Sunday 8 March 2015

60 Second Film Reviews #17

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 is Shawn Levy's comedy This Is Where I Leave You, Aussie apocalypse drama These Final Hours, drippy rom-com No Strings Attached and Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed.

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

This Is Where I Leave You is a dramedy about dysfunctional families starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Rose Byrne.

After the death of the family patriarch, Judd (Bateman) travels home to spend 7-days in mourning alongside his three siblings (Fey, Driver and Corey Stoll) and his mother (Jane Fonda). Not only that, but Judd is still reeling from the discovery that his wife is cheating on him with his boss.

It's a turbulent time for the whole family - there're marriages on the rocks, infidelity and struggles with getting pregnant to deal with. Squeezing into the same household for a week was never going to be a good idea - and so it proves after tensions run high and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.

The strongest element to This Is Where I Leave You is undoubtedly the amazing cast. Bateman does a good job in the lead but the real scene-stealers are Adam Driver as the tearaway son Phillip and Tina Fey as the strong soon-to-be-single mother of two. I liked the love-hate dynamic between the core cast - it really services the whole 'every family is a little dysfunctional' vibe the film is going for. Jane Fonda is also a hoot as the mouthy family matriarch who loves to embarrass her kids.

Where the film falls down is in its ability to maintain focus. Naturally, with so many different characters and storylines, something is bound to get buried at the bottom. Unfortunately, this just happens to be the case with Tina Fey's character, who arguably has the most interesting storyline to tell. A character/element that felt a little superfluous was Corey Stoll and his wife (played by Kathryn Hahn).

On the whole, This Is Where I Leave You is an entertaining comedy with moments of brilliance drip-fed throughout a slightly scatterbrained plot. Some members of the cast are a little underused and the whole thing feels like an extended sitcom pilot. Still, I enjoyed it for what it was.

I give This Is Where I Leave You: 7/10

These Final Hours (2014) 

These Final Hours is a concise Aussie action drama that seeks to answer one question - "what would you do if you only had 12 hours left to live?" With North America having been struck by an asteroid, Perth (in Western Australia) has only a few hours left before the oncoming wall of burning ash engulfs the city.

Naturally, society crumbles as panic spreads through the suburban streets. Our protagonist, James (Nathan Phillips) stumbles across Rose (Angourie Rice), a defenceless young girl looking for her father amongst the chaos. As the clock ticks downward, James is forced to make some difficult choices - but how far will he go to reunite the two?

The scale, as you can expect from a film surrounded by suburbia, is delightfully small and focuses on the characters and their moral choices rather than the whole world crumbling to ashes. Very little detail is given on the nature of the disaster. You're given the bare minimum and asked to accept it - much like the characters themselves.

Phillips is great in the lead role, and across the 90 minute runtime you really start to feel the connection grow between him and Rose. Perth's own Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) is really great in the smallish role she has whilst Sarah Snook (who was a revelation in Predestination last year) delivers a wonderfully unhinged performance.

One particular encounter in a library chills you to the core, even without a single shot being fired. On the other hand, many of the supporting characters are overacted to the point of ludicrousness - I get that they're supposed to have lost their minds to both drugs and madness, but they came across as very cartoonish and at odds with the stripped-back tone throughout the rest of the film.

Not going to lie though - it's a very grim and sombre film. I guess that's the point - y'know, what with the impending doom and all. Just don't go in expecting heroics and a happy ending.

I give These Final Hours: 6/10 

No Strings Attached (2011)

No Strings Attached is a romantic comedy from a few years back starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. It's about two friends, Emma (Portman) and Adam (Kutcher), who are keen to explore a 'no strings attached' relationship but find that emotions continually get in the way.

A lot of comparisons can be drawn between this film and another 20-something rom-com from 2011, Friends With Benefits, which starred Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. However, in the case of Friends With Benefits, the lead duo actually shared some degree of chemistry. It was effervescent, infectious and sexy.

For the first 30 minutes of No Strings Attached, Kutcher and Portman are nothing but awkward, stilted and just plain dull. The film opens with a 15-minute history lesson on the couple and shows us how they zoomed through a series of forced meet-cutes (somehow, the two remember each other every time they bump into one another despite having only met a grand total of two or three times over 15 years).

It's not exactly the sweet, dreamy meet-cutes this kind of film requires to be, y'know, fun and entertaining. I mean, the first time the two have sex is a quick 40 second romp before she has to dash off to work. Oooh, sexy. I liked that the 'traditional' roles were flipped (he's romantic, she's emotionally-distant) - that part was good.

Natalie Portman isn't a talentless actress - she's a goddamn Oscar winner for crying out loud. But here, her delivery is really bad - no matter how much she shines those pearly whites and flicks her hair, her character Emma comes across as irritating. The jury is still out on Kutcher though - an unfunny stint on one of TV's worst sitcoms along with this stilted and flat performance combines to leave him with a shaky 'funnyman' reputation if you ask me.

Not even a well-rounded supporting cast that includes Ludacris, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling and Olivia Thrilby can save this from being a patchy, sporadically funny and generic rom-com. Plus, it's way too long - 110 minutes in total means a lot could've been trimmed out.

I give No Strings Attached: 5/10

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Safety Not Guaranteed is the debut feature from director Colin Trevorrow. It stars Aubery Plaza, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni as a trio of magazine writers tasked with following an obscure story lead left by Kenneth (Mark Duplass). An odd newspaper ad reveals that Kenneth is looking to journey into the past and needs a partner to travel with - and it's up to the trio to get to the bottom of his story.

A lot of praise has been heaped on this film, and it hasn't escaped the notice of many that Trevorrow transitioned straight into directing upcoming summer tentpole, Jurassic World. So, was I in for something revolutionary?

Unfortunately, no. Safety Not Guaranteed is certainly fun, the kind of quirky indie romp you can expect from a first-time director still finding his feet within a minimal budget. The cast is quaint too - Aubery Plaza takes a leading role that, opposite Duplass, actually has some depth to it. Jake Johnson was my favourite character and the scenes he shares with Plaza are very funny.

That being said, I was not bowled over by the film as a whole. There's a lull in the middle where things get kinda slow, but as the different story strands come to a head it picks up again. Tonally, it's a little muddled and I found it hard to pinpoint where it was going. That being said, the ending is actually really great and you start to realise that everything, even the quieter moments, have been building towards this wonderfully sweet finale.

It's worth looking into, especially if you're a fan of Plaza or Johnson. I just felt it lacked the weight to be truly memorable.

I give Safety Not Guaranteed: 6/10


  1. Safety Not Guaranteed was one of my favorites from 2012 (even though it missed out on making my best list--partly because it was hard to define as a comedy), and This is Where I Leave You was certainly one of the best comedies of 2014. Fonda and Driver took home my top spots for comedic actress and actor, last year, but I agree that there was much lacking, beyond the performances. That moment, at the end of the movie, where Driver is telling Bateman farewell and he starts to tear up... oh my gosh! I almost lost it! So honest!

    1. I've had Safety Not Guaranteed on my watch list for a while but it was thoroughly underwhelming if you ask me - maybe I set my expectations too high? Let's hope the same kind of thing doesn't occur with Jurassic World eh? :)

      I haven't seen Adam Driver in much (I haven't seen Girls) but after watching him in This Is Where I Leave You and What If, I'm really excited to see what he can bring to the Star Wars universe in The Force Awakens. He's got a great presence in every scene he's in. Thanks for commenting Tanner! :)

  2. I don't think Safety Not Guaranteed is great, but i really enjoyed. Glad you took a look at it. From '11 I purposely skipped No Strings Attached after watching Friends with Benefits which I liked but didn't love. Sounds like I made the right choice.

    1. Yeah, you did make the right call. I only gave it a shot because I like Natalie Portman in pretty much anything! Thanks for commenting Wendell :)

  3. I really need to get round to watching This Is Where I Leave You, Jenna told me about it the other day :) I haven't seen No Strings Attached either, but I think I'll wipe it off my list now haha! Great reviews :)
    - Allie

    1. Thanks Allie! Glad I've whittled down your watch list somewhat ;)

  4. I really liked Safety Nod Guaranteed. Especially the ending. I wasn't crazy about This Is Where I Leave You, I've forgotten most of it already. ha

    Nice reviews!

    1. That's cool, I can kind of see why people liked it. I wasn't too hot on the odd offshoot the plot too with Plaza and Duplass. Thanks for commenting Brittani! :)



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