Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jack Reacher

Year: 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Jai Courtney, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall


Plot: A military sniper framed for shooting five civilians dead calls Jack Reacher, an ex-military investigator to help clear his name.


Review: Jack Reacher is a literary character created by Lee Child, with this film being based on his book One Shot. What's interesting is that in the books, he's much taller and heavier than Tom Cruise. 

But as we viewers realise soon enough, that's okay. It's Tom Cruise after all. As the titular character, Cruise slips pretty easily into a role which requires him to be instantly likable and yet difficult at the same time. For the most part, Cruise doesn't seem like the huge movie star that he usually is.

The plot revolves around an apparently random sniper shooting in public that leaves five people dead. The culprit is caught quickly and it seems like an open shut case, until Reacher comes into the picture. As someone who knows the accused from a previous case, Reacher himself is convinced he's guilty, until defense attorney Helen Rodin sets him on the right path. 

Christopher McQuarrie, directing only his second film to date, isn't too bad at all. Doubling as screenwriter, McQuarrie does a good job giving each of his characters ample time to stand out, defining their roles in the film properly. Reacher of course, is the focus, and as a military man who is capable of disarming bad guys swiftly, gets a handful of chances to show the audience what that means, which is the main highlight of this film.

As mentioned, Cruise is solid in the role, and is well supported by Rosamund Pike as Helen Rodin. I wouldn't have imagined Pike in this role, but she does well enough here. Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney are pretty awesome as the antagonists, while veterans Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall make themselves memorable in their roles as Helen's father and a shooting range owner respectively, despite not getting much screentime.

The film though could use a bit of trimming on the runtime. The plot was engaging enough to keep me interested throughout, but it still feels long overall. Then there's the minor issue of some of Cruise's lines sounding really cliched, but it's not enough to ruin the fun.

As an action thriller, Jack Reacher is pretty solid entertainment. I sure wouldn't mind seeing a sequel somewhere down the line. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis


Plot: Gandalf The Grey recruits Bilbo Baggins on a mission to assist the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield and his brethren to reclaim their homeland from a dragon.


Review: When I first heard of this film, my first thought was "cash in". I mean, was it really necessary to make more movies about Middle Earth after Lord Of The Rings? Like that trilogy, The Hobbit will also be a trilogy of films, and each instalment will be just as long.

To be honest, after seeing this film, a return to Middle Earth doesn't seem like such a bad idea. The source material has always been strong and the characters are still as memorable as ever. But to say this matches up to the Lord Of The Rings may not be so accurate.

In this film, we go back 60 years before Bilbo Baggins celebrates his infamous 111th birthday and passes on the ring to Frodo. Back then, Bilbo is pretty much the same hobbit. He loves peace and quiet and enjoys smoking his pipe in his free time. And then Gandalf shows up on his doorstep with a group of dwarves, trying to recruit him to join their cause in reclaiming their fallen city of Erebor. It is this adventure where Bilbo learns a thing or two about courage, much like Frodo and his friends eventually will on their quest to destroy the ring later on. Bilbo also has his fateful meeting with Gollum and his first encounter with the ring.

Peter Jackson should be commended for having the tenacity to do this all over again. To his credit, Middle Earth looks as stunning as ever, from the beautiful Shire and Rivendell to the dark caverns of the goblins. From a technical standpoint, Jackson scores full marks, be it cinematography, costumes, visual effects, props etc.

Martin Freeman plays the younger Bilbo with a mixture of the older Bilbo's reluctance and the young Frodo's sense of honor. It helps that Freeman has a slight resemblance to Ian Holm, who returns for a short period at the beginning narrating the story. It is Ian McKellen though who continues to command presence as Gandalf, looking a bit older than the last time we saw him. Hugo Weaving impressively hasn't aged a day and looks every bit like Lord Elrond from the previous trilogy. Andy Serkis returns as Gollum and for once he didn't get on my nerves. His riddle sparring segment with Bilbo is one of my favorite things about this film. Not to be forgotten is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf prince who leads his fellow dwarves on this journey. Unlike Aragorn, he is a proud leader but a very capable one too.

As good as this film is, it is simply no match for Jackson's previous attempt in bringing Middle Earth to life. The scale from a technical and storytelling standpoint is vastly different. The original films had a very engaging plot and richer characters, whereas here, only Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin stand out, while the other dwarves are barely distinguishable from each other. Storywise this film is weaker too, as it starts to drag after the half mark, unlike the original films that kept you invested in it as long as it was still running.

Still, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fun watch and a welcome return to Tolkien's world. Perhaps the future two instalments can pick up the slack here and be really awesome. One can hope. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Rise Of The Guardians

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Ramsey
Voice cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Dakota Goyo


Plot: Jack Frost has been chosen to join Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Sandman as a member of the Guardians, spirits who safeguard children all over the world. Together they must stop Pitch a.k.a. the Boogeyman, who wants to spread fear among the children.


Review: This film is based on William Joyce's book series The Guardians Of Childhood, about how the childhood myths come to life to protect children all over the world. In this film, we are introduced to Jack Frost, a young boy who doesn't remember anything about himself before he became a spirit capable of freezing everything around him. His mischievous exploits causes kids everywhere to have fun in the snow, but they never see him.

Then the Guardians are tasked to recruit him in order to fight Pitch, who, like Jack, has remained unseen by kids and now wants to be feared and acknowledged. But Jack isn't so easy to convince to join their cause, since he sort of enjoys being a carefree spirit who enjoys pulling pranks wherever he goes. But as we all know, that will change soon enough.

The animation level on this film is pretty good. Some of the characters may seem stiff at times, but the filmmakers more than make up for that by injecting tons of colours into nearly every scene and making all the magical sequences come alive. Sandman's powers are probably the best ones rendered on screen, with the golden sands flying everywhere like it had a life of its own.

But Rise Of The Guardians also benefits from a solid story, which is told very well. Sure, the story of an unlikely hero finding his purpose isn't exactly new, but director Peter Ramsey makes the audience care about his characters while making them likable at the same time. Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny are the best depicted ones, with their friendly rivalry inducing a lot of laughs here.

If there's a flaw in this film, it probably would be the fact that it caters more to the younger crowd. There were a lot of "Whoa, look what I just did" moments all over the film, as Jack, the Guardians and the kids fly, slide, jump and fall over and over again, which would be awesome for a kid to watch, but may be taxing for an adult. So if you're the kind who has trouble connecting to your inner child, you may not like this.

But for what it's worth, Rise Of The Guardians is a pretty solid animated film which all kids will love. If you like having fun, you might like it too. (3.5/5) 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Breaking Dawn Part 2

Year: 2012
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning


Plot: Bella is a vampire now, and her daughter Renesmee grows at a rapid rate, with Jacob as her protector. The Cullens and Jacob seem to be happy together, until the Volturi learn about the child.


Review: Not only am I aware of it, but I'm also rather proud that I'm one of the few people in this world that is able to give the Twilight films a fair judgment. Most people would either scoff at the idea of seeing it, or walk into the theatre with a large amount of hate for it. The thing is, these films may not be considered as classics in the years to come, but they certainly aren't the worst kind of movies out there.

So in this final instalment, director Bill Condon tries his best to make it count. He has the main cast members (the Cullens in particular) have close to equal amount of time on screen (though Rosalie could use a bit more), and does a great job introducing the other vampires around the world that arrive to help them face the Volturi. Their assembly is reminiscent of The Avengers, each of them having a unique gift of their own. When they finally fight the Volturi in the film's climax, it is pretty good too, probably the best fight sequence in the series.

However, like most of the Twilight films, it has its drawbacks. The Bella-Edward thing still lingers about, which makes for some cringe inducing moments. Then there are some under or over the top performances, like Michael Sheen's bombastic portrayal of Aro. And they used a CGI baby for Renesmee. Oh man. But the thing that got me riled up the most is the way they ended the final fight, which is a cop out of what would have been a monumental climax. All that build up, and they dropped the ball right there. I know that Condon had to balance his film with the book, but a detraction here would have been wise.

As for performances, Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner do their best with what they have, which isn't much. I refuse to say their acting sucks, because I still believe it's the material they have which affects their performance. Some of the other supporting cast members are interesting but do not get enough screen time, like Joe Anderson as rogue vampire Alistair.

So in closing, I have to say that this finale isn't as epic as it could have been, but it does a decent enough job at appreciating what has come before it and ending it in a way a storybook would. (3/5)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Red Lights

Year: 2012
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen


Plot: Two scientists who specialise in debunking paranormal activity attempt to uncover the mystery behind a world renowned psychic who has returned after a long absence.


Review: On one of the posters to this film, there's a quote from a critic that says "This year's The Sixth Sense." After watching it, I can understand the comparison. However Red Lights doesn't quite possess the quality of the film it's being compared to.

Rodrigo Cortes, director of Buried, does a decent enough job setting up the plot about two scientists, played by Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy, who are pretty good at what they do, who go around the country taking on any psychic phenomena and proving it being a fraud. In one scene, they take on a guy performing in front of a live audience and quite easily prove he's a phony, which is one of the more interesting parts of the film.

Then comes the part where they take on Simon Silver, a blind psychic who claims to be the real deal. Weaver, who has a history with the man, chooses to stay away, but Murphy wants to test him. And so begins the mystery: is he for real, or not?

Cortes successfully keeps the audience interested by maintaining the pace and letting the actors lead the story along. It helps a lot that the cast is spot on, with the three main leads doing an awesome job with their roles. Weaver and Murphy are solid, with the latter having a heavier role in the second half. Robert De Niro doesn't have much to do till the final third of the film, but is very believable as Simon Silver.

As good as the cast is, the film kinda trips over itself in the climax. Towards that point, Cortes tries to inject some horror type jump elements into his film, which was rather jarring. The twist itself isn't so bad, but isn't so mind blowing either. I felt that it was more about how it was executed than what the twist really is. With a bit more creativity and timing, Cortes could have nailed that last section of his film and score a winner. As of right now, it's just almost.

Overall, Red Lights is actually quite interesting. It does manage to keep you guessing, but sort of disappoints at the finish line. (3.5/5)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ted

Year: 2012
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth MacFarlane


Plot: After wishing his teddy bear could talk, John Bennett's stuffed toy Ted comes to life and becomes his best friend. Now as an adult, John is a slacker working at a car rental office and still best friends with his teddy bear. John's lovely girlfriend Lori wants a commitment from him and asks him to choose between her and Ted. What will he do?


Review: Yes, the teddy bear can talk. And he's real funny too. That's the first thing you need to grasp before you can even hope to enjoy this comedy. But good for us, Seth MacFarlane makes it easy by making Ted such a likeable little bear, even if he's foul mouthed most of the time.

MacFarlane, creator of the TV show Family Guy, sort of brings his TV show's style of humour to this film, and it works for the most part. There are tons of 80's references here, from music to TV shows and in particular, Flash Gordon. I'm an 80's child but I'm not familiar with Flash Gordon, so jokes relating to the latter was lost on me, but still whenever the actor playing Flash shows up, it seemed bombastic enough for a laugh. I also liked how MacFarlane got the idea of a talking teddy bear out of the way in the first ten minutes or so to enable Ted to seem normal in an everyday setting. It might seem too convenient from the way it was done, but better this than having to logically explain it throughout the film, right?

Mark Wahlberg plays the slacker John Bennett to perfection and shares great chemistry with MacFarlane who voices Ted. If you had imagined Ted as a regular dude who is a bad influence on you, you'd have no problem following his relationship with John. John is a good guy with a heart of gold, but constantly finds himself stuck in the past whenever Ted shows up. Mila Kunis (how does she look that hot all the time?) is also solid as Lori, the girlfriend who has to compete with Ted for John's attention.

Although the humour is more hit than miss, whenever it misses it's rather unnecessarily bad, like Ted trying to do karaoke (painful). Then there's the subplot with Giovanni Ribisi as a guy who attempts to kidnap Ted for his son, which didn't really gel with the rest of the film. The film's resolution is also too convenient.

Overall, Ted is a solid attempt at making a comedy for guys. It's not perfect but it doesn't really need to be. (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Skyfall

Year: 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw


Plot: After a botched mission, Bond is presumed dead and a list of secret identities of NATO agents across the globe falls into the wrong hands. When MI6 headquarters is attacked, Bond comes out of retirement to protect M from a former agent who has a score to settle with her.


Review: I've always wondered what was it that keeps the Bond film machine going for 50 years. As a film fan, I was getting tired of the same formula: Bond goes on a mission, and through one liners, death defying stunts, gadgets and pretty ladies, he kills the villain and saves the day. Every time. Even Daniel Craig's version of James Bond, who takes everything personally, was wearing me down.

Sam Mendes, to his credit, along with scriptwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, have made a Bond film that really stands out in Skyfall. Don't get me wrong, the familiar formula is still more or less there, so no groundbreaking approach here. But it's a compelling take on the most famous secret agent in history, and Mendes and company have done an outstanding job in making every second on film count.

The plot actually resembles Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and even Mendes has admitted his inspiration from there. If you've seen Nolan's take on Batman, you'll notice the similarities here, of a hero who has to rediscover his abilities in order to do his job, as well as Javier Bardem's villain who is somewhat like Heath Ledger's Joker, minus the makeup and grandeur.

The film also scores technically, with Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country For Old Men, Jarhead among others) capturing the beautiful scenery of Shanghai, Macau and Scotland. The fight scenes are well shot too, and Thomas Newman does a good job with the music, even sampling the familiar 60s Bond theme during the reintroduction of a familiar Bond vehicle from that era (one of my favorite parts of this film).

The last two Bond films focused on his relationship with Vesper Lynd, but this time it's with M, and it is so well done. Bond and M's love hate relationship is put to the test as she chooses to rely on her number one guy who isn't as good as he used to be, while he has to put aside any resentment he has towards her to do his job. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are fantastic here, playing off each other splendidly that it overshadows everything else on film. Coming in a close second to them is Javier Bardem as Bond villain Silva, who in some way is a tragic bad guy, only wanting retribution against M for her past actions. Bardem is charismatic in his role, looking charming and demented at the same time, and nearly steals the show.

Ralph Fiennes is also great in the role of Mallory, M's superior while Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris play the sort of Bond girls, the former making a good impression with her limited screen time, the latter being somewhat dull. I also liked Ben Whishaw as a young Q, looking like a college nerd but still managing to hold his own against 007.

If there's anything wrong with this film, it's the rather anticlimactic end to the Bond-M-Silva triangle, and the aforementioned Naomie Harris. But overall I can't deny that this is one of the most entertaining Bond films I've seen in a while. Recommended. (4/5)

P.S.: The Adele theme song is not bad, but I still prefer Duran Duran's A View To A Kill. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenweenie

Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Voice cast: Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau


Plot: Victor Frankenstein is a strange boy whose dog Sparky is his only friend. When Sparky is killed by a car, Victor takes inspiration from his science teacher and uses lightning to successfully bring his dog back to life. However, this brings about a series of complicated events that may spell disaster for the whole town.


Review: Frankenweenie is a remake of Tim Burton's own short film which he made back in 1984. The story is basically a retelling of Victor Frankenstein's famous tale, except it's a dog that he's bringing back to life and not a monster.

Burton has done wonders with this film. I simply love the retro approach that he took, from the black and white theme (a homage to old monster movies) to making several characters similar to the movies he's paying tribute to. For instance, one of Victor's classmates is named Edgar Gore (E Gore) and he has a hunched back. The science teacher resembles Vincent Price, with Martin Landau providing a matching accent. There's even a tribute to Japanese monster films towards the end, I won't spoil that moment for you though.

The stop motion animation is also flawless, as is the look Burton went for the characters. Most of them have big eyes with small pupils, thus resembling scary looking dolls, but in Burton's hands they don't appear frightening at all. Well, all except Weird Girl (a classmate of Victor's), whose huge eyes and creepy speech pattern make her quite freaky.

The story itself is solid, exploring the theme of life and death, misconception and friendship of course. Victor is simply a boy who misses his dog, and thanks to his successful attempt in resurrecting his pet, brings about consequences that he did not anticipate. It culminates in a very nice climax, where the film takes a slightly darker turn from what they were going for up to that point, but it never stops being a kid's movie, as all the children in the theatre where I saw this will attest. It is still a Disney movie, darker than their usual material, but still Disney nonetheless.

All in all, I enjoyed Frankenweenie very much. It scores in almost every department and is great entertainment for all ages. Recommended. (4/5)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sinister

Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson


Plot: A struggling true crime writer moves into a house where its previous owners were murdered, hoping to unravel the mystery and turn it into a bestselling book. He discovers a super 8 film projector and some reels of film depicting that murder and a few other killings as well. As he connects them together, he realizes that he is in over his head against something he isn't prepared for.


Review: Finally the horror filmmaking machine comes out with a winner. It's tough to find a really scary movie these days when there is so much CGI and borrowed ideas being used to make horror films. But not Sinister.

Scott Derrickson, whose previous two films The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and The Day The Earth Stood Still turned out rather lackluster, comes good at last with this one. Although Sinister shares a lot of similarities with Insidious and Paranormal Activity with its setting of  a haunted house (their producers are also the same), it sets itself apart from those films through the use of a super 8 film projector. The chilling opening sequence proves that this method works.

But this isn't a film that piles on the scares one after the other. Derrickson creates a sense of dread throughout the film, slowly raising the tension instead of throwing cheap shocks every five minutes. The films showing the murders themselves are quite disturbing even though most of the violence is suggested rather than seen. There's something very uncomfortable about watching them with the ticking sound of the projector in the background and the grainy quality of the film, combined with some eerie music by Christopher Young (he deserves credit for that). It's truly unnerving, I'll attest to that.

Ethan Hawke is excellent as Ellison Oswalt, the writer who moves into the house with his family. He is basically a guy who's trying to come up with a bestselling book after his last two failures, and thinks the murders of the previous house owners will give him just that. His gradual transformation from curious investigative writer to an obsessive and desperate man is very convincing. In fact, Hawke pretty much carries the whole film as he is in nearly every scene. Juliet Rylance provides solid support as his wife while James Ransone is great as the deputy sheriff who lightens up the film from time to time with some humour.

There were a couple of elements in Sinister that could have been improved, which I won't spoil for you. But needless to say, it doesn't distract the viewer from feeling tense as the film moves towards its creepy conclusion.

If a horror film manages to spook me enough to lose some sleep, then I know it is that damn good. Sinister is such a film. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Taken 2

Year: 2012
Director: Olivier Megaton
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Sherbedgia


Plot: Bryan Mills killed a lot of people in order to rescue his daughter from human traffickers in Paris. Now the families of those people want revenge. But he's just not the person they should mess with.


Review: The first Taken was a runaway hit for Liam Neeson. He's usually not someone you'd associate with action films, at least before he made that film. Taken was simplistic and brutal, and even when it defied logic many times, it was just too much fun to not enjoy.

So writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen made a sequel, even though it clearly wasn't necessary to do so. In anyone else's hands, it would have just been a mindless rehash of what came before. On the surface it looked like that. But a closer look and it's quite noticeable that Besson and Kamen took their time to tell a meaningful tale which involves love for one's family.

See, Bryan is simply a guy who is trying to reconnect with his daughter and ex-wife, and even though things have improved since the time before the former was kidnapped, there are still issues to work out. On the flipside, Murad, the father of the man Bryan tortured and killed wants retribution. His son may have been a scumbag, kidnapping women for sale and all, but it doesn't change the fact that he wants blood for blood. And thus the cycle of violence continues.

So Bryan is back to doing what he does best: kicking ass and taking names. What's different this time around is Maggie Grace getting a shot at saving her dad, which is a nice turnaround. Neeson still gets to do all the killing though. Rade Sherbedgia, well known for playing villains from Russia or Eastern Europe, is good as Murad, someone who isn't just a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy, but a guy who wants revenge, and somewhat deserving just a bit of the audience's sympathy.

Action wise, Olivier Megaton does alright, though he hasn't quite learned how to film fistfights properly. I've always felt that Megaton has some cool ideas, but doesn't quite pull it off well. Transporter 3 and Colombiana could have been more but fell short, and this one's just like those. There's a memorable car chase sequence here and some well staged shootouts, but it doesn't match the intensity of its predecessor.

Taken 2 is entertaining enough as an actioner, but not quite as good as the first. If Besson wants to make 3, I suggest getting Bryan's three CIA friends in on the action. Now that's something I want to see. (3.5/5)


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Dredd

Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey


Plot: Earth in the future has been scorched, with only mega cities remaining to hold large populations. In Mega City One, the law is dispensed by Judges, men and women of authority who are authorised to judge criminals and carry out sentencing on the spot. The best of them all, Judge Dredd, is assigned a rookie Judge, Judge Anderson, who possesses psychic abilities, and evaluate her performance in the field. They head for a large housing complex, controlled by ruthless drug lord Ma-Ma, who locks down the building upon discovering their presence.


Review: I'm probably the only person who thought Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd was entertaining. Sure, it was campy as heck, but there's plenty of action and violence in it to satisfy action junkies. Most critics thought it was crap, but I liked it. However I do admit that it strayed too far from the comic it was based on, and I can tell even though I hadn't read it before.

Pete Travis' Dredd however, is an entirely different animal. No cheese and camp, just brutal violence and loads of blood. Unlike Stallone's version, this one doesn't attempt to dive into Dredd's personal life or humanise the guy. It just shows him going about upholding the law, and on this day, evaluate a rookie judge who may have the ability to turn the tide in the war on chaos. The first sign of it staying true to the comic is having Dredd keep his helmet on at all times, and it's not weird at all, even for viewers who don't know him from the comic.

The plot centering on Dredd and Anderson taking on Ma-Ma and her clan in a locked down building is reminiscent of The Raid: Redemption, but it doesn't copy that film too much and manages to keep the tension and action coming in spades. There are some nifty effects in scenes where someone uses the drug Slo-Mo, as the user experiences everything at a slower rate. So watching people getting their heads blown off in slow motion looks pretty cool.

Karl Urban makes an excellent Judge Dredd, keeping his helmet on throughout the film, and saying all his lines with a grunt and never letting it sound campy. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping things real and getting everyone to take him seriously. Olivia Thirlby holds her own as Judge Anderson, who has plenty of tricks up her sleeve as a psychic, and it comes in real handy at the worst possible moments. Lena Headey is also solid as Ma-Ma, looking nothing like her character in Game Of Thrones. With a huge scar on her face and cropped hair, she is superbly mean.

The film's ending suggests a possible sequel, but I wonder if we'll ever see it since it didn't do well at the box office. It deserves better. It's a great action film and I'm seriously recommending it. (4/5)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Looper

Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon


Plot: In the future, if mob bosses wanted someone killed, they'd send that person 30 years into the past to be eliminated by hired guns called loopers. Joe is one such looper, whose nightmare begins when his latest target happens to be his future self.


Review: Looper has been classified as a sci-fi action movie, though to be honest, it seems more like a combination of three different genres. The sci-fi part is in the final third of the film, whereas the first third is more like a crime thriller and the middle section leans toward heavy drama.

Director Rian Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, makes his flick unique enough to stand out from other films that feature time travel, even when the essence of his story is familiar i.e. changing one's fate. Looper isn't about time travelling per se, but more about consequences of one's actions and the dilemma surrounding it. The best part about Looper is that this fact isn't really evident until we get closer to the film's climax.

I like the way Johnson presents his film in terms of production design. The present day here is 2044, but the world has a retro feel to it, from the cars people drive to the clothes they wear. Even the music has a 60s vibe to it. The only things that are futuristic are the guns and minor gadgets.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is solid as the younger Joe, adopting Bruce Willis' voice and speech patterns and putting on some makeup to resemble him (though the prosthetics on his face were too obvious). As the present Joe, Gordon-Levitt plays someone whose main goal is self preservation for the most part. He is well contrasted by Willis as the older Joe, whose objective is to save someone else. Emily Blunt is equally solid in her role as well, but I'd rather not reveal how she plays into all this. Jeff Daniels is excellent as Joe's employer, especially since he's rarely played a character like this. Deserving special mention are Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt, who although appear briefly, make a lasting impression.

The middle section of the film is rather slow as Johnson attempts to develop his characters, which may be frustrating if you're waiting for something to happen. He also builds a potential romance between Joe and Blunt's character, which felt like it was tacked on and not entirely necessary.

All in all, Looper is a solid movie and a smart piece of work from a sci-fi angle. Recommended. (4/5) 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

Year: 2012
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing, Aryana Engineer, Kevin Durand, Shawn Roberts, Johann Urb, Oded Fehr


Plot: Alice takes on the Umbrella Corporation yet again, and meets several familiar faces along the way.


Review: The Resident Evil series is kinda like the Underworld series. Both star a good looking chick that kicks ass and their husbands are usually calling the shots. While Underworld got its groove back earlier this year after the less than stellar prequel, Resident Evil is starting to feel tiresome.

It's odd actually, as I've always loved the Resident Evil films. They all may seem alike with slightly different settings, but it's always fun to watch. This time though Paul W.S. Anderson dropped the ball after giving us the very entertaining Resident Evil: Afterlife. Afterlife, as some of you may recall, was about escape and survival. Retribution however is a journey through what viewers would identify as a video game come to life. Anderson unfortunately fails to make it as entertaining as it ought to be.

There are a handful of things I like about Retribution, like an action sequence playing backwards during the opening credits, showing us what happened following the ending to Afterlife. The hand to hand fights are still cool to watch. Milla Jovovich exchanges blows with Sienna Guillory, who plays Jill Valentine at the film's climax, though it doesn't match up to Jovovich killing a group of zombies using a gun and a bicycle chain at the beginning. The part where Alice is portraying a suburban housewife is a nice touch too, but is merely to serve the subplot involving a young girl who sees Alice as her mother, which is reminiscent of Aliens, but not handled as extensively as that classic.

This is all good, but Anderson tries too hard to make this more faithful to the game. He brings forth famous characters from the game to his work, so in place of Chris and Claire Redfield (whom they didn't even bother to explain where the heck they went), we have Ada Wong, Barry Burton and Leon S. Kennedy. Anderson puts our heroes on a trip through multiple danger room type scenarios, which would have been fun, but ended up looking pretty lame. It almost feels like he has run out of ideas, as he gives the audience a near full recount of the past four instalments and brings back a few familiar things, you'll know it when you see it.

Acting wise, only Jovovich stands out as a competent performer. The others are either just decent or not really trying. Li Bingbing is awful as Ada Wong. This is what happens when you hire an actress who doesn't really understand the English that she's speaking. I'm sure Li is a good actress back home, but her phonetic English made her unbelievably wooden. Shawn Roberts brings back the Agent Smith impression as the returning Albert Wesker, and just manages to not be too annoying. The other guys look like they're here for a paycheck, while Michelle Rodriguez is a bit underutilised.

From the final shot, one can safely assume that RE6 will be the final instalment. Anderson still has time to end this thing on a high note. If not for some really cool fights and Jovovich's screen presence, I would totally hate this film. (3/5) 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation / Get The Gringo

Year: 2012
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Cast: Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Dolores Heredia, Peter Stormare


Plot: A guy who just robbed a mob boss of a huge sum of money gets caught by Mexican police and sent to El Pueblito, an awful prison where the inmates live there like it was home. There, he learns how to survive with the help of a young boy while figuring out how to escape and get his money back.


Review: Why didn't they just stick with the title Get The Gringo no matter where this is released? Anyway, this film marks the return of Mel Gibson after all the controversy that he's created for himself in the media.

Vacation is reminiscent of Payback, one of Gibson's old crime thrillers, where he's playing a guy very similar to this one. His narration of the film is the best part, where he says things like "Is this a prison or the world's shittiest mall?" when talking about the place he's been sent to. Using great observation and a little help from a young Mexican kid (who smokes haha), Gibson manages to survive while learning about who's important in that prison and how to get leverage.

Gibson is in fine form here, being a very likable guy despite being essentially a criminal. He shares great chemistry with the kid, played by Kevin Hernandez. Their conversations, ranging from hilarious to downright serious, are mostly meaningful.

However, I walked into this film expecting an action piece, and I didn't quite get that here, which disappointed me a bit. Other than a car chase and a couple of shootouts, there isn't much action here. I guess I should have expected that since Gibson isn't Martin Riggs anymore, but still, some more excitement would have been nice.

Overall I'd say it's an averagely entertaining crime thriller, which thankfully has Gibson's screen presence to give it some credibility, and a smart script to back it up. If you're expecting anything more, you're not going to get it. (3/5) 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Raid: Redemption

Year: 2011
Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian, Doni Alamsyah, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy


Plot: An elite SWAT team find themselves trapped in an apartment complex when the crime lord they're sent to apprehend, locks the building down and sends his gang from every floor of the place to kill them.


Review: I've waited nearly a year to see this. After hearing so many good things about it, I knew I couldn't let the opportunity to watch The Raid: Redemption slip by.

This film is the second collaboration between director Gareth Evans and lead star Iko Uwais, the first being Merantau, which is said to bear resemblance to Thai action star Tony Jaa's Ong Bak. Like Jaa's film, The Raid is a balls out, brutal masterpiece featuring plenty of bone crunching fights.

Evans is a master of his craft, evident in his ability to not make the same mistake most Hollywood directors do: film the action too close or in poor light. Evans keeps the camera steady and makes sure we can see every punch, kick and blow and where it's coming from. He even has a few nifty tricks up his sleeve, for example there is a scene where he shows in slow motion, how a flare from a gun being fired lights up the dark and the consequences that follows. It's just beautiful to behold.

As for the action itself, it's just awesome, there's no other word for it. Sure, it can get mind numbing at times seeing people getting bludgeoned and beaten, but it's never dull. Thanks to both Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian, who plays the crime lord's right hand man Mad Dog, who choreographed the fight sequences, the audience is given a treat to some of the most brutal fights ever seen on film. Ruhian's Mad Dog is a perfect killing machine as he barely slows down in dishing out punishment, and is a joy to watch.

The Raid does suffer from a few flaws though. Evans actually tries to inject some substance into his film by throwing in a few twists here and there, like why the team can't call for backup, or Uwais' character's connection to someone in the building. Whenever Evans addresses these subplots, the film slows down. There are also glaring plotholes, like certain members of the SWAT team being unusually careless for example. And I couldn't help but feel distracted by the bad English dubbing. I know they were trying to market this film in the west, but couldn't they have just kept the original Indonesian audio and use English subtitles?

Despite that, The Raid: Redemption is a solid action movie. It would have been perfect if Evans had made it straight and simple though. But if you love action movies and have no qualms about excessive violence, you have to see this. (3.5/5)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries

Year: 2012
Director: Bradley Parker
Cast: Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko


Plot: A group of tourists hire a Russian guide to take them to Pripyat, a deserted town next to Chernobyl for a day of "extreme tourism". After the nuclear disaster in 1986, the place should be completely abandoned, right? No, of course not.


Review: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is one of the most notorious tragedies in history. It's so devastating that the place is still inhabitable after a quarter of a century. To me, the concept of visiting Chernobyl or its surrounding areas, which have been totally abandoned is intriguing. This is because the buildings are mostly intact, save for some interior destruction thanks to looters and animal invasions and such. Being in an isolated area (ghost town) can be scary indeed.

It is this idea that inspired Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli to write this film. We are introduced to a group of American youths who are in Kiev on holiday. One of them suggests a trip to Chernobyl, so along with another young couple and a Russian guide who apparently has taken many trips to the place, they go over there for some sightseeing. And of course, bad things happen.

Director Bradley Parker, in his feature film debut, paces the film well enough but only manages to keep things interesting until the final 20 minutes or so. The buildup was good, the idea of being trapped in an isolated area with no one to call for help works very well, especially when blood starts to spill. By using mostly unknown actors (including singer Jesse McCartney) and some really authentic set designs for the town, the mood for a solid horror film can be felt.

But Parker resorts to the same tricks over and over again as time passes. Using the dark as a horror tool is always great, but cheap scare tricks, loud sounds and the now-you-see-them-now-you-don't tactic wears out pretty fast. In the final 20 minutes, this flaw is most obvious, and to make matters worse, Parker starts killing the people off in really bullet quick fashion. It's as if he and Peli have run out of ideas and are desperately trying to end the film on a high note. The ending itself is cliched.

To sum it up, Chernobyl Diaries is a promising idea for a horror flick which falls apart towards the finish line. With a bit more substance, it could have been solid and really scary. (3/5)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Cold Light Of Day

Year: 2012
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Cast: Henry Cavill, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis, Veronica Echegui


Plot: Business consultant Will Shaw arrives in Spain to join his family on a sailing vacation. But when his family is kidnapped, he quickly learns that his father works with the CIA and his last assignment has now put them all in danger. Will has to run while figuring out how to rescue his family.


Review: This film has trouble written all over it. First the release got delayed for five months, then there's a total absence of marketing efforts for it. It makes one wonder just how bad this film could be. The good news is, it's not terrible.

Director Mabrouk El Mechri puts the audience in Will's shoes as we follow him from the beginning, each step he takes and as a result, we learn what he learns simultaneously. The action is not too shabby as we get a few good chase sequences, though you've probably seen them elsewhere. Mechri also deserves some credit for using unique camera angles in certain scenes, like shooting a scene upside down before slowly turning it back properly.

Henry Cavill, the new Superman, does a pretty good job as Will. After last year's Immortals, we all know he can certainly do action, but this time around he's being more like Will Smith in Enemy Of The State, as the clueless victim learning how to fight back while running. Cavill is certainly convincing here. Bruce Willis doesn't have a heck of a lot to do here as Will's dad, and he seems bored for the most part. Sigourney Weaver gets the villain role, and portrays her as a cool, unflinching baddie who doesn't blink as she guns people down. However, the way her character was written in the film's climax kinda ruins whatever stock she gained up to that point, which is a real pity.

As an action film, The Cold Light Of Day is pretty decent. I didn't find it boring for the most part. But this film isn't doing anything you haven't seen before. As good as Cavill is at keeping your attention on him from beginning till end, there isn't anything memorable to savour after you walk out of the theater. The occasional shaky camerawork and poor lighting in certain scenes also sticks out.

In the end, it's a very average action film, which just lacks a much needed edge to make it special. (3/5)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Possession

Year: 2012
Director: Ole Bornedal
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport, Matisyahu


Plot: A 10 year old girl buys a unique wooden box at a yard sale, not knowing it contains an evil spirit that slowly possesses her. Her parents have to find a way to save her before it's too late.


Review: There have been very few exorcism horror films that are really scary. William Friedkin's The Exorcist had set the bar real high for anyone to reach. While The Possession may not be as scary as that classic, it sure gives a good shot.

Director Ole Bornedal does a good job keeping the tension and suspense lingering while at the same time fleshing out his characters well, all in its short 92 minute runtime. It does take a while before the horror shifts into third gear, but when it does, it's pretty fun or scary depending on your fancy. The final exorcism scene was awesome to behold, I gotta give points to all the actors involved in that scene for a job well done.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who's no stranger to horror after his stint on TV series Supernatural, is excellent as the desperate father trying his best to save his daughter. This is the kind of role he belongs in instead of action roles like The Losers. Kyra Sedgwick plays the mother, who is the skeptical parent here, and is sort of the ignorant/bad parent at least till the third act, and she doesn't have much to do till then. Musician Matisyahu plays Tzadok, the Jewish priest who attempts to exorcise the demon, and deserves credit for being quite convincing in his role. Natasha Calis deserves the most praise for portraying the possessed girl Emily, alternating between looking scared and looking like she's the devil incarnate.

As fun as The Possession was, I've seen much scarier films than this. I've seen films that made me sleepless, and this film doesn't quite come close to that. I won't deny that it's a lot of fun, but the fact that it's rated PG 13 means that it's a watered down version of what could have been a nerve wrecking piece. The ending is also a tad cliched in my opinion.

However, if you don't mind films like this, it certainly doesn't hurt watching it. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Premium Rush

Year: 2012
Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung


Plot: A bike messenger is pursued by a corrupt New York City cop who is interested in one of his packages.


Review: Premium Rush takes viewers into the world of a bike messenger, where envelopes or packages have to be delivered at a certain deadline, which drives the said messenger to ride like crazy to get to their destination. That means lots of speeding and dangerous moves that could get people hurt.

In that sense, writer and director David Koepp gets it right. Koepp, through his film, lets us ride with Wilee, the best bike messenger in NY, who rides with no brakes or gears (because he doesn't intend to stop). Wilee is really good at what he does, dodging obstacles like cars, people and the like at breakneck speed, and he loves it.

Things get sticky for Wilee however when a dirty cop named Monday wants a certain envelope he's carrying, and is willing to chase him all over the city just to get his hands on it. There's gambling debts, human trafficking and lots of money involved, but all Wilee wants to do is deliver the envelope.

For the first two thirds of Premium Rush, the film actually works. Wilee rides like crazy as he tries desperately to outrun Monday while having to deal with other things like a rival biker, a NY traffic cop on a bike and his ex-girlfriend, also a bike messenger. Koepp gives Wilee the ability to see his options in avoiding an accident by freezing time and showing the end result of those options before Wilee makes the right choice, kinda like Nicolas Cage in Next. There's also the 3D map showing the destination and how far it is from Wilee's current location popping up from time to time, which is also cool in its own way.

However, in the last third of the film, the pace starts to slow down. There's still a lot of riding involved, but by then the story is running out of steam, and at that point, all I could think of was when Wilee was going to arrive at his destination. For a film that is so fast paced, it certainly deserves a fitting climax, but we don't quite get that here.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a more than decent job as Wilee, but Koepp should have given the character more depth, as his motivation on being an exceptionally good bike messenger is not explored in detail. Sure, he's good and he likes being fast, but exactly why that is, is not properly explained. Michael Shannon hams it up big time as Monday, and gives some unintentionally funny emotional outbursts, though some of them actually look good.

Premium Rush is decent entertainment if you're looking for something light to kill 90 minutes, but not if you want something more compelling or memorable. (3/5)

Monday, August 20, 2012

ParaNorman

Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Voice cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jodelle Ferland, Bernard Hill


Plot: Norman is an awkward boy who has the ability to speak to the dead. This gift unfortunately alienates him from everyone at school, and even his family doesn't understand him. However he has to put his skills to use when an ancient curse cast by a witch executed 300 years ago threatens to destroy his little town.


Review: ParaNorman is the brainchild of the same people behind Coraline, though these guys take on bigger responsibilities here, whereas previously they were just storyboard supervisors and animators. 

As far as the stop motion animation goes, it's just delightful to behold. There's something about stop motion that is so appealing compared to digital 3D animation. The slower movements and sometimes jerky flow give it a retro feel that adds to its quality overall.

The lead character Norman is reminiscent of Coraline, they are both outcasts and misunderstood by their own parents. Norman is kinda like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, except Norman is quite comfortable with his ability to see the dead. The problem is, no one believes him when he tries to warn them of the imminent doom approaching thanks to a curse cast by a witch on the town three centuries ago.

The only friend Norman has is a fat kid named Neil, who is the best friend we all wish we had. Along with school bully Alvin, Norman's sister Courtney and Neil's jock brother Mitch, Norman races against time to put a stop to the curse before it's too late.

ParaNorman works pretty good for the first half of its runtime as the story builds up with great promise. It's when it crosses the half mark that things start to go downhill. At this point, the level of urgency has gone up but the excitement factor strangely stalls. The filmmakers try their best to get the story going to where they want it to, but they take a slightly complicated road. To be fair, if this had been a live action film, it would have worked. But it's an animated film, and this method just drags the story down.

However I have to give credit where it's due. Chris Butler and Sam Fell do an above average job developing all the characters, especially Norman. There are also quite a handful of laughs once the zombies come into play, but after that the comedy is quite hit and miss till the end.

Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee is a perfect choice for the voice of Norman, as his character in Let Me In is quite similar to this one. Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck and John Goodman are also memorable in their roles. Special mention goes to Tucker Albrizzi as Neil, Norman's best friend.

Despite the waste in potential as far as story goes, ParaNorman is still a worthy watch for its top notch animation. It isn't as good as Coraline, but it's a fine attempt nonetheless. (3/5)  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Expendables 2

Year: 2012
Director: Simon West
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Yu Nan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Scott Adkins


Plot: Barney Ross and company are hired by Mr Church yet again for a seemingly simple mission. However things go wrong and one of them ends up dead. The team plan their revenge against the man responsible, Jean Vilain, who has plans to steal 5 tons of weapons grade plutonium.


Review: The Expendables is the older, more grounded, more reality based version of The Avengers. And more violent too. I had much higher hopes for this film after being slightly disappointed with the last one, and thankfully this sequel improves on a few things.

Having Simon West on board as director is a step in the right direction as he has a keener eye than Stallone. With him in charge, the cinematography is better. The fight scenes are now clearer and the lighting has improved as well. Stallone does throw in the CGI blood technique he used in the last Rambo flick, so expect this to be bloody as heck, I sure didn't mind though.

Stallone continues to be the main man here, since it's his baby after all. Statham carries on the bickering bro-mance with Stallone like in the previous film, which provides some of the humour here. But what is surprising is seeing Dolph Lundgren becoming the funny guy here, with his character occasionally talking about his knowledge in chemistry and how he got a degree before joining the team. Van Damme, after years of being the hero, gets to be the bad guy this time and delivers well, though I still prefer seeing him as the former. As Vilain, Van Damme puts on the typical action flick bad guy character, corny lines and all, and throws down with Stallone at the film's climax, which is a highlight of the movie. Statham himself gets a fight scene with Scott Adkins (Weapon XI from Wolverine), which is brief but nicely done.

And then there's Arnie, Willis and the legendary Chuck Norris. The former two have a bit more to do this time around, though they only have time to pick up a gun and shoot the bad guys like they were cannon fodder. But seeing them trade one liners with each other is a hoot. Norris, who is pushing 72, has a couple of cool entrances before gunning down some more bad guys. I won't lie, despite seeing him do so little here, he's still the man.

The film however makes very little time for Jet Li, who only appears in the opening action scene before he disappears. So if you're a fan of his, get ready to be disappointed. Couture and Crews lend some solid support just like last time, getting some of the more physical fights in the film. Liam Hemsworth is the new member, Billy The Kid. He's good in it, but there's nothing original about his role, which I've seen in countless action flicks in the past. Lastly Chinese actress Yu Nan joins the team as Maggie, who provides some of the quieter, more serious moments in the film, when she's not kicking ass of course.

Overall, this sequel is a step up from the last one, though it could use some polishing as far as dialogue is concerned. It's not perfect, but it sure is fun to watch all the way through. (4/5)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

Year: 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, Oscar Isaac


Plot: Thanks to Jason Bourne, the CIA are scrambling to shut down all their secret operations involving genetically enhanced agents. The head of project Outcome, Eric Byer gives the order to terminate all the men under his program. Aaron Cross, one of those men, escapes his pursuers and seeks out Dr Marta Shearing, a scientist with the program whose life is now in danger, to help him survive.


Review: As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon has given audiences a critically acclaimed trilogy of action films. Now without him, screenwriter Tony Gilroy proceeds to bring a new hero in the same vein of Jason Bourne and let him run with it. As far as starting points go, The Bourne Legacy is on the mark.

Gilroy brings the same sense of realism in the original films to this film, as we find ourselves completely invested in the character of Aaron Cross and his path to survival, as well as his efforts to protect Marta Shearing from being killed by her employers. Unlike Bourne, Cross is someone who doesn't have amnesia. While Bourne is trying to figure out who he is and stay off the radar, Cross just wants to live another day while figuring out a way to wean himself off the medication the program has been feeding him, which is where Marta comes in.

The action sequences are well choreographed and shot, thanks to superb work by stunt coordinator Dan Bradley. We get quick fist fights, shootouts and a nerve wrecking chase sequence in Manila on foot and then on motorcycle. It certainly doesn't hurt that they shot on location in Manila as the busy city is the perfect backdrop for the sequence.

Of the cast, Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz make a splendid team on screen. Renner excels in the action department as well as the acting department, giving his Aaron Cross a balance of vulnerability and humour, thereby making him very likable. Weisz, who looked like she hasn't aged a day, is very believable as Marta, coming off as confused and ultimately fearful of her life when bullets start whizzing in her direction. Her chemistry with Renner is one of the best things about this film. Edward Norton is also perfect in the role of Eric Byer, whose character is similar to David Strathairn in the original. Norton doesn't play him as an evil person, but as someone who believes he's doing the right thing for the sake of his country. Oscar Isaac makes a brief but memorable appearance as a fellow Outcome agent who meets Cross in the first third of the film.

The film though doesn't really get going until Cross arrives to rescue Marta from being killed, which is close to the half mark of the story. The film tends to slow down every now and then when Byer and his team attempt to locate Cross. And I also have to mention the rather abrupt ending which is a bummer since at that point, you'd wish for a proper finale. But it's very likely that this is to make way for future instalments, and for that I wouldn't complain too much.

Other than a few minor blemishes, The Bourne Legacy is a solid addition to the series. Hopefully the rumours of Damon making an appearance in the future are true, though Renner is pretty darn good on his own. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Total Recall

Year: 2012
Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy




Plot: It is the year 2084, and Earth is divided into two continents: United Federation of Britain where the rich reside, and The Colony, home of the poor and underprivileged. Doug Quaid is a factory worker from The Colony who has recurring nightmares. When he visits Rekall, a place that implants fantasies into their customers' minds, a sequence of events occur and Quaid finds himself on the run from people who want him dead.




Review: In case you're too young to know or remember, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall was made back in 1990 by Paul Verhoeven, based on Philip K Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Underworld director Len Wiseman has updated that film for the present generation. The question is, is this remake necessary?


I certainly didn't think so. I wasn't a big fan of the original, but I thought it was solid enough to entertain audiences of any year. As I sat down to watch this, I felt like not enough time had passed since Arnie's version came out, even though 22 years is a long time.


I'll start with what's good about it first. Len Wiseman knows how to direct action very well. There are a chockful of action sequences here to behold. Wiseman doesn't take his foot off the pedal as he throws his cast into one action scene after another, running, jumping, shooting and brawling every time you blink. The production design is also worth crediting, as the view of the poorer Colony is well contrasted with the richer UFB, and The Fall, the train tube that ferries people through the earth's core is impressive, especially when it becomes a background to shoot an action sequence in zero gravity.


However, as much fun as I had with this film, it just feels like a near photocopy of the original. Almost everything is the same, except the original takes place between Earth and Mars. The characters have the same names, a lot of similar elements from the original are used here with little variation, even some of the lines are similar. As a person directing a remake, Wiseman ought to work harder in distinguishing his version from Verhoeven's.


Out of the cast, Colin Farrell deserves the most credit for convincingly portraying a confused Quaid trying to piece his identity back together. Kate Beckinsale is pretty good as his wife Lori, whom you'll know to be a secret agent out to kill him. But playing bad just isn't her forte, even though she really tries hard. Jessica Biel gets Rachel Ticotin's role from the original here, and does poorly. She holds one expression for 90% of the film (and people say Kristen Stewart can't act.). Bryan Cranston is okay as top villain Cohaagen, and gets a couple of fight scenes with Farrell, which was quite impressive actually.


The music score is one thing this film didn't borrow from the original, and as expected, isn't as memorable in comparison. Even now, I can still remember the original's iconic drumbeats, but I can't recall the remake's as I type this.


To be fair, this update is visually striking and a lot of fun. But it lacks meat on its script and doesn't quite hold up to the original. My guess is, if you haven't seen the 1990 version, you'll enjoy this version very much. (3/5)  

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