Tag Archives: Miles Teller

Movie Review: Insurgent (2015)

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Let’s just be upfront about this. The Divergent series is to the Hunger Games what Percy Jackson is to Harry Potter. It’ll always be the less attractive, less appealing, shittier cousin.

It might be unfair to Shailene Woodley, who might be every bit as capable as Jennifer Lawrence in playing a strong, albeit unwilling action hero, though it remains unavoidable that the two franchises will always be compared to each other.

And accordingly, Insurgent compares unfavourably to Catching Fire as the second instalment of a post-apocalyptic teen franchise. It’s not badly made, but if you didn’t enjoy the first film all that much — put me in that category — then it’s unlikely this one will change your mind about the series.

One thing the film does well is in reminding us of the story, or explaining it to newcomers, using a short voiceover that more or less summarises the premise — ie, the future world, following an extinction event of sorts, splits humans into specific groups because it helps maintain peace. Everyone is put into either Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), or Erudite (the intelligent), or they are Factionless and ostracised from the community.

Woodley plays Tris, a teenage girl who happens to be Divergent, meaning she has elements of multiple groups and therefore can’t be squeezed into any. Big deal, right? Well apparently, yes, because evildoers led by Kate Winslet want to hunt her down and kill her.

All this is explained efficiently at the beginning so there’s not a lot of confusion. From there, Tris, her loverboy (Theo James), brother (Ansel Elgort, incidentally her loverboy from The Fault in Our Stars and Mr Fantastic (Miles Teller) find themselves on the run and scheming to defeat Winslet and her goons.

They meet people like Octavia Spencer and discover that James’s mother is Naomi Watts, but the whole focus of the film is about a secret box that came out of nowhere but is supposed to hold some really important info. And guess who is the only person that can open it? Yeah, you guessed it. There’s more of those virtual reality trials they had from the first film, and you can pretty much guess what happens in the end.

The problem I had with Divergent was that I couldn’t buy the concept of a society where everyone can be categorised by a single trait. With Insurgent, it’s more about not buying this whole “box” business. It seems like something conjured up to help create a point for the story to continue, and it makes the narrative predictable and cliched.

I don’t want to make it sound like Insurgent is a bad movie, because it’s not. It’s decently made with enough passion and quality performances from quality actors. But for me it was just such a “meh”‘experience. I was only mildly interested and entertained, and frankly, it just didn’t do much for me at all. I have doubts the next part in the series, Allegiant, annoyingly split into two parts as well, will be able to change that.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

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So I ignored the warnings and went to see the new Fantastic Four reboot. I knew the odds weren’t good — critics were shut out of preview screenings and there were rumblings of a mess behind the scenes with director Josh Trank, the promising filmmaker who brought us Chronicle, one of the few watchable found footage films in history. Early reviews have been borderline terrifying.

Still, I wanted to decide for myself. I think Trank is a good director with a distinct visual flair and approach to characters, and I loved the casting of fresh, up-and-coming names such as Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B Jordan and Jamie Bell. The trailers looked fantastic too, so I figured things couldn’t be that horrible.

And honestly, it’s not THAT bad. Certainly not 9% Rotten Tomatoes bad. For starters, it’s very different to the 2005 film, the only things from which I remember were the campiness and Jessica Alba’s abysmal blonde dye job. So that’s a good thing. Secondly, the young performers are all terrific dramatic actors who provide solid efforts across the board. Thirdly, Trank maintains much of his unique visual style. It’s a little dark, a little gritty, and the effects have an impressive realism to them when they probably would be cartoonish in lesser hands.

That said, I can’t deny that Fantastic Four is a savage mess. The tone, the pacing and the script are all over the place. Something must have gone very wrong during the filming and editing process because there was so much potential. If only the pieces could have been put together in the right way the film could have been a smash.

The story starts off with plenty of intrigue. A fifth grade genius, Reed Richards (who grows up to be Miles Teller), designs a teleportation device which he powers up with the aide of a classmate, Ben Grimm (who grows up to be Jamie Bell). Seven years later, their work is discovered by Franklin Storm (Reg E Cathey), who hires Richards to work alongside his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and the pioneer of the project, Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Franklin’s troubled biological son Johnny (Michael B Jordan) also gets involved.

As you probably already know, the experiment leads them to develop an assortment of superpowers. The problem is that at least half the film is about getting to this point, and by the time they get there there’s not much time for much else. Consequently, the film feels like the extended pilot of a TV series where everything is about setting the stage for the future. It’s an origins film that spends all its time on the origin part and doesn’t give our new heroes enough time to bond and form a real team. Certain arcs and character development sequences take far too long, while areas you would have thought are important end up being rushed or skipped over entirely. In a typical film, characters are supposed to grow from point A to point B; this film spends most of its time stuck at A and teleports to B at the very end.

It felt like they had to fit a 3-hour movie in 2 hours but couldn’t decide or agree on which bits to emphasise and which bits to cut. It’s as though everyone involved in the project expected there to be more sequels and thought it was therefore okay to deliver an incomplete first film.

The signals of messiness are sprinkled throughout the movie. It starts off with a cutesy, innocent vibe infused with some light humour, but the lengthy middle section is dead serious and flat — and worst of all, boring. The best and most compelling part of the film is when they travel via the machine and seeing their transformations for the first time. It’s basically a horror film at this point — and a very good one too — but it fits uncomfortably into the overall picture. The final climax reverts to more typical action hero cliches, which it inevitably had to do, though it’s clunkily thrown together and basically discards the tensions between the characters built up throughout the film. The “hero” speeches and dialogue as the film nears the finish line also comes across as forced and arbitrary.

The script struggles as well. There are aspects that fail the logic test, and the characters’ motivations don’t always make sense. The result is a story that tries to be more grounded than the film it is rebooting but ends up lacking credibility.

It’s unfortunate that Fantastic Four turned out the way it did because there was so much potential. While it will ultimately be remembered as a failure, the film still had a few solid moments and some flashes of brilliance that sadly remind us of what it could have been.

Some day we might hear what really happened behind the scenes. At the moment a sequel is scheduled for a June 2017 release, but it remains to be seen whether they will really go ahead with it given the poor reviews and lower-than-projected earnings. I will no doubt be in the minority, but I still want to see it made. Fantastic Four was not so bad that it can’t be redeemed by a great sequel.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: Trank, who was painted as a tyrant by some reports, is either shifting the blame or genuinely had his hands tied by his bosses. In response to the negative feedback, Trank posted and hen quickly deleted this message on Twitter: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)

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So everybody’s raving on about this little movie called Whiplash that is tearing up the critics circle and earned a Best Picture nod for the Oscars later this month. Naturally, I had to check it out, and now I’m singing its praises like everyone else.

Whiplash is a testament to what a bold idea, a strong script and capable actors can deliver notwithstanding a shoestring budget of just US$3.3 million. To be honest I don’t think this is the type of movie I would have considered watching had it not received so much hype. I don’t know about you, but the idea of a drama about a student jazz drummer and his volatile teacher doesn’t exactly rock my boat. And yet, thanks to positive word of mouth, Whiplash has become one of my dark horse favourites of the year.

The story centers on 19-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller), a seemingly regular teenager except for his obsessive ambition to be the best drummer in the world. Andrew attends New York’s prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, and a step in reaching his goal is to get onto the band of renowned conductor Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a horrifying human being who loves driving his students not just to the edge, but flying right over the cliff Thelma-and-Louise style.

It may sound like a “meh” premise, but Whiplash is no doubt one of the most explosive and intense movies of the year. Apart from the tension from the constant thumping of the drums, my heart pounded every time Fletcher was on screen and about to rip into one his students. The fear and anxiety they felt was very terrifying, but also very human. I was on the edge of my seat from the very first scene, and I don’t even care much for drumming. I guess never knew music schools and jazz bands could be so cutthroat, and that the blood, sweat and tears could be — in this case — so real.

Full credit to writer and director Damien Chazelle in his sophomore effort for making every scene count. It’s one of those films where you don’t really know where it’s heading, and yet you don’t care because you’re so caught up in the moment. Some of the characters may seem like caricatures at first, but they reveal more and more of themselves — most of which are negative character traits — as the film progresses.

One of my favourite scenes from the entire movie was Andrew sitting at the dinner table with his family, who clearly think more of sporting achievements than musical ones. It’s a brilliantly constructed scene with beautiful dialogue, and despite it being one of the only scenes involving Andrew’s family, it was all the audience needed to know about them and Andrew’s simmering ego below an apparently timid surface.

Most of you have probably seen JK Simmons do his curt, straight-faced deliveries before, though he’s never been this good before. The viciousness he pours into Fletcher cuts right to the bone, and yet there is a “I’m doing this for your own good” vibe that underlies his nuanced performance. The Best Supporting Actor Oscar is well deserved.

The real revelation of the film is Miles Teller, who absolutely got snubbed by the Oscar committee for his portrayal of Andrew, whose single-minded obsession drives the soul of the narrative. Teller first grabbed my attention in Rabbit Hole, and despite not having movie-star looks he appears to be headed for big things by snagging the role of Mr Fantastic in the new Fantastic 4 remake (and judging from the teaser trailer, it’s gonna be gooooood).

Whiplash also makes some interesting observations about talent, hard work and the type of teaching methods employed by Fletcher. We want our kids to aim for clear goals in life, but at what point does obsession with success become self-destructive? And is pushing students beyond their limits so they can be truly great worth the cost? How many people have to be demoralized and destroyed so that one can rise up above the rest? Whiplash doesn’t answer these questions, but it certainly will make you think about them.

At 109 minutes, it is arguable that Whiplash‘s running time is a little long for a film of its kind, though much of that could be blamed on a crazy climax some might think is over the top. Personally, I didn’t mind it because the satisfaction from the pay-off is well worth the wait.

This is an unusual film with an allure that is difficult to grasp. The experience speaks for itself, and you don’t have to love music or drumming to be riveted by its brilliance.

4.5 stars out of 5