Triple 9

Cast: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Matt Cook


Whenever I watch a film, the single most fundamental thing I require before I can regard it as a success is for the film to give me something that I can take away. Personally I don’t buy into the theory that film is a means of escaping reality. Instead I believe that film is a means of understanding reality. Even if the film in question is simply mindless entertainment, the very fact that I’m watching and enjoying it means that I need some mindless entertainment in my life. Therefore I need the film to actually give me something, whether it be entertainment, insight or emotion, that I can take with me into the real world. If I don’t feel like I’m actually getting anything from the film, then what’s the point of watching it? This is where Triple 9 let me down. Because I never felt attached to any of these characters, I found myself wholly indifferent to their fates. When it was all said and done then, I found the entire experience to be ultimately pointless.

After completing a major bank heist, a group of criminals are blackmailed by an incarcerated Russian mobster’s wife, Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet), to carry out another job. This crew includes career criminal Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), computer whiz Russell Welch (Norman Reedus) and his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul), and also two corrupt cops called Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.). The crew decides to organise a plan that involves a Triple 9, which means sending out a distress call for a downed officer as a means of distracting the major police units. Marcus suggests using his new partner Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) as the victim, a cop who has recently started to notice something off about his partner and has started to ask too many questions. Things get complicated even further when Chris’ uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson), a veteran detective, starts investigating the original heist.

While writing the above summary I was painstakingly reminded of how little I cared about the plot. Had I been unable to consult IMDb for information I would not have remembered half of the film’s plot points or characters. The only part of the story I can even remember with any real clarity was its wildly unsatisfying ending. Most of what came before in the build-up to that climax simply didn’t register with me. The film was so dense and hasty in its storytelling that I never found the time or the space to actually get drawn into what was happening. Characters were never introduced or established, they just appeared and would then disappear just as quickly. Right from the start the film drops us straight into the action without allowing us time to actually get a grip on what’s happening and allowing ourselves to get invested. It was a bit like taking a random book, abridging the first three or four chapters into half a dozen pages and then expecting the reader to make sense of whatever remains.

Keeping up with a haphazard story becomes even more problematic when you’re unable develop an attachment to any of the characters. The film provides little help in this regard by ensuring we learn as little as possible about any of them. Of the characters actually taking part in the heist, the only one who is revealed to have any sort of motivation is Michael, whose son is effectively being held hostage by Irina. Even then the film barely devotes any time towards defining or demonstrating their relationship. In truth the only reason I’m even able to remember any of these characters is by virtue of the actors playing them. I don’t remember the Welch brothers due to their arcs within the story, I remember them because they happen to be played by Darryl Dixon and Jesse Pinkman. Apart from one terrific cameo by Michael Kenneth Williams (seriously, I would much rather watch a movie about his character than any other in this film), I cannot recall a single character that made this film worth watching.

There are some technically good things about this movie. The cast is made up of some very strong actors, the cinematography is fairly decent and there are some well-executed action scenes. Despite all that however, I’m giving this movie a one-star rating because it failed to do the single most important thing that a film needs to do. It failed to leave any sort of an impact on me. As soon as the film was over I felt nothing about what had transpired over the past two hours and had forgotten most of what happened by the time I got home. I don’t even dislike the film; even a negative reaction would still be a reaction. I feel nothing for this film. This film took two hours of my life and left me with nothing to show for it. Triple 9 may not be a terrible movie but, for me at least, it is worthless to the point that the distinction hardly even matters.

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The Dressmaker

Cast: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Writers: Jocelyn Moorhouse, P.J. Hogan


This film definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be. Based on the trailers and posters I was pretty much expecting a period soap opera set in Australia with a few light-hearted laughs thrown in. I was wholly unprepared for how dark this film turned out to be. The comedy is still there and it is for the most part light-hearted, making the dark twists and turns of the story all the more shocking. The film’s tone is all over the place which means you are never sure what to expect next. Sometimes the change can happen in a split second. A scene that starts off as being fun and innocent will all of a sudden end with a twisted or tragic turn before you even realise what is happening. In a lesser film this results in a confusing and frustrating experience for the viewer. In the hands of an artist however a film that shifts its tone in just the right ways can send its audience on a rollercoaster. For me I think The Dressmaker is somewhere in the middle.

In 1951 Australia Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns to her rural home of Dungatar after a 25-year exile. There she is met with hostility by most of the residents including her mother, christened by the residents of Dungatar as Mad Molly (Judy Davis). The resentment directed towards Tilly all stems from an incident during her childhood that resulted in a boy’s death, an incident of which Tilly has no memory. Amongst the few residents who welcome Tilly’s arrival with kindness are the handsome neighbour Teddy McSweeny (Liam Hemsworth) and the closet cross-dressing sergeant Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving). During her time away from this town Tilly has become an accomplished dressmaker and soon astonishes her neighbours with her provocative and stylish designs and the confident ways in which she flaunts them. The townspeople however have no idea what is in store for them as Tilly unleashes a plan to right the wrongs of the past.

There are two things I absolutely loved about this film: the acting and the costumes. Winslet is on fire as this cunning, talented and sexually confidant woman who defiantly asserts herself before this traditionalist town while struggling with the guilt of a crime that she may or may not have committed. I admittedly did find the age gap between her and Hemsworth to be a bit distracting (given that the film tries to pass them off as being around the same age) but found it easier to accept when I saw the chemistry between them. Besides given the number of times we’ve had to see women being paired with men several years their senior it’s refreshing to see it the other way round. Davis and Weaving also provide standout performances playing outlandishly eccentric characters and clearly loving every second of it. The costumes that Tilly designs for the townspeople are invariably stunning, employing a wide variety of styles, colours and designs. I don’t remember ever seeing two dresses that looked the same. I will be absolutely appalled if the Oscars overlook this film in this year’s ballot for Best Costume Design.

This is a film that tries to blend several genres into one. It is a story of love, revenge and creativity that borrows elements of black comedies and westerns. It certainly is an ambitious effort, especially for a director who hasn’t made a film in nearly two decades, and there are times when this blend works very well indeed. There were other instances however when I felt what was happening was too outrageous or too out of character. The blending of genres is a device often seen in the works of popular directors like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino whose works are similarly difficult to categorise. What I think sets those two directors apart though is that whatever type of film it is they decide to make they still each have a unique visual style that is distinctively theirs. I think the reason I struggled to go along with parts of The Dressmaker was because Moorhouse’s style of direction wasn’t pronounced enough to substantiate the type of universe where a story like this would take place.

With all of that said however I cannot deny being greatly entertained by this film. Although I struggled with it at certain intervals, the parts that I did go along with I found to be a lot of fun. The ensemble as a whole was consistently strong and the characters they played were both memorable and enjoyable. While I didn’t think Moorhouse’s direction was distinct enough to compliment the story she wanted to tell, I still think it was strong enough to deliver an entertaining film with plenty of laughs and drama. Since it is such an unusual film with a premise that is so difficult to define I can imagine that the audience’s opinion will be greatly divided. Those who have watched the trailer expecting a straightforward narrative or a particular type of film will likely be disappointed. However those who walk into this film with an open mind and a certain suspension of disbelief will I think be surprised as I was by how much they’ll enjoy this film.

★★★★

Steve Jobs

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Aaron Sorkin


In my review of Burnt I wrote about the concept of the tortured genius and how that particular film had demonstrated a generic example of the idea. Steve Jobs on the other hand demonstrates a tortured genius done right. The Steve Jobs of this film is clearly a brilliant man with a singular mind. His ideas are radical and revolutionary, his thought process is dynamic and rapid, and he is always always always on. His exceptional mind is matched only by his colossal ego. Jobs is arrogant, narcissistic and disdainful. He resents anyone and everyone who cannot keep up with his ideas or doesn’t recognise his brilliance. He demands perfection from his subordinates and anything less is unacceptable and unforgivable. He is a man who simultaneously provokes an exponential amount of admiration and resentment from those around him and will alienate just as quickly as he will inspire. I have absolutely no idea whether this portrait is indeed an accurate reflection of the real Steve Jobs but, even if it isn’t, the subject of this film is nevertheless an endlessly fascinating figure and I very much enjoyed watching the film’s exploration of his psyche.

The film is set backstage at the launches of three products developed by Jobs at different points in his life: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. All three acts take place in real time as Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) coordinates these events while dealing with the key figures of his life. Amongst them are his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his loyal confidant whose position compels her to stand up to Jobs when no one else can; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the co-founder of Apple and perhaps the only person Jobs considers to be his friend; and John Scully (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of Apple who throws Jobs under the bus and then pays for it. The issues Jobs has to deal with extend to his personal life as well as he must also deal with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of his daughter. Each of these figures brings out a different side of Jobs and allow for a comprehensive exploration of the complex figure that has had such a resounding effect on them all.

This film is not so much a biopic as it is a character study. Instead of taking us through the life of Jobs from beginning to end, the film favours a format that allows us to understand him as a character. Watching him at work in real time provides an insight into how he thinks, how he acts and how he interacts with others. He is presented as a man who is incessantly thinking about a million different things as once and who is always on the move and always focused on the task at hand. Anyone who isn’t an asset to him is either an obstacle or is irrelevant, and Jobs doesn’t have any time for either of those things. However, by setting the film in three different time periods, we do see an evolution take place. Each period marks a different point in Jobs’ life as he experiences his optimistic inauguration, his greatest failure and his eventual triumph. Through it all I think it might be a bit too far to say that Jobs changes as a person, but he does learn a few things about himself. His perception does go through a change as he starts to find value in other things besides his ideas, particularly in his daughter. It isn’t a substantial change but it is a significant one.

The real star of this film is Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue. The rapid back-and-forths, the intelligent discourses and the impassioned monologues provide the perfect engine for telling a story of this kind. Through the quick and witty dialogue Jobs is able to establish himself as an exceptionally intelligent and charismatic man who can speak faster than most people can even think. What struck me about this film was how balanced it was in its portrayal of Jobs. While it depicts him as a wholly remarkable genius, it doesn’t let him off the hook for his antagonistic tendencies. Many of the characters resent Jobs and for good reason. The way Sorkin is able to praise Jobs’ greatest qualities while also challenging his worst allows for an intelligent and thoroughly absorbing analysis of a complicated man with a complex mind.

One of the things that makes Steve Jobs such an enjoyable film is that, much like Jobs himself, it never stops moving. It is always going somewhere, it is always saying something and it always doing something interesting. What essentially amounts to 90 minutes of people talking is able to be stimulating, creative and exciting through excellent writing, subtle directing and great acting. Fassbender may not look anything like the real Steve Jobs but his on-screen presence and portrayal of the man’s ingenuity and tyranny is not to be doubted. While the rest of the ensemble is superb, Fassbender nevertheless deserves to be singled out for his stellar performance. Through him Steve Jobs was able to deliver a stunning picture of an extraordinary man whose keen intellect and artistic vision revolutionised computer technology as we know it.

★★★★★

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Bomback


Marking the latest addition to the increasingly popular YA genre, Insurgent is the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s Divergent. Therefore I’m going to briefly share my feelings on the first film before diving into the second one. Simply put, I really did not like Divergent. I’m not against the YA genre (I do think The Hunger Games series is rather good); I just found this particular film to be boring and stupid. The main character is wholly uninteresting (despite being portrayed by an incredibly talented actress), the story is tedious and clichéd, and the universe that they inhabit with all of those rules about factions and Divergents and whatnot does not make any sense whatsoever. Defenders of the film claim that it all makes much more sense if you’ve read the books, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of adapting it into a film? Anyway, to go into more detail than that would take up too much space, so suffice it to say that I was not looking forward to watching the sequel.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off with Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James, who has yet to adopt a different facial expression), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) on the run from the Erudites. They find sanctuary at Amity, under the protection of Johanna (Octavia Spencer), and try to keep a low profile. The memories of her late parents and of Will, the friend she killed in the last film in order to save herself, are now haunting Tris’ dreams and are weighing heavily on her conscience (which apparently is as good a reason as any for Tris to give herself a stylish haircut). Meanwhile Jeanine (Kate Winslet) has uncovered a mysterious box that was found in the home of Tris’ parents which supposedly contains a message from the city’s founders and can only be opened by a Divergent. She thus orders her troops to lead a citywide manhunt to capture any and all Divergents. The fugitives are soon forced to leave Amity when Eric (Jai Courtney) shows up and is tipped off to their whereabouts by Peter.

As they make their escape Tris, Four and Caleb encounter the Factionless. One fight later Four ends it all by revealing his real name to them, Tobias Eaton. This revelation allows the party safe passage into the Factionless base where they are taken to meet Evelyn (Naomi Watts), the leader of the Factionless (who apparently have access to ample weapons and resources despite being declared outcasts by the rest of the factions) and also Tobias’ mother. She appeals to Tris and Four, declaring her intention to lead a revolution against Jeanine and how she needs their help to form an alliance with the Dauntless to aid her. Tris and Four do not want to go to war and are only interested in finding their friends. However as the hunt for the Divergents grows, as the unrest between the factions becomes greater, and as Tris’ presence becomes more dangerous to those around her, she comes to realise that she cannot escape who she is and that she cannot run away from this fight.

Although Insurgent suffers from many of the same weaknesses as Divergent, it is nevertheless a clear improvement. Tris, while still lacking in personality, is at least given a mildly interesting story-arc about overcoming the guilt of her parents’ deaths and Woodley manages to give quite a good performance despite sparse material. The film also has some visually stunning moments, particularly the dream sequence from the trailer in which Tris attempts to save her mother from a burning building, and also boasts of some excellent production design. Some actors from the previous film, particularly Kate Winslet and Miles Teller, were able to deliver notably better performances as they became more accustomed and more comfortable in the skin of their characters. Of all the new characters, Evelyn was a welcome addition through the virtue of having an actual personality (and the badass outfit certainly doesn’t hurt). There is however little else to praise about this film.

Insurgent, like its predecessor, suffers from a severe lack of reason and logic. This universe simply doesn’t make any sense and too many questions are left unanswered! What exactly are Divergents and why do they seem to possess special abilities that other people lack? Is it because they are more capable than everyone else or are they biologically different? Why are they considered to be inherently disruptive to the natural order of things? How is being Divergent any different from being Factionless? How does the revelation at the end explain anything or make any sense? The film never provides an adequate answer to any of these questions and ultimately builds up to a twist ending that only brings up even more questions. The film also suffers from an illogical plot, an overcomplicated setting, and bland characters with inconsistent motivations (seriously, what the hell is Caleb’s deal?). This film may not be as soulless as the first film was, but it was still trying and unsatisfying to sit through. The next film better damn well have some answers.

★★