16 Blocks

Detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is an overweight alcoholic who sees life through a boozy haze. When asked to escort prisoner Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) who is due to testify in front of a grand jury, Jack only agrees because its on the way to one of his favourite bars. There are, however, a gang of crooked policemen who will do anything to kill Eddie, who has dirt files on several of Jack’s colleagues. The courthouse is 16 blocks away, and this seemingly simple task becomes even harder for Jack, who is about to sober up in all senses of the word.
16 Blocks sees a return to the action genre by Director Richard Donner. Having perfected the cop buddy template with the Lethal Weapon films, Donner has turned his own formula on its head by showcasing a double act who are every bit as flawed as each other. Whilst the Lethal films revelled in over the top spectacle with a sprinkle of drama, this film is the reverse, delivering a slow burning tale with a smattering of action.
Bruce Willis again utilises his skills with a role that stretches his range. Wills successfully portrays Jack as a man who has just enough energy left to see through one last assignment. As Jack inches further towards the courthouse, he also gets closer to redeeming himself for past mistakes. His interaction with Eddie slowly re-awakens the spirit in him that became lost under the cloud of alcohol. Mos Def forms a good partnership with Willis, chattering away at every turn, disguising his own nervous energy. When they get paired up, the bond they form is one they haven’t felt in a long time.
An interesting aspect of the film is the way that Donner has managed to show the racial mix that makes up New York. When his protagonists are on the run through the city blocks, the various cultures all come into focus, giving the film a realistic urban edge. By having such a linear storyline, Donner has been able to ensure that the expected action scenes do not overshadow the important relationship between the two men. At times this does work against the film, as there are a few slow spots which tend to cover ground already explored.
The film represents a way forward for both Donner and Willis, who are experimenting with their own set formulas, with general success. The villains and action scenes are all what the audience expects, with the humorous quips coming at a rapid pace. The personal dilemmas of the two men are the most interesting part of the film however, which sets it apart from the mediocre maze that other action films have become lost in.
Rating out of 10: 7
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Beyond The Sea

The battalion of biopics continues apace with this film based on the life of singer Bobby Darin.  Kevin Spacey directs and stars, exploring how Darin’s family had big dreams for him from an early age.  Despite having a life threatening heart condition, Darin eventually rose to the top of the charts with his easy listening lounge music, and roles in several films.  On one of these films he met Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), leading to a tumultuous but loving relationship that lasted for the rest of his life.  Bobby Darin’s journey in finding the real person he was, is laid out to bare through musical and dance numbers.
Beyond the Sea was very much a pet project for Spacey who fought to bring Darin’s life story to the screen for 10 years.  It’s clear that he involved himself in all aspects of the production, showing a singer who became lost in his invented persona.  On learning a dark family secret, Darin was forced to face reality, and questioned his identity.  Spacey uses the framing device of an older Darin looking back at his life, with his younger self played by William Ullrich, providing further comment.  Spacey impresses using his own singing voice, which adds to much needed realism for a biopic such as this.
Less impressive is Spacey’s somewhat uneven directing style, which varies the acting quality on display.  Kate Bosworth makes for a sympathetic Sandra Dee, an ambitious woman who enjoyed her fame, but not at the expense of the family life for which she yearned.  Other well known faces include John Goodman, Bob Hoskins and Greta Scacchi all giving solid performances in disappointingly underwritten roles.  Brenda Blethyn is a standout as the close relative who changes Darin’s life in an unexpected way.
Generally, Hollywood biopics have run the risk of papering over the ‘bad bits’ about the subjects life and presenting their stories in the most filmable way possible.  Spacey realised that he couldn’t know Darin’s exact inner thoughts or actions, but provides enough detail that the audience gains the general idea of what passions drove him.  After a shaky first half, the film settles into it’s own groove and begins to unpeel the notion of identity, and how Darin became more enlightened in his family relationships.
The dance and music sequences are well staged, transporting the viewer to a time where stage presentation and rhythm were almost as important as the songs.  Darin’s life story was certainly a fascinating one, which was tragically cut short just as he was finding his way in life again.  Overall, this biopic shows enough light and shade of his life as to not be a total whitewash. The MGM style glossiness in the beginning is replaced by a more realistic sombreness that would have matched the subject’s life by the end.  A flawed but interesting portrait of a fine singer.
Rating out of 10:   7
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