Burnt

Genre: Drama

Director: John Wells

Screenplay: Steven Knight

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Riccardo Scamarcio, Sam Keeley, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Lily James, Sarah Greene

Running Length: 100 minutes

Synopsis: Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and rock star behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can earn him his third Michelin star.

Review: There’s a scene in Burnt where Bradley Cooper’s Adam expounds on why fast food is not given the credit he claims it deserves – and the answer is because they produce food that’s too consistent, and consistency is boring. The same, unfortunately, can be said of Burnt itself, as it comes across as a film that’s a little too generic and unmemorable as a whole.

It’s kind of a pity, especially since Bradley Cooper puts in a (by now) reliably solid performance, able to portray both the swaggering a-hole and the introspective, insecure ex-addict with aplomb and believability. However, his performance is let down by the middling script – the entire redemptive arc of Adam runs along an extremely predictable path, and anyone who’s seen a movie in the same mould (i.e. everyone) will not be surprised in any way, save for a single unexpected plot twist near the end of the film.

Also, for a film that deals in the rarefied world of haute cuisine, there’s surprisingly little attention paid to the food. While there are some aesthetically pleasing close-up shots of the dishes, the editing and montages generally feel too harried, with the camera rarely resting on any food shot for more than a second. This frenetic pace works better in a film like Chef, and ironically Chef actually pays more loving, measured attention to the food truck-style dishes than what Burnt does with its Michelin-star gourmet dishes.

While there are a good number of name actors in the film, they are generally given very little to do, with the only bright spark being Sienna Miller’s Helene, whose charming performance is a credible foil to Cooper. Other well-known faces like Emma Thompson and Uma Thurman feel criminally underused, serving more like props to help propel the plot along rather than actual characters. In the end, Burnt feels like a facsimile of a gourmet meal, one that will undoubtedly leave you feeling full, yet unsatisfied.   

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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The Walk

Genre: Drama

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, based on the book “To Reach the Clouds” by Philippe Petit

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Benedict Samuel, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Mark Camacho

Running Length: 124 minutes

Synopsis: Twelve people have walked on the moon, but only one man – Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – has ever, or will ever, walk in the immense void between the World Trade Center towers. Guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), and aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, Petit and his gang overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan.

Review: Movies worth watching in 3D come extremely few and far between, and I’ve always advocated sticking to 2D for the large majority of films that offer both options. However, The Walk is a movie that truly deserves to be seen on the big screen and in 3D (fortunately, it’s available in IMAX 3D locally, the largest possible format), and it’s my recommendation to go that route in order to maximize the viewing experience that The Walk will provide. In fact, if one does not watch The Walk in IMAX 3D, there’s very little compelling reason to watch the film in any other format.

The Walk takes its own sweet time to get started, with the first hour being largely unnecessary exposition filled with characters that populate the film but possess little to no depth (unfortunately that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of Petit, though he still imbues the character with a boatload of charm). However, once we move on to the actual attempt to walk the wire across the two World Trade Center towers, things become a lot more interesting. The setup of the walk feels like a heist movie, and is quite an entertaining segment of the film. The logistical challenge of sneaking the equipment into the towers and the actual setup of the line is nothing to sniff at, and while truncated, Zemeckis does manage to wring a lot of entertainment value out of this third of the film.

And then there’s the last reel of the movie, which covers the walk itself. This is the big payoff for the film, and manages to counterbalance all the faults that the film contained prior to this glorious sequence. When viewed in IMAX 3D, the walk is nothing short of a spectacle – you could almost believe that the towers are real, and the dizzying sense of vertigo is enhanced with the huge screen and 3D. In fact, anyone with a fear of heights might find themselves feeling a bit of anxiety over how realistic some parts of the sequence are. The technical wizardry employed to bring this segment to life is truly impressive and I am pretty sure that The Walk is a shoo-in for at least a handful of technical award nominations next Oscar season.

This is not the first big-screen treatment of Petit’s historic walk across the twin towers, as it was also the subject matter of the eminently watchable documentary Man on Wire in 2008. Truth be told, the documentary tells the tale better, but in terms of visuals The Walk wins out by a large margin. This will not be a movie that would work well on the small screen, so make plans to head down to a cineplex near you if a visceral cinematic experience is what you’re after.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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The Martian

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Ridley Scott

Screenplay: Drew Goddard, based on the novel by Andy Weir

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig, Sean Bean

Running Length: 141 minutes

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, Watney must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

Review: There has been a resurgence of space exploration movies in recent years, and while The Martian does not reach the heights of Interstellar and Gravity, it’s a very commendable effort nonetheless, featuring some of the best work from both Ridley Scott and Matt Damon in years. While the concept of The Martian certainly isn’t a new one (it would not be a stretch to describe the movie as “Cast Away” in space), it is an undeniably fun and fulfilling cinematic experience that will definitely be a crowd pleaser.

Despite what the trailers might suggest, The Martian is a movie that’s very light on action and very heavy on introspection and exposition. While it isn’t focused solely on Watney, with relatively big chunks of screen time split between the other crew members of the Ares 3 as well as the ground crew, a lot of time is spent observing Watney doing his utmost best to survive on a distant planet. Although some liberties have been taken with the science in the movie, a lot of it feels authentic and believable, which makes it even easier for the audience to identify with the proceedings, despite its alien setting. Both Andy Weir (author of the original novel) and NASA have been involved every step of the way, and the resulting authenticity of the movie is surely a direct result of this.

While the subject matter is quite serious, Ridley Scott maintains a light touch throughout the film, and there are many moments of humour that help to make the proceedings less dark than they could have been. Although The Martian runs over 2 hours, the film moves at a very brisk pace, and at no time does the film feel like it has lost any dramatic momentum despite cutting back and forth the three locales.The Martian is also a handsomely shot film, particularly when showcasing the barren vastness of Mars. There is, naturally, a large amount of visual effects employed in the film, but it never distracts from the actors or the storyline.

Although there is a very large and capable group of supporting actors, this is undoubtedly Matt Damon’s movie. Having to perform largely in isolation means that there are many stretches of the film where the thespian duties fall entirely on Damon, and he does an admirable job portraying the wide range of emotions that Watney undergoes. He easily becomes the emotional core of the movie, and audiences will assuredly be rooting for him long before the movie ends. It’s not difficult to imagine that he would likely be a frontrunner in the Oscar race in 2016. It’s not his first performance as a stranded astronaut (Interstellar being the first), but it’s definitely his best (so far).

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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