Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dead Silence

Year: 2007
Director: James Wan
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, Amber Valletta, Bob Gunton, Michael Fairman, Joan Heney

Creepy poster, don't you think? Personally I prefer the one I saw at the cinema today, the one featuring the ghost ventriloquist Mary Shaw in the same pose you see this dummy in. However I couldn't find it online, so this one will have to do.

Oh yeah, I got a review to write. So here we go. Dead Silence is the latest horror flick from Malaysian born director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the duo who brought us the excellent Saw. This time they shift from serial killers to ghosts and possessed dummies. Dead Silence begins with newlyweds Jamie and Lisa Ashen receiving a mysterious ventriloquist dummy one day. Later Jamie comes home after running an errand to find Lisa dead and her tongue missing.

The investigating officer, Detective Lipton thinks Jamie is the prime suspect, since he is the last one to see her alive. This of course doesn't help Jamie in getting to the bottom of things, so he starts his own sleuthing, and discovers that the dummy (which he suspects is related to Lisa's murder) came from his hometown of Ravens Fair. So he takes the dummy back there to see his estranged father to get some answers. Once in the mostly abandoned town, he learns from the town undertaker, Henry Walker, about the legend of Mary Shaw. Mary was a ventriloquist back in the day, who had been accused of murdering a boy who mocked her show. The townsfolk had her killed and cut out her tongue, then buried her with her dolls. After that, Ravens Fair was struck by misfortune, as Mary's killers were found dead in gruesome fashion, one by one.

So what does this have to do with Lisa's death? That's what Jamie intends to find out, as he searches the town for clues, with Detective Lipton staying close by to keep an eye on him.

As far as horror flicks go, this one isn't bad. The gore factor is rather high, though. I would say that it depended more on gore than real scares to frighten the audience, but it does work. James Wan uses every trick in the book, from creaking floorboards and doors to moving shadows and mirror images, and even cheap shocks. He even uses a retro type presentation throughout the movie, which is a nice touch. The soundtrack is also well chosen to suit the film, and the gloomy look is also fitting. All nice indeed to strengthen the scare factor of the film, but it fails on where it matters most.

Kwanten, who plays Jamie, is probably one of the most wooden actors I've seen on celluloid. He's one of those one expression type actors, which isn't enough to play a character grieving over his wife's death and seeking answers. I wonder if Wan had given this role to Whannell as he did in Saw, could it have been better? Wahlberg does slightly better as the detective, but his character isn't well written enough. He gets the best lines, but Wahlberg is probably smarter than the character he's playing.

What I do like about Dead Silence is the use of dummies to scare the audience. I don't think any of us would look at dummies and think they're not the least bit scary after seeing this film. The large eyes of the main dummy Billy is kinda creepy eh? And of course, as in Saw, there is a twist at the end. Personally I thought it was far-fetched, some of you may think of it as too silly. But it might just work for you if you can suspend your disbelief long enough.

It's not as good as Saw, but it is scary when it needs to be. Just don't expect too much from it. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Live Free Or Die Hard

Year: 2007
Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith

It is the Die Hard franchise that certified Bruce Willis' career as an action star. He made other great action films too, like Armageddon, The Jackal and Hostage. But the Die Hard films will always be the material for which he will be best remembered for. And now 12 years after Die Hard With A Vengeance, we have a fourth instalment.

As usual, Willis' character John McClane is up against terrorists bent on total destruction unless their monetary demands are met. In this case, we have cyber terrorists unleashing hell on the U.S's infrastructure. First they take out the traffic control, then the stock market. The terrorists are led by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a man formerly working for the government taking revenge for being crucified by them after trying to warn Uncle Sam about the vulnerability of their systems post 9/11. Gabriel uses low level hackers to write algorithms which he then uses in his plot to turn the government's systems upside down. One such hacker is Matt Farrell (Justin Long), whom McClane is assigned to pick up for questioning. McClane gets dragged into the whole thing when Gabriel's men try to kill Farrell to tie up loose ends.

Farrell, who didn't realise that his algorithm would be used for such a purpose, now has to rely on McClane to survive. He reluctantly helps McClane find a way to stop Gabriel. McClane discovers that he and Farrell are pretty much on their own as the FBI, led by assistant director Bowman (Cliff Curtis) is helpless, paralysed by Gabriel's plan.

So once again, John McClane is at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not new, but it always works. Len Wiseman, director of the Underworld films, executes some really far-out action sequences to good effect. My favourite would be the one where McClane drives a semi-truck running from an F-35 fighter jet. But there are some elements that seem illogical, out of place or imperfect. The real action picks up in the second half of the film, the first half is quite dull and sometimes nonsensical.

As for performances, Willis is in his element as usual. He even has a scene where he talks about not wanting to be the hero. The fatigue in his expression is believable, though you might wonder if he really is tired of making these films at his age. Hopefully not. Long plays the sidekick role well, but I still prefer Samuel L Jackson in the third film. Jackson has better chemistry with Willis in that one. Olyphant tries hard but is not so effective as the villain. He has the look, but not the charisma needed to pull it off. Maggie Q shines as Gabriel's henchwoman Mai, as she gets to beat up McClane in a scene. Finally we have Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane's daughter Lucy, and thankfully her role isn't too overdone and fits the story just nicely.

The one thing that you will notice is the amount of violence and profanity that has been toned down compared to the previous films. In this day and age, perhaps it was best to do so. But don't fret it, Willis still gets to say his famous line, though it's a lot less climactic than before.

A good action movie. Not perfect, but good nonetheless. (4/5)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro

Any child of the 80s would be very familiar with the animated series Transformers, which was based on the Hasbro toyline featuring robots that can be transformed into different objects. The cartoon told a story of that age old battle between good and evil, between the peace loving Autobots and the power hungry Decepticons. I was a fan of this cartoon myself. And now that it gets the Hollywood treatment by a director well-known for blowing lots of shit up in his films, how does it fare?

Transformers the film doesn't differ too much from the cartoon, as far as storylines and concepts are concerned. Autobot leader Optimus Prime begins the film by narrating about their quest for the Allspark, a cube that gives life to their species, and also about the war against the Decepticons who plan on using the Allspark for universal domination. Then we are brought to Earth, where a Decepticon attacks a US Army base in Qatar and single handedly decimates it.

Then we are introduced to a young boy named Sam Witwicky, who is looking forward to buying his first car. Sam is the regular nerd in high school and hopes to impress the ladies with his car, particularly a hot babe called Mikaela. But then, he gets the shock of his life when he discovers that not only is his car alive, it transforms into a robot named Bumblebee! Eventually he meets the rest of the Autobots, including the great Optimus Prime, who informs Sam that he may hold the key to finding the Allspark. By this time, the Decepticons are already on their trail and wasting no time in demolishing everything in their path to get to Sam. The government themselves are in deep with the action, as two surviving soldiers from the Qatar attack, a computer analyst, her hacker friend, a secret agent and the Secretary Of Defense himself play crucial roles in the oncoming battle between the two factions.

Now, with all Michael Bay films come a certain amount of expectation for a lot of stuff to be blown up. Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, you've seen it all. Most critics would scoff at it because they usually see it as unnecessary despite how well Bay gets it done. But here's where he actually succeeds. Yes, he still blows a lot of shit up, but you can't help but marvel at it and beg for more. And this time, he has a tremendous script to back it up. This isn't just some mindless action flick, it displays a lot of heart, humour and drama. Kudos to Bay and to Steven Spielberg who serves as executive producer.

The cast is truly splendid. Shia LaBeouf is a revelation. He's come a long way from playing Keanu Reeves' sidekick in Constantine. LaBeouf plays Sam to great effect. You'll root for him as he turns from a geek to a reluctant hero alongside the Autobots. Megan Fox is hot, and some may dismiss her as mere eye candy, but she carries the strength of her character Mikaela convincingly. Duhamel and Gibson represent the muscle of the characters in playing Captain Lennox and Sergeant Epps respectively and pull it off well. Anderson is the comic relief, playing the computer hacker, no problem for a comedian of his stature. Turturro hams it up as the secret agent Simmons, who has some of the best lines in the film, while Voight does not disappoint as the capable Secretary Of Defense. Also keep a lookout for Kevin Dunn and Julie White who play Sam's parents, they're a riot!

Ah, but what about the robots themselves? Of course, they're the stars of the movie. Their look may be quite different from the cartoon, but you won't mind once you see them in action on screen. Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus Prime in the cartoon, returns to voice him in this film, and does splendidly. Actor Hugo Weaving voices Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, and makes him sound quite menacing indeed. But really, what you'll marvel at is watching them transform, roll, drive, fly and crash all over the place. It's a true spectacle that I think most Transformers fans back in the day would cheer for.

Sure, there are some scenes that seem rather cheesy, even the ending hints of that. But it's well executed cheese, if that makes sense. Bay left room for a sequel, and I am certain Transformers will do well enough to warrant one. Full marks for this film. (5/5)


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