Sunday, April 27, 2014

Brick Mansions

Year: 2014
Director: Camille Delamarre
Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Catalina Denis

Plot: An undercover cop teams up with an ex-con to infiltrate Brick Mansions, a neighborhood in Detroit sealed off from the rest of the city, to find a hidden bomb and neutralize it. In their way is a drug kingpin whom both men have a beef with.

Review: Brick Mansions is a remake of French film District 13 which David Belle also stars in as the same character he plays here. This film is also one of Paul Walker's last works before his recent death.

I haven't seen District 13 yet, but as far as Brick Mansions go, it's quite good. It's set in Detroit, where a neighborhood known as Brick Mansions has been walled up, with high security placed around its perimeter. The place is a cesspool of crime, a place where drug kingpin Tremaine is in control. He has recently stolen a neutron bomb which is automatically set to go off in several hours. The mayor sends Damien Collier (Walker), an undercover cop who has a beef with Tremaine, to get inside and find the bomb. His only ally is Lino (Belle), a criminal whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by Tremaine.

Camille Delamarre, an editor for films like Taken 2 and Transporter 3, makes his feature film directorial debut here, and does a fine job overall. Working on Luc Besson's script (he also wrote the original), Delamarre makes the film as kinetic as possible, applying good camerawork and smooth editing to keep things flowing and moving, though he may have made some unnecessary cuts to suit the PG13 rating. Like the original, Brick Mansions displays parkour creator David Belle's skills in running, jumping, climbing and flipping all over the place. Belle's parkour sequence in the opening 5 minutes is pretty damn good.

The acting however is mostly average. Walker and Belle make a good team, with a couple of sparring sequences with each other standing out. RZA hams it up as usual in the role of Tremaine, while Catalina Denis makes good eye candy as Lino's girlfriend Lola, but not much else, except for a couple of fight sequences with Tremaine's female lieutenant.

The film does suffer from several lapses of logic and cliches, like Tremaine's goons having terrible aim, Damien and Lino getting involved in car crashes and hard falls but suffering no injuries etc. The film's ending is also much too perfect, like the law just flew out the window.

But overall, I had fun with this movie. For entertainment purposes, Brick Mansions hits mostly the right notes, and deserves one watch at least. (3.5/5)  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Year: 2014
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton

Plot: This film follows the adventures of M. Gustave, the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel and his loyal prodigy Zero, the hotel's lobby boy.

Review: This is actually my first attempt at watching a Wes Anderson film, I did it due to good word of mouth. Because of that, I probably didn't get it as much as most of his fans do. But to his credit, The Grand Budapest Hotel is pretty good.

The film is set in 1932 in the fictional land of Zubrowka, in between the world wars. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a beautiful place run by M. Gustave, who is efficient at his work. On the side, he beds rich old women. The new lobby boy, Zero becomes his prodigy and learns the ropes from him on taking care of the hotel. One day, Madame D, one of Gustave's interests, dies and bequeaths to him a valuable painting, much to the ire of her son Dmitri. Soon after, Gustave is accused of murdering Madame D and imprisoned. Zero helps him escape and prove his innocence.

If there's one thing I love about this film is the production design. Anderson and his team made the film colorful and bright and at the same time very retro, which is no easy feat. The sight of the hotel near the cliff with a funicular train attached makes it look like a huge cake, or maybe even a three dimensional picture from a book. In short, it looks magnificent.

The film's other positives are the plot and great cast. The plot is quite easy to follow and never drags, in fact it moves really fast. It does flip many times over in the middle third of the film, but nothing too difficult to fathom. The punchlines are not laugh out loud funny, but there are quite a few moments when you can't help but chuckle and admire Anderson's sharp instinct to nail the joke right there.

Casting wise, Ralph Fiennes and young newcomer Tony Revolori make a great team of master and student in Gustave and Zero. Fiennes is sharp, charming and spot on with deadpan humor, which is well contrasted by Revolori's naive and well meaning lobby boy. Adrien Brody makes a good villain in Dmitri, balancing the act of being bad and not entirely hateful quite well. Willem Dafoe is awesome as Dmitri's right hand man Jopling, he's perfect actually. It's also nice to see Jeff Goldblum again after a long time as Madame D's lawyer, nailing the part too. The rest of the cast, such as Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Lea Seydoux and Saoirse Ronan also perform up to expectations, even though they don't have that much screen time.

Now, while the cast is really spot on, some of the choices seem rather strange. Why would Anderson put his frequent collaborators such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson in such insignificant roles? I understand that these are probably just cameos, but Wilson had only two scenes and it was so basic, anyone else could have done it. And overall I felt like I was an outsider trying to enjoy something I wasn't used to. Admittedly I'm not an Anderson fan, so maybe I need to brush up on his work.

But I know good work when I see it, and for my money's worth, The Grand Budapest Hotel is worth checking out. It's not necessarily fun all the time, but it's never dull. (3.5/5)

Sunday, April 06, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau

Plot: A DEA strike team gets killed violently one by one after they steal $10 million from a drug cartel bust.

Review: David Ayer's name is synonymous with gritty cop stories like Training Day and End Of Watch. The DEA team in Sabotage is supposed to be like family, but unlike Jake Gylenhaal and Michael Pena in End Of Watch, this team doesn't really act like a family.

Thing is, Ayer somehow goes out of his way to make his ragtag bunch of door busters as unlikable as possible. Now, I get the part where they have to look like criminals, sporting tattoos, messy hairstyles and snorting drugs a lot, because they have to go undercover and all. But even when off duty, they act like horrible people, disrespecting authority and cussing a lot. Is Ayer saying that undercover law enforcement are allowed to be like that because they've been undercover so long, they can't turn it off? Maybe. But it doesn't quite help in making these guys worth rooting for, and therein lies the problem.

Anyway, a little bit on the story: Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, a leader of a rough and tough DEA strike team, and together they steal some money during a drug bust, only to find it missing when they come back for it later. They get investigated, suspended then later reinstated due to lack of evidence. Then the team members wind up dead one by one. Homicide detective Caroline Brentwood is on the case, but the team won't play ball, which doesn't make it better when she eventually finds out about them being investigated earlier.

Ayer is basically good at painting realistic profiles on cops, whether they're good or bad. In this case it's the latter. But like I said, despite the realistic presentation, the audience needs to care about these guys, and I for one do not. Only Arnold's character is somewhat redeemable, but the reason for that is something I can't reveal in order not to spoil things.

But there are good things to look forward to, like the unabashed violence, which is quite welcome. Arnold of course makes a great leader, not just for the team, but for the film too as his screen presence makes a big difference. Olivia Williams is also great as Brentwood, playing a character I haven't seen her do before. Special mention goes to Mireille Enos as the sole female member of the DEA team, who is as tough and mean as her male colleagues, and she is such a sleaze here you won't believe she's the same person who played Brad Pitt's wife in Wolrd War Z, or the detective in The Killing. The rest of the guys are not too memorable as they're too similar with one another.

Aside from the unlikable characters, there's also pacing problems here and there, and the excessive amount of profanity which drags the film down. The car chase at the climax is great, but not enough to make the whole film great.

As it is, Sabotage is passable entertainment. As an Arnold vehicle, and as a David Ayer film, it just isn't as good as what has come before. (3/5)


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