Project Almanac is a found footage movie that was released in the US in January, a month typically known for terrible movies. While it came out in Australia in February, reading that first sentence pretty much sums up whether you should see the movie or not. The film follows the story of a group of teenagers who discover the blueprints for a time machine in their basement, or as it's called in the movie, a temporal relocation device. So, they follow the blueprints, make the device and go back in time... to go to concerts and parties, because apparently that's what everyone wants to do. But the problem is, whenever they return to the present, they discover that their alterations of the past have caused an abundance of ripple effects, some good and others very very bad.
For a movie that dedicates the first fifty minutes to doing literally nothing but telling the audience 'look how smart we are,' I'm surprised at how unbelievably dumb this film really is. The film takes its time in setting up everything, and it does this at an excruciating rate. There's no actual time travel until halfway through the movie, and by that stage, I'd lost most of my interest in the film. It tried to redeem itself, it did. It tried to have a little bit of fun once the time travel begun to be fully utilised, but even then, it's just not that interesting a movie.
This film's biggest issue, aside from how unbelievably stupid it is (and my god, it is stupid), is the slow pace. The film's first twenty minutes are dedicated entirely to setting up the characters, yet all of the details, which one would presume would be important, are completely irrelevant to the plot. The next half an hour consists of these teenagers, none of whom are very interesting characters despite some half decent performances, attempting to make the actual machine. It's boring as hell and way longer than it needed to be.
There was seriously no need to show the building of the machine in that much detail. We get it. Time machines are hard to make and use up a lot of batteries, now don't go and show me every test, just show me the important ones. Show me the ones that matter and that will actually move the plot forward. There's no need to spend so much time getting to the scenes we actually want to see, despite these scenes turning out to be rather underwhelming and pointless too.
When these scenes do come around, they don't even manage to follow the rules set up during the first half. Yes, time travel has rules. There's a series of scientific evidence and plausible consequences that are mentioned during the first half that are just completely ignored. For example, and this is far from the only one, it's said (and shown) that there will be two you's at one time, yet in multiple scenes, the main characters go back in time and replaces their older selves. Not even the film, which wanted to come across as ultra smart, managed to follow its own logic.
To sum up, Project Almanac tries to set itself up to be a really smart movie, yet somehow manages to get dumber and dumber as the movies goes on, creating multiple plot holes and inconsistencies along the way.
2 1/2 Stars
Jupiter Ascending is the latest sci-fi film from the Wachowski siblings, formally known as the Wachowski brothers. The film follows the story of a woman named Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a house maid who's nearly killed by a group of savage, invisible aliens (and that's not even when the film begins to get weird). Her rescuer? The one and only Channing Tatum, or as he's called here, Caine Wise, because apparently space people have last names for first names. When escaping from the danger, they discover that Jupiter is the rightful owner of, y'know, Earth and all. It's at this point that the film gets REALLY weird and decides to stop making any sense.
The Wachowski's, who previously directed the visually appealing Matrix trilogy and the rather ambitious Cloud Atlas, certainly haven't lost their visual flare. Jupiter Ascending, if noting else, looks visually appealing, both in terms of special effects and cinematography. They film everything with such wonder and amazement, particularly the action sequences, an earlier one involving two space ships flying around the city comes to mind as being the most dazzling of the lot. The effects are glorious too, adding a sense of realism to this universe of wonder. The two haven't lost their sense of style just yet, even if their sense of storytelling disappeared years ago, Cloud Atlas being the only exception.
This is not a terrible movie, I'll say that, but it doesn't manage to offer a lot outside of the visuals realm. The first forty minutes were fun, but that's when the Wachowski's decided to give up on telling a cohesive and original story, replacing all of the much needed substance and depth with over the top and lengthy action sequences and the corniest dialogue I have heard in a long time. They went Michael Bay, that's what they did, and we all know that you never ever, under any circumstances go Michael Bay.
The only thing the actors in this film tried to do was get paid. None of them seem to care about the film at hand. All they seem to be doing is reading lines, barely satisfying the directors and going home with a cheque in hands. Channing Tatum has proven himself to be a surprisingly great actor, especially in Foxcatcher, and now he goes and does this. But at least he's not as embarrassing as Eddie Redmayne, who not only recently proved himself to be a good actor, but also scored an Oscar nomination. Then he gives a performance like this, and I'm still not sure what the hell he was doing during this film.
Not even the plot understands what it's doing either. Like I said, the film starts out fine. Sure, not a lot of it makes sense, but the start of a film doesn't have to, for we know everything will eventually be explained later, right? RIGHT?!? Nope. The plot is a mess, showing origin stories that are utterly ridiculous and make little impact to the story at hand, or adding in various characters and enemies to help fill up the runtime when in actual fact they too make no impact to the actual story. It's an uneven mess that changes directions every twenty or so minutes.
Unfortunately though, it's more than just the plot that fails to make sense. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING in this movie makes any sort of sense. There's so many unanswered questions that you'll have floating around in your head once the credits begin to role. Questions such as, why did Mila Kunis suddenly appear on that ship when she was on Earth like 5 minutes ago? Why does that man have an elephant head? What the hell is Sean Bean doing here? Is this really directed by the same people that made The Matrix? Why is Terry Gilliam in this movie? Why isn't he the one directing this movie? What's the point of Eddie Redmayne being in this? And various other questions that you will never get an answer too. It's all a bit painful, really.
To sum up, Jupiter Ascending may prove that the Wachowski siblings can still make visually appealing films, but it also confirms that they've lost their skills in writing, providing us with a dumb, long, poorly acted and illogical movie with various unneeded sub-plots.
Selma is the best picture nominated true story of Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo). The film is set in 1965 and tells the story of his fight against the government and his attempt at bringing equal rights to people of every race and nationality. To do this, he goes to a town called Selma. It is in this town that he convinces the people to stand up for what they believe is right and just, and in doing so, they collectively gather to face the police, most of whom are retaliating in violent measures. It's a powerful and ultimately important movie that deserves more recognition than it's getting.
Right from the start, Selma is David Oyelowo's movie, through and through. Oyelowo doesn't just play Martin Luther King Jr., he inhabits the character. His performance is beyond excellent, giving us, the audience, more than we deserve. Oyelowo is an actor I struggle to recall seeing in other films, although according to IMDb I've seen quite a few. Tell me his name again in ten years and I can assure you, I will be able to name several of his movies. At 38 years old, Oyelowo's career is just getting started, proving to us all that he can act. Snubbed of an Oscar? Perhaps, but so many people and movies were this year that it's hard to keep track of who's who.
But guess what? It seems Oyelowo wasn't the only person involved with Selma who got snubbed this year as director Ava DuVernay was too. She is just as deserving, if not more deserving than most of the other nominees, but I'm not here to talk about the Oscars. I'm here for Selma. Ava DuVernay is extremely powerful and confident in the way she directs. She understands the subject matter and how important it is, and she conveys it on screen brilliantly, although in part thanks to first time screenwriter, Paul Webb.
His screenplay, like most of the components of this film, is undeniably brilliant. Much like the directing, it's powerful stuff. Although certain scenes do tend to drag on a little during the first act, once the film gets going there's no stopping it. The time begins to fly by and my enjoyment levels begin to soar, which is especially impressive for a film featuring so many horrific and depressing situations.
However, one of the most shocking and horrifying scenes in the entire film is the scene in which the people of Selma partake in their first march, only to be stopped, brutalised and killed by the police. It's a scene that's challenging to watch, yet hard to turn away from, but it's handled in a mature approach. It's brutal, intense and wrong, but it's needed. And that could be used to describe pretty much all of this movie, really. It's just that sort of movie, but it's a damn good one too.
To sum up, Selma is a powerful, important and occasionally challenging to watch movie, but it's oh-so-brilliant as well. With confident direction from Ava DuVerynay, a brilliant first-time screenplay by Paul Webb and an utterly perfect performance from David Oyelowo, Selma is a must see.
4 1/2 Stars
Still Alice is based on the bestselling book by Lisa Genova. It follows the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a loving wife and mother who, soon after her fiftieth birthday, begins to suspect that she has something wrong with her. She goes in to see a neurologist (Stephen Kunken) who informs Alice that she is in the early stages of Alzheimers disease, which as you're probably aware, slowly begins to induce memory loss. As the disease worsens, Alice's family are forced into a rather tricky situation where they must try to come together and help get her through this rough patch in her life.
Julianne Moore has never been better, and I honestly mean that. It's a bold statement to make seeings as how she's given countless extraordinary performances, I know, but I think I mean it. I may not have seen Magnolia as of right now, so this statement may change, but Still Alice may just be her greatest performance yet. It's a heartbreaking movie and in large, it's thanks to Moore. She elevates this film to a whole other level. A level I don't think any other actor could've taken it to.
Still Alice is a film so full of emotion, it's unbelievable. How a movie can be this emotional, yet still be thoroughly entertaining, I will never know, but hey, I'm not complaining. It's a character driven movie and you care for these characters, so when bad things start happening, it's difficult to watch. It's painful to see Alice go through these things, but that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that you know this is only the beginning. You know she's got a long way to go.
This is going to sound like a rather odd point to make, I know, but the fact that it's told through Alice's perspective adds to the overall heartbreak. Hold on, let me explain. In the film, we see everything through Alice's eyes and we hear everything through her ears. If she says something didn't happen, it didn't happen. We didn't see it happen either. If she says she was looking for her phone last night, we think she was looking for her phone last night, only to be confronted by Alec Baldwin saying that that was a month a go. It's difficult to explain, but it's a point worth making, and when you see the film, you'll understand where I'm coming from... hopefully.
The only real problem with this film is that I didn't feel there was enough story to go around. Still Alice feels like it's more of a character study of a woman with Alzheimers than a narrative based plot and while I have absolutely no problem with character studies, the film's opening act didn't really set the film up to be so. It set the film up to have a traditional narrative, yet this is just pushed out of the window. The biggest downfall of deviating from the narrative structure is the ending, which ends rather abruptly and displeasing.
To sum up, Still Alice features what could possibly be Julianne Moore's best performance to date, the film is held together by a strong emotional thread and is edited together brilliantly, even if there's not quite enough story to go around.
3 1/2 Stars
Who would've thought that what could possibly be one of the best movies of 2015 came out in February? I sure as hell didn't. Well, The Grand Budapest Hotel did come out in March in the US last year, but whatever. March ain't February. Anyway, Kingsman: The Secret Service follows the story of Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a young delinquent who's landed himself in jail. To his surprise, he's bailed out by a man named Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who offers Eggsy a chance to become a Kingsman and take down billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) from exterminating nearly all of mankind. What's a Kingsman you ask? Unfortunately, that's classified.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is everything you could ever want in an action movie. It's sleek, it's stylised, it's over the top, it's got a kick ass villain and it's a heck of a lot of fun. If you're a fan of those good ole spy movies, particularly the classic Bond films, which do get multiple name drops and references, then this is undoubtably your cup of tea. No, actually, if you're a fan of movies in general than you're in for a treat as Kingsman: The Secret Service is a film so unbelievably fun that it made me forget I was seated in a public movie theatre. There were multiple moments in this film that had me so invested that I lost connection with the outside world. Now, how often do you get to say that, aye?
Director Mathew Vaughn, who's previous work includes the brilliant X-Men First Class and the just as entertaining Kick-Ass, returns to bring us his best film yet. His direction is so unique and, dare I say gorgeous? He really gets the best out of his actors, but what he does even better is film the action. My god, the action sequences are breathtaking to watch, yet at the same time they're approached in a manner that's not overly serious. It's goofy fun at it's best.
While there's plenty of action to go around, there's a scene at a church that first comes to mind. I wouldn't dare spoil the details of what happens as that's not Kingsman material, but I will say that it's the most fun I've had in a cinema in ages. Filmed as one long tracking shot, only to cut away twice very briefly, it's a scene that had my heart pumping, my eyes bulging and my mind screaming for more.
It's just refreshing to see all the cast members go out and do something as rambunctious as this. Take Colin Firth for example. He's been doing a lot of serious movies as of late, and I mean really really serious movies. There's Before I Go To Sleep, The Railway Man, Devil's Knot and Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, just to name a few. Watching him just have fun with this role makes the whole film worthwhile, yet he's still not as ridiculously awesome as Samuel L. Jackson, who just gives this film his all. He plays a lisped technological genius with no stomach for violence. Come on, you have to admit that that sentence alone intrigues you, right?
It's the newcomers, however, who are just as impressive. Taron Egerton, who plays our leading man, has just the right amount of charisma to suit the role, all without becoming overly cocky. He's an interesting character and while his back story is rather clichéd, he's still a character worthy of leading a film. Sophie Cookson's also brilliant as one of the few trainees willing to show Eggsy some respect. It appears that Vaughn may have started a successful career out of the both of them, as well as a hopeful franchise out of the film too.
There is, unfortunately, just one minor downside. There is just one thing removing this film from receiving a five star rating and that's how predictable it is. Yes, I know, I'm a snob, but I'm sorry. As fun as this film is, you can't help but feel that it's an overused storyline with an outcome that you've seen before. While this is true, I couldn't really care too much as the rest of the film is just so goddamn awesome and exciting. So yeah, thank you Mathew Vaughn for this. I don't normally say thanks after reviewing a movie, but hey, manners maketh man.
To sum up, Kingsman: The Secret Service is everything an action movie should be. It's flashy, exciting, fuelled by awesome performances, full of kick-ass action and just a heck of a good time.
4 1/2 Stars
Foxcatcher, unfortunately, is a true story. It's the story of Olympic gold medalist, Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum), a man who wants nothing more than to be the best wrestler in the world. For years now he's been training with his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) and it's been working out well for them, but it's forced Mark to live in his brother's shadow. That's when Mark receives an invitation from millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). He asks Mark to come and train with him as a part of the Foxcatcher wrestling team, which Mark accepts, not realising the psychological strain it will later put on him.
I have been anticipating Foxcatcher for many months now. I knew the true story in brief, but not in too much detail. When the first trailer dropped, and we're talking about a very very short trailer here, it wowed me. I was excited, and I have been for a long time. After a lot of anticipation and a lot of hype, I'm happy to announce that Foxcatcher not only lived up to my expectations, but it blew them out of the park too. It's a dark and unpleasant movie, but it's the type of movie that I love. I'm not ashamed to admit that it's a film I'd be more than willing to come back to as well, which is something not a lot of people seem to be saying and that's fair enough. I can completely understand where people are coming from when they say they never want to see this film again as it's not a joyous experience, but it's undoubtably worth watching at least once.
The way director Bennet Miller manages to tell this horrific story is admirable in its own right. This is Miller's third feature film and it's truly his best work yet. He's quiet and slow in his approach, resulting in the more intense moments having a much greater impact on me. It's not a very loud film, nor a very fast film, but this helps to let everything build up. There's lots of long pauses and uncomfortable silences, but it's done for the greater good, and it works too. Everything becomes all the more impactful and unexpected, even if you're aware of what's to come, like I was.
The three leads, Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell, are all in their prime here. Each one of them gives an Oscar worthy performance, and each one of them deserves that Oscar, even if only two actually received nominations. Tatum is an actor who constantly surprises me and here, he's done it once again. His character is clearly dealing with many psychological issues, both brought on by his childhood and by Carell's character, and the way Tatum portrays him is beyond phenomenal. It will define him as an actor, I can tell you that.
While Tatum is impressive and Mark Ruffalo is brilliant, although he always is, it's Carell who's the most astonishing, and not just because of the amount of makeup and prosthetics put onto his face. He gives a mesmerisingly disturbing performance that is bound to send shivers down your spine. His performance is so unlike anything he's ever done, making it easily his best performance to date. He's a troubled psychopath and no matter what situation he's in, Carell's performance will put you on the edge.
It's the film's finale that I really want to talk about here, but I'm going to have to do so without giving away what happens, which should be tough. I knew how this film was going to end, yet it didn't matter. When the ending comes, and you'll know it's the end the moment it starts unfolding, it will leave your jaw hanging. It's just so intense and unexpected, and it packs quite a punch as well. Everything suddenly goes from insanely slow to unbelievably fast, and you're trying to sink everything in, but it's just not working out, but I mean that in the best way possible. It's a realistic and rather haunting approach to the situation and the most disturbingly brilliant way to wrap up this already disturbing movie.
To sum up, Foxcatcher is a slow moving and rather quiet film that takes you through this psychologically haunting story with some brilliant direction and a career defining performance from Tatum as well as some career best performances from Carell and Ruffalo.
The Theory of Everything is the best picture nominated true story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). The film begins with him in college, meeting the soon-to-be love of his life, Jane (Felicity Jones). We're then taken through Hawking's life as he attempts to solve the question of how the universe started, falls in love with Jane and tries to fight an illness that will eventually shut down all the muscles in his body. There's really not an awful lot to this movie in terms of plot. It's a story of love, marriage, a genius and an illness that he refused to let get in the way of his life.
After watching the trailer for this film, I knew it was something I needed to see. Sitting down and watching the trailer for the first time swelled up an abundance of emotions, putting me on the brink of tears. It's quite a powerful and moving trailer, naturally making me excited to see the film. So I went to the film, sat down eagerly, thinking of what's to come, and what did I get? Something that's, well, not quite as fantastical as advertised. In fact, it's not really that great a film. A good one? Yes. A best picture worthy one? Not in the least bit. The academy sorta mucked up the best picture nominees this year, and I know others will agree with me. I didn't think so prior to seeing films like this, but now that I have, I finally understand what everyone was complaining about.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are what make this film watchable, Redmayne in particular. Their performances are truly something we can revel about. Redmayne is almost flawless as Stephen Hawking as his body slowly deteriorates, forcing him into a wheel chair. The fact that he can display so many emotions with very little movement is something noteworthy, but he has Jones to thank for this as well. She helps to bring up the emotion in his character, providing us with both a strong female lead and an even stronger performance.
Following these character's journey is a heart wrenching experience. The first act of this film was brilliant, giving us just enough insight into Stephen Hawking's life and work so that we care about him and just enough of the love story to be invested in that too. Then Hawking is diagnosed with his illness and the film takes all sorts of turns, some for the best and some for the worse. The medical journey is emotional, providing us with a powerful tale. However, it takes too dominant a position in the film, briefly pausing to discuss the love story and then almost completely disregarding his work. We stop learning things about his work and focus in on his illness, which I can assure you is not enough of a story to keep me entertained for two hours.
I'm not saying that I want this film to be a complete rip-off of A Beautiful Mind, but I am saying that it needs to take a little more inspiration from it. They're very similar films, or at least they could've been. A Beautiful Mind is the story of a very intelligent man with an illness that affects his life, just like with The Theory of Everything. But what makes A Beautiful Mind a much better movie is that it perfectly blends its love story with the story of the illness and the story of his work. With The Theory of Everything, it fails to share the stories, resulting in it becoming rather choppy.
It's filmed and directed wonderfully, sure, and the performances and beyond amazing, granted, but take them away and what do you have? Not a lot. You have a fairly generic love story told on the backdrop of a fairly generic tale about fighting an illness. There's nothing really special about the film. Plus, it's presumably very farfetched compared to the true story. After all, we're talking about a Hollywood adaptation of a book that originally showed Hawking in a negative light, but was rewritten after the author, Jane Hawking, started getting along with him again. Plus it also received the 'please give us an Oscar because we're trying so hard and this is a true story so it must be good' treatment, which always dramatises things to the extreme. Truthful? Who knows. I'm doubting it.
To sum up, The Theory of Everything may have some brilliant performances, direction and cinematography, but when you take that away, all that's left is a generic love story that focusses in a little too much on the illness and not on the person.