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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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.