A Most Wanted Man Review – Spy Hard


Director: Anton Corbijn

Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Entertainment One

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

 

4/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Over the past thirteen years, filmmakers and studios have milked the proverbial zeitgeist teat. Though major political, economic, and cultural events have been re-enacted previously, the 21st century’s biggest issues are being flogged for our entertainment. United 93 and World Trade Center re-created America’s darkest day, Zero Dark Thirty depicted the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while The 25th Hour tackled the saddest New York imaginable. However, spy-thrillers like A Most Wanted Man face the nitty-gritty of post-9/11 paranoia.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's all-powerful swan song.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s all-encompassing swan song.

Luckily, A Most Wanted Man takes the high road throughout. Looking into a distressing magic 8-ball, the movie refuses to offend anyone. However, it still tells an effective and meaningful tale. Adapted from acclaimed author John le Carre’s recent novel, this spy-thriller honours the legendary writer whilst taking a different path. In addition, the movie efficiently tackles the War on Terror. The title cards, layered over an arresting shot of the ocean crashing into a dock, inform us of important historical events. After learning Islamic extremist Mohammed Atta had planned the World Trade Centre attacks in Hamburg, Germany, the US Government developed a task force there to destroy future potential threats. In this fictional account, we meet the people in charge. In its latest mission, lead espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tasks his team –  bolstered by Erna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Max (Daniel Bruhl) – with tracking illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Working off the local Muslim community and CCTV footage, Gunther’s team finds Karpov in a decrepit housing complex. Simultaneously, the team tracks Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah(Homayoun Ershadi)’s suspicious activities.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Despite being Europe’s most prolific counter-terrorists, Gunther and co. must make their case before German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attache Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) take over. Obviously, A Most Wanted Man is devoid of a James Bond or Jason Bourne. Lacking gadgets, lavish vistas, or explosions, the average filmgoer might reject this intricate and claustrophobic effort. However, its narrative grips the viewer from the first to last frame. Its surprises, lacking the typical action-thriller bombast, are hearty breaths of fresh air. The mystery, placing professionals in realistic yet unpredictable situations, never relies on standard tropes. Standing alongside its competition, the story – aided by Andrew Bovell’s meticulous screenplay – rests on its characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Fuelled by intensive conversations and chases, the spying is as mature and concise as our characters. However, the story – depicting Gunther’s team forming alliances with distressed lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and renowned banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) – never delivers enough emotional resonance. Avoiding major thrills, the movie occasionally tests the viewer’s patience. Based around political conflicts and slow-burn espionage, some may beg for fistfights or shootouts. The first-two thirds, though peppered with harsh truths and tense sequences, won’t raise anyone’s blood levels.

“Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn’t he? And in Abdullah’s case…that little bit might just kill you.” (Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), A Most Wanted Man).

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Despite the minor flaws, A Most Wanted Man‘s positives make for pitch-perfect sequences. Fuelled by witty lines and surveillance jargon, this glacially paced drama soars when required. The last third, driven by a heart-wrenching climax and bitter resolution, delivers 2014’s most gripping moments. Director Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) applies his strengths to each frame. Known for uncompromising flourishes, his style rescues certain sequences from tedium. Dodging The American’s  immaculate sheen, his depiction of Hamburg is worth the admission cost. Enlivening each setting, he revels in the city’s architecture, grit, and history. In addition, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography highlights each scene’s viscera and value. Beyond this, Hoffman delivers one of the year’s most profound performances. In his penultimate feature, Hoffman injects vigour and malice into this invigorating protagonist. In particular, one scene solidifies Hoffman and his character’s immense worth. After drifting out of bed, he rolls his eyes, downs a shot of whisky, then plays several notes on a piano. In this few-second scene, Corbijn cements Hoffman as one of this generation’s greatest talents. The supporting characters, though serving to boost Hoffman, further propel the story. Wright and McAdams bolster certain plot-threads with energetic and potent performances. In addition, Dafoe’s core strengths saves his plot-device role.

Delivering a fresh take on post-9/11 paranoia, A Most Wanted Man is an entertaining and comprehensive discussion of the past decade’s biggest issues. Blitzing similar pot-boilers including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Body of Lies, and Syriana, this spy-thriller embraces the simple to tackle the complex. More importantly, Hoffman’s scintillating performance highlights a remarkable career cut short. Like with his character, the movie’s nuances draw the line between success and failure.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-crafted spy-thriller.

The Guest Review – Perfect Psychos


Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributor: Picturehouse

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dan Stevens.

Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.

Most movies, from coming-of-age dramedies to soul-sucking horror-thrillers, rely on their lead characters and actors. Existing to entertain and/or inform, these people become avatars for viewers to envelop. Stepping into their shoes, we follow them through thick and thin as they trudge from the conflict to the climax to the resolution. Mostly, we follow the good guys as they hit multiple obstacles and conundrums. However, with The Guest, we tread a much darker path towards one helluva pay off.

Dan Stevens transforming from Downton Abbey to Demonic warrior.

Dan Stevens switching from Downton Abbey to the dark side.

Watching The Guest could be seen as one of 2014’s most confronting experiences. Throwing several emotions and tonal shifts at us, this psychological-thriller might just push audiences over the edge. In crafting this  efficient homage, the filmmakers and actors involved hit their strides. In addition, beyond the movie’s glowing positives, its production and distribution schedules took several fascinating turns. Blitzing the festival circuit, the movie’s wide-release-level success speaks wonders for its overall quality. The marketing, showing off its silky smoothness, gives away a small fraction of the narrative’s true genius. From the get-go, the story delivers enough chutzpah to please average film-goers, cinema aficionados, pretty psychopaths, and everyone in between. In the opening shot, two bootstrapped feet run along a dirt road. Who owns these feet? Where are they going? And why are they running through such hallowed ground? Of course, these answers come to light in the next scene. These camouflage blazoned feet belong to David Collins (Dan Stevens), a drifter searching for somewhere to call home. David, a discharged soldier thirsty for retribution, knocks on the Peterson family’s door. Having watched their oldest son, Caleb, die in Afghanistan, David fulfils a promise to pass on his last messages. The matriarch, Laura (Sheila Kelley), invites him to stay. However, the patriarch, Spencer (Leland Orser), isn’t impressed and the younger Petersons, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer), are suspicious of his sinister behaviour.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer speeding making left and RIGHT career turns.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer making left and RIGHT career turns.

Like our pseudo-titular character, The Guest reels us in before throwing us out into the cold. As an intensifying roller-coaster ride, the story has more brains, heart, and brawn than most blockbusters. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal works (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular), the twists and turns revolve around our characters. After the gritty first few minutes, the movie stands by its lead anti-hero. Chronicling each word, decision, and movement, the movie steadily raises the stakes whilst injecting doses of pathos. In the first third, the story delivers a familial drama devoid of clichés, unlikable people, or sappy moments. Subtly, the blackly comedic moments alleviate its distressing aura. Beyond this, In buying beer kegs for Anna, having a beer with Spencer, and crippling several of Luke’s bullies, David becomes a fascinating and intriguing specimen. In fact, for the first-two thirds, he’s presented as a vengeful warrior in the vein of Ryan Gosling’s Driver. Thanks to his hyper-intelligence, quick wit, and stunning physicality, it’s difficult not to like him. Eventually, with the tension building throughout, everything crashes down around our invigorating lead character. In the last third, With kooky plot-twists coming thick and fast, the tone too often switches from sickening drama-thriller to Terminator-esque action spectacular. However, the climax and resolution deliver the break-neck pacing, nail-biting jolts, and applause-worthy moments to warrant multiple viewings.

“I’m a friend of the family.” (David Collins (Dan Stevens), The Guest).

Stevens' David sparking up a psychological thrill-ride.

Stevens’ David kick-starting a psychologically warped thrill-ride.

Credit belongs to Stevens for making such a courageous career transition. He, further stretching his range, delivers a devilishly appealing performance as the friendly, neighbourhood psychopath. Each facial expression and mannerism adds to the character’s enthralling arc. Playing to a more mainstream crowd than their previous efforts, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett(You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die)’s latest reshapes and elevates their dynamic. Impressively, Wingard and Barrett’s latest balls-to-the-wall extravaganza tops their 2013 horror-thriller smash. To a certain extent, this action-thriller pays homage to everything they grew up with. Beyond the Hitchcockian narrative threads, this inventive partnership tackles nearly every 1970s, 80s, and 90s Hollywood trope. In particular, their directorial and screenwriting flourishes allude toJohn Carpenter flicks including Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. Bundling together revenge-thriller, horror, and action tropes, audiences will be left awe-struck by the movie’s vitality and determination. Throwing in effective jump scares and action beats, Wingard’s style toys with many zany concepts. Fuelled by neon-lit interiors and neo-western vistas, the world building bolsters this pulpy and relentless sensory assault. From the prologue opening to the Halloween-themed-prom finale, each frame further solidifies the movie’s immaculate legend.

Fulfilling its many promises, including honouring our fallen comrades overseas whilst tearing apart the military-industrial complex, The Guest is a slick, ferocious, and manic action/horror-thriller romp. Overcoming its minor flaws, the movie bolsters Wingard and Barrett’s reputations. Nailing its self-aware, nostalgia-drenched vibe, this psychological-thriller comes off like its lead character – tough, surprising, and willing to tear chunks off its adversaries. As 2014’s Stoker, its trashiness and joyousness make for one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A lean, mean thrill-machine!

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

What If Review – Friend Zoned


Director: Michael Dowse

Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis

what_if_movie_poster


Release date: August 20th, August

Distributor: Entertainment One

Countries: Canada, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.

Worst part: The slapstick gags.

Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s blistering chemistry defeats all!

From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.

Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis lending a helping hand.

Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing  quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What If takes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and  artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening  rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.

“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).

what-if-megan-park

Megan Park as the loud mouth sister.

Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What If takes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.

Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.

Verdict: 2014’s most invigorating rom-com.

Into the Storm Review – A Cataclysmic Disaster!


Director: Steven Quale

Writer: John Swetnam

Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey

Into-The-Storm-Poster-2


Release Date: August 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.

Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!

Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.

Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.

Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.

“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).

Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!

A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The  sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.

Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.

Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.

The Rover Review – Mad Muthaf*cker


Director: David Michod 

Writer: David Michod

Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field

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Release date: August 15th, 2014

Distributors: A24, Roadshow Films

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Pearce and Pattinson.

Worst part: The leaden pace.

For the past decade, Australian cinema has hidden in the darkest depths of Hollywood’s monstrous shadow. Despite several attempts to increase the Australian Film Industry’s popularity, our cinema continually fails to make valiant strides toward critical and commercial success. However, some home-grown dramas, avoiding labels like “boring” or “depressing”, garner significant acclaim the world over. In fact, 2014’s ambitious, dirt-covered crime-thriller The Rover might just fuel our industry for another few years.

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Guy Pearce as Australia’s last badass.

The Rover, despite the minor flaws, makes several effecting and applause-worthy leaps toward critical and commercial success. Hitting harder than most of 2014’s celluloid offerings, this crime-western places itself on the right pedestal. With much more guile and heart than the average ‘Summer’ tentpole, it’s a shame this is being passed up in favour of conventional Superhero extravaganzas and nostalgia-driven actioners. Elevating  the overt sparseness and attention to detail, its worth resides in its desire to be different. Without looking down upon its competition, the movie depicts one of 2014’s most confronting and alluring narratives. This crime-western follows vicious loner Eric (Guy Pearce), as he pushes himself through Australia’s outback wastelands. Close to giving up on his aimless existence, he and his car hurtle down dirt roads in search of salvation. However, his plans change during a routine petrol stop. After a robbery gone wrong, Henry (Scoot McNairy), Archie (David Field), and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) dump their damaged getaway vehicle and steal Eric’s. On a mission to track down his car, Eric comes across Henry’s injured brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Holding Rey as collateral, Eric hunts down the robbers across dangerous heartlands. Along the way, run-ins with military personnel and anarchic citizens pull our two lead scumbags together.

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Robert Pattinson in career-reviving form.

Back in 2010, crime-drama Animal Kingdom boosted the AFI’s box-office stature and its immaculate cast members’ careers. Its writer/director, David Michod, hit the ground running with a grand vision and noble intentions. Here, Michod ventures into a vastly different genre. Mining the same ground as George Miller and John Hillcoat, Michod’s latest effort comes off as a wondrous ode to classic crime-westerns from the past 50 years. As a spiritual continuation of the Mad Max series, The Rover crafts similar tire tracks and bullet wounds. However, with a stripped-back aura in tow, Michod’s writing and direction separates it from true-blue exploitation. Of course, based around an unholy economic collapse, Michod’s story hurriedly veers into darkness. Becoming the next Andrew Dominik, Michod’s rough-and-tumble storytelling highlights valuable moments within dour surroundings. In fact, The Rover‘s twists and turns are bolstered by unique flourishes and profound dialogue. Igniting intensifying shootouts and car chases throughout, this crime-western takes opportunities at pitch-perfect intervals. Uninterested in genre clichés, Michod’s screenplay – aided by Joel Edgerton’s Story credentials – is more modest and meaningful than most of its type. If a threat arises, the screenplay lingers on it like a sniper eyeing down a stationary target. Thanks to a near-wordless first five minutes, the lead character’s actions are worth jotting down for later reference.

“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. It’s the price you pay for taking it…” (Eric (Guy Pearce), The Rover).

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Two men, one economic meltdown.

Despite Michod’s mesmerising stranglehold, all crime-westerns of this magnitude suffer similar flaws. Bordering on pretentiousness, the second and last thirds’ wordless sections threaten to drain depth out of the intricate narrative. In addition, with cynical dialogue spattered across vital sequences, the movie’s blisteringly misanthropic outlook almost stalls this otherwise poignant and visceral crime-western. In some instances, Pearce’s lines come off like brutal concoctions of Cormac McCarthy writings and Jim Beam. However, Michod’s direction is worth the admission cost. From the opening sequence onward, his style bolsters this discomforting drama-thriller. Holding his camera steady throughout, his earthy tones throw his follow-up feature into a whole other realm of ingenuity. In certain sections, it’s clear Australia’s latest cinema icon is infatuated by our big, brown land. Switching from bright, desert-laden vistas to blackened mining strips, his ticks heighten the movie’s sensory impact. The score also bolsters Michod’s near-flawless execution. Juxtaposing between the past and present, the indigenous-industrial notes add depth to the meandering plot. However,  the lead performers turn Michod’s vision into reality. Pearce, on a career turnaround with a string of Hollywood hits, reels in every emotion and mannerism for this heartbreaking performance. In addition, utilising specific physical and psychological traits, Pattinson’s scintillating turn establishes an immense hunger for worthwhile roles.

In the vein of The Proposition and The Road, The Rover is a crime-western with the right amount of sass, class, and vigour. Continually breaking new ground, Michod’s latest pushes wider audiences toward Australian genre cinema. Here, his atmospheric direction cements a ground floor for like-minded filmmakers to use. Elevated by powerhouse performances, volatile outback vistas, and prescient storytelling, this crime-western, despite rubbing against the pop-cultural grain, is worth the time, energy, and money.

Verdict: A worthy effort from Michod, Pearce, and Pattinson.