Tag Archives: Will Poulter

The Revenant (2015)

revenant-leo

I wasn’t as big of a fan of Birdman, last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, as most other people, as sublime an example of filmmaking as it is. Nor was I rooting for its director, Alejandro G Iñárritu, to win Best Director, not because he wasn’t deserving, but because I was rooting for Boyhood‘s Richard Linklater. This year, however, with just a couple of weeks before the Oscars, I’m seriously leaning towards rooting for both the director and his movie, The Revenant, without a doubt one of the most remarkably executed, jaw-droppingly beautiful and suffocatingly intense films of the year.

The film is loosely based on the story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was among a group of military hunters attacked by Native Americans in the wilderness. There is another major event that happens after this which I’m not going to share for the sake of those who haven’t seen the trailer. Yes, it’s in the trailer, but I was one of those people who saw the trailer after the movie and thought it gave away too much, spoiling a lot of big plot points.

Anyway, The Revenant is as harrowing of a movie experience as you can imagine. Centred around themes of survival, revenge and redemption, the film is highlighted by its brutal, visceral violence, juxtaposed against the harsh and unforgiving, but undeniably majestic beauty of the Lousiana Purchase landscape.

I was blown away. Part of it is Iñárritu’s spectacular visual style, filled with long takes and sweeping, constantly moving shots. The scenes are so fluid, so perfectly choreographed, the camera angles so unique — it’s the type of thing I thought was only possible in animation or video games, never in live-action feature films. I’m sure there are plenty of special effects, but it’s all done so seamlessly that the visual experience comes across as terrifyingly real. With the possible exception of his friend and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, I don’t think anyone else could have done it with as much flair as Iñárritu.

Despite a 156-minute running time, which may be too long for some, there is never a dull moment. The film is always moving along, the story always progressing. As a fetishist for watching personal hardships in the wild (one of my favourite movies is Into the Wild, and I also really liked Reese Witherspoon’s Wild from a year ago), I loved the torturous solitary survival scenes. I don’t exactly know why — maybe it’s the man vs wild dynamic or the exhilaration from seeing the ultimate will to survive, or perhaps I just have problems.

The quieter moments have the effect of amping up the several major action set pieces in the film, which are among the most amazing I’ve seen this year alongside Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything is presumably choreographed but looks and feels raw and realistic, making the experience so much more tense than the modern CGI-dominated superhero action we’re accustomed to these days.

I read about the horror stories in making this film, how nearly everything was shot in natural light, an astounding feat in itself. I’m sure it was as freezing as it looked on screen, and Leo, who just picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actor, absolutely deserves his first Oscar for his portrayal of Glass. With not much dialogue to deliver, it’s a much more subtle performance than what he delivered in The Wolf of Wall Street, but boy did he go through hell to get the job done. His dedication and professionalism notwithstanding the success he has already achieved is impressive.

Likewise, kudos to the rest of the super cast, which includes Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson. Hardy, in particular, gives a marvellous performance that’s much more nuanced than it would have been in lesser hands, and I’m pretty certain an Oscar nomination is heading his way (though I’d still say Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies is the favourite.

If there is something to nitpick, it would probably be that it is sometimes a little difficult to decipher what some of the characters are saying because of the way they spoke back then, coupled with the mumbling and the twang. That said, this is the type of film you can watch and figure out without understanding a single word of the dialogue.

When all the elements are put together, it’s hard for me to deny that The Revenant is anything but a modern masterpiece. The combination of Iñárritu’s visual style, strong script and masterful pacing, combined with the simple yet intense plot and fabulous performances, results in a unique journey that ranks right at the top of my 2015 cinematic experiences.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

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Like most people who had never heard of the book series, I was hugely sceptical about The Maze Runner, which looked suspiciously like yet another young adult sci-fi action flick trying to cash in on the success of The Hunger Games. Even the film’s very first scene, which I won’t spoil, was rather Hunger Game-sy. But I’m going to defend The Maze Runner against a lot of the unwarranted criticism it has received because it’s actually — despite its rather minuscule budget of $34 million — a very intriguing and original story with a good dose of suspense and action. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but in terms of quality and the overall experience it delivers, The Maze Runner deserves to be in the upper tier of films in the same genre along with The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

The story follows the adventures of an initially unnamed 16-year-old boy (Dylan O’Brien), who is delivered into a large open space enclosed by a giant mechanical maze. With no memory of who he is or where he is from, the boy is forced to co-exist with a bunch of other boys of all ages, races and sizes, who all appear to have been put through the same experience. It’s a community where everyone has their own duties and roles, and one of the roles is a Maze Runner, someone who spends most of their day in the maze trying to map it and find a way out before the giant metal doors close for the night, ensuring certain death for anyone who fails to return in time.

Much of the film’s appeal comes from the group trying to solve the mysteries of who they are, why the have been put in this bizarre maze and how they can possibly escape it, and of course, what lies on the other side if they do. Like any community, there are conflicting personalities and desires, and a significant portion of the film’s near-perfect 113-minute running time is spent on the protagonist trying to find his place among his peers and the group’s leaders.

The Maze Runner is part Hunger Games, part Lord of the Flies and part Labyrinth, with a big dash of that underrated 1997 Canadian sci-fi horror flick Cube, but I never got the feeling watching the film that it was simply a mishmash of the above. Director Wes Ball, probably best known as a visual effects and graphics artist, does an enviable job of keeping the focus on the character development and playing up the intrigue of the maze by not spending too much unnecessary time in there. The effect is that when the characters are finally in there and running for their lives, the action is that much more riveting and exciting.

The film is not free from usual problems such as plot holes, occasional contrivances and unexplored opportunities, and the ending is largely unsatisfactory because answers are scarce (it is, after all, the first film of a series), though on the whole I had a great time with The Maze Runner. I found the maze to be an interesting and thought-provoking concept, and the action sequences were executed with ample exhilaration. The performances from the young and largely unknown cast was also unexpectedly strong. Dylan O’Brien I knew vaguely from TV’s Teen Wolf , Will Poulter I recognised from the Narnia movies and We’re The Millers, and of course Thomas Sangster is from Game of Thrones, but I was not familiar with most of the other kids (like Aml Ameen, Kee Hong Li, Blake Cooper and Kaya Scodelario), all of whom were solid.

Which is why I take issue with some of the scathing reviews from critics, most notably from Andrew Parker, who called The Maze Runner “one of the worst films I have ever had the immense displeasure of ever sitting through.” Now, Parker is entirely entitled to his own opinion, but the vitriol he spewed out against an adaptation that was technically sound and with holes no worse than most films of its kind was clearly hyperbolic and likely predetermined. No wonder Will Poulter found it difficult to hold back in starting a public feud with Parker on Twitter over the review.

Let’s face it, The Maze Runner probably wouldn’t have been made without the success of films like The Hunger Games, but it’s not fair to single it out for being derivative and opportunistic because just about every film made these days is guilty of that in some respect. The book by James Dashner on which the film was based was actually written before Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games (though published a little later). In the hierarchy of teen flicks released in recent years, I’d place The Maze Runner alongside the likes of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. It might not come with the same fanfare as Twilight, but it’s definitely above the second-tier adaptation franchises such as Percy Jackson, Vampire Academy, His Dark Materials (Golden Compass), the Tomorrow series (Tomorrow, When the War Began), and Red Dawn (which should really be third-tier).  I was pleasantly surprised by The Maze Runner and I’ll be looking forward to the sequel, set to be released in September next year.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: We’re the Millers (2013)

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We’re the Millers is another one of those crude comedies where the idea is way way way better than the actual film itself.

Jason Sudeikis (from Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass) is a low-level drug dealer who gets into some strife and accepts a job from Ed Helms (of The Hangover fame) to be a drug mule importing marijuana in from Mexico. To limit suspicion from border authorities, he enlists the help of a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), the local runaway (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia) and the neighbourhood geek (Will Poulter, whom you might remember from the second Narnia film) to disguise themselves as one big happy family on vacation.

It’s a premise that holds a lot of potential, but We’re the Millers squanders most of the opportunities with uninspiring jokes and bland storytelling. Instead of witty, edgy stuff, what we ended up with was a lot of sex and genitalia/body part-based jokes telegraphed from a mile away. Even if you haven’t already seen them in the trailers, many of the laughs are so obvious you can sense exactly when they are starting to set it up and can predict when and how they will deliver it.

Granted, there are some decent moments, mostly involving the geek kid and some random moments of improv (as seen in the outtakes at the end), but most of the jokes in this film elicited barely a chuckle from me. I smiled from time to time but did not laugh out loud once. Occasionally amusing but not particularly funny is how I would describe it.

The narrative progression was also disappointing because it was so cookie-cutter. We have the set-up: four people from different walks of life who are thrown together for a common purpose. We are told they don’t get along, but we know they inevitably will by the end, with a few life lessons about selflessness and doing the right thing learned along the way. Nothing unexpected, nothing surprising.

I’m pretty indifferent about him as an actor, but I think Sudeikis was a good choice to play the immature guy who refuses to grow up. He had a bit of that Ben Affleck-in-Argo floppy hair going on at the beginning but settled well into the goofy husband role as soon as he got that stiff haircut. On the other hand, I wasn’t so hot on the selection of Ed Helms to play his drug lord, as small of a role as it was, because to be honest I’ve always got these two guys confused either each other.

Ed Helms, Jason Sudeikis

My lack of passion for Jennifer Aniston as an actress is well documented, and her performance in this film did nothing to persuade me to change my mind. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her (and she seems like a wonderful person by all accounts), but I just don’t like…whatever it is about her I don’t like. She’s really the only character with any brains in the movie, but still, I didn’t like it. And I have no idea why she’s trying so hard to shed her good girl image by playing a stripper (who gets an opportunity to do her thing) not long after she did the whole sexual deviant thing in Horrible Bosses. It’s her prerogative, but it doesn’t feel authentic to me.

Emma Roberts is pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way, but she’s given the least to do out of all four main characters. She’s your typical naive runaway who likes the wrong guys and likes to swear. That’s it. A lot more effort is put into Will Poulter’s character, and he clearly steals the show as the affable geeky virgin, though even he feels kinda cliched. That said, he is still by far the best thing in the movie.

So as you may have gathered, I’m not overly enthused about We’re the Millers. It’s less irritating and offensive than films like The Hangover and Horrible Bosses — where everything is constantly loud and obnoxious — but it’s also a lot more bland. I didn’t like it and I didn’t hate it. All I can say is that I guess there are far worse ways to spend your time if you have 110 minutes to spare.

2.5 stars out of 

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

My long-awaited post(s) on the best and worst movies of 2010 is coming soon, but before I can write it, I need to watch as many notable 2010 films as I can (good and bad).

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (let’s just called it Dawn Treader for short) is the third film in the franchise based on the classic CS Lewis books, and it’s not as horrible as some have made it out to be.  It’s just that compared to that other children’s film juggernaught (Harry Potter), the Narnia franchise pales in comparison in just about every category.

As far as stories go, there’s nothing particularly special about this one.  The two younger Pevensie kids, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are back (with their older siblings relegated to cameos), as well as Prince (now King) Caspian from the previous film (Ben Barnes).  The only notable addition is the (pardon me) butt ugly and extremely annoying cousin of the children, Eustace (played pretty well by Will Poulter).

For some reason, the three kids are once again transported to the magical world of Narnia, aboard Caspian’s ship, the Dawn Treader.  There are villains and there are missing people, desert islands, dragons, sea monsters and glowing swords (all done with wonderful special effects) — and of course, that God-like lion, Aslan — but despite all these things, Dawn Treader never felt like it really got off the ground.  It’s okay — not exactly boring but the excitement factor isn’t particularly high either.  It’s not fair to say that this film is derivative or unoriginal (considering it is based on a book written in 1950), but it did feel like I had seen it all before.

It’s not an awful effort, as I did enjoy parts of it, but to me, the film was not compelling enough for adults and not engaging enough for children.  And at 113 minutes, it’s too long for both.  It’s a shame because I think Narnia a terrific franchise and one that translates to film rather well.  The Christians will probably enjoy it more than the secular folk, for Dawn Treader is much more obviously ‘Biblical’ than the two prior films in the series.

I’d say it was better than Prince Capsian, but on whole, Dawn Treader was only a sliver above average.

3 stars out of 5