THE ROVER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Bloody Violence

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Directed by: David Michod

Written by: David Michod

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Gillian Jones, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo, Anthony Hayes & Susan Prior

I have yet to see ANIMAL KINGDOM, but judging from THE ROVER, I can safely say that David Michod likely has a future making fantastic cinema. This is far from a perfect film and certain elements were not well executed. However, the sheer force of talent on display in most areas showcase an Australian filmmaker with a penchant for crafting interesting stories. THE ROVER feels like David Lynch directing a Cormac McCarthy book. It’s bleak, strange, and wholly engrossing from frame one. The payoff didn’t satisfy me, but the journey getting there is one worth taking for those who don’t mind a deliberately paced film that has not a single thing resembling an upbeat take on the world. This is a dark story set in harsh conditions and that comes across on the screen.

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It has been a decade since something called the “Collapse” happened. Australia has been left in a near-apocalyptic state. People are desperate for money, though we are told multiple times this is now regulated to useless pieces of paper. These desperate folks also have no qualms about shooting each other over petty things. Eric is a quiet man whose sole possession of value is a car parked outside his residence. When a trio of thugs steals Eric’s car, he takes it upon himself to hunt them down and get his vehicle back. Aided by Rey, a simple brother of one of the thugs, Eric takes a painstaking journey to retrieve his vehicle and will kill anybody who gets in his way.

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There’s not a character worth rooting for in THE ROVER. That might come across as a negative trait for some viewers, but I found it to be kind of refreshing. These are troubled people in bleak times doing horrible things to each other over simple material things. Little is explained to us about what exactly the “Collapse” was and why certain things are the way they are. It added a level of mystery to everything and let the viewer throw in their own theories about how things worked. The plot is bare-bones simple. It’s about a guy trying to get his stolen car back. That’s it. That’s the plot and the execution is where many things soar. Every scene is put together in a calm, assured sense that never lets the viewer relax. We know that at any point blood might be shed over the most pointless things and that’s a good reason to be on the edge of your seat.

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As Eric, Guy Pearce portrays a damaged and dangerous man. He almost seems like a sort of anti-hero until one scene in the first 10 minutes that explicitly spells out that he’s not a good guy. Just like everything else in this post-apocalyptic world, no specific details are outright given about this character. One of the few dialogue exchanges in the move tells you all you need to know about this man. Robert Pattinson (known for his roles in the much maligned TWILIGHT Saga) does a solid enough job of playing Rey. He’s a mentally disabled type that relies heavily on those around him. Pattinson does a stellar job in most scenes (nailing the facial tics of this young man), but can get a little over-the-top in some areas. Scoot McNairy (KILLING THEM SOFTLY and NON-STOP) also shows up in a few scenes as Rey’s brother, but not a whole lot of time is spent on any characters other than Pearce and Pattinson. The performances mainly rely in the body language of the actors though. Much of the movie is dialogue free, though sometimes the soundtrack can get grating. There’s one annoying pop song that stuck out like a sore thumb. The quiet tension in other moments is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. The first 40 minutes are stellar and a long sequence at rundown motel is amazing.

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Not all is perfect with THE ROVER though. The disappointing ending and running at a snail’s pace keep the movie from reaching a glorious level of quality. The film does drag in some long stretches. This is especially disappointing given how well the first forty minutes were playing out. The pacing was deliberate in those, but it was paying off in spades. The middle section is just downright boring in areas. The ending is anti-climatic to say the least. I would have been very satisfied if it had cut to credits a minute before it actually did. There was one shot that sparked my curiosity and it was better left ambiguous, rather than spelling things out with an unconvincing final shot that didn’t blend in well with the rest of the film.

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THE ROVER winds up being a decent movie with moments of greatness. The first 40 minutes are stellar and a few sequences after are beyond intense. However, I didn’t buy the climax and some parts drag to an unnecessary degree. Pearce delivers a powerhouse performance. Pattinson is solid, but can come off as a little cheesy here and there. The film is beautifully put together in the sheer visual scope of the world being shown, but the pacing and ending needed some work. I’m glad I saw THE ROVER, even with those significant flaws in mind. It’s most definitely not for everyone. If you’re a fan of Cormac McCarthy, David Lynch, and (I’m guessing) David Michod’s previous film, then this should be worth your time.

Grade: B-

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

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