*NEW* INSURGENT REVIEW *NEW*

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Dull-vergent returns. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . . Well, shame on me again, I guess.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart with the help from others on her side.

Well, it killed the time. But would I watch it again? Would I recommend it? Ah, no.

I haven’t read the Divergent books (and I’m certainly not going to after this) BUT I actually liked the first feature film adaptation. It was racy, engaging if a little predictable. BUT as I said back then, if there was going to be a sequel, they would need to take it up a notch.

It was watchable enough but if anything, Insurgent took the wind out of Divergent’s sails. It was slow, overlong and cliched as hell. It only really got going in the last twenty minutes. Not good enough.

It doesn’t help that the silver screen has been flooded with endless teen bestseller adaptations since The Hunger Games. These films really need to hit the ground running or at least offer something different to make a memorable impression. The Maze Runner had messed up zombies and a MAZE! Hunger Games had . . . Jennifer Lawrence (What?!)

Insurgent offered the same old re-tread like its predecessor but with weaker results. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James still have cracking chemistry and kept the spark going. I just could have done with a little less schmaltz. Woodley seems to be shaking off the squeaky clean image and with that severe haircut, she certainly proved she can play the strong lead well. Okay, her haircut wasn’t that bad. I just wondered why the hell she did it.

The running sequences didn’t really grab me as much as Divergent. A chase involving a train certainly kept me quiet for a few minutes and there were some decent set pieces. BUT the story line and characters really hampered this yarn a treat.

Ansel Elgort’s Caleb grated against me. His constant indecisiveness was infuriating. Standing around aimlessly while watching his little sister being throttled and hung out of a train. Laughable. And when he finally strikes, he hit a semi-conscious Factionless with a lead pipe. Tut tut tut.

Naomi Watts was wasted in her role. There was potential in exploring Four’s background but it didn’t really surmount to much. If not for a revelation in the film (Don’t worry – no spoilers here), I would have deemed Watts’ character unnecessary. Obviously she will have a more prominent role in the next installment, but here’s the thing Insurgent didn’t really make want to see the next one.

Miles Teller played the wise cracking Peter well. BUT that BACKSTABBER label was stamped so hard on his head that it wasn’t a surprise when he inevitably picked his moment of betrayal. As much as I didn’t mind seeing more of Teller, it was at the expense of Zoe Kravitz and Maggie Q who were virtually absent.

Jai Courtney provided a perfect rival to Four and brought some much needed tension. Kate Winslet played a hard ass as well as she could but there was only so much pouting you can do while looking angry and holding an iPad.

I was baffled with where this film was going. I thought during the closing minutes of Divergent that Bea was already running to the gates or outskirts of the compound (or whatever it was) and escaping. Yet in Insurgent, the gang are hiding and then going back. For what?

Some mumbo jumbo about a cryptic box that can only be opened by a (Surprise, surprise!) Divergent. A box that did absolutely nothing and supposedly contained a message from ‘The Others’. A message that was not worth the two hour wait.

The Matrix style piping with Trish’s Inception style dream sequences went on far too long and didn’t really do anything. I was disappointed after all the promise that Divergent suggested. It seemed to take a darker turn half way through which did pique my interest but then chickened out.

This really felt like a case of filler before the final Part 1 and Part 2 sequels. The cast do their best with the material and the special effects and set pieces did enough to pick up the lumbering pace BUT I would really have to think twice about venturing to the cinema to see the next part.

2.5/5

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WHILE WE’RE YOUNG REVIEW

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My exact thoughts as I waited for this indie dramedy to end.

A middle-aged couple’s career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts do their best but it just didn’t hit the mark for me. The endless praise certainly piqued my interest. A shame that it just couldn’t deliver.

I feared the worst from the opening scene in which we have an extract from Ibsen’s The Master Builder. A scene that commented on the ever-growing invasion and domination of youth. Slow and a little pretentious.

I could see what writer/director Noah Baumbach was trying to do with the film but I still couldn’t fight my disappointment.

We join Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) as they battle being middle-aged while their friends are settling down and having babies.

The opening 15 minutes was easy going enough. Stiller and Watts had good chemistry. Their difficulty in dealing with a baby demonstrated the spanner in their supposedly well-oiled machine.

I didn’t mind sitting back and examining a normal relationship as Stiller and Watts confront their issues but I just wanted more.

Stiller can act and I have desperately prayed for a better project to come along. While We’re Young may be a mixed bag but it showed what Stiller can do when he’s not running around museums or strutting down walkways.

Things took a slightly more interesting turn with the introduction of Adam Driver. Amanda Seyfried’s character barely made an impression. A nothingy role. I think her only real contribution worth noting was when she took a confused Watts to a hip hop class.

Driver certainly got things moving. The problem was that I always had an inkling that his intentions were not what they seemed. Probing Stiller for information under the persona of a fan boy. Playing to his ego with endless brown nosing and slick charm.

It was interesting in parts to witness this young couple transform this “old” couple. A catalyst that sparked the life back into their humdrum lifestyle. The trilby hats, the gigs, the shoes with no socks fad. Spot on.

The whole battle and jealousy of youth debacle had its moments. The fact that youngsters like myself have a niche for all things retro and vintage was a valid observation.

Stiller’s culture clash with Driver and his hipsters about a 70s cartoon that he grew up with sparked an interesting debate. Loving something just because it’s old. Not even knowing the story or the character.

I can’t really say this is a comedy. There were moments but the tone was a little uneven for me.

I don’t think Baumbach knew which direction to take the film. It went from painfully deadpan with Stiller uncovering a film conspiracy that challenged the very ethics of filmmaking to just plain bizarre.

Not enough consistency for me. The sequence in which Watts and Stiller join the youngsters for a weekend retreat to drink some liquid and vom up some “demons” while listening to Vangelis may sound funny but it was just plain weird.

Everyone standing around chatting while casually throwing up in their designated buckets just didn’t do it for me. Was Baumbach trying to throw in a gag that was more befitting of Stiller’s familiar humour?

Charles Grodin is getting old. Long are the days since Midnight Express. Hell even Harry and the Hendersons or Beethoven, shudder.

He played Josh’s father-in-law well. I just wish their fractious relationship was explored a little more. There were some good insights but I wanted more conflict and some sort of progress.

And that was the main issue for me in general. The film had likeable characters that I wanted to see more done with.

There was an interesting revelation with Cornelia in which she suffered a miscarriage. I wanted more time focused on that.

It wasn’t until the closing moments that it was really dealt with. I understand that in real life with an ordeal like that, a lot of people sweep it under the carpet or act like nothing happened. BUT when you’re watching a drama, you want . . . a little drama!

The ending was abrupt and a little weak after things finally seem to come to a head. The closing shot was humorous. A perfect statement of what is happening with the youth of today.

Shame, it just wasn’t that interesting. Too long, too talky and not much going on.

Two stars for the two talented leads.

2/5

BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.