American Ultra (2015)

cyz1mvnhma54ho3dpqx9Roze-Rating: 3 / 5

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner, convenience store clerk, deeply in love with his long time girlfriend, Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart). So in love; he is ready to make it official. Although when a planned trip to Hawaii is derailed by one of Mike’s uncontrollable panic attacks, he has to reconsider when to pop the question and if to pop the question at all. Having lived his life burdened by his anxiety, he worries that he is holding Phoebe back and if marriage would only hit the nail in the proverbial coffin. This all changes when a strange lady visits him at his convenience store, and utters what can only be deciphered as song lyrics at first interpretation. Little does he know, he is a sleeper agent, being activated in anticipation of an attack against his life.

American Ultra gives you exactly what you expect to get. A stoner romance with a secret agent backdrop. The trailers and promotional materials tell us that it’s a film that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. We know to go into it prepared for a pretty crazy romp, that has enough weed and bullets to last us ten Harold and Kumar films. Does it succeed? Absolutely. For a film of its scale, it delivers enough explosions and mayhem, to give the Michael Bay’s of this world, raging hard-ons. You might be thinking, “Jesse Eisenberg? An action star?”, and you would be right in thinking that, but that is exactly the point. This is a dude who is completely oblivious of the fact that he is a secret agent. So when he inevitably kills two guys, with only a cup of noodles and a spoon at his disposal; it becomes quite fitting that he is just as shocked as we are. I mean, he’s basically the stoner version of Jason Bourne… and with that thought in mind; imagine a Jason Bourne, Mike Howell crossover. I can see it now. Two best friends, fighting corrupt government agents with a spliff in their mouths, contemplating existence and humanity… isn’t it absolutely delightful. Although we wouldn’t want Aaron Cross getting jealous would we?

Even though the film hits on every level we want in terms of action, I just wish it was filmed with a bit more style. After watching Kingsman this year, it really opened up my mind about how unique an action sequence can look, and how much more it can add to a film. A lot of American Ultra is by the books, with exception of that frying pan ricochet shot. That was actually pretty badass! If it possessed a bit more of that ingenuity, this film could have hit the cult heights of John Wick of last year.

Nevertheless, beneath all that mindless action, is actually some heart. Within two minutes of the film, I bought into the relationship between Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Their love, although kinda dysfunctional, totally works. Phoebe almost possesses this unconditional love towards Mike, as she evidently plays the mother role as well as being the girlfriend. Despite all of his fuck ups, she still loves him for who he is, and that connection is felt throughout the film. As well as their relationship, there is a brilliant moment at the end of the film between Mike and one of the CIA agents trying to kill him, (Laugher). With all that has happened, you instantly enter the psyche of someone who has been experimented on and then used as an expendable entity. Admittedly, it sounds a lot deeper than it was, and most of the praise could probably go to Eisenberg and Goggins for selling those emotions. Regardless, I really enjoyed that moment. Man, I’m sensitive… That being said, it would have been interesting to explore that a bit more, just to give the film something extra to chew on.

Ultimately, with a couple of twists here and there, and enough comedy to inspire laughs, this film strays away from becoming a snooze-fest as we so often see with films like this. American Ultra is true to what it is on the surface. A fun, action-packed, stoner flick, with an endearing romance at its core.

Spectre (2015)

maxresdefaultRoze-Rating: 3.25 / 5

Daniel Craig returns for his fourth and possibly last outing as Bond… James Bond. This time, he is faced against a menacing organisation, only known as Spectre. Using a message left behind by the late M (Judi Dench), he finds himself front and center of a mystery far more personal than he would have imagined.

We’ve heard a lot about how Craig would rather slit his wrists than think about doing another Bond film, and after finally seeing Spectre, I totally understand his sentiments. The scale of some of these action sequences would make any actor squeamish, and with the added torture of a long and grueling press tour, I’m sure not even the most patient of humans would endure its entirety with high spirits. So with all the speculation about his future in the franchise making the rounds on the internet, I’d definitely take it with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, Spectre may be a worthy send off for this generation of Bond.

What seemed evident with Spectre, was that chasing thrills was more important than developing story, and luckily the thrills pay off. I’m known to sweat profusely, but that opening scene was so sweat inducing that even I was concerned for my health. By the end of that helicopter sequence, I may as well have been sitting in a swimming pool… because I was that drenched… in my own pee pee. Despite setting a high bar from the get go, the action sequences that followed, were able to stamp their own little quirks to the film, making them just as memorable as the last. Also motivating a similar lasting impression was the cinematography. It was a shame not to see Roger Deakins return to the franchise after helping produce probably the best looking Bond film to date with Skyfall. This time around, Hoyte van Hoytema, cinematographer of films such as Interstellar and Her, successfully follows in those daunting footsteps, helping produce another Bond film which is just as gorgeous to look at as it is suave. Look out for that lake shot, wowzers!

Spectre may not have topped Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it remains a respectable addition to an impressive series so far. It was my hope that Spectre would find a way back into a lighter and playful version of Bond, but instead we may have been given its darkest yet. That being said, there are countless knick-knacks throughout this film which hark back to a more familiar Bond. Franchise tropes that have been largely absent from Craig’s version of 007. There are gadgets, although not spectacular, that prove to be a step up from its predecessors, a henchman, light on words but heavy on the touch, and a villain who we briefly see with a cat… Elements to a proven formula which should result in an entertaining Bond film, but most importantly create nostalgia for the more passionate fans. The final product, although beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, doesn’t hit home as it should.

It is a film shrouded in mystery, we tag along with 007 as he tries to make sense of it all, except we never really understand or feel its severity until half way through the film. Until then I didn’t feel very invested in his journey. If it wasn’t for some thrilling set pieces, it would have been a dull ordeal for sure. A part of that is because we have to wait so long to be introduced to our villain. That’s when the story begins for me. Motives are revealed and the stakes are understood. But even then, the reveal doesn’t hit as it should. This is a villain which has appeared in numerous Bond films in the past and has proved to be quite a worthy adversary for our beloved Bond. Which makes it disappointing when the character doesn’t feel any more menacing than Craig’s previous villains. He is the most personal but feels the least fleshed out. Ultimately, for a film named Spectre, we learn very little about what they do and why they do it.  For the initiated, it may not prove to be a problem, but for the uninitiated, references and Easter eggs will not spur any sort of nostalgia the film is relying on to fill those holes. Nevertheless, It feels as though this is only the beginning of something much larger. Which is why it would seem fitting for Craig to return for one last hurrah against Spectre and tie the bow around what has been a successful series so far (was that a pun?).

Despite Spectre’s villains getting a much smaller screen time than they deserved, there were enough moments in the film to make them menacing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dave Bautista makes a pretty decent living from playing “the badass” in films, since he continues to nail them. From his physicality to his ability to convincingly exert pain on others, he has the perfect attributes of a badass, which has earned him stand out praise in two massive franchise films so far. As for Christoph Waltz, there is no questioning his abilities as an actor, and for an actor of his caliber, it would have been nice to see him shine more in a role which deserved a lot more in characterization. It’s disappointing to see a strong performance go to waste on a character that is relatively shallow and underutilized throughout the film. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t the last we see of him…. But maybe that’s just my hopeful nerd side talking

Also impressing with a strong performance is Lea Seydoux, although she too, was undone by weak characterization. Despite being given more of a soul than we’re used to with Bond girls, the side of her character which has been conditioned by the criminal life of her father isn’t explored enough to help audiences buy into the relationship her character and Bond develop. It seems to miss out on the deeper emotional connection that the characters should feel for each other, as they both know more than anyone, what it feels like to be trapped in a life that they did not choose for themselves. By the end of the film, this relationship needed to be strong enough to fuel the arc Bond takes, and because it wasn’t, it didn’t hit as hard as it could have. That being said, her character still manages to produce moments which set her apart from the most generic Bond girls. I mean what girl is crazy enough to take on Bautista!… well actually, who wouldn’t want to get their hands on that chiseled body of his.

The countless speculation about casting a new bond shouldn’t take away from another top class performance from Craig. A Bond which many have hailed the best to date. Which raises the question, why are people speculating about a new casting when clearly fans aren’t asking for one. With one more Bond film on his contract, I strongly hope he returns and finishes his series on a high. Spectre may not have met the high expectations set by its predecessor, but it is a welcome return to a character we all know and love. It’s a film that aims to be a pure throwback to the very first franchise installments which put Bond on the map and innovated the series into what we know now. From the villain to the train sequence, there are homages throughout the film that loyal fans can geek out about. Does it translate fully into a great Bond film? maybe not, but it reminds us how far the franchise has come and may even influence new fans to venture as far back as the 60s to see why this guy is such an icon.