Sunday, November 11, 2018

Overlord

Year: 2018
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbaek, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker


Plot: During WW2, a group of Allied soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines discover a secret lab where Nazis are creating near unkillable zombie soldiers.


Review: The biggest name attached to Overlord is producer JJ Abrams, as most of the cast are made up of relatively unknown actors. Thankfully the cast all deliver great work, though the lack of a bonafide star does hurt the film a bit.

In Overlord, a group of Allied soldiers are dropped via parachute in France to destroy a German communications tower situated at a village. After taking refuge at a young girl's home, they encounter the Nazis, and subsequently discover that the enemy has been experimenting on the villagers and their own soldiers to create zombies, and unlike the kind we've seen in other horror fare, these undead humans don't go down easy.

Director Julius Avery manages to deliver a competent film with plenty of action sequences, from the thrilling opening sequence to the final assault on the Nazi occupied church at the film's end. The second act though is rather slow, though I wouldn't blame it on Avery. The script by Billy Ray and Mark L Smith is mostly responsible for that, as well as the mostly humorless dialogue. In fact, the film is guilty for taking itself much too seriously as the idea of zombie Nazis is pretty crazy, and the filmmakers should have tried to exploit that more.

Of the cast, Jovan Adepo and Mathilde Ollivier impress the most as Boyce, the rookie soldier who has to man up to survive, and Chloe, the French girl who assists the Allied soldiers on their mission. Adepo reminds me a lot of John Boyega and is just as talented. Ollivier on the other hand is like a less cynical version of Melanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds, but it works just fine. Pilou Asbaek scores as the evil Nazi general in charge of the base while Wyatt Russell is also solid as Ford, the commanding officer of the group.

Overall, I found Overlord to be a mostly fun zombie horror flick, complete with violence, gore and bullets to match. But it just needs to embrace its craziness a bit more to be thoroughly enjoyable. (7/10)

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Hunter Killer

Year: 2018
Director: Donovan Marsh
Cast: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Michael Nyqvist, Common, Linda Cardellini, Carter MacIntyre, Toby Stephens, Alexander Diachenko, Michael Gor, David Gyasi


Plot: After two submarines, one Russian and one American, are sunk in Russian waters, another American submarine, the USS Arkansas, is sent under the leadership of an unorthodox captain to investigate. They subsequently discover a coup by the Russian defence minister and must now rescue the Russian president to avoid a war.


Review: It puzzles me as to why Gary Oldman is given top billing next to Gerard Butler when he's not in the film long enough to justify it. I'm guessing it's a marketing ploy by the film distributors. In reality, Butler's top billed co-star should have been the late Michael Nyqvist, who plays a Russian submarine captain.

Based on the novel Firing Point, Hunter Killer is a submarine action thriller, and while director Donovan Marsh does his best in creating some neat action sequences plus a cool sequence where the Arkansas has to evade mines and sensors near the ocean bed, it lacks any genuine suspense. It was actually more interesting watching the Navy SEAL team sent on the ground to retrieve the Russian president. The SEAL team engage in some firefights with the Russians during their mission, and while it feels all too familiar, there is at least some excitement during these sequences.

Another problem is how pretty much everyone onboard the Arkansas maintain the same look on their faces, trying to generate tension, but aside from Butler and Nyqvist, none of them truly pull it off. Butler does a good job in portraying a leader and a hero, though he doesn't actually get to kill anyone directly this time, while Nyqvist paints a sympathetic figure as a captain who only wants to serve his country the best way he knows. As one of his final roles before his recent death, he pulls it off well.

Oldman is given the thankless role of the Joint Chief Of Staff who only expects threats and war from the enemy, and does what he does best: yell. It's a role we've seen him do dozens of times, and is a waste of his talent. He's contrasted by Common as his subordinate and Linda Cardellini as an NSA analyst, both trying to find a way to prevent a war. They both do a proper enough job, but not enough to stand out.

Still, all is not lost. There is just enough here to constitute a generally entertaining action movie, it's just not fresh or suspenseful enough. Hunter Killer is still a decent way to kill 2 hours if you're at the cinema. (7/10)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Halloween

Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Nick Castle


Plot: Michael Myers escapes during a prison transport and returns to Haddonfield to start his killing spree all over again, leading towards an inevitable confrontation with Laurie Strode, who has waited for 40 years to finish this once and for all.


Review: I had only seen the original Halloween last year, and did not watch any of the sequels that came after, nor Rob Zombie's remake, which is fortunate for me because this reboot by David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride is a direct sequel to the original that ignores all the other films.

The biggest difference between this and the original is not just the time that has passed, but the way Laurie Strode has evolved. Michael is still the same beast he was back then, still as unstoppable and stealthy as ever, but Laurie has borrowed a few elements from Sarah Connor in T2, and is now capable of defending herself. This time, not only has she armed herself to the teeth, she has turned her home into a fortress, all in preparing for Michael's return, much to the chagrin of her estranged daughter Karen, who disliked her upbringing and just wants to forget the way Laurie raised her. Things get complicated when Laurie's granddaughter Allyson becomes a potential victim.

Unlike Shane Black's recent Predator sequel, Green and McBride don't stray too far from the original and delivers a solid slasher flick with a few twists and turns. The body count this time is much higher though, as Michael targets police, guards, hapless neighbors and yeah, a babysitter, just like last time. However, unlike John Carpenter, Green moves the film at a brisk pace. Michael spends very little time stalking here, he just goes on a freaking rampage. While this reduces the suspense somewhat, watching people getting killed one after another is kinda fun.

Of course, the best part is in the third act when Michael and Laurie reach their long awaited showdown, and this is where we get to see three generations of a family fight the boogeyman together. Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak (who bears a uncanny resemblance to Kirsten Dunst) all turn in great performances, though Curtis is clearly the star here. Haluk Bilginer plays the new film's version of Dr Loomis and proves to be a rather crazy if not stupid individual himself. Will Patton is also solid as the sheriff, while Nick Castle is back as Michael, with James Jude Courtney doubling for the tougher stunts.

Besides the reduced suspense, I was also not a fan of the typical types of kids that get killed: horny or weird. But hey, this is kinda the horror genre rules that are usually in play, so it's not a big deal. Oh, and I must compliment John Carpenter, working with his son Cody and Daniel A Davies in creating the hew Halloween score. It's a lot like the old one but with some updated sounds, and very cool to listen to.

All in all, this Halloween film is pretty darn good, and I would love to see a sequel to this in the future. (7.5/10)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

First Man

Year: 2018
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, Ciaran Hinds, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Lukas Haas, Corey Stoll


Plot: Based on the true story of Neil Armstrong's life and how he became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20th, 1969.


Review: Watching First Man reminded me of Ron Howard's Apollo 13, which was also about space exploration by NASA's finest. While Howard's film is a nice little thriller with dramatic sequences, First Man is a personal look into the life of the great Neil Armstrong, right up to the greatest moment in mankind's history.

Director Damien Chazelle reportedly took great care into depicting the man and his life as accurately as possible, and from what I gather here, Neil is mostly a quiet man, extremely humble and rarely shows emotion, save for one moment when he cries over his daughter's death due to cancer. Chazelle also succeeds in recreating all the important moments in Neil's career, from the breathtaking opening sequence where he flies an aircraft that bounces off the atmosphere, to being interviewed for the space program, training, making a partly successful mission to dock with another ship in orbit, losing several of his colleagues due to mishaps, right up to the iconic mission to the moon.

It's not just the emotion that Chazelle manages to capture, but the authenticity as well. He somehow manages to put the camera into the claustrophobia inducing cockpits so that the audience can feel what it's like to go right up there to space, or the likely feeling of it anyway. Some of the radio transmissions the audience hears were apparently the real ones taken from the actual mission. Needless to say, Chazelle deserves an A for effort.

Ryan Gosling is superb as the soft spoken Neil Armstrong, who'd rather let his skills speak for themselves than having to do interviews or rub shoulders with congress. Also equally great is Claire Foy as his wife Janet, who fears for his life constantly, knowing he could end up just like his fallen comrades. Lending some strong support are Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Ciaran Hinds as the program director, Jason Clarke as fellow astronaut Ed White, Kyle Chandler as the mission director Deke Slayton and Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell, who will eventually end up on Apollo 13.

I did wonder why Buzz Aldrin was portrayed here as a bit of a jerk compared to his other colleagues. His relationship with Neil isn't explored fully, and I'm curious if there is anything to tell, or simply nothing. The last third of the film, when the Apollo 11 begins and completes its mission also felt rather anti-climactic, as if Chazelle had decided to cut back on details and keep the audience at arm's length unlike before that. In short, this part felt a bit rushed to me.

Nevertheless, First Man is a well made biography on Neil Armstrong, and will most likely be a frontrunner for next year's Oscars. I'd say it's worth checking out. (7.5/10)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Venom

Year: 2018
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Scott Haze

Plot: Reporter Eddie Brock comes into contact with an alien symbiote called Venom, and together they have to stop Venom's rival symbiotes, who plan on bringing the rest of their kind to Earth.


Review: Does Venom really need a movie? Sure, Venom's appearance in Spider-Man 3 was extremely poor and best forgotten, but this move by Sony feels more like a last ditch attempt to make money before Marvel Studios uses the character than a need to make up for Spidey 3.

Thankfully, Venom turned out to be quite fun, even though it isn't without its drawbacks. Despite a slow first act, director Ruben Fleischer makes up for that by turning up the pace once Eddie Brock merges with Venom. From this point, it's a mixture of action and comedy as Eddie and his new friend take down bad guys while bonding with one another in weird ways. Some of the comedy doesn't always work though, as certain scenes would have worked better if Fleischer had taken things a bit more seriously.

The action sequences are mostly good, except for the final fight between Venom and his archrival Riot, which looks indecipherable at times. Watching Venom take down loads of bad guys trying to shoot him followed by an intense car chase was fun though.

Tom Hardy throws in a 110% performance as Eddie, being very convincing as the confused and crazy guy he becomes after Venom merges with him. I've always thought of Hardy as a major tough guy on screen, but here he is superb as the everyman who isn't ready to become something entirely different. Michelle Williams plays Hardy's defacto love interest with great enthusiasm, but as expected, the script doesn't allow her to do much. Riz Ahmed is slimy enough as Drake, the billionaire who brought the symbiotes to Earth in the first place.

I'd also like to note that my home country Malaysia is featured here, though they were probably never here to film those scenes. The Malay language spoken could use some polishing though.

Overall, Venom is a pretty entertaining comicbook film. It can't compete with the MCU's best for sure, but it is very far from the train wreck everyone says it is. Go check this out. (7.5/10)  

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