Sunday, September 26, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Jerry O'Connell, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss

Piranha is kinda like the extreme version of films like Bats and Anaconda. The plot isn't really important, there must always be pretty people involved and the body count has to be high. Piranha is extreme because it takes everything up a notch and has no shame in being what it is.

Basically, the plot is simple here: it's spring break and all the young ones are partying hard at Lake Victoria, having fun in the sun, wearing very little to nothing at all and throwing caution to the wind. A small earthquake opens up the lake bed and releases thousands of deadly piranhas supposedly trapped in the earth for 2 million years. And they're hungry.

It's up to a tough female sheriff, her deputy and a seismic scientist to save as many lives as they can when the fishes start chomping on the hapless partygoers, which unfortunately includes the sheriff's kids.

Director Alexandre Aja is no stranger to violence, as evidenced in films like Mirrors and The Hills Have Eyes. In Piranha, he pulls no punches and shows all the blood and flesh flying about when the piranhas hit, and boy is it fun to watch. Now don't take me for a sadist here, because it's all so over the top, there's no way you can look at it and say it's real. Even if you do, it'll give you a good scare for a while, which is still fun.

I had a blast watching victims lose their flesh, face, limbs, appendages, everything. It's too bad we didn't get this in 3D here, I heard audiences in the US had a ball seeing all this unfold in 3D, it must have been awesome. My other gripe is the censorship board removing all the nude scenes, but I get that.

Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames stand out as the sheriff and the deputy here, while Jerry O'Connell plays the token asshole required in films like this. The legendary Steve McQueen's grandson Steven also puts in a solid performance as the sheriff's eldest son, Jake. Christopher Lloyd gets to channel Doc Brown as the marine biologist while Richard Dreyfuss gets a cameo appearance as a homage to his Jaws character.

If there's one thing Aja did which I didn't like, it was ending the film abruptly, just so he can make a sequel. I totally understand that, I just wish it didn't end like THAT. But hey, I'm game for Piranha 2. Bring it on! (3.5/5)

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven

M Night Shyamalan's name doesn't quite have the same impact like it used to. When The Sixth Sense came out, he was hailed a sensation. But ever since then, his work has slowly dropped in quality. Unbreakable and Signs were good, but The Village and The Happening were severe letdowns. Most people didn't appreciate Lady In The Water either, and despite the recent success at the box office for The Last Airbender, critics totally hated it. And I have to admit, Airbender doesn't seem all great, and I can tell you that even without seeing it.

So now when you attach M Night's name to a film, how would the impact be like? Well, for this new film Devil, he's just a producer and came up with the original idea for the story.

Devil begins with narration, on stories about the devil roaming the earth. On this particular day, five strangers will encounter him. At a high rise office building, five people: a guy in a jacket, a guy in a suit, a young woman, an old lady and a security guard take the elevator up, only for it to malfunction halfway and stop.

The building security tries to get them out, but to no avail. Then, strange things start to happen. Lights going off and on. People getting hurt both inside the elevator, and the ones outside trying to fix things. The five people start to get paranoid, anxious and all their worst traits come to the surface.

At the same time, a detective named Bowden comes into the picture. He works together with the security guards to get the passengers out while learning more about the situation. He's dealing with some personal demons too, which come forth as the film runs along.

My first complement goes to the camerawork. The film begins with the city skyline shown upside down as the opening credits roll and it goes straight into the building elevator. The footage shot inside the elevator itself is well done. It isn't a big space at all, yet everything is shown magnificently. Kudos to the cinematographer for a job well done.

The mostly unknown cast are also quite splendid in their roles. They all play their parts well, from the asshole of a guy in the suit, to the short tempered guy in the jacket, to the claustrophobic security guard etc. All typical characters of course, but still well acted out. Chris Messina, who plays Detective Bowden also deserves a mention for giving a convincing portrayal of the cop.

Now for what doesn't work. I think thrillers like this work better when the audience knows less about what's going on. And here we are told way too much. The narration on the devil through old tales, the superstitious security guard played by Jacob Vargas telling Bowden his knowledge on the subject. Was all this necessary? Vargas even gets a chance to go on one knee and recite a prayer in Spanish for the passengers! Man, that was weird.

Then there's the stuff that happens in the lift. When something bad happens, the lights go off, we hear struggling, the lights come on and someone's hurt or dead. If you watch WWE wrestling, this is very similar to how the wrestler called The Undertaker operates. It's kinda funny when I think about it, but I suppose this was the only way for them to keep things unexplained until the climax. And that brings me to my next point.

The twist is on which one of them is the devil. It's no real surprise actually. Chances are you can make three guesses on who it is and you'll get it right. If you've seen enough films with surprise endings, you'll know how this one ends. Speaking of endings, Devil ends on a rather whimpering note rather than one that chills. And it's not because of the predictable twist, it's more because of what M Night wanted the film to essentially be, which isn't what I wanted, of course.

Overall, it's a fascinating premise for a film that had an average execution. Mildly entertaining, but it won't scare you off taking elevators. (3.5/5)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Year: 2010
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe

As far as film franchises go, Resident Evil is kinda like Saw. It's critic proof. No matter how many films they make about the same thing, it always sells. In this case, film fans never get tired of seeing Milla Jovovich kill hordes of the undead over and over again.

In this 4th instalment of the franchise based on the popular video game, Jovovich reprises her role as Alice, the former agent of the Umbrella Corporation who does her best killing thousands of dead people infected by the T-virus as she makes her way up Umbrella's powers that be. In the opening sequence, Alice and several of her clones taken from the 3rd film storm Umbrella's headquarters in Tokyo. Its chairman, Wesker manages to escape, but not before removing Alice's powers during a fight.

Six months later, Alice continues her search for Arcadia, the last place on earth rumored to be infection free. She heads to Alaska where she thinks Arcadia is located, but she finds it deserted. This is where she runs into her old ally, Claire Redfield, who has no memory of who she is. They then head for San Fransisco, where they meet up with a small band of survivors taking refuge in a building surrounded by the undead. With their help, Alice figures out where Arcadia is, and tries to help them get there.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. Why do you watch Resident Evil and all its sequels? If you say it's because you love having a good time seeing Milla kicking ass and spilling lots and lots of blood of the undead, then this is the film for you. Let's face it: you're not seeing this to watch a big Inception type plot unfold or James Bond type theatrics. You're here to see violent, stylish action. In that sense, Paul W.S. Anderson delivers just that. I don't know about all that talk about this film being super special because it used the James Cameron type Avatar 3D special effects, but I can say that it's pretty cool to see in 2D as well.

My minor gripe about it is the fact that Afterlife borrows a lot from The Matrix. You'll see plenty of slow mo action sequences, designed to make Alice and Claire look like superheroines, no doubt. The villain Wesker even looks like Agent Smith, complete with a similar voice and shades. However, if you try not to take it too seriously, you'll enjoy it every step of the way. I must also give credit to the awesome soundtrack for this film, it's just perfect.

Jovovich and Larter make a good team as the leading ladies of Afterlife, though it's seriously still Jovovich's show. Shawn Roberts, as stated above, channels Agent Smith as the villain. Prison Break's Wentworth Miller still sounds like Michael Scofield as Claire's brother Chris, except now he has guns and no tattoos.

Overall, despite Afterlife being very familiar and recycled, it still works because it doesn't pretend to be anything else but a fun ride from start to finish. The ending hints heavily for a sequel, so Mr Anderson, bring it on. (4/5)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Repo Men

Year: 2010
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Cast: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga

It took a while for this film to make it to my shores, so I'm rather grateful that it did, and even happier that it wasn't badly butchered by the local censors.

Repo Men takes place in the near future, where technology has become advanced enough that artificial organs of any kind can be manufactured. A company called The Union is one such manufacturer, and they are well known in producing these organs and selling them to needy patients for a price.

However, like most expensive things you own, like a car or a house, these organs can be repossessed by The Union if their clients don't pay up on time. They send people called repo men to find the client, stun them, cut them up and take the organ back. Pretty mean, eh?

Two such repo men are Remy and Jake, best friends since fourth grade and now always in friendly competition on who's the better repossessor. Although he enjoys doing his job, Remy is being pressured by his wife to give it up and transfer to the sales department so he may spend more time with her and his son. Jake on the other hand loves his job and loves doing it with Remy even more.

Then one day, during an attempt to repossess a client's artificial heart, a mishap occurs and Remy lands in a coma. When he wakes up, his boss Frank tells him that an artificial heart has been fitted into him, which makes Remy a client of the company now.

Sure, all Remy has to do is do his job well and he'll be able to pay for the organ. However, he realises that he can no longer be a repo man like before, his heart is no longer in it, so to speak. He meets Beth, a woman filled with artificial organs and on the run, and together they become fugitives as they seek a way out of their predicament.

Miguel Sapochnik, a relatively new director, takes the helm of Repo Men. For someone new to the job, he isn't half bad. He paces the film quite well, there are very few dull moments here as he fills the time with some well choreographed action scenes. And unlike Stallone in The Expendables, Sapochnik gets a good cinematographer that successfully captures all the action perfectly. Every bloody spurt, blow and slash is glorified for the audience.

Can Jude Law be an action hero? Sure he can, if you've seen Sherlock Holmes. Here, he plays Remy with the right balance of intelligence and brawn, with a good sense of dramatic awareness. Forest Whitaker provides great support as his best friend turned nemesis Jake. Liev Screiber is excellent as Frank, the corporate manager who is pretty entertaining to watch as he reads the same customer friendly lines to everyone without missing a beat. He is a perfect representation of the big company exec who couldn't care less about customer welfare. Alice Braga rounds up the cast as Beth, Remy's romantic interest and partner in crime.

It's fascinating to note that most reviews on this film have been negative. I think it's because they were all expecting something more cerebral. If you're thinking that Repo Men is a social commentary on failing health care, corporate viciousness or the impact of technology on our way of life, think again. This movie is quite a gorefest, it's violent and unflinching, but it's also very fun to watch. There's nothing wrong in seeing some glorified carnage every now and then, and Repo Men brings it all, and manages to surprise with a twist ending too.

If you want some balls out fun, give Repo Men a try. I'd never thought I'd say it, but this is more watchable than The Expendables. (4/5)


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