Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Thing

Year: 2011
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen

Plot: A group of Norwegian and American scientists discover a spaceship and an alien life form encased in ice down in Antarctica, and soon find themselves being picked off one by one by the alien, that has the ability to replicate anyone it kills.

Review: I only have a few vague memories of John Carpenter's version back in 1982, thus I may have a slight advantage over everyone else who have made comparisons between the two versions. Even then, this version is supposedly a prequel and not a remake (premake?) of Carpenter's film, which itself is a remake.

The new Thing is directed by first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, who directed commercials back in his home country. As far as set design and visual effects go, he's got it mostly right. The vast snow and icy landscape of Antarctica look really gorgeous and scary at the same time here. The visual effects actually look pretty good too, even though I've heard critics complain about it being choppy. The transformation from human to Thing once its ruse has been discovered is awesome, and quite gross too, which really helps the film a lot.

However, that's just about all the good things I can say about this film. Overall, the film needs a lot more than that. The horror of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with an enemy hiding amongst people you know and likely trust, isn't present. There ought to be tension everytime you look at the person next to you, and as a viewer, I didn't sense any tension whatsoever. I can see that the cast is trying to create the tension on screen, but it just doesn't happen. The main reason for that is the predictability. It's easy to guess which human the alien has copied, I guessed all of them correctly. On top of that, the 'test' that they use here to separate the humans from the impostors is pretty lame and not to mention flawed, compared to the one in Carpenter's version. The dialogue is rather dull and uninspiring too, with an absence of good one-liners and no guy with funny lines to quip (though the film does open with a guy telling quite a funny joke).

I'm also not happy with the choice of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the lead heroine Kate Lloyd. Yes, she can act, but I have trouble buying her as someone capable of leading this story. I would have preferred a more seasoned actress to play this role. Winstead gets to be Ellen Ripley in the second half of the film, but seriously, who can be Ripley besides Sigourney Weaver? The focus on Winstead's character makes her mostly male supporting cast seem insignificant, including the talented Joel Edgerton as Carter the helicopter pilot. The actors playing the Norwegians seem interesting though, too bad they mostly end up being alien victims.

In essence, this is a gallant attempt at remaking a classic horror film, but it is severely flawed. if you've seen the original, you'd probably want to go back to it. If like me, you don't remember much of the original, or you haven't seen it at all, you'd want to find it instead. (3/5)

P.S.: A final scene during the closing credits leads straight into Carpenter's film opening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Three Musketeers

Year: 2011
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen

Plot: Young D'Artagnan (Lerman), who aspires to be a musketeer, travels to Paris and meets the famed Three Musketeers (Macfadyen, Evans & Stevenson). Together they attempt to stop Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz), the advisor to the naive King of France, from starting a war with England. Standing in their way are Richelieu's double agent Milady (Jovovich) and her 'other' employer, The Duke of Buckingham (Bloom).

Review: From the trailers, The Three Musketeers looks like fun. On paper, it might have worked. Some nice action sequences with swordfights, explosions and bullets flying everywhere would almost guarantee a fun time at the movies, even if the plot isn't much to behold. But sadly, the film doesn't quite live up to expectations.

Paul W.S. Anderson, who has made a career out of making the Resident Evil films with his wife Milla Jovovich, can definitely film action, no doubt about that. He's one of the few guys that can film close quarter combats without making it seem blurry, and use slow motion at just the right moments. So to his credit, all the swordfights in this film are well shot, especially the climactic duel between Lerman and Mads Mikkelsen (as Rochefort, the Cardinal's Captain of the guards). He also throws in some good action set pieces, like an airship battle (which is reminiscent of the ship battles in the Pirates films, except it's in the air here) and a creative raid on a stronghold in the film's opening sequence.

However, Anderson isn't strong on substance, which is where the film falters. The plot on how Richelieu plans to start a war between England and France is a tad juvenile and poorly executed. But what's even worse is the acting by a select few of the cast.

Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham is one of the worst examples of casting I've ever seen. Bloom has yet to mature as an actor obviously, as he hams up the role terribly and looks totally out of place. Some people can actually ham up a role and make it look good (Kevin Bacon in X-Men First Class for instance), but Bloom is a failure. He might as well stick to being a sidekick for his next few projects. Jovovich is unexpectedly annoying at times, and I say unexpected because she isn't a terrible actress. Anyone who has seen her in Joan of Arc can understand where I'm coming from. Here, her acting is inconsistent at best.

Macfadyen, Evans and Stevenson fare much better as Athos, Aramis and Porthos respectively, though it is Lerman who gets more screen time here. Lerman does okay as the impulsive D'Artagnan, and with a little more work, he just might become a leading man someday.

In the end, The Three Musketeers doesn't take itself seriously enough to make it enjoyable. While I enjoyed the humour that it handed out, it just needed a bit more meat to work. There was some potential for drama as Athos and Milady have a history with each other, but there wasn't enough drama everywhere else, and too much focus was on the immature King and his Queen, who are at the centre of Richelieu's plan.

Judging by the way it ended, a sequel is afoot. But Anderson has a lot of work to do to improve on this. (3/5)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Killer Elite

Year: 2011
Director: Gary McKendry
Cast: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young

Plot: In order to save his mentor, a retired hitman is forced to take one last job. The task: kill three SAS officers who are connected to the British war with Oman. His mission however puts him in the crosshairs of an ex SAS officer tasked with protecting his comrades.

Review: Jason Statham has proven that he is a bankable action star. He may not be much of an actor, but he can kick ass like no one else can. While Death Race and The Transporter films are pretty much straightforward action flicks, Killer Elite is a bit different. For one thing, Statham doesn't end up doing ridiculous car stunts or fight off ten guys at once. And the plot is slightly deeper than the average Statham vehicle. And he shares nearly equal screentime with Clive Owen.

Supposedly based on a true story, Statham plays Danny Bryce, a hitman who yearns for a normal life with his girlfriend (played by Yvonne Strahovski). However, he gets dragged back into the game when an oil tycoon from Oman holds Danny's mentor Hunter (De Niro) captive, and forces Danny to kill three men in exchange for his freedom. It isn't easy though, since not only are the three men SAS soldiers, they are being watched over by Spike (Owen), a disgruntled ex SAS soldier who doesn't like the idea of his superiors not telling him the truth about these men.

Eventually Danny and Spike cross paths, and bad things happen, and people wind up dead. What's interesting is that the true story behind this film is being denied by the British, after Ranulph Fiennes releases a book about his government's war with Oman. It gives director Gary McKendry ample room to work a good plot around the action, rather than let the action drive the film. That doesn't mean that Killer Elite is boring though. There are still plenty of action sequences to behold, mostly fistfights, shootouts and car chases that aren't too bombastic.

Statham is still Statham here, doing what he does best with a grin, but he's mostly serious this time around. Clive Owen is dead serious as always, and manages to keep up with Statham for the most part. Robert De Niro brings his usual screen presence to the fore and it's always welcome. Strahovski, who constantly kicks ass on TV's Chuck, unfortunately does not do that here and merely looks gorgeous. Prison Break's Dominic Purcell gets the best lines playing one of Danny's comrades.

In the end, Killer Elite isn't quite what you'd expect from Jason Statham, but as an action movie, it still works. (4/5)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fright Night

Year: 2011
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette

Plot: Charley Brewster discovers that his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire who's feeding off people in the neighborhood. He turns to magician cum vampire expert Peter Vincent for help.

Review: I vaguely remember the original Fright Night many years ago. I can only recall a bit of the vampire played by Chris Sarandon (who makes a cameo here) and Roddy McDowall as the vampire killer.

Director Craig Gillespie successfully merges horror and comedy in his remake by creating lots of light hearted moments courtesy of the smart dialogue and good comic timing. Admittedly, some of the lines seem a tad cheesy, but overall it works.

You can also expect a lot of blood spatter, as what is a horror flick without the blood and gore? Gillespie pulls no punches or claws as the blood flies everywhere everytime someone gets fangs sunk into them.

Anton Yelchin isn't quite ready to be leading man material, but he pulls off the former nerd turned cool kid well enough, and warms up to the Charley Brewster role by the time the film gets to its climax. Colin Farrell uses his always present dark charm to his advantage as Jerry the vampire, and becomes a somewhat intimidating, but not too scary monster. Some of his lines are pretty corny, but hey, it's a comedy. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is rather annoying as Charley's best friend Ed, while Imogen Poots is nice to look at as Charley's squeeze. David Tennant however scores major points as Peter Vincent, whom many have accurately described as a cross between Russell Brand and Criss Angel. He is a hoot to watch and steals nearly every scene he's in.

Personally, I'd prefer a horror film that takes itself seriously than one that doesn't, which is why Fright Night wouldn't be one of my favourites. But I gotta say I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, and it's a nice way to spend 2 hours.

Note: Hugo's version of Jay-Z's 99 Problems that plays during the end credits is a killer song. It's just perfect for this. (3.5/5)


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