Monday, July 28, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan

Plot: The legendary Hercules is called upon by the ruler of Thrace to help stop a ruthless warlord. But there's more to it than meets the eye.

Review: There have been many adaptations of Hercules on screen, but this one is based on the comic book by Steve Moore.

In this film, Hercules has finished conquering the 12 labors put upon him by Hera, and now leads a band of mercenaries for hire. Lord Cotys, the ruler of Thrace, hires Hercules and his men to stop Rhesus, a warlord causing havoc in his country. Something happens along the way and the demi-god realises he must make a choice between fighting for gold or for his conscience.

Brett Ratner isn't exactly an A-list director, but he has a knack for making things entertaining despite the presence of a certain level of silliness. It's fascinating to note that the film doesn't try to be either too bloody or too serious, like other films of its kind such as 300, Troy or Gladiator. But thankfully, it's not as campy as The Scorpion King either, which is a step up for star Dwayne Johnson. It also must be said that even though the production value is a B plus at best, Ratner excels in the action department as he makes both large scale battles and smaller confrontations look good.

Johnson once again plays the lead role well, as he has many times before. While he may not look the part of Hercules that well, he still makes a great leading man and action hero. Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane are also commendable as Hercules' comrades, which is a welcome change from playing villains before this, but special mention goes to Aksel Hennie as Tydeus, Hercules' barbaric comrade who doesn't speak. 

The film does suffer from a few much too convenient happenings. Joseph Fiennes is also rather wasted in a key role when he should have gotten more screen time. The film does make up for this with a few dramatic attempts by Johnson, and well thought out by Ratner in terms of execution, especially those regarding Hercules' tragic past.

All in all, Hercules doesn't quite break new ground in the sword and fantasy genre, but it's entertaining for what it is. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott

Plot: Ivan Locke, a construction manager and family man, decides to drive to a hospital 90 minutes away to welcome the birth of his child resulting from a one night stand, and the decision proves to be a tough one as the phone calls he has to take turns his life inside out.

Review: Films featuring a mostly one person performance are tricky to pull off, as the possibilities are quite limited when it comes to making a great story. Buried starring Ryan Reynolds and the recent Gravity with Sandra Bullock are good examples.

Locke features Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, a construction manager in charge of a new building that's about to begin construction the next day. On this night, he makes a decision to drive all the way to a hospital 90 minutes away to see a woman he had a one night stand with, who is now in labor with his child. Throughout the journey, he has to make and take calls from the woman, the man he put in charge of the building in his absence, his very furious boss, and his wife, to whom he has to break the terrible news.

Steven Knight, who wrote and directed Hummingbird starring Jason Statham, took a big risk filming this, which again he also penned. A film made up entirely of a man driving and talking on the phone? On the surface it doesn't look very appealing. But thanks to his solid screenplay and a tour de force performance from Hardy, the film works brilliantly.

Hardy plays Locke as a regular guy, someone who has made a terrible mistake and is now trying to take responsibility for it, at the cost of his marriage and job. The amazing thing is, even if you've never been in his position, Knight's screenplay and Hardy's acting makes Locke a very relatable person to the audience. I think we've all been in a tough spot some time in our lives, and how we react to it is rather similar to what Locke is going through. Locke can be clearly seen as a good but flawed man who screwed up big time and knows it, and now he has to atone for it, even if it means destroying everything he holds dear.

Hardy is simply awesome in this role, carrying the entire film with his conversations over the phone, and his emotional reactions, within the confines of a moving vehicle. He makes us root for him easily even during moments when he has to be rude to get things done. You'll feel for him when he tries to tell his wife the bad news, and comfort the other woman while she's in distress at the hospital, though personally I enjoyed his exchanges with Donal, the man he left in charge of the building project, which gets quite hilarious at times.

I admit, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea. You probably won't enjoy it if you're expecting something more than a story about phone conversations in a moving car. I, for one, enjoyed it for what it was. It's something different than what most people would expect. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Plot: The virus released at the end of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has wiped out most of the human population. Ten years later, Caesar and a large community of apes live peacefully in the jungle, until they encounter a group of humans who want to activate a dam nearby to restore power in the city. Caesar strikes a partnership with the human Malcolm to allow the dam's repairs, but tension erupts within both sides and a war is imminent.

Review: Rupert Wyatt's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was a solid if not perfect reboot of the Apes franchise. Director Matt Reeves thankfully follows up that film with a marvelous sequel that takes place a decade after the end of it.

Reeves ups the ante by focusing more on the apes than the humans, and rightfully so. The CGI is fantastic when it comes to the apes' movements and facial expressions, thanks to excellent motion capture work from the actors involved. Add to that a superb story that highlights the similarities between man and beast (and the argument on which side is worse) as well as their differences, and you have a near perfect film in your hands.

Andy Serkis, the undisputed king of motion capture acting, is in fine form here as Caesar, showing the excellent balance between strength and vulnerability as a leader. It's mainly thanks to him that the film is as good as it is. Toby Kebbell contrasts him nicely as Koba, the antagonistic ape that grows increasingly restless with Caesar's leadership. Jason Clarke gets the sympathetic human role of Malcolm, and pulls it off well. It's also good to see Kodi Smit-McPhee, now considerably older than he was in Reeves' last film Let Me In, as Malcolm's son here.

Naturally, in a film like this, you can expect a few action sequences, and the last third of the film provide two of those, both executed very well. But to Reeves and writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver's credit, the story flows smoothly from start to finish, never a moment wasted.

I was a bit disappointed that Gary Oldman, who plays human leader Dreyfus, gets limited screen time here. He's missing for the middle third of the film, and the lack of development for his character, save for a brief tearful scene is unfortunate, considering the amount of talent he has. The lack of female characters here is also quite obvious, with only Keri Russell as Malcolm's wife standing out, and even then she didn't get that much to do. Caesar's mate Cornelia (played by Judy Greer) fares even worse.

But other than that, I must say that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a wonderful entry to a largely underrated franchise. It's a gem of a film, considering how generally underwhelming it's been for summer blockbusters lately. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Deliver Us From Evil

Year: 2014
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Sean Harris, Olivia Horton

Plot: An NYPD cop teams up with an unconventional priest to solve a series of demonic possessions happening in the Bronx.

Review: Deliver Us From Evil is inspired by actual accounts of Sgt Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop who had written a book about his encounters. Usually the Hollywood version is largely exaggerated for our entertainment, but it's fine by me if it works. In this case, it hits more than it misses.

Eric Bana plays Sarchie, who takes on the case of a possessed woman throwing her child into the lion's den at the zoo. He thinks she's just crazy, but Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) believes demons are involved. Further investigations reveal even more strange and sickening things going on, and Sarchie is forced to find his own faith in God again to solve the mystery, especially when his family gets into harm's way.

Scott Derrickson, who directed the really creepy Sinister, directs this one not on a low budget, but with the high production values of the one and only Jerry Bruckheimer. As a result, the quality looks a bit more slick, with set design and cinematography looking good. Bana and Ramirez make a great team together, the former as the tough cop who has to confront something he's not ready to believe in, and the latter as the renegade priest who has his own sordid past. Joel McHale is solid as Sarchie's adrenaline junkie partner, but credit must be given to Sean Harris and Olivia Horton as the possessed victims. They're awesome in making themselves looking batshit crazy and creepy at the same time.

The film is flawed in certain departments though. Sarchie's strained relationship with his wife and daughter seem tacked on, and it doesn't help that Olivia Munn's performance as said wife is rather weak. Derrickson also resorts to using plenty of jump scares to spook the audience instead of creating a sense of fear as he did in Sinister. Most of the jump scares were predictable, so it didn't quite work for me. However he redeems himself in the final exorcism scene, which looks pretty cool.

Deliver Us From Evil may not be a groundbreaking horror film (there aren't many new ways to scare people anymore), but it's solid entertainment anyway. It's no Exorcist, but it's quite watchable. (3.5/5) 


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