Need for Speed (2014)

Need for SpeedReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Scott Waugh. Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots. Runtime: 132 min.

Need for Speed (based on the popular gaming franchise) is about as conventional as these crime actioners come. Since the game franchise of the same name doesn’t really have a storyline, and is just racing during dynamic gameplay – the writers come up with a mediocre story for it. It isn’t anything special, written by first-time writer George Gatins. His brother John Gatins (Coach CarterFlight) worked on the story, but it’s a shame he isn’t the screenwriter. His resumé shows he’s stronger.

The film follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a street racer and mechanic who spends two years in prison for GTA and manslaughter, the latter is a crime of which he is innocent. Left to take the blame by wealthy business associate Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper in an underwhelming turn), Tobey jumps parole and travels to California in order to take part in a legendary underground race called the De Leon, with clearing his name and revenge in mind.

Being the slime Dino is, he places a bounty on Marshall’s head to prevent him from taking part in the race. As you can tell, he doesn’t play fair. Why would anyone want to be in business with him in the first place? At the beginning of the movie, he brings a business opportunity to Tobey and co., that, if they can refurbish a Ford Mustang largely from scratch, they’ll get 25% of the $2+ million pay day. Marshall’s motivations for this business endeavour is to save his late father’s auto repairs shop. At least the main character’s motivations are clear and well-established.

Sometimes we don’t get that privilege from other action movies, so at least we get a likable protagonist in Tobey. Also on his list of motivations are vengeance for the death of his friend, and beating Dino on the race track in the De Leon. It looks like all conflicts are solved on the race track, at least that’s what these racing flicks want us to think. (I’ll need my driver’s license to ever solve conflicts, and until then, I’ll always lose!) I think Tobey is likable because he cares about others and he puts them ahead of himself. Aaron Paul portrays him with subtle fierceness and kindness shown towards his co-star. He’s a natural actor and an appealing lead.

Joining him on the trek is Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), the assistant of the man who bought the Ford Mustang for $2.7 million dollars two years ago. She’s going along on the trek because her boss doesn’t want an ex-con in the car on his own, yet he will lend the expensive car to him in the first place. It must have been in the contract that if the seller ever needs to use the car because he just really needs it, the buyer must lend that party the car, as long as the assistant can tag along. Yeah, makes sense…

Julia’s phobias allow Tobey to be his comforting self. She’s not always a damsel as she holds her own in this actioner by driving the car away from antagonists in a scene or two. She’s also a character that shows women can know some things about cars. Poots is a charming actress, so the chemistry between her and Paul is strong, even though their characters are practically strangers.

This is mostly a road trip movie where cops chase ’em (enabling a police chase aspect from Hot Pursuit to present itself) and they run into many obstacles along the way, like people trying to collect the bounty. At least they’re usually in a fast car. There is a cool sequence where they gas up without stopping. They also defy gravity along the way, maybe not as much as Fast & Furious 6, but there’s one scene where you’re just going to question the plausibility of it. At least it looks cool. Jack of all trades director Scott Waugh (director of Act of Valor, he’s much more experienced in stunt-work, with 41 credits to his name) directs the races well. The visuals of the film are pretty good; there’s a limited amount of CGI used, so that’s nice. The fact that there’s not a lot of CGI makes it more apparent that the 3-D version is just a disposable money grab. Please see this in 2-D, because it’s too dark and sometimes ugly in 3-D.

The film keeps the revenge theme throughout with generic plotting and lots of comic relief (much of which is found in Scott Mescudi’s character), so it’s consistent tonally. Michael Keaton has fun portraying Monarch, the energetic host of the De Leon. The finale is that race with a few distracting aspects but it’s a cool all-or-nothing race for pink slips nonetheless. It takes a while for the film to get to this race. (The film clocks in at 132 minutes; trims on the beginning could cut this down to 120 minutes, because it takes about 25 minutes to actually get into the plot.) The finale’s one of the best parts of the film, so most will think it’s worth the wait, at least those who have a tolerance for mildly fun time-passers.

Score55/100

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That Awkward Moment (2014)

That Awkward MomentReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Tom Gormican. Starring: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller. Runtime: 94 min.

“That Awkward Moment” is a film about relationships. Its title derives from the film’s idea that in every relationship, there is a moment where one of the partners asks “Where is this going?” Often times, that moment can be awkward; but not when the guy already knows the answer. The film presents the idea that, when the moment comes, just get out of that relationship. Because, you know, screw comittment! Casual sex takes precedence! Go to bars, meet women, and build up a roster, so you can have sex every day of the week with a different woman. Apparently, we’re becoming more and more polygamous. There’s nothing like a chick for every day of the week. It feels as if this film is designed in such a way, it might work better as a very short book of tips.

There is a story here. Jason (Zac Efron) is a young gun living in New York who is in the book and magazine cover designing business. His business partner is one of his best friends, Daniel (Miles Teller); and his other best friend, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a doctor. Mikey is in his mid-20s and is getting divorced from his first wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas). It sounds pretty rough, considering how young he is. She’s cheating with a guy who looks like Morris Chestnut, no less. Who looks like Morris Chestnut?! Well, Morris Chestnut looks like Morris Chestnut; and apparently this guy does, too. Anyway, the basic story is that, in support of their best friend Mikey, they make a pact that they’re all going to stay single. Yeah. RIGHT. They’re all going to say no to love. As with every romantic comedy, they all pretty much set their eye on a woman simultaneously, and then don’t tell their friends about their intentions because they don’t want to back out on the pact. Jason likes a new girl in town fresh out of college, Ellie (Imogen Poots); Daniel begins to like his wing-woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis); and Mikey decides to give things a shot with Vera, again.

The film has so many ideas about dating, but they use mostly generic characters to depict it. The idea they didn’t portray, was that it’s probably never a good idea to have a girl as your wing-man, because you’re eventually going to think, as far as films teach people, “Hey… I don’t like this girl picking up other dudes; she should screw me, instead, out of respect!” Granted, it does seem like an okay idea at first.

One thing’s that funny is that the film only has enough awkward moments that you can count them on one hand. I won’t spoil them all, but they’re there. Jason confuses Ellie for a prostitute when they first meet, and then leaves because he doesn’t have money for a hooker (Poots would be one of those high-end $1000 an hour hookers, I think). Some awkward moments induce crude laughs, but only one or two that are memorable. Another awkward moment that the film depicts is the miscommunication with all the texting, because if one person says “We need to talk” in a text, the other might just have instant anxiety. Communication is key, folks.

One final awkward moment that I detected is the fact that all the women have sex with their clothes on. Well, Poots is naked but she has her comforter covering herself. Yet, both Teller and Efron show their butts. Boo! I want female skin! For Efron, this film might just be used for him as a gateway film for cruder things, perhaps he is preparing us for “Neighbors.” He swears, he gets nude, and he screws, but there’s still a romantic under all that cockiness. At least his sex scene here is less awkward than that one he shared with Taylor Schilling in “The Lucky One.” He’s a character afraid of comittment, because aren’t we all once in awhile? He also gets depicted as the biggest douche in the film in some ways, something Efron isn’t the strongest at playing, and it’s a role usually reserved for Teller (at least with my experience with his roles). Seeing him as a nicer guy than his roles in “21 and Over” and “Project X” with the ability to actually respect woman in a way, enables me to like him a bit more. A bit. I don’t think I’ll see the star potential until I watch “The Spectacular Now,” however.

The acting is natural for a film that has awkward in the title, and the cast is pretty good. I fell in love with Poots’ performance here, and her charming presence is welcome. She’s playing the most layered character of the movie, an independent woman meaning to land on her feet and get her life going in a big city. All the actors are talented to some degree (Michael B. Jordan especially; and Davis is a pleasant surprise for me), but they’re just working with a script that is heavy on the romantic aspect, but the laughs can be counted on two hands and they’re far between each other. Not good for a comedy!

Score50/100

TIFF 2013 Review: All is By My Side

all is by my sideJohn Ridley’s “All is By My Side” takes a bio pic route less travelled by, depicting how Jimi Hendrix became the rock n’ roll icon he is, not a totally different part of someone’s life – like their legacy or death (like “The Last of Robin Hood,” a film also at the festival). That’s one thing that is easy to admire about the film.

Some might not know a lot about Jimi Hendrix going into this film. You’ll throughout that he does drugs, he’s all about love and happiness, and he’s seemingly pacifist in parts; yet he beats women, but immediately makes up with them. He seems to care about people, but he is influenced by others’ ideas and important events. He sees his music as an art-form, which I can appreciate. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his father, so perhaps that affects him. He has to deal with discrimination because of his skin colour. He is a layered subject for a biography, but a complicated one. Many might go in wanting to learn a lot about Jimi Hendrix, and while there is enough facts some may not know; they’ll forget them soon after the credits roll, and some (like myself) might walk out of the theatre the same way them came in: Little familiarity with a complicated Hendrix.

Now, many will learn generics about the man, but for a film that sets out to capture the spirit of Hendrix, it doesn’t do a good job. When a bio pic hardly leaves a lasting impression, it means the biography doesn’t execute its sole purpose well enough for complete enjoyment. It is interesting to see Hendrix’s road to fame, as that isn’t what most bio pics would do. It’s stylish, but the quick cuts are hard to appreciate. It feels as if director John Ridley wishes to start one scene before he finishes the one before. It makes it hard to focus on what’s happening on-screen. The way images overlap over people’s conversations will be admired by some, but it makes it feel like too much is happening on-screen; and it won’t enhance many people’s experiences. At one point, Hendrix and Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) are having a conversation, but another couple in the room are having a conversation – so it’s hard to focus on what’s being said in the more prominent Hendrix conversation. The editing is haphazardly done and will probably give people headaches. The editing feels like a practice in redundancy.

To make a film about a rock and roll icon told without much of his music is an interesting choice, and some musical performances offer entertainment. I rarely don’t enjoy biographies. This is the second one I haven’t liked, after “The Iron Lady.” It doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable to some. It’s just not as powerful as it could be. The character study of Jimi could be more clear and concise, and a stronger plot would assist the movie, as well. At least it’s unpredictable. The performance by Andre Benjamin captures the soul of Hendrix. He’s a good part of the film, but in my eyes, he’s rarely astounding. Benjamin is the only one to capture Jimi’s spirit fairly well.  The story misses.

The performance from Imogen Poots is a memorable aspect. She struggles to be a friend to Jimi, a task that is surely difficult. She is memorable because she is wowed by Jimi’s talent, and she discovers him. She brings some enjoyment to the film, but when she is off-screen, the movie ever-so-slightly suffers. So it suffers for most of the film, but I love the thought that someone can change one’s life in an instant like that. It’s especially important for aspiring rock n’ rollers like Jimi; being discovered heavily relies on luck, and of course, talent.

You might like this. I don’t know. There’s comic relief. The audience I saw it with laughed a lot. But a quarter of the time, I felt like I wasn’t in on the joke. That isn’t a good feeling during a feature film. I normally don’t like abrupt endings, but I liked when this one ended. This film just couldn’t absorb me in its boring atmosphere.

Score38/100