the reel junkie

FILM REVIEW: ‘INSURGENT’

‘Insurgent: The Divergent Series’
Insurgent_poster

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. downloadIn 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.

Rating: 5/10

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– TRJ

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: BEST DIRECTOR & BEST PICTURE

Best Director:

download (2)Nominees:

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. 

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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)

Best Picture:

The Nominees:

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Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

American Sniper

Whiplash

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

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 universallyAMERICAN-SNIPER-4-1940x812 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.

FILM REVIEW: ‘THE BOY NEXT DOOR’

‘The Boy Next Door’qSCsbWEIB

Written by: Barbara Curry 

Directed by: Rob Cohen

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Kristin Chenoweth, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett. 

Story: In the midst of a difficult divorce, vulnerable school teacher Claire Peterson gives in to the advances of one of her students with dire consequences. 

Let us preface this by saying that ‘The Boy Next Door’ is a movie by Rob Cohen. Those who do not know him, Rob Cohen is the guy who directed ’The Skulls’, ‘The Fast And The Furious’, and ‘xXx’. A man like Rob Cohen is not without his merits (we would give ‘TFATF’ an 8 out of 10 any day of the week), but we really have to understand what to expect. Cohen is not Clint Eastwood and he doesn’t try to be. He is not trying to change the world. He just wants to make films that people might enjoy.

With that in mind, ‘The Boy Next Door’ is enjoyable. The plot is simple enough to understand, and there’s a trusty fight scene where everyone keeps hitting one another even though they have been shot, stabbed, or whatever else. There is no big twist and nothing that’s really going to make you think, which is kinda what we’re used to from JLO anyway.

Speaking of, her performance is about what you would expect from her too. She is not atrocious, but doesn’t do anything particularly noteworthy either. John Corbett is about as wooden as he has been since Carrie chose Mr. Big. 

The-Boy-Next-Door_612x380The film has some low points: the dialogue is stiff and just doesn’t deliver well despite what really seems like all the actors trying their hardest. Further, the score is put together s if trying to make this film scarier than it is. The movie is not scary at all (except maybe the dialogue) but somehow filmmakers thought it would be appropriate to use a sound akin to a thriller. And don’t even get me started on using a body double who looked nothing like the blonde high school girl she was supposed to be. That was simply poor editing. 

When looking at all of these factors, it is easy to see why so many have disliked this film and critics have absolutely slammed it. It does seem like Rob Cohen has lost a little of his touch. However, we can’t really expect it to be anything more than a popcorn flick. Watch this on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you can take it at face value and not try to search for any hidden meanings or socio-political commentaries. You MIGHT just be entertained!

Rating: 6/10

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

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

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