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.

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Oscars Throwback: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Movies_Movies_N__006313_Roze-Rating: 5 / 5

Llewelyn Moss is a Vietnam veteran living in the desolate lands of Texas. One day during a hunting session, he finds what would be a drug deal gone wrong. Along with dead corpses and a wounded man begging for water, he finds a black satchel with 2 million dollars inside. He takes the money and hides it in his house knowing people are going to be looking for it. His conscious gets the better of him as he wakes up in the middle of the night to bring water to the wounded man, a mistake as he gives vital clues to the one man with no morals when it comes to getting what he wants.

No Country For Old Men is an absolute gem of a film. For me, it ticks all the boxes for a perfect thriller with a wild west edge. As a shallow viewer it has enough suspense, violence and action to enthrall for the full viewing time. Even with its quiet, barren land demeanor. But for the sometimes sophisticated side of my brain, the narrative has enough substance for me to have come out with a much richer experience of the film.

As the title and opening monologue from old timer Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) would suggest, it’s a film about the changing times. How a land which was once relatively safe has now become a harsh environment. Whenever we see the older generation on screen, they seem to be bogged down by unusual information or just odd behavior. A sign which says, times are more complicated and not as straight forward as before. Even for Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, he fails to put the pieces together quick enough to solve the drug deal gone wrong case. This isn’t to say he’s incompetent, he is the opposite, but it says that crime in the modern times are a lot more overwhelming.

The characters are also a great part of this film, the three main characters signify something different. We have the Sheriff who is an obviously good man. He has a loving wife and is also good at his job. Just like the old time’s, he’s laid back and composed but nothing less than a good person. There is the antagonist Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is a total psychopath, from the worst hair cut ever in film to his lack of remorse when killing people, he is the bad of the film. Since we are unaware of where he’s from and it’s apparent that he isn’t local, he seems to signify the unpredictability of modern evil and crime, sometimes referred to as a ghost. This may refer to the how the future is and what makes it so unsettling. He has no moral compass but believes in the power of fate, apparent from his coin toss game. As for Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), he is right bang in the middle, as Uncle Ellis refers to some of his cats as half wild or outlaws. Moss is your every man, he’s been through a lot and understands the harshness of life. I like how he looks at the money with no expression and sighs “yeah” as if he already knows what he’s getting into but can’t protest against it. There’s some form of inevitability to it.

This film really is a cat and mouse thriller. Except the mouse is a cat too. Predator vs predator. It’s refreshing because we have characters who aren’t stupid. They’re all intelligent and know how to cover their tracks, they know how to defend themselves and when it comes to doing the deed, they can do it. Just as you think a character is missing something they respond with intelligence. It’s awesome to watch a film where you find it hard to criticize characters decisions but instead be left wondering “why didn’t I think of that”.

As for performances, well you have Javier Bardem in one of his first major English roles and will probably stand as his best for awhile. Think Silva from Skyfall but even crazier. I like that opening scene of him where he’s strangling that cop, just from his facial expressions you can tell that he’s a heartless bastard and it’s not the first time he’s attempted to kill someone. As good as Bardem is, Brolin totally knocks it out of the park for me. There’s something about his portrayal of the character. He’s just so slick and such a guy, a guy we all wish we could be. If I could pull off boots and a cowboy hat, I would, wouldn’t have to think about it, I’d be walking around looking like a total badass. (Brolin) “you got socks”, (Shopkeeper) “We only have white”. (Brolin) “That’s ok, whites all I wear”, that’s what it means to be a man right there. Tommy Lee Jones is business as usual and it was nice seeing some Woody Harrelson as well to make up a really great cast.

This was totally deserving of the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Javier Bardem) Oscars. A film back in the day that I wouldn’t have wanted to watch, purely because it’s absent of music. Thanks to more appreciation for films, that lack of music only adds to the film, putting us in the west with the characters and surprisingly adding suspense to the films more thrilling scenes. No Country For Old Men is truly a great film.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

GI-Joe-Retaliation-after-credits-large-v3Roze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

After the events of the nano-byte wars, Duke is now commanding officer of the G.I. Joe tactical force. With Zartan and Storm Shadow still roaming the earth free men, danger remains imminent.

I’m not a fan of the toys or the franchise in general but I did thoroughly enjoy the first G.I. Joe film. It had it’s faults such as the CGI and acting but I managed to find the charm in it. Never intending to be anything more, it was fun and extremely entertaining. Just as this sequel is. I wanted to bump this up to four stars because I actually quite liked the film but after watching it for the third time I couldn’t get past a few things.

First of all for an action film this is as good as it gets. We get heaps of awesome action sequences in a variety of forms. There’s hand to hand combat, shoot outs, stealth operations, boat chases and loads of explosions. The editing is great and the choreography better. It wont let you down there, and for that reason I didn’t hate the film as others did. I mean there’s some badass sh*t that goes down, and I’m pretty sure you’d let out the odd “daym” when you see flint skidding underneath an obstacle just to shoot a guy.

As for the plot, yes it’s about a bad guy wanting to take over the world, nothing wrong with that in my books. The method of it, is where the problems exist. It’s not meant to be realistic or anything but the nuclear angle of taking over the world is growing tiresome and overdone. And in the end the execution is too illogical to look past. When you have endless opportunities for a film of this nature, then I would hope for something a little different as the first one was.

Usually little things don’t annoy me but why does Storm Shadow put on clothing just to take it off during combat. If he finds it that uncomfortable to fight in it then don’t wear it in the first place! He is the definition of “poser” in the ninja sense. I won’t mention the other thing as it is a spoiler. It involves Storm Shadow and his past, all I will say is, how does it take over two decades to figure something out which only took under a minute when actually thinking about it properly. There’s quite a lot of illogical nitpicks throughout the film.

The weakest link of the film is Flint. He’s a cool character in terms of what he can do in combat but outside of that he is totally one dimensional and boring. He has nothing to offer at all. This is probably largely due to the script as he hardly had anything to say. It was disappointing as he seems quite entertaining during the films opening as he partakes in insubordination and I noticed they deleted a scene where he gets his ass kicked for it. Looking back I think that was decided as he seemed to have too much of a personality. That being said D.J. Cotrona didn’t give his best performance but I will give him the benefit of the doubt as he probably had nothing to work with.

This film as the G.I. Joe action figures are, is largely targeted at the male gender. It’s pretty apparent that the male target was always in sight as we’re presented with Adrianne Palicki in tight clothing, skimpy jogging gear and a sexy red dress. That being said I found her to be one of the main highlights of the film. I’m liking modern action films even more nowadays as women are being empowered with badass roles a lot more. The likes of Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers), Antje Traue (Man of Steel), Jaimie Alexander (Thor) and Anne Hatheway (The Dark Knight Rises) show that being a total badass is sexier than playing the girl next door. In that respect I hope to see more of these characters in the future. Adrianne Palicki, if going down the action film route will do well. That being said women will get the opportunity to drool over Channing Tatum and The Rock doing their thang.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is far from being perfect but for an action flick it provides enough badassery and sex appeal to make it an entertaining night in.

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Man-Of-Tai-Chi-18Roze-Rating: 3 / 5

Keanu Reeves makes his directorial debut with this relentless martial arts film exposing the powers of Tai Chi. It follows the transformation of Tiger Chen from an honorable man of the martial arts to a greedy underground fighter. Manipulating him through this journey is Donaka Mark (Kaunu Reeves), who exploits Tiger’s transformation to a select few. What Tiger doesn’t know is that Mark is not in it for the fighting but for the killing.

This film may not satisfy the few craving a kung fu flick with strong characters and an exciting narrative as Man of Tai Chi lack in those departments. The premise is quite straight forward, a man strives to take Tai Chi beyond its limits. A sketchy millionaire offers him money to fight in random locations, allowing him to release the beast within himself like never before. Once getting too addicted to hurting people he realizes he has crossed the dishonorable line of the martial arts code. Thereon he tries to redeem himself. The characters are also quite one dimensional as well, except for the protagonist. He experiences quite dramatic moral changes. Other than that there are no other characters to be interested in.

What the film lacks it gains in badass fight scenes which are practically all throughout the film. I suppose compared to your odd Kung Fu flicks the fights may not be too unique but they are nonetheless exciting to watch. Keanu Reeves does a great job in filming these fights and making them easy to watch but also exciting. What stops it from getting boring is that Tiger Chen fights a number of different fighters with particular fighting skills which gives the fighting sequences diversity. Tiger also grows as a fighter as the fights go on, he gradually gets more intense until he eventually explodes.

Tiger Chen puts in a great performance turning from stuntman to lead man. What makes it that more awesome is that he does all his own stunts but he isn’t that bad of an actor either. That could be me blinded from all the subtitle reading but from what I saw he wasn’t too shabby. Keanu Reeves plays a man of very few words, I suppose that was to give him a constant ominous demeanor but ultimately it felt kind of odd. Nevertheless he makes a badass fighting opponent.

Man of Tai Chi is a story about a man of innocence being turned into a man of evil after experiencing too much power. It takes awhile but once realizing he has lost all integrity of what Tai Chi really is, he manages to dig deep and become the master he has been training for all his life. Decent modern kung fu flick but nothing unique. That being said it’s not a bad first directorial attempt by Keanu Reeves.

Elysium (2013)

Elysium-2

Roze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

Niell Blomkamp returns with his second directorial and written feature film continuing on with the science-fiction genre he is so fond of. Elysium is set in the year of 2154, where the world has become vastly overpopulated and the overall economic condition has diminished. The poor are left to live on earth while the rich are free to live on Elysium, an artificial planet just off earth. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is our protagonist, committed to leaving the criminal lifestyle he once had. Holding a solid job at Armadyne Corp, he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation forcing him back with his old criminal pals in order to live. Only way to do that is to break into Elysium.

There’s one thing that Elysium will give you and that is an eyegasm. The overall design for this film is amazing, you feel as if your in an apocalyptic world on earth with its shanty town aesthetics and Elysium truly looks like a vista of vivid green vegetation, still lakes and luxury houses. You can tell the design team had a great time during the production of the film. from the start I had an impression that it couldn’t go wrong since it looked so great and sci-fi is typically fun. But for such a profound topic of high classes taking extreme measures just to get away from the poor, it was nothing more than a mash up of Minority Report and District 9. The premise was interesting but it was executed with a cliched plot and storyline.

Elysium is a shallow sibling to District 9, it has the perfect visuals but a weak script. For a sci-fi action film this will satisfy a lot of audiences looking for a fun flick. It has the action, love interest and a showdown fight, it kind of plays like a video game in that respect. In terms of the story that’s all that can be said about it, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The protagonist has a few days to live, in order to live he needs to get somewhere with a cure, along the way there are people out to kill him but once realizing the bigger picture of the results of his predicament, Spock comes to mind, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

In honesty I enjoyed the action. There are a few cool gadgets used making the scenes a lot more interesting, and in the end gave it that extra bit of appeal. Although there are a few off putting aspects such as the facial reconstruction scene, the machine claims that a mans brain is still somewhat functioning despite a grenade explosion to the face. It’s unrealistic but the scene itself is pretty cool so I can let that go. What I can’t let go is Jodie Foster’s accent. That has to go down as probably the worst accent ever in film. It was as if she couldn’t decide how she wanted her character to talk as her accent was inconsistent throughout the whole film. She sounds like a hybrid of American, English and South African combined, it’s annoying but totally amusing.

As for performances Matt Damon does his thing, it was good seeing him in an action role again bringing back my desires for a Jason Bourne return (needs to happen). Alice Braga is growing on me as she’s now starred in three pretty decent futristic/post-apocalyptic films in Repo-Men, I Am Legend and now Elysium. She has a knack for these roles and fits them. Despite Jodie Foster’s crappy accent, her intimidating aura is weirdly sexy which is quite an achievement at 51 and still looking great. Lastly Sharlto Copley puts in another great performance for Niell Blomkamp. I’m really hoping to see more from him in the near future as he’s simply awesome, he plays the creepy card just as well as the badass card.

Gangster Squad (2013)

gangster-squad-poster

Roze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

In this period gangster thriller we are sent back to 1949 post WW2. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) returns from war and back to sunny Los Angeles where things have changed drastically. Mickey Cohen is a power hungry gangster who is willing to do anything in order to grow his empire. His ambitions to own the whole of the west coast drives him to countless murders in what he calls “progress”. Before it’s too late Cheif Bill Parker (Nick Holte) contacts O’Mara and urges him to get a team together later known as “The Gangster Squad”. They’re mission is to take down all of Mickey Cohen’s crime operations before they grow too big to take down.

I expected this film to be loaded with plot twists, character development and periodical references. I suppose I thought it would be challenging LA Confidential or any other good period gangster films. Instead it lacked in all those areas and wasn’t as serious as I thought it would be. This was a good and bad thing because it ticked all the boxes that I like in a fun cop film but with a cast that it boasted and the performances it had; the lack of substance was unsatisfying.The plot is simple which didn’t really leave much room for an explosive film, which was disappointing especially when you have such an intense character like Mickey Cohen as the villain. That being said once you realize what direction the film is going, then you can sit back and enjoy it. As soon as I heard the music during the opening scene with Josh Brolin, I could tell it was going to be more fun than dramatic.

There’s enough action to keep the average film viewer satisfied but on the second viewing you realize it’s not as thrilling as it could have been. The shootout’s are loud but there isn’t much to them making them seem generic. Maybe I’m being overly fussy but I felt there was a missed opportunity in that aspect of Gangster Squad. Nevertheless they were still fun to watch.

The cast is amazing, I mean two of my favourite actors on screen… banging… again. So it was always going to be hard to hate this film when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are acting together. Luckily they put in some pretty good performances. A lot of people didn’t really like Goslings high pitched, slightly odd accent and I think the director must have caught on to it because it gradually subsided as the film progressed. I didn’t mind it to be honest, it gave his character more of an identity. The rest of the cast were incredibly solid, it was the second time I’ve seen Josh Brolin play a lead role and he nailed it. Now I wish he was the new batman. Sean Penn as always is amazing as the power hungry Mickey Cohen, if there was more to the script, giving him more of a dynamic than just a short tempered gangster with a tolerance to killing then he would easily be one of the most menacing villains of 2013.

Gangster Squad really is style over substance. It’s glossy and pristine, despite it being shot in dark surroundings for most of it, you can catch the colours of neon signs and red lipstick very clearly. It’s definitely nice to look at, which is one of the main positives of this film, it captures that time period pretty well in a unique fashion.

Despite some disappointment over Gangster Squad, I actually quite enjoyed it. It seemed like the perfect film for me, I like gangsters, I like snappy one liners and I like shootouts. Was the film perfectly executed? No, but it’s fun and entertaining enough to watch til the O’Mara-Cohen showdown.

Hit & Run (2012)

90243_galRoze-Rating: 3 / 5

Dax Shepard tries his hand at directing his first mainstream film, Hit & Run. The film follows a young couple who are based in the middle of nowhere not exactly by choice. Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) is in the witness protection program having been caught up in a past crime. During the one year the couple have been together, Annie (Kristen Bell) is largely unaware of Charlie’s past and even his real name. His past gradually starts to unravel as the couple get involved with an adrenaline pumping road trip with the sole purpose of trying to get Annie to her dream job interview.

Before I even sat down to watch this film, I was really rooting for it to be a big hit. Not because Kristen Bell is in it looking super fine, but because it’s a Dax Shepard project. He wrote it and co-directed it, and it really puts things into perspective about how far he’s come since those days he worked at Punk’d. For those reasons I just wanted to like it a lot, but there honestly is too many problems with this film to truly consider it a good film.

The cast is undoubtedly awesome with appearances from Kristen Bell, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper and Beau Bridges. The entire cast play their characters the best they can but they are largely let down by the writing. The characters weren’t written well enough to fully meet the potential they had. Each character has their own little charm which made them unique and potentially memorable, but the lack of thorough writing to fully explore them and crucially their dialogue effectively made them seem bland. Which is such a shame because I started to like the characters, I just didn’t feel they were real enough.

What really let the film down was the storyline, some parts kinda annoyed me. There was a bit too much wrong with it for me to take it seriously, even for a comedy. The reason for this is because the premise is quite promising and with such a premise, you could do so much with it to make it funny and realistic at the same time. I think there was a lack of seriousness within the characters, where they were being chased and potentially killed, it ruined it for me because I thought it was pretty stupid how they would still be fixated on getting to the job interview.

What I did love was the film making, for his debut in directing a blockbuster film, there was a lot of substance behind filming the chase scenes. In reality they were quite boring scenes but the way he utilised the camera positions and angles really made it exciting to watch. It’s a good film to watch if you don’t want anything too serious.