Friday, 11 September 2015

60 Second Film Reviews #23

Quick movie reviews, without the waffle. 60 Second Film Reviews is a regular feature where I compile together brief reviews of recent films I've watched at home or at the movies - and generally couldn't be arsed didn't find time to write a proper review for.

On the slate this month, we have a some recent DVD releases; The Duff, Black Sea, White Bird in a Blizzard and Trance. 

The Duff (2015)

When The Duff originally hit cinemas earlier this year, I saw lots of reviews billing it as 'the next Mean Girls'. I thought to myself, "whoa there cowboy - those are pretty big shoes to fill. I mean, let's face it - Mean Girls is as close to a modern classic as you can get. If I had a dollar for every time someone quoted that film..."

For one reason or another, I totally missed out on seeing The Duff in cinemas; maybe the thought of all those squeaky teens subconsciously kept me away. Anyway, The Duff is about a senior in high school, Bianca (Mae Whitman), who is horrified to find that she has been branded a duff - designated ugly fat friend - by everyone behind her back. A term that is used exclusively on people who make those around them look more attractive by comparison, Bianca channels her anger into a transformation that'll show the bullies - including popular girl Madison (Bella Throne) - who is boss.

Things start out pretty middle-of-the-road in this film. It's been about a week since I watched it, and not a single line stood out as being truly memorable or quotable. Whilst the script does have some funny moments in it, this film is sorely lacking when it comes to something truly unique to set it apart from the crowd. Mae Whitman is a charming and cool lead, but the supporting cast aren't as strong. Aside from the schoolyard hunk Wesley (Robbie Amell), the rest sort of blur together; Bianca is best friends with two other girls - Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos) - but I'll be damned if I can tell them apart without checking IMDB.

But you know what? It gets better. Power through those cliched opening 30 minutes, and a better, more mature, film starts to rear its head. I particularly liked how the friendship between Bianca and Wesley grew over time. In terms of high school 'cool cred', they're polar opposites but their whimsical relationship in the film feels natural and earned. That last point is the most important - it's earned. They're not thrown together because the script says they should be and their pairing is easily the best part about this film.

I'm not the target audience for this film, but I enjoyed it; it can feel a little generic at first, but I found that the whole is certainly greater than all its parts. Check it out if you're a fan of the teen rom-com genre for sure.

I give The Duff: 6/10

Black Sea (2015)

Black Sea is a tense submarine thriller from director Kevin MacDonald - starring Jude Law and Scott McNairy, the film sees a ragtag bunch of British and Russian submariners journey to the Black Sea in search of long lost Nazi gold after they're laid off from their respective jobs at a Scottish shipyard. 

Submarine thrillers have become their own little subgenre over time; the tight confines of the claustrophobic undersea vessel make for an ideal setting for wall-to-wall drama and nuanced performances, and Black Sea is no different. MacDonald doesn't waste time in plonking his ensemble cast into the big black tube so that they can tear into one another and generally fight amongst themselves.

My main issue with this film wasn't the acting or the plot; both of those elements are brilliant. It's the characters. With the threat of outside interference pretty much set to zero, the characters in Black Sea are left to fight one another, ultimately shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to achieving their goal of retrieving the promised Nazi gold. It was frustrating to see the characters create tension and drama when all they had to do was survive for a few days and they'd be set. I know, it's a stupid criticism; that's the source of the drama in a film like this. But still, I couldn't help but be annoyed by the one or two characters who solely existed to ruin it for everyone else.

Jude Law is great though; despite sporting a rather shite Scottish accent (just stick to being the posh Englishman, Jude), his performance as the gruff and disgruntled worker was surprisingly good. McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn were also great; Black Sea is the kind of film that is a character actor's wet dream, so it was great to see these two thrive.

The Verdict: 7/10 

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

After screening overseas last year, White Bird in a Blizzard just hit DVD here in Australia; starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green and Christopher Meloni, this film sees Kat Connor (Woodley) relishing her newfound freedom after her disturbed mother (Eva Green) vanishes, but the strange facts of the disappearance soon begin to haunt her.

Set in the late 80's, this sexually-charged coming-of-age tale only runs for just over 90 minutes, but somehow feels long and drawn out at the same time. To be honest, it's a bit of an oddity; it starts off pretty strongly, balancing flashbacks to Eva Green's pre-disappearance weirdness and Woodley's present day escapades, before jumping forward in time by something like two years and bypassing what felt like some actual growth and character development.

All we're treated to is a drawn-out midsection that feels aimless; I was just left thinking where it was going. It's half suburban thriller and half teen drama, mixing in some surrealist dream sequences that feel out of place. Seriously, I went in expecting something akin to Gone Girl and this film wildly missed the mark. It's not until over an hour in that Kat starts to put the pieces together about how her mother, her dad (Christopher Meloni) and her boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) all factor into the equation.

Woodley gives a great performance as the tearaway teen who is keen to sleep around, whereas Eva Green overacts to the point of absurdity. I mean, she's usually quite melodramatic (i.e. Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) but here it was laughably bad. Which is a shame, because we've seen how naturally charismatic she can be in the past, but here she just gnaws at the scenery until it's just dust.

Honestly, I was just bored with this film. For a film with a missing person mystery at its centre, it's oddly dull and uninteresting. It's only redeeming factor is a half decent performance from Woodley.

I give White Bird in a Blizzard: 4/10 

Trance (2013)

Trance is a British crime thriller from director Danny Boyle, the guy behind 127 Hours, Trainspotting and Sunshine. Starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel, Trance is a loopy spin on the art heist subgenre that plays fast and loose with reality, mixing surreal and colourful dream sequences with some kick-ass action and inventive film-making techniques. 

The first thing you notice about this film is the mind of Boyle at work behind the camera; the camerawork and cinematography is truly gorgeous, as Boyle injects a rich colour palette of yellows and blues that makes London come alive, both during the day and at night. With the contrast dialled up like a dramatic Instagram filter, this is a really grabbing film to look at during some of the more lurid sequences. 

The acting was also pretty great. McAvoy in particular is astounding; his character starts in one place, and ends somewhere radically different. If you think you know where this film is going, guess again; rarely am I as invested in a narrative as I was with this once, regardless of how unlikely, unconventional and crazy it became. 

It's loopy, stylish and absorbing entertainment that unravels slowly, gradually adding more layers into the mix until the full picture comes into focus. Does the hypnotic, mind-bending pseudo-science that drives the plot make a lot of sense? Not really, and Boyle does dish out an excessive amount of blood and gore for a film that doesn't really warrant it, but I still really loved this film. It almost certainly benefits from multiple viewings, and deserves a higher grade of praise than it received. Everyone talks about 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionare and Trainspotting, but Trance has been overlooked from Boyle's filmography. For me at least, that seems a little unfair - because, if you'll pardon the pun, this movie certainly caught me in a trance*

I give Trance: 8/10

*I'm truly sorry for such a terrible pun - if you never want to visit this blog again, I totally understand.


  1. I really liked White Bird and Trance. Eva Green was a little miscast in White Bird, but still good overall. I like Gregg Araki films.

    I didn't see The Duff either, mostly because I'm quietly boycotting the fact that Mae Whitman is STILL playing teenagers after a decade.

    1. Yeah wasn't she an evil ex in Scott Pilgrim? That was like 6 years ago Hollywood!

  2. White Bird is terrible. I almost completely agree with your assessment. I did enjoy Green's flat out bonkers performance.

    1. Cheers man :) I think my review is skewed slightly - the movie was added to Netflix like 2 days after I paid to rent it so I was still feeling a little bitter about it ;)

  3. I haven't seen any of these, but I really want to see Black Sea...

    1. Black Sea is an interesting one - a great movie but the more I think about it, the more I think Law was a little miscast...



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