MSPIFF14 Reviews: Paulette & The Life of Riley

MSPIFF_Reviews

The film festivities continues! Today we’ve got a couple more MSPIFF 2014 reviews courtesy of Josh from JJAMES reviews.

Paulette (2013)

Paulette-PosterPaulette is a French comedy with a simple plot and simple characters to match. The titular protagonist (Bernadette Lafont) is an unpleasant elderly woman who, along with her late husband, once ran a successful restaurant. Now, however, she lives on minimal pension and cannot afford to pay her bills, a fact that inspires her sell marijuana. When other dealers take offense at her success, Paulette opens a bakery, with the narcotic as her central ingredient.

To be certain, Paulette is initially hilarious. For the first thirty minutes, or so, we are aghast that this woman dares tell her black confessor (Pascal Nzoni) that he deserves to be white, that she steals food from the homeless, that she tells her bi-racial grandson (Ismael Drame) she hates him because he’s black, or that she ignores her son-in-law (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), who happens to be a police officer investigating drug trafficking. Paulette’s behavior is despicable, but it is also funny, no doubt owing to Lafont’s skill in playing the character. We laugh even more passionately when Paulette chooses to sell drugs, and then all the more when she is good at it. Quickly enough, however, the humor grows stale, because writer/director Jerome Enrico and his four credited co-writers replay the jokes too many times.

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How frequently does Paulette dodge detection by her son-in-law, who is supposedly good at his job but can’t pick up on the incredibly obvious clues she spills? I lost count. How many times do her friends seem aghast at her new behavior? Again, I lost count. Eventually, of course, the friends learn the truth, but then instead of being as appalled as their previous behavior suggests they ought be, they help Paulette. Why? How many times does Paulette’s daughter drop off Leo, the aforementioned grandson, even though Paulette is a terrible caretaker? Again, I lost count. How many times does Walter (Andre Penvern) seek Paulette’s romantic affection? You already know my answer to that question.

Poor character development doesn’t help. The villains and other secondary characters are basically trait-less. Even Paulette is in-complex, no matter her changes. Simply put, she has one note early and a different one late.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Thanks to its sense of humor Paulette isn’t a total failure. I just don’t think it successful either. Here the comedy isn’t enough to overcome poor character development, simplistic plot lines and repetitiveness.

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2 out of 5 reels


The Life of Riley (2013)

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The Life of Riley occurs in and around Duluth, Minnesota, sometimes venturing northward to the Lake Superior shores that surround it. In many ways, the film is a love letter to its setting; director Carrie Boberg, cinematographer Mark Hartzel and writer/co-editor/producer/star Jason Page present Duluth such that it seems equal parts calming, fun and beautiful. Boberg’s wide angle and static exterior shots prove especially effective in that regard. Like Mystery Road, another movie I saw at MSPIFF, The Life of Riley has a superlative sense of setting. All viewers, even those previously unfamiliar with the city, will fall in love with Duluth.

The central characters are lovable, too, especially Maggie (Jessica Manuel), who enters Riley’s (Page) life as he is languishing at a job he hates, so much so that he lacks inspiration to finish the novel he has been theoretically writing for years. Maggie and Riley’s first date is to join Elliot (Peter Ooley) on a trip to Minneapolis where they see Martin (Zachary Stofer) headlining a rock concert with one of his bands. The date goes well, so well that Maggie seeks out Riley the following day, whereupon the two begin a passionate relationship, one that vitalizes Riley and brings about significant changes in the ways he lives life.

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In the early going, The Life of Riley is hilarious, largely owing to the witty banter between Riley, Martin, Elliot and Maggie. The mostly amateur performers help, as well, especially Page and Manuel who play their characters with such charismatic aplomb that we almost don’t notice Riley or Maggie’s flaws.

Approximately two-thirds through the film, Page’s screenplay takes a surprising turn, one that instantly transforms The Life of Riley from hilarious to emotional. For the most part, the shift is handled adeptly, except in the moments immediately preceding it when Boberg’s directorial decisions and Page’s screenplay too directly foreshadow what is to come and thereby temporarily make the project melodramatic. In the final third, the cast stumbles a bit, too, not quite accessing proper gravitas to suit events. Finally, some of the dialogue is a little too on point.

All of these flaws are dismissible, however, because the characters are complex and captivating. Moreover, enough of the film is laugh out loud funny that we are always entertained, and, perhaps most importantly, The Life of Riley makes several interesting observations about life. The film mightn’t be perfect, but it is quite good.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


JJamesReviews
Thanks again Josh for the excellent reviews!


What do you think of these two films? Let us know in the comments!

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MSPIFF14 Reviews: Breathe In & The Grand Seduction

MSPIFF_Reviews

Breathe In

BreatheInPosterI have to admit I’m usually not into films about infidelity as it often gets glamorized on film and those getting cheated on often appear as if they deserve what happen to them. Luckily that’s not the case here. It’s more of a character study on temptation and the fragility of people who are deeply disillusioned with their lives.

The film opens with a seemingly happy family in an idyllic suburbs in upstate NY. The dad Keith (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher who is an aspiring orchestra cellist, the mother Megan (Amy Ryan), is a housewife who sells cookie jars on the side. Their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) is a swimming champion, blond and vivacious. They were all anticipating the arrival of Sophie, an exchange student from Britain who’s coming to stay w/ them. That part reminds me of an exchange student from Denmark who came to live with us when I was in high school. Fortunately there was no such drama like what happens to this family. But then again, the student at our house was not in the form of an attractive girl like Felicity Jones and there was no married male in my household.

The attraction between Keith and Sophie is inevitable and palpable. As soon as Keith helped her with her luggage at the airport, exchanging quick glances in the car or at dinnertime, all the seemingly innocent acts have an electric undercurrent.

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The naturalistic style of Drake Doremus‘ direction lends itself to an atmospheric and intimate setting, as well as an authentic performance from the actors. Not that their behavior is excusable in any way, but neither Keith or Sophie seems powerless to stop their attraction from getting the best of them. In Keith’s part though, it seems that it’s more about him chasing his dream of a Bohemian life, something he felt he gave up when he took on the job and move out of Manhattan. There’s no real friction between him and his wife other than the fact that she sees his aspiring career as a concert cellist as a mere hobby. Keith’s motivation in the whole affair seemed more visible, for a lack of a better word, whilst Sophie’s much more of an enigma. And that to me, felt like a crux that prevents this film from being truly compelling. The way Lauren and her teenage friends is depicted here seems rather simplistic and generalized, it certainly puts teen life in a very unflattering light.

What I do appreciate is the lack of sensational & unnecessary sex scenes which I think would cheapen the story. As my friend Ashley astutely pointed out in her comment, anyone can grind and moan but to create a real sexual tension with just the touch of a hand or even a look across the room is far more challenging. As I’ve mentioned briefly in this piano moment post, there’s not one but two memorable piano scene brimming with sexual tension. Pearce and Jones certainly have a scorching chemistry despite their 16 age gap and the build up to their first moment together was almost as tense as a suspense thriller! Pearce is one of today’s finest actors and this performance further cements his amazing versatility. Even at 30, Jones still looks believable enough as a teen, and her character is supposed to be much more mature than her age. Having seen Like Crazy, I feel like I have seen Jones in a similar role as a girl who recklessly puts desire and passion above reason.

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I have to give props to Amy Ryan for delivering a memorable supporting role to a thankless role as Keith’s wife. She somehow makes her character sympathetic and I’m glad the film didn’t turn her into nothing but *scornful wife* here. There’s also a droll, albeit creepy, scene with Kyle MacLachlan pointing out the elephant in the room to Pearce’s character.

I think people might call this film tedious or underwhelming as there’s barely anything happening. I can see where they’re coming from, and for me, if it weren’t for the excellent performances I’d probably think the same way. I do think the script is so sparse and the vague finale barely give us anything to grasp on. What happened to Sophie in the end? Is the family beyond repair at this point? There are gaps that seem to be intentionally left open here which can be frustrating. All the exquisitely shot and breathless moments are memorable in and of itself, but ultimately the film itself feels too indulgent and even morose for its own good. One thing for sure though, it’s quite a sobering picture of infidelity that temptation may be sweet but remorse never is.

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3 out of 5 reels


GrandSeductionPosterThe Grand Seduction

I almost missed seeing this as I couldn’t get an extra ticket for my hubby on Friday night. Fortunately there’s a second screening on Sunday night and I’m glad I made it! This is one of the most delightful and sweet comedies I’ve seen in a long while.

The tiny Newfoundland harbor called Tickle Cove was once a thriving fishing village. But now that they’re prohibited from fishing to make a living, the community is living off welfare check. So when there is an opportunity that might land a contract with a big oil corporation to build a factory, a petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility to be exact, the town realize this is an opportunity of a lifetime to save their town from complete financial ruin. What’s the catch? In order to have the factory built on their premises, the contract specifies that the town needs a permanent doctor. And that’s where the grand seduction comes in.

At first I was wondering why they choose such a sensational title but once I see the movie it perfectly makes sense! The doctor in question is a young, cricket-loving Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), is only assigned in that town for a month. And so the new mayor Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) gets the entire harbor community to seduce the doctor to stay. The length to their seduction is the heart of the story and it lends itself to grand hilarity! I think the funniest bits are when the hockey-loving town has to learn the game of cricket, from creating the uniform & paddles, building the cricket field AND of course learning the rule of the game. As soon as Dr. Lewis arrives in town, he’s welcomed by practically the entire male population in a [faux] game of cricket. That’s just a fraction of the other schemes the entire town is in on Dr. Lewis, who’s so deliriously oblivious I feel like he deserves being pranked in this way.

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I LOVE comedies that aren’t gross, foul-mouthed or just plain silly and this movie fits that description. As director Don McKellar said during the Q&A after the film, he’s drawn to the project as it’s the kind of social comedy that has a certain dignity, a certain respect for the people being depicted. There is a purpose to every gag, down to even the smallest comic scene is not a waste. There’s an obvious ethical issue with what the town is doing, I mean they’re tapping his phone and stuff, the NSA has nothing on them, ahah. Yet it’s not done in a mean-spirited kind of way and you can’t help but root for the town as well as for the young doctor.

The name of the harbor town is perfectly appropriate as it tickles your funny bone. There are plenty of gut-busting, thigh-slapping hilarity to be had from start to finish and having real life townsfolk definitely makes it feel authentic. Gleeson and Kitsch seem like an odd match and it is, but that’s kind of the point and it’s played to great effect here. Both of them are the only two actors who aren’t from easternmost province of Canada. Gleeson is Irish (which fits perfectly to the town’s Irish heritage) and Kitsch grew up in Vancouver. Gleeson is such a great actor, but I really like him in comedies [he's much softer here though than his character in The Guard which I saw recently]. He’s is joined by Newfoundland’s most famous celebrity Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her), and the rest of the supporting cast, including comedian Mark Critch are from the area as well. All of them are so hilarious and by the end of it I fell in love with the Tickle Cove community!

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The ending is pretty predictable but in no way that it lessens the charm of the story. In fact, I don’t mind it at all that it ends on a hopeful and cheery note. I’m still gleeful just thinking about some of the funniest bits from this movie. Not only is it delightfully funny, it’s also heartwarming and beautiful to look at, it could practically doubles as a tourism video for Newfoundland. I definitely will watch it again as soon as it’s available on dvd or streaming.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these movies? I’d love to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup: The Machine (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! I’m slacking off a bit here, I was hoping to get my Breathe-In review this weekend but just couldn’t find the time to do it. But I was supposed to catch the Brendan Gleeson/Taylor Kitsch comedy The Grand Seduction on Friday but I made a snafu that I didn’t order an extra ticket for my hubby so I have to go to the Sunday night screening instead. So I’ll post my review of Breathe-In together with that one as soon as I get around to it :D

Well, this weekend I got to see a pretty cool sci-fi indie The Machine: TheMachinePoster

This British dystopian sci-fi has obvious nods to Blade Runner. In fact, it says right on the synopsis and the marketing itself. As a fan of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, I was naturally intrigued. Instead of a story of a cop hunting down replicants aka robots, The Machine‘s protagonists are two artificial intelligence (AI) engineers who are working together in a futuristic era where a world is in an economic crisis and a cold war with China is brewing. Their boss is the Ministry of Defense Thomson (Denis Lawson) who’s hellbent on winning the arms race by creating a robotic soldier. The main scientist, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is morally conflicted about his job, but he does it because it’s the only way he could have technological access to help his ailing daughter.

The meat of the story takes place after Vincent’s new science partner Ava (Caity Lotz) is brutally murdered and he then created a cyborg in her likeness. Soon Thomson’s real motive is quickly revealed and Vincent’s life is endangered as he becomes a potential victim of his own creation.

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Despite the low-budget production (less than $2 mil), I think writer/director Caradog W. James‘ did a nice job in creating a thought-provoking film that’s also visually arresting. The homage to Blade Runner is evident in his stylish visual style with the bleak futuristic setting and use of neon lights, as well as its use of synthesizer music that evokes Vangelis’ theme. I like sci-fi films that’s more atmospheric and even a little bit moody, instead of an all-action extravaganza like Elysium, and that’s partly why I enjoyed The Machine. There’s a lot of heart in the relationship between Vincent and his daughter, as well as with Ava even in robotic form. The developing relationship between a human being and an AI is nothing groundbreaking and foreseeable, but when done well, it’s still fascinating to watch. The love story is also not overblown which adds to its realism.

Both Stephens and Lotz did a nice job in their respective roles. Stephens’ got that brooding, tortured soul thing down pat which works well for this role, and Lotz whom I’ve never seen before is especially impressive. Her transformation from a curious scientist to an AI with childlike vulnerability but deadly power is quite convincing, and I find her struggle with the loss of her humanity pretty moving. She obviously looks more robotic than any of the replicants in Blade Runner, and Lotz gets the mechanical mannerism perfectly. Action fans would certainly appreciate her dance-like but lethal kickboxing moves. The film is rated R for some brutal and bloody action sequences from start to finish.

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The story is not perfect though, it gets predictable as the film progresses and some things are not explained too well. The side effect of the sensor-restoring brain implants on the fatally-wounded war veterans *recycled* for the project is that they render them mute as they become cyborgs. For some reason they can still speak in intelligible robotic voice to each other, though later they regained their speech ability and it’s never fully explained why. Despite that, it’s pretty darn entertaining and I highly recommend it if you’re into this genre. The intimate feel of the story gives a nice lingering effect after I watched it, and the ending is perfectly eerie as we imagine what a plausible future shared with an AI could be. The Machine proofs that you can still make an engaging film even on a shoestring budget, I’m curious to see what James would do with more resources at his disposal.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this film? Curious to hear what you think.

MSPIFF14 Reviews: Hotell & Mystery Road

MSPIFF_Reviews

Happy Sunday everyone! We’ve got a couple more MSPIFF 2014 reviews courtesy of Josh from JJAMES reviews.

Hotell_posterHotell (2013)

A Swedish film written and directed by Lisa Langseth, Hotell follows Erika (Alica Vikander), a beautiful and pregnant young woman with an almost idyllic life. Already moneyed and apparently successful, she and her husband, Oskar (Simon J. Berger), have a plan for including an infant in their lives, one that begins with a pre-arranged Caesarean Section.

But their plan falls apart when their son’s birth goes horribly wrong, a fact that mandates the couple adjust. Oskar manages well enough. Erika does not, instead slipping into deep depression, because of which she joins a support group that includes Rickard (David Dencik), Pernilla (Anna Bjelkerud), Anna-Sofi (Mira Eklund) and Peter (Henrik Norlen). Each of Erika’s new friends are, in their own way, ill, and, like Erika, tired of feeling conflicted, so when she proposes an unconventional plan to collectively escape their lives, for an indeterminate duration of time, they accept. Along they way, they informally try to help one another.

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Hotell has many merits. First, and most notably, Langseth portrays mental illness exceptionally well, never playing it for laughs or forced sympathy, but rather showing its complexity and potentially debilitating consequences with acute empathy. It might be the best such portrayal I have ever seen, in any motion picture or television show. 

Moreover, Erika and Rickard are complex, vibrant characters. Oskar could be one, as well, if he had received more focus. Plus, all of the performances are top-notch, especially Alicia Vikander’s Her every expression shows a veneer of reserve and composure, but also underlying vulnerability mixed with grief and guilt, facts that are praiseworthy enough, but become all the more so when considering Vikander’s two most explosive scenes. She is award-worthy good. Mira Eklund, who plays Anna-Sofi perfectly, is almost her equal.

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Yet, despite its many merits Hotell is not as emotionally moving as it could have been, largely because Langseth doesn’t develop her secondary characters well. Oskar all but disappears for most of the movie’s last three acts, and Peter, Pernilla and Anna-Sofi are too simplistically drawn. Just as their illnesses are not given enough attention.

It is doubly disappointing, because Langseth daringly bucks genre expectations. Here the therapy group is not particularly good for each other, and none of them are necessarily ‘cured,’ facts that help solidify Hotell’s themes. And would have done so even more powerfully if some of the characters had been better developed.

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3 out of 5 reels


Mystery Road (2013)

Mystery-Road-PosterMystery Road is ostensibly a police procedural about Australian outback Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), who investigates the murders of indigenous girls. In that sense, the film is predictable, opening with Swan being assigned a murder case and following him through his investigation. Eventually, of course, he learns the truth, and then must grapple with the personal consequences of his new, and dangerous, knowledge. If we only consider the plot, Mystery Road is borderline formulaic and certainly not inventive. On the other hand, if that is all we consider, we are unfairly pigeonholing this complex movie. 

Because, in a master-class display of showing not telling, filmmaker Ivan Sen (the picture’s writer, director, editor, cinematographer & composer) ensures the story is tertiary, important only as a vehicle to represent setting and characters, in that order. Therein is why Mystery Road opens with sweeping, late-night aeriel shots of the rural outback. The wide angles are impressive, but made all the more so by their juxtaposition with close-ups of a truck driver (Hayden Spencer) using a flashlight to check his rig’s tires and then, after hearing a howling dog, to light his walk through nearby terrain. The sequence is wordless and slowly paced, meaning our focus is on the location, not the trucker himself and certainly not his actions. Perhaps that’s why we’re startled when he finds the first body, that of Julie Mason.

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At that point, Sen cuts to protagonist Jay Swan. Now we watch the detective, becoming intimately connected to him at the same time we learn more about Winton, a rural town. Swan asks his Sergeant (Tony Barry) for extra manpower to help him investigate Julie’s death, but he’s rebuffed. So he works alone, encountering racism aplenty. Some of the residents he meets are indigenous, like Swan’s ex-wife, Mary (Tasma Walton), and his daughter, Crystal (Tricia Whitton). They live in small houses. Others are white and own farms with larger homes. Still others, including Johno (Hugo Weaving), are morally obscure, leaving us to ponder their objectives. All of which contributes to Mystery Road’s greatest strength: neither Sen’s filmmaking technique nor his screenplay tell us what to think; he shows the conditions in which his characters live and trusts that we’ll understand his message.

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That Jay is well developed and that Pederson is captivating helps, as well. As do the strong supporting performances (special mention to Weaving and Walton), and the interesting secondary characters, most of which make sense. Johno is the lone exception. Even in the movie’s climax, we do not comprehend his motives. Johno is Mystery Road’s biggest misstep, but it is easy to overlook. As is the film’s other mistake: having so many characters that tracking them is difficult. 

The flaws do not limit the picture’s effectiveness, because Sen’s minimalist filmmaking is entrancing. He uses his simple score infrequently and powerfully, punctuating scenes and cementing emotion. Ditto that for his almost tangential dialogue, and his camera work and editing cuts, each of which are reserved. The director’s decisions immerse us in his setting.

As if it isn’t sufficiently clear, Mystery Road is almost magical and surely one of the best movies at MSPIFF.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


JJamesReviews
Thanks again Josh for the excellent reviews!


What do you think of these two films? Let us know in the comments!

MSPIFF14 Reviews: JOE & Brave Miss World documentary

MSPIFF_Reviews

JOE

Review by Josh P.

JOEmovieposterOften grim, Joe is well made and gripping, though, perhaps, not for the faint-hearted. In the film’s first scene, writers Larry Brown & Gary Hawkins and director David Gordon Green define Joe as a harsh drama. In it, fifteen-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) accosts his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), for being an abusive alcoholic. Gary’s soliloquy helps solidify the film’s identity, of course, as does Wade’s response, but Green’s camera angle is even more effective; it is an unchanging over-the-shoulder shot, one that shows us the back of Gary’s head and most of Wade’s face.

From this first image, we know that Gary is not in control, that he will have to fight for success. Joe promises to be about a child on the precipice, one whom the world ignores.

It delivers. When Gary meets Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an ex-convict with a good heart but uncontrolled anger, the former convinces the latter to hire him and his father for laborious work as corporate tree killers. In his excitement, Gary runs home to tell his family he’s found work, but neither his mother nor father reciprocate his elation. Worse, Wade refuses to help Gary get groceries in town, only finally agreeing to join his son after lengthy conversation. Upon enlisting his father’s aid, Gary sees a stranger, Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), and asks for a ride. But Willie does not help. And neither does Wade, no matter what Willie says or does to his son.

Gary is too young and uninformed for such a life, but only Joe and Connie (Adriene Mishler) care. And only Joe helps. Helps so much, in fact, that he becomes Gary’s role model and surrogate father, his own emotional issues notwithstanding. Brown, Hawkins and Green’s plot, then, effectively adheres to theme: as Joe himself asks, more or less, how does society allow its children to be this disadvantaged? Why don’t people help them?

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It is an upsetting question, made all the more so because Green immerses in it. When Joe should be disturbing, the directoruses every filmmaking element to fuel the audience’s anxiety. Consider when Wade stalks a homeless man. We hear soft, beat-heavy music mixed with natural footstep sound editing, at the same time we see a wide-angle shot that frames both men. The shot is held so long, the walk so drawn out, that we dread the scene’s resolution. When Wade lights a cigarette, our dread turns to fear. It is only one example of Green’s directorial skill, but it is emblematic. Joe would not be half so effective without the director’s artistic touches.

A narrative that sufficiently develops most of its characters helps, as well. As do powerhouse performances from Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter. All three men are note-perfectly captivating. Ditto that for Joe’s occasional flights of humor, which lighten the mood just enough to make the film entertaining.

If still imperfect, mostly because Willie is poorly written. Why, really, does he hate Joe? Why he is so bent on revenge? Why does he freak out at Gary the first time they meet? Why, in other words, is he who he is? We can only begin to answer such questions, and none of our answers move beyond theories.

Despite this significant flaw, Joe accomplishes its objectives and merits a recommendation.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

Review by Josh

JJamesReviews


Brave Miss World

BraveMissWorldDocI’ve always been attracted to documentaries about social issues and this one immediately grabbed my attention. Linor Abargil seemed to have the world on her feet at 18. I mean she beat hundreds of contestants to win the Miss World title in 1998. But little did most of the world then knew that she was abducted, stabbed and raped in Milan by someone she trusted, her travel agent, just six weeks before she was crowned.

Some documentaries are tough to get into, especially when the subject is as bleak as rape. Yet this film kept my attention from the start thanks to the protagonist of the film. Linor became the reluctant ‘face’ if you will for survivor of sexual violence. Though she had the support of families n friends, she was still haunted by the horrifying event. I applaud her for speaking out however, and using her Miss World fame to help others. Though at times it wore her out and took an emotional toll on her that she had to revisit that terrible night every time another woman confessed she had been raped, she kept going. I wonder why at times, and so did her family members, as her parents candidly shared to the camera how they dread her taking on this cause. It helps that how open and candid her family & friends were, including her then-boyfriend who’s now her husband, about sharing how they felt about Linor and her journey.

As the documentary took us on a journey along with Linor though, I’m inspired that Linor chose to turn a brutal act into be something that brings light to a lot of suffering women around the world. At the same time, the experience of talking to fellow survivors was sort of a healing process for her. It was also a quest to bring her rapist to justice. Turns out her rapist has done this crime before and so she was determined to keep him behind bars when he became eligible for parole. The mix of Linor’s personal journey and the cause to bring sexual violence to light wasn’t always seamlessly done however, and editing could’ve been tightly done to maintain the focus on the protagonist. The abrupt detour showing Hollywood stars (Joan Collins, Fran Drescher) who shared their own experience of being raped felt a bit jarring, as it sort of took me out of the film a bit.

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Towards the end of the film, we saw quite a striking transformation of Linor. Her conversion to Judaism may seem quite drastic but I for one didn’t think that her new-found faith was merely a spiritual *crutch* nor that it was merely an act of desperation of some sort. I felt that her desire to be closer to God is a natural passage as she somehow starts to see herself in a different light. I respect that and I’m glad that her spiritual journey was not cut out from the film. I felt that she’s far more beautiful in her natural state, without any makeup or glamorous clothing, as her inner beauty really shines through.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


BraveMissWorldWebsiteFor more info and how you could take action to support this cause, check out Brave Miss World’s official website. She will be making the film festival rounds for the next few weeks. Hope you’ll check out this film when it’s playing near you.

You can also read (and share your own) stories on the site, as well as info on how to get help if you need it.


What do you think of these films?

FlixChatter Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

CapAmerica2Banner

It’s always nice when a movie lives up to one’s expectations, even better when it exceeds it. As a big fan of the first film, I’m already invested in the character of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. I think director Joe Johnston did an outstanding job in introducing a superhero who’s not inherently cool like most of his peers, but his origins story has its undeniable charm and intrigue, not to mention that it perfectly sets up the larger universe of The Avengers. Naturally I was slightly dismayed that Johnston was replaced by a relatively *unknown* pair of directors, Joe & Anthony Russo have done mostly TV work, but as it turns out, I needn’t worry.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up where the first film left off and immediately hits the ground running. Literally. Cap and his future ally Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (Anthony Mackie) *meets cute* during a morning jog near the Washington Monument. It’s a humorous scene filled with all kinds of patriotic symbolism and an efficient throwback to our formerly frozen hero adjusting to modern society, what with his notebook filled with pop culture references he’s missed out on and his ride Black Widow calling him a old fossil. It’s tough living as a man out of his time, the only place he’s most familiar with is the Smithsonian which puts the bygone era on display. The ideals Rogers fought for and believed in has been long gone. “S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like to be!” Nick Fury tells him, and he’s given a tour to the monstrous helicarrier hangar that reminds me of the Shatterdome (Jaeger-making factory) in Pacific Rim.

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The conspiracy theory stuff harkens us to the 70s paranoia thrillers, which also borrows some themes from Minority Report when Cap quipped ‘I thought the punishment usually came AFTER the crime.’ Yet somehow the story feels so timely thanks to the Edward Snowden NSA scandal about how the Big Brother style government is still very much with us.

Fans of espionage movies like me would love the story arc here where Cap struggles with a moral dilemma and trust issues, but action fans should be pleased with the amount of exciting fight sequences, hand-to-hand combat, and one of the most relentless car chases in history! It’s an exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping scene of the geek-gasm variety. Nice to see Samuel L. Jackson given more screen time here, instead of merely showing up to berate the Avengers or give out orders. But he also gets to do his usual scenery-chewing best. The dynamic between Cap and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson sporting a sleek new haircut) is fun to watch as well. They couldn’t be more different from each other. Cap with his straight-as-an-arrow sensibilities where he sees things as black or while, whilst ex-KGB Romanoff practically lives in a gray area all her life. It’s an unlikely Avenger-pairing, as she also volunteers to be his matchmaker, that works quite well here as she unrelentingly tries to brings Cap out of his shell. Anthony Mackie is delightfully charming as The Falcon, I secretly cheer every time he came on screen. The interaction between him & Cap provides some of the biggest laughs, but there are also moments that highlights our hero’s humanity.

I overheard someone complain right after the screening that there were too much drama and not enough action. Now I couldn’t disagree more with whoever said that, as I definitely think there’s a nice balance of thrilling action and engaging dramatic tension throughout. Even the decidedly quieter moments has its purpose, and without giving anything away, it’s one I was particularly looking forward to. Even during the most action-packed fight scenes, there’s emotional moments that keeps the blam, whack, pow punches from ringing hollow, especially the moment Cap realizes who The Winter Soldier turns out to be. The action stuff looks quite spectacular all around, which I’ve come to expect from the $170 mil budget. I’m glad to say I didn’t get dizzy from slo-mo or shaky-cam techniques and there’s just the right amount of CGI as the fight sequences felt pretty realistic.

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Kudos to Chris Evans for truly bringing the character to life in such a compelling way. He seems far more confident in the role as well as an actor, which makes Steve Rogers’ journey all the more intriguing. He comes across as someone who’ve seen a lot and been through a lot, a broken-hearted man who somehow doesn’t become embittered by it all. He’s not just a hero because he’s a super soldier with perfect human specimen physique, but it’s his unapologetic goodness and abiding principles that makes him truly worth rooting for. That said, we still get to see plenty of cool scenes that shows what Cap is really capable of physically that’s amplified even more than the first film. He and his seemingly indestructible shield are truly pushed to their limit this time around. There are lots of action-packed scenes worth rewinding for once I get my hands on the Blu-ray!

The supporting cast is first rate all around. Robert Redford effortlessly adds gravitas as the S.H.I.E.L.D. big honcho Alexander Pierce. It’s shrewd casting given how a few of his early espionage films inspired the screenwriters of this film. He serves as a nice contrast to the more larger-than-life villain [but perhaps deemed too cartoonish] of the first Captain America film. Nary of a maniacal laugh or anything of the sort, Pierce is quite a sinister figure. There is one particular scene in his house that actually makes my blood run cold. Sebastian Stan gets most of the action scenes and perhaps not as much of the dramatic stuff, but I do think he has the chops. That’s a good thing as the actor signs multiple-picture deals with Marvel as the inevitable successor of the franchise. I also have to mention Frank Grillo who elevates his character way above the typical thug-ish bad guy. He’s one reliable character actor who I wish would get more prominent roles in Hollywood.

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I think it’s brilliant that this sequel is set in the political thriller genre and not focusing too much on the fish-out-of-water cliché of Cap’s existence. I applaud the studio for making bold choices in the plot, which has been aptly called ‘a game changer’ in terms of its effects to the future Marvel movies. The story gives a nod to his past but also boldly moves the story forward.  I feel that there’s truly something huge at stake here, not just for Cap but for everyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Thoughts: Thanks to screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and the spirited direction of the Russo brothers, this has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero. It’s nice to see that the story and character still take center stage here and not get drowned out by ultra-bombastic and unnecessary action scenes. I’m thrilled that the Russos will be back for the third film. I think by the time that one wraps, the Captain America franchise could be the most cohesive one as its storyline flows as one unit from one to the next. Hail to the Cap!

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels

P.S. Make sure you stay until the second post-credit scene. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!


What do you think of this movie? Did you like it more or less than I did?

FlixChatter Review: SABOTAGE

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Just like his pal Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzegger is trying to reclaim his glory days as the box office king of the 80s and 90s by starring in action films again in the 21st century. So far though, both them have had more duds than hits and I’m afraid this trend will continue with Arnold’s latest action thriller.

The movie opens with a group of elite DEA agents being lead by John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnie) raiding on some drug dealers’ fancy mansion. They found at least $100mil cash stashed away in the lower level of the mansion and the team decided to steal $10mil of that money and burn the rest so no one at the DEA will know they took the cash. Of course things didn’t turn out as planned, when they tried to retrieve the cash later, it’s nowhere to be found. Things got worse when the DEA found out that the $10mil is missing and they accuse Breacher and his team of stealing the money. All of them were under investigation and Breacher lost his team. About six months later, the DEA couldn’t find enough evidence to build a case against Breacher and his team, so the case will be close.

After the good news, Breacher tracked down his old teammates and try to get them back to doing what they do best, kill lots of bad guys. Unfortunately things didn’t come back to normal for the team, three of them were killed and this lead to the involvement of a homicide detective Caroline (Olivia Williams). Caroline suspects the drug cartel is behind the killings but Breacher and his team aren’t willing to help her with the investigation. The trailers let us to believe that this was a non-stop action adventure but it’s really a procedural thriller with some shootouts and a car chase. Not the usual Arnold’s flicks from the past.

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The script by Skip Woods and David Ayer was pretty good, nothing too deep or over the top. Instead of giving us one liners after another, some of the dialogs were quite witty and Arnold delivered them perfectly. The script might think it’s smarter than it’s actually is but I went along with the plot. Ayer made a name for himself by writing Training Day and the first Fast & Furious film, so don’t expect anything new or original from this movie. I’m not the biggest fan of his directing style though, he basically incorporated the look and feel of his last movie (End of Watch) into this one. I’m sort of getting annoyed by some directors who think that by shooting their movie digitally, they think it will look more “realistic”. I don’t get why they couldn’t add some effects in post production and make the movie look more cinematic, I can’t stand watching a movie that looks like it’s shot with a home camcorder. Despite the flat and uninspired cinematography, Ayer did shoot some good action scenes, particularly the climatic car chase and shootout.

Performance wise, I thought Arnold did a pretty good job, again it’s Arnold we’re talking about here so don’t expect an Oscar caliber acting. Olivia Williams pretty much played the second lead and I thought she’s good in the role, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her in a movie. The rest of the cast including Sam Worthington (I guess he’s already lost his leading man status now), Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello and Josh Holloway did a serviceable job in their respective roles.

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For a movie like this, I think most people expect to see lots of shootouts and explosions, so it’s a nice surprise that it does have some sort of a plot and kept my attention without something blowing up every 10 minutes. I think I might give it a higher rating had Ayer and his team made the movie look more like a real movie instead of home video. But I’m glad they didn’t scale back the blood and violence, I think this is a good rental.

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3 out of 5 reels


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What do you think of Sabotage?

March 2014 Blind Spot: All The President’s Men (1976)

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This month’s Blind Spot is a ‘hit two birds with one stone’ type of a thing in that it’s part of the conspiracy movies I’ve been bingeing on in anticipation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s something I’ve been wanting to see for ages, glad I finally got around to it.

I wasn’t even born yet when the scandal happened in 1972, starting with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in D.C. I’ve seen Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on TV over the years and I think I may have known they’re the journalists who first uncovered the scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, but I never realized just how they got there.

It’s a testament to Alan J. Pakula‘s shrewd direction and Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman‘s excellent performances that this film remains as gripping as ever, even watched for the first time 38 years after its release. It’s the quintessential political conspiracy drama that earns its ‘true classic’ label, it currently sits at #77 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list. I actually watched this film just a day after Pakula’s other conspiracy movie made just two years earlier, The Parallax View, but I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. Obviously I already know that Woodward and Bernstein survived the whole ordeal, but that fact in no way lessens the suspense of the film. It’s perhaps the best film about investigative journalism, and no doubt it’s the film shown in every journalism class in America. Believe it or not, I actually wanted to be a journalist when I first came to the States, so I might’ve seen some clips of this in my Broadcast Journalism class in college.

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Woodward & Bernstein: In the movie & in a real life photo

I was completely engrossed in the story, but not only in terms of the scandal itself, but in the realistic depiction of how the journalists work on their story, as a lot of the film take place within The Washington Post. There’s a scene where the veteran Bernstein started making revisions of Woodward’s drafts without first consulting him. “I don’t mind that you did it,” Woodward said, “I just mind how you did it.” Clearly they didn’t get off on the right foot, but they soon bonded over their tenacity to get to the bottom of this story. There’s a nice rapport between the two actors that worked well here. Clearly the two reporters are such workaholics and became so consumed with the story. I’d think that real journalists have a bit of that obsessive streak in them when they’re following the trail of a story, especially something as important as this one. Little did they know where the story would lead, as the trail just kept getting higher up the chain of the Republican Party and eventually all the way to the White House!

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All the dialog between Woodward & Bernstein and the editors, played by Jack Warden and Jason Robards are quite fascinating, as it shows how risky it was to break a story like this. Amongst the supporting cast, Robards was particularly memorable as Benjamin Bradlee, the then executive editor at the Post. He’s very convincing as a seasoned journalist and has the gravitas required for the role. The scenes in a parking garage where Woodward held his secret meet-up with Deep Throat (a pseudonym the journalists give to the secret informant) is rife with tension, handled brilliantly in an eerie, atmospheric way. Hal Holbrook is perfectly effective in his brief appearance, adding so much to his character and making it practically iconic. “Follow the money,” he says, in one of the most memorable quotes in William Goldman‘s Oscar-winning screenplay.



The scenes where Bernstein coerced his sources to talk are particularly intriguing, especially the one with the book keeper of Committee to Re-elect the President (with an appropriate acronym of CREEP). Jane Alexander was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and I agree that’s quite a fantastic performance. She only had about 8-minute screen time in the entire film, about the same number of minutes Dame Judi Dench appeared in her Oscar-nominated turn in Shakespeare in Love. Truly, there’s really not a boring moment here even during the most seemingly mundane stuff like typing or people talking on the phone. There’s a six-minute continuous tracking shot of Redford being on the phone, according to IMDb trivia, DP Gordon Willis did that in one take!

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I’m surprised Willis was not nominated for an Oscar for his work here, though later on he received an Honorary Academy Award in 2010. I love how he used a variety of creative shots, such as the one where the two reporters were doing meticulous research at the Library of Congress. The camera shot them from above, starting with a close up of their hands sifting through a mountain of library slips and it slowly pulls away, accompanied by the sound of rustling paper and very subtle background music. No words are spoken but it’s a powerful scene. I found this wonderful Mise-en-scène article on this exact scene where the author astutely observed that … “The scene symbolically represents the story of the film, that of two men against an entire administration. It expresses the immensity of the task that lay ahead for the reporters, not just in searching through library cards, but in revealing the truth behind the misdeeds of the administration.”


I love the attention to details of this film, the clothes, the sets, and all the details within The Post headquarter. Apparently the design department of the film even made a replica of the out of date phone books to make it even more authentic! I’m sure there are countless details that I failed to catch. This is definitely the kind of film that warrants subsequent viewings in order to get the details I’ve missed on initial viewing.

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I’ll end this review with one last observation. I like how the story stays focused on the journalism aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

Here’s my full Blindspot List.


What do you think of All The President’s Men? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Double Review: DIVERGENT

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I thought I’d post a double reviews as we have different perspectives coming into the film. Ashley has read the book by Veronica Roth, but I haven’t. Did we end up with the same or very different conclusions? Read on.

Ruth’s Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has been divided into five factions based on virtues: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Someone is considered divergent when the results of their required aptitude test show that they don’t fit neatly into one faction, which is considered a threat by the leaders who want to maintain a perfectly controlled society. When Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley) finds out she is divergent, she’s warned by the test administrator (Maggie Q) to keep it a secret. On Choosing Day, where every 16-year-old must choose which faction to belong to, Tris chooses to be in Dauntless. The film pretty much focuses on how Tris and fellow new faction members undergo the extreme physical and psychological training in Dauntless, the military-like group that’s assigned to defend threats from outside the city walls.

It’s a lot to take in but somehow director Neil Burger makes it quite easy to follow. It also helps to that right away I can identify with Tris, thanks to Woodley‘s engaging portrayal. Though in the promo materials she’s shown like this tough, bad ass heroine in skin-tight outfit, she actually appears far more human and therefore relatable in the film. The long exposition does a sufficient job developing the main characters, that is Tris and her mysterious faction trainer called Four (Theo James).
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I like the fact that Tris is realistically shown as being vulnerable and out of her element, as one would imagine if you’re thrown into a faction like Dauntless. There’s an interesting dynamics between Tris and fellow Dauntless members, most notably the bully (Miles Teller, who interestingly played her love interest in The Spectacular Now), and the best friend (Zoë Kravitz). Thankfully the romance didn’t become the main focus in the film, and I’m glad Tris wasn’t made out to be this clingy, lovelorn ingenue. There’s enough chemistry between Woodley and James, and if the romance feels unconvincing at times, I think it’s intentional as the characters are still trying to trust each other.
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As the male lead, 29-year-old Theo James proves to be another fetching, crush-worthy Brit who projects a ‘manly tough guy with a heart’ persona. I’ve only seen him as the indelible Mr. Pamuk who seduced Lady Mary in Downton Abbey, but I certainly would like to see more of him in Hollywood. Ansel Elgort is quite effective in his brief scene as Woodley’s brother Caleb who chooses to be in Erudite. The ‘faction over blood’ revelation is handled quite nicely here in their brief but important scene together. The supporting cast are pretty good overall. The casting of Ashley Judd as Woodley’s mother is so spot on as they have such a strong resemblance, and their scene together toward the end is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching in the film.
The third act is the most action-packed, involving hostile coup d’etat by drugged-up troops, as well as hand-to-hand fight sequences. A lot of it reminds me of the futuristic actioner Equilibrium in which independent will/thought is forbidden under an authoritarian government, but without the over-the-top Gun Kata martial arts that ended up taking over the story. The filmmaker seems to care and respect Roth’s vision of a flawed dystopian society, instead of just setting out to make a cool action adventure. The cinematography is quite beautiful, especially the scenes from above the Ferris Wheel. Plus, as I’ve visited Chicago often, it’s nice to see it being prominently featured on a film as the city itself, instead of as a sub for something else, i.e. Gotham.
Now, the main issue I have with the film is the pacing. It starts rather too slow for my liking and it didn’t quite pick up until the third act. The script by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor spends most of the film expounding the idea of what these factions is all about and Tris’ struggle to find her identity. I don’t know if the book is the same way, but the film barely explains the bigger picture of the society we’re dealing with and what’s outside the city walls. We’re only told briefly that wars have destroyed most of the world, but how and what really happened was never mentioned. Another weak aspect is the main villain Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), an Erudite leader who adamantly believes Divergents must be eradicated. Now, I’m a fan of Winslet as an actress, and granted she has the presence to elevate the material, yet I don’t find her to be menacing nor sinister enough to be effective. In a story like this, I think a strong adversary would help convey what’s really at stake for these characters.
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In the end, it’s the earthy and affable Woodley that keeps the film afloat because I’m invested in her story and her journey. It’s inevitable that given the young adult target audience, the dystopian setting and the fact that it also features a young female protagonist, Divergent will always be compared to The Hunger Games. But having seen the film, I think it has enough distinguishing features to set itself apart and stand on its own two feet. It’s by no means perfect, but despite the flaws, I quite enjoyed it. The ending explicitly sets up a sequel and you know what, I’m actually curious to see what happens next for Tris and Four.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


FREEBIE FRIDAY!

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Giveaway Details: The first 50 people who leaves their email address in the comments will be put into a drawing to win the prize pack. The sole winner will be notified via email on Monday March 24. Contest closes on Sunday March 23, 11:59 pm CST. Contest opens to Minnesota residents only.  Contest is now closed. Winner will be notified by Monday 3/24 at 6pm CST.


Ashley’s Review

Just a fair warning, I tried my best to keep my indifferent feelings about the novel separate from my feelings about the film adaptation. While the film followed the novel fairly closely, I wasn’t blown away by their interpretation. When I saw Catching Fire I felt so engrossed in the world and drama, it felt like I was actually right there with Katniss and Peeta; however, in Divergent I truly felt more like a spectator rather than a participant.  I’ve decided to break my review into three points: casting, score and cinematography.

Casting

This was my first encounter with Shailene Woodley (Beatrice Prior) and I have to say I was really impressed. Divergent explores the limits of a person’s mental and physical toughness, so needless to say they needed someone who could portray Tris’ struggles as she begins her training. In the novel Tris is described as being physically weaker than her other initiates and, according to her, plain. While I wouldn’t call Woodley plain, I think she fit the bill perfectly. I was continually surprised by Woodley’s range of emotions. She proved she can handle comedy by delivering perfect biting one-liners, we see raw and tender moments as it becomes clear she’s not the ultimate warrior (quite the opposite from Hunger Games) and her struggles to separate herself from the connection to her previous faction (Abnegation). However, I wasn’t convinced by her romantic portrayal with Four/Tobias (Theo James).

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As much as I enjoyed James for the eye candy (you’ll know when you see it), I honestly felt like he was too old. Especially since they tried to make Woodley look very frail and innocent, their pairing just seemed creepy. Here’s where the novel and film have a major difference. We’re given more scenes, stolen looks and inner dialogue to see a romantic relationship start to bud, but in the film everything felt forced, awkward and rushed.

I agree with Ruth about Kate Winslet’s performance (Jeanine). In the novel she’s supposed to be a threatening and controlling totalitarian leader, but instead Jeanine comes across as arrogant. I didn’t have the same fear instilled in me like I did with Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of President Snow.

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Another big miss was the tension between Eric (Jai Courtney) and Four. In the film Eric is portrayed as this meathead, where in the novel he’s much lankier and values brains over brawns. We learn the rules for Dauntless initiation are changing and are more cut-throat, leaving the unsuccessful factionless. Four is a big proponent of the traditional ways, but in the film we only see glimpses of their discord. Not enough to justify Eric’s attempted murder towards the end of the film.

Score vs. soundtrack
I thought the techno-vibe score (composed by Junkie XL) was well done. It really seemed to match a futuristic setting and the sometimes abrasive mannerisms of the Dauntless. However, I had some qualms about the soundtrack. I’m a big fan of Ellie Goulding and realize she was selected to help produce the soundtrack, but it was Goulding overload. I enjoy her music but after featuring three or four songs, it felt like I was listening to her on repeat. It was enough to pull me out of the film. This might not matter so much to you, but I’m a big believer in a score or soundtrack’s ability to intensify a film’s emotions. To me it’s just as important as acting.

Cinematography

While there aren’t as many fantastical scenes as The Hunger Games trilogy, I think it could’ve been very easy to create the action scenes in CG, and I’m glad they refrained. There are still some elements, but I felt like they relied upon unique camera angles and amazing props instead. And it paid off. However, the film’s pacing felt rather slow. I can understand they were trying to adhere to the novel as much as possible, but I didn’t start to feel engrossed until 2/3 of the way in.

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One particular scene that comes to mind is when Tris takes her aptitude test. She awakes in a room made entirely of floor length mirrors. I thought this was brilliantly done because each time Tris turned, multiple versions of herself would appear, slowly, which really added to the panic, claustrophobia and confusion this scene was trying to convey. I was really impressed by how the film handled the fear landscape simulations. Again, this could’ve been very cheesy, but it definitely lived up to my imagination. I think fans of the novel will appreciate it as well.

As far as young adult dystopian film adaptations go, I felt like the Divergent did a really nice job of incorporating the big elements from the novel. I was really excited to see how they handled Tris begin her training in Dauntless, the Ferris wheel war games scene and finally the fear landscape simulations. To be fair, I think this is one of those films where it’s better upon second review (as was my first impression with The Hunger Games). Overall, I think this captured the tone of the novel and leaves you with anticipation with what’s to come.

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3 out of 5 reels

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Well, that’s our thoughts on Divergent. Let us know what YOU think of the movie.

FlixChatter Review – Need For Speed

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I’m not a gamer, in fact I haven’t played a video game in 2 years. But I have to admit I was a fan of the Need For Speed games back in my college years. So I was bit intrigued when Hollywood announced back in early 2000s that they were going to make a movie version. If I remember correctly, New Line Cinema was going to produce the movie and attached John Woo as the director and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was going to play the lead role. They even made a teaser poser with the release date of summer 2005. Of course that version never got made and the project was stuck in development hell for years. Well now after almost a decade from its original release date, the movie is ready to be seen by millions.

The movie opens in a not-so-speedy pace, we were introduced to a few characters including the hero Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul). He and his pals runs a car shop and also participate in an illegal street racing to earn some extra cash. One night after work, they were at another street race, they ran into Marshall’s ex girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) and her boyfriend Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Apparently Marshall and Brewster had a history and they don’t like each other much. Then we were treated to one of the most boring car racing scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. Marshall of course won the race and the next day Brewster came to his shop and offer him a project he couldn’t refuse. Apparently Marshall owes the bank a lot of money for the car shop and he needs the money badly. Brewster offered Marshall and his team a job of building the fastest car ever made and if the car is sold, he’ll give 25% of the sale to Marshall. With the magic of movie making, they finished the job in just 2 seconds. The new Ford Mustang they built is supposedly can go as fast as 230mph and this drew an interest from a potential buyer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots). Maddon turns out to be a rep for some very rich person who’s willing to buy the car for $3 mil but she needs to see that the car can go as fast as Marshall promised.

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Well the next day they took the car out for a drive and proved that it can go pretty darn fast. Maddon and her buyer were quite impressed and said they’ll pay $2.7mil for the car. After they closed the deal, Marshall, his good friend Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) and Brewster decided to make a friendly wager and went for another street racing. If Brewster wins the race, Marshall will have to give up his 25% percent but if he loses than Marshall will keep the $2.7mil. Fortunately this race scene was much better than the first one and of course tragedy strike and Little Pete was killed during the race. For some strange reason Marshall was blamed for his death and spent two years behind bars. Fast forward two years later, Marshall is out of prison on parole and wants revenge. He wants to enter into a super secret street racing which is being organize by the Monarch (Michael Keaton). The grand prize for this race can be as big as $9 mil. He contacted Maddon and ask her to convince her boss to sponsor him in the race. He also contacted his old crew who were more than willing to help him get to the race. Maddon’s boss agreed to sponsor Marshall but insist that Maddon must tag along with him. The rest of the movie was basically about Marshall and his team trying to reach the big race and win the prize.

I wanted to like this movie and for about 20 minutes, I thought it could be a fun mindless action thriller. But then as the movie progresses, it became more and more annoying. I didn’t care about the plot or any of the characters. The script by George Gatins was full of cliche one dimensional characters and I thought for sure it’s written by a 15 year old. Since I’m a fan of Breaking Bad, every time Aaron Paul is on the screen, I just think of him as Jesse and you know what, he’s basically playing the same character here. Lots of whining, yelling and crying, just like Jesse. Not any better is Dominic Cooper‘s one-note villainy performance, I guess he achieved what the role required, just being a big douche bag. The rest of the characters in the movie were a bunch of fillers and Marshall’s pals are supposed to be comic relief, but all of them were annoying to watch.

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Usually when there’s a bad script, the director can somehow turn it into something watchable. Unfortunately director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) is not talented enough for the task. I don’t blame him, his background is in stunt coordination and he should’ve stick to doing that. He has no clue how to put together coherent scenes to create dramatic effect. The scene where Little Pete was killed and Jesse er I mean Marshall started bawling, I wanted to burst out laughing because it has this dramatic music cue that just didn’t fit the scene at all. Since his background is in stunt, he did a pretty good job of staging the climatic chase but by then I didn’t care about the movie and just wish it’s over already. For a pretty decent budget, the movie looked like it’s a made for a TV movie. The cinematography was flat and uninspiring, the movie was shot digitally and it looked like it was shot by someone who bought a camcorder at a electronic store.

It’s still early but this movie will definitely make my worst-of-the-year list. The movie has no redeeming quality whatsoever – it’s full of one clichéd scene after another and I didn’t care for any of the characters. I’m the type that loves dumb action movies but this one was just way too dumb for me to enjoy it. Also, at over 2 hours long, it’s way too long for audiences to sit through this mess. At least 40 minutes of the content could’ve been cut out.

If you’re planning to see it in theater, I recommend you wait till it airs on TV so you won’t have to waste your hard-earned money on this trash.

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1 out of 5 reels


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What do you think of Need For Speed? Did you like it more or less than I did?