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Non-Review Review: A Little Chaos

Perhaps what is most remarkable about A Little Chaos is how deftly the film blends stock romantic comedy tropes with the trappings of a loftier period piece drama. A Little Chaos fictionalises the construction of the gardens at Versailles, undertaken at the behest of King Louis XIV. However, A Little Chaos uses this historical event as the backdrop for a series of quirky romantic misadventures. Matthias Schoenaerts plays André Le Nôtre, the stickler for order who is forced to take on some hired help to ensure that he meets the assigned deadlines.

Kate Winslet is Sabine De Barra, who is hired to design one of the garden’s fountains. Whereas Le Nôtre advocates for order, De Barra argues for a little randomness. The two are introduced at loggerheads, their philosophical positions made clear when De Barra presumes to move a single potted plant in a sequence arranged by Le Nôtre. Inevitably, attraction blossoms as the two find themselves working harder and harder to meet the targets set by the sitting monarch.

Another feather in her cap?

Another feather in her cap?

For all the promise of the title, A Little Chaos packs very few surprises. The formula is quite clearly honed, and it is easy enough to plot the various character arcs and dynamics across the movie’s runtime. Indeed, A Little Chaos might even have benefited from some tightening, feeling quite stretched across its two-hour runtime. At the same time, Alan Rickman has assembled quite the cast for his second film as director. A Little Chaos can count on a superb ensemble – both above and below the title – to carry it when things get a little indulgent.

A Little Chaos is not as fun or as playful as it might be. On the other hand, it looks and feels very impressive, with an occasionally clunky script brought to life by a talented array of actors.

Long live the king!

Long live the king!

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Non-Review Review: Divergent

As far as adaptations of popular young adult novels go, Divergent lacks the strong charismatic lead of The Hunger Games or even the campy pleasure of The Mortal Instruments. Working with a premise that feels like it would have made for a delightfully cheesy piece of sixties socially-conscious science-fiction, Divergent proceeds to take absolutely everything far too seriously. Cliché moments play to an over-the-top soundtrack, terrible dialogue is delivered with earnest profundity, the movie failing to take any joy in anything that it does.

There’s a sense of cynicism in Divergent, with the sequels already mapped out, and the studio committed to their release. The result is a movie that never feels compelled to rush, instead spending most of its runtime spinning its wheels, covering familiar ground. It’s over-long and poorly paced, with the first two acts often feeling like a hyper-extended training montage, meaning that by the time anything starts happening the audience can’t wait for it to end. The result is a heavy-handed and over-cooked attempt at social commentary, one reeking of anti-intellectualism and simplistic pandering.

Don't worry, her training covers this...

Don’t worry, her training covers this…

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Non-Review Review: Movie 43

For a collection of comedy sketches assembled together from a bunch of different writers, directors and actors, Movie 43 is pretty consistent in quality and tone. Sadly, in the worst possible way. It’s consistently and awkwardly unfunny, substituting rude words and crude references to male and female anatomy for jokes or witticism. You know you’re in trouble when the sketch that comes closest to fulfilling the promise of the movie – the lure of crass, immature and ridiculously low-brow comedy – is directed by Brett Ratner. Even then, it’s hardly anything to write home about. Ratner’s sequence is the best part of the film, but it’s hardly anything especially memorable.

Don't worry, Mister Gere. In a year, nobody will remember this.

Don’t worry, Mister Gere. In a year, nobody will remember this.

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My Heart Will Go On: Titanic & We Need to Talk About Calvert…

It’s funny the things we pick up on after seeing a movie a few times. I had the pleasure of attending a preview of Titanic 3D last week, and Cameron’s film still holds up as an epic romance in a style that Hollywood simply doesn’t do anymore. It still has its problems, but it is one hell of a cinematic accomplishment. Still, as I was watching the film, my attention may have wandered a bit, and I found myself thinking about things that were unseen, as opposed to those moments Cameron had explicitly shown. Specifically, I thought about Rose Dawson’s life after the sinking of the ocean liner but before her trip to the salvage crew. In fact, I thought quite a bit about Calvert. Who is Calvert, you might ask? Calvert is her husband, the father to her children and the grandfather to her granddaughter, who is entirely absent from the film as we pay homage to the love story between Jack and Rose.

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Non-Review Review: Titanic (3D)

James Cameron’s Titanic is still a breath-taking production, even sixteen years after the fact. Sure, its huge budget and even bigger box office returns, coupled with its enormous pop culture impact, have all combined to make it a bit of a target for movie critics in the years following its initial release. To be honest, while I wouldn’t rank it as anywhere near Cameron’s finest accomplishment, I’ve always admired it for what it was: a romantic historical epic, perhaps the most recent film like that which Hollywood has produced. Even a decade and a half later, Titanic remains one hell of spectacle and a well-constructed piece of cinema, with Cameron displaying a mastery of form and an innate skill for story-telling. Couple with the best post-conversion 3D that I have ever seen, there’s no reason for anybody with a genuine interest in the film to stay away from the big re-release.

Her heart will... go on, finish it...

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Non-Review Review: Carnage

Carnage is pretty much an excuse to watch four very skilled actors ripping chunks out of one another. What’s not to like?

This means Warhol!

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Non-Review Review: Contagion

It’s somewhat ironic that the biggest fault with Contagion is that it’s not nearly clinical enough. Soderbergh’s exploration of the impact of a mass pandemic actually works best when the director pulls back to give us a high-level overview of a society collapsing, the individual lives reduced – appropriately enough – to microscopic cells in a larger organism in what might be its death throes. It’s these sequences and shots that are brilliantly effective, demonstrating the systemic and group dynamics that enable and facilitate the spread of a deadly bird flu variant, while the more intimate moments feel awkward and shoehorned in, never afforded enough space to develop character or plot lines. Still, if you pull back and look at the big picture, Soderbergh’s latest effort is an engaging ambitious disaster movie.

One sick picture...

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