FILM REVIEW: ’300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE’

’300: Rise Of An Empire’

Written by: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad

Directed by: Noam Murro

Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green

Story: The story of the ‘battle at sea’ undertaken by Greek general Themistokles as he takes charge against Persian mortal-turned-God Xerxes and their naval commander Artimisia.

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‘Why is Themistokles speaking with an Australian accent?’ is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind when watching ’300: Rise Of An Empire’. Those who have seen the first ’300′ will remember Gerard Butler slashing his way through a blood bath of guts and glory for an exhilarating two hours. Anyone who expects the same thing when going into the highly anticipated sequel will be extremely disappointed.

Though not the most important part of any film in this franchise, the performances were almost painful to watch. As previously mentioned, Sullivan Stapleton switches in and out of his American and hometown Australian accent and Lena Headey seems to have lost any spark that she had in the first film. The only performance that is somewhat decent comes from Eva Green portraying Artimisia who may been the most viscous female villain we have ever seen on screen.

We may never understand why Zack Snyder decided against directing this sequel, but rest assured his talents are truly misplaced. Aside from missing his individual directorial style, the script is put together poorly: the dialogue is forced and the film is altogether boring. This would be the perfect film for anyone who wants to see 90 minutes of ‘Braveheart’-style speeches which in itself feels like three hours.

The real problem with this movie, though, is the 3D. We get the feeling here that Murro is truly out of his depth here, and not sure whether to stick to Snyder’s rule book of directing, or branch out on his own. He ends up doing neither. More than once you may find yourself thinking that this film would perhaps be just as impressive and perhaps more entertaining if in 2D: there is nothing here that really makes the most of the technology at it’s feet bar a few animated blood splats on the camera.

We perhaps would of appreciated, before watching this film, being told that the most gripping anf exciting action sequences are int he first half hour. With the persistent speak of the ‘battle to end all’, and the ‘death and destruction’ that awaits when they finally meet each other at sea, one is left feeling that this movie is perhaps the most anti-climactic of the last few years. The final battle, if we can call it that, is over in minutes (and yet somehow still wrought with painful quips and interactions between Themistokles and Artimisia).

All in all, ’300: Rise Of An Empire’ is dull. Aside from a few enjoyable action sequences, all we really have here is forced dialogue, uncomfortable sex, and something that remotely resembles what was formerly known as ‘Sparta’.

 

Rating: 1.5/5

 

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST DIRECTOR?

One more for the cheap seats in the back! In our last post before the 2014 Academy Awards, we want to take a look at who the favourites are for one of the most prestigious awards in the industry!

 

“Best Director”

 

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David O. Russell – American Hustle: Missing out on this award last year for Silver Linings Playbook has meant that David O. Russell has come back with a vengeance. Scooping nominations for all four Acting categories, as well as technical praise, American Hustle always looked set to dominate this awards season. Upsets in previous awards shows may have stunted their progress, but this is still a heavy contender. Having said this, it seems unlikely that he will take the prize away from Cuaron this year.

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity: Head and shoulders above the other contenders is Alfonso Cuaron. While Sandra Bullock will most likely be edged out by other nominees in the “Best Actress’ category, Cuaron’s management not just of her performance but of the cinematography, sound and editing will ensure he is duly rewarded. The only thing that can really hurt Cuaron here is the early release of the movie: this is one of the oldest nominated films in 2014. Having said this, Cuaron sees to have all bases covered: the DVD release of Gravity is perfectly timed to ensure maximum exposure.

Alexander Payne – Nebraska: Payne employed a black and white setting for his film, ensuring that cheaper cameras did not disturb the quality of the shots. His Oscars campaign has been strong, but under the radar meaning this could be a film that is easily forgotten. Further, performances from veterans Bruce Dern and June Squibb seemed self managed, limiting Payne’s ability to actually stand out as a Director.

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave: If anyone is going to upset Cuaron this year, it will be Steve McQueen. The praise for 12 Years A Slave has been heard the world over, becoming famous for being an uncomfortable masterpiece. McQueen employed techniques such as long shots to really drive home his point, making his presence in the film felt. When watching it, there is no mistaking that this is a McQueen film, which really brands his involvement. He could win this, but it still seems unlikely.

Martin Scorcese – The Wolf Of Wall Street: This could truly be a difficult one for Scorcese to nab. Criticised as glorifying a fraudulent rock and roll lifestyle, many people initially shunned ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. Indeed, the Academy could see voting for Scorcese as encouraging this lifestyle, however the film has really picked up momentum lately and is quickly gaining ground. It seems that both DiCaprio and Scorcese are outsiders to be recognised for this project, but the film itself could prove to be a major upset come ceremony time.

 

It Should Be… Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

It Will Be… Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST ACTOR?

Oscars day is finally here! With just a few hours to go, we wanted to make sure you had our picks for one of the tightest races run this year. Place your bets on anyone, and you won’t be laughed at. This really could go any way! What do you think..?

 

“Best Actor”

 

Christian Bale – American Hustle: Bale was beaten to the Golden Globe by Leonardo DiCaprio, and unfortunately when combining the two globes categories into one general award for Best Actor, Bale doesn’t stand much of a chance. American Hustle really did well in the nominations, being recognised for all four acting categories, as well as nominating David O. Russell for Best Director (and many more nominations), but public rating of American Hustle has dropped dramatically: it just isn’t going to be Bale who cuts it this year.

Bruce Dern – Nebraska: Film critics cannot seem to fault Dern’s performance in ‘Nebraska’, and the film got nods for both Best Director and Best Actress, however the problem here is that Nebraska has not been widely celebrated enough to garner this type of award. When up against performances that have been internationally praised (and are commercially attractive), Dern’s performance, while flawless, falls short. He may possibly be the most worthy winner, but he will not pick up the Oscar this year.

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street: Leo remains strong as the people’s favourite this year. After four Oscar nominations and zero wins, the general public is keen to see DiCaprio finally grasping a statue. However, it may not be that easy. While DiCaprio’s performance as Jordan Belfort provided both comedy and drama without diverging from reality, he is up against some stiff competition. The Wolf Of Wall Street has been questioned for attempting to ‘glorify’ it’s subject matter, but DiCaprio won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a film: Comedy or Musical. This is a tough one to call, but when placed in the same category as McConaughey and Ejifor, it seems DiCaprio would be an upset rather than a frontrunner. 

Chiwetel Ejifor – 12 Years A Slave: Perhaps the clear favourite to win Best Picture, 12 Years A Slave has garnered many nominations and this is just another. Ejifor provided a strong performance in an incredibly strong movie, however we cannot help but feel that Ejifor is nominated here because of the movie itself, not his performance alone. Take away Director Steve McQueen and his supporting actress Lupita Nyong’O, and we doubt Ejifor would be nominated. He might win this year, but it seems unlikely.

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club: Losing 47lbs to play Ron Woodruff in this year’s heavy hitting Dallas Buyers Club surely put’s McConaughey as a favourite to win. If he does, he will join the ranks of actors such as Charlize Theron and Robert DeNiro who have radically changed their appearance for roles that have won them Oscars. Despite the weight loss, McConaughey;s performance was certainly solid enough to win him this honour, and a nod for Jared Leto early in the night would probably secure it.

 

It Should Be… Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

It Will Be… Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

FILM REVIEW: “NON STOP”

“Non Stop”

Written by: John W Richardson, Christopher Roach

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore

Story: US Air Marshall Bill Marks is forced to utilise all his training when he believes the Transatlantic flight he is on is being hijacked.

 
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Looking at Liam Neeson’s career is certainly interesting. After being nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Schindlers List’ in 1994, it seemed that Neeson really was the one to watch and award nominations for ‘Michael Collins’ confirmed it. Fast forward twenty years, and Neeson is an action hero in films like ‘Taken’, and ‘Non Stop’.

Having said this, there couldn’t be a better man for the role of Bill Marks in ‘Non Stop’. Neeson carries this film almost single handedly with an above standard performance considering that this is, to be blunt, just an action movie. Questionable is the only real word for Julianne Moore – while she offers a “fine” performance, her character is for two hours completely inconsequential.

If we remember this fact when watching ‘Non Stop’, then the film is very enjoyable. It is suspenseful enough to keep anyone guessing if they want to play along and moves at an enjoyable pace. Jaume Collet-Saura has done well to deliver what every audience needs: a great way to kill a couple of hours. An array of red herrings will have you changing your mind every five minutes, and perhaps even thinking ‘I thought I was better than this at figuring things out?’.

Newbie screenwriters John W Richardson and Christopher Roach have done an OK job, but it really is OK at best. As much as Neeson tries to salvage this film and it’s seductive concept, gaping holes in the story remain unfilled. What’s more, the final plot twist is unfortunately disappointing. For a film with such a complex prowess and growl from the start, we are left in the last twenty minutes with a teeny meow.

Despite problems with the script, and perhaps the unnecessary presence of Julianne Moore, Non-Stop is a great movie to watch on a rainy Friday night. As long as we do not expect too much, we will be delighted from start to (nearly) finish with an action packed high altitude thriller. 

Rating: 3/5

FILM REVIEW: “12 YEARS A SLAVE”

“12 Years A Slave”

Written by: John Ridley, Solomon Northrup (novel)

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejifor, Lupita Nyong’O, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt

Story: After being kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon Northrup spends twelve years trying to prove he is a free man from New York.

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It seems impossible to know where to start when reviewing one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. ’12 Years A Slave’ has already received over fifteen notable awards and is hot tipped to take home the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar on Sunday night. The film has demanded so much attention, it seems unlikely that anyone would not enjoy it.

But alas, that is the curse of the ‘Best Picture’ nominee: quite often those films who win are not traditionally enjoyed by the wider commercial market.

The performances are certainly worthy of the attention they have been given. Chiwetel Ejifor is remarkable as Solomon Northrup, but is completely overshadowed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. Fassbender rounds out the notable performances. Not to be forgotten, though, is Paul Dano who makes the most of his screentime by offering a truly chilling portrayal as white supremacist Tibeats. Brad Pitt is also in this movie, but is neither relevant or memorable. His complete lack of chemistry even puts a dampener on the scenes in which he appears, somewhat stifling Ejifor in the process.

Having said this, 12 Years A Slave is not a film that is altogether enjoyable to watch. McQueen chooses to give us long shots, periods of silence and one could even feel that McQueen is solely trying to make his audience uncomfortable. Indeed, some of the most graphic scenes almost appear exaggerated or drawn out as if to try and drive his point home. Watching the film is awkward, tense, and a melancholic experience. By the two hour mark, one may even start to lose their sympathy for the Northrup character: he seems more concerned with the injustice of his own capture than with the situation of slavery in the US as a whole. This is more than a race issue, but Northrup distinguishes himself from all others int he film because he was ‘wealthy’. Less than a race issue, we now are faced with Northrup’s views on a class society. It would be interesting to see, as this film is integrated into school curriculum’s, how much this particular issue is developed.

Dealing with such an issue as slavery, something that continues to haunt the hearts and minds of both black and white Americans, there almost needs to be a certain sensitivity with which you present it. Watching 12 Years one may feel that McQueen has forgotten this in favor of trying to shock, startle, and upset his audiences more than any filmmaker has before. One might walk out of the cinema feeling angry at the injustices presented, but the true point of the film is ultimately lost.

While 12 Years A Slave is a good movie, with stunning landscapes and phenomenal performances, it leaves a bitter and sick feeling in the hearts and minds of audiences, making us feel like we were not entertained, but mocked.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

 

FILM REVIEW: “FRUITVALE STATION”

“Fruitvale Station”

 

Written by: Ryan Coogler (Based on true events)

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

Story: A look at the true events of the shooting of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station in the early hours of January 1st 2009.

 

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It is difficult to find a negative review of Fruitvale Station. After premiering at Sundance in 2013, the film was the recipient of three awards nominations, and went on to receive nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, Black Reel Awards, and countless others. A first feature length film by writer and director Ryan Coogler, it soon becomes very clear that Fruitvale Station is an absolute triumph.

Michael B Jordan gives a mature and human performance as Oscar Grant. Through Jordan we are given insight into a man desperate for redemption. He is supported flawlessly by Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer who come together as a family unit to remind all of us of the connection shared between parents and their children. The complexity of these characters is revealed through a terrific screenplay put together by Ryan Coogler

The story and film itself is simple. There isn’t really anything in the way of sub-plots or plot twists, and rightfully so. We are given tiny glimpses of the myriad of problems that are plaguing this 22 year-old father: from his criminal background to infidelities, but these are not the overlying point of the story. What we are given more than anything is this message of hope; a fresh start; and a future.

Audio and cinematography give this film a real “slice of life” feeling as if we are watching a documentary. There is nothing fictional about what we see and nothing is given a ‘Hollywood affect’. The reality of the film really is what drives it home.

Some scenes are uncomfortable, but all builds to the climactic ten minutes at Fruitvale Station which hammers you with complete uncensored truth. Michael B Jordan and Melonie Diaz act perfectly together to charm their way into the hearts and minds of any audience. Seeing the film unfold before you is tense: you may indeed find your whole body is still frozen solid long after the credits roll.

It took a while to recover from the very truth of Fruitvale Station which absolutely punches you in the stomach. While Coogler really does not hesitate to let the audience know what he wants you to feel, sometimes that feeling is inevitable. This is a story of peace and hope, but is only so in showing cruel injustice.

 

Rating: 5/5

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST ACTRESS?

Part four of five in our Oscar Predictions! This is undoubtedly the most competitive category in this year’s awards season. In fact, the only nominee here who has not previously won an Academy Award is Amy Adams. Does this mean she will secure the title for 2014? Here is what we think…

“BEST ACTRESS”

 

Amy Adams- American Hustle: Once seen as a frontrunner in this category, Adams now seems to be the most likely to ‘upset’ the predicted winner. While her performance was solid and perhaps one of the most removed, it is unsure whether the film itself has the gravitas to carry her to the win. American Hustle has scored ten nominations here, but it seems highly unlikely that Adams will win if her co-stars do not.

Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine: The definitive favorite! Many are putting Blanchett at up to 90% likely to win this year for her moving performance in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’. The only thing really that could hurt her chances is if the Academy starts to feel that voting for Blanchett would be voting for Allen (in light of his recent personal troubles), however chances of this happening are slim to none. If we could put our money anywhere, it would be with her.

Sandra Bullock – Gravity: While a great film, Gravity has unfortunately (and perhaps inevitably) been over shadowed by later releases like American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street. Bullocks performance carried most of this two hour film and has been widely praised. Having said this, historically Academy voters have tended to overlook the performances when the film relies heavily on special effects. The film as a whole will most likely be recognized, but not Bullock.

Judi Dench – Philomena: Far and away the nicest and most relatable performance in this year’s Best Actress Category, Dench’s Philomena is a heart warming individual that has been celebrated by critics. There is, though, the issue of Philomena being perhaps too human and far too nice to win the statue, particularly against Blanchett’s mentally unstable Jasmine.

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County: The issue here is that aside from Streep and Julia Roberts, August Osage County has been panned by critics and viewers alike. Many say that the only great thing about this film is the performances from the two women. For this reason alone, we put Streep unfortunately as a total outsider in this category. Despite the Acedemy’s love for her, chances of winning remain very very low.

 

It Should Be.… Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

It Will Be…. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

 

NEXT POST: BEST ACTOR


You can view our reviews of some of these films below!!

PHILOMENA

AMERICAN HUSTLE

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

FILM REVIEW: “NEBRASKA”

“Nebraska”

Written by: Bob Nelson

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

Story: David Grant (Forte) takes his alcoholic, aging father (Dern) on a road trip to Nebraska in order to help him claim his million dollar marketing prize.

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Alexander Payne certainly has a distinctive style which is impossible to ignore. Films like ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Descendants’ garnered critical acclaim and even awards nominations, and with his latest offering, Nebraska, we are truly shown that Payne has no desire to slow down. Partnering with writer Bob Nelson, they have together created a film that has been nominated for five Golden Globes, six Independent Spirit Awards, and two SAG Awards among others. Not bad for Nelson’s third screenplay.

We have seen a few films lately that have attempted something poignant, dramatic and character driven, but all have fallen short by offering something that is ultimately slow and lifeless. This is where Nebraska thrives. The film itself is patient, considered, and beautifully carried by stellar performances from Dern, Forte and Squibb. Nelson has done well to create characters who are mirror images of true Americana and real life in the mid-west.

Dern is in fine form and it can be said that this will probably be the capstone of his career. His performance is soulful and captivating providing both joy and sorrow. He is complimented perfectly by Will Forte. The risk here might be to peg these two performances against each other, however approaching them as part of the same gives us a beautiful symphony. Often when we see a comedic actor take on a more dramatic role it can be almost akin to a dog walking on it’s hind legs, but Forte slips into this role with ease and maturity. Juen Squibb tops off the main cast with comic relief: her approach to dark comedy is touching.

The film is shot in black and white, and curiously there is no real explanation as to why. While the cinematography is stunning, we might get caught up in wondering why Payne made this distinct decision. We can perhaps come to our own conclusion, however, that it is to represent the timelessness of the story of family, sacrifice, and generation.

The soundtrack does seem to add length to this film and you might find yourself slightly restless towards the one hour mark: perhaps a more poignant or relevant score would have made this film perfect. There is no doubt, though, that this movie is very close to it.

It would be very easy to write Nebraska off as a boring, slow blast from the past. However, the more we look at he simplicity of the story and the intricacies of the performances the more we realize that Nebraska is something that can strike a chord with nearly anyone: that is what film-making is about.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR?

Part three of our five-part Oscar Predictions series sees us review some of the best supporting actors of the last year. One of the most talented categories of this year, it will definitely be hard to pick, but we will do our best! Have you got an opinion? Let us know in the comments!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips: A first time actor, Abdi is the first Somali in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. This alone is a pretty impressive feat. With a BAFTA under his belt in this category and especially given the Academy’s tendency to favor the newbie, this puts Abdi in with a good shot. However, seasoned professionals such as Jared Leto and Bradley Cooper have scooped more awards and critics favor this year which could mean losing out this time.

Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club: Famously losing 30 pounds to play an AIDs infected transgender is certainly both risque and committed enough to put Leto as the front-runner for this year. He won the SAG Award and Golden Globe for this role as well as a plethora of other gongs and his performance has been hailed as one of the best of all time. One would be crazy to think that Leto is anything other than the favorite. Having said this, missing out on even a nomination for the BAFTA could damage his momentum.

Bradley Cooper- American Hustle: If there was an Academy Award for tightest curled locks, then Cooper would be a shoe in. His performance in the award-winning American Hustle has garnered quite a bit of attention despite the film being so highly criticized. Nominated last year for Silver Lining’s Playbook, one might think that now is Cooper’s time to win, however in such tight competition it seems unlikely that this unevenly received performance will be the one to nab the statue.

Michael Fassbender - 12 Years A Slave: In a film that has rallied such attention and support, Michael Fassbender has been almost famously overlooked. Praise for Lupita Nyong’O and Chiwetel Ejifor have completely overshadowed Fassbender’s supporting role. This is a great example of a very strong ensemble cast who are separated by the fact that breakout performances make the Hollywood Veterans look disappointing. Further to this, Fassbender has taken on a role that is inherently unlikable and is never redeemed: that itself is a tough stigma to crack.

Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street: Hill became famous in this role after admitting that he worked for a low fee of just $6,000 because of his overwhelming desire to work with Martin Scorsese. Truly committed to the part, Hill tried to convince Producers to let him eat a live goldfish to add more of a sense of realism. Though Hill provided moments of sheer hilarity and added an undeniable chemistry to the Wolf of Wall St cast as a whole, this movie is and always will be Leonardo DiCaprio: If any award is given to WOWS this year it will go to him.

It Should Be… Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

It Will Be… Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

NEXT POST: Best Actress

FILM REVIEW: ‘LONE SURVIVOR’

‘Lone Survivor’

Written by: Peter Berg (Screenplay), Marcus Luttrell (Book)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
The Story: Marcus Luttrell and his team of highly trained Navy SEALs go behind enemy lines to capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shah and find themselves engaged in a dangerous battle.

 

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If there is one thing that sticks in your mind after watching Lone Survivor, it is the haunting feeling that this was a true story. After watching a brutal take down of so many US Soldiers we are left with a certain distinct thought that we are indeed lucky to be alive.

First kudos in this review has to go to Colby Parker Jr, who edited the film in such a ruthless manner we flinch in even the less gruesome scenes. Combined with exquisite sound editing it is one of the standout elements. The pair do, however, make the film difficult to watch for anyone who is squeamish so we must warn that the realism presented here is not for the faint hearted.

Wahlberg gives a solid performance as Marcus Luttrell, and I am sure that it is something that Luttrell himself will be proud of. He is supported with mature offerings from both Kitsch and Hirsch as well as Ben Foster, who make an extremely patriotic foursome. Even though the men make decisions that seem timelessly frustrating it is impossible not to root for them, luckily we can root for them and still end the movie thinking “well, they shouldn’t of done that in the first place”. Despite this we feel the heart in these characters and can develop a real connection particularly to the character of Luttrell. Wahlberg did well in expelling a human element to his performance which continually reminds us that all of this was real.

The only real issue with this film is that it is what it is: a bang-bang, shoot em up, all American war movie. For the two hour running time we can almost taste the fact that Berg is trying to create something different here, but he falls down. What we are left with, at the core of all of this, is one continued gun battle with little to no time to process. As soon as we feel like we are getting time to breathe, the onslaught begins again. Maybe this is Berg trying to put us in the shoes of the soldiers. Maybe it’s just an action movie.

All in all, this is a fantastic movie for action lovers and patriots. If you are squeamish or easy bored by extended battle scenes then skip it.

Rating: 4/5