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Out in Theaters: ‘BLEED FOR THIS’

The boxing movies formula – arrogant but determined go-getter faces uphill battle and training montage to take on personal issues and superior veteran contender – is one that has been honed and sharped since Rocky defined it for the mainstream in 1976.  There have been an astounding number of excellent additions to the sports sub-genre (Warrior, The Fighter, Million Dollar Baby, and just last year, Creed, to name but a few) and many more middling efforts to boot. Bleed for This may not be one that goes down in history as a boxing great but with a knockout performance from star Miles Teller and plenty of heart and good humor, it’s enough of a contender to warrant ringside seats. Read More

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Out in Theaters: FANTASTIC FOUR

My feelings for Fox’s rebooted Fantastic Four property, much like the film itself, are all over the place. With director Josh Trank squaring the focus on the men and women (or, in this case, boys and girls) behind the powers, Fantastic Four had the opportunity to be, at the very least,  something different from the crop of annual superhero movies, those with their quick quips and even quicker action beats hogging the entirety of the run time. If they got it right, you leave the theater wide-eyed and sugar rushing, “When’s the next one?” Fantastic Four is not that movie…until it is. And then it tries so hard to be just that that it ends up cutting its nose to spite its face. Read More

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Out in Theaters: WHIPLASH

Note: Reprinted from our 2014 Sundance review.

J.K. Simmons has been gracing the screen, both big and small, for twenties years but his career is more of the long than the illustrious kind. Simmons has quietly paid his dues, slipping in a commendable character actor’s career, and was undeniably long overdue for a role of this magnitude. After witnessing his knockout performance in Whiplash, I’ve join the ranks now wondering why he wasn’t cast in roles like this a long time ago.

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Out in Theaters: DIVERGENT

“Divergent” 
Directed Neil Burger 
Starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Theo James
Science-Fiction, Action
139 Mins
PG-13

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Watching Divergent is like trying to figure out what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. You’re thrust a grab-bag of emotions ranging from awe to complete disbelief. Who made this thing? What terrible atrocity happened to these people? Why didn’t the technology work? Where the hell did everything go wrong? Did this really happen?

Divergent is the rare oddity where the trailer is more exciting than the movie ever gets. Director Neil Burger’s (Limitless) latest big-screen project is trapped in Act One purgatory. Somehow he never manages to make it to Act Two (forget about Act Three), while only fitting ten minutes of action into a nearly three-hour movie. Simultaneously the slowest and most pointless flick this year, it never seems to start or end.  At 139 minutes in run-time, it’s about 130 minutes too long. Divergent takes longer to reach a climax than… well, you get it.

The film, based on Veronica Roth’s novel of the same, stars Shailene Woodley in her first foray into high-budget Hollywood film. Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Theo James and Kate Winslet (!?) join her. Stealing elements from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and similar teen-fiction titles, Divergent gets old fast.

Based in a worn-down Chicago (somehow the last place on Earth), a “utopian” society is divided into five separate factions: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the knowledgeable. Every year, 16-year olds must go through testing to determine which faction they should join. Of course, there’s a problem with this: sometimes kids can show competency in the characteristics of several factions, hence the eponymous “Divergent.”

 “Abnegation” dresses like they’re in a prison camp, while their social responsibility is to feed the homeless—dubbed “Factionless”—and avoid all forms of comfort, including looking in the mirror—oh, how selfless! Since they’re considered the most altruistic, they also run the government… I won’t venture a joke at that one, it’s not even worth it.

“Dauntless” are gymnasts who spend their days sprinting everywhere, jumping on rooftops and giggling their asses off. They’re Chicago’s “police,” charged with defending the citizens and keeping order. Of course, they’re also the most diverse group. Let’s put it this way: you won’t see a black kid in Erudite. They look like the United Colors of Benetton teamed up with Nike to help the under-privileged. Supposedly, their fitness makes them fearless. Instead, they just look delirious.

Woodley, a Divergent, decides to join Dauntless, which is right about when this film loses all impetus. Similar to the Hunger Games, in order to join the faction, she has to beat out her competition by proving herself in various activities.This quickly turns Divergent into a futuristic Summer Camp for the fit and beautiful, complete with a ropes course; Capture the LED-Flag; team-building exercises; zip-lines through Chicago; and, you guessed it, Tag. I’m surprised they chose not to fit in a friendship bracelet workshop or a round of Duck Duck Grey Duck. Burger spends two full hours trying to entertain you by showing teens doing things you barely enjoyed doing yourself when you were younger. “Look how much fun they’re all having!”

To prove their mettle and fearlessness, Woodley and her pledge class of giddy recruits have to jump onto a train, then subsequently jump off. At one point, they compete in a five-minute paintball fight. They’re told to get tattoos to show their badassery. These feats of strength continue for about an hour and forty-five minutes. A love-story is also interspersed throughout, as camp-instructor Theo James and Woodley must overcome various obstacles in order to finally make out.

The only real conflict in this film involves whether Woodley will get kicked out of camp. We’re constantly submitted to idiotic recitations of the same bullshit, over and over. Again and again, she’s told: “You’re dauntless, so act dauntless or get kicked out.” My question: why would anyone choose to be part of this group of tattooed douchebags? I’d much rather live on the street, being fed by horribly clothed government workers than spend my days getting harassed by tatted-up jocks in leather windbreakers.

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Her final initiation ritual before ultimately becoming one of these idiots involves submitting herself to some sort of virtual reality fear-machine where her fearlessness is tested. Phobias that she must overcome include sexual assault by James, death by killer crow, murdering her family, and drowning in a sealed glass case. She’s able to conquer these fears by telling herself “This isn’t real.” I wish.

Around two hours in, things finally ramp up. The last fifteen minutes are actually decent, dragged along by great acting from Woodley and the ever-spectacular Miles Teller. Everyone else slows them down, notably James, Jai Courtney, and Kate Winslet, who is in this movie for no apparent reason. She’s terrible.

Ultimately, Divergent is Hunger Games without the stakes, Twilight without the romance, Harry Potter without the magic. The Disney Channel-level acting and plot cramps you up like Hunger Pangs; this isn’t Katniss, it’s cat piss.

In the end, you leave Divergent telling yourself that this was just a dream; maybe you ate some bad shellfish and hallucinated the whole thing. You tell yourself, “this isn’t real,” hoping against all hope that it isn’t. Maybe Flight 370 never even existed. This is all a figment of your imagination, a cruel joke. Yeah, this week was just a wild nightmare. You click your heels together three times. This isn’t real… This isn’t real… This isn’t real…

Screams snap you out of it. You’re sitting next to a pre-pubescent girl’s volleyball team from the local middle school—they shriek every time Miles Teller is on-screen. Now it’s clear who this movie was made for, except this film calls for a different brand of ‘spike.’ You’ll have to down a few drinks to make it through this one.

D-

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Talking with Miles Teller of DIVERGENT

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Miles Teller
has gone from zero to hero in the last few years. With roles in films like Whiplash, Rabbit Hole and The Spectacular Now, Teller has shown an intriguing dramatic side that all but evens out the heap of not-so-inspiring (read: disastrous) broad comedies he’s participated in, take for example 21 and Over and That Awkward Moment. Looking towards the future, Teller has a lot of promise so long as he continues to involve himself in solid project while he’s busy paying the bills with mainstream crud. With The Fantastic Four on the horizon, the only question is how high will Teller’s star rise?

 

Over the prattle and coos of preteen girls, Teller and I had a chance to chat at the Seattle premiere of his latest, and largest, film yet: Divergent. But we only talked briefly about the YA wannabe sensation, to preference some of his more serious roles. We touched on drumming, the recurring themes of his fledgling career, his trajectory since college and what makes him an all around bad ass.

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So I caught Whiplash down at Sundance. Loved the movie, with the way it was edited, you looked like you were just slaying on those drums. So, tell me what you were doing for preparation for that? Have you always played?

Miles Teller: I’ve played for like 10 years, I got a kit when I was like 15. Never played jazz before and then just kinda started taking some lessons, took like lessons for a few weeks, like four hours a day, four times a week.

Obviously some of the stuff you were playing was like off the charts and some of the best drumming, do you have a guy who is like subbing in and you were body doubled?

MT: I did, like I did do pretty much did all of it, you know what I mean? Like, there’s a couple of things, like the director would shoot some stuff for his hands. Like anything that’s like a real close up is probably not me. But, a lot of that is just me crushing it.

Another film that you were great in was The Spectacular Now, and now you’re doing another movie with Shailene Woodley. How is it working with her again and what’s your guys’ relationship?

MT: Yeah, man she’s great, I think she’s a really natural actress, she’s really easy to play off of, but this was easier, I mean in The Spectacular Now we’re like falling in love and I’m like breaking her heart and stuff, and in this movie I just beat her up.

So you get to get your hands on her in a different way in this movie? You wrestle her to the ground, etc.

MT: Yeah, definitely more violent.

So you’re a villain in this. This is obviously your first bad dude role, what was that like?

MT: Yeah, I mean obviously I wanted to make him likeable. That was a big part of it for me. It’s nice playing somebody where I didn’t have to make everyone laugh all the time.

The line for this movie is like, you know, “If you’re different, you’re dangerous…”

MT: You just turned around and read that off the poster.

Yeah, I did… but I’ve read the book like eight times.

MT: Yeah, me too…

What makes you dangerous, what makes you a badass?

MT: I think the mind. I just think if you outsmart somebody. You gotta be a couple steps ahead of the next person. If you’re in control you’re pretty relaxed in the situation. So I’d say relaxation is key.

What got you into acting in the first place?

MT: I did some plays when I was a little kid. And then, I just played sports and played in some bands in stuff. In high school we got a pretty hot drama teacher, so then I was very into drama. One day my best friend who drove me home everyday said “we should audition for this play” and then I got into it for the last two years of high school. And then I went to NYU and spent a lot of money.

You went like right from your senior year to being in the movies, yeah?

MT: Senior year of college. The first movie I booked was this movie called Rabbit Hole, and so I did that. I booked that like two weeks before I graduated.

In a lot of your movies – Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now, even Whiplash – you’re always a character who’s involved in a car crash.

MT: Yeah and in real life I was in a car crash.

Is that a little too surreal for you, do people typecast you for those kind of roles?

MT: I don’t think I get cast as a guy who gets into car accidents, I’m just taking all those roles right? It is weird though, it is a theme in my career so far.

That and alcoholism.

MT: So you said you went down to Sundance? Did you get a chance to see any movies down there?

Yeah, I saw about twenty movies. Did you get a chance to see anything?

MT: I didn’t get a chance to see anything. I got to meet Phillip Seymour Hoffman, that was the coolest thing.

You shot 21 & Over here in Washington, over at UW. What did you think of that?

MT: I dug it man, we shot in August, there wasn’t that many kids around. When you’re walking arouatt:nd in a tube sock and there’s like Summer Session going on. It was cool, man, the Square is like Hogwarts, it’s very nice looking.

What did you think of NYU and what kind of advice would you give to young aspiring actors out there?

MT: Yeah, I really loved it. I think, whatever is good for you go for it. I think New York does propel you forward, it is a city where you can’t really just stay stagnant. People are always doing stuff and it inspires you to create. Also, I just think it’s the best city in the world.

Is that where you’re living now?

MT: No, I live in LA now, because that’s where all the things happen at. There’s a lot of TV in New York though.

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FANTASTIC FOUR Reboot Casts Four Rising Stars

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Castings for the upcoming 2015 FOX-produced reboot Fantastic Four were released Friday last week and look very promising. Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller are teaming up again after their recent collaboration in Tom Gormican‘s misogynistic mess That Awkward MomentFortunately for Fantastic Four fans and moviegoers alike, Teller and Jordan were just hyper-talented victims of Gormican’s hyper-awful script. 

 
Joining them are Kate Mara (127 Hours) and British actor Jamie Bell (Billy ElliotJane Eyre). This reboot also represents a reunion for Jordan, Mara and director Josh Trank, who worked together on 2010 UK success Chronicle
 
Jordan, who has been burning his way into the public eye as of late, will play “The Human Torch” while Teller will have to flex his acting muscles as the elastic “Mr. Fantastic.” Bell will do a lot of CGI work as “The Thing,” and it remains to be seen how his plié and coup-de-pied work  in Billy Elliot will carry over in his portrayal of the orange rock-man. Mara, the oldest main casting at 30 years old, will try not to be too invisible as “Sue Storm.”
 
This latest announcement comes on the heels of Marvel’s first trailer release for Guardians of the Galaxy last week, as Marvel is loading their plate for the upcoming year. The Fantastic Four‘s cast of young actors represents a much different direction and tone for the series than the original Jessica Alba and Chris Evans-led F4 series. The cast is notably younger than the 2005 cast, continuing Marvel’s recent trend in shifting to a youthful, less serious, more dynamic culture, as seen in recent reboots like The Amazing Spiderman and X-Men: First Class or in more unconventional billings like the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy.
 
Things are looking good for the comic world and 2015 looks to be action-packed with Age of UltronAnt-Man and now The Fantastic Four all billed for release.

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Out in Theaters: THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

“That Awkward Moment”
Directed by Tom Gormican
Starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas
Comedy, Romance
94 Mins
R

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A butt ugly rom-com masquerading as a dude’s night out, That Awkward Moment sees women fawning over tools and douchebags for their tooliness and douchebaggery. After all, ain’t women just the dumbest?!

This farce of a comedy is so tone deaf to the complex intricacies of gender that it’s so ruthlessly trying to break down that audiences on either side of the genitalia fence will find themselves scoffing in affronted disbelief. I mean, this is a movie that presumes that all guys live for the next one night stand and find commitment on the same level as getting capped in the knee. Women, no matter how beautiful and talented, on the other hand find themselves lucky just to be in the presence of these idols of douche. No matter how many times their needs are forgotten, ignored or actively trampled, they’ll always come running back because… guys are hot. AMIRIGHT?

After stunning breakout performances last year, it’s a certifiable shame to see Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan’s considerable talent put to absolute waste in this turd sandwich of a film. Teller manages to slide in the only few chuckles but even his jesting persona is overcast with a torrent of sleaze, the main ingredient this film has served up. Even though he’s the only one actually committing here, Michael B. Jordan might as well have been phased in from another brand of C-grade rom-com as his super-sized cheesy, level 11 cliché romantic subplot butts heads with the should-be elbow nudging plot line going on with the other fellas.

This rehashed bro dramedy, or bramedy, is at it’s core a collection of defunct disparate pieces blended together in a distasteful stock of familiar genre truisms. There’s the heavily muscled front man (Efron), a chick-bangin’ machine who drinks whiskey and dresses like every day is a frat party; the wingman best friend (Teller), another go-getter of epic lady-scoring potential; and the heartbroken third (Jordan) trying to get the wind back beneath his cuckolded wings.

Efron’s leading lady and central foil, Imogen Poots, though undeniably adorable, is as intellectually and emotionally stagnant as the picture itself. But let’s give credit where credit is due, she is gorgeous. Even beyond that orbit of eye makeup, she is simply stunning. Unfortunately for her, her looks can only carry her so far and when her performance isn’t even able to keep her American accent in check, there’s signs of a serious breakdown. She plays cute fine but I’m not convinced she’s trying. It’s one thing to be natural, it’s quite another to just stand in front of a camera acting like yourself and riding into the sunset on your looks.

Speaking of capitalizing in the old looks department, Zac Efron here has the depth of a hair gel commercial. Arrogant, dimwitted and cocky, with a bad and flagrantly sexist attitude to boot, Efron’s brand of bro ho is the epitome of how Americans ought not self-represent. That Awkward Moment tells us early on that this is the generation lead by the selfish. It then goes on to cram that point down our throats for the next grueling 95 minutes. No one is more of a shining beacon of selfish oaf than Efron. And though he’s not to blame for the heinously unpleasant script (that comes courtesy of debut director Tom Gormican) he fails to bring an ounce of humanity to the picture. Frankly, I could never see him on the screen again and be all the happier for it. Unlike his co-stars, Efron is a dying star; he’s burned bright and will soon fizzle out.

Hateful and misogynist dreck that The Awkward Moment is all just boils down to a less clever modern retelling of Josh Harnett‘s 40 Days and 40 Nights, tone deaf to how distasteful its message is and blind to the unblinking plagiarism of a thousand different rom coms. Basically devoid of comedy, this is a strange beast that really has no audience and chastises the audience it does have. While comedies tend to be more male-centric and rom-coms most certainly female-centric, this is a film that guys will find repugnant and girls will be insulted by. It must be hoping to find its audience amongst the pea-brained and unscrupulous. As for the title, I’m not sure exactly which awkward moment the film is referring to as there were so many jokes left hanging in the air, waiting for the other shoe to drop, that the whole affair is one long, half-wincing awkward moment. At least they hit the nail on the head somewhere.

D

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Sundance Review: WHIPLASH

J.K. Simmons has been gracing the screen, both big and small, for twenties years but his career is more in the long category than the illustrious kind. Simmons has quietly paid his dues, slipping in a commendable character actor’s career, and was undeniably long overdue for a role of this magnitude. After witnessing his knockout performance in Whiplash, I’ve join the ranks now wondering why he wasn’t cast in roles like this a long time ago. Read More