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)


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