Review: Fantastic Four

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DIR: Josh Trank • WRI: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank  • PRO: Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Robert Kulzer. Matthew Vaughn • DOP: Matthew Jensen • ED: Elliot Greenberg, Stephen E. Rivkin • DES: Molly Hughes, Chris Seagers • MUS: Marco Beltrami, Philip Glass • CAST: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson

 

Seven years after the last Fantastic Four film, or to put it another way, the maximum amount of time that Fox could stall without losing the rights to the characters, we’re given a reboot of the series with fresh new faces and a new origin story to boot.

Based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, this film sees our would-be heroes preparing to travel, not into outer space, but across dimensions, leading to the accident which imbues them with their marvellous powers… eventually. There’s a serious amount of build up and character development exploring Reed Richards’ (Miles Teller) sense of isolation growing up as the only super genius in town and we’re given some rather briefer glances into Ben Grimm’s (Jamie Bell) early home-life, Victor Von Doom’s (Toby Kebbell) volatile personality, Johnny Storm’s (Michael B. Jordan) rebellious streak and Susan Storm’s (Kate Mara) intellect and discerning nature. Even with the sheer number of superhero origin films over the last couple of decades, it’s rare and refreshing to see so much detail given to who these characters are as people, until you realise that you’re quickly running out of movie. The pre-super powers part of the film takes its sweet time and feels like a richer film, but this makes everything afterwards feel forced and rushed.

When the inevitable happens and things go slightly wrong, leaving our titular characters stretchy, invisible, rocky and fiery, all character development stops and we’re rushed through several defining moments. The plot can be quickly summed up with

1- the government gets involved and tries to control the FF.

2- Reed escapes. The others don’t.

3- Reed returns and they learn to fight as a team in one of the most rushed superhero fights to make it onto the big screen.

Given the saturation of superhero cinema at the moment, it’s a little surprising to see another origin story on the screen, particularly when audiences are generally at least a little familiar with who the Fantastic Four are. While some would argue that seven years is more than enough time for some kids to grow up with no knowledge of the previous Fantastic Four films or media, it’s worth noting that the darker content and occasionally strong language in this film really do appeal to an older audience than its predecessors.

With a truly great cast, this film could have probably benefitted from another forty five minutes to really stretch its legs and give us a different type of superhero film. What we’re left with is something that strives for a thought-provoking character piece about isolation, family, trust and responsibility… and then quickly remembers people will want some explosions and punches and tacks on an underwhelming last-minute fight just so nobody can say it didn’t have one. The obligatory villain, Doom, really feels like a missed opportunity. While visual effects shouldn’t be a major priority in a film like this (and I’d have to actually say that the CGI Thing and Human Torch avoid major issues), there’s something that feels a little cheap about Doom’s slightly plastic mummy-like appearance and there’s no hint of character development leaning towards his turn to supervillain. His character was an ass before becoming a super-powered fiend, but there really isn’t enough time given to explain his plans or motivations for villainy.

Is this film better than the last two Fantastic Four outings? Probably. It’s a more mature and carefully made film, without the camp gags and cheesy lines that plagued the others. Unfortunately, it’s no longer 2007. We’re now living in the post-Avengers age of superhero films and audiences have learned to expect it all; humour, action, style and snappy dialogue. Fantastic Four might be the best film we’ve seen made with these characters, (unless you harbour a secret fondness for the ludicrous 1994 film), but it sacrifices humour for darkness and then almost forgets it’s supposed to be a superhero film at all.

It’s fairly good.

It’s fine.

Fantastic? That might be a stretch.

Ronan Daly

12A (See IFCO for details)
97 minutes

Fantastic Four is released 7th August 2015

Fantastic Four – Official Website

 

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Whiplash

whiplash

DIR/WRI: Damien Chazelle • PRO: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak • DOP: Sharone Meir • ED: Tom Cross • DES: Melanie Jones • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

 

Buried beneath a chromatic cluster of harmonic cries and timbered growls, lay the syncopated scattered sounds swelling across phrases that endlessly daze us. These vice-tight fists grip sticks stirring cauldrons of scuffled licks, with punches and kicks that beat the beat outta beatniks, on taut skin, taught to discipline dual-wielding squatters and double-time swatters. The pursed brass that play catch-up jazz are delicately bludgeoned in time as each pipped note is hounded and pounded to peek past perfection, where the words “good job” are pitched past a mention.

Damien Chazelle, with baton in hand attempts to slash through these sophisticated slabbed jabs of jazz in his second feature film Whiplash to uncover the cost of excellence. A story about Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a promising young drummer at Manhattan’s Shaffer Conservatory who becomes the latest student to endure the corrosive charisma of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a professor who recruits dulcet squeaks and toots in the pursuit of perfection

In the Opening scene Chazelle enrols his audience with a military drum as we march toward Neiman’s nook, slowly being ushered into a frame of mind crammed with pulsating dread. ‘I wanted to make a movie about a different side of music, about the fear and anguish of it’ the director tells Hollywood Reporter. Each shot is injected with anxiety; even New York’s dazzling skyscrapers are remoulded into looming towers that suffocate. For Woody Allen, jazz elevated New York City’s charm, varnishing each scene with fetching finesse, a gallery where audiences were being politely shuffled ‘tween trinkets of crafted pride. Chazelle has no interest in showing off his city, instead he smuggles us into multiple crevices, tucked away from lauded landmarks. The music infiltrates, stalking Neiman and scraping along concrete. It’s a soundtrack that rinses a city of comfort, leaving in its place a frenetic tension which swells to the size of Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks while waiting for a prick to pop.

Most of the action takes place in Fletcher’s rehearsal room where he prowls in search of his next victim armed with a seductive menace hinging on psychotic. But it’s psychosis with a purpose. He is a man seemingly honed to seek greatness. He spends no time loitering, in what he says, what he does, even his appearance is a reminder that no energy is lost on the mundane rituals of choosing clothes or hairstyles. All his concentration is invested in detecting musical excellence, and what Neiman might lack in talent he makes up for with a demented desire to be “one of the greats”.

Neiman soon becomes obsessed in adopting Fletcher’s relentless tempo as rehearsals turn into gruesome bouts of assault and subtle manipulation. The essence to Whiplash is held within the exchanged glances that Neiman and Fletcher throw at each other. There comes a point where all Neiman sees are Fletcher’s eyes beaming from underneath an ornately creased face as everything else in the frame and from his life become pushed past periphery. Niemen becomes utterly possessed in feeding perfection’s malignant appetite. His body, one of many donations soon becomes a mottled palette of self-abuse. The charm associated with Miles Teller from films such as 21 & Over (2013) and Project X (2012) become relinquished and what starts off as a likeable character becomes one so trapped within his own obsession that he not only pushes his loved ones away but the audience also. Even Teller’s appearance seems to flicker between cute and a boxer, battered beyond recognition.

The role of Fletcher could have easily turned into a one-dimensional drill sergeant lost in his own noise. Thankfully J.K. Simmons finds the right tone, a ferocious seduction that keeps audiences guessing. One second he’s peppering his jaded ensemble with acidic wry quips, the other he’s catapulting chairs across classrooms. Simmons manages to delightfully devour each scene without chewing the scenery. There’s a subtlety to the fury, a cerebral malice that murmurs between the currents of hardboiled rage. Though rarely, Fletcher at times can reveal a softer side, but through these inviting glimpses, our eyes can only make out the tactics and tricks that add to a greater vocabulary of manipulation, leaving audiences as tormented as his students.

Whiplash, like so many of recent films including, Mr Turner (2014) and Birdman (2014) deal with the perils of the artistic drive. However Whiplash takes a more brutal approach. What starts off as a student/mentor story quickly becomes a blistering blitzkrieg of be-bop jabs and backbeat hooks. A film that at times slips into a cautionary tale but neither condemns nor condones the way in which characters seek to achieve.

Chazelle’s camera escorts us through a turbulent route and in the end questions, was it worth it? On the one side Whiplash’s grand finale sees two musicians obtain what they set out to achieve but at a staggering fee. We find ourselves participating in a deranged duet where two people lost in a brutal scurry, salvage from the carnage, something worth remembering, only to become pummelled products of perfection’s pursuit.

Brian Quinn

15A (See IFCO for details)
106 minutes.
Whiplash
is released 16th January 2015.

Whiplash – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Divergent

tris-four-divergent-movie

DIR: Neil Burger • WRI: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Lucy Fisher, John J. Kelly, Pouya Shabazian, Douglas Wick • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce, Nancy Richardson • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Andy Nicholson • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Ashley Judd
Whether you’re a preteen girl, an Alexander Payne fan, or just watch a lot of adaptations of bestselling novels, Shailene Woodley has likely made some impression on you as a charismatic up-and-comer. From her roots on television in The Secret Life of the American Teenager to her breakout roles in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, Woodley is now making a play for the young adult dystopian franchise with Divergent, a title which, when accompanying this particular film, appears wildly ambitious.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a future dystopian Chicago in which society is sorted into five groups, or factions, based on personality types: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the kind and pacifistic; Candour, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent. So far, so Harry Potter. Divergent’s version of the Sorting Hat sees the city’s 16-year-olds take a test determining the faction to which one is best-suited. While they are theoretically free to deviate from the recommended result at the subsequent choosing ceremony, they can be disowned and left factionless if they don’t fit into their new group – becoming, essentially, homeless vagabonds.

Divergent’s heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Woodley), is told by the test co-ordinator, Tori, (Maggie Q) that her results are inconclusive, as she has the attributes of several factions, making her a Divergent type. Tori urges her to conceal this information, as Divergents are considered a threat to the status quo due to their unpredictable way of thinking. At the choosing ceremony, Tris joins the Dauntless faction, the soldier/warrior group who make up the law enforcement and military of Chicago. The film follows her subsequent battle to simultaneously stand out and fit in to her new role.

Divergent does things by-the-book, and unfortunately, that book (Divergent by Veronica Roth) is little better than a vague, elementary mish-mash of tropes from young-adult and science-fiction literature: A ‘Chosen One’; a beautiful, moody love interest; a bullying rival; a family, torn apart; secret identities and allegiances; political manoeuvring and corrupt government; and a rite of passage during which one must endure frankly startling violence. The sheer quantity of themes and motifs Divergent introduces means that none are developed with any nuance, and it feels like the film is trying to do far too much.

The premise is weak – while the idea of testing for and choosing one’s path in life from a relatively clueless teenage perspective makes for a passable allegory, it’s hard to grasp that the incredibly reductive faction system could actually hold sway for a hundred years, even in a ‘post-war’ culture of fear briefly alluded to in the opening narration. Although, when the characters presented in Divergent are as one-dimensional as the factions demand them to be, maybe it’s not that much of a stretch. It does, however, feel like lazy storytelling.

A number of stars, rising and risen, populate the cast of Divergent. The best of these, (aside from Woodley, who is doing her best with the material) is Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews, the icy, Aryan-looking Erudite leader with a steadfast belief in the faction system. Perhaps because of her status as a beloved English Rose, (or as the beloved American Rose of Titanic?) Winslet rarely appears in villainous roles, but if anything good comes of Divergent, it’s the proof that she is well-able to imbue even the flimsiest of evil characters with equal parts officious pomp and underlying malevolent intent. Sadly, the aforementioned weak characterisation of almost every character in the film at the expense of plot or narrative convenience, fails to elicit any other standout performances.

At a snip under 140 minutes, the film’s runtime is epically long – it matches that of Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic Noah, also out this week.  Yet a little research reveals this kind of runtime is in line with its current generic contemporaries: Hunger Games: Catching Fire runs at a staggering 146 minutes, while Mortal Instruments: City of Bones clocks in at a slightly less bum-numbing 130 minutes. Is this some sort of attempt to correct our preteen girls’ technologically-shortened attention spans? Once again, it feels like lazy storytelling, throwing a dozen narrative elements at the wall to see what sticks and not editing down the difference.

While star power may draw audiences to Divergent – its leading man, Theo Jame,s may have the bone structure and smoulder to usurp Robert Pattinson on Tumblrs everywhere –the film’s creative choices, or lack thereof, fail to distinguish it in an already crowded genre. Divert your course elsewhere this week.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
139 mins

Divergent is released on 4th April 2014

Divergent – Official Website

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Cinema Review: That Awkward Moment

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Dir/Wri: Tom Gormican  • Pro: Scott Aversano, Justin Nappi, Andrew O’Connor, Kevin Turen • DOP: Brandon Trost   ED: Shawn Paper, Greg Tillman • MUS: David Torn • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots

 

‘So… where is this going?’

This question is what denotes That Awkward Moment in the initial stages of any intimate relationship between a man and a woman – according to our protagonist Jason. This is presumably because he can see exactly what’s coming once the conversation starts, and that he isn’t going to like what follows, which is the desire for a more complex and serious relationship. Ironically, that’s also one of the problems with That Awkward Moment. It doesn’t fully follow through on its initial promises, and where it ends up taking us is to an unsatisfying but somehow unsurprising conclusion.

Following three men in their mid-twenties, Jason (Efron), Daniel (Teller) and Mikey (Jordan), That Awkward Moment is an obvious genre experiment, aiming to combine the gross-out comedy of the bromance film (e.g., Superbad, 21 and Over) with the frank focus on friendship and bonding found in the female coming-of-age story, like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants or Sex and the City. When Mikey gets divorced, his pals Jason and Daniel make a pact with him that the three will remain single together, maintain only the most casual of relationships with women, and instead focus on their friendship. As might be expected, this arrangement only serves to tempt fate. Unfolding among Daniel’s secret affair with Jason’s ex, Chelsea; Jason’s burgeoning feelings for a former one-night stand, Ellie; and Mikey’s attempts to win back his wife, are a slew of increasingly awkward moments involving various degrees of drunkenness, bodily exposure, and abject shame.

To give credit to first-time writer-director Tom Gormican, it’s clear that he’s trying to do something different with That Awkward Moment, in terms of genre-bending and complexity of character. Unfortunately, the muddled tone of the film doesn’t allow for this to be fully successful. While the moments of awkward humour can be just as effective as some of the film’s emotional or romantic set-pieces, the juxtaposition of both isn’t wholly effective. On paper, the jump from an emotional funeral scene to a frantic attempt at shower sex during a party might seem like a shock of humour, but on-screen, it’s rather unbalanced.

Similarly, Gormican obviously wishes to present his characters as more complex than the average comedy hero, just as in touch with their hearts and minds as with their genitals and base impulses. Yet despite the desire to imbue Jason, Daniel and Mikey with a broad spectrum of wants and needs, there’s something a little too shallow about the characterisation. This may be a problem with the structure, of trying to tell each of their three stories in one film, which is also trying to be two different films – the silly, male-oriented gross-out comedy and the silly, female-oriented romantic comedy. It’s ultimately a bit too ambitious a goal. (Ah, but Gormican’s reach should exceed its grasp, else what’s his next film for?)

It’s also hard to really root for any of the three, despite the best efforts of the young cast – particularly Teller, as Daniel, having wonderfully naturalistic delivery at times – with Jason a selfish ladies’ man, Mikey a workaholic pushover, and Daniel a crass, tactless adolescent. Forcing them to mature and compromise their faults in the name of love is a classic romantic comedy manoeuvre; though the incompatibility of homosocial male friendship with heterosexual love is a problematic message That Awkward Moment runs the risk of communicating with its coupled-up conclusions.

Although a few of the laughs land, particularly if you’re into comedy of social embarrassment (like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office), and the frank honesty and intimacy the three leads cultivate and offer each other in conversation is something we should embrace in male protagonists, That Awkward Moment flounders in the in-between of the two genres it attempts to fuse.  It’s pretty apt that the best way to describe this mashup is as just a little bit awkward.

Stacy Grouden

15A (See IFCO for details)
94  mins
That Awkward Moment is released on 31st January 2014

That Awkward Moment – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Dead Man Down

dead-man-down-trailer

 

DIR: Niels Arden Oplev • WRI: J.H. Wyman • PRO: David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Hugo Shong, Andy Yan • DOP: Paul Cameron • ED: Timothy A. Good, Frédéric Thoraval • DES: Niels Sejer • Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard

Director Niels Arden Oplev’s American theatrical debut Dead Man Down is disappointingly devoid of all the edgy appeal of his acclaimed Swedish feature The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Set in New York, Colin Farrell plays the brooding and broken Hungarian immigrant Victor, who infiltrates the gang who killed his family in order to exact his bloody revenge. However, Victor’s plan is interrupted when his neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) discovers his dark secret and contracts him into a scheme to seek out her own grisly vengeance against the drunk driver who ruined her life.

Dead Man Down is unevenly paced throughout, at times simmering with the slow-burning intensity of a Scandinavian thriller before being catapulted forward with spectacles of explosions and ‘shoot ’em ups’ more at home in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

The film gets off to a lingering start with a heartfelt speech about the meaning of life from Farrell’s friend and fellow mob henchman, a heavily tattooed Dominic Cooper. Ominous close-ups of Farrell’s anguished face and Thespian eyebrows convey most of the dramatic intensity in the first 20 minutes and we settle in for what we expect to be a calculated, grim and gritty crime thriller.

Then all hell breaks loose with a great deal of gunfire, Albanian mobsters sporting AK-47s in broad daylight, much clichéd dialogue between clichéd villains and a flashy finale that involves the hero crashing through the front of a house to save his girl.

The plot is filled with twists and turns that occasionally defy logic and more than once Oplev and screenwriter J.H. Wyman (The Mexican, TV’s Fringe) breeze over weaknesses in the plot to move the film along.

Farrell has only been living in New York for a couple of years and yet has a flawless Yankee accent (for an Irish actor) with no trace of his Hungarian roots. This is briskly explained by Farrell in the film when asked by Rapace where his Hungarian accent went, ‘I worked hard to get rid of it.’ How convenient.

Rapace, well-versed in playing tormented souls, (her role as the damaged Lisbeth Saunders in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was widely applauded), plays a woman so ‘disfigured’ by a car crash that the local scallywags throw stones at her and scrawl ‘Monster’ on her front door and yet, even with a few pink scars on her face, the Swedish actress is still more beautiful than most women on the planet.

Victor spends two years playing cat and mouse with the gang who murdered his wife and child, picking them off one by one and saving his full wrath for crime boss Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Yet in all his painstakingly intricate and cautious planning, kills one gang member in his own apartment in full view of anyone who happens to be looking out of the window of the huge tower block of flats opposite. A supposedly fragile Beatrice films the whole thing on her phone before boldly securing a date with her known-murderer neighbour and insistently blackmailing him.

These inconsistencies (and they don’t end there) may have been easier to overlook if the film was brought to a clever and compelling ending, but the showy climax that resembles scenes from a Die Hard movie will disappoint an audience hoping for something better crafted.

Dead Man Down is a classic example of the actors outshining the film they were cast in. Farrell is a good enough actor to play this role in his sleep and yet the film doesn’t draw out his talents above and beyond the paint-by-numbers vested avenger character he was cast as. Rapace, whose interpretation of the complex Saunders in The Girl with... is also wasted in this role, and yet, it is the offbeat and tender romance between Victor and Beatrice, urged along by Beatrice’s quirky mother (Isabelle Huppert) that is the most watchable thing about the whole film.

Carmen Bryce

15A (see IFCO website for details)

117 mins
Dead Man Down is released on 3rd May 2013

Dead Man Down – Official Website

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