Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Miles Teller”

War Dogs

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, August 2016

R16
114 mins
2 stars

War Dogs stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as, improbably, arms dealers in their mid-20s making dodgy deals between corrupted war-torn countries and the US Military.

It’s not awful; it just isn’t any good. And this is disappointing – not because War Dogs is by the director of The Hangovers (a man with such comedy chops has no place trying to branch out into drama, as demonstrated by his casting of an over-bronzed, giggling Hill). It’s just a shame because it’s based on a true story (published in a Rolling Stone article) and that tale is so fantastical you’d expect the screenwriter’s job had been half done for him.

It wants so badly to be Goodfellas; from voiceover to freeze-frames, it copies every Scorsese-ism in the book, but for all this it is doomed by an under-written, lacklustre, and at times banal, script. “Chapters” are punctuated by self-explanatory quotations, while the bursts of delight-inducing songs (from House of Pain to the Beastie Boys to, um, UB40) feel like a manipulative cover-up of how lame the actual movie is beneath.

By the end it’s clear that War Dogs is actually trying to be a Wolf of Wall Street but while its protagonists’ morals don’t sink to quite those levels of depravity and excess, War Dogs simply lacks the panache of Scorsese’s darkest hour, and to that end isn’t even fun to watch in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

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The Divergent Series: Allegiant

In this third but sadly not final film in the Divergent trilogy*, Tris, Four and the gang (inexplicably including the still-creepy Miles Teller) finally break out across the wall which has been protecting/restricting their entire existence, to fight a new wave of baddies now that Kate Winslet’s Janine is dead.

The story gets quickly underway where those under Janine’s rule are on trial for their contribution to the hellish existence that is futuristic Chicago. Mob-mentality is rife among those we were rooting for in the previous movies, and Tris’s betrayer of a brother, Caleb, is in the firing line.

Allegiant is an undistinguished combination of uninspiring performances and a bog-standard plotline (it all feels a bit “going through the motions” but we know from experience with other YA franchises that this is the “filler” movie before next year’s finale), although its sensational setting initially raises the bar for dystopian movies. The radioactive red landscape is dynamic and impressive, and there is terrific CGI of the awesome-looking, if a little dubiously-devised, futuristic inventions. Only when it suddenly feels like the kids are running about on a painted sound-stage does one start to look at one’s watch.

The Divergent Series started with innovative promise but then became dull. This third of four episodes is arguably better than Katniss’s was in the last Hunger Games but even so, the only people who will care to see Allegiant through to the bitter end will be the fans.

(*Post-script: so bemused was I by the whole film, while watching it I actually thought this was the third and blessedly final installment. It felt pretty “ended” to me. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Anyway, tune in next year for REDUNDANT…)

 

 

 

Insurgent

Those who have read the bestselling Young Adult trilogy and seen the first Divergent film will not need me to recommend they see this one. However, those who missed all the fuss would be advised to rent it before heading to the cinema for the sequel.

Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is back, hair shorn and feisty attitude intact, as she and her fellow Divergents live in hiding from the evil Queen of the Erudites, Jeanine (Kate Winslet, not pregnant this time and taking the opportunity to wear very tight dresses in every shot). Leaving aside whether “Jeanine” is a good name for a baddie, Winslet is all blue steel, here machinating the downfall of everybody deemed a threat to the “happy” post-apocalyptic world of the factions.

Robert Schwentke takes the reins of this second film, and is already slated to direct Part 1 of Allegiant (yep – as is the Hollywood way with YA trilogies, they’re splitting the final book into two parts and will milk audiences for every last cent. Here’s hoping that goes better than The Hunger Games). His action movie experience includes RED and is borne out here in the well-paced narrative, with economical dialogue (albeit sadly spared of laughs) and well-executed, if mentally unchallenging, “simulations”, which look part-Inception, part-Matrix.

Trivia nerds will appreciate Woodley’s unsuspecting ménage à quatre as she spends her screen time with previous love interests from The Spectacular Now, The Fault in our Stars and her Divergent squeeze, the lovely Theo James.

More homicidal but less exciting than the first film, Insurgent serves as the reasonably nutritious meat in the sandwich, leaving us genuinely curious about how it’s all going to end.

Whiplash

Moving at the speed of the titular injury and delivering as much of a shock, Whiplash is an exhilarating and disturbing watch.

Young Andrew Nieman is studying drumming at one of the most prestigious music schools in America. When he wins the attention of the conservatory’s legendary jazz band leader, Andrew sees his future written in the glint of the cymbals. However, as he is pushed perilously close to the limits of even the greatest musicians, Andrew must negotiate and survive the increasingly brutal professional relationship if he wants to realise his dream.

There is so much in this film to trumpet, but let’s start with the central performances. Andrew’s quietly driven loner is played by The Spectacular Now’s Miles Teller, an increasingly familiar face on our screens (particularly if your film-going diet includes young adult dystopia such as Divergent). Far more than just a cute kid with chutzpah, Teller’s dramatic maturity is evident when Andrew is promoted to lead drummer and allows himself a split second glimmer of delight which is swiftly quelled.

As his volatile foil, long-timer J. K. Simmons – a 30-year screen veteran you’ve seen so often you won’t be able to name a single part – finally gets a shot at an Oscar playing Terence Fletcher, the mercurial conductor who demands excellence from his players, but who employs militaristic tactics to achieve it. Fletcher epitomises the domestic abuser who oscillates between avuncular (“Don’t worry about what the other guys are thinking – just relax and enjoy it”) and bullying (“Are you one of these single tear people??” he snarls at a demolished Andrew who has failed to keep in time). Fletcher’s insults find their mark whether the recipient is fat, gay, female – whatever it takes to reduce his students (a preppy bunch of talented players whose eyes are instantly downcast as he storms into a room) to putty in his fist-clenched hands.

Then there’s the jazz. The sensational soundtrack is tightly played and crisply edited, rendering every performance virtually ecstatic. Teller (already a rock drummer who took a few jazz lessons to make this film) is superb as he plays so hard his hands bleed. If some scenes employ a stand-in, it’s impossible to discern.

Written and directed by a bright young filmmaker named Damien Chazelle (when the kids born in the year of Back to the Future start making movies, you know you’re old), the Making Of story is an object lesson in the pay-off of persistence (not by chance, the same moral of the on-screen story).

Chazelle had one small feature under his belt when he tried to make Whiplash but was unable to get funding. So he simply made it as a short film (casting Simmons in the same role) and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival, where it won an award as well as the director’s due acknowledgement. Chazelle got his money and remade his short into this stunning feature which will doubtless secure his future.

Divergent

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 13th April 2014

For all those who reject the notion of personality testing because they feel they’re too individual to be “put in a box” (by the way, some tests even have a box specially for people like you), the essence of Divergent may cause discomfort.

Set in a futuristic, initially utopian Chicago, survivors of the apocalypse live mostly peaceably, divided into five factions called “Virtues”, each tasked with looking after a different aspect of society’s needs. Sixteen year old Beatrice (played by The Descendants’ Shailene Woodley) has been brought up with her parents and brother Caleb under Abnegation: the selfless types who feed the poor factionless and reject vanity and excess. While Beatrice gazes longingly at the more exciting exploits of the Dauntless, Caleb has designs on turning his brain to good use with those defined as Erudite. Although one’s rightful place in a faction is determined through a coming-of-age personality test, the young are also given free choice – but once you choose a faction, you’re committed for life.

Based on the debut novel by Veronica Roth, the tale has inevitably been compared to The Hunger Games, and there is already a trilogy of books being made into films as we speak. The comparison is just but Divergent is sufficiently fresh to be wholly satisfying on its own merits – this is young adult fiction well-told, with just the right balance of physical drama, personal peril and philosophical wrangling, prompting even adult viewers to ponder which of the Virtues they might resign themselves to.

Under the safe direction of Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist), key to the film’s hook is the relationship between Beatrice (who rapidly sheds her identity and half her name to become Tris) and the terribly handsome and surly Four (Theo James, looking like a modern-day Michelangelo’s David, and not remotely annoying for it). Despite the heavily signposted coupling, Woodley and James work very well together, Woodley impressively gutsy and giving Katniss Everdeen a run for her money as she practises hand-to-hand combat and proves herself dauntless indeed when suddenly their utopian world turns altogether more dystopian.

With a matronly Kate Winslet outdoing Jodie Foster’s attempt at icy blonde from Elysium, and a great cast of young actors including Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller, Divergent is a well-written and incredibly enjoyable jaunt into a future where the motto “Faction Before Blood” ought to make the viewer’s run cold.

Are We Officially Dating?

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th February 2014

This is a disheartening lads’ tale about contemporary dating but actually, why call it “dating” if you just want to get laid?

Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron (High School Musical, The Lucky One – c’mon, you know who I mean) is a bit of a player who rakes in the ladies but not for longer than 24 hours if he can help it. He pals about with the usually charming Miles Teller (lately in The Spectacular Now), two best mates who vow to stay single in support of a newly separated friend.

Of course, the moment that die is cast, Efron’s Jason meets a lovely girl with whom he should really be forging a mature relationship – but the tropes of the rom-com (and in this case I use the term loosely) necessitate much fooling of yourself and others before that’s going to happen. And so we wait.

It’s all the go to make dating movies from the guy’s point of view, and this would be refreshing and enlightening if only it wasn’t so darn depressing. The three mates talk rubbish to each other (can we blame the turgid script or its devastating grasp on reality?) and behave like cads, constantly on the pull but failing to engage the merest whiff of personal insight or reflection. They’re not even teenagers, but book cover artists in their 20s who live in pretty flash (considering their realistically low salaries) New York apartments. But hey – they’re all the “hero” we’ve got.

When British actress Imogen Poots comes on the scene, it’s natural that she plays X-Box, drinks Scotch and finds the boys’ juvenile antics hilarious. The question is: how many indignities and let-downs must she suffer before she and Jason get it together?

A first-time writer/director project from Tom Gormican (whose previous and dubious claim to fame is as a producer of the inexorable montage Movie 43), this film’s American title is That Awkward Moment, that is, the moment when (usually) the girl wants clarification on the status of the relationship. Burdened by pedestrian dialogue, unimaginative direction and an overreliance on erection jokes and bathroom fisticuffs, the film’s success in being light-hearted is offset by its complete lack of cleverness or warmth.

Apart from an apposite observation about online stalking, this is an hour-and-a-half of awkward moments.

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