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


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)


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