Sunday, February 24, 2013


Year: 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Lee Pace, Jared Harris, Gloria Reuben, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill

Plot: An account of the last four months of Abraham Lincoln's life as he works toward abolishing slavery by passing the 13th Amendment as well as ending the Civil War.

Review: Lincoln isn't an easy film to absorb if you're someone who isn't familiar with American history. Not being American, it was hard for me at times to follow Abe Lincoln as he set the wheels in motion towards ending slavery in his country while making sure everyone was on board with him in achieving that goal.

Steven Spielberg presents his film not as a biopic on Lincoln's life, but the important events in his final days as President, which from the looks of it, are the most crucial points of his life. The film depicts how Lincoln gets his cabinet to procure the votes required in the House of Representatives to pass the amendment that will lead to freedom for coloured folk in the United States. To do so, a handful of unpopular tactics were undertaken, and it's quite fascinating to watch it being done. Who would have thought Lincoln was capable of this?

Ultimately, the main attraction of this film is the cast, with Daniel Day-Lewis delivering an Oscar worthy performance as Lincoln. Looking and perhaps sounding like the man is one thing, but Daniel makes every second of his screen presence count, depicting humility, vulnerability and wisdom in dealing with everyone he encounters, while being firm and sure at all times. He is well supported by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, who plays off him well as his wife who supports his endeavours but doesn't always agree with the man. Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn are also great as Thaddeus Stevens and William Seward respectively, the former as a staunch abolitionist (who's awesome with verbal insults) and the latter as the Secretary of State and Lincoln's biggest ally.

Some mention must also be made for the minor supporting cast who make their moments count, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Gloria Reuben, Jared Harris, Jackie Earle Haley...the list goes on. All of them contribute in some way, no matter how brief, to make this film as good as it is.

That being said, the film could use some tighter editing, especially in the last 10 minutes or so. But it's a small gripe for another hit from Spielberg.

In the end, you may have trouble following this if you lack understanding of American politics, but if you love great performances, then Lincoln delivers that in spades. (3.5/5)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard

Year: 2013
Director: John Moore
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Radivoje Bukvic, Yuliya Snigir, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Plot: John McClane heads to Russia to find his estranged son Jack, and subsequently gets caught up in his son's CIA mission to extract a Russian political prisoner who has his own agenda.

Review: Ah look, another Die Hard film. This is the one franchise Bruce Willis always seems to return to. After a lackluster fourth instalment, Willis and director John Moore must be hoping to get this fifth one right. Well, they almost did.

As far as being an action film is concerned, A Good Day To Die Hard isn't bad at all. It's loud, explosive and violent, which is what an action film basically needs to entertain. Moore throws in a handful of action set pieces which look pretty good, the best one being the manic truck chase sequence at the beginning. There are other solid ones too, like the jump off the building at the middle third of the film, finally capping off with a helicopter sequence in Chernobyl at the end. Yes, Chernobyl. They all look good for the most part, good enough to ensure the audience doesn't feel bored.

But you see, a Die Hard film needs to have high standards. I don't mean to sound like a purist, but these films don't just require high adrenaline stuff, it needs to entertain on all levels, which means the script needs to be rock solid. It needs a top notch villain, and Willis needs to be soundly challenged by this villain. We're missing all this here, unfortunately.

Previously, Willis anchors the film with his screen presence, never allowing his sidekick or villain to take too much attention away from him. But here, Jai Courtney, who plays his son Jack, becomes like a partner to Willis rather than a sidekick, almost as if he's gonna take over the franchise when the latter is done with this. Not that they don't have chemistry together, not that Courtney can't act (on the contrary), but this should seriously be Willis' show. The Russian villains are pretty weak too, each seemingly having an agenda of their own, effectively throwing one twist after another into the plot, though they're much better than the meek Timothy Olyphant from the last film. 

But on the bright side, it still is fun to watch. Willis and Courtney get to throw insults at each other (though it pales in comparison to Willis and Samuel L Jackson from no.3), there's the action and yeah, there's some nice eye candy in the form of Yuliya Snigir as the Russian prisoner's daughter and Mary Elizabeth Winstead returning in a cameo appearance as Lucy McClane.

So overall, I had plenty of fun with this film, plenty enough to give it a good rating, because I didn't hate it. But it had potential to be better. (3.5/5)

Bullet To The Head

Year: 2013
Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Sarah Shahi, Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Plot: In order to avenge his partner's death, a hitman teams up with a cop to take down the men responsible.

Review: After The Last Stand, we have yet another old school action film, courtesy of Walter Hill, an old school action director known for films like Red Heat and 48 Hrs, among others.

It's called Bullet To The Head for a reason, because nearly all the kills are direct shots to the head. This of course means extreme violence is expected, but if you like old school action, then this shouldn't be a problem for you.

Stallone stars as Jimmy Bobo, a hitman whose partner gets killed by a mercenary hired by Bobo's employers to tie up loose ends, with Bobo barely escaping death himself. The murder gets the attention of Taylor Kwon (Fast Five's Sung Kang), a cop who is investigating Bobo's last job. Bobo and Kwon end up joining forces to find the mercenary (Jason Momoa) and his employer and make them pay. This of course leads to a handful of situations where Bobo plays by his own rules while Kwon gets in his way because of his principles.

Hill does his best playing up the popular buddy cop routine while keeping the action hard and fast. The action is pretty impressive as Hill pulls no punches with the violence. As stated above, nearly everyone gets shot in the head, leading to a climax where Stallone and Momoa engage in an axe fight.

Teaming Stallone and Sung together might seem weird at first, since they don't look like the typical duo you'd put next to one another, but it gradually works, even though Sung is clearly outshone by the veteran Sly. Stallone does most of the action here, leaving Sung to be a sidekick instead of a partner. At the very least, they share good chemistry on screen. Momoa is pretty intense as the mercenary Keegan, making himself a solid villain. Sarah Shahi doesn't have much to do here as Bobo's daughter, her role being relegated to a vulnerable point for Stallone's character. Christian Slater, who hasn't had a film role in years, makes good with his limited screentime as a slimy lawyer who works for Keegan's employer. I mean, can you imagine Slater in this role, after seeing him be a nice guy back in the day? Awesome.

The film does suffer from some very corny lines by Stallone, especially the ones he says while narrating the film from time to time, but it's to be expected. It doesn't take away the fun on a whole, thankfully.

If you like old school violence, Bullet To The Head is a solid choice. (3.5/5)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Year: 2013
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann

Plot: After killing the witch that tried to eat them, siblings Hansel and Gretel grow up to become witch hunters for hire. Their latest mission pits them against Muriel, a powerful witch who has connections to their past.

Review: Everyone knows the story of Hansel & Gretel, right? Tommy Wirkola, a Norwegian director and writer, gives us a story of what it would be like if the siblings became ass kicking witch hunters when they grow up. It's a fascinating premise indeed, but Wirkola's execution of it isn't that promising.

If you're the type of person who enjoyed Van Helsing or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, then this film would be right up your alley, but in all honesty, those two films are better than this. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters takes the popular over-the-top approach, filled with cheesy lines, CGI bloody violence and  lots and lots of posing. On the one hand, it's fun but on the other hand, it gets kinda cringeworthy as the film progresses.

It also doesn't help that Wirkola makes the same cardinal mistake most action directors do: filming action sequences up close, thereby making the movements blurry and unclear (Mr Wirkola, please call Zack Snyder and take a class with him). Some parts of his script could also use some polishing, as many cliches keep popping up, like the supporting characters that meet their doom at the most predictable moment, the token dumb character that has to think they're in control until they get killed, the supposedly shocking connection between the heroes and the villain etc. There are also some ridiculous things like the troll who has a thing for Gretel....what the heck was up with that?

Jeremy Renner looks like he just walked off the set of The Avengers and stepped into Hansel's boots, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as he looks the part, but he looks much too uptight here. Gemma Arterton fares slightly better as Gretel, but it's hard to distinguish her performance here from many of her previous roles. Famke Janssen seems to be having the most fun here as the villain Muriel, snarling, cackling and screaming her way throughout the film. I love her witch makeup, when it's on she is barely recognisable. Pihla Viitala provides some momentary eye candy as Hansel's love interest, though her role here is yet another cliche. Same goes for Thomas Mann as their sidekick Ben.

If not for Janssen's performance, lots of gratuitous violence and some cool action set pieces (the climactic scene where the siblings take on a group of witches is awesome), this film would be a failure. As of right now, it's fun but forgettable. (3/5)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Impossible

Year: 2012
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Sonke Mohring

Plot: A detailed account of one family's harrowing experience during the tsunami catastrophe in Thailand on December 26th 2004.

Review: Let me start by saying this: The Impossible is an astounding film. It's simply amazing in its execution as it tells the story of a family caught right in the middle of the tsunami disaster back in 2004, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sanchez base their film on the experiences of the Belon family, particularly from Maria Belon, whose character is portrayed by Naomi Watts in the film. Thanks to her detailed account of the incident, as well as the filmmakers excellent handling of the material, the audience are given a solid story of survival which feels very real, not just because they used minimal visual effects in the film, but also because this is an actual catastrophe.

In the hands of people like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, The Impossible would be filled to the brim with over the top CGI and cheesy dramatic moments. But in Bayona's direction, we get a rightfully emotional, sometimes painful and sometimes shocking look of how the tsunami affected locals and tourists alike.

Watts and Ewan McGregor play a couple who, along with their three sons, arrive in Phuket for their Christmas vacation. All seems fabulous until the wave hits them without warning and everything changes. The family is separated with Watts and the eldest son swept away together while McGregor is with the younger two. Watts' character Maria is badly wounded as her son tries to get help for her amongst the chaos, with McGregor doing his best to find them both.

Watts deserves the Oscar nomination as Maria, who doesn't have much to say overall, but says so much with facial expressions and the limited sentences she has throughout. Tom Holland is also excellent as Lucas, the eldest son who finds the will and courage in himself to help his mum and other people at the hospital looking for their families. Ewan McGregor is pretty good too in the role of Henry, and I'm glad he was, since he doesn't normally get dramatic roles like this, and he was amazing.

Kudos also goes out to the cinematographer and production designer who did an astonishing job in presenting and recreating the aftermath of the disaster. An aerial view of lands turned upside down or wrapped bodies being lined up by the authorities will send chills down your spine. Then there are the overcrowded hospitals and the chaotic frenzy generated by the victims which were so well portrayed. Not forgetting as well, the initial wave that Watts and Holland endured was really scary as I watched it. It makes one wonder how anyone could survive such a horrifying experience, and it's to Bayona's credit that it turned out just right.

All I can say is, The Impossible is a great film. It's a disaster film that doesn't romanticise or sensationalise a tragedy, but instead puts you right in the thick of it. Recommended. (4/5)


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