Sunday, December 29, 2013

12 Years A Slave

Year: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt


Plot: Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.


Review: I am glad to have been able to catch this film, as films of this kind aren't easy to find on this part of the world where I'm from.

Much like Django Unchained but with much more realism and less over-the-top theatrics, 12 Years A Slave is a film about slavery, and like Django, it doesn't hold back on the brutality of the era. Director Steve McQueen takes this incredible true story and tells it like it is, which will break your heart at times, but you never lose hope for its hero, Solomon Northup.

Based on the book of the same title written by Solomon, it recounts the harrowing 12 years of Solomon's life as a slave, after he is tricked and kidnapped by slavers, and then sold to farm owners in New Orleans. He is renamed as Platt and put to work, first with a kind but indifferent plantation owner named Ford, then later sold to a slightly unhinged and cruel cotton farm owner, Edwin Epps. 

At first, Solomon defies his current situation before eventually doing what he has to do to live another day, even if it means leaving behind his former life as a carpenter and violinist back home. But through Chiwetel Ejiofor's awesome performance, we as the audience never lose sight of his hope that some day he will be liberated and he will find his way home. Ejiofor puts in every emotion required exceptionally well, whether it's standing up for himself or during quieter moments when he ponders his fate. He should receive an Oscar nomination here, he truly has earned it. 

Not to be outdone is Michael Fassbender, a frequent collaborator with McQueen, who gives Edwin Epps a menacing demeanor, making him exceptionally cruel, but not over-the-top evil. The fine balance Fassbender provides his character to keep him relatively human despite being a deceitful one is commendable. Sarah Paulson also shines as Epps' spiteful wife, who despises her husband as much as the female slave he covets. That female slave in question, Patsey, is played splendidly by newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, who may not get as many dramatic scenes as Ejiofor overall, but hits a home run whenever she gets her chance. Brad Pitt, who is also one of the film's producers, gets a minor role as a Canadian abolitionist who helps Solomon. It's a short appearance, but he's effective nonetheless.

McQueen himself, as well as the production crew deserve plenty of credit too. They've certainly gone out of their way to make this story as authentic as possible. The recreation of the era, especially the farms and land in the south is amazing. Add to that the great cinematography (most evident during silent and long lingering shots of the trees and sky), costumes and music (party music featuring fiddles and flutes or sing and clap songs of the slaves) and you have a beautiful yet haunting depiction of a time gone by.

12 Years A Slave is a truly remarkable film with equally remarkable performances from its cast. It's not an easy film to sit through (it's as violent as it gets), but it's a must watch. (4/5) 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

47 Ronin

Year: 2013
Director: Carl Rinsch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Tadanobu Asano, Ko Shibasaki, Jin Akanishi


Plot: A group of 47 masterless samurai aka ronin band together to seek vengeance against a ruthless shogun for their master's death.


Review: Multiple delayed releases usually means a film is in trouble, that it has problems that will affect its audience reception. 47 Ronin is one such film, finally seeing the light of day after being held back a few times. After seeing it, I can say that it's better than I expected.

While it is by no means a perfect film (more on that later), it is visually astounding and culturally accurate. First time director Carl Rinsch directs this Hollywood adaptation of the well known Japanese story Chushingura, and does quite a decent job overall. The technical aspects of the film, such as visual effects, cinematography, set design and costumes are all excellent. I particularly loved the vibrant colours used throughout the film, that made it easy for the audience to identify the characters from each other. Rinsch also did a good job on the action sequences, some involving CGI, some just being straight up sword fights, though my minor complaint would be most of the fights not lasting long enough.

The subject matter is solid enough. A group of samurai are dishonored after their master is sentenced to commit seppuku (honorable suicide) for a shameful act, which was caused by a rival lord's witch. Their leader Oishi vows to seek revenge for his master's wrongful death and collects his comrades for one final assault against the lord, with the help of a "half-breed" man named Kai, whom they used to look down on in the past, but now rely on because of his "special" powers.

The acting quality of the cast is more or less decent. Hiroyuki Sanada as usual scores the most points as Oishi, having played this type of role many times before. Rinko Kikuchi comes a close second as the witch, clearly relishing her role and hamming up her performance, which works somewhat even though some of her lines are kinda cheesy. Tadanobu Asano (Battleship and the Thor films) is rather miscast however as rival lord Kira, who is outshone by Kikuchi and not given much to do. Keanu Reeves is decent enough as Kai, his limited acting range and brooding personality matching his character's traits somewhat.

Although the film is visually striking and coherent overall, it could use some tighter editing here and there, as it tends to drag whenever something crucial isn't going on. Some of the dialogue needs polishing too, especially those involving Ko Shibasaki's character Mika, Kai's love interest. I would also have preferred the final action sequence being longer and more epic, but that's just me. Oh, and some of you might have an issue with everyone in this film speaking English when they're in Japan, but I didn't have a problem with it, as it's not the first time it's happened (Valkyrie, anyone?).  

47 Ronin is not as memorable as say, The Last Samurai, but it's solid entertainment overall despite its rather obvious flaws. (3.5/5) 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Year: 2013
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Luke Evans


Plot: Bilbo Baggins and the dwarfs continue their quest towards reclaiming Erebor, encountering many obstacles along the way, including orcs, elves, giant spiders and a huge dragon.


Review: The second instalment of The Hobbit is a step up from the previous one. Whilst An Unexpected Journey was a bit draggy at times, The Desolation Of Smaug feels much more kinetic as Peter Jackson kicks up the pace into a higher gear, while at the same time dispensing some good drama to go with it.

As with the previous film, the special effects and cinematography are excellent, so there's no need for me to elaborate further on that. I can tell you that the sense of urgency is much more obvious this time, which did the film a lot of good. The tone is definitely darker as the group faces hurdle after hurdle on their journey, from Shelob's ancestors to the fierce orcs from the last instalment, to unfriendly elves led by King Thranduil and lastly, the big bad himself, Smaug the dragon. In line with all this, the action sequences are awesome to behold. The best one has to be the barrel in the river sequence, where Bilbo and the dwarves travel down the river in empty barrels while being pursued by orcs and elves. It's a breathless sequence that hasn't been seen since the final fight in Fellowship Of The Ring.

Of the cast, Richard Armitage is still the top guy in my eyes. Even though Martin Freeman's Bilbo gets a lot of attention here, always being the guy that gives the dwarves their edge in a dire situation, it is Armitage's Thorin Oakenshield that shines the brightest. Thorin is a leader that is simply trying to do right by his people, and along the way he is forced to make a few tough decisions. Armitage's facial expressions truly fit the burden Thorin carries. Freeman on the other hand gets to have fun while showing slowly but surely, his corruption from holding that ring too long. Ian McKellen gets less screentime here as Gandalf, going off on his own on a mission at the beginning, but still commands presence whenever he comes on. 

Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, an elf character not created by Tolkien, who is feisty and brave. She is a lot like her character Kate from Lost. As good as she is though, Orlando Bloom outshines her as the badass Legolas, who wasn't in this book, but shows up to dispense orcs in awesome fashion. Unfortunately Bloom is unable to hide the fact that he's much older now, no matter how much makeup he puts on. Lee Pace puts in an interesting performance as Legolas' father Thranduil, who is rather eccentric compared to the Rivendell elves. Luke Evans makes his time count as Bard, a bargeman who assists the dwarves in the last third of the film, and Benedict Cumberbatch lends his voice as Smaug, though with all the echoing effects they did to it to imitate a dragon's sound, you can't even tell it's him, which is rather pointless in my opinion.

As it turns out, The Desolation Of Smaug is a fine improvement from An Unexpected Journey. The cliffhanger ending is not pleasant for sure, but it will make you anxious for the finale next year. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Captain Phillips

Year: 2013
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi


Plot: Based on the true story of the hijacking of the vessel MV Maersk Alabama and its captain, Richard Phillips by Somali pirates in 2009.


Review: Most people have heard of the Somali pirates hijacking ships around the African seas, and here we have a true account of one such story. In the hands of Paul Greengrass, the result is an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Tom Hanks stars as the titular character, who is depicted as a firm man, a man who is a stickler for procedures and not always the most likable of people, but generally fair. When a boat carrying four armed Somalians approach his ship, Captain Phillips does what he can to protect himself and his crew from danger.

Greengrass is in excellent form here, pacing the film well and making every scene with the pirates count. Heck, even the introductory scenes involving Phillips and his crew were well handled, giving us a general idea of what they're like before trouble starts. Greengrass and scriptwriter Billy ray also take the time to give a minor backstory on the Somalian pirate leader Muse, thereby making them more than just typical villains.

Hanks is of course awesome in his performance as Captain Phillips, giving him an everyman vibe, but at the same time, a resourceful and capable leader. As things get worse in the film's third act, Hanks accordingly steps us his game and gives a bravura performance that is as real as it gets. Barkhad Abdi also deserves credit as head pirate Muse, who simultaneously earns the audience's fear and sympathy. Muse is basically a man who does what he does under orders from a clan boss, even so he isn't a straight up errand boy. He is in a complicated situation like Phillips, and this makes him a worthy adversary and someone the audience can relate to at the same time. Kudos also to Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahat M. Ali for playing the other three pirates well. Together the four of them are truly intimidating on screen.

If there are any complaints I have here, it'd be the editing. There were some scenes that could have been shortened as they took too long without any real purpose.

Captain Phillips is a well made film on a whole. Recommended. (4/5) 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Year: 2013
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci


Plot: After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become celebrities. However, their victory has ignited a spark that is leading to a revolution, something which President Snow can't allow. So he organises another Hunger Games, where previous victors from all 12 districts are chosen to fight to the death.


Review: I didn't like the first Hunger Games as much as most people, due to the shaky camerawork and lack of urgency once the carnage started. This time around, these two problems are somewhat addressed, and though not completely rectified, it made for a better film.

But in reality, The Hunger Games isn't about the battle, it's about the drama that leads to it. It's about Katniss' desperation to survive in a world where the odds are not in her favor, and how her decisions affect the people around her, from her family and friends to the general people. In this sense, this sequel delivers.

Despite clocking in at 146 minutes, the film doesn't feel draggy and the solid script gives the audience a chance to care about Katniss and the other characters. Director Francis Lawrence ensures nearly every character gets their time on screen, though I would appreciate it if he gave Paula Malcolmson, who plays Katniss' mother, more time as she was barely visible.

Jennifer Lawrence puts in an excellent performance as Katniss, who is torn between wanting to protect her family by putting up an act as per President Snow's orders, and trying to care about other people around her. I'd expect Katniss to be an inspiration to young girls everywhere by now. Josh Hutcherson provides strong support as Peeta, becoming more and more vital to the story as it goes along, but still playing second fiddle to Katniss. Liam Hemsworth is reliable enough as Katniss' boyfriend Gale, and thankfully we are mostly spared the love triangle that is already existent. Woody Harrelson is always in form as Katniss and Peeta's mentor Haymitch, while Donald Sutherland's calm demeanor is perfect for the diabolical President Snow.

As for the new additions, Jena Malone stands out the most as District 7 victor Johanna Mason, whose sexy and defiant personality is the perfect opposite of Katniss. Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in his usual subtle touch as new gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (where do they come up with these names?) and it works. Sam Claflin and Jeffrey Wright also do quite well as former victors Finnick Odair and Beetee respectively, the former an alpha male type guy, the latter a thinker of sorts. Elizabeth Banks returns as Effie and portrays her character better than the last time, though I'm still not fond of that character, while Lenny Kravitz and Stanley Tucci get little screen time but still make an impression.

Though the shaky camerawork was reduced somewhat, the fight scenes still appear blurry thanks to Francis filming them too close (I'll say it again, call Zack Snyder). The lack of urgency was fixed by having more threats appear in between fights, but it would be better if Francis improved the lighting during those scenes. The ending was also rather abrupt, but the twist that came with it sets up the third film nicely.

Overall, it's an improvement from the first instalment, thanks to a solid script and a fine performance from Jennifer Lawrence. (4/5) 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Carrie

Year: 2013
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Cast: Chloe Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday


Plot: Carrie White is a teenage girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. Between being a victim of bullying at school and abused by her deeply religious mother at home, how long will it be before she snaps?


Review: I did not read the book nor watch the Brian DePalma original before, so I can't make comparisons here. I've heard many negative comments on this film already, so here's mine. For starters, it's not as bad as they say it is.

Kimberly Peirce updates Carrie in today's world, where bullying can be taken to a higher level via the internet, as demonstrated when Carrie is victimised by her peers after panicking during her first menstruation. Peirce paces the film well enough so it's rarely dull, and with the help of the screenplay by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, succeeds in making Carrie easy to root for.

Of course, Chloe Moretz deserves plenty of credit for bringing Carrie to life. I've admired Moretz's work for a while now, and she is excellent here as the vulnerable and emotionally damaged titular character. Moretz is the exact opposite of Hit Girl here, and I was so amazed watching her being so scared and confused in this film. She really nailed it. Julianne Moore is also awesome as her demented mother, who is deeply religious and plays a huge part in turning Carrie into the person she is. Think of Marcia Gay Harden's character in The Mist and you'll know what she's like. Judy Greer provides some good support as Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher while Gabriella Wilde and Portia Doubleday round up the cast as Carrie's peers, the former being the good girl trying to help, the latter being the mean bitch who wants to inflict pain on the poor girl.

As much as I liked this film though, the film has plenty of room to improve. For the first two thirds of Carrie, I was digging it, until the time came for Carrie to unleash hell on her tormentors, and that's when Peirce's film is left wanting. At this point, you'd think that the more carnage Carrie causes, the better. And she does inflict a lot of destruction, but I expected more, honestly. I don't know if it's because Peirce isn't used to filming gore or not, but I wanted more, seriously. And on top of that, the story could use a bit more substance overall. The audience is never really clued in on why Carrie gets picked on at school (other than looking different) or why she has zero friends (in other films of the same setting, even the weirdos have friends), or why her mother is the way she is. I would have also liked seeing the bullies do more harm to Carrie than what was shown, it would have made the payoff much sweeter.

Overall, I was more or less entertained by this film. Not having watched the original must have worked in my favor. If you like Chloe Moretz, that's more incentive for you to check this out at least once.  (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Year: 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Christopher Eccleston


Plot: An enemy older than the universe itself has returned to bring darkness to all the nine realms. What they need to accomplish that lies with Jane Foster, so Thor needs to protect her and take the fight to them. The only person who can help him do so however, is his mischievous brother Loki.


Review: Marvel has yet to miss a beat in churning out quality entertainment at the movies. This sequel to Thor is an awesome film, being fun and dramatic whenever it needs to be.

Director Alan Taylor, who has worked on Game Of Thrones, presents a story that explores Asgard and some of the other nine realms, with less time spent on Earth, which is surely a refreshing change. To that end, the visual effects and cinematography are top notch in realising these realms, from the beauty of Asgard to the dark deserts of Svartalfheim.

The story itself is pretty good, as it focuses on two of Thor's relationships. One is with his lady love, Jane Foster. The other is with Loki, whom he must rely on in facing Malekith, the new enemy of this film. While the former relationship is typical "where have you been" scenarios, the latter is the more fascinating one. The brothers' discontent with each other, which was explored in the first Thor and The Avengers is given some more time here.

Chris Hemsworth is still solid in his role as Thor, but as good as he is, Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki, who gets the best lines in the film. Natalie Portman is still a damsel in distress here as Jane Foster, but thankfully she isn't annoying at all. The other Asgardians get more screen time here than previously, with Rene Russo shining in her role as Thor's mother while the others such as Jaimie Alexander, Idris Elba and Zachary Levi (replacing Josh Dallas) making a better impression of their characters.

There are some minor complaints, like the continuous appearance of Kat Dennings' annoying character Darcy, who still makes jokes and nothing else. The writers also turned Stellan Skarsgard's Erik Selvig into a walking joke, which just didn't fly with me (except for the part in connection with a certain cameo). Christopher Eccleston's Malekith is also rather two dimensional for a villain. Also, Sif's feelings for Thor is hinted at but not explored fully here (and considering how it was noticeably absent in the first film, it felt tacked on). Lastly, why didn't SHIELD make an appearance, since the climax of the film was pretty major?

Despite all that, Thor: The Dark World is a really fun movie, and I wouldn't mind seeing it again. If you loved the first one, there's no reason why you shouldn't go see this. (4/5)

P.S.: Stay through all the end credits, there are two scenes to check out.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tom Yum Goong 2


Year: 2013
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, RZA, Jeeja Yanin, Marrese Crump


Plot: Kham's elephant has been abducted yet again, so he sets out to recover him and runs into a criminal planning a high profile assassination.


Review: I didn't watch the first Tom Yum Goong before this one, but I am well aware of Tony Jaa's brand of action thanks to the Ong Bak trilogy. Tony reteams with the director of the first Ong Bak for this film, and as far as I can tell, he's managed to recapture some, if not all of his previous on screen magic.

In Ong Bak, Tony's practical approach to action sequences made it appear more real and violent. Perhaps in acknowledging the huge challenge in recreating these at an older age, Tony and the filmmakers have resorted to CGI and some wirework to execute some sequences, including a bridge jump and a fight in a burning room. This kinda dilutes the awesomeness of what we're used to seeing from him, so the fights that don't use these effects are the ones that stand out. One such fight is between Tony and Marrese Crump, the antagonist's right hand man.

The acting here isn't excellent obviously, ranging from decent to downright awful (the guys playing the Interpol agents are horrible). Tony is good enough in his role as Kham, with frequent collaborator Petchtai Wongkamlao doing well as Mark the cop, who acts as sidekick cum funny guy. RZA hams it up as the main villain LC and even gets to beat up Tony at one point while poor Jeeja Yanin only gets to show off her martial arts moves and gets so few lines as Ping, a young girl seeking revenge on Crump. I think she deserved a bit more character development. Speaking of Tony getting beat up, that's another sign of him acknowledging his older age, as he gets hammered quite a fair bit here compared to his previous films.

The film suffers from a handful of lapses of logic, bad acting here and there and the unfortunate use of CGI. Director Prachya Pinkaew could have tightened up his film a bit in these aspects. Again, I felt that a more practical approach would have worked wonders here.

Action wise, TYG2 is quite good actually, but it is far from being at the level Tony Jaa was at once. (3/5) 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2

Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Ty Simpkins


Plot: The Lambert family are once again haunted by evil spirits, and to make matters worse, patriarch Josh Lambert hasn't been himself since his return from The Further.


Review: In my review for The Conjuring, I had said that James Wan is the new master of horror. He proves that once more here, though to be fair, he is still using the same tricks to scare the audience. Thing is, it still works like a charm.

I heard many people say that this sequel to the highly successful Insidious isn't scary. Perhaps they've adapted to Wan's methods, but for me, I still find it creepy enough. Wan and fellow writer Leigh Whannell come up with a script that answers a lot of questions about the first film, which doesn't just involve travelling to The Further, but also time travel (yup, and it makes sense actually). Wan's continuous use of dark rooms, creaky doors and spirits with heavy white makeup, works in bringing the spooks (okay, maybe the last one isn't the best of tactics anymore, but still) and as a result, this film isn't boring at all, at least not for me.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne once again deliver great performances here. Wilson does a bit of double duty as protagonist and antagonist, and does a fine job indeed. Byrne is solid as the wife who knows something is wrong and has to do whatever it takes to protect her kids. She is well supported by the also returning Barbara Hershey as her mother-in-law, who reveals some secrets of her own. Steve Coulter takes Lin Shaye's place as the medium who must help the family fight back, and while his character is less eccentric than Shaye's character, he becomes a solid addition to the story. Surprisingly enough Shaye shows up here despite the way the first film ended, though I won't spoil it for you. But one of the best things about this sequel is the return of Specs and Tucker (played by Whannell and Angus Sampson), the two paranormal assistants who bring some much needed humour to a very serious film.

If there are any weaknesses here, it's probably the predictable jump scares that happen throughout the film, though a couple of them genuinely caught me off guard. And as scary as this film is, some of the novelty from the first film has started to wear off a bit, but I still had a good time.

If you loved the first Insidious, chances are you'll love this one. And judging by the film's ending, there may just be a third. (3.5/5)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Escape Plan

Year: 2013
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan, 50 Cent, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio


Plot: A specialist in prison security is hired to infiltrate a maximum security facility to test it, except when he does, he is imprisoned for real with no way out. He teams up with a fellow inmate to plan an escape.


Review: A team up between Stallone & Schwarzenegger that isn't called The Expendables would be a dream collaboration for anyone who loved them in the 80s. Escape Plan marks the first time these two action icons appear side by side with top billing.

Stallone is Ray Breslin, a guy who designs security for prison facilities by getting in and then breaking out of them. His latest job puts him in a place called The Tomb, where glass walls replace steel bars and there's no view of the outside. Once inside however, his usual protocols don't work and he's held against his will by a mean warden played by Jim Caviezel. He befriends a fellow inmate, Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and together they try to figure out how to break out.

Director Mikael Hafstrom is someone I consider to be a hit or miss guy (Derailed and Shanghai were good, 1408 and The Rite not so much). However I'm glad to report that he puts in good work here. Escape Plan theoretically doesn't give a lot of chances for Sly and Arnie to do as much damage as they usually do in their films, being in a prison and all. But Hafstrom successfully keeps the momentum going throughout, making sure that whenever there isn't any action, the two guys are doing something important, thus it never gets dull. It also helps that the script by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller is solid and mostly cliche free.

Stallone gets to play a cerebral hero this time around, being a guy who constantly thinks of ways to get out of a prison he's in. Schwarzenegger in contrast is the smart ass guy with the requisite one liners ("You hit like a vegetarian!") and jokes (there's a scene where he starts spouting nonsense in German). The two action stars don't really click on screen at first, but it improves as the film goes along. Caviezel is unexpectedly good as the sadistic Warden Hobbes, who is cool for the most part, but shows a mean streak with a twinkle in his eye. Another surprise is Sam Neill, whom I did not expect to see here. He plays the sympathetic prison doctor well enough, but is unfortunately underused. Amy Ryan and Vincent D'Onofrio put in some good support too, but it's a Stallone Schwarzenegger movie, so don't expect to see them too much here.

The plot throws in several surprises here and there, and I figured out most of them before they were revealed. Even the idea for the prison is kind of a ripoff of a Travolta Cage action film (you know which one). But still, despite its predictability, Escape Plan manages to be entertaining for the most part, which to me is the most important thing.

If you like these two action stars in their heyday, and you don't mind seeing them together now, go check this out. If you like decent action flicks, go check it out anyway. (3.5/5) 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Gravity

Year: 2013
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney


Plot: Two astronauts are left adrift in space after debris from a destroyed satellite obliterates their shuttle.


Review: After watching Gravity, I was reminded of a similar themed film concerning survival: Ryan Reynolds' Buried. The two films are equally powerful, but with different setups and totally different endings.

Director Alfonso Cuaron, working on a script by his son Jonas, creates a masterpiece from both a visual and dramatic standpoint. The opening fifteen minutes or so is a continuous uninterrupted take, reminiscent of a sequence he did in his previous film Children Of Men (another Cuaron masterpiece). But that's just the beginning. From that point, we are treated to a vertigo inducing adventure that sees Sandra Bullock's character try to survive with a little help from the experienced astronaut played by George Clooney.

Cuaron does a marvelous job in making their space drifting seem absolutely authentic. From the breathtaking cinematography to the soundless environment in space (notice the lack of sound when the debris hits), this has got to be one of the best space thrillers since Apollo 13.

But all the best visual effects in the world wouldn't help if the acting and script isn't there to back it up, and thankfully Bullock is just awesome in her role. Her character is a rookie in space walking, and Bullock displays her fear and eventual resourcefulness extremely well. She makes the audience root for her very easily, and it's a big plus for the film. Clooney on the other hand plays an experienced astronaut who doesn't panic one bit when disaster strikes, and proves to be really charming and funny even in the face of danger. He too is great. 

If this movie has a drawback, it would be the occasional music that is somewhat distracting. Cuaron opts to fill the silence in his film with background music, which is understandable, but sometimes the score that he chose doesn't really fit, especially during scenes of danger.

Overall, Gravity is a great space thriller that is really authentic in its execution. Recommended. (4/5)

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

2 Guns

Year: 2013
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Edward James Olmos, Bill Paxton, James Marsden


Plot: Two undercover agents from different departments are forced to team up after their plan to rob money from a Mexican drug lord goes wrong.


Review: 2 Guns is a nice attempt at recapturing the old buddy cop genre that has been absent or rarely visited, or successfully done in the last few years.

The story focuses on Bobby and Stig, two friends who each don't know the other is an undercover agent (Bobby is from the DEA, Stig is from Naval Intelligence). They both decide to rob a bank that holds drug lord Papi Greco's money, only to realise that not only is there more money in there than they thought, the dough belongs to a ruthless CIA agent who wants the money back. With their identities blown and unable to seek help from their superiors, they have to work together to get themselves out of this mess.

Baltasar Kormakur, who directed Wahlberg in Contraband, does a good job keeping the film moving at a brisk pace. When there's no action, the witty script by Blake Masters keeps the audience entertained, so there's no dull moment at all here. Bobby and Stig get the lion's share of the awesome one-liners (as expected) as they argue, bitch and insult each other and the bad guys throughout the film, and it never gets old.

Washington as usual plays Mr Cool here in the role of Bobby, with more swagger than seriousness this time. He has great chemistry with Wahlberg, who plays the foul mouthed but extremely funny Stig. I never would have thought that these two would make a great team, but they do. Paula Patton is mere eye candy here as Bobby's love interest, but she is very, very good eye candy. Bill Paxton hams it up as the CIA agent they're up against, while James Marsden is sadly underused as Stig's double crossing superior. Edward James Olmos however is great as Papi, who thankfully doesn't play him the same way most drug lords are portrayed in the movies. 

The main drawback here is the over complicated plot, which took one turn too many, and the longer the film went, the more it didn't matter. The action sequences are not much to shout about too, but they're decent enough, it's just that you've seen better ones elsewhere.

However, 2 Guns is solid entertainment for a little under two hours. I sure had a blast with it. (3.5/5)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rush

Year: 2013
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara


Plot: Based on the true story of the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in 1976.


Review: Ron Howard has made some of the most memorable films in the last 20 years such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Ransom just to name a few. Rush is a pretty solid addition to that list.

Rush follows the heated rivalry between British F1 driver James Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda during the racing season of 1976. Howard shows how it began for the both of them back in Formula Three as they work their way up to the big leagues in F1. Their rivalry is shown not just on the track, but off as well.

The film also chronicles their personal lives and how different the two men are. Hunt is a brash yet charming party animal who loves sex and booze. Lauda on the other hand is a perfectionist who takes everything seriously, from racing techniques to car specifications. The only thing they have in common is their huge egos. Hunt's ego makes him hard to deal with on a personal level, as shown in his failed relationship with his wife, while Lauda's attitude makes him unpopular amongst his own crew.

Howard and writer Peter Morgan have done a splendid job in making this film. Their execution of the story is fascinating even to non F1 fans like myself. The races were very well filmed thanks to cameraman Anthony Dod Mantle, who gets many great shots from on the track, on the car, on the grass...you name it, he got it. The final race at the end, filmed in rainy conditions, was just beautiful to see. The personal story of the two men was well documented too, showing that despite their egos, they were ultimately human beings who are not infallible.

Chris Hemsworth plays James Hunt with a lot of charm and swagger, you would either love him or hate him, but you'll be impressed either way. Hemsworth's performance is almost similar to Thor but with less seriousness, and he's pretty solid in the role. Daniel Bruhl however impressed me just a bit more as Niki Lauda. Bruhl has improved tremendously from his time in Inglourious Basterds, here he plays a very driven man who really despises losing, up to the point that he is able to gather enough courage to come back after a huge accident. I liked Bruhl's performance a lot. Olivia Wilde is rather wasted in the small role of Hunt's wife, while Alexandra Maria Lara is better in comparison as Lauda's wife.

I was a tad disappointed that some of the races between the two men during the 1976 season was just skimmed through with the results being printed on screen. Perhaps this was Howard's way of saving time, which I get, but maybe a better way could have been used here. Hans Zimmer's music score was also very Dark Knight like, but I kinda dug it anyway.

I gotta say, Rush is a great movie that will appeal to movie fans including those who aren't racing fans. It's truly one of Ron Howard's best works. Recommended. (4/5) 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prisoners

Year: 2013
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo


Plot: A desperate father takes extreme measures to find his kidnapped daughter, while a determined police detective tries his best to solve the case.


Review: Prisoners is one of those rare films where nearly everything comes together in perfection. The acting, the storytelling, writing and cinematography, and especially direction are all top notch.

In this story, two young girls do not return home, prompting a frantic search for them by their parents and the police, but to no avail. They have a suspect, who was seen driving an RV in the area, but he has a mind of a 10 year old, and the police release him due to lack of evidence. This does not go down well with Keller Dover, the father of one of the girls, who proceeds to kidnap and torture the suspect in order to get his daughter back. In the meantime, Detective Loki, the cop in charge of the case, doggedly pursues every lead while keeping a close eye on Keller.

This film is basically about what a person is willing to do to protect what matters to them. Denis Villeneuve (director) and writer Aaron Guzikowski have created a near masterpiece of a story that is compelling and heartbreaking for the audience to behold. Despite its length (153 minutes), it never gets dull as all the players involved contribute their own piece that adds layer after layer to the story as it twists and turns to the end. The great Roger Deakins as cinematographer only adds more greatness to an already awesome film, showing the dark and grittiness of the locations with nary a shot out of place.

We all know Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but here he is as intense as I've ever seen him. As the desperate Keller, we watch him torment whom he thinks is responsible for kidnapping his daughter, and we sympathise and fear him simultaneously. He ought to get an Oscar nod for this role. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki, the co-lead here, who is in a way, the other side of the coin with Keller. He's just as determined as the father and damn near as extreme, except he's a man of the law, and follows it mostly. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis are pretty solid too as the parents of the other kidnapped girl, who don't know if they should support Keller's actions or not. Maria Bello has her moments as Keller's wife, who conveys a mother's despair quite convincingly. Melissa Leo puts in an understated performance as the suspect's aunt, but it works so well. Finally Paul Dano is awesome as the suspect Alex Jones, who has barely a page of lines here, but is effective as a man whom the audience will have a hard time figuring out if he's genuine or putting on an act.

There were a couple of plotholes which were left unexplained, and I can't mention them without giving too much away, and the ending seems a tad abrupt after everything that had come before that. But these are not enough to ruin what is already a magnificent picture.

Overall, Prisoners is a must watch. It's disturbing, heart-wrenching and compelling. You will probably feel uncomfortable with some of the things that happen here, but it's very much worth it. Highly recommended. (4/5) 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Riddick

Year: 2013
Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable, Jordi Molla


Plot: Betrayed and left for dead on a desolate alien planet, Riddick makes plans to escape by activating a distress beacon, which brings two teams of mercenaries to his location. One team wants his head in a box, the other wants information. Meanwhile, a huge storm and a whole lot of deadly creatures close in.


Review: Vin Diesel and David Twohy finally get their third film on Riddick's adventures off the ground. Pitch Black was solid and tight, being a cool introduction to the Riddick character as he becomes the unlikely hero to a band of crash survivors on a dangerous planet. Its follow up, The Chronicles Of Riddick however, was a step back. We were given an unnecessary background to Riddick, and the villains were somewhat uninteresting. So these guys have their work cut out for them to make Riddick (the movie) work. In my opinion, they didn't quite get it.

For this instalment, Twohy returns Riddick to the harshness and violence that made Pitch Black great. Unfortunately it also bears the excessiveness of Chronicles with it. As a result, Riddick feels quite bloated at times. Case in point: for the first half of the movie, we watch Riddick trying to survive on his own, injured and all, against hostile alien creatures. We then move to the mercenaries, who arrive and spend a lot of time bickering on who gets to catch Riddick first. This half of the film could have been easily trimmed down by at least 20 minutes, which would have made it easier to sit through.

It's only in the second half that the film starts to pick up, as Riddick teams up with the mercenaries (predictably) to survive the night once the aliens move in. This part is two thirds hit and one third miss. Watching men and aliens kill each other is quite fun, but some of it was too haphazardly shot, not to mention uninteresting. 

Diesel at the very least, deserves credit for holding most of the film together. He's still the badass we all know and love, though I didn't like how Twohy chose to end the film as far as the character is concerned. If anything, it made him unnecessarily vulnerable. Diesel is actually the best thing about Riddick, because the other mercenaries are either dull or not likable. The best one is actually former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, whose slightly goofy character makes him rather funny at times. However he gets less time compared to Katee Sackhoff's "I don't fuck men" sniper, who constantly becomes the butt of bad sex jokes, or Jordi Molla's annoying merc that loves talking big, or Matt Nable's honorable but dull merc leader. Even Nable's connection to Riddick's past isn't interesting enough to justify its inclusion. The rest are superbly dull, and they get way too much screen time.

You might be wondering whether I enjoyed this film. Well, I did, sort of. Riddick's always fun to follow around, even when he's alone and narrating for 20 minutes. Watching him take care of a dog was good too actually. But there's too much baggage here on a whole. With tighter editing and better writing, this would have been better. If they make a fourth film, they better get it right. (3/5)

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Kick-Ass 2

Year: 2013
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey


Plot: Kick-Ass and Hit Girl have hung up their costumes in order to try and live a normal life, but the former's superhero activities has created more wannabe superheroes in its wake. Out of boredom, Kick-Ass tries to get back into crimefighting by joining a vigilante group called Justice Forever. Hit Girl on the other hand has trouble adjusting to high school. Meanwhile, Red Mist, now calling himself The Motherfucker, plans his revenge on Kick-Ass.


Review: I still have trouble taking Kick-Ass' mask seriously, simply because it looks so silly. Thankfully, this sequel is anything but.

While the first film was sort of over the top and surreal in its portrayal of violence and misguided heroism, this sequel is more grounded and dare I say it, touching. Don't get me wrong, Kick-Ass 2 still has plenty of violence, profanity and lewd jokes (it wouldn't be Kick-Ass otherwise), but this time I could actually relate to the characters better.

Director Jeff Wadlow, who also wrote the script, puts Dave Lizewski and Mindy Macready back in high school, each with their own problems. His approach to Mindy's character is the more interesting part (it's no secret that Kick-Ass's story focuses more on Hit Girl) as she tries to fit in with the cool kids at school at her foster father's encouragement, only to be cruelly punished by them (which in turn leads to her getting even with them). But it's the dramatic impact that counts and Chloe Moretz pulls off this part of Mindy beautifully. It's almost a precursor to what she's gonna show in the upcoming Carrie remake.

At the same time, I have to give credit to Aaron Taylor-Johnson for doing a great job as the titular character. He, like Moretz, gets to show his acting chops as well, and his chemistry with her is definitely there. Their friendship is the main attraction of this film in my opinion, not the humour or the violence.

Jim Carrey, who doesn't really get that much screen time here, makes every second of his appearance count as Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of Justice Forever. With a mask and a lower register on his voice, Carrey succeeds in making himself almost unrecognisable. Christopher Mintz-Plasse on the other hand is the weakest link of the film. His role as the antagonist is pretty disappointing, as he comes off as a wimp who pays other people to do the dirty work for him. That's probably the joke here, I know, but he did show some fighting skills in the last film, where did that go? And that mask of his, it's origin is pretty dumb too.

As for the action, it's more hit than miss thankfully. Moretz is still great in the ass kicking department, the standout being the van chase sequence. The camera was too close for some of the fight scenes though, I don't know why some people still make the same mistake in that department.

Overall, I had a ball of a time with this movie. I didn't think I'd like it since the first Kick-Ass was a bit OTT for me, but this one's awesome. Recommended. (4/5) 

P.S.: Stay till the end credits finish rolling.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Welcome To The Punch

Year: 2013
Director: Eran Creevy
Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan, David Morrissey


Plot: Max Lewinsky is a cop who's obsessed with catching Jacob Sternwood, the robber who shot him in the leg three years ago. When Jacob's son is shot and hospitalised, Max sees this as an opportunity to arrest Jacob when he shows up to visit his boy. However, there are bigger forces at play involving the boy, that threatens the lives of both men.


Review: Welcome To The Punch is reminiscent of a Hong Kong crime thriller, evident by the similar elements such as wide city shots, gritty action sequences, heavy violence and shady backgrounds of the key players. It's actually refreshing in that sense, as action films these days tend to be too stylish, but writer-director Eran Creevy grounds his film well and makes sure his action sequences hit hard.

One of the things I like most is the cinematography, where a bright blue hue is visible for most of the film which takes place at night. That, coupled with the aforementioned wide shots of London from the air makes the film look absolutely beautiful. The action sequences, mostly gunfights and a few physical scrapes, are shot realistically with no overstyling (there's only one slow motion sequence that I noticed).

The entire cast put in strong performances, especially the two leads. James McAvoy is getting better with every role he takes. As Max, he fits the troubled cop with a bad leg to a tee, not being immediately likable but definitely someone the audience can relate to. Mark Strong puts in a lower key performance than usual as Jacob, making his character more than just a smart robber. He's actually a fair man who doesn't kill for the sake of killing, but won't hesitate for a second if he needs to. Andrea Riseborough is pretty good also as Max's partner Sarah while Johnny Harris looks suitably intimidating as key villain Dean Warns.

The plot concerning politics, guns and corruption needs a bit of polishing though. McAvoy and Strong's characters need some development too. It would be too easy to sum up their relationship as cop and robber, and while their roles in this film are clear, a bit more substance would have been nice. And there are a couple of things left open at the film's end which should have been tied up.

Nevertheless, Welcome To The Punch is a gritty crime thriller. Quite entertaining, not perfect, but very watchable. (3.5/5)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Purge

Year: 2013
Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield


Plot: In the future, America is a nation reborn. Crime and unemployment are nearly non-existent thanks to The Purge, where for one night a year, all crime is legal. On this night, a family of four find themselves under siege from a group of masked killers who targets them because of a stranger they gave refuge to.


Review: The concept behind this movie is interesting, if not entirely plausible. The American government grants a 12 hour period every year to The Purge, where its citizens can commit whatever crime they choose (subject to certain minor rules like not targeting important government officials or using nuclear weapons etc) and not be punishable for it. It's a way for them to settle their grievances without having to worry about repercussions from the law.

Most critics have panned this film, saying that the film's concept wasn't fully explored, instead simply reducing it to a standard home invasion thriller. Others have also mentioned the lack of logic surrounding the so called positive effects of The Purge, i.e. does it really work in curbing crime etc. But for me, the film's main flaw is its predictability.

The main protagonists here are the Sandin family, its patriarch being a man that sells home security systems. His family seems normal enough: good looking wife, rebellious daughter with a boyfriend that dad doesn't approve, introvert son who's technically gifted...the works. On the night of The Purge, the boy lets in a stranger calling for help outside. His arrival is quickly followed by his pursuers, a group of young men and women in masks, having fun with their right to purge. They threaten to break in unless the Sandins hand the guy over, and this is where the family realises that even the best security system will not hold them off.

As I said, it's the predictability that brings the film down a bit. I saw all the jump scares coming a mile away, but then if you've seen this genre before, it can't really be helped. Director and writer James DeMonaco threw in a few twists, but I saw those coming too. So what's left is the violence and a handful of solid performances. We get stabbings, shootings and a hard smash to the face which made some of the people I saw this with in the cinema laugh and applaud.

Ethan Hawke is usually dependable, and so he is again here. There's a bit of the guy he played in Sinister here, but ultimately he's just a man who will protect his family at any cost. Lena Headey is solid as his wife, who is the exact opposite of her character in Game Of Thrones. Rhys Wakefield also deserves special mention as the leader of the invaders, who proves to be more intimidating without the mask.

In conclusion, The Purge seems to be a precursor of what is to come rather than a fully explored take on 12 hour lawlessness in the modern world. The inevitable sequel can take viewers into new territories or new settings which may be more interesting than this. For now, we'll have to settle with a home invasion movie, which is average in its execution. (3/5)   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Elysium

Year: 2013
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Wagner Moura, Diego Luna, William Fichtner


Plot: In the year 2154, Earth's inhabitants are divided into two classes: the wealthy who live on Elysium, a huge space station with its own habitat; and the poor who live on an overpopulated, filthy Earth. Max Da Costa, a factory worker who is mortally wounded in an accident, makes a deal with a hacker to get a ticket to Elysium in order to use their technology to save his life.


Review: I remember Neill Blomkamp's District 9 quite well. It was groundbreaking at the time, and very well made. Blomkamp's attempt to make a commentary on immigration disguised as an alien sci-fi movie was brilliant. For Elysium, Blomkamp chooses to talk about class inequality, and though this time around the result is flashier, it is lower on substance compared to D9.

Blomkamp focuses his lens on Matt Damon's character Max, as he struggles to get to Elysium, the only place where he can get the means to save himself from dying of radiation poisoning. In the process, he gets involved with his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), who has a dying daughter in need of the same thing Max seeks. Max at first chooses to cover his own ass, but we all know that will change in time. However, he has to contend with Elysium defense secretary Delacourt, played by Jodie Foster, and her psychotic agent Kruger, played by D9's leading man Sharlto Copley.

What's good about Elysium is Damon and a handful of action sequences on display, the best of which is Damon and his team trying to hijack information from William Fichtner's billionaire character. The visual effects and cinematography (especially the long shots) are also cool, however the lens man doesn't really know how to shoot fighting sequences properly, which is evident in the film's climax.

What's bad is the lack of substance which leads to a lack of potential. For a film named Elysium, we see so little of it here, other than long range shots of the super wealthy living in huge mansions, and a brief garden party that Delacourt attends. A bit more time spent here, perhaps with some development on what it's like being rich and worry free would have been nice. Delacourt herself isn't given much characterisation, other than being someone who likes to do her job without being reprimanded for how she does it. Her agent, Kruger is only slightly more interesting. He's as crazy as a rabid dog, and suitably scary at times, but not much else.

Thankfully, we have Damon, who turns in a strong performance as Max, the guy with big dreams who ends up becoming an unlikely hero. Wagner Moura nearly steals the show as the hacker Spider, who provides Max with the means to get to Elysium. Foster is perfectly cold as Delacourt, but as stated, the script doesn't let her go very far. Copley is great in the role of Kruger, despite the familiar mannerisms, he is fun to watch as he takes on Damon. Alice Braga and Diego Luna lend some solid support too, though the latter gets too little screen time.

In the end, Blomkamp missed out on a chance to make a great follow up to D9, though only narrowly. Elysium is entertaining, I won't argue that. But it's predictable and not as impactful as it could have been. (3.5/5) 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines

Year: 2013
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen


Plot: A three part story that focuses on a motorcycle stunt rider who resorts to bank robbing to provide for his infant son, the cop who eventually guns him down and faces corruption in his department after the incident, and the two men's respective sons who become friends years later, not knowing their fathers' previous history.


Review: I had watched Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine before and thought it was quite depressing and not easy to process. Not that it wasn't good, it was. Just not my kind of film. The Place Beyond The Pines however is a much better movie.

Cianfrance, who co-wrote the film and directs Ryan Gosling again, unveils a trilogy of sorts, three stories that are connected to one another. In the first one, Gosling is Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider who finds out his ex-girlfriend (Eva Mendes) has a son by him, and chooses to rob banks so that he can help raise him. After being shot dead by Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), we move to Cross' section of the film, where he gets a medal and is hailed a hero by his department. However, some crooked cops led by an intimidating Ray Liotta, puts Cross in a difficult position when they get him involved in stealing some evidence money. The final story involves Luke's son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and Cross' son AJ (Emory Cohen) 15 years later, as the two become friends and fellow junkies in the process, until the inevitable revelation of their respective dads.

All three stories are very solid, though the last one is a little weaker than the first two in my opinion. Every actor executes their role well, especially Gosling and Cooper. Gosling brings his usual quiet charm to the fore, while Cooper is a stark contrast to his well known comedic characteristics. Eva Mendes is also surprisingly good in her role, and so is Ben Mendelsohn as Luke's robbery accomplice. The two boys, DeHaan and Cohen are great as well, though it must be said that DeHaan is basically being the same kid from Chronicle here.

The only downside to this film is the length. By the time you get to the half mark of the third story, it starts to feel long. It doesn't help that this segment is the weakest of the three, as you can almost smell what's coming. Even then, Cianfrance opts for an ending that doesn't quite live up to what had come before.

But I can't deny that The Place Beyond The Pines is a rock solid drama with great cinematography and music score to boot. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Conjuring

Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston


Plot: Based on a true story. The Perron family move into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. Soon terrifying supernatural forces begin to torment the family. They turn to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of paranormal investigators for help.


Review: First of all, let me state how proud I am that James Wan is from Malaysia, like myself. He may have only a handful of films under his belt, but people are already calling him a master of horror. It's hard to argue that point.

The Conjuring is a scary film, and not simply because it's based on a true story. Wan skilfully combines a haunted house piece with a possession piece, and as in his previous films, gives us characters that are well written and puts the right cast in place. As a result, The Conjuring makes his previous movie Insidious look like an episode of Supernatural. It's also to writers Chad and Carey Hayes, and the real Lorraine Warren's credit that the film turned out so well. (Lorraine serves as a consultant for the film)

Now, unlike most films of this ilk, The Conjuring is taken mostly from the investigators' point of view, which is a refreshing change. To that end, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are truly solid in their roles as Ed and Lorraine. The duo have great chemistry together and make their relationship very believable. Wilson is great as a demonologist who gives lectures on supernatural occurrences while Farmiga is excellent as a clairvoyant who is able to see the dark forces around her. Their love for each other as they face a great evil in the Perron's new home is the heart of the film. 

Ron Livingston puts in an understated performance as Roger Perron but it works well. Lili Taylor though nearly steals the show as Carolyn Perron, who convincingly projects her fear of being terrorised by the evil spirits in her home. Her performance during the film's climax is simply awesome. Special mention also goes out to the five girls playing the Perrons' daughters (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver) who each have their own moment to shine when the spirits show up.

The technical guys also deserve credit, like John R Leonetti for his unique camerawork (the upside down shots were really cool), Julie Berghoff for creating the design of the film (really creepy overall) and the visual effects team for making everything seem genuinely scary.

Overall I had a fun and scary time with this film. If you like being scared shitless, this is the film for you. (4/5)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine

Year: 2013
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi, Famke Janssen


Plot: Following the events of X-Men 3, Logan now lives in the wild, continually haunted by Jean's death. A dying Japanese man whose life Logan saved during the bombing of Nagasaki, calls him to Japan to bid farewell and offers him a chance to remove his healing ability so he may lead a normal life. However things get ugly when enemies within the old man's family get involved with the Yakuza and Logan gets stuck in the middle of it.


Review: I don't know why people hated Wolverine's origin film released a few years back. Whatever it lacked in substance, it made up with some nice action sequences, and it was still a fun experience. The critical failure of that film though has spurred Hugh Jackman to make a Wolverine film that lives up to the fans' expectations. And I must say that Jackman and director James Mangold have done that.

Now, if you walk into The Wolverine expecting The Amazing Spider-Man, you're gonna be disappointed. This is not THAT kind of movie, it's not Iron Man, it's not Thor and it certainly isn't The Avengers. The Wolverine is a well grounded comic book film that focuses on Logan's character and how he has to deal with his past and who he is essentially. While X-Men Origins: Wolverine focused on how he got the adamantium in his body, this film sheds light onto his character after he was forced to kill Jean in X3.

Now a lost and near broken man, Logan is sought by Yashida, a man he saved during the Nagasaki bombing, who offers to end his suffering from living eternally. But Logan has to contend with many dangers, including the old man's ruthless son Shingen, the Yakuza as well as a mysterious woman named Viper.

Mangold does a great job of making a film that doesn't simply rely on action sequences to be entertaining. The character study approach to Logan's story is a nice change and it is compelling enough to not be boring at all. Together with Jackman he makes Logan worthy to root for and care about, while not forgetting that action is where Wolverine is the best there is, featuring some solid sword to claw fighting sequences. Kudos to them both also for not using too much CGI and over the top stunts (save for the bullet train sequence).

Speaking of Jackman, he's in the best shape he's ever been and plays probably the best Wolverine characterisation since the first X-Men film. Credit must also be given to the filmmakers for hiring two Japanese models who although have no prior acting experience, still manage to nail the roles they were given. Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto play Yukio and Mariko respectively, the former as Mariko's adoptive sister and the latter as Yashida's granddaughter. The two are like two sides of the same coin: one hard, the other soft, but both strong and vulnerable equally. Fukushima gives enough spunk to Yukio to make her very likable, and excels in the sword fighting sequences too. Okamoto on the other hand gives a quiet demeanour to Mariko, who becomes Logan's love interest (I'm not gonna lie, she's real easy on the eyes).

Hiroyuki Sanada once again plays a sword wielding antagonist in Shingen, but he's great in it so I'm not complaining. Will Yun Lee is a bit wasted as Harada, leader of a group that protects the Yashida clan. Svetlana Khodchenkova is okay as Viper, she clearly enjoys the role a lot, but her character isn't given a lot of background or motive here, which would have helped a lot in understanding her purpose.

Mangold did slip up a couple of times with the camerawork, occasionally the fights were filmed too close and the foot chase through Tokyo looked real shaky. But other than that, The Wolverine is an awesome entry into the superhero genre, even if it doesn't have huge special effects and things blowing up every 15 minutes. I think that if you liked Logan in the X-Men films, chances are you'll love him a lot here.

Stay in your seats for the usual post credits scene. X-Men fans will surely enjoy this one. (4/5)   

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