Saturday, April 22, 2017

Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery

Plot: A black photographer visits his white girlfriend's family in the countryside. Initially they seem really nice, but in reality they are anything but.

Review: I like it when a film keeps you on edge from the beginning till the credits roll. Get Out did just that, thanks to the genius of Jordan Peele.

Chris is a photographer who's about to meet the family of his white girlfriend Rose. At first, he's concerned that they might dislike him because he's black, but Rose assures him otherwise. At first meet, they welcome him with open arms, but as he and we, the audience discover, from the moment he set foot on their estate, something is terribly wrong about them and the whole place. These people are not friendly, in fact they are the exact opposite, and they won't let him leave.

Peele, known for being one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, wrote and directed this film superbly. The pacing is perfect, the cinematography is spot on, the dialogue is believable and the music is superb too (loved the opening Swahili number). While Get Out serves a great social message concerning racism, it also delivers a great horror story that would make Hitchcock proud. There is a ton of suspense to be had, with a few well earned jump scares. The entire film feels unnerving, thanks to a combination of the lonely countryside surroundings and weird stares from the people on the estate. To tell you more would ruin the fun, so I will not say too much.

Daniel Kaluuya is great as the protagonist Chris, who finds himself waist deep in something sinister and has to fight his way out. Allison Williams is also good as Rose, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener put in excellent work as her parents, who seem nice on the outside but clearly they're hiding something. Caleb Landry Jones is spot on as Rose's wayward brother Jeremy while Stephen Root impresses in a minor role as a blind art dealer. Lil Rel Howery plays the comic relief as Chris' best friend Rod, and gets the best lines in the film.

My sole gripe here is Peele's move to include a scene where Rod attempts to report Chris' disappearance to the authorities, which is played totally for laughs. It felt jarring for me since the film had been totally serious up to that point. But save for that, Get Out delivers a level of tension that just keeps building and building until its violent finale.

In short, Get Out is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. Recommended. (8.5/10)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Fate Of The Furious

Year: 2017
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood

Plot: When a cyber terrorist blackmails Dom into turning on his own family, Mr Nobody forces Hobbs, Letty and the gang to team up with their old nemesis Deckard Shaw to stop them.

Review: So how does the Fast & Furious franchise move on without Paul Walker? By doing what they do best i.e. more car chases, stunts and outrageous sequences. In other words, business as usual.

In this eighth instalment, Cipher, a female cyber terrorist blackmails Dom into betraying his own family, resulting in Hobbs landing himself in a cell right across from Deckard Shaw. Mr Nobody (from number 7) breaks both men out of jail and convinces them to work with Letty, Tej, Roman and Ramsey in order to stop Cipher and Dom, which is tough since Cipher is a brilliant hacker and Dom is the best driver on the planet.

Director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan pull out all the stops in making this film look and feel pretty damn impressive. I'd say The Fate Of The Furious is the best instalment since the fifth movie, and more memorable than the underwhelming sixth and slightly messy seventh films. Previously, we had giant planes, highway chases and car jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper. For this round, we have remotely driven cars and a big ass submarine. There's also a cool jailbreak sequence where Statham and Johnson take on an army of prisoners and guards, with them contrasting each other's approach (Statham uses martial arts and speed, Johnson just plows through everyone). I don't know how they do it, but they manage to make these films more and more outrageous every time. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, this is the one time where more is actually better.

Of the actors, mostly everyone performs well, with Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez being the most convincing. Dwayne Johnson is good too but there are too many scenes of him being really macho. I'm happy that Jason Statham gets more to do this round, this time as a good guy who has a score to settle with Cipher. Speaking of whom, Charlize Theron is alright but by now she is too obvious a choice as a villain and thus brings nothing new to those who have seen her body of work. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson bring the humor as always, with Gibson getting one standout badass moment at last.

But truly, one of the best things about this film is the surprise appearances, of which there are at least three. It's good to note that the franchise has built enough of a reputation that when you see a familiar face, it brings a chuckle or a smile to you and adds some intangible value to it.

The movie still feels a bit over the top in a ridiculous way at times, and one particular sequence involving Hobbs could have been left out (didn't really add anything to the film), but overall I had a blast watching this.

Overall, The Fate Of The Furious is a superb entry into the F&F series, and they managed to do it without Paul Walker, whose character gets a passing mention here (well done by the way). Recommended. (8.5/10) 

Monday, April 03, 2017

Ghost In The Shell

Year: 2017
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Juliet Binoche

Plot: A cyborg soldier discovers her past is a lie after an encounter with a cyber criminal who is eliminating people working for the same company that made her.

Review: First, an admission: I know nothing of the original Ghost In The Shell anime that this film is based on. This is actually an advantage as I can judge this film with no bias, and I really don't care about the whole whitewashing issue (noting that this matter is brought up by Asian Americans and NOT Asians.)

In the near future, humans and machines have merged their existences more than ever. Humans want to be more enhanced and thus more cybernetic improvements are sought. Our story begins with a young woman called Major Mira Killian, an agent working for Section 9 of the Department Of Defence, who is a cyborg built and trained to be the perfect weapon. Her investigation into a high level assassination leads her to Kuze, a mysterious hacker who is killing off scientists working for the same company that made her. The deeper she digs, the more she realizes that Kuze is connected to her and what she has been led to believe all this time may have been fabricated.

From a visual standpoint, Ghost In The Shell is superb. It may very well be the most beautiful film I've seen all year. The sets, costumes, makeup and tech all look brilliant. The city looked like a marriage between Mega City One in Judge Dredd and Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. I could look at this city all day. Credit goes to the production design, visual effects, costume and makeup team for creating such an astounding universe that manages to look gorgeous and cold at the same time.

Scarlett Johansson is of course, the best thing about the film, looking every bit the hero that the story requires, balancing innocence, confusion and toughness deftly. Her story as the Major is much like Kate Beckinsale's Selene in the first Underworld film, except here it has a bit more depth. Takeshi Kitano is also splendid as Aramaki, Major's boss, who is a complete badass, even when he's just talking. The man has undeniable presence indeed. Pilou Asbaek is great as Batou, Major's reliable partner and surrogate brother. Seasoned actress Juliet Binoche lends some good support as the scientist who created Major. Michael Pitt rounds up the cast as Kuze, managing to make an impression despite not getting much time to shine.

Ghost In The Shell does suffer from a few pacing issues, a somewhat predictable plot and the lack of a solid villain. But I really loved the film overall, which works as both an action film and a sci-fi one.

Verdict: Ignore the mixed opinions and whitewashing issues that clouded this film and just go see it for yourself. (8/10)

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Year: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Plot: Six crew onboard the ISS receives a Mars space probe containing soil samples from the red planet, where they discover a life form which fascinates them at first, but suddenly turn hostile and threatens their lives.

Review: I've heard many people say Life is ripping off Ridley Scott's Alien. Well, here I am to say, that's not entirely true. The whole man vs alien in spaceship thing, perhaps yes. But Life feels much more contained and less ambitious than Alien.

On the ISS, six people; engineer Rory, CDC doctor Miranda, medical doctor David, biologist Hugh, systems engineer Sho and station commander Kat, receive a space probe containing soil samples from Mars. In those samples, Hugh discovers a unique life form unlike anything mankind has ever seen. Then suddenly, the alien, named Calvin by students on Earth, turns hostile and attacks the crew, forcing them to fight for their survival.

The truth is, Life has more in common with Gravity than Alien, especially in terms of look and set design. It may be a monster movie in space, but compared to Alien, it feels more rooted in science, if that makes sense. Calvin the alien, in particular, takes a continuously changing form that increases in size and kinda looks like a giant squid. The methods that the crew use to fight Calvin, as well as their survival steps are based in science and technology, and there are a handful of scenes, both interior and exterior, that reminds me more of Gravity, and even The Martian, than Alien.

The cast perform mostly well overall. Jake Gyllenhaal is the best among them, playing David as a loner who would much rather be on the ISS than back on Earth. Ryan Reynolds provides some brief humor as Rory while Rebecca Ferguson is okay as Miranda. Hiroyuki Sanada gets the token role of character with family back home as Sho, while Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya turn in respectable performances as Hugh and Kat respectively, adding some variety whenever possible.

However, while director Daniel Espinosa manages to create some tension whenever Calvin makes a move on the crew, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script fails to elevate the crew's emotional connection to the audience. In comparison to say, Danny Boyle's Sunshine, Life's crew have poorly developed backgrounds, save for Gyllenhaal, who manages to elevate David above the others thanks to his talent. Ferguson's Miranda is simply a rule follower while Bakare's crippled Hugh and Sanada's newly minted father Sho are cliched victims for the alien. Reynolds' Rory and Dihovichnaya's Kat are slightly more interesting but don't get enough screen time. Espinosa does give time to the cast to get more personal in between attacks, but they don't really work. In fact, they only slow the film down when it should be adding layers to the film.

The other thing that bothered me is how Calvin seems impervious to whatever plan the crew hatches to fight it. I know most movie monsters are hard to kill, but making it invincible and then use science to explain the reasons makes it somewhat senseless and paper thin. It felt too convenient to me in the end.

But I will give credit to Espinosa and company for giving Life an unconventional ending, which isn't entirely unpredictable, but much better than the common finish most films of the same type go for.

To sum it up, Life is far from perfect, but it provides some solid entertainment overall. It's not as smart as it intends to be, but it's more than decent for a sci-fi horror flick. (7/10)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, John Ortiz

Plot: A team of scientists and soldiers explore an uncharted island in the Pacific in 1973, only to encounter a vast array of dangerous gigantic creatures, including a 104-foot ape known as Kong.

Review: The recent Godzilla remake was underwhelming to say the least, and movie fans would rightfully hope that Kong: Skull Island, the next film about gigantic monsters, would be better. I'm happy to report that it certainly is.

After a brief prologue that takes place in 1944, we jump to 1973 where the Vietnam War is at an end. Scientists from Monarch, a top secret research company, gain permission from the government to explore Skull Island, an uncharted island in the Pacific. Along for the ride are a group of soldiers just leaving Vietnam, a former SAS soldier acting as tracker, and an anti-war photographer. Once there however, they run into a gigantic ape that wastes no time in attacking and destroying their helicopters, forcing the survivors to travel through rough and dangerous terrain to make it to their pick up point. Along the way, they have to try to not get killed, and they run into someone who knows about the big ape and the island.

Relatively new director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wisely keeps the pace brisk here. Peter Jackson's King Kong was the last time Kong appeared on the silver screen, and though it was a magnificent film, it was a very long experience. So thankfully, Vogt-Roberts makes it easy on the viewers by keeping things swift. After all, this is more of a sci-fi fantasy and not the love story that Jackson's film is known for.

As an adventure flick, it certainly hits all the right notes. There is rarely a dull moment in the film as Vogt-Roberts throws one threat after another at our heroes, from giant spiders to killer pterodactyls and "skullcrawlers", which you would be familiar with if you've watched the trailers. And of course, there is Kong, who begins as a threat but as we all know, is the real hero of the story. Thanks to a very game cast and spectacular visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic, the film is pretty entertaining from start to finish.

The ensemble cast is pretty impressive, though only a select few really stand out. Tom Hiddleston's Conrad, the tracker and Samuel L Jackson's Col. Packard, leader of the soldiers, get the most airtime, and both actors are good in their roles. Jackson's Packard is like Ahab in Moby Dick, trying to kill Kong whom he views as an enemy. Brie Larson, playing Weaver the photographer, gets her chance to shine too, mostly with Kong. The best role however goes to John C Reilly. He plays Marlow, a pilot who crashed on the island 28 years prior, and becomes the group's guide. Partly eccentric and partly wise, he is the unsung hero of the story, and Reilly is truly the most memorable thing about the film other than Kong. 

The rest of the cast, including Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell and Thomas Mann provide some good support but not enough time on screen unfortunately. Even the legendary John Goodman as head scientist Randa was sadly wasted when he could have really taken the role to another level if given the chance. Lastly, credit goes to Terry Notary who provides the movements for Kong; he had previously done so for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

At the end of the day though, Kong: Skull Island, despite the great effects and outstanding cast, is essentially a B movie. The theme of man versus nature is a good idea here, but one gets the feeling that the film only scratched the surface of that idea. With a bit more time, that idea can be further explored.

But if you're looking for a thrilling adventure flick this month, you can't go wrong with Skull Island. Do wait till the credits finish rolling for one last scene. (8/10)


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