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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Interstellar (2014)

interstellarRoze-Rating: 4.5 / 5

Christopher Nolan brings us not only his 9th directorial triumph but the most ambitious film of 2014. Starring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and a black hole or two; this film was always going to be one of the most anticipated films of the year. Interstellar, not only directed by Nolan but also co written with his brother, tells a story set in the distant future where earth is failing to provide humanity with enough food to survive. In anticipation of Earths demise, NASA prepares a mission which could not only save humanity but take them to places they have never been before.

All year round Interstellar has burdened us with its teaser trailers, teaser’s for the teaser trailers and just your average trailer keeping with Nolan’s trademark ambiguity. Well I guess it worked as they’re sitting on a healthy 330 million worldwide box office two weeks into their release. Further proving the pull power of the Nolan, McConaughey, Sci-fi combination. Although they were probably hoping for a bigger opening weekend, only to be foiled by Big Hero 6.

There have been big questions surrounding this film since its release, such as whether or not the hype took away from the films experience and without Nolan would Interstellar be getting a lot more criticism than it has been. In my opinion either way this film achieved what it was meant to do, which was give the audience an experience that would leave them pondering and debating. It’s been two weeks now and there are still discussions about the films theories, the science and the story. I can’t remember the last time I watched a film and was still thinking about it this far past my viewing. Except for Blonde and Blonder, I mean to this day I can’t think of a film that I’ve hated as much as that, despite it’s gorgeous leads. Interstellar on the other hand is memorable for the right reasons. Yes there are problems with the screenplay relating to character logic and plot holes involving who “they”are and probably some of the science, but in all honesty they weren’t as prominent until I sat down and fully digested the film. Upon viewing I was in awe of the visuals, the acting, the father-daughter relationship and even the science. Interstellar absorbs you into the film, making you think and emotionally invest into McConaughey’s character and his motivations. You can criticize the film as much as you like but there is no doubting that this is a must see film of 2014, not necessarily because it’s a great film but because it’s an ambitious film.

Interstellar is beautifully crafted which is a given for Nolan films nowadays as he reimagines space as a grand piece of spectacle while keeping its beauty and mystery intact. While we don’t get an intense sense of zero gravity and false orientation as Gravity of last year, we are still able to indulge in it’s bleak vastness and vacuum environment. The creation of the black hole alone is masterful which turns out to be scientifically accurate and may have even prompted a new discovery. There is no debate over how great this film looks, everything from the worm hole to the corn fields. Space isn’t the only bleak environment as earth is depicted as just as hopeless and on the brink of destruction. We have had some awesome illustrations of space lately and after ‘Gravity’, hopefully this becomes the standard for space films.

Going into this film I really didn’t know what to expect. The trailers advertised a lot of corn fields, a teary McConaughey and a few shots of the unknown, but I still made my way to the theater. Which only further proves that you can still make a badass trailer without giving away too much and still entice an audience. Granted I would never miss a Nolan film especially a Nolan film set in space. That being said, did the ambiguity help the film? for me it made it even more of an experience, which is exactly what watching a film should be. I’ve seen enough films after viewing a trailer and thinking “wow, it really didn’t hold back on giving away those plot points”, and ultimately your sitting waiting for those moments. So finding out that Interstellar is a lot more sentimental than I would have anticipated made for quite an emotional and unexpected experience.

Amongst the scientific mumbo jumbo at the heart of the film is a story about love and how love itself is a force to be reckoned with. It may seem a bit icky on paper and overly familiar but I totally bought into it because we’ve not seen love explored at this scale and optimism before. We’re told that love is “quantifiable” and how it might even “transcend space and time” during a love drunk speech by Anne Hathaway, a speech that initially felt off but with reflection made sense. But what really sells it are the performances by Matthew McConaughey and child star Mackenzie Foy. Their bond and their love are ultimately the stars of this film and without it, the film would have undoubtedly fell flat.

Initially this film starts off very negative, openly blaming humans for earths demise and current situation where farmers are more valuable than engineers. Only preventing the very nature of humans, which is to explore. What I liked is the progression from pessimism to optimism. McConaughey’s character has an epiphany of sorts, realizing no matter what happens humans will find a way, as we are also survivors by nature. Once the film goes in this direction, I couldn’t help but feel inspired and positive about the world we live in now.

Another element I enjoyed was the representation of time, and how time is different in certain parts of the universe. We learn that gravity has a lot to do with that. Knowing McConaughey is under some time pressure to see his children makes the film even more suspenseful and grueling. We understand that he has waited his whole life for this moment, to explore and discover new worlds, but ultimately he’s doing it to save his children. It kills him inside knowing that he’s going to lose time with them but the prospect of seeing them live in an even bleaker future is even worse. It’s a hard hitting reality about the preciousness of time and how much we depend on it.

Now in terms of the dialogue, it was very hit and miss. I understand that there are some complicated concepts and theories needing to be explained using scientific terminology and such. At times it was quite interesting and even enlightening but for the most part it just went over my head. Thanks to the fast pacing and heightened dramatic tension, it was easy to stay engaged in the dialogue, even though there were parts that I wish I could have rewinded and watched again. That being said if they would have toned down the science talk it might have made it a lot easier to fully connect with the film. Another problem was the expository nature of the dialogue. At times it was subtle and I didn’t mind that, but there were a few moments that stuck with me because it took me right out of the film. It’s never a good thing when one character is starting a conversation with “remember that time… blah blah”, unless its purely nostalgic. Nevertheless I can look past that for everything else this film is, which is pretty darn beautiful.

Interstellar may not be a perfect film, but for me, it’s not too hard to look past its flaws and see something pretty special. It has the spectacle, the aesthetics, the performances and the score to make this a fully captivating film. And if you aren’t happy with that, there’s even a talking robot that tells sarcastic jokes! We need more films like this.