Sunday, July 20, 2014

Locke

Year: 2014
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott


Plot: Ivan Locke, a construction manager and family man, decides to drive to a hospital 90 minutes away to welcome the birth of his child resulting from a one night stand, and the decision proves to be a tough one as the phone calls he has to take turns his life inside out.


Review: Films featuring a mostly one person performance are tricky to pull off, as the possibilities are quite limited when it comes to making a great story. Buried starring Ryan Reynolds and the recent Gravity with Sandra Bullock are good examples.

Locke features Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, a construction manager in charge of a new building that's about to begin construction the next day. On this night, he makes a decision to drive all the way to a hospital 90 minutes away to see a woman he had a one night stand with, who is now in labor with his child. Throughout the journey, he has to make and take calls from the woman, the man he put in charge of the building in his absence, his very furious boss, and his wife, to whom he has to break the terrible news.

Steven Knight, who wrote and directed Hummingbird starring Jason Statham, took a big risk filming this, which again he also penned. A film made up entirely of a man driving and talking on the phone? On the surface it doesn't look very appealing. But thanks to his solid screenplay and a tour de force performance from Hardy, the film works brilliantly.

Hardy plays Locke as a regular guy, someone who has made a terrible mistake and is now trying to take responsibility for it, at the cost of his marriage and job. The amazing thing is, even if you've never been in his position, Knight's screenplay and Hardy's acting makes Locke a very relatable person to the audience. I think we've all been in a tough spot some time in our lives, and how we react to it is rather similar to what Locke is going through. Locke can be clearly seen as a good but flawed man who screwed up big time and knows it, and now he has to atone for it, even if it means destroying everything he holds dear.

Hardy is simply awesome in this role, carrying the entire film with his conversations over the phone, and his emotional reactions, within the confines of a moving vehicle. He makes us root for him easily even during moments when he has to be rude to get things done. You'll feel for him when he tries to tell his wife the bad news, and comfort the other woman while she's in distress at the hospital, though personally I enjoyed his exchanges with Donal, the man he left in charge of the building project, which gets quite hilarious at times.

I admit, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea. You probably won't enjoy it if you're expecting something more than a story about phone conversations in a moving car. I, for one, enjoyed it for what it was. It's something different than what most people would expect. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee


Plot: The virus released at the end of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has wiped out most of the human population. Ten years later, Caesar and a large community of apes live peacefully in the jungle, until they encounter a group of humans who want to activate a dam nearby to restore power in the city. Caesar strikes a partnership with the human Malcolm to allow the dam's repairs, but tension erupts within both sides and a war is imminent.


Review: Rupert Wyatt's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was a solid if not perfect reboot of the Apes franchise. Director Matt Reeves thankfully follows up that film with a marvelous sequel that takes place a decade after the end of it.

Reeves ups the ante by focusing more on the apes than the humans, and rightfully so. The CGI is fantastic when it comes to the apes' movements and facial expressions, thanks to excellent motion capture work from the actors involved. Add to that a superb story that highlights the similarities between man and beast (and the argument on which side is worse) as well as their differences, and you have a near perfect film in your hands.

Andy Serkis, the undisputed king of motion capture acting, is in fine form here as Caesar, showing the excellent balance between strength and vulnerability as a leader. It's mainly thanks to him that the film is as good as it is. Toby Kebbell contrasts him nicely as Koba, the antagonistic ape that grows increasingly restless with Caesar's leadership. Jason Clarke gets the sympathetic human role of Malcolm, and pulls it off well. It's also good to see Kodi Smit-McPhee, now considerably older than he was in Reeves' last film Let Me In, as Malcolm's son here.

Naturally, in a film like this, you can expect a few action sequences, and the last third of the film provide two of those, both executed very well. But to Reeves and writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver's credit, the story flows smoothly from start to finish, never a moment wasted.

I was a bit disappointed that Gary Oldman, who plays human leader Dreyfus, gets limited screen time here. He's missing for the middle third of the film, and the lack of development for his character, save for a brief tearful scene is unfortunate, considering the amount of talent he has. The lack of female characters here is also quite obvious, with only Keri Russell as Malcolm's wife standing out, and even then she didn't get that much to do. Caesar's mate Cornelia (played by Judy Greer) fares even worse.

But other than that, I must say that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a wonderful entry to a largely underrated franchise. It's a gem of a film, considering how generally underwhelming it's been for summer blockbusters lately. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Deliver Us From Evil

Year: 2014
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Olivia Horton


Plot: An NYPD cop teams up with an unconventional priest to solve a series of demonic possessions happening in the Bronx.


Review: Deliver Us From Evil is inspired by actual accounts of Sgt Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop who had written a book about his encounters. Usually the Hollywood version is largely exaggerated for our entertainment, but it's fine by me if it works. In this case, it hits more than it misses.

Eric Bana plays Sarchie, who takes on the case of a possessed woman throwing her child into the lion's den at the zoo. He thinks she's just crazy, but Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) believes demons are involved. Further investigations reveal even more strange and sickening things going on, and Sarchie is forced to find his own faith in God again to solve the mystery, especially when his family gets into harm's way.

Scott Derrickson, who directed the really creepy Sinister, directs this one not on a low budget, but with the high production values of the one and only Jerry Bruckheimer. As a result, the quality looks a bit more slick, with set design and cinematography looking good. Bana and Ramirez make a great team together, the former as the tough cop who has to confront something he's not ready to believe in, and the latter as the renegade priest who has his own sordid past. Joel McHale is solid as Sarchie's adrenaline junkie partner, but credit must be given to Sean Harris and Olivia Horton as the possessed victims. They're awesome in making themselves looking batshit crazy and creepy at the same time.

The film is flawed in certain departments though. Sarchie's strained relationship with his wife and daughter seem tacked on, and it doesn't help that Olivia Munn's performance as said wife is rather weak. Derrickson also resorts to using plenty of jump scares to spook the audience instead of creating a sense of fear as he did in Sinister. Most of the jump scares were predictable, so it didn't quite work for me. However he redeems himself in the final exorcism scene, which looks pretty cool.

Deliver Us From Evil may not be a groundbreaking horror film (there aren't many new ways to scare people anymore), but it's solid entertainment anyway. It's no Exorcist, but it's quite watchable. (3.5/5) 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Year: 2014
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver


Plot: Five years after the battle of Chicago, Transformers are now being hunted by the CIA's black ops team, who are in collaboration with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown. Optimus Prime, now in hiding, is forced to rely on struggling inventor Cade Yeager to survive and find the remaining Autobots.


Review: I'm certain you've all heard the worst things there are to say about this film. Quite honestly, I can't blame the critics for slamming this film. But in my opinion, is it bad? Nah, not really. If you weren't a fan of Michael Bay's Transformers before this, then this fourth instalment isn't going to change your mind. But if you have no problem with it, you'd probably enjoy it all the same.

First of all, it is Bay we're talking about. That means lots of explosions, lots of destruction, lots of over the top nonsense. If you're willing to sit through that, then why the hell would you complain? You've seen the first three, so you know what to expect here. But Bay does improve on a few things, like replacing his human cast completely. No annoying Sam Witwicky and his equally annoying parents. New protagonist Cade Yeager, played by a very game Mark Wahlberg, is definitely a step up. A struggling inventor trying to raise his teenage daughter and pay the bills, he's easier to relate to than a silly kid trying to pick up girls using his Autobot car. 

We also have a solid pair of villains, in the form of Lockdown, who is a bounty hunter not loyal to either Autobot or Decepticon, and CIA agent Attinger, played very well by Kelsey Grammer. While the former basically wants to bring Optimus Prime back to his "creators", the latter is a self proclaimed patriot doing what he thinks is best for his country. Then there is Stanley Tucci, who plays Joshua Joyce, a corporate inventor trying to harness Transformer tech for his own gain. He turns out to be the humor source for this film, and he's not so bad overall.

Now, I won't mention too much about the CGI and action sequences and all that, you know what to expect, as I said. I will say that it's mostly great, especially when the Dinobots show up in the final half hour of the film. But the film suffers mainly from editing issues. 165 minutes is a lot to ask for from any movie fan, even for a Transformers movie. There were definitely some scenes Bay could have left out that would trim at least 15 to 20 minutes off the total runtime. Scriptwriter Ehren Kruger could also have made the Autobots less human. I don't know why there's a need to make the robots talk and act like humans do. They've done that for four films now and I'm sick of it. Why can't they all talk like Optimus Prime?

So in closing, I'll recommend this film if you liked Bay's Transformers and love watching lots of shit getting blown up. If you don't like Bay, then don't go see this. For my money, it's worth one watch. (3.5/5)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Rover

Year: 2014
Director: David Michod
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy


Plot: Set in Australia ten years after a global economic collapse, a man pursues three men who stole his car. A young man, who is a former accomplice and brother to one of those men, is his only lead to finding them.


Review: This film is set in the Australian outback ten years after a global economic collapse (the cause is untold) and begins with Eric, a quiet man but not to be messed with. His car, his only possession, is stolen by three men who crash their truck nearby. Eric pursues them but loses them after a confrontation. He then runs into Rey, brother to one of the men whom they left behind, and forces him to lead the way to where they're headed.

Director David Michod, who co-wrote the screenplay with well known actor Joel Edgerton, presents what might look like a road trip film, but is more of a character study mixed with a futuristic western. Credit must be given to the production designers for creating a convincing look of the dusty and lawless outback, where deserts and highways stretch for miles, and nearly everyone carries a firearm. 

The film is mainly carried by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson as Eric and Rey respectively. Pearce is awesome here, giving Eric a potent mix of intensity and desperation, with a quiet demeanor on the surface. He is a man of few words, but Pearce makes every moment on screen count. Pattinson is great as well, being a character which is not like Edward Cullen at all. Rey is a somewhat simple-minded young man who constantly tries to connect with Eric, but doesn't quite succeed. The duo seem to be moving together out of mutual need more than anything else, which makes for fascinating occurrences.

The film however suffers from a slow pace, which might be taxing for those who have a problem with waiting for something to happen. Any questions regarding social and economical themes are not focused on here, though it was probably what Michod wanted as he explores his two lead characters throughout the film.

Overall, The Rover is quite a gem of a movie, but a flawed one. It does answer one question at the end: why does Eric want his car back so badly? (3.5/5)

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