Killing Them Softly Review

Preface

Killing Them Softly has been on my list of films to watch. I always see it on sale but never actually buy it, saying I’ll get it next time. But eventually, I went and got it after hearing great things about it, so here’s my review.

Review

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film follows mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) as he is brought into solve the economic crisis that has hit the mob world.

While the original novel is set during the mid 1970s, Killing Them Softly updates the story to late 2008, using the banking crisis and the election of Barack Obama to parallel the main story in the film. This dual narrative is played throughout radio and televisions in the world, almost giving a subtle commentary that the mobsters and racketeers at the bottom of the ladder are just as sleazy as the bankers at the top.

Despite being tied to the banking crisis, the story almost feels timeless, with the clothing styles of the characters, the cars they drive and especially with the choice of music that plays throughout the film. The music flits between decades with songs like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around“, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Love Letters” by Kitty Lester, making the film a mash up of the 2000s and of the early 50s and 60s. This reuse of music ties in with how the central story is about characters doing the same things over and over again, it’s a clever way to tell us, the audience, that this is just a routine occurrence and it’s a normal day for the characters on screen.

Brad Pitt is at the top of his game as hitman Jackie Cogan, a man who observes everything, doesn’t get involved and is somehow oddly delicate about his job of murdering people. As he remarks to Richard Jenkins during the film, when tasked with killing someone, he likes to “kill them softly.” James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are the most fascinating characters, who are so high on their own machismo and place with the male-dominated world of the mafia that when they are in turmoil they start crying and wailing, turning into scared little children. Richard Jenkins plays the role he has done in a million other films, as the older man who has stuck around for longer than he should have, but his interactions with Brad Pitt in the film make up for the rather stereotypical casting.

I counted only four women in the film (two of which aren’t on screen, and the other two aren’t on it for less than a few seconds), all of whom are described or characterised by sex or their gender. It’s a film that focuses on the male characters and how they talk to each other and how they describe the women around them, showing that these men (unlike the more romanticised gangsters of years before) should not be looked up to and are rotten to the core. They are despicable, idiotic and diseased, but that makes the film even more enjoyable to watch.

For once, I don’t have to say the film was either too long or too short. Much of my criticism with films nowadays is that directors don’t know how to pace their films, leaving it over-bloated or insubstantial. Killing Them Softly only clocks in at around 90 minutes and it’s the perfect length for the film. Every scene feels like it’s been thought out methodically and has an actual reason for belonging in the film, whether it adds a little bit of back-story to a character or adds more to the puzzle of the story. The last part of dialogue between Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins is an excellent way to end the film by tying in the banking crisis storyline without becoming preachy, and the last line by Brad Pitt is like a bullet in the way in punches to the heart of his character and his motivation.

In conclusion, Killing Them Softly feels like it takes some of the most overused genre conventions of the gangster film but creates a completely different take on them. If you can stand the hateful characters, the explosive and bloody violence and the ever present swearing, you’ll have a blast.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest gangster films ever created.

Everest Review

We’ve had some biopic films this year. We’ve had some disaster films this year. Now, Baltasar Kormakur, director of Cotraband and 2 Guns (the latter being a guilty pleasure of mine) has brought together both genres, for a disaster biopic, Everest.

Everest stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Jake Gyllenhaal and is directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Based on the real life 1996 Mount Everest climbing disaster, the film follows professional climbers Rob Hall (Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) as they team up with other climbers to reach the summit of Everest.

The cast list for the film is spectacular. Along with the four great actors that were mentioned above, the film also stars brilliant actors and actresses such as Emily Watson, Kiera Knightley, Sam Worthington and Robin Wright. It’s a very good cast list, and each actor and actress plays their part well. Clarke and Gyllenhaal have a great chemistry as competitors Hall and Fischer, with their conversations at base camp over who is the better climber or their ability to read each other’s mind to help each other out when trouble strikes on the mountain.

The cinematography is extraordinary. Credit to director of photography Salvatore Totino, who captures fantastic panoramic and aerial shots of the trek through the Nepalese countryside to the base camp at the foot of Everest. It’s a film much like Wild, it makes you want to go on a trek to see the beautiful sights that are captured in the film. However, it becomes quite apparent in the film when the climbers have started their ascent, that a lot for the shots are of soundstages or are CGI. While the cast and crew did go to the Himalayas, The Alps and the wilds of Iceland to shoot some scenes, in the second half of the film you can see the difference between the real landscapes and fabricated ones.

The deaths are handled very matter-of-factly. In a more conventional tick-the-boxes disaster film such as San Andreas, where deaths are signposted, Everest just let’s people slip off into the ether, one second they are there, the next they’re gone. It’s very tactfully done and hammers point the home of that it is a true story and not a fictional, Hollywood-style drama.

The music, by Dario Marianelli fits the films perfectly. Instead of using a usual symphony-style orchestra, the music is just one or two instruments at a time, switching from brass to strings and then to woodwind seamlessly. This effect of using less instruments is more effective and a lot more charming than if there was a bombastic soundtrack like usual disaster films. Rhythmic chanting and woodwind notes are used, symbolising the wind and monasteries that are littered throughout the film, and then the single violin or cello being the isolated climber. I’m listening to it right now while I’m writing this review and it’s still as moving as it was in the film.

The film does have some problems. At two hours the film does feel a little overlong, with the build-up and training for the ascent at base camp being the majority of the film, instead of the actual climb. Even while feeling overlong, the film also cuts together scenes that are meant to be hours apart (seen by the time counter in the bottom corner of the screen) meaning that certain scenes feel rushed and losing some of the momentum and sense of danger since it’s only been a few seconds of on-screen time since the stranded climbers last radio message. This might have been to deliver all the facts of the event, but it was still an odd choice to edit the film like this.

The film also does jump around several of the members of the climbing crew, and with most of their faces covered by oxygen masks or balaclavas, it sometimes hard to remember who everyone is. This, as well as the fact of the many loose ends in the film make the latter portion of the film sometimes very confusing to follow.

In summary, while Everest is sometimes a feast of the eyes and ears, it’s desire to stay factual means that the story doesn’t feel up to par. It’s one to watch if you’re a fan of the two novels that tell the story, or if you’re a fan of “Travel Cinema” (films that revel in the great outdoors).

Score: 6/10 A very competently made film, but not much more to it than that.

Phantom Review

Subtitled films rarely get a wide UK release. Unless it’s something really big (such as The Raid 2) there is a notion that some audiences don’t want to read subtitles. However, subtitled films still get a limited release, so here’s the newest subtitled film for 2015, Phantom.

Phantom stars Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif and Sabyasachi Chakraborty and is directed by Kabir Khan. The story, based off the novel Mumbai Avengers by Hussain Zaidi, follows Daniyal (Ali Khan) as he is sent on an undercover mission for India to take revenge on the plotters of the 26/11 terrorists attacks in Mumbai.

While the film takes the event of the 26/11 attacks as a jumping off point, the story is largely fictional. The poster’s tagline is “A story you wish were true” and there is a long message at the beginning of the film saying how the film is not real and should not be taken to be true in any way in a way that almost seemed apologetic before it had even begun. I got the message; I’ve seen a lot of other films that have taken the premise of a real life event and woven a fake story around it. But at least some of those films were good, Phantom is not.

For an action film, the gun and fistfights are pretty dire. At least it doesn’t contain shaky cam, but the film does have a rapid editing style, meaning the cuts are happening quickly enough that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening. Some of the shots during the scenes however are of the lowest quality ever. Blocky, out-of-focus and sometimes not pointed at anything in particular, it boggles the mind that someone thought, “Yep, that looks good enough to put in our film.” The fistfights are laughable, with comedy punch sounds effects and choreographed within an inch of its life by people who don’t know how to fight realistically. Some of the gunfights are done well, but the major one feels like it should be in a parody of a Rambo film as Daniyal rips a machine gun from is turret like a video game character and begins to mow down hundreds of Syrian rebels and members of the Syrian army, giving no regard to whose side they’re on. Coupled with the sometimes hilarious reactions of terrorists screaming “NO!” in slow-motion, the film looks like it was trying to be Team America except still trying to play it straight-faced.

The film has a dual narrative, switching between Daniyal out in the field and his superiors back in India as they guide him to intercept and assassinate the high profile targets that they have located. With these switches you would think the film is setting up a “Situation Room” approach to spying such as the Bourne franchise or Zero Dark Thirty. But the film brings down these conversations to mere exposition dumps just to tell us who the next person to get assassinated is.

Whoever localised the subtitles needs to be fired. While there maybe some words in Hindi that don’t have an English equivalent, the films doesn’t really care and mixes up the words, making some sentences a puzzle to try and understand. Not to mention the many spelling mistakes that feature in the subtitles and the inclusion of subtitled songs (I know anime some times does this but it still seems really odd). The worst thing about the subtitles is that the background can wash out the words. Since the subtitles are white, if the background is white then you can’t see the subtitles. This happens frequently throughout the film, including the first ten seconds when the film is setting up the story. It just screams laziness, and if there is one thing I can’t stand in films it is laziness.

The worst part of the film though is during the first few minutes during the set up of the film. Pictures and photos of the 26/11 terrorist attacks are used to set up the story for the audience, which is fine. Zero Dark Thirty did the same with 9/11 and it worked perfectly to set up the story. But every time one is used a little watermark in the bottom corner saying “Courtesy of Mumbai News Group 2009 © All Rights Reserved.” If this was a documentary, such as Precinct Seven Five or Fahrenheit 9/11 then I would forgive the film, since it needs to reference where it got it’s material from. But in a fictional feature film, it’s just another part that shows how lazy the filmmakers are. When you can’t even be bothered to erase the watermark from your film, you shouldn’t put it in the film.

Last night when I got home from Phantom the film had pummeled me into boredom that I couldn’t get angry about it. But now, I can fully express how mad I am at the film. It’s a film that wastes your time and doesn’t even have the courtesy to be bad enough for a guilty pleasure or an ironic movie night fodder. Maybe Phantom plays better to a home crowd in India, but here it feels like the most slapdash approach to filmmaking.

Score: 1/10 Please don’t give them your money or your time. This film does not deserve it.

Paper Towns Review

I have never read a John Green book. I have had many friends who have read them and read the blurb’s to see if they would interest me. But like I said, I haven’t actually got round to reading one yet, and I didn’t see John Green’s other adaptation, 2014’s The Fault In Our Stars. It therefore seems I would be the most inept person at reviewing Paper Towns, since I have no grounding in the author or his style. Let’s give it a go anyway, shall we?

Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith and Halston Sage and is directed by Jake Schreier. Based off John Green’s bestselling teen book of the same name, the story follows Quentin (Wolff) as he follows clues left by his next-door neighbor Margo (Delevingne) to where she has gone. Teaming up with his best friends, Quentin goes on a road trip to try and win Margo’s heart.

The story sounds as clichéd and sickly as it can get. Guy goes on a road trip with his kooky best friends to find an even kookier and manic girl of his dreams. Even though it has original source material, the film feels like it’s a patchwork of other better works. Annie Hall, The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer and even Studio Ghibli’s Ocean Waves, Paper Towns is an amalgamation of them all. But maybe that comes with the fact that the two writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have written two out of the four films listed above, along with the other John Green adaptation The Fault In Our Stars. Neustadter and Weber know how to write post-modernist romances, whether it is original or an adaptation. But therein lies Paper Towns’ biggest problem, it feels like it’s trying to imitate the some of the greatest romantic comedies of recent times, even as going so far to get the same writers. But it never feels more than that, just an imitation, a pretender.

That’s not to say the script is bad though. There are some very personal, intimate conversations between our three leads and two of their girlfriends. The characters are a few weeks away from leaving high school, and the film capitalises on these feelings of the ending of great friendships. It leads to the idea that the end of school shouldn’t be about doing things for the last time, but for doing things for the first time. These small moments are littered throughout the film, with my favorites being a fun, little conversation that takes place while two characters are sat in a bathtub and another where two characters are looking out over a city at night. Neustadter and Weber are masters when it comes to creating these small, dialogue heavy scenes, and while that may come from the genius of John Green and the original work, the screenwriters do an excellent job of translating it to screen. It’ll affect and speak to today’s young audience in a way that (500) Days of Summer and Ocean Waves resonated with me at the same age, as the characters talk like real human beings, rather than sounding like a Lifetime Movie of the Week.

The acting seems to be a mixed bag. Most of the time Nat Wolff and his two friends Austin Abrams and Justice Smith fall into tired character tropes lifted straight of earlier films such as Revenge of the Nerds or Animal House. Their characters do grow once the film gets onto the third act road trip, including a raw outburst of something akin to borderline obsession by Wollf over finding Margo, we’ve haven’t seen anything of note during the first two thirds of the movie, making them feel a bit bland.

The actresses fair much better, with Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair seeming to be much more confident in their roles than the three guys are. Cara Delevingne, however seems to be in a state of flux throughout the entire film. While it looks like she is revelling playing the part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it feels a bit overdone. She shares some nice moments with Nat Wollf in the beginning and near the end if the film, but we hardly get to see her throughout the rest of the film’s run time. Her final scene with him however feels a bit slapdash and feels like the director needed to just hit all the story points and didn’t properly allow the film to explain it’s ending.

The final thing I have to say about the film is it has an excellent soundtrack. The music is woven into the film perfectly, accentuating beautiful, crisp moments. One moment near the beginning of the film, where Margo and Quentin are driving through the streets is accompanied by Lost It To Trying by Son Lux. It’s just a small touch, but it elevates the scene to one of the my favorites from the entire film.

In summary Paper Towns divides me like no other film has in recent times. While I like the overall message of the film as well as the dialogue heavy sections where the characters contemplate the lives outside the warm, safe bubble that is high school, it also infuriates me that it just feels like a retelling of formal romance tropes while adding nothing else of it’s own to the remix.

Score: 6/10 Might just be one for the John Green fans.

Mr. Holmes Review

There have been an estimated 250 adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous British detective Sherlock Holmes. There have been several new versions of the character in the past few years, such as BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’s Elementary and the Guy Ritchie films. Does the new incarnation, Mr. Holmes stand up with its great predecessors?

Mr. Holmes stars Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes, Milo Parker as Roger and Laura Linney as Ms. Munro with Bill Condon directing. Based on the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin, we follow Sherlock in his later life as the ravages of time starts to deteriorate his fantastical mind.

The setup of the film is what got me interested in seeing Mr. Holmes. I don’t think I remember seeing any incarnation of Sherlock Holmes before that has focused on his later life. Part of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes is that he is untouchable, he is smarter than any situation, and so the idea that we get to see his brilliant memory start to fade and him trying to come to terms with his mortality, it sounds like a brilliant concept to write about. This theme, while never fully fleshed out enough for my liking, is mentioned in a few scenes. One of the more memorable is how Sherlock notes a mark when he can’t remember something, be it a name or a place, and eventually we get to see the book in which he marks his notes in. It’s almost heartbreaking to see a once great mind broken down by time. This does mean that though we don’t get to see the great Sherlock’s amazing mind at play, we do get to see Sherlock’s emotions finally catching up with him, and that is something we don’t really see in the new incarnations.

As we have a Sherlock that is near the end of his life, we don’t sadly get any of his entourage of famous friends. While we get fleeting glimpses of Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson, all we really get is Sherlock, which in my opinion is a brilliant choice. While it is weird to see Sherlock working by himself, it means we get to know him more as a character, rather than high-functioning madman that we saw through the lens of Dr. Watson.

In the BBC’s Sherlock, we are introduced to an almost sociopathic character, but with Mr. Holmes we have a main character that is much more rounded. Ian McKellen shows off his great acting skills as he flits between the calm, sophisticated Sherlock who is never comprised, to a Sherlock who is frustrated with his failing memory and breaks down into tears during the latter of the film. To continue with the acting, Laura Linney is good as exasperated housekeeper Ms. Munro, but Milo Parker as her son Roger is a bit too over eager. Maybe it’s just his character, as the young boy is mesmerised by Sherlock, but there is a small part of over-acting nestled somewhere in there.

The story is three pronged, with three different times of Sherlock’s life we have to keep up with; his “controversial’ last case that made him retire, a trip to Japan to receive a mysterious plant known as the prickly ash, and his later retirement as he tries to remember that last case, rather than the way Dr. Watson wrote it. The story never get’s twisted or convoluted, as we can tell very clearly which period in time we have gone to, and in the first time period we get to see a small part of Sherlock’s unique gift as well as a nerve-tingling scene which gave the film a PG certificate.

The big problem with the film is that there is just not enough going on. With the running time being an hour and 45 minutes, the film starts to feel a little bit baggy, meaning a few of the more quieter scenes that have no bearing on the story could have been cut. And while we move between the three stories, the Japanese section seems to have no true bearing on the story until the final scenes, meaning we have to wait quite a while to get a payoff.

In summary, Mr. Holmes is an interesting character piece of one of the most enduring British literary creations, but still stumbles a few times with it’s story points.

Score: 6/10 A bit too long for what it asks, but a mesmerising performance by Sir Ian McKellen brings it home.

The 39 Steps (1935) Review

Preface

My local cinema back in Leeds likes to do a “Classics” night at least once a month, with movies ranging from several decades back being shown. Older showings have brought films such as Casablanca, the great Ealing comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (oddly enough, all three are some of my favourite films of all time). This week was a showing of another Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps. And since this year (2015) is the film’s 80th anniversary, I can safely say this is proper retro review.

Review

The 39 Steps is directed by Alfred Hitchcock and stars Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, Madeleine Carroll as Pamela and Godfrey Tearle as Professor Jordan. The film revolves around Hannay, who after being told about a plot to steal intelligence secrets, is hounded by both the police and enemy spies across Britain, all the while trying to find out what or where the 39 Steps are.

Having read the book, I do have to say that Hitchcock has taken quite a few liberties with the story. While several scenes are recreated such as “The Milkman Escape” as well as the famous train escapes, Hitchcock makes a detour from the source material and creates his own spin on the classic “man-on-the-run” thriller (a thriller he would go on to direct another three times). Still, what we get is a very polished story, full of extravagant characters and chilling revelations, along with a very Christopher Nolan-esque ending.

Richard Donat (who plays the main character Richard Hannay) is considered to be one of the great romantic leading men of the 1930s, so the role he has here in The 39 Steps is one he could do in his sleep. He flits from scene to scene, kissing nearly every woman who appears within arms reach, all the while looking impeccably good for someone who is jumping out of trains at high speed and running through the boggy marshes of Scotland. His opposite is Madeleine Carroll as Pamela, one of Hitchcock’s first ice-cold blondes, a fiercely independent woman who will always speak her mind. It is rumoured Hitchcock would leave the two of them handcuffed together for hours at a time, pretending to have lost the key, just so the chemistry could grow between them. It seems to have worked, as the dialogue and looks the two leads throw each other is fun to listen to and watch.

Some of the shots that Hitchcock and cinematographer Bernard Knowles create are stunning and beautiful, leading many of them to become well known within the psyche of pop culture. The effective chiaroscuro lighting, mainly used in the noir genre is used to great effect throughout the film, making this one of the director’s best looking films. The sets and locations that the characters visit are also incredibly filmed, with landscape shots of the Scottish Highlands good enough to rival those created by Sam Mendes/Roger Deakins in the James Bond film Skyfall. Even if the sets are small, such as the small archway underneath a bridge our heroes hide behind, the cinematography, the lighting and the acting make such a small space look gorgeous and make it iconic.

A very odd omission from the film is the complete lack of a soundtrack. Apart from the opening credits and a few instances of diegetic music such as a band hall performance, I think I am right in saying that there was not one note from an instrument within the film. This somehow works in favour with the film, with scenes such as the reveal of the leader of the enemy spies. The complete lack of a musical sting to indicate him as the antagonist makes us as the audience uneasy. Music can tell us a lot about what is happening on screen and what will happen in the coming few scenes, but here it’s just us and the silence, making the film a lot more tense than it originally was meant to be.

There are a few things in the film that do look pretty silly when seen nowadays. Sped-up footage reminiscent of the Keystone Cops (the Silent Era version of the Police Academy film franchise), pretty shoddy back projection (even for someone as visionary as Hitchcock) and asynchronous sound design is positively laughable when looked at today. Luckily these moments are few and far between, meaning that they don’t distract from the story too much.

In summary, The 39 Steps is one of Hitchcock’s best films. With a stellar cast full of famous British actors, a pulse pounding plot and a witty script, it’s another great spy film from “The Master of Suspense”.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest British films of the last century.

Child 44 Review

After I finished watching Child 44, I was exhausted. Was I exhausted by a film with a compelling story that made me sit on the edge of my seat for the entire run time? No, quite the opposite in fact, as I was battling to stay awake.

Child 44 is about an officer in the Soviet Union called Leo (played by Tom Hardy), who after a grisly child murder is committed, takes it upon himself to catch the killer. The film also stars Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Jason Clarke, Fares Fares and Paddy Considine. And with a cast list that good the film fails to deliver anything spectacular.

I did manage to read the first couple of chapters of Child 44 before I saw the film, and when reading it I thought the story was exciting and gripping. It’s a shame then that it doesn’t become anyone of those things when transported to the cinema screen.

To go back to actors for a second, performances from nearly all of the actors involved are very wooden, most notably Tom Hardy, who looks bored in his role as Leo. The only actor that seems to be bringing anything to the screen is Gary Oldman, who in the fleeting few scenes where he actually gets some lines of dialogue delivers them with some much needed character. All the actors don Russian accents in the film, but these fluctuate as well, with Hardy giving a thick accent, while other actors such as Paddy Considine and Charles Dance not displaying any Russian accent, leaving the film feeling stilted. Also, the film hardly uses any of some of its bigger names, the aforementioned Considine and Dance, along with Vincent Cassel and Jason Clarke, all of whom have hardly any time on screen.

The director, Daniel Espinosa directed one of my favourite films of recent times, Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. However, looking at Child 44, you would be hard pressed to even think they were made by the same director. Espinosa makes some odd choices during the film, with extreme close ups and shaky handheld camerawork littering the first half of the film. Fortunately the camerawork becomes a bit more coherent as the film goes on, but descends back into jumbled messes for two uninspired fight scenes. It’s shame because Espinosa knows how to create well shot fight scenes, (just watch Safe House), but here he fails spectacularly, giving us no clear shot of the action.

The films length is also a problem. The film is just over two hours long, which when coupled with the uninvolving action on film left me at certain points to nod off for a couple of seconds. It was through sheer determination that I managed to stay awake, just to get through the film to see if it would eventually get any better, it did not. There are certain scenes that feel over padded, and maybe they were sticking close to the source material by including it in the final cut, but it just fills the film with needless subplots that don’t go anywhere.

To add onto that, the story is a grab bag of ideas, corruption, child murder, redemption, but none are carried throughout the entire film, they’re just picked up and dropped whenever the film feels like it. This leads to an overall confusing storyline, with characters making revelations without any prior knowledge, making certain plot points feel more like deus ex machina.

In summary, Child 44 has a formidable cast list, but even that is not enough to save weak direction and a dull script, leading to a dud of a film. I might say if you’re a fan of the book you might get some enjoyment from seeing it on the big screen, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Score: 2/10 Don’t bother wasting your time on this one.

The Spectacular Now Review

Preface

Well, this review has been a long time coming; it could almost be considered a retro review. The Spectacular Now originally came out in August 2013 on a limited run (only four theatres showed the film) but after that initial viewing the number of theatres was upped dramatically for a nationwide release. In America. I remember seeing the trailer for The Spectacular Now on YouTube when it first came out and I was intrigued, yet I could not find a movie theatre or a DVD copy when it was released in early 2014. Yet due to the wonders of the Internet, I finally found a copy so here is my review of The Spectacular Now.

Review

The Spectacular Now is about a high school student named Sutter Keely (played by Miles Teller) who after being dumped by his girlfriend goes on a apocalyptic style alcohol-binge only to be woken up the next day by Amiee Finecky (played by Shailene Woodley) on a neighbour’s lawn. After this meeting the two strike up a friendship which soon turns into a relationship, where they help each other overcome obstacles in their lives.

Let me say this right off the bat; I had high expectations going into this film. Maybe it was the two years of waiting to finally see it; maybe it was that the writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber were responsible for the script of (500) Days of Summer, one of mine and many other people favourite romantic comedies of all time. Whatever the multitude of reasons, my expectations were high. And wow, were they met.

The Spectacular Now is not a “dumb, mindless action movie”, this is a story/dialogue focussed film, in the vein of Quentin Tarantino (when he’s doing the colourful dialogue and not coating everything with blood). The dialogue between our two leads feels very fluid and natural, to the point where many people have speculated that most of the script was ab libbed by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. I tried to find evidence for either but I couldn’t find anything concrete, but if you do know then please comment below. The film feels as if you are just watching two friends having a natural conversation, which is still a problem some mainstream Hollywood films can’t recreate.

The love making scene in the film (lauded by Woodley herself for being her favourite scene in the film) has been touted as the most “realistic” sex scene in film history. It’s awkward, both for our leads and us, the viewers but also adorably cute, something which Blue Is The Warmest Colour, another contender for 2013’s most realistic sex scene failed at, to the point where it became a bit crass.

The casting of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley is superb, as two teenagers coming from broken families and finding solace within each other. While Miles Teller at the time of filming had been known for the “Comedy Character” (see Footloose, 21 and Over and Project X, and then That Awkward Moment afterwards) its here for me that we finally get to see a broad range of acting ability, with the final twenty minutes seeing an outpouring of emotion that is brilliantly contrasting with his earlier carefree attitude. Shailene Woodley as well is performing in what I consider to be one of her best roles, duly earning the awards that she collected for this film. The rest of the cast are good in their roles, with special mention going to Andre Royo and Saul Goodman…oh I mean Bob Odenkirk as Andrew’s teacher and boss respectively, who give lectures to our main character about growing up without turning into mawkish clichéd conversations.

In conclusion, The Spectacular Now was one of the best romantic comedies of recent history, even if we are a couple of years late to the party. Go watch in now on Netflix, or if you are able to, get a DVD copy.

Score: 9/10, Deserved all the praise it got from Sundance.