenes in there that just look fantastic.

If I’m honest, I found the film as humourous as Ice Age: Continental Drift, but without the “slow” moments. Madagascar 3 doesn’t know where the brake pedal is and hurtles along at a rapid pace. This therefore eliminates the weaknesses I saw in Ice Age: Continental Drift – the slow romance scenes with the young mammoths. Therefore kudos must be given for the pacing of this film, which makes it even more suitable for the youngsters in the audience. In a year that’s seen so many “mature” animated films, it’s great to see something that is aimed at the kids, as opposed to aiming at the adults. Sure, there are laughs to be had for us more mature folks, but it’s not expressly for us. And that’s what makes it a great watch.

With Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted I think you know what you’re getting yourself in for when you purchase the ticket… it’s about talking animals. And it ably delivers on its aims of entertainment. Whilst it’s by no means going to catapult the franchise into the upper echelons and make it as note-worthy as Toy Story, it’s definitely injected fresh life into the premise. I just wonder where they’ll go from here…

And who doesn’t like some wild speculation on that fact? I don’t think they’ll go the totally bonkers route that Ice Age has pursued… but who knows. I’m sure the writing team have read the reviews praising their off-the-wall humour, so maybe we will? Aliens? Dinosaurs? Space? Who knows where we’ll be heading next!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star