Sunday, October 28, 2012


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


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


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


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) 


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