Tag Archives: Daniel Bruhl

Burnt (2015)

burnt

I wasn’t all that interested in seeing Burnt, a film about a good-looking but emotionally damaged chef played by Bradley Cooper. And as it turns out, I probably should have stayed away, because I sure got burnt by it.

At least it starts off well. We find out that Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a former hotshot chef in Paris, is returning from some kind of self-imposed exile and is ready to take over the London culinary scene by storm. And he has a clear goal in mind: his third Michelin star.

The big names flash up during the opening credits: Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson. It was looking really promising, and I foolishly got my hopes up.

Burnt does have some positives. The stars do deliver in terms of performances, with Cooper and Miller in particular exhibiting enough thespian skills to make us believe that they are top-class chefs (that said, Bruhl, who I loved in Drive, was quite hard to understand because of his fast-talking/accent). The dramatic kitchen scenes can be intense, and people who like watching those cooking shows with screaming head chefs will appreciate all the swearing and humiliation. And of course there’s the food porn. There wasn’t an overemphasis on the culinary delights, but they sure did look very delicate and delicious. That said, I don’t think director John Wells (August: Osage County) did enough to sell the food — other food-themed films like The Hundred-Foot Journey and Chef did a better job of making me salivate.

The fundamental problem with Burnt is that Cooper’s character, Adam Jones, is a dickhead. And not just a little one. A massively conceited, bitter, douchey, self-important, vile, and unrepentant dickhead who doesn’t deserve our sympathy or empathy. I get that they’re trying to make him unappealing so that he can be redeemed — that’s blatantly obvious from the start — but his antics just build up so much animosity that it makes it impossible to care or root for the character. By the time he’s ready to be likable it’s already far too late.

Jones isn’t the only one, either. In fact, it’s hard to find one character you can truly root for in the movie. Some of them are okay, I suppose, but no one who can really make you care enough to develop a genuine emotional connection to the story. Maybe you need to have worked in that type of high-stress environment to understand how these people think and function, but I grew frustrated from not giving a darn about their personal predicaments.

I got the feel when watching this film that it was trying to be a hard-hitting, edgy, compelling drama, though when you strip away all the big names, yelling and the cooking it’s really just a cliched redemption story. I can’t go into specifics without revealing spoilers, but it’s not hard to guess how certain plot points are played out.

On the whole, Burnt was a disappointment. To sum up the experience with food puns (naturally) — despite the pretty presentation and fancy names, Burnt was an overcooked effort with too much bitterness, ultimately leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Boom.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

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I finally got around to watching The Fifth Estate, the dramatization of the whole Wikileaks saga starring the marvellous Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange. The film is directed by Bill Condon, probably best known for the final two instalments of the Twilight Saga, and like those films, it was released to mixed reviews.

The Fifth Estate is more or less a more “grown up” attempt to replicate the tension and drama of The Social Network (you know, the one about the founding of Facebook). Like Mark Zuckerberg, Aussie Julian Assange is a brilliant but douchey loner who invents something that will change the world. It brings him fame (though in this case not fortune) and the notoriety he craves, but his growing ego also leads to a falling out with a close friend, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (the Eduardo Saverin of this story). The other major difference to The Social Network is that the stakes are much higher — it’s about lives rather than just money.

The film is based on Domscheit-Berg’s side of the story, and Assange publicly bashed the film without having seen it (he said he read the screenplay), calling it a “serious propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the integrity of its staff” and a  “lie built upon a lie.” He even implored Cumberbatch not to take the role, though he apparently tried to get his ghostwriter Andrew O’Hagan to split the fee for the latter to act as a consultant on the film. None of this is surprising if the version of Assange depicted in the film is anything close to the real deal — ie, an megalomaniac, a weirdo and a dickhead.

Some critics such as Mark Kermode said they found the handling of the film “too even-handed,” though I felt it was just right. Wikileaks is depicted as both a positive and a negative, which it is, but also as a dangerous tool that can cause real risk to innocent lives if put in reckless hands. As for the depiction of Assange, he is shown as a flawed character, to put it nicely. I don’t think they were trying to hold back on what they thought of him.

The performances are what really drive the film. Cumberbatch doesn’t look much like Assange, even with the white hair, but he nailed the voice and the Aussie accent. Assange said it was “grating” to hear someone who isn’t Australian do an Australian accent and an impersonation of his voice, but if that’s the case then he must find it grating listening to himself, because Assange was close to perfection.

I became a fan of Daniel Bruhl after seeing him in the underrated Rush, and he was also very good here as Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Cumberbatch outshone him because he is Assange, but Bruhl held his own as protagonist audiences can relate to. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Anthony Mackie, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney and David Thewlis as Nick Davies from The Guardian,  was also solid.

Given that most of the stuff in the story happens on computers, which is very boring, The Fifth Estate tries to spice things up by building a frenetic pace through tense chatrooms, busy newsrooms and a sense of paranoia from being spied on or even chased by authorities. It’s well-intentioned, but unlike The Social Network, it doesn’t have Aaron Sorkin penning the script and thus misses a certain snappiness to the drama and in particular the dialogue. That’s perhaps its biggest downfall, though I still think it’s a worthwhile film to watch if you have an interest in Wikileaks and/or the truth vs security debate.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Rush (2013)

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I don’t get or know anything about Formula One or car racing, or even cars for that matter – which is why I am surprised to say that Rush, based on the real life rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, is one of my favourite movies of 2013.

This sports biopic follows the careers of the British prodigy Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and the Austrian genius Lauda (played by Daniel Bruhl from the time they were lowly Formula Three drivers until their meteoric rises to the F1 circuit, with the majority of the focus placed on their epic 1976 season.

I always say know as little about the plot as possible when seeing a movie, and in this case I would implore you to avoid all spoilers. Even though it is a true story (one which Lauda says is very accurate), Rush is full of dramatic turns (no pun intended), and knowing as little as possible will significantly improve the experience. I’m still stunned that some of the things in this film actually happened in real life.

Intentionally filmed by director Ron Howard with a gritty 70s feel, Rush offers intense racing sequences that don’t feel like they’ve been aided by special effects at all. I used to always scoff at F1 racing whenever it came up on TV because to me it was just a bunch of people driving cars around in circles. The presence of a live crowd was even more baffling considering the cars speed by so fast that you can’t really see anything, not to mention that it can be pretty dangerous too. But Rush has given me an appreciation for racing and an understanding of how much skill, discipline and risk-taking is involved at the top of the sport.

In some ways, the film’s drama away from the racing is even more thrilling. Hunt and Lauda are polar opposites who push each other to the limit. Each live by their own rules – Hunt is the wild, arrogant and charismatic playboy who thrives on natural talent and instincts, while Lauda is the disciplined, mechanical and calculating engineer who is afraid to let emotion affect his driving. There is a mutual dislike but also a deep respect and complicated sense of envy between the two, and their clash of personalities is what makes the movie so compelling from start to finish.

I’ve always considered Chris Hemsworth an average actor at best, but in Rush he is absolutely magnetic – it’s by far the best performance of his career. Daniel Burhl (who has received a Golden Globe nomination) is more understated and the lesser known name, but he is in every way Hemsworth’s equal, both in terms of screen time and performance. Both characters, despite their obvious flaws, are likable due to the crafty script and the performances, and because of that, you feel like you are rooting for both them despite the fact that there can only be one winner.

In all, Rush is my surprise hit of the year, and even without the surprise it’s still one of the best movies of the 2013.

4.5 stars out of 5