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Written by: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller
Story: Tris bands together with a group of ‘Divergents’ against an increasingly powerful alliance which threatens to destroy her.
Ahh, ‘Insurgent’.. Or should we call it ‘Mockingjay Again’?! It certainly feels like it is. In fact, if you don’t have the time to watch Mockingjay, you can always watch the first hour of Insurgent and it should pretty much fill you in on what you missed. The reality is, it’s easy to be harsh on Insurgent because it is a sequel to a film that surpassed so many expectations. Divergent introduced the world to Shailene Woodley and made her a bona fide star. It also confirmed Theo James’ status as a teen heartthrob, and continued Jai Courtney’s meteoric rise to stardom. What’s more, it was enjoyable for people of every age and seemed so different to the other young adult franchises garnering attention.
Having said all of this, Insurgent kinda disappoints. Having not read the book, it’s easy to cast judgment on a lack of originality or stimulating content but we have to acknowledge that this might be the fault of the novelist, not those behind the film. Was it so wrong to expect something a little different to what appears to be the bog standard: young (self sacrificing) girl in dystopian future becomes the ‘chosen one’ (the divergent/mockingjay) and is protected and given strength by a band of misfits in an underground lair.
It’s not all bad. This is a basic summary of the first half of the two hour show. The second half really finds it’s footing so it’s difficult to say whether this is a film that is a slow starter, or one that couldn’t distinguish it’s own identity in a crowded franchise driven Hollywood. In the second hour there is a noticeable shift: the ‘Divergent’ we loved is back. Our main character begins to struggle with a more tangible demon, and the story seems to be making some sort of progression. It doesn’t seem a coincidence that the most enjoyable parts of this film are those where Miles Teller features heavily: though he provides comic relief, we see a lot of hope for a larger and more significant role in the next films.
The positive shift in the film is short lived. A disappointing ‘plot twist’ and resolution remind us that what we are watching is a ‘filler film’ – only serving to add context to future instalments. More disappointment.
The action sequences are well shot, and the ‘sim’ sequences are fun: if you’re looking for an action film then this is what you watch for and you won’t be let down. We also have the same audience challenges: ‘Is this still a sim, or is this real life now?’ If you have seen ‘Divergent’ then you will remember this well.
Shailene Woodley does fine here. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about her performance, not like in the first film where she stands out as a sure thing for future success. It almost seems that she herself is underwhelmed by what she is given to work with. Theo James is similar: almost symbolically his character takes a back seat for the entire film and serves as an underdeveloped and ‘vanilla’ sidekick. Uncharacteristically, Kate Winslet is also a little vanilla here. Where she usually stands out, she begins to pale. She almost smirks her way through cliche’d dialogue and a plain jane stereotypical villain role.
The thrills here come from Teller and Courtenay. Where Teller is providing a laugh track to an otherwise dry script, Courtenay is giving us the villain that Winslet wishes she could be. Whenever Courtenay is in a film we see a little more of something in him that makes us crave diversity. We can only hope that he isn’t typecast into an action star and goes for something a little more ‘meaty’. We can’t help but think that if these two had a little more screen time, we would of been watching a different film.
All in all, Insurgent is OK. If you don’t mind the clichés, dry dialogue and unambitious performances then you will have a perfectly good time.
How about a post from 30,000 feet?
SURPRISE: Birdman as Best Picture.
OK, yes, we picked it. Birdman had gained incredibly momentum over the last few weeks and seemed the likely winner. Having said this and predicted it ourselves, it was still surprising that Boyhood would not take the Oscar home. Between the high emotional stakes of the film and the time dedicated to it (not just from he Director, but from all involved), we had perhaps hoped that this would be enough to win big. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen. This leads us to…
SURPRISE: Alejandro Innaritu as Best Director.
Now, this isn’t really a surprise, and the award is not undeserving. His creative lead ensured that Birdman was one of the most original pieces from the last five years. Much like the ‘Best Picture’ award, though, it is disappointing that this wouldn’t go to Richard Linklater. It really seemed like his time after beautiful films like Before Sunset, and a 12 year investment isn’t easy. We were sorry to see him walk away without one of the ‘big two’.
SURPRISE: Grand Budapest Hotel winning in both Costume Design and Makeup/Hairstyling.
The production design for this movie was brilliant: the entire film was an array of colour and sound (somewhat of an assault on the senses: very ‘Wes’) However, when faced with tough competition from the likes of Guardians Of The Galaxy (Zoe Saldana being painted green anyone?!) it came as quite a surprise that Grand Budapest would reign supreme.
SURPRISE: ‘Best Picture’ winner falls short in acting categories.
This seems strange. Generally when we have a film win both ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’, there are additional victories within the acting categories, either for lead or supporting performances. Yes, Birdman backed up their win with many technical accolades, but to not see any performances recognized is interesting. Perhaps this simply proves that Birdman was not reliant on it’s actors, and thing could be a good thing?
THANK GOD: Eddie Redmayne as Best Actor.
Yes the competition was tight, with an absolutely stellar performance from Michael Keaton hot on his heels, but Redmayne was the standout winner this year. And what a cherry on top that Stephen Hawking reached out to Eddie to congratulate him on doing such a fantastic job. When you make your subject proud, you know you have done a good job!
THANK GOD: Birdman wins Best Cinematography.
This shouldn’t really need explaining. When is the last time we had ‘single take’ cinematography running through an entire film?! This not only made Birdman a joy to watch, but really got in behind the theatrical undertones of the film and drove them home.
THANK GOD: JK Simmons for Whiplash.
Definitely our tempo.
THANK GOD: Patricia Arquette wins for Boyhood.
As with our surprises above, we are super relieved that there was recognition for Boyhood, and Arquette was an incredibly worthy recipient. Arquette also made the second actress over 40 who took home an Oscar last night, truly silencing those who say there are no roles for older women in Hollywood.
What were your surprises and reliefs? Is there anyone you wish hadn’t won? Or had?! Let us know!
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine
Story: An underground British spy organization recruits a young rough around the edges Londoner as their new agent.
When you review a film, you really have to think about who has made it and what they might be trying to say. With Kingsman, the truth is, this is a film by Matthew Vaughn. For any of us who have seen Kick-Ass or Layer Cake then maybe we should know what to expect: something gory, in your face, and hilarious. Vaughn like to have fun and makes no excuses for that.
Unfortunately, Kingsman falls slightly short of his other feats and something feels somewhat amiss.
Gory violence does not make a bad movie, and in fact it is frequently done quite well. Think of Kick-Ass, Machete, Kill Bill, or Zombieland: all great movies and extremely funny but with enough graphic violence to make you squirm in your seat. Kingman attempts this and you know, maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. It is certainly not a reason to hate the film and it doesn’t take away from it. The real reason Kingsman is disappointing is because most of the jokes fall flat. This kind of violence should be accompanied by real, dark humour but we just don’t get it here.
There are some funny moments. Egerton does a fantastic job of playing the clueless young thug who is drawn into a world that he has only ever imagined. He has great ying&yang chemistry with Colin Firth who honestly seems to be doing the best with that he is given, but ends up seeming to be trying a little too hard to be dry. Samuel L Jackson is the real let down here: he is supposed to be the comic force in the film but it is far too obvious. Most of his jokes lack any sort of comedic timing and understanding, and just feel like they are lines read from a script (which they probably are). Comedy in this form, in this type of movie, is paramount. Kingsman tries very hard to bring it, but for some reason falls short.
That is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable. As an action movie it does the trick and provides and interesting enough storyline to keep us entertained. You can actually have a nice escape into action movie land for about two hours as long as you are not expecting a film along the same vein as Pulp Fiction or Get Smart.
Kingsman is fine. You won’t regret watching it, but it won’t go down in history as a great action comedy either
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons
Story: A young drummer struggles with the ’make or break’ coaching style of his mentor who will stop at nothing to help him realize his true potential.
Writer and Director Damien Chazelle struggled to get funding to make ‘Whiplash’. Despite his efforts, he just could not afford to get it made. Instead of being discouraged, he turned Whiplash into a short film and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Short Film Jury Prize. On the coattails of this success, Chazelle generated enough money to turn Whiplash into a feature length masterpiece. Whiplash is now one of the lowest grossing films in history to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. JK Simmons is hot tipped to take home ‘Best Supporting Actor’. The film is speeding towards a 9 star rating on IMDB.com and boasts a 96% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
All of this begs the question: Is Whiplash worth the hype? And can it be enjoyed by anyone, or is the audience very select?
The truth of the matter is that Whiplash is potentially one of the most intense, emotional, well made, and universally enjoyable films of the last ten years. Even if we keep saying this and driving it home, you will probably still be surprised by how it touches you and exceeds your expectations.
Whiplash is a film with two main characters: everyone else is really contextual padding. Teller comes into his own and plays an incredibly childish character with maturity we have not seen from him before. His character is stunted and one track minded and compliments Simmons character perfectly. Simmons is the driving force of the film: turning a boy into a man, and challenging him, incentivizing him, and degrading him towards success for the 1hr 45 minute running time. We have not seen JK Simmons like this EVER: he takes on this leading role and owns it completely to the point where you wonder if anyone else could of ever even been considered. He is deranged, but with a purpose stronger than many other lead characters this year. The driving force of both characters are clear, but not too clear, and their evolving relationship makes one thing very clear: true artistry, drive and passion are all worthy of respect.
One thing that really stands out in Whiplash is the editing which is *almost* drool worthy. We do have a few moments where the soundtrack is off key with what we see on the screen, but as we can imagine the drumming is done with such ferocity it would be near impossible to match up. Cuts and slides only add to the intensity of the viewing experience: we dare you to sit still!
It is almost criminal that more people have not seen Whiplash: it made a paltry $135k on opening weekend. However, there is no mistaking that this is truly the start of something for Damien Chazelle and a lesson to all of us: do not get discouraged.
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Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
The Films: The difficult thing about the Academy is that they do not split genres into Comedy/Musical and Drama. This means that we have to take and analyze many films from different genres and different styles of directorial effort.It is difficult to put a film like The Grand Budapest Hotel right next to Boyhood or Foxcatcher, and ask which Director did their job to better effect. The reality is, though, that Richard Linklater embarked on a 12 year journey to create one of the most authentic films we have seen, and that gives him a standout advantage. Having said this, Birdman has been gradually gaining steam, with nothing but praise being heaped upon Alejandro G Iñárritu. It seems that the other three nominees will unfortunately be left behind which seems a shame. Foxcatcher was a labor of love for Bennett Miller, and one he has been trying to pull together for almost as long as Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’. Wes Anderson finally gained critical reception with Grand Budapest, although this caused him to lose many of his loyal followers.
Who Should Win? Richard Linklater. It’s close to call between him and Iñárritu, but Linklater’s long term dedication should see him snatch it. Perhaps them most impressive part of Birdman is the cinematography which should still be recognized.
Who Will Win: Richard Linklater. And it is about time, too!
SNUBS: Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Films: Possibly the most underwhelming batch of ‘Best Picture’ nominees we have seen in a while. The Academy really didn’t feel like taking any risks this year. All of the films have been received well both by the public and critics, and have received awards consistently throughout 2014-2015. Having said this, it really is a two movie race this year. Despite previous wins, Grand Budapest Hotel likely won’t win any of the big five awards this year, nor will Selma or The Imitation Game. Theory of Everything will succeed in the Acting category but nothing else. Whiplash is probably one of the most deserving films, but is also historically one of the lowest grossing to ever be nominated for Best Picture, which slims down it’s chances of success. Really, the only films that are going to be successful enough in majority of categories to justify a ‘Best Picture’ win are Birdman and Boyhood. And between these two it is a super tight race.
Who Should Win? The ‘Best Picture’ winner is not always the film that is universally enjoyed. Think back to last year’s winner ’12 Years A Slave’ – how many of you actually enjoyed the experience of watching it?! Many have felt the same about Birdman, which put it as a bit of a frontrunner, particularly because of it’s spread of nominations in other categories. Having said this, Boyhood still carries a lot of weight and is a true feat of cinema. We’re going with Boyhood on this one as the more deserving recipient.
Who Will Win: Birdman. Yep, we’re calling this one. Birdman has been gaining so much momentum lately it seems unstoppable. We wouldn’t be surprised if Boyhood can hold on, but at the moment it seems it is being edged out.
SNUBS: Interstellar, Wild, Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher.
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
JK Simmons (Whiplash)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
The Performances: This is difficult because so many (well, all) of these performances were spectacular. A seventh Oscar Nomination for Robert Duvall indicates that it could be his turn, but with a lack of nominations for The Judge in other categories makes it seem unlikely. JK Simmons seems like a hot contender but could be deemed irrelevant to the Academy (much like Bruce Dern’s snub last year for Nebraska). The sad reality is, one of the strongest performances here is Mark Ruffalo, but much like The Judge, ‘Foxcatcher’ hasn’t garnered enough attention to warrant an Oscar. Which leaves us with two…
Who Should Win? We can’t decide. Edward Norton is reliable as ever, but really actually struggles to stand out in such a talented cast. Hawke has a much better opportunity to shine in Boyhood and make a lasting impression…
Who Will Win: Ethan Hawke. Especially if Patricia Arquette takes Best Supporting Actress. It seems a shame for Norton and Birdman, but Boyhood is going to reign supreme this year.
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
The Performances: It feels like a few of these nominees were padding for the category. Don’t take that the wrong way: all of the performances were good, but some are clearly more Oscar worthy than others. Critically all performances have been praised, however Dern’s total lack of screen time doesn’t instil great hope that the Academy will bestow this on her. What we have to look for are performances that are not overshadowed by their fellow cast members which points to three notable contenders: Streep (because it’s the Oscars), Stone, and Arquette. What is interesting is that in any other year, Emma Stone would probably be a shoe in especially with Birdman doing so well in other categories. Her real competition (Sorry, Meryl) comes from Patricia Arquette: with Ethan Hawke being hot tipped to take away Best Supporting, it almost seems fated: two award winning supporting performances driving a film is what it should be!
Who Should Win? Patricia Arquette. Just little enough screen time to be billed as a support, but put it enough of herself to be the leading lady of Boyhood.
Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette. It could be snatched from her by Stone, but she is a dark horse. Also, Stone is young: The Academy are more likely to go for Arquette as (much like with Julianne Moore) it is more her ‘turn’.
SNUBS: None worth noting.
Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Eddie Redmayne (Theory Of Everything)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
The Performances: Strangely enough this year we had a few of these performances surrounded in controversy. Steve Carrell’s role in Foxcatcher was protested by Mark Schultz, the film’s subject, for being too homosexually oriented. Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle was also objected by those claiming that the character was not true to life, and the film glorified war. Another really interesting thing is that 4/5 nominees are playing “based on true life” characters and we know that these are always shoe in for any major awards. We also deal with a few major topics: Mental illness in show business and sports (Carrell and Keaton;, Homosexuality (Cumberbatch); War (Cooper); and terminal illness (Redmayne). All of this makes it really hard to call. Both Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne have been snatching up awards left and right, but despite strong performances many of the others are yet to get lucky.
Who Should Win? Eddie Redmayne: the intensity and emotion in his performance is closely rivalled but ultimately unmatched this year.
Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne is going to take this one home, too. Not only was his performance absolutely stellar, but between physical training and time spent with Hawkins himself, he has really put in the legwork. Additionally, the Academy loves a good biopic, especially if the subject is still living and is happy about the end result.
Felicity Jones (Theory Of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
The Performances: This really is a mixed bag this year. All performances were well reviewed, but we are dealing with players in psychological thrillers, romantic dramas, and biopics. Felicity Jones gives a strong performance, but is overshadowed by her male counterpart in Theory Of Everything and doesn’t really give us enough ‘Oscar Moments’. The same can be said for Rosamund Pike. Marion Cotillard is a bit of a wildcard here since ‘Two Days, One Night’ didn’t even really get a wide release: many were surprised by her nomination but we have to understand that we are dealing with the Academy here and they have their favourites. Which leaves us with two…
Who Should Win? This one is hard to call, but we are inclined to say Witherspoon. Her performance was one of the most mature she has ever delivered and almost felt documentary-style. Flashbacks littered throughout meant she had to play two entirely different characters and mould them together: when not made in chronological order this makes her performance all the more impressive.
Who Will Win? Julianne Moore. Much like Redmayne she delivers a performance of intensity and emotion dealing with a very real disease. The attention on Alzheimers and spread of the disease means she has touched many people worldwide. Moore will triumph over Witherspoon on the ‘relatability’ card.
SNUBS: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) , Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Written by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jnr
Story: After a breakdown in his restaurant job and a difficult divorce, Chef Carl Casper decides to start a food truck to try and revitalize his love of cooking.
Isn’t Jon Favreau just everyone’s favourite guy?! If he wasn’t before, ‘Chef’ will make you think twice. Favreau commands pretty impressive attention at the credit roll: he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this feat which will leave you hungry for more!
It has been quite a while since we have seen something quite so uplifting without being ‘preachy’. The script is full bodied and delightful. Favreau is clever to stay away from cliches. Of course, many people have called this story boring and overly simple, but it strikes a really fine balance between internal and external struggle. Our protagonist is reliable and relatable, arguably one of the most realistic main characters we have had in a long time. The relationships he has with his son, friend, ex wife, and ‘kinda-sorta-girlfriend’ are unavoidable and dealt with in a true to life, no apologies sort of way. And of course, his biggest relationship, the one he has with food, is our quiet conflict. There is no big struggle in this film, and it actually plays out more in the structure of documentary that anything else. What we witness is a number of small struggles and small triumphs much like life for most of us out here in the real world.
Favreau gives us an incredibly likeable main character. He brings a lot of heart to the film and it is clear to see that this really was a passion project for him. Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jnr are in the film (nothing notable), and Scarlett Johansson appears and pouts for a while (also nothing noteable). Stand out performances after Favreau come from John Laguizamoand Emjay Anthony. Russell Peters provides a funny cameo, too. The real fault here is that the supporting cast are underdeveloped characters. There is no depth to Vergara’s role (does she have a job? Why was she ever married to this frumpy loser chef?) and Johansson was really quite pointless. With the film running for just under two hours, much of their screen time could of been cut to avoid confusion.
The cinematography is stellar, and this is not a film that should be watched on an empty stomach! Countless meals are prepared to perfection and presented so delightfully that you might just find yourself salivating.
‘Chef’ is a warm fuzzy. It is perfect for a rainy afternoon with a hot cooked meal when you’re in the mood to smile (on the inside!). Does it have problems? Yes. Mainly in script and character development, but this doesn’t ruin the movie. It is still a whole hearted treat.