Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Accountant

Year: 2016
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow

Plot: An autistic savant overcomes his disability and becomes an accountant that secretly takes on clients made up of dangerous people around the world, making him a wanted man by the Treasury Department. When he takes on a robotics company as his client, he discovers a discrepancy that someone in the company would kill to hide.

Review: Based on the trailer alone, you can't really tell that The Accountant is an action film. It is, but it's also a character study of an autistic math wiz.

The character study part shows us the life of Christian Wolff, who had high end autism as a child. His father, a military man, rejects the recommendation of a neuroscientist and chooses instead to push Christian to not only overcome his disability, but to use it to his advantage. As a result, Christian grows up to become a math savant, using his skills to provide accounting services to dangerous individuals. Outside of that, he lives a solitary life, listening to loud music to calm down and keeps a trailer filled with cash and valuables. It is when he meets Dana Cummings, the young accountant of his latest client, that he starts to challenge his lack of social skills, and at the same time realizing that the company is trying to cover up something and is willing to go to deadly lengths to do it.

This is where the action part kicks in, as the discovery of some missing money makes him and Dana targets for elimination. If you're an action junkie, you have to be patient as this only happens at the film's half mark. But if you're the kind who loves violent hand-to-hand scraps and shootouts Jason Bourne style, you'll get a real treat here.

Ben Affleck, fresh off playing Batman, gives a strong portrayal of a man who accepts the things that make him different and become a hero that isn't shaded white, but grey. It's one of Affleck's best performances yet. Anna Kendrick is her usual awkward but likable self as Dana, but it works due to her fluid chemistry with Affleck. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson also do well as the two Treasury agents chasing Christian, while Jon Bernthal is great as Christian's adversary.

The downside is the film's weak first half, where director Gavin O'Connor shows us too many things going on at once, causing the film to lose focus. Once the film's action begins, the story becomes clearer.

Overall, The Accountant isn't perfect, but it's an inspiring story in its own way and a solid vehicle for Ben Affleck. (7/10)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Wailing

Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Kwak Do Won, Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee

Plot: When the people of a small town in South Korea start falling ill, going crazy and eventually die, the local police sergeant initially suspects poisonous mushrooms to be the cause, until he hears rumors that a Japanese man that has just arrived there, is up to something sinister and is behind it. When the sergeant's daughter falls ill as well, he takes matters into his own hands, which kickstarts a series of events that spiral out of control.

Review: This is only director Na Hong-jin's third film, but he's already making waves around the world with his work.

The Wailing takes place in a little town in South Korea where Jong-Goo, the local police sergeant lives with his wife, daughter and mother in-law. A series of mysterious deaths start occurring, where someone falls ill, turns insane and starts killing people. At first, Jong-Goo thinks it's just wild mushrooms causing the chaos, but people around him, including his partner, point their fingers at a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods. They claim he's not human and feed on people. Jong-Goo's daughter then succumbs to the same symptoms, forcing him to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including harassing the man and hiring a shaman to cure his daughter. What follows is a shitstorm that will likely not end well for him.

On the surface, Na's film doesn't look like a horror story, until it gets deeper and deeper into the crust of the situation Jong-Goo is in. The Wailing isn't just about evil, demonic possessions and the occult (elements that we've seen in other horror flicks), but also about fear and how it drives us humans to do things that we probably should not do. In this case, Jong-Goo is a devoted family man, though not a very good cop, who allows his own fear and prejudice to dictate his every move, something we can all relate to. Na adds this element on top of the above mentioned horror bits, leading to an intense and chilling final third of the film.

Credit must be given to the superb cinematography, capturing the vast mountains and eerie woods around the town, heck even the darkness of building interiors deserves a mention (though it was a bit too dark in the final scene). Kudos also to production design and makeup for creating such eerie sights of ritual rooms, corpses and animal carcasses, enough to make one feel queasy and uneasy.

Kwak Do Won is outstanding as Jong-Goo, making his character quite likable despite his obvious failings as a cop. He's such a tour de force that the rest of the cast don't hold a candle to him, though credit must be awarded to Jun Kunimura for his subdued yet unsettling portrayal of the Japanese man.

The one thing that bothered me a little was the ending. It was rather ambiguous, and I reckon Na must have intentionally ended it like that, because I did some research a while ago and there seems to be many interpretations of that ending, all which seem equally plausible. Nevertheless, it does spur viewers to go back and see it again to find clues, or try figuring out what it all means. One thing's for sure, as a horror film, it aims high and hits all its targets.

At 156 minutes, The Wailing might seem overindulgent, yet it's one of the best films of the year. Recommended. (8/10)


Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Side Babett Knudsen, Ben Foster

Plot: Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence with a head wound and no memory of what happened in the last 48 hours. When mysterious people start chasing him, he teams up with a young female doctor to follow the clues and stop a plot to unleash a virus that will wipe out the world's population.

Review: With the success of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, director Ron Howard had a lot to live up to for his current Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno. 

Once again, Brown's hero Robert Langdon, is thrust into an adventure that involves dodging bullets, chasing clues and stopping bad guys. This time, it involves a virus, made by a man who claims that the earth is being destroyed by overpopulation, and the virus is the answer to that problem. He has hidden it somewhere in the world, and left behind clues which Langdon must now follow to stop a catastrophe. A young doctor, Sienna Brooks is his only ally, and together they dodge WHO agents and a secret firm whose intentions become clearer as the story progresses.

The good stuff about Inferno is the problem solving, of course. Langdon's ability to read clues, refer to history and use them is always the most interesting part of the series. Here, his knowledge of Italian history and buildings, especially secret passages is most handy. As viewers, we are also treated to a sight of iconic Italian attractions in Florence and Venice, much like seeing The Vatican in Angels & Demons.

However, Inferno suffers from predictability, which one would be able to spot as early as the film's beginning. This makes the third act twist ineffective, and what follows after that seem less exciting. On top of that, there is a huge lapse of logic in the plot, like why would someone go through that much trouble to release a virus, leaving clues and all that, when they can just pick a highly populated city anywhere in the world and just release it there?

Tom Hanks is still on point as Langdon, though you can almost sense him looking a bit tired of doing these films by now. Felicity Jones is serviceable as Dr Brooks, while Irrfan Khan is solid enough as the head of the secret firm chasing Langdon. The rest of the cast are alright but none of them can rise above the flawed script.

Inferno turns out to be the weakest of Dan Brown's trilogy. It's a serviceable thriller, but nothing more. (6/10)

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Girl On The Train

Year: 2016
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney

Plot: A woman obsessed with another woman she sees as she rides the train every morning gets carried away and suddenly is implicated in the latter's murder.

Review: The Girl On The Train is based on the worldwide bestseller, though I reckon now that the story works better on paper than on film.

Rachel is a divorcee, an alcoholic who is unable to let go of her past life, which is being happily married to Tom, who is now married to Anna. They have a child together, which infuriates Rachel even more. She rides the train to New York every day and sees a house two doors away from her former house, where Megan lives. She doesn't even know Megan, but after seeing Megan kiss a man whom Rachel knows isn't Megan's husband, she is compelled to do something about it. Then when Megan winds up missing, Rachel becomes a prime suspect since she was in the area at the time and worst of all she can't remember what she did due to her alcoholism. So who killed Megan?

The Girl On The Train is basically a whodunit, and like I said, it probably worked better on paper. In Tate Taylor's hands, it ends up being rather talky and lacking in suspense. Erin Cressida Wilson's script focuses on the three women, mostly Rachel, and how they relate to one another, and though it gives them plenty of depth, Taylor fails to give the material any kind of edge. The several flashbacks occurring throughout the film didn't help matters either. By the time the perpetrator is revealed, we've almost lost interest, and the climax was almost non-existent too.

Of the cast, Emily Blunt is awesome as Rachel, being very convincing as an alcoholic suffering from severe emotional trauma. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are both solid as Megan and Anna respectively, but they don't hold a candle to Blunt. The female driven film leaves the male cast somewhat underused, but Justin Theroux, Luke Evans and Edgar Ramirez do their best with the material. Evans at the very least is quite intense. Allison Janney lends some good support as a detective investigating Megan's death.

Overall, The Girl On The Train falls short of expectations. If not for Blunt's superb performance, this would be a total dud. (6/10) 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Bastille Day

Year: 2016
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly

Plot: When a pickpocket unknowingly steals a bag containing a bomb that subsequently kills four people, he is wrongfully suspected to be a terrorist. He is forced to team up with a lone CIA agent to clear his name and stop the real terrorists from tearing up Paris on France's independence day.

Review: With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, one would think that this film's timing couldn't be better, or worse depending on how you look at it.

In Bastille Day, an American pickpocket named Michael Mason steals a bag belonging to Zoe, who is a bomb mule. He doesn't know there is a bomb in it, until it goes off mere seconds after he dumps the bag. CCTV cameras capture his image and now the authorities think he's a terrorist. Enter CIA agent Briar, known to be insubordinate and reckless, who must find Mason and find the real bombers together. As they go along they discover that the perpetrators wear police badges.

On the surface, it is easy to dismiss Bastille Day as yet another Bourne clone set in Europe that follows many other films of its kind in the last few years. But there are times when one can simply enjoy a good action film for what it is, and in that regard, Bastille Day delivers. Director James Watkins, who also co-wrote the script, keeps the pace sharp so the film is never boring. Watkins also deserves credit for shooting the action sequences very well, unlike most directors these days who seem to fail making their scenes look good. We have hand-to-hand scraps, shootouts and a neat rooftop chase sequence at the beginning. All of them perfectly filmed.

Cast wise, Idris Elba makes a good action hero as Briar, and its no wonder he's being touted as the next Bond. I do admit he looks a little bored here though. Game Of Thrones' Richard Madden is solid as Mason, with a passable American accent. Charlotte Le Bon rounds up the cast as Zoe, who makes a good case as a manipulated pawn in a large plot by the villains. Kelly Reilly is slightly wasted as Briar's boss.

Now, while I had a great time watching this, I won't pretend that Bastille Day is a masterpiece or anything. The plot is familiar, the twists are predictable and it lacks a proper climax. But I gotta say, I had a lot of fun with this movie. In the wake of recent Euro thrillers like Aaron Eckhart's The Expatriate, Milla Jovovich's Survivor and John Cusack's The Numbers Station, Bastille Day stands tall over them.

If you want something fun and action packed to kill ninety minutes, this is a good choice. (7/10)


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