Hail, Caesar! Review: Ode to Old School


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes

hail-caesar-poster


Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Article: 87th Academy Awards Nominees Announced


Article: 87th Academy Awards Nominees Announced

Article: 72nd Golden Globes Recap


Golden-Globes-2015

Article: 72nd Golden Globes Recap

Article: Dreamworks Animation Feels Financial Pinch


DreamworksAnimationSKGM3EMWAccording to Cineblend, DreamWorks Animation has been in financial deficit over the past few years thanks to several consecutive flops.

The studio has since reconstructed its feature film productions, decreasing their yearly output from three films to two.

According to Coming Soon, Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria have been appointed Co-Presidents of DreamWorks’ Feature Animation department.

According to Cineblend, Recent releases Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman lost a combined total of $153 million.

According to Deadline, Rise of the Guardians, though doubling its $145 million budget, could not cover its overblown production and marketing costs.

Turbo failed to tap into key international budgets, while Mr. Peabody & Sherman forced DreamWorks Animation to write-off $57 million.

According to Cineblend, 500 DreamWorks Animation staff have been laid off.

The studio’s future releases include Kung Fu Panda 3, Trolls, Boss Baby, and The Croods 2.

Its latest release, Home, will be released on March 27th.

John Wick Review – Rampaging Reeves


Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski

Writer: Derek Kolstad

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe


Release date: October 30th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, Entertainment One, Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The hyper-violent action.

Worst part: The ethical issues.

What do the Matrix trilogy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Lake House have in common? Yes, they’re all destructive in various ways. They’re also led by one of modern Hollywood’s most polarising and ripe-for-parody performers. Actor/director/producer Keanu Reeves was one of the 1990s’ biggest names. His star power – raking in millions for some of the decade’s biggest actioners, dramedies, and horror-thrillers – seemed destined for eternal prowess. However, after 2008 mega-flop The Day the Earth Stood Still, his leading-man status fizzled out. So, how does one make a successful Tinseltown comeback? By completing multiple projects simultaneously.

Keanu Reeves kicking ass!

Blood-drenched actioner John Wick is one piece of a career-saving puzzle. Fresh off renowned documentary Side by Side and Martial arts extravaganza Man of Tai-chi, Reeves returns to studio-driven schlock. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of big stars (Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington) are riding this wave. Hoping to attract audiences and boost box-office numbers, Reeves has learned from these no-nonsense veteran stars. Similarly to Taken and Man on Fire, John Wick excels thanks to its lead character. Wick (Reeves), pulled through  his wife Helen(Bridget Moynahan)’s cancerous death, feels completely lost. Struggling to get out of bed, his empty existence brings out the worst. Shortly after the funeral, he receives a package containing a Beagle puppy. Being his wife’s last gift, Wick learns to cherish his new four-legged friend. Two nights later, Wick is attacked in his home by three Russian criminals. Led by Losef (Alfie Allen), the gang kills the dog before stealing his ’69 Mustang. Losef, son of notorious New York mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), messed with the wrong guy! Reaching out to veteran hitman/mentor Marcus (Willem Dafoe), Wick reaches into his blood-soaked past to destroy Viggo’s syndicate.

Michael Nyqvist & Alfie Allen.

Seriously, what was the last interesting and re-watchable action flick? Shrouded in stupidity and budget-related shortcuts, the genre is typically defined by disasters like A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2. If the genre was city, hacks like Luc Besson and McG would be the mafia dons talking down to us average folk. John Wick, dispelling the Expendables franchise’s ‘winning’ formula, is a glorious and engaging return to form. In fact, it’s a return to form for its actors, Hollywood action, and the genre. Giddily so, it gives everyone something to do and the filmmakers a chance to prove themselves. Stunt coordinators turned storytellers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have worked tirelessly for decades. Known for boosting Reeves’ physicality and Hugo Weaving’s prowess in the Matrix trilogy, our dynamic duo utilise everything at their disposal. Handed a simplistic screenplay and tiresome premise, Leitch and Stahelski come close to polishing a turd. Dealing with retribution and deep-seeded emotion, the premise explores several intriguing and well-intentioned concepts. However, the script merely skims over them before distracting itself with action and chaos. Forced into small slithers, its greater themes are hissed out through monologues. Despite the simple-yet-effective plot, the movie doesn’t notice its own disturbing undertones. Letting Wick off the leash, the movie wholeheartedly supports his psychopathic nature. In the 1980s action-hero era, this would be awesome. Today, with gun control a major issue, it’s wholly insensitive.

“John Wick isn’t the Boogeyman. He’s the man you send to kill the f*cking Boogeyman!” (Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John Wick).

Adrianne Palicki.

Fetishising guns, grenades, and guts, John Wick almost becomes ethically repugnant. Like most action flicks, overt masculinity, raw power, and lethal skills define its characters. Taking away Wick’s wife, muscle car, and dog in quick succession, the plot charts its leads’ journey from existential angst to full-blooded justice/vengeance/psychotic breakdown. Similarly to Dolph Lundgren/Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, budget and style clash throughout. Despite the strong action and hyper-kinetic style, this actioner works best within humble locations and small spaces. Taking the fight to nightclubs, hotels, houses, and car parks, John Wick utilizes everything within its world. As experienced badasses, Leith and Stahelski understand filmmaking’s complexities. Released in the Post-Raid era, John Wick – creating an immense body count – casts a huge shadow over Hollywood. Whipping Reeves and co. around one another, the choreography and cinematography illuminate its fantasy aura. Taking on Besson, John Woo, and the Wachowski siblings, their direction kicks the plot into overdrive. Wick, shooting almost every victim in the head at point-blank range, cements his status as: “the man you send to kill the f*cking boogeyman”. Throughout this hyper-kinetic bloodbath, Reeves establishes his simple-yet-effective merits. Speaking through gritted teeth and a peculiar accent, the 50-year-old A-lister crafts a charismatic glow. The supporting cast, including esteemed character-actors Nyqvist, Allen, Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick, does valuable work.

Pulling Reeves back into the spotlight, John Wick is one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Leith and Stahelski, boosting their and Reeves’ careers, elevate its silly premise with zany flourishes and ballsy action. Despite the ethical conundrums, the movie crafts wholeheartedly divide reality and fantasy. Released in the post-Summer/pre-Oscar season void, this action-thriller should satisfy most audiences. Hopefully, Reeves can now forget the horrific 47 Ronin.

Verdict: An enjoyably manic actioner.

Maps to the Stars Review – Hollyood Horror Story


Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson


Release date: September 26th, 2014

Distributors: Entertainment One, Focus World

Countries: USA, Canada

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Cronenberg’s direction.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Certainly, the sunny labyrinth of Los Angeles – sheltered by the Hollywood sign and supported by the Walk of Fame – wields many sights worth exploring. Indeed, anyone living outside the City of Angels has an idea of what’s on offer. As the hub of commercial entertainment, us Westerners rely on Hollywood to keep us engaged and relaxed. However, those who live in or have visited the landmark town know its many filthy secrets. Every inch of LA, from Compton to Santa Monica to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, is covered in a layer of scum. This is reflected in Tinseltown’s latest bout of self-deprecation, Maps to the Stars.

Julianne Moore & Mia Wasikowska.

With Maps to the Stars, a big-name director, commendable screenwriter, and several A-listers got together to kickstart the project. Despite the cast and crew’s immense buying power, this satirical-drama holds up on its own. Combating all forms of criticism, it’s difficult not to applaud the movie’s raw pride. This crime-thriller, taking on everything and everyone around it, breaks off into several valuable strands. Its narrative follows the Weiss family’s peculiar lifestyle. As one of (fictional) Hollywood’s most prestigious and ballsy families, the Weiss’ represent the archetypal Beverly Hills dynasty. The husband/father figure, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a gutsy self-help guru/psychotherapist making his fortune from TV appearances and manuals. Obsessed with book tours and reputations, Stafford turns away from chaos and despair. The wife/mother figure, Cristina (Olivia Williams), is her thirteen-year-old son’s manic-depressive manager. Suffocating her child with pills and diet plans, her fragile frame of mind threatens to hurriedly destroy everything in her radius. The aforementioned son, Benjie (Evan Bird), is a mega-successful sitcom star bouncing back from a recent stint in a drug rehabilitation program. At the worst time possible, the daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), leaves a Floridian sanatorium to reconnect with her family.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

John Cusack & Evan Bird.

Why was Agatha situated so far away from her family? What happened to the family before we met them, exactly?  Why is she covered in horrific scars? I can’t tell anyone, as it would ruin Maps to the Stars‘ immense enjoyment factor. Inhaling The Shining, Sunset Boulevard, American Beauty, and Mulholland Drive, the movie fuses self-reflexive humour with confronting drama-thriller tropes. From the first frame onwards, writer Bruce Wagner – apparently on a hell-bent mission to skewer Tinseltown left, right, and centre – outlines his viewpoints and ideologies for the audience. In doing so, Wagner – basing his screenplay on his experiences whilst comparing it to Paul Eluard’s poem ‘Liberte’ – allows us to shape our own analyses. Adding obvious titbits to each line, Wagner illuminates the puzzle pieces throughout. The narrative, pieced together in varying ways depending on one’s knowledge of the industry, comments on modern showbiz’s pros and cons. Examining Hollywood’s cynical business decisions and shallow inhabitants, the narrative evenly spreads itself over several intriguing plot-strands and character arcs. Despite the compelling   material, Maps to the Stars never establishes a lead character. Early on, Agatha worms her way into Beverly Hills through a friendship with limo driver/actor/writer Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson). Thanks to her Twitter-based attachment to Carrie Fisher, this bizarre character becomes ageing actress/sexual abuse victim Havana Segrand(Julianne Moore)’s “chore whore” (personal assistant). Havana longs for a remake of a feature originally starring her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon). This satirical-drama, giving its characters many physical, spiritual, and psychological afflictions, waits for its subjects to unravel like a faux-Gucci outfit.

“On the stairs of death I write your name, Liberty.” (Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars).

Robert Pattinson.

Robert Pattinson.

Flipping between plot-strands, this psychological-thriller relies on its severe, agenda-setting methodology. Despite Wagner’s piercing dialogue and searing commentary, credit belongs to renowned  Canadian director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly) for keeping everything under the surface. With each passing second, the master filmmaker supports Wagner’s argument by examining at his overwhelming viewpoints. Eclipsing his anti-establishment bottle flick Cosmopolis, Cronenberg hits a nerve most avoid like the plague. Like his 2012 limo-set drama, his cold, distant direction matches the agenda at every turn. Despite the tonal inconsistency, the filmmaker leaps between sub-plots with ease and determination. Sending shivers down the spine, his style amplifies the disgusting things our characters say and do. Learning from experience, his direction throws us normal folk into the chaos. His studio meetings, filmed entirely in medium close-ups, comes off like interrogations. Grappling with temptation, obsession, and greed, Cronenberg’s visual flourishes amplify the intensity. Amplified by Howard Shore’s piercing drum-lines and Peter Suschitzky’s mesmerising cinematography, the movie’s many climaxes and revelations hit like rejections. Unlike his more recent efforts (A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method), Cronenberg’s touch, like plastic surgery, rests on and under the surface. Tearing down egos and backstabbers, our talented performers capture a soap opera-like aura impeccably. Moore examines her searing role with gusto and vigour. Meddling with a despicable character (celebrating after a fellow actress drops out of a role due to tragic circumstances), she strips everything down to the bare essentials.

Within Hollywood’s bright lights, gorgeous landmarks, and raging parties, a disease – turning fame and fortune into despicable traits – seeks to destroy everything. Causing LA’s dirt-covered veneer, this scourge of reality TV and tabloid media has severely degraded the glamour. Despite the overbearing agenda, Maps to the Stars has the cojones to bludgen Hollywood with its own golden statuettes. Thanks to scintillating performances, pithy dialogue, and kinetic visuals, this satirical-drama is Cronenberg’s best effort since Eastern Promises.

Verdict: A compelling and confronting satirical-drama.

The Hundred-Foot Journey Review – Artificial Colours & Flavours


Director: Lasse Hallstrom 

Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay), Richard C. Morais (novel)

Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Harpo Films

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The pristine cinematography.

Worst part: The laboured pace.

In The Hundred-Foot Journey – Hollywood’s Richard C. Morais adaptation idea turned passion project – one scene illuminates everything wrong with modern filmmaking. This particular scene, fuelled by clichéd dialogue and irritating character traits, points to the rotten core festering the dramedy rulebook (or, in this case, cookbook). In this scene, snooty restaurateur Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) asks her new trainee chef:  “Why change a recipe that is 200 years old?”. The chef then responds by saying: “Maybe 200 years is long enough”.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Here’s The Hundred-Foot Journey‘s greatest stumbling block – it wants to have its cake and eat it too. This bitter slice of irony, served up by the flawed execution, points to a common issue. Filmmaking, like cooking, relies on the script (recipe) and the director guiding its journey (chef). The recipe for Tinseltown success almost never delivers 100% results. It’s a sad truth, but this cumbersome dramedy is a prime example of quantity over quality. Before I continue, I must introduce the aforementioned game-changing chef. This key player is Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal). Despite the pitiful marketing campaign, the narrative revolves around his life story. Telling his version of events to a frustrated customs officer, Hassan recalls the tale of his family’s search of a better life. After shifting through Rotterdam and London, the Kadam family – lead by spirited patriarch “Papa” (Om Puri) – crosses into the alluring vistas of France. Braking down in an unnamed french Village, the Kadam’s find solace within their surroundings. Buying a property opposite Mallory’s esteemed venue, Papa battles Mallory for the locals’ hearts and minds. Fighting for critical and commercial glory, Mallory, her chefs, and the Kadams might just learn from one another.

Helen Mirren and Charlotte Le Bon creating the perfect dish.

Obviously, The Hundred-Foot Journey is not your average Hollywood release. Designed for counter-programming, the movie aims at middle-aged and elderly crowds. Despite the commendable intentions, the movie ends up becoming crazy-cat-lady chow. Re-heating one of modern literature’s most tiresome plots, this foodie flick talks down to its target demographic. Despite the harmless allure, the movie pours a bucket of salt into its efficiently crafted premise. Obliterating everything of merit, its ethical and moral obstacles hit like a chilli-induced heat wave. This is 2014’s second big-budget charmer – after sports-drama Million Dollar Arm – to insult India’s people. Disinterested in cultural fusion, this globe-trotting romp sullies the country’s spirituality. Presenting a near-laughable version of India, the stereotypes and clichés come thick and fast. As the bright colours and spices fly, the Indian characters are given wholly uninspired arcs. The familial drama, copied and pasted from Bend it Like Beckham, follows a borderline offensive formula. Blame rests with distribution giant Disney for painting everything with broad strokes. Avoiding substance, this production – flip-flopping between familial quarrels, slapstick gags, racial tensions, and twee romances – never crafts drama, stakes, or thrills. Thanks to Steven Knight(Eastern Promises, Locke)’s by-the-numbers screenplay, this broad distraction delivers telegraphed moments, contrivances, underdeveloped sub-plots, and unintentionally laughable dialogue. Lacking charm or elegance, this comfort-food-like effort leaves a bad taste long after the credits roll.

“If your food is anything like your music, then I suggest you tone it down.” (Madame Mallory (Helen Hirren), The Hundred-Foot Journey).

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood's warm embrace.

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood’s warm embrace.

Further hampering such turgid and predictable material, director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) fails to cook up a storm. Known for Nicholas Sparks adaptations including Dear John and Safe Haven, the Swedish director’s exhaustive storytelling tropes aim to please. Following Chocolat‘s appealing recipe, Hallstrom’s melodrama and monotonous pacing blanche this appealing concept. Here, the Sparksian sub-plots, structure, and revelations overwhelm the product. With Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey stepping producing, the movie makes for a note-worthy case against the studio system. In typical Oprah’s Book Club fashion, this romp delivers sap without balance. However, like with Hallstrom’s earlier works, his visual style elevates the poor material. A. R. Rahman’s score, though resting on familiarity, delivers gut punches at proper moments. In addition, newcomer Linus Sandgren’s cinematography – turning the most plain situations  into wondrous moments – heightens each shot, setting, and serving. Graciously, the movie’s prestigious cast dives into this multi-course meal. Dayal, following in Dev Patel and Suraj Sharma’s footsteps, delivers a passionate performers as the plucky lead. Despite an undercooked romance with fellow chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), his enthusiastic aura saves certain sequences. In addition, the Hollywood legend/Bollywood pairing works wonders. Mirren and Puri infuse joy, energy, and vigour into their characters’ misguided adventures.

Some advice for those seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey: don’t go in on an empty stomach! By the power of curry and duck a l’orange, the movie might just birth Indian and French fusion dishes. Sadly, however, this archaic dramedy does little but pander to middle-aged women and bickering elderly couples. Somehow, hampering the plentiful flourishes and winning performances, a spoonful of mediocrity overpowers this banal dish. Mixing a meandering story, dated archetypes, and manipulative moments together for over two hours, this concoction has too much sugar and nowhere near enough brains or heart. Hell, chopped onions are less manipulative!

Verdict: A dish made without love or care.

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.

Flickers & Footsteps – Hollywood Boulevard


The Walk of Fame.

Over the course of one week, I got the chance to soak in the scalding hot sun, glowing nostalgia, and pleasant vibes of Los Angeles. LA – the city in which dreams, heartaches, and regrettable sexual favours are dealt out to naive hopefuls  – is one of the world’s most epic and unique cities. With a grittiness stretching from Hollywood Boulevard to Compton, the city’s urban-warfare-fuelled history still resides in the tar-laden roads linking Beverley Hills to the slums. With the Boulevard my one-and-only target, I took immediately to the mirage-inducing landscapes and peculiar personalities on offer. Whilst walking down the saucy district, souvenir shops, angry locals, excited tourists, and cumbersome homeless folk strummed up soulful beats that echoed on for miles. Fulfilling my aspirations, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, the Dolby Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, and Universal Studios all lived up to my frenzied expectations. In addition, Paramount Pictures’ studio tour delivers an eclectic insight into the ins and out of the studio system. Beware – everything is designed to fool you! Meanwhile, the Hollywood Museum provided a rich and decadent experience to cling onto. So, sit back…relax…and enjoy the view! I sure did.

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Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes


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Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends


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2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends

Is Episodes TV’s Best Sitcom?


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Is Episodes TV’s Best Sitcom?

Saving Mr. Banks Review – Sickeningly Sweet


Director: John Lee Hancock 

Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 125 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Thompson and Hanks.

Worst part: The flashback-fuelled structure.

One of the English language’s most complex words can’t be found in a dictionary, award-winning autobiography, or dissertation. It doesn’t even come from an advertisement. It originates from one of history’s most beloved family movies. The word in question is ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Once said out loud, fond memories pour into the consciousness like tea into a cup. According to well-meaning yet underwhelming dramedy Saving Mr. Banks, it’s the word we use after we exhaust our intellectual powers. Mary Poppins follows this word’s creativeness and blatant absurdity to the letter (all 34 letters, to be exact). The movie’s kooky imagery and emotionally impactful scenes develop an engaging and revelatory musical.

Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson.

Admittedly, nothing I say can do the movie justice. Unfortunately, Saving Mr Banks fails to do it justice also. With children across the world growing up on this fantastical creation, Saving Mr. Banks needed to tap into its viewer’s souls to reach everyone’s inner children. Despite the enjoyable moments, its over-sentimentality, frustrating plot, and irritating characters undermine the intriguing premise. Buying into this Oscar season’s overwhelming glow, the movie rests entirely on nostalgia, conventional direction, overly sentimental screen-writing, and whimsy. Despite the notorious pre-production schedule and baffling personalities on offer, the fascinating real-life story is transformed into a sorely treacle docudrama. The plot itself, like the movie’s lead character, doesn’t stick to the courage of its convictions. The movie kicks off in Australia in 1906. Helen ‘Ginty’ Goff (Annie Rose Buckley), daughter of Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and Margaret Goff (Ruth Wilson), is a precocious and engaging youngster looking for inspiration. Reaching to the skies for guidance, Helen seeks an inspiring adventure and sustainable future. Unfortunately, she’s forced to witness her dad’s transition from enthusiastic banker to drunken layabout. With this likeable family unit facing a painful demise, not even Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), despite fixing the family’s irritating flaws, can stop Helen from becoming a cynical adult. The movie then jumps to the 1960s, and Helen, changing her name to ‘P.L. Travers’, is a curmudgeonly middle-aged spinster. Travers (Emma Thompson), living a lonely existence in a minuscule house in London, is facing bankruptcy.

B. J. Novak & Jason Schwartzman.

Inspired by her aunt and father, she turns her life story into a fantasy novel series chronicling a magical nanny, broken-down family, and talking umbrella’s adventures. With writer’s block and diminishing sales eviscerating her bank account, Travers is forced to grant Hollywood the rights to her beloved novels. Promising to succinctly and accurately adapt Travers’ creations for the cinematic realm, multi-talented and intriguing media mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) pulls her into the mega-studio system. Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composer/lyricist/siblings Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively), Travers dismisses every idea and tool at her disposal. Turning smiles into frowns throughout Los Angeles, Travers’ irritating attitude may erode her and this adaptation’s immediate futures. Guided by chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti), Travers must conquer her demons before signing off on this potentially successful project. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), with his eyes on the prize, delivers another treacle and uninspired docudrama. Reflecting upon Hollywood’s greatest efforts, movies chronicling infamous film productions, from the opening frame, must be intensifying and entertaining. With the end result embedded in pop-culture and the consciousness, this hurdle, admittedly, is extremely difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, super-conglomerate Disney casts a sickeningly dark shadow over this docudrama. Disney immediately reveals its despicable intentions. As an ethically questionable project, Saving Mr. Banks credits Disney for single-handedly saving Hollywood. Applauding its own 20th-and-21st-century achievements, this unsatisfying effort becomes a deluded, self-affirming, and desperate PR stunt. Despite these obvious conundrums, the branding-fuelled company refuses to spoil its own image.

Paul Giamatti.

Sticking to Disney’s family-friendly roots, the movie can’t break through the cloying restrictions and conventions. The story and characters are doctored to fit the movie’s fantastical nature. Aiming for a bombastic narrative and fairytale-like aesthetic, the movie removes wit, darkness, heart, and depth from this enthralling premise. Unfortunately, this version of events lacks cinematically compelling aspects. As a cookie-cutter Disney creation, this Oscar contender becomes a predictable, sanitised, and tepid dramedy. The contrivances, obvious references, and broad slapstick hijinks fall into Disney’s more saccharine, stereotypical, and unambitious cinematic endeavours. Developing an immensely cheesy narrative, certain sub-plots and character arcs, despite hinting at compelling concepts, are picked up and dropped without warning. In addition, the pacing wavers when Hancock presses the flashback button. Jumping hastily between contrasting settings and time periods, the flashbacks add little to the narrative. Repetitive and uninteresting, these moments throw in several underwhelming plot-twists. Like Hitchcock, this nostalgic endeavour inexplicably switches from sentimentally dramatic to frantically comedic. Relying heavily on the original production’s songs and footage, this docudrama becomes forgettable faster than you can say “Dick Van Dyke”. Relying on critical, commercial, and Academy acclaim, the movie lacks the relevance, kinetic direction, intelligence, and charm of this year’s other Oscar contenders. I kept asking myself: “Who is this movie for?!”. The pre-production jargon will bewilder children while the unengaging story will bore adult viewers. As artificial as dancing penguins, the movie’s themes are hurriedly plastered across certain scenes. At one point, Travers criticises the original script by claiming it lacks heart, gravitas, and realism.

“Well come on! When does anybody get to go to Disneyland with Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” (Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Saving Mr. Banks).

Colin Farrell.

Regrettably, the movie lacks these valuable elements. Tapping into modern criticism’s commentary on movie-making practices and the money-hungry studio system, the movie displays slight shades of life. However, capitalisation and globalisation are described as minor hiccups in this movie’s fluffy universe. Despite the relevant complaints, this movie’s glorious visual flourishes aid this otherwise conventional docudrama. Painting L.A. as a glowing cityscape, the production design develops rich, textured, and kinetic settings. In addition, the eye-popping costume designs elevate certain sequences. Suits, dresses, and mascot uniforms romanticise this valuable time period. Introducing Saving Mr. Banks with the original Disney/Buena Vista logo, the tiniest details make a significant difference throughout the 2+hour run-time. Despite the small scope, these bubbly aesthetic touches develop and imaginative and charming 1960s-obsessed universe. In addition, Disneyland is a sun-drenched, lively, and eclectic vista. Travers and Disney’s stroll through the tourist attraction is a charming moment. Credit belongs to the A-list cast for delivering monumental and well-meaning performances. Elevating themselves above manipulative material, Thompson and Hanks’ thespian qualities pit two gargantuan forces in a culture clash driven by wit, intellect, intent, and courage. Thompson’s purposeful mannerisms and inherent watchability make up for the character’s irreverence, cynical outlook, and irritating personality. Hurling insults at everyone in earshot, the character becomes tiresome by the half-hour mark. Hanks brings levity and charm to his controversial role. Stripping Uncle Walt of his anti-Semitism, cigarette addiction, and money-grubbing ways, Hanks’ charismatic presence develops a likeable and enigmatic go-getter. He delivers his best line – “Well when does anyone get to go to Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” – with style and aplomb. Giamatti provides the movie’s most enlightening moments as Travers’ latest admirer. Novak, Schwartzman, and Whitford become engaging comedic foils. Farrell excels in his enthusiastic and well-meaning role. Meanwhile, newcomer Lily Bingham is appealing as Disney’s sickly-sweet receptionist.

Saving Mr. Banks, claiming that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, pours a pound of it down its viewers’ throats. With big-budget movies based on novels, classic feature films, TV shows, video games, and board games, the movie should’ve commented on this business-driven trend. Resting on nostalgia and marketing, this fictionalised account lacks cinematic appeal and relevance. Saved by Oscar-worthy performances, an attention to detail, and tiny heartwarming moments, this uninspired, dreary, and corny low-2½-star docudrama doesn’t match the Oscar-worthy competition.

Verdict: A well-acted yet uninteresting and meandering docudrama. 

2013’s Best and Worst Movies


2013 was one tough, frustrating, and eventful slog of a year! We saw corporations, governments and celebrities taking steep dives into oblivion and irrelevance. We saw sporting greats, politicians, and journalists become idiots, and Ben Affleck redeem himself with a hearty Academy Awards speech. 2013 in cinema was also a mixed bag. The Oscar season drew to a close in spectacular fashion whilst Hollywood comedies hit one new low after another (seriously, don’t ever watch Movie 43!). Over the past couple of years, the internet age has soured our way of analysing movies and expressing opinions. The influx of articles (highlighting the exhaustive amount of set pictures, marketing ploys, trailers, and interviews that come with every Hollywood movie) and fiery internet comment sections have distorted our idea of what big-budget movies could and should be. Some movies bombed miraculously (The Lone RangerAfter Earth) while others soared up into the sky in more ways than one (Iron Man 3, Gravity). I looked back on 2013’s crop of movies to give several of them my own kooky form of gratitude. PS. these lists only include movies I saw at the cinemas, and reviewed, this year despite significant release date shifts.

PPS. Judged specifically between January 1st, 2013 – December 31st, 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

10. Stoker

Pulling us into his spooky yet enrapturing style, South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) continues his stellar run with Stoker. This scintillating drama-thriller, dripping with punishing character motivations and sexual awakenings, is one of 2013’s surprise hits. Mia Wasikowska delivers a career-defining performance, along the way. It even brought Nicole Kidman’s acting talents back from the grave. Very spooky, indeed.

9. Flight

From take off to landing, Flight is a profound and enthralling character study. Following Denzel Washington’s depraved yet regret-filled anti-hero, director Robert Zemeckis’ latest drama delves into a life worth salvaging. Peppered with hysterical supporting characters, an intense plane crash sequence, and compelling dialogue moments, Flight soars higher than anyone had anticipated.

8. Django Unchained

Pulling its punches at every correct moment, Django Unchained illustrates that acclaimed writer/director Quentin Tarantino still has what it takes. Proudly earning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, this spaghetti western ably transition into an African-American revenge fantasy. Chilling performances, a kinetic soundtrack, and excessively powerful blood splatters enhance this comedically frantic romp.

7. Side Effects

Turning up the heat on its morally ambiguous characters, Side Effects caps off director Steven Soderberg’s sterling career with style. His entertaining directorial style, trademarking his many thought-provoking efforts, boosts this disturbing drug-addled drama. Brilliant performances (from Rooney Mara and Jude law, in particular), valuable messages, and a startling attention to detail develop an addictive and infectious psychosexual thriller.

 

6. Captain Phillips

As the sea-fairing version of United 93Captain Phillips is a tightly edited, claustrophobic, and exhilarating hostage-thriller. Tom Hanks’ emphatic performance as the titular hero earns him yet another Oscar nomination. Excruciatingly tense throughout its taut run-time, the movie places a real-world sheen on the hostage-thriller genre. Credit, of course, goes to director Paul Greengrass for delivering yet another fearless and detailed post-9/11 drama. Despite the intensifying material, this is a profound roller-coaster ride.

5.  Prisoners

Touching upon media-powered fear-mongering and suburbia’s darkest secrets, Prisoners is an intense, expansive, and gripping crime-thriller. With an ingenious narrative and remarkable performances, this kidnap-drama explores one man’s actions during a worse case scenario. Switching it from kidnap-drama to torture-thriller, director Dennis Villeneuve keeps us guessing throughout. In addition, Roger Deakins’ pulsating cinematography lends dimensions and malice to this already engaging drama-thriller.

4. American Hustle

With money, hair, boobs, and attitudes sent flying across morose settings, American Hustle develops one enlightening dialogue sequence after another. Director David O. Russell’s style lends itself to this intricate and enigmatic crime-drama. Based on a bizarre true story, this con-man flick breaks the rules and delivers thrills, laughs, and noteworthy performances. Christian Bale and Amy Adams soar above everyone else in this juicy and scintillating puzzle.

3. Rush

Speeding through Rush‘s purposeful run-time, the two lead characters face off in a heated battle for glory and respect. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl fill out these roles with passion and, ahem, drive. Acclaimed director Ron Howard builds the tempo with the exhilarating and intensifying race sequences. Ultimately, Rush is a visually stimulating and attentive docudrama. Pushing its narrative with brute force, this enjoyable sports-drama moves at the speed of light.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

Longingly delving into the 21st century’s hottest topic, Zero Dark Thirty is a sickening, honest, and visceral sensory assault. Drawing a line between explosive action-war flick and extensive procedural drama, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal make for a kinetic and exciting duo. In addition, the final action sequence is worth the price of admission. With intensifying set-pieces, cutting dialogue, and an acute attention to detail, this war-drama deserves repeat viewings.

1. Gravity

Reaching for the stars, Gravity is an engaging, thought-provoking, attentive, and intensifying sci-fi action flick. As edge-of-your-seat entertainment, this sci-fi extravaganza holds steady throughout its taut 90-minute run-time. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s heartening style throws the audience into an engaging survival tale. Unlike most blockbusters, every detail serves a specific and profound purpose. With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney delivering charismatic performances, the heartening story stands up to the electrifying and breath-taking technical achievements. This is cinema at its most ambitious and entertaining!

Honourable Mentions:

The Hunger Games: Catching FireHarry Dean Stanton: Partly FictionLincolnSilver Linings PlaybookLife of Pi

Biggest Surprises:

World War Z2 GunsWarm Bodies, Olympus Has FallenPain & Gain20 Feet from StardomThe Last Stand

Great movies I caught later on:

The ConjuringYou’re Next42Mud

Worst movies of 2013

5. The Great Gatsby

Director Baz Luhrmann, once again, chooses style over substance when bringing a renowned story to the big screen. His version of The Great Gatsby, despite its positive elements, tries and fails to capture Hollywood’s true power. Choosing glitter cannons and anachronistic music cues over efficient story-telling intricacies, Luhrmann frustrated audiences everywhere with this overlong, hollow, and vacuous adaptation. From here on out, he should keep his favourite stories to himself.

4. The Bling Ring

bling-ringSpending 90 minutes with these five mean-spirited, inane, and self-indulgent people is a torturous concept. Add director Sofia Coppola’s undercooked style to the mix, and The Bling Ring becomes even worse. Despite the visual flourishes, Coppola mishandles the bizarre and thought-provoking material. This repetitive, vapid, and uninspiring docu-drama wastes the audience and Emma Watson’s precious time. It’s about as scintillating as watching your bestie go shopping for six hours straight.

3. The Hangover Part 3

As painful and time consuming as an actual hangover, this unnecessary, cynical, and brainless third instalment officially wears out the Hangover series’ welcome. Featuring an underdeveloped heist-thriller plot, useless villains, laugh-less stretches, and screechy supporting characters, this instalment is little more than a made-by-focus-group big-budget comedy. Adding to the already disastrous year for Hollywood comedy, The Hangover Part 3 is an unforgivable, bland and stupefying waste of time, money, and resources.

2. A Good Day to Die Hard

Destroying John McCLane’s good name, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013’s worst movie title) is a silly, forgettable, and torturous action flick. Divorced from the 1986 classic, and even its worthwhile sequels, this series hit an embarrassing new low with this instalment. Sleep-walking through another action movie role, Bruce Willis has all but given up on regaining his charismatic and magnetic former self. However, after this instalment, everyone has given up on him.

1. Machete Kills 

Director Robert Rodriguez needs to take a gigantic step back from the director’s chair after this self-indulgent, cheap, and stupefying sequel. Dragging a good cast and intriguing concepts through the Mexican desert, Machete Kills is an unwelcome and uninspired sequel to an already forgettable original feature. Removed from its faux-trailer roots, the Machete franchise contains only 2-3 minutes of engaging and fun material. Sadly, this movie’s marks this A-list director’s fall from grace. Having once made stunning action flicks, Machete Kills strips him of his valour. For shame!

Dishonourable Mentions:

RiddickNow You See MeHansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Biggest Disappointments: 

Gangster SquadOnly God ForgivesThe Fifth EstateThe ButlerAmourThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Atrocious movies I caught later on:

RIPDAfter EarthThe Lone RangerSpring BreakersKick-Ass 2Identity ThiefThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43, Jack the Giant SlayerThe Family

The Bling Ring Review – Immaterial Goods


Director: Sofia Coppola

Writers: Sofia Coppola (screenplay), Nancy Jo Sales (article)

Stars: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann


Release date: June 14th, 2013

Distributor: A24

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Emma Watson.

Worst part: The confused messages.

We live in a mystifying, mean-spirited, and technologically advanced universe. Today, we can look up anything on Google, talk to people from all over the world via Skype, and post every little detail about ourselves on social networking sites. These groundbreaking opportunities may seem impressive, but privacy has now become a thing of the past. This issue has sparked numerous unending debates that tell the truth but don’t solve the problem. Overrated director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) flimsily tackles this issue in The Bling Ring – churning out a problematic and confusing docudrama as mechanical and soulless as an iPhone (there, I said it!). Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook be damned, some things, including Coppola’s rants, just aren’t worth sharing.

Katie Chang & Israel Broussard.

This pointless, repetitive, and static dramedy (of sorts) chronicles one of Hollywood’s most baffling true stories. The Bling Ring was made up of several youngsters who stole from some of tinsel-town’s most popular citizens. This docudrama, despite changing the subjects’ names, stays true to the story’s many perplexing facts, figures, and rumours. Coppola’s technicolour fantasy starts off with a simplistic presentation of high school life. Marc (Israel Broussard) continually runs into obnoxious people during his first day of school. Quickly befriending fame-obsessed Rebecca (Katie Chang), he soon becomes a part of the zany and enviable LA party lifestyle. A sudden rush to the head prompts Mark and Rebecca to rob Paris Hilton’s house. Their diabolical and inventive scheme – to research celebrity schedules, break into their role models’ residences, and steal expensive accessories – ropes their bizarre friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Nicki’s adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien) into this twisted tale. The highs of life, and cocaine, soon spin their lives into a glittery, sexy blur. However, partying, stealing, and greediness may send egos, tensions, and material possessions flying across California. This slice-of-life/pursuit of the American Dream movie is a kinetic concoction of Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain. After the obnoxious characters are introduced, the audience is thrown into each glamorous setting whilst beholding The Bling Ring’s doomed love affair with celebrity obsession. Relevant plot-points include Nicki’s mum Laurie (Leslie Mann) schooling her daughters in life lessons spouted from self-help book The Secret, Marc and Rebecca wheeling and dealing in stolen goods, the deluded youngsters singing along to hit tunes…and that’s about it.

Emma Watson.

Homer Simpson once tested his new computer by: “Watching a Sofia Coppola movie at 20 times the speed so that it looks like a regular movie”. Funnily enough, this may be the only time I have empathised with him. Brought to life by Vanity Fair article ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’ and the reality TV series Pretty Wild, this story is, undeniably, a powerfully newsworthy tale which attracts heated discussions. These crimes reveal a significant amount of detail about the teenage mind-frame, the ‘thrill’ of the celebrity lifestyle, and the lengths some people will go to achieve their goals. Coppola’s movies explore existential angst and humanity in a unique fashion. Her fly-on-the-wall dramas focus on flawed and fundamentally impressionable people. For some reason, the indelible and compelling aspects of these shocking crimes are lost on Coppola. Her style irksomely relies on an absence of tension, structure, development, scope, and chaos. Here, what should be an expository look into pop-culture’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’ effect hurriedly turns into a plodding and bland docudrama. Coppola obviously wanted to make an eye-opening satire that lampooned everyone in sight. Unfortunately, The Bling Ring doesn’t know what it wants to say about societal and cultural issues. The Bling Ring‘s vapid characters unashamedly act out to fit in. Meanwhile, its emphasis on the “like” and “totally” aspects of teen-speak paints a broad and ugly picture of Gen-Y. Coppola also confusingly presents certain celebrities as money-hungry, spoiled brats. According to Coppola’s distorted, first world point of view, Hilton hides her keys under the doormat, all mansions are devoid of functioning security systems, and celebrities regularly leave their doors unlocked. Coppola’s perspective is so biased and simplistic, that The Bling Ring becomes little more than a miasma of poorly written speeches and irritating stereotypes.

“I’m a firm believer in karma and I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me…I want to lead a country one day for all I know.” (Nicki (Emma Watson), The Bling Ring).

The fashion police!

This tiresome ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ worshipping character study is lifted by Coppola’s kinetic visual style. Like Spring Breakers, this techno-fantasy is filled with enthralling moments that provide relief from its debilitating inconsistencies. Every so often, sweaty montages and cheap collages/cutaways break up the dull banter. The pulsating clubbing sequences shove an aura of liveliness into this uninteresting narrative. However, these gorgeous actors and settings eventually become tiresome. Coppola’s refreshing eye for voyeuristic cinematography, thankfully, stands above her movie’s story-telling faults. Christopher Blauvelt and the late Harris Savides’ camerawork gives each robbery a unique and aesthetically pleasing identity. The robbery of Hills personality Audrina Patridge’s home is encapsulated in a breath-taking wide shot (seriously, why do celebrity homes have so many windows?!), while the robbery of Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr’s mansion is a concoction of security camera-like angles and luminescent night vision. However, none of Coppola’s aesthetic choices come together to form a cohesive vision. Throughout the movie’s 90 minute (though still interminable) run-time, I kept thinking to myself: “Why should I care?”. It doesn’t help that The Bling Ring‘s assortment of brash, irritating characters support Coppola’s insultingly shallow view of femininity. Marc, the only character with guile, charm, and a conscience, is undermined by his shrill BFFs. His submissive, fly-on-the-wall persona pushes him out of every frame. In comes Watson’s vacuous and bizarre character (“I wanna lead a country one day for all I know”). Watson is spot on as the misguided airhead – defining her immense range and charisma.

Despite the catchy hip-hop soundtrack and Watson’s stellar performance, The Bling Ring is overshadowed by two dimensional characters and Coppola’s frustrating direction. Like this year’s Great Gatsby adaptation, it contains an alluring story but lacks a competent writer/director to successfully bring it to life. I can only imagine what The Bling Ring would have been like if Steven Soderbergh was in charge. I’m just going to say it – Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is a far better slice-of-life drama!

Verdict: As vapid as a Kardashian.

This is the End Review – The A-hole Apocalypse


Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride


Release date: June 12th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The A-List cast.

Worst part: The gross-out humour.

In the Hollywood Hills resides a bunch of actors who owe everything to writer/director/creator Judd Apatow. This group has spawned numerous big-budget comedies over the past few years – gaining fame and wealth in the process. However, according to horror-comedy and pet project This is the End, these A-list actors are just like us. Their new film is an ambitious yet messy disaster flick that isn’t afraid to place its actors in front of a mirror, and make them face up to what they have become.

Seth Rogen, James Franco & Jay Baruchel.

I’m, of course, talking about such comedic actors as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel etc. These actors have worked tirelessly together since their hit TV series Freaks and Geeks. They’ve jumped from one project to another – delivering refreshing humour and enjoyable performances. However, they recently have become repetitive and tiresome. In This is the End, these actors/writers/producers/ directors/entrepreneurs admit to their mistakes and defend their greatest works. The movie begins with Jay Baruchel meeting up with his old buddy Seth Rogen. In this movie’s universe, People are so obsessed with Rogen they become hesitant to interact with Baruchel and leave him in the dust (I take it in this timeline no one saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice either). Baruchel opposes the ridiculous ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle and Rogen’s audacious celebrity friends. To get Baruchel accustomed to Rogen’s larger than life buddies, Rogen brings him to a raging party at James Franco’s enviable new house. Soon after Baruchel becomes bored with the party, earthquakes obliterate streets, a sinkhole opens up in front of Franco’s house, and fires gloriously light up the Hollywood Hills. Stuck in Franco’s house, Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride must wait out the apocalypse.

Our ‘heroes’ plotting their way into heaven.

This self-reflexive and amusing disaster flick is about as subversive as it gets. Having seen many of 2013’s generic Hollywood comedies (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43The Hangover Part 3), It’s refreshing to see a farcical, star-studded movie that’s strange, original, and actually…funny. This clever experiment aims to peel back Hollywood’s slick, glossy layers to reveal the horrific sliminess of the rich and famous. Writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Green Hornet) have created an honest and Meta cinematic vision. They push so many boundaries here whilst delivering what audiences want most from them. With this type of project, you either end up with an enthralling and stylish flick (Ocean’s 11), or some ungodly creation that comes off like a Holiday video inexplicably released in theatres around the globe (Grown Ups). Despite avoiding the cynicism and laziness of the aforementioned Adam Sandler romp, This is the End still comes off as a series of improvisational dialogue sequences and wacky, broadly comedic sketches. Certain scenes are hilariously creative when viewed separately from one another and judged on their own terms. Unfortunately, these random, disgusting, and occasionally hysterical moments don’t come together to create a cohesive and interesting narrative. Beyond the first 20 minutes, many scenes go on too long and a lot of jokes fall flat; missing punch lines and/or charm. However, the dialogue/improvised lines are, for the most part, top notch. This easily quotable movie proves just how talented these actors/writers/directors can be.

Michael Cera.

For a first directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg have done a commendable job. However, it seems that everyone involved had much more fun making this movie than I had watching it. This movie exists solely to tear down some of Hollywood’s most popular people and iconic elements. References to each other’s movies come thick and fast while the celebrity cameos make for some of the movie’s best moments (hats off to Michael Cera). This ‘parody of Hollywood parodying itself’ has none of the verve or intricacies of the similarly subversive Tropic Thunder. With the immense talent on display, and the exhaustive number of apocalypse-based movies released this year, Rogen and Goldberg cleverly dissect the importance of fame, friendship, and the end of days. One of the movie’s many surreal twists and turns involves a discussion of why religion should be commended/respected. It’s brave of these comedic talents to be tackling a topic of this magnitude. It’s in these slower moments that the characters and ‘story’ develop beyond the assortment of dick, fart, weed, and rape jokes. Despite the movie’s outlandish tone, references to The Exorcist and Titanic inexplicably become some of the movie’s most beguiling moments. This warped/stoner version of 12 Angry Men needed a sense of style to separate it from such comedies as Pineapple Express (referenced gleefully throughout this movie). Except for a couple of establishing shots, we see little of the apocalyptic events. Also, several bright flourishes/montages distract from the movie’s Big Brother/The Real World style.

“James Franco didn’t suck any dicks last night? Now I know ya’ll are trippin’.” (Danny McBride (Danny McBride), This is the End).

It’s the rapture!

Obviously, This is the End is bolstered by its expansive cast. Essentially ‘The Expendables’ of modern comedy, this talented array of actors clearly enjoys playing up the public’s perception of ‘celebrity’. The actors’ limited range deems this cast perfect for this premise. Despite always playing ‘himself’, Rogen has an engaging screen presence. The conflict between him and Baruchel may be a familiar and unnecessary plot point, but there’s a significant amount of chemistry between the lead actors. Unfortunately, the movie is told from Baruchel’s perspective. It’s not that he’s a bland performer; it’s that he’s easily overshadowed by the more involving actors around him. Franco and Hill (both of whom Oscar nominated) are the movie’s stand out performers. Franco, known for his crazy ambitions and confusing personality traits, is making fun of his pretentious and manic persona. With many jokes directed towards his homoerotic friendship with Rogen, and the questionable art lying around his swanky house, his smirk-filled, charismatic turn creates many big laughs. Hill does a great job making fun of his ‘high horse’ persona (“Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill…from Moneyball”). Featuring an earring and inflated ego, Hill is in scene-stealing mode as this excessive character. Trying to make peace with Baruchel, his phoney attempts at niceties continually garner a huge laugh. McBride and Robinson provide many fun moments while Emma Watson pops her head in at the right time.

Despite its obvious flaws, This is the End has enough alluring aspects to warrant a trip to the movies with your buddies. With its ‘outside the box’ concepts and funny, self-reflexive gags, this crowd-pleasing movie does something many recent parodies/satires have failed to do: it says what we’re all thinking.

Verdict: A messy, over-long yet hilarious frat-boy disaster-comedy.