Tag Archives: Garrett Hedlund

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

I worship at the altar of Ang Lee, and so I was itching to watch his latest project, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a curious title taken directly from the novel upon which the film is based. This was so even though the movie received mixed reviews and could only be watched in dreaded 3D. Lee apparently made it to be seen in not just 3D but also in 4K resolution and at a frame rate of 120 frames per second (smashing the previous record of 48 frames held by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). Where I am, they call it “Futuristic 3D”. Sadly, only a couple of cinemas were even equipped to screen it in that format, and of course those tickets were almost impossible to get.

Anyway, Billy Lynn is Ang Lee’s attempt at a contemplative war movie set largely in the mind of the film’s titular young man (played by newcomer Joe Alwyn, who reminds me of a bigger version of Logan Lerman) as he and his unit embark on the last leg of a “hero tour” across the country that ends in a halftime show at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. The film does not cover a long period of real time — essentially just the day of the football game — but reveals bits and pieces about the characters and what happened in Iraq through a series of flashbacks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s quite a fast-paced film by Ang Lee’s standards, with plenty of subplots to keep the ball rolling — from the unit’s efforts to make some money by leveraging their fame for a film deal being brokered by a quick-talking agent (Chris Tucker), to Billy’s dalliance with a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh), to him fending off attempts by his big sister (played by Kristen Stewart) to get him to get discharged from the military.

Ang Lee has always had a knack for unearthing the depth of human emotions, capturing insights and ironies into human nature, and building authentic time periods really well — and Billy Lynn is no different. On this occasion, he focuses on the absurdity of the war, and moreover the hero worship used to propagandize US war efforts. Accordingly, the film is filled with many outrageous and humorous moments that come across as intentionally surrealistic. It’s almost a shock to see right from the beginning that the soldiers, led by Garrett Hedland, are really just a bunch of immature kids who act like a bunch of immature kids. They are sent off into the horrors of war to kill enemies, scarring them forever, and are then paraded around as national heroes packaged for the government’s agenda.

The cynicism is rife and it can be felt all throughout the movie, though credit to Lee for never fully stuffing it down our throats. Instead, we get a lot of long takes and extreme close-ups that create the sense that Billy is trapped in his own world and in his own mind as the dog and pony show rages on around him. He doesn’t want to go back to Iraq to keep fighting or be seem as a hero, and yet he feels he doesn’t have a choice but to play along. It’s the mix of these internal contradictions that fuel the film’s emotional core. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it sure feel like Lee is purposely juxtaposing the surrealism of the situation with the ultra-realism of the images on the screen.

Joe Alwyn is quite the revelation as Billy Lyn in his film debut, holding his own against veteran actors and never over-acting. He looks young and has this naiveté about him, but also a hidden strength amid the flood of emotions running through his mind. Not many actors would have been able to pull off so many close ups of their face. I was surprised to discover that he’s actually British and already 25 years old.

Kristen Stewart has continued her impressive run of performances after the end of that vampire franchise, reminding people again that she actually is a very good actress. Seriously: On the Road, Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice — it’s time we remove the stigma. Garrett Hedlund is also impressive as the articulate dynamic leader of Bravo Squad, as is Steve Martin as the owner of the Dallas football team and Vin Diesel as a former member of Billy’s unit. Chris Tucker isn’t someone I would have cast for his role but he fits it well. There’s really no complaints about the cast.

My problem with Billy Lynn is that it never ends up being as deep and emotionally involving as I wanted it to be. The film skirts around the themes and issues but is unable to fully grasp them and sink its teeth into them, making the experience a strangely hollow one. I was interested and intrigued, and certainly never bored, though I must admit I yearned to be more engrossed. Some parts of the screenplay also came across as too polished for the characters, and for me it felt a little jarring. And I have no idea why “Futuristic 3D”, or any 3D for that matter, was applied to this film. It’s a war drama with a bunch of close ups. Why? For me, there was no need and it didn’t add anything. To the contrary, forcing the unnecessary technological advancements on audiences probably achieved the opposite effect and took them out of the film instead of pulling them in.

On the whole, Billy Lynn will likely be remembered as a middling entry in Ang Lee’s legendary filmography. While far from a failure, it is by Lee’s high standards not exactly a huge success either. It is still definitely worthy of your time, though its emotional punch and resonance fall short of the lofty bar set by his best films, and the technological innovations of the visuals tend to detract from rather than add to the viewing experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Pan (2015)

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Pan, unfortunately, was a self-fulfilling title. Getting panned with a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes was bad enough, but I’m sure getting panned by audiences in taking in less than US$130 million worldwide on a US$150 million budget (sans marketing costs) hurt even more.

So why was Pan such a critical and commercial flop? Did it deserve to be? Well, for starters, I just don’t think Peter Pan, in the modern superhero and video game era, is really as much of a draw as he used to be. And secondly, the film was a little “meh”. It’s never boring but never quite as magical as it set out to be.

Designed as a prequel to the classic Peter Pan story we know (the one with Captain Hook, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell et all), Pan is about how a young orphan named Peter becomes the boy who could fly, never grows up and all that.

The film actually starts off quite well, creating a sense of time and place as well as a rebellious and adventurous spirit. Newcomer Levi Miller is a solid choice as Peter too, not just looking like Pan we’ve seen in cartoons but also giving off the vibe of a star in the making.

As expected, the scene later shifts to Neverland, where we are introduced to some new and familiar characters such as Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and a young man by the name of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who still has both his hands at this stage.

And so begins a rollicking coming-of-age adventure that moves at a frantic pace, with lots of running around, explosions, flying pirate ships, mermaids and fairy dust. Theoretically, this sounds like the movie should be a lot of fun, but I never got into the story like I thought I would.

Part of it is because the story simply isn’t that interesting and feels eerily familiar to other Neverland films of the past, even though it’s supposed to be different because it’s a prequel. The “chosen one” narrative doesn’t add much freshness either. On the whole, the storytelling from director Joe Wright lacked the intrigue and depth to match all the colourful visuals and busy action.

The other reason the film didn’t work for me was the excessive reliance on special effects. Most big movies these days are stuffed with CGI, but they usually aren’t as overwhelming as they are here. As soo as the movie moves into Neverland, it’s as though everything you see on screen apart from the actors is computer generated. And it’s not that it’s done poorly, it’s just that it dominates to the point of being distracting. I had the same feeling during some of the busier action scenes in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it felt like I got that for nearly 2 hours straight in Pan.

Despite these two major problems, Pan isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be. The performances are solid across the board, and they all seem to understand the kind of vibe the film is trying to achieve. We’re talking disappointing mediocrity, not a colossal stuff-up like say the Fantastic Four reboot (which is also better than its reputation). And let’s face it, no one was really getting super excited by this film or expecting it to be fantastic, so I don’t get all the hate. I suspect the decision by Wright to have people singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in one of the pivotal scenes was so sacrilegious that it skewed the overall perception of the film. I agree it’s a bad choice because it ruins the sense of time, but if you take that out, I bet the vitriol wouldn’t have been as acidic.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Unbroken (2014)

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Angelina Jolie has been tipped as a filmmaker to watch for the future, so I was naturally drawn to her third and latest directorial effort, Unbroken, a biopic about the remarkable life of US Olympian and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini.

To be frank, I was a little disappointed with Unbroken given its subject and celebrated director and screenwriting team (that includes one of my faves, the Coen Brothers). It’s solid, there is no denying that, though I don’t think the film did very much in elevating Zamperini’s inspirational life significantly above what one would have expected simply from reading a basic bio of his experiences. While it depicts Zamperini as an amazing individual, Unbroken fails to distinguish itself from all of the other POW stories.

Jolie begins with a typical in media res approach that introduced Zamperini as a member of a US bomber squad on a mission against the Japanese-occupied Island of Nauru in 1943. As expected, the film reverts to flashback mode shortly after, showing Zamperini’s childhood in California as a troubled kid. From there, Jolie adopts a surprisingly linear, conventional narrative, focusing on Zamperini’s Olympic career before moving onto his role in WWII.

Zamperini is indeed worthy of respect for his astounding resiliency and will to survive, but the film focuses too much on this one aspect of his personality. The narrative is pretty much just him overcoming one hardship after another. He’s like a human version of that annoying Chumbawamba song — he gets knocked down but he gets up again, and again and again and again. Jolie doesn’t do much to mix things up other than emphasise the sadistic nature of his Japanese captors (in particular a one-dimensional corporal known as “Bird” played by Japanese recording artist Miyavi) and play up Zamperini’s glorious moments of triumph.

The problem, I think, is that Jolie was too in awe of her subject, whom she has met and was still alive during filming. As a result, the film became essentially a work of hero worship that never really managed to explore his character like it should have. It’s strange, but even though it is a biopic I still don’t feel like I really got to know Zamperini as a person other than that he he managed to live through a lot of terrible things. I can only imagine how much edgier and how much more depth the film would have had had Jolie been able to maintain a bit of distance from her protagonist.

Failing to meet expectations aside, Unbroken is a well-intentioned effort and a very watchable film. Jolie’s direction is not flashy, though she infuses her images — some handsome, others bleak — with passion and control. Shades of Clint Eastwood, perhaps? And the story is undoubtedly inspirational because its true; the performance of Jack O’Connell as Zamperini is quite good, and the supporting cast featuring the likes of Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney all fill out their respective roles impressively. The film has moments I really liked and found emotionally rewarding, but also others (including the final climax) that were heavy-handed and too obviously geared towards sentimentality. On the whole, I still think it’s a film worth watching because Zamperini’s story is such an extraordinary one, though it’s a shame Jolie could not have wielded her Malificent magic to turn it into something special.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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My love for the Cohen brothers is profound. They may have had some misses over the years, but when they hit the mark the sky’s the limit. Their latest effort, Inside Llewyn Davis, a comedy drama about a struggling folk singer, is not a miss, but it’s not quite a spectacular hit either. It features some of that trademark Cohens quirky humour that I love and plenty of wonderful music, but the story itself is not quite engrossing enough to keep me drawn in for the entire 105-minute running time.

Set in New York in the 1960s, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) is not doing too well. We can tell from the opening scenes that he’s a pretty good signer, but his solo album, which shares the same name as the film, isn’t selling, and he is forced to sleep on the couch of a friend’s family. He’s not a horrible guy but he’s not exactly likable either and often comes across as a bit of a dick who’s not afraid to speak his mind regardless of how offensive his words  may be.

It’s a bit of a meandering film with no real direction, one that follows Davis around for a week as he tries to land gigs and score performances to earn himself some dough. We see him looking after a ginger cat, get hassled by his casual girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan) and taking a road trip with some interesting people. His personal life is in a complete mess and his relationships are all over the place, and his existence is more or less one misadventure after another, and the majority of them are his fault. It’s not exactly a riveting plot, and at times I wondered what the heck it was trying to say, or whether it was trying to say anything at all.

And no, it’s not one of those poignant dramas either. There’s no touching message about life or underlying beauty. It’s just Davis being who he is, for better or worse, battling to survive in a tough industry where artists often find themselves making compromises to make ends meet. I actually prefer that, though I wish there was more of a focus and a proper story to tell.

The strength of the film lies in the offbeat comedy that the Coens are masters of, and much of it comes from the sharp conversations between Davis and the people in his life. There are plenty of witty and dumbfounding lines that elicited chuckles from me throughout the movie, though not many huge belly laughs like the ones I got in Fargo.

I had never heard of Oscar Isaac before but he’s terrific in this — both his acting and his singing. And I had no idea that there were so many big names in supporting roles, from the aforementioned Carey Mulligan to Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Max Casella (Doogie Howser’s buddy!) and Girls‘ Adam Driver. All of them stand out in their own way, especially Mulligan, whom I didn’t think much of before but was thoroughly impressed with here as the straight-shooting and ball-busting ex. She was very funny.

In the end, I don’t really know what to think of Inside Llewyn Davis. I enjoyed this finely crafted film and found it highly amusing, no doubt, and I also surprisingly liked the music a lot. But at the same I was a little disappointed with it and wished I could have liked it more. It’s a strange experience that will probably polarize viewers, but if push comes to shove I would probably still recommend it, especially to people who enjoy a good Coen brothers project.

3.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 1

In order to do a best and worst movie list for 2012, I’ll have to finish watching and reviewing all my 2012 films first. So I’ve decided to commence yet another movie blitz, delivering four reviews at a time. I’ll try and keep ’em short.

Lawless (2012)

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One of my most anticipated movies last year because it’s directed by Aussie John Hillcoat, whose grim and gritty vision gave us The Road and The Proposition. It’s also based on a true story about the three Bondurant brothers who ran a moonshine business during the prohibition era. And it’s got a ridiculous cast featuring Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. The cast is so good I even forgave the fact that Shia LeBeouf is in it.

The brothers, Clarke, Hardy and LeBeouf, run a moonshine business in Virginia in the 1930s. The money is supposedly good, but the work is dangerous because, well, it’s illegal, and there are lawmen wanting a cut and ruthless competitors encroaching on their territory, and vice versa. One of the nastiest fellows is Guy Pearce, a special deputy, who commendably made himself look like a creepy psychopath, albeit a slightly one-dimensional one. Jessica and Mia play lovely ladies who get involved with the lads. Stuff gets nasty and violent; like a good old western, but brutally violent.

The verdict? Lawless is good, but not quite the epic western I had been expecting. It had all the elements — brotherhood, romance, run-ins with the law, a nasty villain, and lots of brutal, unflinching violence, and of course the acting is top notch — but for whatever reason the film felt like it just couldn’t elevate itself to where it wanted to go. I was interested but not captivated, attentive but not enthralled. Was it because it was just following a bunch of rough fellows around without any real sense of purpose? Or was it because the characters were not fully developed?

I blame it on Shia LeDouche.

3.5 stars out of 5

On the Road (2012)

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Super-hyped film from last year. I’d like to think it’s because it’s a long-awaited adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac semi-autobiographical novel of the same name (first published in 1957), and features a star-studded cast including Garrett Hedlund (of Tron: Legacy fame), Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen and Terrence Howard. But let’s face it — On the Road  got most of its publicity because Bella Swan loses her top and executes a double-barreled sex act. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And I admit, I didn’t get the film. Was it a very difficult film to adapt (hence explaining the 50+ year gap between book and movie)? Was it because it was set so many years ago that I couldn’t connect with the characters or their world? Was I trying too hard to find meaning? I don’t know. But all I saw was a confused kid, Sal Paradise (played by Sam Riley) becoming infatuated with his carefree, hedonistic friend, Dean Moriaty (Hedlund), who keeps screwing him over and over because he only cares about himself. They go places, they talk, they get drunk, they dance, they have fun, the fight, they separate, they meet up again. And it just goes on and on for more than two hours.

So unfortunately, On the Road bored me often despite my best intentions to enjoy it. I do have to admit that Hedlund is awesome in this — charming and magnetic — and Kristen Stewart showed, despite Twilight, that she actually can act and is excellent in the right role. But you’ll have to count me as one of those people who didn’t like this movie. Perhaps I need to read the book.

2 stars out of 5

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Romantic comedies are not usually my thing, but Ruby Sparks is supposed to be one of the good ones because of its originality, quirkiness and chemistry between the two leads, real-life couple Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano. Kazan (who is nearly unrecognizable from when she played Leo’s slightly chubby mistress in Revolutionary Road) supposedly wrote the script for Dano, who electrified me in There Will Be Blood.

Dano plays Calvin, an anxious novelist who is struggling to recreate the success he enjoyed with his debut novel years ago. He has a dream about a woman (the titular Ruby Sparks) and decides to write about her as his therapist suggested, and boom, she appears in real life, exactly the way he describes her.

After the initial shock wears out, the writer and his creation enjoy what seems like a normal relationship — until Calvin realizes that even your dream girl can become your worst nightmare. It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale wrapped in a seemingly innocent love story. It’s about free will and loving your idea of a person rather than who the person really is. The deeper the movie goes the darker it becomes, and there are some scenes towards the end that are rather upsetting and heartbreaking.

The writing is excellent, as are the performances, and there is a sweetness about the relationship that feels genuine. But as far as resonance goes, I think the film fell a little short for me, failing to reach the depth of emotions conjured up by one of my favorite romantic comedies in recent years, 500 Days of Summer. Still, this is a delightfully fresh film with some interesting ideas. I found it to be an enjoyable, amusing, frightening and thoughtful experience.

4 stars out of 5

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

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I’ll be blunt. This Disney film about a barren couple wishing for a child and then having that wish miraculously realized is a clunker. While the intentions were good, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is everything I had feared it would be — predictable, saccharine, cringeworthy and overly sentimental.

Aussie Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner want a child but they’ve tried everything and nothing’s happening. One night, they write down all the things they would hope for in an imaginary child, chuck it in a box, and bury it in the yard. Out comes Timothy Green, a boy who fulfills all the qualities they had written down and, as the poster suggests, has leaves growing out of his calves.

At first, all is perfect, but then they start having the same anxieties as all parents do about their children, and they learn a few lessons along the way in typical Disney fashion. My guess is that Timothy Green wanted to be an old-fashioned family film that teaches us some life lessons while tugging our heart strings along the way. It’s a noble goal because such wholesome, non-animated, children-friendly films are rare these days, but unfortunately the film comes across as cliched and lacking in emotional depth. Everything that happens is predictable and even the crafted quarrels and tensions feel forced and heavy-handed. I blame a lot of it on the thin script and the character of Timothy Green (played by CJ Adams), who never endears himself to the audience like he should have.

The end result is a bland, not-very-funny or touching movie that doesn’t really teach us much.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Tron: Legacy (2010)

Tron: Legacy was one 3D movie that I actually wanted to see (and was not too torn about forking out the extra cash to see it).

I’m too young to have seen the original Tron (except maybe on video, though I can’t remember it), but I have older friends who keep raving on about it and say that it’s a timeless classic.  Made in 1982, Tron featured special effects that were revolutionary for its time, and it’s fascinating to see just how far CGI has improved over the last 28 years.

I can’t say the trailer instilled much confidence in the film itself, but I was willing to give it a shot.  It seemed like one of those movies where the visuals were going to be impressive but the story was going to suck.

As it turned out, the visuals were even more incredible than I could have hoped for, and the story probably sucked a little more than I had expected.  Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the overall result — style over substance, for sure, but still a dazzling and (for the most part) exciting spectacle that’s different to anything I’ve seen before.

The film begins in 1989, several years after the first film, where Kevin Flynn (a young Jeff Bridges) is telling his young son Sam about the virtual world he created in Tron.  Twenty years later, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is all grown up and through a series of discoveries finds himself transported to that very world.

And it’s a very very cool world, full of neon lights, flying discs, and amazing bikes (‘Light Cycles’) and planes (Light Jets).  A gamer’s wet dream.

Interestingly, even though Tron:Legacy is only released in 3D, the parts of the film set in the ‘real world’ are intentionally shot in 2D so as to contrast the awesomeness of the virtual world.  You will be hard pressed to find a more vocal critic of 3D films than me, but I didn’t mind it so much here.  At least it was a clever idea, and at least it enhanced the special effects.

Speaking of special effects, Tron: Legacy may not have been as revolutionary as its predecessor, but it was still a visual feast that made my eyeballs dance in awe.  However, the young version of Jeff Bridges didn’t feel quite right to me — perhaps it was his Beowulf-like eyeballs or the way his mouth moved, but it felt less authentic than the de-ageing technology I saw in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button from two years ago.

As for the story…well…after a cracker of a start, as soon as the action died down it became rather boring and muddled.  A lot of techno talk that didn’t make much sense to me, and still doesn’t.  Not that it mattered.

3.5 stars out of 5