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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The Interview (2014)

the-interview-2014.31431Roze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

After weeks of controversy and leaks at Sony Pictures, we are finally able to feast our eyes on a film pertaining what can only be described as “the weirdest moment in Hollywood history”. Struggling with their Spider-Man franchise, receiving threats from North Korea and having their personal emails leak on the internet, it isn’t hard to assume that this hasn’t been a golden year for Sony. It has been said that this could just be a huge marketing stunt to bring in the big bucks, but I doubt screening the film in limited release is anywhere near ideal for Sony’s bank account. That being said it could still make a massive killing on VOD, already topping the charts on Google Play and Youtube Movies as people use the film as a way of celebrating Hollywood’s victory against censorship. Nevertheless it feels almost unreal that a Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg film could even be considered a credible attack on a country despite their past projects. A comment I saw online described the situation as “like a South Park episode”, which perfectly sums up the whole debacle. Now that we can all watch it, we can get past the controversy and enjoy the film for what it is, a gross out comedy starring our favorite Hollywood Bromance brought to us by our favorite comedy screenwriting duo.

The film is ultimately about David Skylark (James Franco) and his show producer Aaron Rapoport and their desire to report on real news. Being a big fan of Skylark’s show, Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of DPR Korea accepts an interview to be taken place in his country. Of course in his own terms. The CIA soon see this as an opportunity to finally take Kim Jong Un out.

The brilliance of Seth Rogan and James Franco is that their chemistry alone can carry a film, and it’s pretty apparent here. The Interview, despite it’s unique blend of real life and preposterous fiction, never really sucks you into the story. I was happy whenever the two leads were together in frame, but the moments which would veer off into the political/spy stuff was harder to care about. Even if the criticisms of North Korea are pretty much on point, I think finding that balance of seriousness and comedy needed more revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Effectively making their points about North Korea hard to take seriously. At times it felt like there were opportunities to be compelling but it never really amounts to anything more than a few lines of dialogue. This was more apparent during the third act of the film where it started to feel a bit preachy. With such a wacky character in James Franco and a crazy plot, it would have paid off more to have kept in that vein until the very end and attempted to be more satirical. Luckily only a small part of the film is burdened with this problem, and for most of it I was laughing my ass off.

Most of the jokes stem from the actors personalities and their style of comedy. The first act alone is brimming with James Franco wackiness and Seth Rogen mannerisms, which is what makes the film so enjoyable. Despite it being entertaining and the reason I love these guys, there are moments in this film which are far from original. How many times have we seen a guy conceal an object in their butts by pure necessity, I’ll always find it amusing because that’s the kind of person I am, but there’s no denying it’s overdone in comedy films. Nevertheless a lot of the jokes work, as we would expect from the Rogen-Goldberg combination.

Without the controversy, I’m sure this film wouldn’t have attracted as much buzz as This Is The End or Neighbors. Which is why it will be interesting to see how much it makes on VOD. The Interview is ultimately what we expected from the start. It has a lot of laughs, a lot of bromance and surprisingly a lot of slapstick violence. It’s not as memorable as some of the other comedies we’ve had this year, but it’s definitely not a “mundane” Adam Sandler film as Sony would put it.

What If (2014)

what-if-daniel-radcliffe

Roze-Rating: 4 / 5

After getting his heart broken, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) takes a long break from the dating world, and is adamant about his cynical standpoint about love. This soon changes when he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a love interest at first glance only to learn the gutting news that she has a boyfriend of several years. A coincidental run in later they make truths to become friends, not letting their feelings get in the way of their friendship. As we all know, that never works.

‘What If’ sounds like your conventional Rom-Com on paper and it pretty much is. It tries its best to stray away from overdone plot points that we have seen in the past. Which makes for a less deja vu induced viewing but ultimately it isn’t anything original. What I’ve learnt from these traditional Rom-Com’s is that the story only plays a small part towards its success. We wouldn’t be watching these films if we weren’t hopeless romantics or participating in weekend date nights with our significant other. What makes these films enjoyable are the characters and the chemistry they have within their intertwined relationships. Without chemistry, especially from the leads, there would be no romance or any reason to feel a connection to the film. ‘What If’ benefits from two talented leads who ooze chemistry. You don’t always get to see chemistry between characters as natural and grounded as this in the Rom-Com genre.

This film also benefits from a down to earth script which is genuinely funny and is for the most part successful. I like how the story is clearly used and done before but the actions and rationale of the characters are grounded and realistic. It is an awkward situation, to like someone who is in a relationship. There will be hesitation and internal debate whether to pursue that person or not. Motivating that thought, “what if?”. I found the exploration of that quite interesting and relatable. Nothing too extravagant or unrealistic happens throughout this film, I found that to be a pleasant departure from those Rom-Coms which are overly dramatic or glamorized. It’s simply about a guy who realizes it’s a lot easier to be cynical about love than to go out and find it. It’s idealistic but an interesting theme of the film. As for the comedy, the cast are to praise. There are some great nuanced moments which are both cute and funny thanks to the performances. This again, relating to how well the cast seems to gel in those crucial one on one scenes. A moment I particularly found funny is when Chantry’s sister explains her experience with Wallace from the night before, it’s quite apparent that there’s no intention to cause drama but to voice her embarrassment. She then proceeds to make her belly look pregnant, I found that a lot funnier than I should have, but I guess I was more surprised that I’m not the only one who partakes in such quirk.

I haven’t seen Daniel Radcliffe since the Harry Potter films, and I regret not following his career since then as he plays the endearing Englishman unlucky in love perfectly. His decisions have been both interesting and diverse swaying away from high budget blockbusters, and I’m genuinely looking forward to his next projects. Adam Driver on the other hand is a revelation, having starred in films such as Inside Llewyn Davis, This is Where I Leave You and many more, playing both comedic and dramatic roles which I am looking forward to catching up on. As for his Star Wars gig, it will be interesting seeing how he comes off in a massive blockbuster film.

What If may not offer anything new in the Rom-Com genre but it does offer a beautifully shot ninety minutes of endearing characters and infectious on screen chemistry with a pretty banging soundtrack.

Chef (2014)

Chef-1Roze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

Having gone through a stint of directing rather large budget films, Jon Favreau has “gone back to basics” with Chef, a film about cooking as a passion and a way of life. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a passionate chef running his own kitchen at a stable restaurant, yet he is unhappy. Restaurateur Riva (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to play it safe but after countless years of serving the same food, all Casper wants is freedom so that he can go back to enjoying his passion once again.

Chef is one of those films that has you smiling throughout its run time, not purely from its humor but from its down to earth charm and feel good vibe. Everyone has a passion, it may dominate our lives or it may just be a hobby but we all have one. Seeing Carl Casper living his passion and being it is not only a joy to watch but inspiring for all us dreamers out there. Chef is a film that tells us that the measure of success is not large sums of money or working in a respected establishment, but the currency of happiness. Casper may have been blind to his unhappiness for years but once his creativity is obstructed he realizes that freedom is all he needs to be happy again, and just like Jon Favreau, going back to basics is the way to go.

What I love about chef is the detail that’s gone into depicting cooking and food as a passion, all the intricate details from handling the food to the acting. I totally bought into Jon Favreau’s character because he totally embodies this person who lives for food and all he wants to do is share his passion with others so that they can experience everything he loves about his art, and isnt that what all artists strive to do. But just like any art, it can be corrupted by external forces be it the industries or people that want to take control and that’s when problems occur. Ultimately the direction is brilliant, Chef is a film that knows what it wants to be, a grounded, character driven piece of film with a great soundtrack.

My favorite moments in the film are equally the same moments I hate because it makes me so damn hungry!. Seeing Casper handling his food as if each ingredient was his own child, so delicate and perfectly handled just hits home how much he loves what he does. It makes those father-son montages later on in the film that much more pleasing and effective, as we get to see Casper share his passion with his son. A relatable theme for me especially, bringing me back to the days where being told to do all the crappy chores from my dad was called bonding.

As for performances, props to Emjay Anthony playing Casper’s son, who gives for me the best performance in the film. He’s just a kid stuck in between his parents divorce who doesn’t quite understand it but at the end of the day he just wants to hang out with his dad. He’s innocent but optimistic, never intending to be overly emotional about the situation, just making the most of his time with his dad. As a result of his performance, the father son relationship steals the show.

It may not be the most eventful road trip film but it sure is the tastiest, offering an upbeat playlist of latin jazz and flavor, a film that will make you want to go out and partake in your passion.

The Other Woman (2014)

20140425TheOtherWoman3Roze-Rating: 1.5 / 5

Carly (Cameron Diaz), Kate (Leslie Mann) and Amber (Kate Upton) have one thing in common, they are all seeing the same man, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Even though they all meet in this awkward circumstance, they form a strong friendship which prompts their goal of destroying Mark’s life. What follows is a mixture of emotions for Kate who finds a life without her husband hard to digest but eventually with the help of her two new friends she learns that she deserves better.

This film reminds me of those old school comedies we used to get that only ever offered cheesy dialogue and cheap laughs, but they were strangely satisfying. Films like Daddy Day Care and Meet The Fockers, they weren’t exactly creative in the plot department but they executed their brand of humor in the best way possible. The Other Woman initially seems vapid from its trailers but could have turned out quite empowering for anyone who is unfortunate enough to be with a manipulative cheater. I felt it was stuck in between wanting to tell a light hearted story with a strong message and being a quirky comedy. Ultimately it doesn’t offer either of these things despite it’s efforts. The problem with the comedy is that it feels outdated, with the likes of Neighbors, 22 Jump Street and This is the End, comedies like The Other Woman really need to step it up. I mean the poop jokes are so overdone nowadays, in terms of ways to torture a guy, the possibilities are endless and that’s why the lack of imagination is really disappointing. That being said it seemed to get a relatively positive audience response with a 65% score on Rotten Tomatoes, this could be because of a strong female cast, Kate Upton’s Bay Watch moment or people actually enjoyed this film. I can’t say I agree with the audience tomato meter on this one.

We are given three different characters with considerably different personalities, we have Leslie Mann playing a housewife, Cameron Diaz as a strong minded lawyer and Kate Upton as the girl next door. Having this type of diversity supports its message, saying that no matter who you are, no woman deserves to be used or needs a man to depend on. It would have been effective if the characters weren’t so one dimensional. This is no criticism to the actors because they did well with what they were given, I just think if the film had a clearer direction and really empowered the trio by illustrating its message consistently and having a coherent ending, then it could have been heaps better. Leslie Mann actually has some great moments in the film, where she’s hesitant about leaving her husband, moments that are grounded and realistic as it’s a situation that would be hard to accept for anyone. Moments like that gave the film some potential, to add layers to a story which is largely thin. Talking about moments, Nicki Minaj surprised me immensely. She must have a knack for acting because she seemed so down to earth and reserved, which is not the Nicki Minaj we all know, I weirdly want to see more from her.

As a comedy The Other Woman doesn’t really work for me, there are a few laughs here and there, but for such a talented cast who have experience with comedy, they didn’t utilize them at their full potential. I’d rather see Leslie Mann improv more or bring out Kate Upton’s quirky personality that we’re all so fond of, than see a guy crap his pants. As for a film that empowers women, it too false very short. There’s a scene where Leslie Mann’s character throws her wedding ring into the sea to an emotional song, a scene which is intended to be a defining moment for her character but it runs like a music video, completely cheapening the moment, which represents what the film is as a whole.

The Spectacular Now (2013)

82be1a35bdd197cdb228bea4120f7e72Roze-Rating: 5 / 5

Every year I watch a shiz load of films, ranging from the brilliant to the utterly terrible, but there will always be that odd film that some how finds its way to me and strikes the sweetest G-Chord within my heart. The Spectacular Now is that film for me of 2013.

Ever since The Descendants I knew I was an instant fan of Shailene Woodley and had been waiting to see her follow up film for quite a while. And what a film. Just as The Descendants was, this film is down to earth and totally real. Miles Teller plays Sutter Keeley, a kid on the brink of adulthood. We meet him as he struggles to begin his college application, unsure of how to put his life into words. He seems like he has his sh*t together as we indulge in his large personality and his way of words, but once we’re exposed to his constant alcoholism we know something is up. What makes this such a relatable film is Sutter’s predicament. He’s lived in the now for all his life and has struggled to do anything productive with it. He may have heaps of fun but during a time of his life where a future plan matters he becomes stuck. His girlfriend dumps him for the pure reason that he has no ambition. Then Shailene Woodley’s character Aimee Finecky comes along and gives him a bit of a pick me up. Aimee is the complete opposite of Sutter, she’s down the chain on the social ladder and has dreams of finally leaving for college although stunted by her mother. Sutter befriends her in the hope of helping her out.

There’s films out there which make you wanna cry because devastating stuff happens in them with that sole outcome in mind, but then there are some films which make you wanna cry because you connect so much with the characters and the films themes that they are more tears of inspiration than sympathy. I wont lie, by the end of the film I felt quite emotional. It was odd because I’ve never felt so emotional for such a character triumph. Something so simple yet profound. I’m at a similar time in life as this Sutter kid which is why it probably felt so relatable, and because of that I may have left the film slightly a better person.

What I like about this story is that there’s no defining character that helps grow Sutter. From watching past coming of age films there’s usually a father figure or someone that can be looked up to who knocks some inspiration into our lost soul, but in this film, it took getting to his lowest point to finally grow. Sure there were characters along the way which were important but at the end of the day if you can come to terms with your problems then you can look for a solution. That’s what makes the final scene so good, it’s ambiguous but does it really matter? (You’ll see)

The cinematography is earthy capturing the human element of young love and uncertainty pleasantly. Along with the score which slowly develops from upbeat to endearing to melancholy.

As for performances, Miles Teller has the potential to be the next Vince Vaugn of sorts with his natural ability to bring charisma to a character. Saw him for the first time in Footloose then 21 & Over this year. He has no problem with running his mouth rampant and when put in the right film, it comes out positively. Hopefully he sticks to movies such as this and doesn’t over do this type of character as some actors do. Shailene Woodley co-stars and offers another great performance. Really looking forward to her new franchise film next year, Divergent, I don’t care if it seems like a Hunger Games copy, I’m sure she will bring something to the films.

What really makes these performances stand out though is the chemistry between Woodley and Teller. The last time I saw legitimate awkwardness and realism brought to teen love was last years Amazing Spider-Man, maybe I need to watch more films if that’s the case. But everything about their interaction is something I’ve been through, and for that reason it felt so real.

The Spectacular Now is a coming of age tale that starts off upbeat then hits you with emotional substance. It’s engaging and totally relatable with great leads and raw chemistry. One of my favourites of 2013.

Crystal Fairy (2013)

crystal-fairy-indie-movie-650x350Roze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

Jamie (Michael Cera) and three Chilean brothers plan a road trip in search of rare hallucinogenic drug San Pedro. Before their big trip (PUN) Jamie drunkenly invites mysterious hippie Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Soon enough both Jamie and Crystal Fairy clash in personality.

Stoner film of the year, Crystal Fairy brings the stoner stereotypes to life with refreshing realism and raw charm. You get a sense that this is going to be more than your typical stoner comedy as Jamie offers to cook for drag queens he just met from the street. Jamie savors the drugs he takes, he doesn’t indulge in them with excess while Crystal Fairy likes to experience the drug from the mind to the soul.

Going into the film I didn’t know what to expect, I knew it was a low budget indie and I knew it was going to be a comedy. After seeing the film it really was a lot more than that. Doing some research I found out that this was a film that Cera and director Sebastian Silva had not originally planned to do. Waiting for finance for their second film Magic Magic they decided to shoot Crystal Fairy. Despite a thin script, Silva’s clear direction and personal experience make the film a heartwarming piece of Chilean gold. The film is truly down to earth and incredibly raw as we tag along on this road trip. From the tonal changes to the backpackers antics. This is as real as we’re going to get to a road trip film.

Although this film doesn’t concentrate on the road trip but more about the characters on it. When we’re first introduced to Jamie he seems like a chilled out guy. He offers to cook for strangers and even invites a new friend on a planned trip. but once off drugs he is self indulgent and more interested in his own agenda as he reluctantly allows Crystal Fairy to accept his offer. Crystal Fairy is truly a free spirit as she spews idealist views about how the world should be and what is causing its demise. Her contribution to preventing it involves drifting from one place to another and refusing to shave. They may be on a road trip, but the film explores their own journey within themselves.

They are both conflicted with life and don’t really know what they are doing as we see Crystal Fairy take a gulp of Cola after giving a speech about how destructive sugar can be. She lives in her own world putting on this fake exterior. While Jamie fails to accept Crystal Fairy on the trip, he refuses to connect and in the end we see him get isolated from the group. What I liked about the film is that the characters are authentic and their problems are honest. Ultimately the film explores their inner growth, from selfishness to compassion and from a reinvention of themselves to their true self.

Crystal Fairy offers some committed performances from its cast. Michael Cera has played offbeat characters before but nothing as organic as this. I’m not familiar with Gaby Hoffmann but her eccentric and out there performance makes this one of the bravest performances of the year. As for the Chilean actors they did an awesome job largely dependent on improvisation. Juan Andres Silva has a certain look that suits the big screen; hope to see him take on other projects.

I’ve not watched many indies but this makes me want to watch a heap of them. Crystal Fairy may not be packed with jokes and road trip horse play, but it is rich in character development, mesmerizing cinematography and drug play.