Sunday, May 29, 2011


Year: 2011
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

Plot: After a couple's eldest son falls into a coma, strange paranormal incidents start to occur in their house. When moving to another house does not help, they turn to a paranormal investigator who tells them that these incidents are connected to their comatose son.

Review: Anyone who remembers Paranormal Activity will acknowledge the creepiness associated with things going bump around the house. More often than not, this style of horror is far more effective in generating scares than blood and gore.

Saw director James Wan reteams with longtime writing partner Leigh Whannell and rope in Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli as producer to bring in their version of the haunted house horror flick. I must say, Insidious is quite scary on the whole. I noticed myself hanging on the edge of my seat waiting for the next scare, even when a lot of times, I could predict the exact moment it would come. It's just the way Wan filmed it, using dim lighting and unique camerawork to create a slow burning and claustrophobic atmosphere that you can see, hear and even feel as you watch the film unfold. The fact that Insidious cost below $2 million to make is amazing, considering how much it costs to make other more bombastic horror films.

For casting, we have Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, essentially B actors but they both turn in excellent performances here. Byrne is more effective as Renai, the distraught mother who carries the burden of worrying for her comatose son and being frustrated by her husband's skepticism over the paranormal occurrences. Wilson plays Renai's husband Josh in a low key way for a majority of the film, but manages to project the right emotion at the right moment. Lin Shaye puts in an interesting performance as Elise, the paranormal investigator. She really looks the part and acts it well. Whannell himself appears as Elise's assistant and manages to generate some funny moments in the film.

Insidious is not without flaws though. The evil spirits that come a calling range between looking like Darth Maul and having porcelain makeup on. The latter is very reminiscent of Wan and Whannell's previous work Dead Silence. Then there's the large title at the beginning and end of the film which reminds me of Drag Me To Hell, which is a bit too old school for me. Plus, some of the stuff explained by Elise need to be taken with a pinch of salt, which is the film's main weakness, as Whannell shouldn't try too hard to explain things until they become a tad ludicrous. But other than that, I had a great scare going through this from start to finish.

If you like the kind of horror flick that creeps under your skin and then jolts you right out of it, Insidious is for you. (3.5/5)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fast Five

Year: 2011
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster

Plot: Beginning where Fast And Furious left off, Brian and Mia break Dom free during his prison transport and flee to Rio de Janeiro. While there, they take on a job that eventually goes south, putting them in the crosshairs of Hernan Reyes, the local mobster and Hobbs, the government agent sent to hunt them down and bring them back across the border.

Review: When they first began, the Fast & Furious series was more about fast cars and faster women. But now, they've evolved beyond that. Sure, we still have fast and sleek vehicles flanked by really hot women, but in the hands of Justin Lin, we have superb stunts, explosions and hard hitting action.

It doesn't matter that the plot seems shallow at times, the acting varying between average and wooden, or logic seems to be abandoned more often than not, the fact is, we have an awesome time watching it unfold on screen. To that end, Lin has to be praised for pulling off Fast Five in the best way possible. How? He gets cast members from the previous instalments to show up. He plans for gravity defying car stunts to be executed. Then he adds Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson to it. So how could it not be fun?

But, like its predecessors, Fast Five has its own flaws, firstly the acting. Over the last decade, Diesel and Walker's acting have not improved much. Diesel is still a one note stoic hero and Walker is the bland sidekick trying too hard to emote. Jordana Brewster is slightly better, as is The Rock, who initially appeared way too one dimensional, but gets better as the story progresses. The other cast members i.e. the crew assembled by Dom and Brian to assist them, turn out to be the more interesting ones. Tyrese Gibson shines as Brian's friend Roman Pearce and gets the best lines here, much better than the ones he used in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Tego Calderon and Don Omar reprise their roles as the two bickering Latinos from Fast 4, and provide some laughs as well. The gorgeous Gal Gadot is also back and is probably the new babe here now that Brewster's age is showing, and Sung Kang is back as Han, the token Asian. Also welcome is Matt Schulze from Fast 1, whose past with Walker's character gives some dramatic potential, though it's predictable in a way.

It's not just the bad acting that becomes obvious. There are also large plotholes big enough for a car to drive through, and the aforementioned logic deviations, and the fact that the film is a tad too long. With some tighter editing, I would have enjoyed this film a bit more.

But to its credit, Fast Five is well shot, with some nice action set pieces and an insane car chase at the film's climax which is probably only rivaled by that crazy highway chase sequence in Bad Boys 2. Plus, we get to see Diesel and Johnson go mano a mano in intense and violent fashion. But I am a bit disappointed to see that Lin decided that this is Diesel's picture after all, if you know what I mean.

At 130 minutes, Fast Five can be a bit mind numbing and tiring, but it isn't for nothing. It's loads and loads of fun. Check out the post-credits sequence to see where the next instalment will go. (4/5)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Year: 2011
Director: Scott Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Christopher Plummer

Plot: After a decades long war between humans and vampires, the Church protects the people in huge walled cities while vampires are sent away to reservations. Priests, warriors ordered by the Church to win the war for them, are reintegrated into a society that no longer needs them. One such priest finds himself having to break his vows and go back to fighting vampires when they kidnap his niece. Joining him are a young sheriff and a former priestess.

Review: If you've seen the film Legion and thought it sucked, I wouldn't blame you if you walked into Priest thinking it would suck too. Director Scott Stewart and Paul Bettany team up again to take on another action horror film. I'm quite glad to report that it is a step up from Legion.

See, the reason Legion wasn't good was the ridiculousness that hit the film in the second half. It had plenty of potential but squandered it altogether before the finish. Priest is by no means perfect, but it is certainly better executed than Legion. It starts with a pretty cool animation sequence explaining the human-vampire history before bringing us to the present time, which is visually authentic. It's a post apocalyptic type future, where cities are run by the church, authoritarian and not very people friendly. They even have electronic confession booths in place of real men of the cloth.

Outside the cities, it's a barren wasteland where only small pockets of humans survive. Vampires, who are presented as hideous creatures with no eyes here, live in caves. Kudos to the set designers who manage to create everything realistically, from the cities to the deserts and the vampires' hives. The cinematography is also well done, evidently during scenes where Priest is out in the desert riding his bike. Like Legion, Stewart excels in the visual department, giving us some nice visual effects to accompany the good camerawork and set designs.

However, despite all this, Priest certainly doesn't come off being very original. The vampires are quite similar in design to the ones in I Am Legend, the walled cities are reminiscent of Judge Dredd, and the priests are a lot like the warrior vampires from Underworld i.e. sleek and deadly. A lot of the dialogue here is very cheesy too, which gives the film a very B-grade feel. It might not necessarily be a bad thing, but some of these lines have been used so often in other films, you'd just wish they came up with something better to say.

Paul Bettany has certainly found a good genre to be in. We all know that he can be a serious dramatic actor, but now it's clear he can do action very well too. As the stoic Priest, he excels at being good at what he does and at the same time, trying to show some feelings he had long abandoned. Cam Gigandet, playing the role of the sidekick, is brash and a bit cocky as the young sheriff, which is expected. He doesn't have much chemistry with Bettany, but manages to hold his own at times (though it's still Bettany's show, in the end). Karl Urban, as the villain Black Hat, a former priest turned vampire, gets the worst lines in the film, and ends up being a bit of a caricature. Maggie Q does what she does best as Priestess, kicking ass as usual. Lily Collins, daughter of singer Phil Collins, gets the damsel in distress role, and is real easy on the eye.

The film gets a few extra points for having some good subplots. Priest has some history with Priestess as well as Black Hat. There is another subplot between him and his brother Owen (played by True Blood actor Stephen Moyer) and Owen's wife Shannon (Madchen Amick) which makes things interesting. There is also the part about the Church's ignorant governance of the cities and their view of the vampire situation, which seems to be not explored fully here and pushed possibly to a sequel, but who knows if that sequel would ever come.

At a lean 87 minutes, Priest is quite entertaining for an action horror flick. It's not particularly memorable or special, but it's a lot of fun while it lasts. (3.5/5)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Water For Elephants

Year: 2011
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook

Plot: Set in 1931, Water For Elephants focuses on young Jacob Jankowski, an aspiring animal vet whose parents suddenly die in a car accident and now finds himself homeless when the bank forecloses his house. He hitches a ride onboard a train belonging to a travelling circus and gets a job as their animal vet, and subsequently falls in love with the circus' top star, the beautiful Marlena. However this puts him at odds with Marlena's cruel and dictatorial husband August, the circus' owner.

Review: Most people would balk at watching Robert Pattinson in yet another love story, after getting an overdose of his lovesick puppy looks in the Twilight films. But Water For Elephants is directed by Francis Lawrence, known for action horror flicks like I Am Legend and Constantine, so I was curious about this.

Thankfully, as far as love stories go, this isn't half bad. Lawrence manages to pace the film well and not dwell too much on romantic drama drivel we're so accustomed to in this genre. Water For Elephants isn't just a love story between two people, or in this case, three, but it's also a love story between people and the circus. I loved the fact that Lawrence went out of his way to make his film authentic, as everything on screen looks straight out of the Depression era, and the hardship endured by the circus employees, who'd do anything to avoid getting thrown off the train by August when times are hard, is very convincingly presented.

Reese Witherspoon hasn't had a hit lately, but it sure doesn't stop her from working, and I'm glad she took the role of Marlena, as Reese looks right at home here, looking like she belongs in the 1930s. Although I'm certain that body doubles were used during Marlena's performances with the animals and her acrobatic moves, Reese nevertheless makes her presence felt. Robert Pattinson on the other hand, looks a tad out of place, he simply doesn't look like someone from the era. But to his credit, Pattinson gets to display some of his acting chops here, and more often than not, he doesn't look like Edward Cullen at all. Christoph Waltz is great as the mean August, he's a lot like Col Hans Landa of course, but here he's a bit more human. Watch the scene where he feels remorseful after doing a cruel thing to an animal. Hal Holbrook plays the older Jacob retelling the story to another circus owner, but in my opinion, he should have got a bigger role.

Of course, I can't neglect to mention the other star of the film, Tai the elephant, called Rosie on screen. Her chemistry with Pattinson and Reese was well translated to the audience. However, Reese and Pattinson do not have much chemistry with each other, which is a real pity.

In summary, Water For Elephants is worth at least one view, simply because the Depression era is quite fascinating to look at, and the film manages to snare your interest in the circus, even if you're someone who isn't a fan of it initially. (3.5/5)

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Year: 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore

Plot: Thor, the God of Thunder, is banished from Asgard by his father Odin, due to his recklessness and arrogant actions that results in reigniting an ancient feud. On Earth, he meets Jane Foster, a scientist who takes an interest in him and a romance begins. Meanwhile, Thor's stepbrother Loki usurps the throne and conspires with the enemy in an attempt to become King of Asgard.

Review: Marvel based films usually kickstart the summer blockbuster season, and this year it's Thor's turn to debut. It's obvious that Thor is yet another film to come out of Marvel's stable that is a prelude to next year's The Avengers, and as a popcorn flick, it does not disappoint.

Kenneth Branagh, who happens to be a Thor fan, seems to be the perfect man to direct this film, and it shows. The realm of Asgard is just a sight to behold, looking mostly golden and shiny, like a palace in heaven. In contrast, Jotunheim, the home of the Frost Giants, enemies of Asgard, is dark and icy. The Asgardian costumes, especially the battle armors are damn impressive. So as far as set design and costumes go, Branagh has that well covered.

The visual effects are also very well done. All the battle scenes requiring CGI were well executed, the one that stood out the most is the one between Thor, Loki and his friends versus the Frost Giants. It kinda reminded me of Lord Of The Rings in the way it was pulled off, and I loved it.

However, it is the performances of the cast that must matter the most, and thankfully Chris Hemsworth is perfect for the role of Thor. Initially starting off as brash and stubborn, he eventually softens up and learns some humility while on Earth, thanks to the lovely Jane Foster, played by Oscar winner Natalie Portman. Now, as much as I adore her, I felt that she was quite miscast here. Not only is her romance with Thor a bit unconvincing, she doesn't quite pass off as a scientist either. But for me, Natalie isn't someone who gives anything less than 100% in any role she takes, so for the most part, she is decent enough in her role.

Tom Hiddleston gets the villainous role of Loki, and he seems like someone who'd you sympathise with at first. Loki is revealed to be an adopted child halfway through the film, which reinforces his desire to prove himself worthy of the throne, and to that end he is willing to do anything, even betray his family and lie to his brother. Hiddleston pulls off that part well, but I do wish he had shown some more of his dark side at the film's climax, because he came off as a tad pathetic at that moment. As for Anthony Hopkins, couldn't pick a better actor than him to be Thor's father. Hopkins always has great screen presence and he brings it here.

The film benefits also from a talented supporting cast, some who hit the mark, and some who don't. Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings play Jane Foster's colleagues, the former as the serious mentor, while the latter as the comic relief. Both are effective enough. Clark Gregg resumes his role as Agent Coulson from SHIELD, which is always appreciated. Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano and Josh Dallas play Thor's friends The Warriors Three, who unfortunately don't get enough screentime, but I do love Jaimie Alexander as Sif, she sure is gorgeous to look at. Idris Elba is rather disappointing as Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall, while poor Rene Russo is underused as Thor's stepmother Frigga. Colm Feore is near unrecognisable as Laufey, King of the Frost Giants, but manages to make quite a lasting impression.

Other than a slow middle third portion of the film, and Portman's miscasting, I can't think of anything that I dislike about Thor. It may not be as entertaining as Iron Man or the action packed The Incredible Hulk, but to his credit, Branagh has successfully created a superhero film that is more Shakespearian than slam bang. Whether you're looking forward to The Avengers next year or you're simply someone who wants to have a good time at the movies, you can't go wrong with Thor. (4/5)

A few things to take note of:
1. Look out for the customary Stan Lee cameo
2. A future member of The Avengers makes a quick appearance here.
3. Stay till the credits finish rolling for one final scene.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...