Month: January 2015

FILM REVIEW: ‘UNBROKEN’

‘Unbroken’

Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (Screenplay)

Directed by: Angelina Jolie

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson

Story: The true story of Louis Zamperini, a US Olympic Athlete who was detained in a Japanese POW Camp in WWII.

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There has been much ado about ‘Unbroken’, and for various irrelevant reasons. First there was a hurrah about the fact that the film was directed by Angelina Jolie (so of course the paparazzi were all over the Australian set as soon as shooting began). Secondly, there were the various award ‘snubs’ that the film received, despite being made by a Hollywood darling. Third, Jolie was branded as a ‘racist’ and it was declared by many infuriated Japanese natives that she would not be welcome in their country because of the depiction of the Japanese in the film.

All of this fuss really does have to be left at the door when you decide to watch ‘Unbroken’. What we have to do, as with any film, is leave the fluff at the door and take the movie at face value. And, at face value, ‘Unbroken’ is a decent film.

The script itself is well paces, and divides itself really nicely between Zamperini’s early life, his life in the war and after the plane wreck, and then his life in the POW camp. These are not three distinct parts of the film but all mould together as one rather seamlessly. What we have to note is that the story that ‘Unbroken’ proclaims to tell is that of Zamperini’s life throughout the war. Of course, his life afterward is incredibly rich and meaningful, and this is undeniably glazed over. It would of been nice to see a lot more of that, but the film itself does tend to start to drag at around the 1hr40 mark so any additional time really would of been felt by the audience. Perhaps later down the track someone will decide to expand on this further, and that will truly be welcome.

Jack O’Connell does well to portray Zamperini, and his emotional scenes are performed to a good standard. The real issue here is that these emotional scenes are so few are far between. The real beauty of Louis Zamperini was his constitution: his belief that dealing with short term pain will eventually lead to long term gain. This belief and his ability to empathise and understand others is what kept him alive throughout the story (and for the many years after the war), yet this remains undiscovered. It is hard to know, with a performance like this, whether the shallowness comes from the script or the actor.

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Technically, ‘Unbroken’ is beautiful. The cinematography is exceptionally put together and creates the feeling of a war epic. The sound mixing is a nice compliment which makes the film itself a pleasure to witness.

The ending of the film is neat, but as previously mentioned it does leave much unexplored. Perhaps it would of been more powerful for the Coen brothers to cut some of the start of the film and study Zamperini’s life post-war. Perhaps this is another deep area of exploration which should be put aside for another instalment. Either way, it does take something from the film: we invest in our lead character and do not see much of his emotional redemption.

All in all, ‘Unbroken’ is a movie worth seeing. It is not a movie worth investing in, or studying, but it does make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Rating: 7/10

FILM REVIEW: “WILD”

‘Wild’

Written by: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed (novel),

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

Story: Haunted by her past drug abuse, tragedy, and infidelity, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail to heal her body, mind and soul.

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Wild is a film that has garnered a lot of attention over recent months, and has been on the campaign trail for some serious awards. Witherspoon missed out on the Golden Globe, but managed to secure herself an Oscar nomination. This makes for an interesting task in reviewing the film.

The story of ‘Wild’ is simple and director Jean-Marc Vallee really could of made either a beautiful or an abysmal film out of it. When you take such a simple story you run the risk of making either a boring film or a film that really tried too hard to be introverted or philosophical. Wild is neither. While it does get off to a relatively slow start, the film provides the perfect amount of philosophy to balance the technical ‘hiking’ aspects of the film.

Strayed, on her journey, faces a number of issues due to both the physically torturous nature of the hike, to struggling to deal with her own prior indiscretions. It would be easy to say that Strayed is not a likeable character, however within her ability to be self deprecating and at the same time inwardly optimistic, we find something undeniably relatable. Anyone who has ever done something that they’re not proud of that really stays with them is going to be able to understand at some level what it is that the protagonist is dealing with.

Witherspoon’s performance is strong, and perhaps the strongest we have seen from her to date: this is a considerable statement since Witherspoon has always been one of the most consistently reliable performers within her genre. Witherspoon gives Strayed a sense of humanity and a genuinely real nature which draws an investment out of the audience. While we can try to be critical of her performance (because this is what we do), there really isn’t much that we can fault.

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Jean-Marc Vallee has constructed a film that is stark: it contrasts so tightly the beauty of nature vs real life in quick cuts between Strayed’s heroin binges and her new life living on bare necessities. This contrast alone adds depth to the film and begs the viewer to notice the differences between fundamental need and desire. Where Cheryl may have made decisions in the past based on desire, as we all do, it was getting back to nature and the essentials of human life that made her human again.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this film is the soundtrack. With artists such as Wings, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Portishead to name a few, the score will bring any music lover to their knees. The songs are all emotional and are tracks that can hold personal interest to viewers, which only opens us up more to relate to the loneliness and isolation of the main character.

All in all, ‘Wild’ is well balanced, patient, and poetic. It really is a film that looks inwards and a film that will touch even the most insensitive soul. We will most definitely watch again.

Rating: 9.5/10

FILM REVIEW: ‘AMERICAN SNIPER’

‘American Sniper’

Written by: Jason Hall, Chris Kyle (novel)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Story: The true story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in US military history.

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Let’s be honest here for a second. Every year the Academy likes to nominate a war film. They just love them. It dates back as far as 1927 when ‘Wings’ won Best Picture, all the way up to films like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ or ‘The Hurt Locker’.  What’s more, the Academy loves a good all round American actor, such as Bradley Cooper. So for all intents and purposes, American Sniper is perfect.

Unfortunately in reality it is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it is not enjoyable.

Bradley Cooper plays the part of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal Sniper who’s quick thinking and precision causes him to become the most deadly sniper in US military history. Funny that they would label him as such, when Kyle’s constant internal war is about whether he was killing people or saving them. Saving them, he decided, was the way to look at it. This would of course keep him sane, but it was also his job, wasn’t it? To save US soldiers? A strange marketing twist then, perhaps, has us glorifying the killing that he did throughout a movie where we witness him struggling with that very thing.

Cooper gives a strong performance but we wouldn’t expect anything less. He is a talented actor with boundless depth which is on show here. He brings us a charming and likeable Chris, and a very real character who we cannot help but empathise with. Will this earn him an Oscar? No, it won’t. But it does make for a good film. It is also worth noting that the fragility of the situation would of made this role difficult to play for anyone and Cooper seems to have taken this part very seriously, and truly done justice to Kyle and his family.

Sienna Miller is fine. There is nothing truly noteworthy about her performance other than she does her job and serves the storyline to create conflict in Kyle’s priorities.

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American Sniper gives a fine perspective in the American War Hero and what is really going on behind the scenes. The film is more about the internal struggle than what is actually happening out on the battlefields of war.  What happens when you see a war hero in the supermarket? Does he want to talk about it, or would he rather forget? These are questions raised in the 2.5 hour running time, and Clint Eastwood does a lovely job of putting them at the forefront of our minds.

Some people may feel the film drag but there is really no fluff: there is nothing in the film that is not totally essential to the telling of the story, so what we have to appreciate is that portraying the life of Chris Kyle is going to take you at least two hours. The abrupt ending may leave you in shock and dismay for quite some time, too.

There are a few goofs in the film that do quite spoil the viewing experience, notable the use of a plastic baby in one scene is distracting and really cheapens the look of the film: why spend so much money on making a war epic then use a plastic baby? Some things we may never know.

All in all, American Sniper is a decent film. Is it as good as last year’s ‘Lone Survivor’? No, it isn’t. But go and see it anyway.

Rating: 7/10

LONE SURVIVOR REVIEW

FILM REVIEW: ‘CAKE’

‘Cake’

Written by: Patrick Tobin

Directed by: Daniel Barnz

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Sam Worthington, Anna Kendrick, Adrianna Barraza

Story: Fascinated and haunted by her suicide, Claire befriends the widowed husband of a woman from her chronic pain support group.

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Jennifer Aniston is here to let us know that she is not simply a comedic actress. From time to time this does happen: a traditionally comedic actor will take on a role that is much more dramatic, much more complex. Often it pays off, and almost just as often it doesn’t. For Aniston, she strikes gold.

‘Cake’ is not a dessert. It is a rich and savoury main course which will leave you feeling full. This is an intense and moving exploration of the way in which we can forgive and move on from tragedy in our lives. For Aniston’s character Claire, she has suffered a tragedy which has taken everything she has from her: everything but her mother figure which she finds in her hired help Silvana. The empathy that Adrianna Barraza brings to this role is mature and measured. She plays off Aniston extremely well, and between the two of them there is some sort of familial electricity. We are assured through Silvana’s presence that Claire is always going to be OK – she is always going to get by. The beauty in this is that with Aniston’s performance, we want Claire to do more than get by. We want her to thrive.

Aniston comes into this role with a sense of wisdom and intense vulnerability that you would be hard pressed to find in many other actresses. When watching ‘Cake’, it is clear that she has approached this role with both passion and caution, and not too much of either.

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The screenplay is finely put together and incredibly well paced. When watching this we have to be prepared for heaviness and deep character study. If this is not the type of movie for you, then do not watch it. Many things are explored but some are left unsaid: this is a fine quality in a script and Patrick Tobin should be commended.

One is tempted to say that ‘Cake’ is worth watching for Aniston alone, however strong supporting roles from Adriana Barraza, Sam Worthington and particularly Felicity Huffman it would feel unfair to say. Her role is small, but Huffman becomes an integral part of this story, providing a certain optimism that we could perhaps lack at times when trying to process Claire’s journey.

Mature and understated, Cake might just be one of the most emotionally intelligent films you watch this year.

Rating: 9/10

OSCARS 2015: THE NOMINEES…

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And the nominees are…

Best Picture:

American Sniper

Birdman

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

Whiplash

The Theory of Everything

Best Director:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson

The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum

Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller

Best Actor In A Leading Role:

Steve Carell

Bradley Cooper

Benedict Cumberbatch

Michael Keaton

Eddie Redmayne

Best Actor In A Supporting Role:

Robert Duvall

Ethan Hawke

Edward Norton

Mark Ruffalo

JK Simmons

Best Actress In A Lead Role:

Felicity Jones

Julianne Moore

Rosamund Pike

Reese Witherspoon

Marion Cotillard

Best Actress In A Supporting Role:

Patricia Arquette

Keira Knightley

Emma Stone

Meryl Streep

Laura Dern

Best Animated Feature:

– Big Hero 6

– The Box Trolls

– How To Train Your Dragon 2

– Songs Of The Sea

– Tales Of Princess Kaguya

Best Animated Short Film:

The Bigger Picture

The Dam Keeper

Feast

Me and My Moulton

A Single Life

Best Cinematography:

Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ida

Mr Turner

Unbroken

Best Costume Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods

Maleficent

Mr. Turner

Best Documentary Feature:

Citizen Four

Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days In Vietnam

Salt Of The Earth

Virgunga

Best Documentary Short Subject:

Crisis Hotline 1: Veterans Press

Joanna

Our Curse

The Reaper

White Earth

Best Film Editing:

American Sniper

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Whiplash

Best Foreign Language Film:

Ida – Poland

Leviathan – Russia

Tangerines – Estonia

Timbuktu – Mauritania

Wild Tales – Argentina

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Original Score:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

Mr. Turner

The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song:

Everything Is Awesome – The Lego Movie

Glory – Selma

Grateful – Beyond The Lights

I’m Not Gonna Miss You – Glenn Campbell, I’ll Be Me

Lost Stars – Begin Again

Best Production Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

Into the Woods

Mr. Turner

Best Sound Editing:

American Sniper

Birdman

The Hobbit: Battle Of Five Armies

Interstellar

Unbroken

Best Sound Mixing:

American Sniper

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Interstellar

Unbroken

Whiplash

Best Visual Effects:

Interstellar

Captain America Winter Soldier

X Men Days Of Future Past

Interstellar

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Inherent Vice

Imitation Game

Whiplash

Theory Of Everything

American Sniper

Best Original Screenplay:

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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NOTEABLE SNUBS: Unbroken (Best Director), Interstellar (Best Director), Gone Girl (Best Adapted Screenplay), Nightcrawler (Best Actor), Cake (Best Actress)

FILM REVIEW: ‘FOXCATCHER’ [2014]

‘Foxcatcher’

Written by: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo

Story: Brothers Mark and David Shultz, Olympic wrestling champions, move to Foxcatcher Estate to train with millionaire John Du Pont resulting in an unexpected circumstance.

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When we start to talk about Foxcatcher we really have to bear in mind that this is actually based on a true story, and that fact has been highly publicised in marketing the film. The line “based on a true story” has often been used particularly in the realm of sports films and has given way to some classics such as ‘Cool Runnings’ and ‘Remember The Titans’. In the case of Foxcatcher, there have been many people who have spoken out to tell their ‘side of the story’, which induces us to perhaps say that Foxcatcher is lightly based on a true story, and some circumstances may have been indulged or exaggerated slightly for entertainment purposes.

The movie itself is a true sports film. While anyone will be able to enjoy it and appreciate the incredible performances offered, it is the real wrestling fans who are going to take the most from this movie.

The pace of the film is slow, with a running time of just over 2 hours you do feel every second of it. Many scenes are dialogue laden and don’t really have too much action to keep us engaged, however this is a character film: it is a tale of guts and glory, it is not a ’shoot em up’ or ‘race for the gold’ type of experience. It is more internal.

Steve Carrell offers the performance of his life as the demented John Du Pont, fixated on patriotism and serving the good of America to ‘get it back to where it was’ in the glory days. He is a typical rich man with mommy issues, alcohol issues, and a desperate need for approval. Du Pont is depicted as almost ‘collecting’ these wrestlers. After all, he is a bird stalker and a fox hunter, and he makes this very clear for us from the start.  He sees Mark Shultz as a possession and exercises his right to authority over him. There are a few scenes that make us slightly uncomfortable and perhaps even hint at a sexual undertone in his relationships with these wrestlers, but this alone has been the cause of some controversy and it perhaps left unexplored.

Tatum offers a solid performance but fades when on screen with Carrell and Mark Ruffalo, who much like Carrell offers possibly his best performance to date. Ruffalo’s Dave Shultz is a beacon of hope to rescue his little brother from Du Pont’s grasp, however his own weakness against corporate America leads to his demise. Ruffalo is understated and warm throughout the film and will be a clear audience favourite.

Foxcatcher is most certainly worth watching, not only for the performances but for the story itself. It is a psychological warfare made up of building blocks of passion and ambition. Look out for this film in Oscar nominations.

Rating: 8/10

 

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FILM REVIEW: ‘NIGHTCRAWLER’

‘Nightcrawler’

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo

Story: Desperate for work Lou Bloom forces his way into the world of filming crime scenes and will do anything to get to the top of his game.

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Nightcrawler is a film which will stay with you for a while. It is one of those movies which will come to mind at random moments as you drive home from work or clean out your refrigerator. It will keep coming to mind when people ask you what movies you have seen lately or if you can recommend anything that they might enjoy. It will come to mind because of how truly disturbing it really is. The title itself elicits some sort of impression that the film will get under your skin; its utter awesomeness seeping through your pores.

Let’s get this straight right off the bat. Jake Gyllenhaal is an exceptionally talented actor. We remember films like Donnie Darko, Zodiac and Jarhead, and now understand they they have paved the way to this. Of course he has had some slips (The Day After Tomorrow comes to mind), but Nightcrawler will definitely be a performance that Gyllenhaal will find tough to follow. Watching his portrayal of socially disturbed Lou Bloom is uncomfortable: the slightest quiver of an eyelash is 100 percent in character. When you watch this you will understand unequivocally that this is the performance that people will peg Gyllenhaal’s future performances against for quite some time. He is again on point in each and every scene.

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Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) compliments Gyllenhaal perfectly and brings a delicate innocence to the role of Rick. He truly does represent the human equation of their partnership and Ahmed should be proud of his efforts.

Accolades have poured in for this film, so before you dismiss it as a popcorn drama think again. Thankfully, Dan Gilroy has not gone unnoticed by critics and film associations: his screenplay unveils a disturbing truth about modern society. Indeed, Lou Bloom himself notes that he is from the ‘self-esteem movement so popular in schools’: he will do whatever it takes to succeed, because he has been told that this is what he has to do to ensure he can get a job and progress. Bloom doesn’t want to work in any particular industry, he just wants a career, and something he is good at. It is what he has been taught to do.

Nightcrawler is scary. It isn’t throw you out of your seat scary, and it isn’t scary like ’12 Years A Slave’ was scary, but it is uncomfortably scary in the sense that Lou Bloom is not a highly fictionalised character. In the world of dog-eat-dog corporate America: he is a human representation of the greed creed that generates so much lust.

The film is a black cat: it mesmerises you and draws you in through the back alleys of Los Angeles and keeps you poised so delicately until the very last second.

Rating: 9/10

FILM REVIEW: ‘BOYHOOD’

‘Boyhood’

Written by: Richard Linklater

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Story: The journey of a young boy from ages 5 to 18.

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It is difficult to know where to begin talking about a movie like ‘Boyhood’. It is, in itself, an epic: a three hour journey from childhood to adulthood. It is epic in it’s running time, but it is also epic in the fact that it took Richard Linklater twelve years to make: the effect of this being that we experience this family and their growth in the closest way. We do not see a sudden change as the actor becomes someone we recognise: these are the people who have been on the journey with us all along, and it makes it all the more real.

The story itself is so beautifully simple. Linklater is simply inviting us to watch and observe a family grow up, grow together, and perhaps even grow apart. Somehow you can imagine that this is Linklater’s own coming of age after films like ‘Dazed and Confused’, and ‘School of Rock’.  ‘Boyhood’ follows Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to age 18. We observe his struggles with his family – played out perfectly by Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke – and observe almost perversely the way that Mason deals with every single little thing that we have all had to deal with, including talking to girls for the first time, and getting his heart broken. We see Mason literally grow up in this time capsule piece.

Spending so long making this film has allowed the cast to really melt into their roles, and invites the audience to become a fly on the wall in their lives. We are encouraged to become part of their family and part of their human experience. The film almost feeds the part of us that loves reality television in a stunning and really captivating way. Throughout the entire piece we feel enraged at poor parenting choices but also we feel so sorry and so awful for the fact that Arquette and Hawke seem completely aware of these choices and the impact they are having on their children. It could take some reminding too that Arquette and Hawke are not actually married, and we did not just watch a recap of their lives.

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Credit must be given to those responsible for putting together the soundtrack. For anyone who grew up in the 90s, you will remember well most of the songs in this piece and you can trace them back to parts of your own childhood. This just makes the experience all the more powerful. It doesn’t feel like a movie. You don’t feel bad going to make yourself a cup of tea, or skipping out to the bathroom halfway though: these people will continue to develop around you: you are merely an observer.

Of course, there are some goofs. While her performance was fantastic, Lorelei Linklater seems a strange fit for Samantha, Mason’s sister. How is it that Arquette and Hawke, both fair skinned and blue eyed, could produce a brown eyed daughter? In fact, when researching more into this matter, you will find that Lorelei was actually born in Mexico. While this is not a total deal breaker for the film, it does remove some of the illusion of reality from the story.

All in all, Richard Linklater has produced a masterpiece of a film. It doesn’t feel like a film, nor does it feel like work to write or think about. It is the opportunity to spend three hours in the life of someone else: in their shoes and in their home. Such creative filmmaking should be rewarded, and turning something so simple into something so beautiful is a skill Linklater possesses that he has gifted to us here.

Rating: 9/10

Where Has ‘The Reel Junkie’ Been?!

2014 was a year when ‘The Reel Junkie’ was noticeably absent, not just from the site, but also from Twitter and Facebook. We would like to apologize for this.

 

‘TRJ’ is run by two screenwriters, and for us 2014 was a big year. In fact, 80 percent of the year was spent living in Los Angeles really developing our skills, not just screenwriting skills, but also networking and sales. I expect that 2015 will also be incredibly exciting as we begin to make changes to The Reel Junkie.

 

2015 will see us branch into YouTube, and bring you video reviews, as well as written. This will envelop more of our time, but we hope that this will make the process of reading reviews and deciding on films a lot easier!

 

For now, we will begin to rebuild our database here, and we look forward to speaking with all of our subscribers!

 

TRJ