Interview – Bedouin Sea


Interview: Bedouin Sea

I, Frankenstein Review – Dead Movie Walking


Director: Stuart Beattie

Writer: Stuart Beattie (screenplay, Kevin Grievoux (graphic novel)

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto


Release date: March 20th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Hopscotch Films

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 92 minutes


 

1/5

Best part: Aaron Eckhart.

Worst part: The wafer-thin narrative.

Hiding in the shadows of Hollywood’s smallest studios, one screenwriter/producer/actor keeps on getting work. Despite the idiocy of the screenplays and productions he creates, his immense power and surprising intellect pay-off more often than they should. This man is Kevin Grievoux. Sound familiar? Nope. Okay, I’ll explain. Grievoux, delivering the Underworld franchise and now I, Frankenstein, doesn’t deserve his notoriety. However, despite my overt cynicism toward his work, his immense stature scares me. Playing a large Werewolf in the Underworld series and a scary henchman here, Greivoux, literally and figuratively, stands by everything he creates.

Aaron Eckhart.

At the very least, he bares commendable intentions. However, despite holding several degrees, graphic novels, and screenplays to his credit, this hard worker delivers nothing but B-grade fluff. No offence Mr. Greivoux, but you don’t deserve anything except for criticism. Judging by the lacklustre marketing campaign, everyone around him must be embarrassed by this dull action flick. Kicking off this ridiculous thrill-ride, the movie’s prologue glosses over Mary Shelley’s original material. As we all know, Dr. Victor Frankenstein created a monster out of 12 parts from 8 corpses. Realising he has conquered God’s true power, he strives to kill the monster (Aaron Eckhart). After Dr. Frankenstein and his wife’s death, the monster takes his creator’s body to the family graveyard to give him a proper burial. Inexplicably, to advertise the target demographic and potential for perplexing action sequences, demons ambush the monster and attempt to control him. However, as soon as the monster escapes his captors, Gargoyles attack and kill the demons. The Gargoyle forces, led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and bodyguard Gideon (Jai Courtney), invite the monster into their labyrinthian lair. Convinced they can convert the monster (renamed “Adam”, for some reason) into a soulful warrior, the Gargoyles are fighting a losing battle. This goofy fantasy then jumps forward 200 years, and mysterious Benefactor Charles Wessex (Bill Nighy) pushes employed scientist Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski) to track down and study the monster. 

Yvonne Strahovski.

There are several reasons why these movies continually become box office bombs. Like the titular character of this uninspired effort, these action flicks are noticeably flawed. To further criticise the movie’s actors, director, and audience, I’m glad to announce that this year’s the Oscar season has overshadowed their efforts. Thankfully, post-Oscar season dreck, like this, is now looked down upon by the masses. Believe it or not, we are evolving beyond I, Frankenstein. The plot, such as it is, is flimsier than the casts’ agents and publicists. Suited for stupid 11-year-old boys, the movie will bore anyone with two braincells to rub together. In fact, those braincells will no doubt develop more chemistry than the movie’s performers. I’ll admit it, I fell for mega-flops like Van Helsing when I was 11. Similarly, I, Frankenstein‘s brainlessness and chaotic nature might bewitch some viewers. However, unlike similar fare, it forgets to have fun. Fittingly, Frankenstein’s monster represents this comic book adaptation’s execution. Like the mistreated creation, the movie comes off like several disparate parts awkwardly stitched together. From the get-go, the movie establishes itself as a no-nonsense action-adventure flick. Unfortunately, inexplicably overlooking its own stupidity, the movie takes itself way too seriously. Unlike Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire, I, Frankenstein doesn’t solidify its absurd plot mechanics or bizarre aesthetic. Hilariously, breaking through the movie’s straight-faced facade, the overwhelming  production issues hinder the final product. Cutting away from action sequences, limiting the scope, birthing generic creature designs, and delivering dodgy CGI throughout, writer/director Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow When the War Began) mishandles the premise’s most intriguing intricacies.

“I, descender of the demon horde. I, my father’s son. I…Frankenstein.” (Adam/Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart), I, Frankenstein).

Gargoyle vs. Demon.

Despite obtaining a $65 million budget, Beattie highlights the narrative’s more conventional and laughable aspects (hard to believe he wrote Collateral). Despite his previous screenwriting efforts, Beattie’s work here delivers contrivances, unintentionally laughable moments, and forced dramatic tension. Crowbarring the monster into this silly feud as a Christ-like figure, the movie even throws in symbolism. To be fair, kids would fall head-over-heels for ancient history if the Roman Empire/Barbarian war had involved Gargoyles and Demons. Beyond this, I should be angrier! Shot in Melbourne’s Docklands Studios, it’s nice knowing my taxpayer dollars last year went toward this banal Blade rip-off. Do yourselves a favour, save your money and re-watch the Blade and Underworld franchises. Whilst not being Oscar-worthy successes in-themselves, those movies deliver more intentional laughs, ambition, and memorable action beats than I, Frankenstein. Here, despite Beattie and Greivoux’s commendable intentions, their ideas stall this over-the-top action extravaganza. However, despite placing the best action sequence in the first half, the movie’s first few set pieces deliver slight shades of joy. Featuring sword-wielding Gargoyles and Parkour-loving Demons, these sequences almost elevate this brain-dead material. Sadly, the action and CGI, in the second half, become exceedingly more transparent and monotonous. Depicting Frankenstein’s monster as a baton-wielding vigilante, the martial arts sequences add nothing to the movie’s befuddling mythology. Flaunting his character’s nonsensically rugged aesthetic, Eckhart bolsters his frustrating role. Growling every line, his dark performance is, by far, the movie’s best asset. Unfortunately, the supporting players are underwhelming. Otto, Nighy, Strahovski, and Courtney deliver gormless turns in underwritten roles.

Despite the cheap thrills and fine cast, the movie falters because it doesn’t make sense. There are several questions left lingering after certain twists and turns. How is the human population so oblivious to this ancient war? Why is ascending to heaven this horrible? Why is the love interest’s apartment so decrepit compared to her impressive workplace? Thankfully, there won’t be a sequel charged with addressing these nitpicks. With a diminutive scope, derivative story and character traits, and dodgy CGI, I, Frankenstein‘s lead character is nowhere near as listless and pitiful as the movie around him.

Verdict: A trashy and pointless action-adventure.

The Raid 2: Berandal Review – The Ultimate Gut-punch


Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusawedo

The_Raid_2_Berandal_teaser_banner


Release date: March 28th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Stage 6 Films

Country: Indonesia

Running time: 150 minutes


Best part: The inventive fight choreography.

Worst part: The convoluted sub-plots.

Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

Verdict: A pulsating and revelatory martial arts flick.

The Monuments Men Review – Stuck in Trenches


Director: George Clooney 

Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (screenplay), Robert M. Edsel (book)

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman

monuments_men_xlrg


Release date: February 7th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The dreary pace.

What ever happened to the concept of ‘classic Hollywood’? The Golden Age of Hollywood was defined by artistic efforts created by influential and enviable crusaders…I presume. Having researched this part of entertainment history (I know, I’m a nerd), I’ve come to a predictable yet apt conclusion – Hollywood doesn’t make movies the way it used to. Literally and figuratively, this statement sports several obvious and subtle traits. Modern Hollywood, continually compared to what it was, doesn’t stand up to criticism. So, who better to boost Hollywood’s wavering reputation than national treasure George Clooney? From Tibet to Timbuktu, everyone knows who he is.

Matt Damon & George Clooney.

In fact, Clooney’s latest effort, The Monuments Men, strives to make gigantic and awe-inspiring leaps of faith. Unfortunately, the movie trips and falls more often than not. Tellingly, this movie contains the right ingredients. In particular, not to be overlooked, the movie’s A-list performers have boosted some of the past decade’s greatest works. However, this saccharine docudrama’s reach exceeds its grasp. Embarrassingly, the movie keeps reaching for Clooney’s previous efforts’ level of quality. His immense star power and determination fight to bring classic Hollywood back. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men comes off like an elaborate dress rehearsal. Needing one-or-two final look-overs, this mawkish dramedy fits great assets into awkward places. Admittedly, this is an inspirational and unique story. Based on Robert M. Edsel’s literary account The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (had me at the title alone), this kooky adventure flick can’t decide what it wants to do. Here, multiple characters take this troop’s intentions across harsh lands to all corners of Europe. Set during WWII’s final moments, the movie picks up with the Nazi’s retreating to Berlin. Stealing priceless artefacts and destroying cities and communities, Adolf Hitler’s forces are taking everything to hell with them. Noticing their disgraceful actions’ impact, Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney, of course) presents his findings to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Cate Blanchett.

Given the all-clear, Stokes recruits representatives from Western Civilisation’s brightest sectors. After throwing Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) back into the action, Stokes invites a gaggle of veteran soldiers to take-on Germany’s fiercest armies. Honestly, I’m trying to make this movie’s intricate plot seem more interesting than it is. Though their names aren’t important, the supporting characters are boosted by a plethora of acclaimed performers. Soon enough, Manhattan architect Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculpter Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), painter Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), theatre director Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Lt. Donald Jefferies (Hugh Boneville) join Stokes. Gathering intelligence proving Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum to be in development, the group infiltrates  Europe to such retrieve artefacts as the Van Eyck Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Sadly, despite the immense talent dousing each frame, star power and attention to detail don’t distract from The Monuments Men‘s crippling flaws. Obviously, the premise is boosted by these esteemed actors. It’s invigorating seeing these actors collaborate and crackle on screen. Unfortunately, from the twenty-five-minute mark onward, this rambunctious crew splits up to take on different missions. The narrative, separating into several under-utilised and tedious parts, exhaustively plods. Within the first third, the movie’s jarring tonal shifts and underwhelming turns stick out. After their separation, Granger meets up with disgruntled museum curator Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett). With Simone key to the mission’s success, Granger’s intentions become distorted. At least, that’s what I thought his story-line was about. For this subplot highlight’s the movie’s biggest flaw – cluttered with convoluted arcs and under-utilised concepts, the movie’s underdeveloped plot-lines are disjointed and meaningless deviations.

“Stop, stop. Stop. I seem to have stepped on a land mine…of some sort.” (James Granger (Matt Damon), The Monuments Men).

Bill Murray & Bob Balaban.

Beyond Clooney’s hubris blinding his gaze, his and long-time co-writer/producer Grant Heslov’s screenplay lacks depth, charm, and consistency. Steering away from emotional impact, the exposition-and-cliche-driven story-lines lack definitive resolutions. Considering Clooney’s greatest works (Good Night, and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), he should know how to fuse relevant, politically-driven narratives with eclectic, period-piece settings. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men‘s broad, bloated sub-plots distract from Clooney’s grand vision. With plot-strands switching from blissfully lighthearted to disturbingly dark and vice-versa, this homage to classic Hollywood already feels wholly dated. Irritatingly so, Clooney’s influences and viewpoints rest close to his heart. Like with The Ides of March, Clooney uses his democratic, no-nonsense agenda to kick this movie into overdrive. Thanks to the true story’s significant profundities, the movie almost  becomes socially and spiritually involving. Commenting on art’s effect on culture, the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the first world, Clooney’s fiery viewpoints reach breaking point. Amongst Clooney’s feisty attacks, the hit-and-miss gags also distort his intentions. Injecting slapstick humour into heartbreaking sequences, The Monuments Men awkwardly  connects contrasting genres and influences. Beyond the kitsch opening credits sequence (honouring The Dirty Dozen), Clooney’s overt sense of humour hinders this heavy-handed docudrama. Thankfully, Clooney’s visual style elevates this otherwise underwhelming dramedy. Along with the movie’s sumptuous and electrifying mis-en-scene, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is jaw-dropping. Overcoming Clooney’s tonal transitions, the visuals are far more substantial than his overwhelming opinions. 

I hate to criticise Clooney’s work. For an entire generation, his scintillating screen presence and immense talent establish him as one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures. However, The Monuments Men, despite the commendable intentions, is an uninspired, confused, and weightless dramedy. Hampered by Clooney’s agenda and affection for classic Hollywood, his ambitiousness and profile prove costly. Somehow, this WWII docudrama lacks dramatic tension, laughs, and genuine thrills. Despite Clooney and co.’s involvement, its clear why Brad Pitt didn’t show up. 

Verdict: A lively yet disappointing WWII dramedy. 

Interview – Tim Nelson


Interview: Tim Nelson

Interview – Shell & Avahn


Interview: Shell & Avahn

Need for Speed Review – Crash ‘n’ Burn


Director: Scott Waugh

Writer: George Gatins

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi


Release date: March 14th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

1½/5 

Best part: Aaron Paul.

Worst part: The frustrating supporting characters.

Disastrous losing streaks aren’t enjoyable for anyone in Hollywood. They come without warning whilst embarrassing their victims beyond belief. In Tinseltown, losing streaks can happen to directors, writers, and actors. Sadly, Hollywood’s catastrophic run of video game adaptations is officially getting worse. After witnessing exhaustive action flick Need for Speed, I believe Hollywood should throw in the towel. The movie, despite its alluring cast and marketing campaign, isn’t worth the admission cost. Save your money and play the game instead. trust me, you’ll have a much better time. At the very least, you’ll gain some sense of control.

Aaron Paul.

Who’s asking for these video game adaptations, anyway? Everyone wants their favourite games, comic books, and novels adapted into movies. But why can’t people simply enjoy them for what they are? These adaptations, cashing in on a particular brand, prove that some entertainment mediums don’t cross over effectively. The mass divide between video game and cinema mechanics drifts Need for Speed into an inescapable vortex of mediocrity. It’d be simplistic and cheesy to make a significant number of car puns throughout this review. However, the plot, such as it is, relies on its viewers having low IQs, acute nymphomania, and Red Bull addictions. People who refuse to sit through 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street (you know, intelligent movies) will lap up Need for Speeds irritable ticks and predictable turns. The plot kicks off with testosterone-fuelled car mechanics being idiotic. After a sorrowful introduction from renowned radio presenter Monarch (Michael Keaton), we run into notorious grease monkey/street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). Marshall, running his late father’s garage, is haemorrhaging money faster than he can earn it. Gaining respect within Mt. Kisko, New York’s underground drag-racing scene, Marshall is considered one of the circuit’s hidden treasures. Celebrity driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes to Marshall for help. Hoping to settle their long-lasting feud, Brewster offers Marshall a spectacular opportunity. Brewster asks Marshall’s crew to fix-up the Ford Mustang acclaimed car designer/entrepreneur Carroll Shelby (don’t worry, I didn’t know who that was either) was working on before his passing.

Dominic Cooper & Dakota Johnson.

Before I go on, I’ll ask Dreamworks Studios and co. just one thing. Dear studios, this is based on a plotless video game, what did you think would happen?! The Need for Speed franchise consists only of uninteresting cut scenes and exhilarating car chases. This franchise, despite reaching the right demographic, can’t deliver acceptable cinematic endeavours. Congratulations Burnout and Gran Turismo, I now have more respect for you! Anyway, the plot takes sharp turns early on. After pitching their work to car dealer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), Marshall gets back on Brewster’s bad side. Hindered by Marshall’s efforts, Brewster challenges him and his comrade Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) to a race. Using Koenigsegg Ageras, the three speed down the freeway before Pete is killed. With Pete’s sister and Marshall’s old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson) standing by Brewster’s word, Marshall is sent to prison. Before long, motivations, revelations, and speeches bust out of these irritating characters. This revenge plot, controlling this half-assed Fast and Furious rip-off, is as tedious as watching someone play the aforementioned video game. Even before the half-way mark, it divulges into derivative tropes and face-palm-inducing moments. Sadly, thanks to George Gatins’ interminable screenplay, the movie assumes its two or three movies into its own franchise. After its annoying characters are introduced, the movie pushes on without depth, personality, or originality. Separated from the franchises’ eighteen instalments, these characters are simply uninteresting hindrances. Another problem – trust me, there are a lot of ’em – stems from Hollywood’s current trend of adapting useless properties. Stunt coordinator turned director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) obviously doesn’t care about the movie’s slower moments. Not knowing whether to take itself seriously or take deep breaths, Need for Speed’s jarring tonal shifts become debilitating road blocks.

“Racers should race, cops should eat donuts.” (Monarch (Michael Keaton), Need for Speed).

The cars.

Tripping over the franchise’s baffling ‘mythology’, gullible thirteen year-old boys will be the only ones savouring this tumultuous experience. Deliberating on visions of the future, masculinity, and racing’s raw power, the movie’s spiritual side dampens its insignificant and questionable narrative. Predictably, plot contrivances, cliches, and unnecessary sketches extend the bloated story. Despite presenting itself as a homage to 70s drive-in flicks, aided by overt references to Bullit, the movie sorely lacks pathos, energy, and relevance. Beyond the plot-hole, and pot hole, driven narrative, the dramatic and comedic moments don’t help. The slapstick moments, led by irritating supporting players, are accompanied only by crickets and tumbleweeds. One act of defiance, involving one character quitting his job, is just plain tiresome. Paul, coming off of AMC hit series Breaking Bad, does his best with such immature material. Paul and Poots, developing a slither of chemistry within their Mustang’s small confinements, are charismatic forces in need of better projects. On the other end of the spectrum, rapper Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi hampers every scene he coverts. As the movie’s most offensive stereotype (and that’s saying something), Mescudi should stick to his rap career. Somehow, Need for Speed‘s characters are less realistic than the racing sequences. Thankfully, the action set pieces steal the show. Created with flawless technical precision and attention to detail, the skids, crashes, and flips deliver tiny joyful moments. Thanks to immaculate practical effects, Waugh’s exhaustive knowledge of stunt-work pays-off here. Unfortunately, he and the screenwriters stall when it comes to everything else. Why should I compliment this abominable mess? The negatives far outweigh the positives. I could make more car puns and jokes, but they would distract from my anger toward this unending skid-mark.

Here, Hollywood has blessed us with yet another woeful and forgettable video game adaptation. Yawn! Surely, it can’t be that difficult to produce one worthwhile adaption. Up there with Doom, Max Payne, and Prince of Persia, Need for Speed steals this franchise’s rhythmic title and speeds off into the distance. Thankfully, this movie will probably crash and burn at the box office. Trapping Paul, Poots, and Keaton inside a fiery mess, this lazy car-race flick delivers cheap thrills and loud groans. Unfortunately, story-driven games are now being given short shrift. Thanks to the aforementioned franchise killers, the Last of Us, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid adaptations may never happen.

Verdict: A tedious and stupefying actioner. 

Interview – Oakland


Interview: Oakland 

Interview – DJ Allira


Interview: DJ Allira

Interview – These Winter Nights


 

Interview: These Winter Nights

300: Rise of an Empire – Bodybuilders & Blood Splatters


Director: Noam Murro 

Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Frank Miller (graphic novel)

Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro


Release date: March 7th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Eva Green.

Worst part: the stilted dialogue.

Everyday, Hollywood comes up with new and transparent labels for its big-budget efforts. Placing blockbusters into specific categories, this system is hard to keep track of. Nowadays, its difficult deciphering whether something is a reboot, remake, sequel, or prequel. To bolster the ever-pressing studio system, Hollywood has come up with a new category. The ‘interquel’, thanks to belated sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, seems like a bizarre act of desperation. Thankfully, the movie ably justifies the category’s existence. This sequel/prequel is an enjoyable, action-packed romp.

Sullivan Stapleton.

Set before, during, and after the events of controversial auteur filmmaker Zack Snyder’s 2007 surprise hit, 300: Rise of an Empire continues on with the original’s overall narrative. Despite the extensive gap between instalments, the sequel commendably connects the two. Overlooking the original’s cult classic status, 300: Rise of an Empire justifies its existence from the get go. Fortunately, despite being a step down, the sequel is a pleasant surprise. Beyond the grown-inducing trailers and premise, the final product is salvaged by its lively execution. This series, ostensibly based on infamous comic-book writer Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novels, leans pressingly on major historical events. Here, we are introduced/re-introduced to the Battle of Salamis. The movie beings with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling this pressing tale to a battalion of warriors. After her re-introduction, the movie jumps back to the conquering Battle of Marathon. With the Athenian and Persian factions locked in an epic battle, Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) becomes an unstoppable force. In the first five minutes, the highly-esteemed leader eviscerates an entire Persian battalion. After killing King Darius I of Persia (Yigal Naor), Themistocles declares the battle worthless. Witnessing his father’s death, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) becomes an angry embarrassment. Scheming Persian naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) pushes him into the desert. Becoming a God-king, Xerxes’ wrath descends upon Athens. Xerxes, one of the original’s unintentionally laughable creations, is a small part of a much grander vision. Thankfully, this backstory is lightly brushed over. Serving Artemisia’s disturbing plans, this uninteresting character is simply a puppet under a puppeteer’s control.

Eva Green.

It’s worth pointing out, highlighting this movie’s troubled production history, this sequel is based on one of Miller’s unpublished creations. Basing his efforts entirely on cinema’s overwhelming potential, Miller’s writing and artwork reek of style more so than substance. Then again, Snyder’s style is also a perfect example of style over substance. So, will this franchise continue to mimic their stylistic flourishes? Or break away from irritable ticks and overblown creations? Judging by 300: Rise of an Empire‘s sheen, their notorious styles are imbued in this franchise’s DNA. Given the reigns to the Warner Bros./DC Comics universe after Man of Steel‘s significant profit margins, Snyder clings onto writing and producing duties. Director Noam Murro, beyond his silly name, is an odd choice for this type of blockbuster. With Smart People his only other feature-length credit, Murro launches into a wildly different genre with this convoluted sequel. For the most part, he does a commendable job. Murro understands the original is still a major talking point. The original’s cognitive elements – homoerotic overtones, muscular heroes, and visceral action sequences – drive his ambitious instalment. In love with the original’s monumental events, the sequel bows before Miller and Snyder’s grand accomplishments. Unfortunately, copying 300‘s structure, this instalment relies on the audience’s profound understanding of the original. Characters, at random, act on, and react to, the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans’ brave sacrifice. Shoddily deliberating on freedom and political prosperity, the movie’s purpose relies on epic action sequences. Taking itself too seriously, the awkward dialogue moments present themselves as needless, and mindless, filler.

“Better we show them, we choose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees.” (Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), 300: Rise of an Empire).

Rodrigo Santoro.

Surprisingly, the movie is defined by its closing credits. Bashing Black Sabbath and 2D animation together, this brashness efficiently sums up the preceding two-hour experience. Thrusting thinly-veiled exposition and messages into each scene, 300: Rise of an Empire paints a wholly expansive, gritty, and broad picture. With white characters charging through brown enemies throughout each action sequence, relevant discussions about military forces, political power, and social indifference are under-utilised. This franchise – aped by the Hercules reboots, the Clash of the Titans series, and Immortals – still stands above the pack. In particular, the directorial flourishes and action sequences elevate this series above its meandering competition. The plot, such as it is, caters to a series of overblown set pieces. Expectedly, the talky moments come off as cut scenes. Providing button-mashing-level entertainment values, the expansive set pieces are worth the admission cost. Beyond the video-game-like structure, the movie inventively takes to the seas. Depicting naval strategies and military prowess, the visceral and impactful naval battles stand out. With ships and swords clashing repeatedly, these sea-faring sequences are packed with edge-of-your-seat moments. Despite overusing Snyder’s slo-mo/speed-up trick, 300: Rise of an Empire amps up the violence. Slicing and dicing Persian forces, CGI blood is gratuitously splattered across each frame. Deliberating on honour, love, and war, the characters are defined by glorious speeches and harsh orders. Stapleton, a fine Australian actor, lacks Gerard Butler’s overt charisma. The soft-spoken Stapleton, despite his impressive physique, is stranded in an underdeveloped role. Thankfully, Green enthusiastically elevates her mediocre material. Lending maliciousness and sympathy to her antagonistic role, Green’s spectacular range pays off. The sex/fight scene between Themistocles and Artemisia sits head-and-shoulders above everything else.

Though not up to Spartacus and Gladiator’s immense status’, the 300 series benefits from immaculate production values and rippling muscles. You can’t help but notice these near-naked warriors’ enviable physiques. The casting directors must’ve had a helluva time picking these people. However, beyond the superficiality, 300: Rise of an Empire, despite its flaws, is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. With a smarmy villain, fun action sequences, and stellar cinematography, this sequel is much better than you’d think.

Verdict: An enjoyably outrageous sword-and-sandal flick. 

Labor Day Review – Like Undercooked Pie…


Director: Jason Reitman 

Writer: Jason Reitman (screenplay), Joyce Maynard (novel)

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg 


Release date: December 27th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: The charismatic performances.

Worst part: The egregious romance.

Romantic-drama Labor Day‘s opening credits sequence sets its audience up for a heart-breaking fall. Here, the movie introduces us to one of Middle America’s most gorgeous suburbs. Sure, this seems pleasurable. But, as this sequence goes on, the tedium steadily sets in. In one 30/40-second shot, Labor Day transitions from intriguingly simple to bland and dreary. This movie, leading itself down Oscar-bait lane, is nowhere near as interesting as its all-powerful competition. From the aforementioned credits sequence onward, the movie crashes and burns.

Kate Winslet.

Dear young and old couples alike, don’t be drawn into Labor Days alluring marketing campaign! This movie is the ultimate relationship test. If anyone who watches it says, to their respective partners, things like: “that was so romantic” or “these characters remind me of me”, they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Despite my scornful words (really, they’re just words!), Labor Day does sport several interesting scenes and revelatory performances. However, despite the slight positives, I still hate this messy and disgraceful melodrama. Anyway, I guess I should describe the ‘plot’. In a sector of 1980s America (I presume), depressed and agoraphobic single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) struggles with day-to-day life. Forced to look after her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) full time, the thought of even stepping outside makes her shake uncontrollably. Relying on Henry’s acute precociousness, she’s unable to fend for herself. In addition, at the local supermarket, several things remind Adele of her current predicament. Henry bumps into escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Forcing himself into their maudlin lives, Frank finds solace in their quaint home. Over Labor Day weekend, Frank becomes ingrained into their peculiar familial structure. Based on Joyce Maynard’s semi-autobiographical novella, this adaptation bludgeons this already weak-minded genre. Admittedly, the story’s heart-warming premise seems romantic. My steel-like heart melts the tiniest bit for concepts like these. However, Labor Day’s execution, to be gleefully hyperbolic, is as painful as witnessing an actual execution.

Josh Brolin & Gattlin Griffith.

Before I go on a “modern romance is awful!” rant, I’ll stop myself dead. My cynical perspective, somehow, became darker as I watched this insipid and egregious romantic-drama. Its problems stem from the story’s core ingredients. As Adele and Frank fall in love, Labor Day slides into a brainless and vacuous lull. Anyone, of any age group, can tear through this unending melodrama’s plot mechanics. Relying on coincidences and implausibilities, the story’s hollow and archaic nature becomes frustrating. From their creepy meet-up onward, Adele and Frank’s romance hurriedly, and unexpectedly, becomes ethically questionable and unlikeable. From then on, the movie falls into manipulative territory. Forcing himself into their lives, Frank, inexplicably, turns into a cross between Bob the Builder and Martha Stewart. Within Labor Day’s malfunctioning 72-hour window, Frank fixes everything around the house, teaches his ‘victims’ how to bake, and turns Henry from a sensitive child into a baseball-loving primate. Even more unrealistic, the leads’ relationship blossoms over this alarmingly short space of time. Frank’s muscle flexing and Adele’s cleavage-friendly dresses become catalysts in this uninspired love story. As the saccharine love child of Fifty Shades of Grey and Nicholas Sparks’ harlequin romance novels, this exhaustive mess is just as stale. Like Safe Haven and The Lucky One, Labor Day is mind-numbingly dull and oddly psychosexual. Sadly, Dear John is much better. My disappointment rests squarely on its wasted potential. Romance, despite mass cultural and critical vile, can make for intriguing and invigorating cinematic gold. The Notebook and Titanic, though not without their flaws, still sit at the top of this schmaltzy leaderboard.

“I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself.” (Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Labor Day).

The ‘family’ in action.

The blame rests with acclaimed writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). Reitman, known for insightful and darkly comedic character studies (Thank You for Smoking, Young Adult), avoids his satirical shades and witty edge here. Instead, this energetic filmmaker reaches into an ancient bag of tricks. Where is his sense of humour or acute insight into pop-culture? Despite Reitman’s ambitiousness, his new career path falls into dangerous and degrading territory. Like with Nick Cassavetes, commercial glory and watchful studio eyes now cast a debilitating shadow over Reitman’s distinctive style. Here, Reitman examines his and Maynard’s livelihoods. Based on Maynard’s peculiar experience with a prison pen-pal, the young filmmaker’s efforts dampen this manipulative tale. Displayed in flashback, Frank’s life story and motivations become clear. However, Reitman, clinging onto small and intriguing details, mashes the flashback and flash-forward buttons. Unfortunately, inconsistent flourishes distort several plot points and revelations. Jumping from pre-Vietnam 60s, to present day, then to the swinging 70s, the movie’s timeline doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. However, one sequence is effectively handled. Examining Adele’s dilapidated psyche and harsh life story, this flashback-fuelled vignette sits head-and-shoulders above the present-day romantic dross. Rescuing this atrocious romantic-drama from the cinematic doldrums, Winslet and Brolin deliver touching performances. Though unable to elevate such soggy material, Winslet injects charm and malice into this frustrating character. Looking beyond her character’s child-like mind, the Oscar-winning actress – making the most of this career misstep – relishes in the narrative’s wavering emotional state. Here, Brolin is endlessly charismatic. Despite the lack of chemistry, Brolin’s distinctive voice and charms bolster this irritating character. Meanwhile, Griffith is revelatory as the patriarch turned concerned citizen.

Sadly, Labor Day is a gigantic waste of time, potential, and talent. Despite the cruelty, I see this as a public service announcement. Depicting a joyless and hollow version of romance, this romantic-drama is a calculated, lugubrious, and cynical mess. Earning a spot on my 2014 Worst of the Year list, I pray this Hallmark Channel reject is just a one-off for Reitman. I still like him, but this is pushing it! Even the world’s craziest cat ladies are too intelligent for this one. Skip it at all costs!

Verdict: A laughable and frustrating melodrama. 

Non-Stop Review – The ‘Neesoner’


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writers: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, Ryan Engle

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll


Release date: February 28th, 2014 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Liam Neeson.

Worst part: The baffling plot twists.

Celebrated Irish actor Liam Neeson has had a whirlwind career. Predicting his career trajectory has been, and still is, like predicting a hurricane’s turbulent path. The theatre actor’s life soared after his Oscar nominated turn in Schindler’s List. However, with Taken becoming a sleeper hit back in 2008, his recent career choices have spoken for themselves. Neeson’s jarring predicament, considering his recent script choices, is seemingly a harsh reality. His new blockbuster, Non-Stop, is part of a significant problem. The movie, despite its broadly entertaining moments, is a bafflingly idiotic action-thriller. 

Liam Neeson.

Soaring to the top of the US box office immediately after its release, the movie will push studios to throw Neeson into similar fare. Fortunately, for Neeson at least, he stands head-and-shoulders above his movie. Along with being one of Hollywood’s tallest actors, his might stems from raw power. Admittedly, with Neeson being one of tinsel town’s most popular actors, I could spend this entire review simply praising his existence. Here, like with previous efforts, he plays an all-encompassing badass with a point to prove. US federal air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson), from the opening scene, is presented as a danger to himself and others. Forced to watch over British Aqualantic Flight 10 journey from New York to London, his steely edge pushes him through air travel’s vacuous processes. Pushing past the security gate and multiple passengers, Marks, obviously, bears a disturbingly dark past. Burdened by his daughter’s death to Leukaemia, the alcoholic divorcee’s brash nature is about to get significantly worse. During the flight, after introducing himself to sensitive passenger Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), Marks is sent text messages from a mysterious source. The culprit, identified him/herself as one of the passengers/crew, threatens the disgruntled air marshal. Soon enough, the passenger threatens to kill someone every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specialised account. Upon discovering the suspect’s true intentions, Marks finds himself on a knife’s edge. Beyond the ensuing fist-fights, speeches, and gun shots, the post-911/Transport Security Authority commentary is the movie’s biggest obstacle. Arguably, the movie’s degrading messages should’ve been left on the tarmac.

Julianne Moore.

Marks, one to hit first and ask questions later, becomes the real target of the suspect’s diabolical plan. Admittedly, to people coming into Non-Stop cold, the premise might seem promising. In addition, despite the gargantuan flaws, this is nowhere near Neeson’s worst effort. Sitting on the Neeson-o-meter between his enjoyably frantic action-dramas (Taken, The Grey) and drearily unwatchable blockbusters (Taken 2, the Clash of the Titans series), Non-Stop could and should have been more interesting. Obviously, the movie rests entirely on Neeson’s star power. In every frame, Neeson’s character pieces together this egregious puzzle. Unfortunately, neither he nor director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked together on Unknown, can save this preposterous and uneasy narrative. With several clues peppered around the aircraft, the screenplay’s in-your-face attitude delivers a stupefying and nonsensical answer for each intriguing question. The suspect’s plan, though intense at first, becomes steadily unconscionable. From the first murder onward, the story’s implausible sequence of events relinquishes Non-Stop of tangibility, tension and genuine chills. Threatening to topple over at any moment, the debilitating narrative kicks into overdrive long after the 45-minute mark. Despite Collet-Serra’s commendable efforts, the discomforting tonal shifts highlight Non-Stop‘s greatest inconsistencies and plot holes. Starting off as a nail-biting drama-thriller, the movie’s first half heads in the right direction. However, after the premise is examined and explained, the second half becomes a tedious and laughable action flick. Despite the Speed-like premise, this thriller transitions into Red Eye‘s inferior relation. Essentially, this is what happens when Strangers on a Train meets Snakes on a Plane.

“I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it!” (Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), Non-Stop).

The supporting travellers.

On top of its tonal issues, Non-Stop sports an overabundance of tiresome cliches, plot contrivances, and irritating characters. Containing more red herrings than a Scandinavian fish market, this action flick spends its first half charting stereotypes and over-the-top moments. Remember, it only get worse from there. With twists and turns hastily thrown into each scene, the final third’s revelations aren’t worth mentioning. Yes, they are that ridiculous! Despite these issues, some credit should go to Collet-Serra for the first half. Saving otherwise abominable material, his attention to detail and unique visual flourishes become bursts of fresh air within this blatantly preposterous adventure. Aware of the claustrophobic setting, Collet-Serra’s style puts the “thrill” in “xenophobic and forgettable action-thriller” (the screenwriters add everything else). The director adds a cold, distant tinge to this straight-laced thrill-ride. Toning each colour pattern down to a bleak shade of grey, Collet-Serra strives for an intense aura. Aiming for reality (within the first two-thirds, at least), he illuminates the setting’s more unsettling aspects. Outdoing himself, his camera techniques loop, pan, and whirl around characters. The action sequences definitely aren’t for the faint hearted. With turbulence and cramped areas becoming major obstacles, the Bourne-like fist fights are worthwhile. Unfortunately, the final third’s CGI-fuelled roller-coaster ride is deftly unsatisfactory. Beyond Neeson and Moore’s acting talents, there’s little to enjoy. The supporting characters – played by Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – are silly hindrances.

Thankfully, damning Non-Stop with faint praise, this action flick lives up to its title’s promise. This gritty but irritating thrill-ride is chock-a-block with potentially mesmerising moments and charming actors. Unfortunately, before its confusing denouement, Neeson’s latest effort descends into hokey territory. Neeson, at the very least, should think before choosing his next project. Schindler’s List and Kinsey now seem like distant memories.

Verdict: A stupefying and mildly distasteful action-thriller. 

Nebraska Review – Colourless Flavour


Director: Alexander Payne

Writer: Bob Nelson

Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach


Release date: November 15th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

 

3½/5

Best part: The eclectic performances.

Worst part: The discomforting tonal shifts.

What exactly defines a director’s ‘body of work’? A signature style? A high-minded agenda? A rise or fall in overall quality? Simple answer: all of the above. This energetic term refers to a director’s all-encompassing works becoming cognitive parts of a much larger odyssey. One director sporting a stellar and eclectic filmography is Alexander Payne. Since I fondly appreciate his acclaimed works, I refuse to make a dim-witted pun about his last name. In fact, despite his rich and irritable cynicism, his movies speak the truth about monumental issues. Payne, with Nebraska, takes a wild detour back to his old stomping grounds.

Bruce Dern & Will Forte.

Thankfully, 2013’s Best Director nominees have charged head-on into informative and alarming topics. From Spike Jonze’s scintillating work in Her to Steve McQueen’s transcendent efforts in 12 Years a Slave, these filmmakers transformed a humble crop of dramas into the past decade’s greatest Oscar nominees. Payne, shooting previous Oscar seasons into the stratosphere, knows how this process works. Gracefully, the likeable and vague director writes love letters to his younger self. His movie’s personal touches hint at gargantuan promises and immense surprises. Thankfully, they all work to his movies’ advantage. Here, Payne places his heart on the line, and is almost willing to stomp on it himself to prove a point. The move follows a disgruntled family aching for change. In the opening scene, a decrepit and alcoholic old timer, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), is caught wondering the streets of Billings, Montana. Brought into the local police precinct, Grant is convinced he’s hit the jackpot. Carrying a sweepstakes scam letter in his jacket pocket, Grant strives to retrieve his staggering $1 million ‘winnings’. With Grant’s frustrated son David (Will Forte) forced to pick him up and drop him back to his lively residence, Grant’s literal and figurative demons become abundantly clear.

June Squibb.

Prodded by his wife Kate (June Squibb) at debilitating moments, his anger ever-so-slowly rises to the surface. Despite Grant’s bizarre  behaviour, David, running away from his own problems, drops everything to take his unhinged father on this mind-boggling journey. Payne fuses modernity and tradition in this kooky dramedy. In creating this dreamscape, the priceless director reaches into his ol’ bag of tricks. Nebraska instills his electrifying filmography’s more distinctive kinks. Like Sideways and The Descendants, the narrative rests its transformative quirks on one quaint road trip. Obsessed with road trips, deceptive schemes, and irritating family units, Payne’s style is brought to the forefront of this ageless and touching familial drama. However, despite my intentions, ageless may be the wrong word. This Best Picture nominee, like Philomena, examines people of vastly different age groups. Commenting on cliches and hearsay, the movie quashes any preconceptions about the elderly community. Yes, the elderly characters in Nebraska do yell at younger people and regale family members with tiresome tales. However, they choose do so because of hard work and free will. First time feature writer Bob Nelson gives these retirees distinctive traits and empathetic shades. Tugging at heartstrings and brain cells, Nebraska‘s fruitful narrative comments on an era as old as the movie’s lead character. Convinced this shade of Middle America could become obsolete, Payne’s emphatic direction hurls the movie’s issues into the spotlight. Pushing against the grain, the movie’s gritty conflicts and resolutions inject observational comedic moments and intriguing personalities into the sprawling narrative. Contrasting personalities, defined by life-altering decisions and brash revelations, add emotional depth to this otherwise discomforting tale.

“I never knew the son of a bitch even wanted to be a millionaire! He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it!” (Kate Grant (June Squibb), Nebraska).

Stacy Keach.

Unfortunately, whilst returning to familiar territory, Payne doesn’t delve into anything original. The story, reminiscent of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Paris, Texas, builds a cavalcade of overtly sentimental moments and tiresome cliches. Heading back to Grant’s hometown of Hawthorne, long-dead conflicts, long lost loves, and caricatures come out to greet him. Buying into Grant’s peculiar antics, the vultures – led by Grant’s old business partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) – circle the unenthusiastic and ignorant lead character. Payne, refusing to sugarcoat certain situations and details, oddly embraces and rejects nostalgia and lower-middle class America simultaneously. This multi-millionaire – commenting on small-town America and economic turmoil – indulges in his perfunctory material. Aged care, family values, and the American dream are small fragments of Payne’s shattered perspective. However, despite the overwhelming agenda, Payne’s startling visual style and attention to detail stand above the conventional screenplay. Ambitiously shot in Black in White, Phedon Papamichael’s glorious cinematography lends poetic beauty to this cynical dramedy. Embedding itself into the consciousness within the first few minutes, the black and white photography turns a simplistic melodrama into a multidimensional character study. In addition, the quirky and efficient score lends gravitas to this comforting road trip. Plunking away, folk-blues sounds waft over certain sequences like none other. Hats off to Payne for that choice. Fortunately, the performances, more so than the visuals, hurls the audience into this darkly comic tale. Dern, an indie drama darling, establishes his immense prowess. Despite being the outsider in this year’s Best Actor list, his enigmatic and subtle performance elevates every scene. Saturday Night Live graduate Forte delivers his greatest performance as the miserable and amicable David. His character – picked on by sex-offending cousins, steely-eyed enemies, and rambunctious elderly relatives – is a step above most in this nostalgic romp. Squibb excels in her disarming role. Pushing her relatives to breaking point, her character becomes a terrible person doing commendable things. Meanwhile, Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk nicely rounds out the cast as the family’s more successful son.

Nebraska, despite the quaint charm and ingenious performances, is far from your typical comedic farce. Payne, not one to hide from the truth, places his thoughts and ideas in full view. His frankly modest perspective makes his characters walk that fine line between chaos and control. With Dern, Forte, and Squibb’s charisma saving all-important scenes, this eclectic road-trip dramedy transitions into a potent and thematically relevant adventure. Though not deserving of its Best Picture nomination, the movie, like its main character, is crazy in the sanest possible way.

Verdict: A cheerful and modest road-trip dramedy. 

Lone Survivor Review – Fallen Brothers


Director: Peter Berg 

Writer: Peter Berg (screenplay), Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch


Release date: January 23rd, 2014

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Foresight Unlimited

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The visceral action sequences.

Worst part: Its unsettling agenda.

Here’s a fun question: what do The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Devil, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno have in common? Give up yet? Ok, i’ll just tell you. The answer: their titles reveal major spoilers. This is a problem for multiple reasons. Assuredly, the studios must think their audiences are stupid. To attract multiple target markets, filmmakers and studios reveal their movies’ greatest secrets. Sadly, Lone Survivor is up there with the aforementioned releases. Lone Survivor harms itself thanks to one tiny detail – it’s based on a true story. Unquestionably, this issue is most problematic when dealing with docudramas. Despite the obvious marketing troubles, it’s still acceptable to look past these issues and lap up this confronting thrill-ride.

Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, & Emile Hirsch.

Whether they’re PR stunts or debacles, these movies carry a duty to inform but not spoil applicable and potentially groundbreaking stories. This movie’s production history is a tumultuous journey in itself. Based on Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robertson’s book about these harrowing events, certain facts, figures, and opinions were changed to suit a ‘standard’ narrative structure. Causing controversy on all fronts, the book has been translated into an exhilarating yet morose action flick. Despite Luttrell’s blessing, the movie sits uncomfortably on shaky ground. This story, though exponentially impactful, needed a significantly more objective and accomplished writer/director. The first half presents these courageous figures as war-obsessed men of honour. Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg) is a grizzly soldier unafraid of death and disparity. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) awaits his upcoming wedding with baited breath. Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) revels in his profession’s most masochistic aspects. Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) is the tough-as-nails rookie with a heart of gold. Spoiler: three of these people aren’t making it back to base. Introducing its tough-guy caricatures, the first half boasts an awkward and bafflingly unimpressive sense of humour. Making up reconnaissance and surveillance unit SEAL Team 10, these US Navy SEALs head up an important mission called Operation Red Wings. Their mission revolves around murderous Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Responsible for the deaths of 20 US Marines, Shah must be captured or killed by any means necessary. Dropped into the Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region, the team sneak through this harsh and unending forest region. Unfortunately, within the first few hours of this mission, the team’s cover is blown by innocent civilians. From this point on, the movie’s Call-of-Duty-esque conflict kicks into gear. 

Eric Bana.

Lone Survivor, despite the marketing and narrative flaws, is a tight, tense and visceral thrill-ride. Mixing varying genre elements into one confronting and egregious concoction, the movie wholeheartedly praises these real-life heroes. Transitioning from gripping war-action flick to horrifying survival thriller, Lone Survivor delivers several tremendous highlights. Pandering to this movie’s agenda would be wrong. But, then again, it would be cruel to attack writer/director Peter Berg for choosing this story. Oh boy, treading this line is difficult! Anyway, though I respect Berg’s intentions, his movie becomes an obvious and one-sided war flick. Berg’s career is peppered with intelligible action flicks (The Kingdom, Welcome to the Jungle) and disgracefully forgettable blockbusters (Hancock, Battleship). Obsessed with the US Military, he becomes infatuated with these all-encompassing tough guys. Here, his blockbuster ticks and war-drama tropes awkwardly clash. Beyond his hit-and-miss filmography, Berg’s inept screenplay turns a potentially compelling concept into indulgent and ineffectual material. Returning to the big screen after Friday Night Lights‘ ongoing success, American prosperity and foreign policy are tools at his disposal. Using military technology and soldiers for the movie’s overwhelming production, Berg’s commendable intentions are overshadowed by his distracting political agenda. Painting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in black and white, Lone Survivor develops a one-sided and imbalanced portrait of this harrowing conflict. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly respect the US military’s efforts to build monumental infrastructures across the world. Unfortunately, movies like Lone Survivor refuse to deliver detailed viewpoints. Praising the US’ stranglehold over smaller territories, heartfelt moments transition into trite and uninspired sections. Bookended with archival footage of Navy SEAL training, and pictures of these heroic figures, this right-wing action extravaganza should’ve retreated to safer ground. Going all out, Lone Survivor transitions into a confused and questionable commentary on the past decade’s aforementioned conflicts. 

“You can die for your country, I’m gonna live for mine.” (Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), Lone Survivor).

Ali Suliman.

Given the thumbs up by Glenn Beck himself, Lone Survivor hurriedly became a red-white-and-blue box office success story. With LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson’s review panned by the debilitating media commentator, this potent war flick is an obvious and mean-spirited right-wing fantasy. However, overcoming its irritating and one-sided agenda, Berg’s action direction bolsters this terrifyingly graphic and intense action-thriller. Stepping into the four soldiers’ shoes, the movie examines its characters’ identities. Driven by manliness, ego, and focus, the movie, despite telegraphing certain characters’ demises, comments on every soldier’s immense will to succeed. Lone Survivor, despite the glorious attention to detail, gives thanks to Zero Dark Thirty, Platoon, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings. A long list for sure, but these movies are infinitely more thorough and responsive. Like The Kingdom, the punishing violence and gore elevate this hokey and conventional war-docudrama. Depicting this conflict’s most intensifying moments, bullet wounds, bruises, and shrapnel cuts stand out. In fact, opting for practical effects is the movie’s ballsiest choice. Berg’s attention to detail and action-direction develop several enthralling set pieces. With our lead characters going head-to-head with Taliban forces, the second two-thirds deliver brutal and ever-lasting gunfights. Despite the one dimensional enemies, the visuals and stunt sequences elevate this middling war-drama. The cliff sequences – in which our lead four hit every rock and tree on their way down – are shockingly gruesome. In addition, Tobias A. Schliesser’s cinematography throws the audience into this atmospheric and saddening situation. His distinct camera movements and angles heighten each set pieces’ intensity and emotional impact. Treading light ground, the performances also elevate this underwhelming and heavy-handed action flick. Wahlberg, carrying multiple action flicks last year, is suitably intense as the team’s determined leader. Left with the most responsibility, Wahlberg’s magnetic presence bolster’s this thrilling survival tale. Kitsch, recovering from a disastrous 2012, is energetic as the cocky second in command. Hirsch and Foster, known for disturbingly honest turns into low-budget dramas, excel in this moody war-drama. Rounding out this eclectic cast is Eric Bana as Lieutenant Erik S. Kristensen. Bana, coming back into the spotlight, is a welcoming presence as the leader manning the all-important military base.

I know I should be respectful to Lutrell and his fallen comrads. In fact, to be clear, I’m specifically attacking Berg for transforming this story into something it’s not. Turning this brave story into an explosive romp, Berg’s aura delivers an underwhelming effort reeking of wasted potential. However, thanks to Berg’s action direction and attention to detail, this engaging war flick overcomes its brash agenda and underwhelming cliches. More movies about this subject should be made, just not like this. 

Verdict: A brutal yet overbearing war-docudrama.

Dallas Buyers Club Review – Southern Struggles


Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack 

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn


Release date: February 13th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: McConaughey and Leto.

Worst part: The obvious symbolism.

Today, the first world looks to Hollywood for inspiration. Despite being an easy target, film and TV industries deliver symbols and heroic figures. Thanks to grand illusions, we forget that celebrities are people too. These awe-inspiring figures aren’t simply high profile people collecting giant paycheques while posing for photographs. It’d be easy for celebrities – bombarded with blissful opportunities, temptations, and fan-bases – to make simplistic choices. The late 1990s and early 00s housed laughing stock turned celebrated actor Matthew McConaughey’s extraordinary ascension. Falling into the leading man slot, he picked roles based on giant paycheques and mass marketing campaigns. However, he’s recently proven his worth within the ever-shrinking A-list club. 

Matthew McConaughey.

Fortunately, McConaughey’s slew of award-worthy movies – forming the aptly titled ‘McConaissance’ – has bolstered his once-declining filmography. With his star shining brighter then ever, low-key docudrama Dallas Buyers Club hurls this dynamic actor into serious Oscar contention. However, despite the praise, one mind-boggling performance doesn’t make for a wholly compelling docudrama. Continuing this Oscar season’s trend of fusing darkly eclectic docudramas with powerful performance pieces, the movie relies entirely on the courage of its convictions. The movie chronicles rebellious loner turned dilapidated pharmaceutical figure Ron Woodroof. We meet Woodroof during awkward yet eye-catching circumstances. Woodroof, a serial womaniser and irritable misanthrope, leads a repetitive and tiresome existence. Gambling over rodeo bull rides and card games, his insatiable lifestyle reaches critical and disastrous conditions. With his ‘enviable’ lifestyle delivering countless surprises, his identity shifts violently after an industrial accident. At his local hospital, he is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Taken aback by his condition, his existence is turned upside down. With his friends’ prejudices pushing him away, Woodroof finds solace through drugs and alcohol. At this point, the movie becomes a familiar yet likeable drama aching for attention. Beyond McConaughey’s physical, mental, and emotional transformations (losing 18kg for the role), the movie’s sterling attention to detail and spiritual weight launches it into overdrive.

Jared Leto.

My praise for this significant actor can’t be undone. Over the past three years, McConaughey – gracefully embodying ruthless yet sympathetic criminals (Mud), middle-aged strippers (Magic Mike), honourable and vicious hitmen (Killer Joe), and straight-laced professionals (BernieThe Paperboy, The Lincoln Lawyer) – has become Hollywood’s most dexterous actor. Graciously, the Texan artist saved his best performance for this potent and Oscar-worthy docudrama. Though not quite reaching The Wolf of Wall Street and Killer Joe‘s standards, Dallas Buyers Club delivers heartwarming and confronting qualities. Based on this extraordinary true story, the movie blissfully and honourably explores American history’s most taboo subject. The AIDS epidemic, explored in major releases like Philadelphia, hits like an impactful gut-punch. Despite informative and controversial subject matter, the movie never asks for sympathy. Unlike similar medical dramas, the movie never looks down upon its morally driven characters. In fact, for the most part, the movie refuses to sit patiently in a hospital waiting room. Emphatically immersing us in Woodroof’s journey, this Erin Brockovich-like docudrama becomes a love letter to Middle America’s unique inhabitants. Thankfully, Woodroof and his enlightening journey are insatiably empathetic. Despite his brash personality, this character arc becomes a tangible and exhilarating thrill-ride. Driving through an entrancing time period, this movie’s 20-year production history, coming from a loving place, touches on this and last century’s most debilitating issues. Despite its obvious flaws, the movie’s immaculate relevance pushes it into Oscar territory. The story’s parallels chart Woodroof’s shocking transformations. In comparing Woodroof’s pre and post diagnosis lifestyles, the movie’s cliches stick out. In the first few scenes, Woodroof is the pinnacle of manliness. Snorting cocaine, throwing around dollar bills, and setting up saucy threesomes, certain traits telegraph Woodroof’s overt transformation. Pushing him into the country’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community, this homophobic and anger-fuelled man’s journey is eye-rollingly overt.

“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill f*uckin’ Ron Woodroof  in 30 days.” (Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), Dallas Buyers Club).

Jennifer Garner.

Comparing Woodroof to animals and rodeo clowns, the movie’s heartening screenplay throws awkward moments into enthralling sections. Guided by his own middle finger, Woodroof’s abrasiveness and tenacity almost distort this otherwise heart-wrenching docudrama. Despite its overwhelming richness, Dallas Buyers Club‘s sappy moments and manipulative lines distract from profound narrative. With Woodroof’s transgender friend/business partner Rayon (Jared Leto) becoming a cognitive part of the Dallas Buyers Club, the movie’s touching relationships should’ve provided a well-rounded perspective. However, despite Woodroof’s commendable intentions, the movie delivers two dimensional discussions about major pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and the Food and Drug Administration. Depicted as insultingly villainous, the movie’s antagonists highlight its forceful agenda. Due to an ethically questionable screenplay, Dallas Buyers Club presents broad sub-plots and characterisations without delivering a textured viewpoint. Condemning experimental AIDS drug AZT, the movie hypocritically dishes out awkward side effects. However, director Jean-Marc Vallee(The Young Victoria)’s unique visual style elevates the questionable material. Hurling bleak colour patterns and practical effects across the screen, Vallee’s infatuation with this true story becomes evident. Thanks to the movie’s sickeningly dark turns, this mature and nuanced style amicably suits the material. Beyond Woodroof’s prowess, the performances bolster this conventional anti-hero character study. McConaughey’s turn is simply jaw-dropping. Adding confronting mannerisms to his sycophantic turn, MConaughey’s commitment is thesis worthy. In addition, Leto, known for Requiem for a Dream and Lord of War, fits comfortably into his bizarre and heartbreaking role. Leto’s first acting gig in six years places him in strong contention for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are sorely underdeveloped. Jennifer Garner’s character, Dr Eve Saks, is a single minded and inconsistent plot device. Despite these gripes, Garner performs admirably in this middling role. Expanding her range, Garner’s inherent charm pushes her through the emotionally impactful final third.

Dallas Buyers Club, despite its niggling flaws, is an enjoyably manic docudrama. Thanks to his scintillating transformation, McConaughey shows that big-name actors aren’t just in it for the thrills. He, despite his peculiar reputation, is systematically changing the game. Like Woodroof’s work, McConaughey’s process expands our ever-growing universe. Along with Leto and Garner elevating mediocre characterisations, the movie’s intelligent messages, acute sense of humour, and shocking twists elevate it above Oscar-bait territory.

Verdict: A taut, thought-provoking, and touching docudrama.

Interview – Our Man in Berlin


Interview: Our Man in Berlin 

Interview – Dallas Royal


Interview: Dallas Royal

Live Review – Public Enemy @ Chevron Festival Gardens


Review: Public Enemy Proves they’ve Got Punch…

Interview – The Flower Drums


Interview: The Flower Drums 

 

Interview – David Ross Macdonald


Interview: David Ross Macdonald

Reshoot and Rewind’s Oscar Predictions – 86th Academy Awards


Thankfully, this Academy Awards season has been a true delight. We’ve seen Matthew McConaughey transform into a national treasure, a 90-minute sci-fi flick shoot for the stars, and Pharrell Williams tell us to be clap along and be happy. Admittedly, this may be a cheesy re-tread of similar Oscar prediction lists that have come out over the past few days. However, due to expectations, I should probably throw in my two cents. Here are my predictions for this year’s Oscar winners. The names in bold highlight the nominees who will, and in some cases should, win.

Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Directing

American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)
Captain Phillips (Billy Ray)
Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)
12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
Her (Spike Jonze)
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

Best Cinematography

The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)
Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)
Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)
Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Best Costume Design

American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)
The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)
The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)
The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor)
12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Best Film Editing

American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten)
Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse)
Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)
12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty)
The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Best Original Score

The Book Thief (John Williams)
Gravity (Steven Price)
Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song

Happy (Despicable Me 2)
Let It Go (Frozen)
The Moon Song (Her)
Ordinary Love (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Best Production Design

American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler)
Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard)
The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)
Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)
12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker)

Best Sound Editing

All Is Lost (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns)
Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney)
Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge, Chris Ward)
Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman)

Best Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro)
Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland)
Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow)

Best Visual Effects

Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds)
Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick)
The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

Hopefully, my predictions aren’t too distasteful. We’ll find out how accurate they are when the 86th Academy Awards ceremony kicks off on Sunday night.