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


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)


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