movie review

Most Anticipated Films – Summer 2015

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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: ‘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: ‘LONE SURVIVOR’

‘Lone Survivor’

Written by: Peter Berg (Screenplay), Marcus Luttrell (Book)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
The Story: Marcus Luttrell and his team of highly trained Navy SEALs go behind enemy lines to capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shah and find themselves engaged in a dangerous battle.

 

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If there is one thing that sticks in your mind after watching Lone Survivor, it is the haunting feeling that this was a true story. After watching a brutal take down of so many US Soldiers we are left with a certain distinct thought that we are indeed lucky to be alive.

First kudos in this review has to go to Colby Parker Jr, who edited the film in such a ruthless manner we flinch in even the less gruesome scenes. Combined with exquisite sound editing it is one of the standout elements. The pair do, however, make the film difficult to watch for anyone who is squeamish so we must warn that the realism presented here is not for the faint hearted.

Wahlberg gives a solid performance as Marcus Luttrell, and I am sure that it is something that Luttrell himself will be proud of. He is supported with mature offerings from both Kitsch and Hirsch as well as Ben Foster, who make an extremely patriotic foursome. Even though the men make decisions that seem timelessly frustrating it is impossible not to root for them, luckily we can root for them and still end the movie thinking “well, they shouldn’t of done that in the first place”. Despite this we feel the heart in these characters and can develop a real connection particularly to the character of Luttrell. Wahlberg did well in expelling a human element to his performance which continually reminds us that all of this was real.

The only real issue with this film is that it is what it is: a bang-bang, shoot em up, all American war movie. For the two hour running time we can almost taste the fact that Berg is trying to create something different here, but he falls down. What we are left with, at the core of all of this, is one continued gun battle with little to no time to process. As soon as we feel like we are getting time to breathe, the onslaught begins again. Maybe this is Berg trying to put us in the shoes of the soldiers. Maybe it’s just an action movie.

All in all, this is a fantastic movie for action lovers and patriots. If you are squeamish or easy bored by extended battle scenes then skip it.

Rating: 4/5

 

FILM REVIEW: “RIDE ALONG” (2014)

“Ride Along”

Written by: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Directed by: Tim Story
Starring: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart
Story: Security guard Ben goes on a ride-along with his future brother-in-law, tough guy cop James, in order to prove that he is worthy to be accepted into the family.

 

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It is hard to find the words to fully review a film like ‘Ride Along’. What springs to mind immediately after watching it is a room of Hollywood Executives rubbing their chins thinking: “You know what we haven’t made in a while? ‘Rush Hour’. Let’s make a movie similar to that but not nearly as funny…”

And so ‘Ride Along’ was born.

The most shocking part of this film is the fact that it took four people to write it. The story is simple. Fast talking annoying guy (Clearly Kevin Hart) spends the day with scowling tough guy who only ever utters threats of violence to get people around him to shut up. Hart is our modern day Chris Tucker, or Eddie Murphy in a ‘Shrek and Donkey’ style reluctant duo. What we have as a plot might of been a fairly intriguing crime saga 100 years ago before it had been done so many times before.

The camera darts and dashes to try and create the illusion that this incredibly slow movie is actually moving with any sort of inspired pace and quite frankly would be enough to make you car sick were it not for the fact that these sequences were so few and far between. The only attempt at making this film seem socially relevant and up to date is the relentless reference to video games (a WoW style game) which creates it’s own subplot.

This movie is a shame since Kevin Hart has become so widely acclaimed for his comedy. Paired with Ice Cube there could of been potential for this, had there been any semblance of comedy. The jokes are exhausted and so overdone it almost becomes unbearable. However, this is a great January money grab for the pair: ‘Ride Along’ has dominated the box office now for two weeks. People must be bored AND cold.

If you want to see two guys blow stuff up and have Kevin Hart make quips about it, then give this one a watch, but only if you don’t pay for it and you don’t have anything better to do.

If you have already seen ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Rush Hour’ (or even ‘Shrek’!) then definitely don’t waste your time.

Rating 0.5/5

FILM REVIEW: ‘DALLAS BUYERS CLUB’ (2013

“Dallas Buyers Club”

Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Story: In 1985, drug, sex and alcohol addict Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and sets out to make medication readily available for those in the same position.

 

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This year’s awards season is jammed packed with films looking at socially and culturally sensitive issues. Where there is ’12 Years A Slave’ giving us an extremely graphic and difficult to watch vision of racism and slavery in the pre-civil war United States, Jean-Marc Vallee gives us ‘Dallas Buyers Club’: an almost punishing look at the treatment of AIDS victims during the epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.
 
The film opens the way it means to continue, with graphic use if sex, drugs and alcohol to paint the picture of Ron Woodroof. It becomes evident that we are not supposed to like this man: his enormous disrespect for other people is on show. He is a violent homophobic which becomes the most ironic part of his situation. Looking at McConaughey on screen he is shockingly thin (the actor lost 47 pounds for the role) and his face is gaunt and almost lifeless. It is not uncommon for an actor to change their appearance for a role, we could name multiple examples, however it is rare that this transformation leads to such a fascinatingly good performance. In Dallas Buyers Club we get two of these. Jared Leto is remarkable in his role as Rayon, a transgender AIDS victim. His appearance will startle you more than once as he seems more cheekbones and hips than anything else: but where his body lacks, his acting is of huge substance. Rayon befriends the homophobic Woodroof and in it we begin to see a truly touching friendship form.
 
The film is heavy hitting in it’s deep evaluation of the subject matter. Aside from demonstrations such as ‘Rent’, ‘Philadelphia’ or perhaps even ‘Precious’, we have not really seen a really deep exploration of AIDS and the social and political consequences it can have. The film itself is driven towards the way in which AIDS victims were treated both by peers, hospitals, and the FDA. Woodroof’s battle to make medicine accessible not just for himself is inspiring and within twenty minutes we find ourselves rooting for him even though his character does remain genuinely unlikeable.. We are even exposed to some arguments that are still present in modern America. Against the backdrop of the Obamacare scandal, and the everlasting ‘wealth vs health’ argument presented oh so eloquently in documentaries such as Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ – Dallas Buyers Club not only makes us consider the actions of the past, but also the present. The multi-faceted characters express more than one purpose but somehow all seem relevant here.
 
The standout quality of this film lies in the editing and direction. An eerie whistle fills the audience’s ears to haunt us with the repercussions of Woodroof’s disease and to fill in parts of the story that are rightfully left vague. The film plays slow, but never drops the level of tension presented. Jennifer Garner’s character Eve Saks serves as a barometer for how we should relate emotionally to these characters, but serves no other real purpose in the film but to take up screen time. Yves Belanger (Director of Photography) should be commended on his collaborative work with Director Vallee in using light and shadows to create visually stunning sequences.
 
The screenplay is well put together and the dialogue is oftentimes touching. When watching the film I was under the impression that the story was based on a magazine article (as it claims to be ‘based on true events’) so I was confused to hear that Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack were nominated by the Academy for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ rather than ‘Best Adapted’: I am sure they have their reasons.
 
All in all, one might feel that Dallas Buyers Club overreaches on it’s plea for sympathy, only to be grounded by Jared Leto’s Rayon who is the only really likable character portrayed here. When faced with Garner and McConaughey in endless sequences, it starts to feel a little forced, like too much has gone into making sure the audience is feeling appropriately compassionate. 
 
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that is certainly worth watching, but one must remain open minded to the real message. This is a movie about respect, forgiveness, and hope. Not survival. 
 

Rating: 4/5

 

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Photo Credit: imdb.com

FILM REVIEW: ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY’ (2014)

“August: Osage County”

Written by: Tracey Letts

Directed by: John Wells

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin…

Story: A dysfunctional family is brought together after a family tragedy, and is forced to deal with family truths about the home they grew up in and the strong willed woman who raised them.

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Tracey Letts is the man behind ‘August: Osage County’. The film was originally a play, which gifted Letts with both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. The film adaptation drew a strong cast, who have been nominated over and over, namely Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, for their portrayals of mother and daughter Violet and Barbara Weston. Given that the film has received such attention for the cast, we have to wonder where the rest of the recognition fell off. Very few nominations for the screenplay, and John Wells has received little recognition for his Directing, we approach this film with curiosity.

The answer to this becomes apparent as soon as you begin watching. The cast itself are spectacular: Meryl Streep is both hilarious and worrying as the drug addled mother trying to cope with the loss of her husband, and Julia Roberts gives her best performance since Erin Brockovich. It seems almost a shame that awards season is so competitive this year. Were it not for Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine, Streep would be a shoe in for any and every trophy. With strong performances from Ewan McGregor and Chris Cooper serving as the voice of reason against these hot headed women, the interactions are an absolute joy to watch.

Unfortunately, the glory of the film begins and ends with the performances.

While the dialogue (which is alive with profanity) is both captivating and at times shockingly good, the story itself is convoluted with multiple subplots that are left underdeveloped and unresolved. From drugs, abuse, incest, and even touching on statutory rape, one starts to feel pulled in different directions and unsure where to invest. While we want to follow the story of the relationship between Roberts and Streep (as this is by far the most interesting) we are consistently distracted by an onslaught of extremely sensitive issues which are brushed past and never fully explored.

Indeed, aside from the dialogue the film itself is dull. Perhaps this dullness is to serve as a metaphor for the lives of those stuck in Osage County, however it does not serve well for viewing. We are offered a few pretty landscapes (which the characters are quick to complain about) but most of the film is shot inside a dark and dreary house. The lighting is dim and the film moves slowly. There is no respite from the misery that August: Osage County has to offer.

There are a few comedic moments but not enough to carry the film to where you want it to go. In the end we are left with minimal resolution: a ‘driving off into the sunset’ moment simply does not justify the reality of the rest of the film.

With such strong performances from every single cast member, you really really want to enjoy August: Osage County, and indeed I would never discourage anybody from watching it: when you can get to grips with the main story of family it does resonate. However, the lack of nominations in any other category aside from acting is plainly evidenced and supported when you watch this in it’s entirety.

If you are one for stark, witty dialogue and a stellar ensemble cast then definitely watch August: Osage County. If not, then perhaps give it a miss.

 

Rating: 3/5

 

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FILM REVIEW: ‘THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’ (2013)

“The Wolf Of Wall Street”

Written by: Terence Winter (Adapted from the book ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ by Jordan Belfort)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Story: Based on the autobiographical novel by Jordan Belfort, ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ profiles his rise to fame and fortune as a stockbroker, and his subsequent downfall involving corruption, fraud, and crime

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There are two words needed when one begins to review ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’:

Scorsese. DiCaprio.

Both are famous from previous works such as ‘The Departed’, there is almost a stigma attached to the works of this pair. When entering the theatre, you know that you are going to see something that could make you laugh, cry, and think for days on end.

Having come across Jordan Belfort a few years ago amongst sales training seminars, I personally was familiar with his story. I read ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ in all it’s glory long before venturing to the cinema, and I can only imagine the look on Terence Winter’s face when Scorsese handed him this novel and said, ‘I want you to make this into a screenplay, and spare no detail’.  And this is exactly what Winter did.

The screenplay itself is phenomenal: it captures the very essence of the book and when put on screen eludes something almost like a drug: the lives of these characters is so attainable, yet so poisonous: an audience is tempted and almost lured into this world that is so convincingly created, yet they know that it cannot lead to any good. The only thing missing from the screenplay has received a huge amount of backlash. Throughout the whole novel we get the distinct impression that Belfort is not proud of himself: he is very remorseful when telling his story. Indeed, Scorsese has come under fire for apparently ‘glorifying’ this life of sex, drugs, and stock fraud. Wiping out this sense of guilt does not do any favours and might be the only thing missing.

Having said this, DiCaprio is nothing short of mesmerising in this role and it appears that this was the part he was born to play. We laugh with him; tense when he tenses; and hang on to every facial spasm as if it is the end of his days. For a film that plays for three hours, this is essential and an integral part of the story. DiCaprio’s diversity is well on show, as he is both happy and distraught at the drop of a hat.

Comic relief comes in the form of Jonah Hill, who plays Belfort’s partner in crime Donnie Azoff. Hill truly does pull out all the stops to create his stupid yet sincerely likeable character: he even creates a sense that was missing from the book: that Donnie really is Belfort’s support system and lifeline through much of their ordeal. Rumour has it Hill was even arguing with film crew to let him actually eat a goldfish to make the scene the most realistic. There is no doubt that this work will put Jonah Hill in a different league of Hollywood actor altogether.

As much as word limits might hold us back, we simply cannot discuss this film without mentioning Margot Robbie. An Australian actress and a relative unknown, Robbie masters everything to do with this part, from the accent to the demeanour, and even the look and feel of Naomi Lapaglia. She is feisty, good hearted, and an intoxicating ‘sex kitten’, which serves exactly the purpose of her in Belfort’s life: she is his anchor, but also his biggest weakness. Robbie’s stellar contributions to the most emotional and consequential scenes in this film could not be replaced.

Scorsese is on fine form and has spared no expense here. When watching a Scorsese film, one gets the feeling that everything that can be controlled has been: the lighting, audio, cinematography… All of these end up completely inessential to the story, however they make watching a three hour film all the more enjoyable.

Scorsese possesses a rare gift in a filmmaker in his ability to create an entirely different universe for his audience to enjoy. When we are watching Belfort and his merry group of men parade around New York City, we do not make that connection to real life. We cannot process that this was actually New York City, and these things actually happened. We are, for that brief time, drawn into Scorsese’s world of free living and we daren’t look back. When we do come to it makes the film all the more enjoyable to try and believe that these things, the people, and the actions were in fact real. Majority of the audience will spare little afterthought for the negative consequences of this story: they will be drawn to love the simplicity of the human characters that we are offered.

‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ is a must see for anyone with burning ambition to be something in life, or anyone who knows someone exactly like that. We are all a little bit of Jordan Belfort.

Rating: 4.5/5

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*Photo Credit: imdb.com

FILM REVIEW: “PHILOMENA” (2013)

“Philomena”

Written by: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (adapted from the book ‘The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee’ by Martin Sixsmith)

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

Story: Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) is a journalist pursuing a human interest piece based on Philomena Lee, who was induced into giving her first child up to Irish nuns.

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Directed by Stephen Frears, who has earned acclaim for films such as ‘The Queen’, ‘Philomena’ is a rich, witty drama which will resonate with anybody who has a social conscience.

When you take a book like ‘The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee’ and attempt to turn it into a movie, it would be very easy to fall into a Nicholas Sparks type trap of creating something soaked in apathy and desperate for tears. This is not the case with Philomena, which draws brilliantly on the comedic talents of both Steve Coogan and Judi Dench to master the fine balance between laughing and crying.

The story is not too simple, but not complex enough to drown out the true emotion of the matter at hand. I have heard people say that this film serves to only bastardise the Catholic Church, however when one actually takes the time to watch this movie from start to finish, something different starts to permeate your mind.

Judi Dench plays the role of Philomena to absolute perfection, and one may indeed find themselves hanging on to every single word she says until the credits begin to roll. Joining on her journey to find her long lost son, who she finds was actually sold for adoption in the United States, Steve Coogan gives us Martin Sixsmith in all his glory. This totally mismatched pair have an incredible mother/son chemistry on screen and their opposing views provoke even more thought in the audience: Where Sixsmith builds increasing resentment towards the Catholic Church, Philomena possesses an impenetrable capacity to forgive and live on. It is impossible to take sides.

Frears is not fussy in his direction, instead choosing to play his part minimally and leave the rest to the script which was masterfully written by Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan. The movie plays out quickly, and doesn’t mess about with unnecessary characters or detail.

All in all, those who watch will find themselves captivated by an unavoidable “PhiloMania”: an attachment to this story which perhaps has different significance for each and every individual.

Rating: 5/5

**Photo Credit: http://www.200movies1woman.com