Need For Speed

March 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor”)
Written by: George Gatins (debut)

Soon after actor Paul Walker’s tragic death in a car accident this past November, many people wondered what the future of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise would be. Beyond the obvious logistics of how the series would carry on, fans wondered how they would get around making a film and telling a story that so heavily involved dangerous driving, the very same thing that took Walker’s life. While the next installment of “Fast and the Furious” isn’t slated until next year, the loose video game adaptation “Need For Speed” is the first test to see how the car racing/driving genre fares in the wake of the passing of one of it’s biggest stars.

After being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, mechanic and amateur car racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) gets out of jail and decides to get back at the man who framed him, professional driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). To do this, Tobey must drive cross-country to get the attention of a man who runs an underground race in order to gain entry to this exclusive competition where he can get revenge on his archenemy.

From a story perspective, “Need For Speed” stumbles right out of the gate by introducing Tobey’s rivalry with Dino without giving any back-story or reason to become invested.  This kicks off a series of events that is meant to pull at the heartstrings and give Tobey his motivation, yet can be seen from a mile away. From there the film begins its revenge plot by way of a wildly generic screenplay. Similar to the “Fast and Furious” films, “Need For Speed” spends time around a crew of fellow mechanics and drivers that aid Tobey in his cross-country trip. Unfortunately, these are all characters who themselves are also generic and add nothing but a means to push the story forward and spew cheesy, inane dialogue. For his performance, Paul isn’t given much to work with in Tobey. He’s the “strong and silent” type who is hellbent on revenge and reluctantly bringing car broker Julia (Imogen Poots) along from the ride. Aside from a terribly written introduction to her character, Poots is probably the most enjoyable character to watch and her scenes with Paul become better as the film carries on.

Aside from a mess of a story, the main draw to “Need For Speed” is obviously its action sequences. Admittedly, there is some pretty neat stunt driving and coordination, including one wild scene involving a car and a cliff. But mostly, the film spends most of its time glorifying completely reckless driving all in an often obnoxiously loud presentation.

More to that point, there is even a scene of Tobey driving stupidly in an effort to “scare” Julia from wanting to ride with him. To do this, and with assistance from a friend in a helicopter, Tobey speeds his way through city streets, zigging and zagging, driving purposely on the wrong side of the road and leaving mass destruction in his wake. Coupled with some fiery car crashes that are eerily similar to the images associated with the wreck that took Walker’s life, it will be very interesting to see how audiences react to this film now that one of the actors who popularized the genre has fallen victim to the very same thing he made popular in a unbelievably cruel twist of life imitating art. But any and all of that aside, “Need For Speed” is just a bad movie. It’s noisy, overlong and features a banal screenplay and characters. For his first performance after his amazing and nuanced role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” Paul deserves much better.

Tamara Drewe

December 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Stephen Frears (“The Queen”)
Written by: Moira Buffini (debut)

Based on a series of newspaper comic strips, which were later used to create a graphic novel, “Tamara Drewe” proves to have a much more interesting personality when printed on paper than she does in an actual feature film. Despite actress Gemma Arterton (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”) doing her best to draw us in with more than her short shorts, the title character reveals herself to be surprisingly unlikeable.

Tamara’s negative characteristics would not be completely intolerable if you can believe that is exactly what two-time Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears really wanted from this British farce. Unfortunately, it feels like somewhere in the translation from the page to the screen, first-time writer Moira Buffini loses touch with Tamara. Watching her jump from bed to bed, it probably was a little difficult to keep up.

In the film, Tamara, a frisky newspaper columinst, returns to the countryside town of Dorset, England where she grew up and causes a ruckus among the reclusive men of a writing retreat who are all spontaneously inspired by her presence. The men, including farm owner Nicholas (Roger Allam), who is already cheating on his wife Beth (Tasmin Greig), are smitten. Call Tamara a muse if you want, but she’s trouble any way you look at it.

While it might have been easy enough for Arterton to run away with the picture because of her initial charm, the most substance audiences will gather is within the writer’s retreat. Greig hasn’t received enough credit this year for her supporting role as a woman scorn. Bill Camp (“Public Enemies”) is also memorable as Glen McCreavy, a writer obsessed with novelist Thomas Hardy who wrote “Far from a Maddening Crowd,” which is actually the real-life inspiration for the original “Tamara Drewe” comic.
Still, once we leave the comfortable confides of the writer’s camp, “Tamara Drewe” spreads itself thin among a collection of characters better suited for blathering British TV. Tamara of “Tamara Drewe” might be easy on the eyes, but once she starts sharing awkwardly-written dialogue between lovers, it’s much easier to just tune out.

The Duchess

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”)
Written by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”), Jeffrey Hatcher (“Casanova”), Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding”)

Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve seen this period piece before and not just because of the exquisite costumes and ballroom dances. It might be hard to differentiate between period pieces these days, but with “The Duchess” there is enough enthusiasm from Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes to make it worth another trip back in time to the 18th century.

Set in 1774 England, Georgina (Knightley) has just been called upon by the Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) to become his new bride. Unlike Knightley’s reaction as Elizabeth Bennett in the most recent “Pride and Prejudice” remake, Georgina is thrilled with the idea of being matched to someone she has never met to secure her and her family’s well-being. Early scenes show Georgina flirting with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a young man who is the token love interest most period pieces will flock back to when their leading lady is fed up with her exalted husband. It happens again here in “Duchess,” (as do a few other plot points in films like “The Other Boleyn Girl”) but not before some interesting forks in the seemingly straightforward road.

Failing to give birth to a male heir, the Duchess, who ignores her husband’s extramarital affairs, gives her trust and friendship to a woman she meets at a party named Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell). Georgina even gets the Duke to allow her to move into the estate when Elizabeth falls on hard times. It doesn’t take long for their new tenant to use her friendship with Georgina to begin a relationship with the Duke. The bizarre love triangle is taken up a notch when, instead of ridding himself of Georgina, the Duke decides that he wants to live with both women and continue their lives as he sees fit. The tension is at its highest during scenes when all three are at the breakfast table masking their displeasure and anger.

Of course, Georgina finds her way back to the now-political Charles Grey, who has never forgot about her. They’re relationship gets melodramatic and predictable, but roles like this are so second nature for Knightley, she does them in such a fascinating way it’s hard to imagine anyone else (even her lookalike Natalie Portman) playing the same part.

Where “The Duchess” fails is not building on Georgina’s character outside the walls of her castle. Although the scenes are few and far between, the Duchess was known for her taste in fashion, and political interest, but there’s really no mention of them despite Knightley’s take on her outgoing personality when she is away from the confines of her own home. We may not really see how Georgina affects the people of Devonshire on a cultural level, but as an emotionally wrecked figure Knightley captures her essence wonderfully.