Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ip Man 3

Year: 2015
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Mike Tyson


Plot: In 1959 Hong Kong, Wing Chun master Ip Man faces a handful of challenges, from a foreign crime lord to a rival Wing Chun martial artist, and an unexpected tragedy.


Review: Donnie Yen teams up with director Wilson Yip once again to bring another chapter of kungfu master Ip Man to the big screen.

In this film, Ip Man (Yen) is living peacefully in Hong Kong with his wife (Lynn Hung) and younger son while his older son studies in Foshan. The local gangsters, led by foreign crime boss Frank (Mike Tyson) want to take over the children's school for the land, and Ip Man volunteers to protect the school when the local police find their hands tied due to corruption. Ip Man also finds a potential friend/rival in the form of Cheung Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin), a rickshaw puller who also happens to be a Wing Chun master. However, none of these prove more challenging to Ip Man than the knowledge that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer.

In the first Ip Man film, the theme was patriotism. The second film was honor and pride for Chinese kungfu. This third film focuses on family. Ip Man's battle with the gangsters turns personal when they threaten his son, and you get to see what the master is willing to do to protect him. Then there is his sick wife, whom Ip Man spends more time with once he learns about her illness, forgoing other matters such as a challenge from Tin-Chi. In fact, Tin-Chi's actions is also motivated by family as he seeks a better life for himself and his son.

Thanks to Yen, Yip and action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, audiences are treated to a handful of solid action sequences, though to be fair, the one-on-one fights were better filmed than the one-on-many brawls. While most would figure the Yen vs Tyson fight to be the best duel, I felt that it comes a close second to the duel between Yen and Thai exponent Sarut Khanwilai, that takes place within close quarters. Though the Thai fighter is hardly a match for Ip Man, the scene was filmed well. As for the Yen vs Tyson fight, the latter is to be commended for convincingly being a match for the former. As it turns out, Tyson is the only one that truly takes Yen to the limit here.

Acting wise though, Tyson doesn't fare too well, but it is forgivable since he's not an actor per se. Yen once again plays Ip Man solidly, as an honorable man who tries his best to impart good values on others and hopes they follow suit. Lynn Hung plays his wife again, who tries to be a good spouse and support her husband whenever possible. Their relationship becomes the focus of the second half of the film, and it is rather touching to see this side of the master for a change.

However, the film comes up short in certain areas, particularly a proper villain. One could say that the main villain here is Mrs. Ip's disease, and it is one the master can't overcome so easily. Tyson only appears for a short period here, and his character, while essentially a crime boss, proves to be a family man and a man of his word. That leaves Zhang Jin as Yen's main rival, but unfortunately Zhang's acting isn't good enough. Zhang's Tin-Chi is shown as a man not that much different from Ip Man, more like the other side of the same coin. Tin-Chi is also motivated by family, but he wants to win and be the best, forgoing the humble approach Ip Man usually takes. Had Zhang been a better actor, this conflict would have been properly presented, but he isn't, thereby making his final duel with Yen at the end seem anti-climactic.

To be honest, the Ip Man franchise may finally be starting to overstay its welcome, but at the same time I wouldn't mind seeing Yen have another go at it, as long as they give him a formidable opponent. For now, Ip Man 3 is a good way to end things, if it is the end. (7/10)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Year: 2015
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o, Dohmnall Gleeson, Max Von Sydow


Plot: Thirty years after the fall of the Empire, the First Order has risen from its ashes. They possess a weapon that can destroy entire star systems. Both the Order and the Resistance are looking for Luke Skywalker, who has gone missing. The Resistance's only hope rests in the hands of a scavenger, a reformed stormtrooper and a little droid.


Review: The wait is over. The most anticipated film of the last decade is finally here. So can J.J. Abrams do for Star Wars what he did for Star Trek (honestly I don't know what Trek purists are so mad about Into Darkness, it was an awesome film to me)? The answer is yes.

The plot is actually quite simple. Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, is missing. Both the First Order and the Resistance, led by Luke's sister Leia (now a general) are looking for him. There is a map to his location, stored in a droid, BB8, which makes its way to Rey, a scavenger who is also a very skilled pilot. She then runs into Finn, a former stormtrooper of the First Order who just isn't the kind of guy that kills people. The two attempt to get BB8 to the Resistance, with a little help from everyone's favorite smuggler, Han Solo. Meanwhile, they are continuously chased by the Order, led by Kylo Ren, who sorta looks like Darth Vader.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it almost resembles the plot of Episode IV, doesn't it? But to Abrams' credit, the film ends up being very entertaining and thrilling. He keeps the story flowing smoothly while making sure every cast member gets their chance to shine. All the visual effects look pretty good too, and from what I hear, Abrams tried to be as practical as possible, and the results look damn great.

Cast wise, it's actually great to see Harrison Ford back as Han. In the last few years I can't recall a film where Ford was even remotely memorable, but slipping back into Han is a natural choice and he's still great in the role, albeit a little grumpier. Carrie Fisher looks noticeably older here (so does Ford honestly) but still possesses enough screen presence as Leia. The duo, along with Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Anthony Daniels as C3P0, are a welcome sight for loyal Star Wars fans.

As for the new cast, I gotta give credit to Daisy Ridley and John Boyega for really nailing their respective roles as Rey and Finn. Both of them have great enthusiasm for the material and it shows, especially during a thrilling aerial chase between the Millennium Falcon and two TIE fighters. They are great additions to the future instalments of the franchise. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, who is somewhat a less refined version of Vader, and definitely more vulnerable. One wonders what he will be like in the days to come. Oscar Isaac plays Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, who provides some well timed comedy, but doesn't quite get enough time to really shine.

As for the million dollar question: do we get to see Mark Hamill? Yes, we do. I'll say nothing more, but safe to say, it's a cool moment indeed. Oh, do look out for several people you might recognize if you're a film/TV geek. Like Abrams stalwart Greg Grunberg as a Resistance pilot. Or Game Of Thrones actor Thomas Brodie Sangster as a First Order officer. Or Ken Leung as a Resistance admiral.

As mentioned, the plot is much too similar to Episode IV, thus making it quite predictable overall. But it's really not a huge deal. The most important thing is the experience, and Abrams has managed to make Episode VII his own while making well executed nods to what fans love most.

Bottom line is, if you even remotely loved Star Wars, then you need to go see this. Period. (9/10)   

Monday, December 07, 2015

In The Heart Of The Sea

Year: 2015
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Riley


Plot: Based on the true story of the crew of the whale hunting ship Essex, that were stranded at sea after being attacked by a massive sperm whale.


Review: This film marks Ron Howard's sixth true story adaptation, which is testament to the man's great talent at the genre.

In The Heart Of The Sea is set in Nantucket in 1820, where the whale oil industry is booming. The hunt for whales in order to meet the demand for the oil made from their fat is at a high. Experienced whale hunter Owen Chase sets out on the Essex, a whale hunting ship as its first mate, under the command of George Pollard, an inexperienced captain. After unsuccessfully trying to fill their quota of 2000 barrels in the South Atlantic Sea, they hear of an area in the Pacific ocean where huge whales have been sighted, and head there. But in their attempt to harvest their oil, a huge sperm whale attacks their ship, subsequently sinking it. The men are forced to survive at sea in their lifeboats, with very little direction and much less provisions.

In terms of look and feel, Howard has done a splendid job. The era of 1820s Nantucket looks good, and the whale itself looks very intimidating, though its presence is slighted by a lack of wide shots by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. The plot is basically split between the men's survival at sea in the second half, and the tension between Chase and Pollard, caused by the former's origins as a "land man" versus the latter's family holding the monopoly of the oil industry in Nantucket.

Now, while the story is fascinating and Howard's direction being solid for the most part, the film isn't as engaging as it could have been. There are several moments when the film drags, and it does take a while before the big whale makes its debut. Howard also missed the opportunity to develop the relationship between Chase and Pollard. He did well in laying the groundwork, but he could have done much more to establish their rivalry. Howard did much better in this regard for Rush, where the two lead characters Hunt and Lauda shared a disdain that eventually became mutual respect. And while their harrowing survival story at sea is told well, it isn't as compelling as say, Cast Away or even Unbroken.

Chris Hemsworth does a good job as Chase, but one gets the feeling that he is slightly miscast. Hemsworth excels at playing free spirited and reckless guys, like Thor or James Hunt. Chase is a fair man who takes care of his crew, both young and old. An older actor would have suited the role better. Benjamin Walker is better as Pollard, balancing the fine act between being proud of his heritage and being responsible as the ship's captain. Tom Holland, the new Spider-Man, acquits himself well as 14-year old seaman Tom Nickerson, while Cillian Murphy is alright as second mate Matthew Joy. Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw round up the cast as the older Tom Nickerson and Moby Dick author Herman Melville, in the scenes where the former tells the story of the Essex to the latter. They both do fine, but the film belongs to the men on the ship. Also noteworthy is Game Of Thrones' Michelle Fairley as Tom's wife, who makes each of her few scenes count.

In closing I'd say In The Heart Of The Sea is a decent sea adventure, but not an epic one, and definitely not Ron Howard's best work. But still, it's quite watchable, at least before Star Wars rolls in. (7/10)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Victor Frankenstein

Year: 2015
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Charles Dance


Plot: The well known story of Victor Frankenstein and how he created his monster, told from Igor's point of view.


Review: The story of Frankenstein and his monster is known to many, but I don't think there has been one that is told from the perspective of Igor, his assistant.

In director Paul McGuigan's version, Igor is a hunchback circus clown badly abused by the ringmaster and his men, who impresses Victor Frankenstein, a man in the audience with his medical knowledge when he saves the circus' star acrobat, Lorelei. The slightly mad doctor rescues Igor from his sad predicament and hires him to assist on bringing the dead back to life. Indebted to the man, who also fixes his posture, Igor agrees. The two men proceed to test and experiment with many dead animal parts to successfully create life out of death. Their efforts attract the unwanted attention of a Scotland Yard inspector who doesn't take too kindly to ungodly activities.

McGuigan, who directed the underrated Push, does a great job in terms of authenticity. The look, feel and mood of the Victorian era is rather accurately displayed here. The script is quite good too, making room for lots of entertaining dialogue and fast paced action sequences, thus the film is rarely dull.

The film however is not without flaws. Daniel Radcliffe, while doing a solid job in portraying Igor, isn't really challenged by the script. He's basically playing a good man who is trying to save his friend from disaster. The fact that they put him in a romantic subplot with Lorelei (acted well by Jessica Brown Findlay but poorly written) shows that McGuigan and company desperately want us to see him as the hero here, added to the fact that Igor is telling the story. James McAvoy is very impressive as Frankenstein, throwing in lots of charm, eccentricity and wit to present a man who is determined, intelligent but dangerous at the same time. Andrew Scott, fresh from playing C in Spectre, is much better as the inspector here, giving an ice cold vibe to his character. The always welcome Charles Dance is superb as Frankenstein's father, despite appearing in only one scene.

The film worked pretty well for the first two thirds, and unfortunately succumbs to a weak ending after a badly choreographed climax, with an opening for a sequel. It would have been better if they just ended it right there.

Overall, Victor Frankenstein is a fun watch, but slightly forgettable. The best reason to go see this is James McAvoy. (7/10)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Year: 2015
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone


Plot: Katniss Everdeen's final confrontation with President Snow is preceded by battles, traps, more deaths and the demise of a love triangle.


Review: After 3 years we are finally given the opportunity to say goodbye to The Hunger Games, which had its moments, but felt like it was drawn out too long to make its point, and even then, it ends weakly.

So the final film's plot goes as follows: Katniss is more determined than ever to end President Snow's control over Panem, but doesn't care much about District 13 President Alma Coin's initiative to rally all the districts together to take the Capitol. So she attempts to make it to the Capitol on her own, and soon gets a small team of escorts made up of familiar faces, and Peeta Mellark, who almost crushed her larynx the last time we saw him. But the many traps set in place by Snow will test this small group of rebels greatly, and there are deaths to be had.

For the first two thirds of this final instalment, I was sort of digging what director Francis Lawrence was going for. There's some solid buildup and an intense second act where Katniss and company take on the many obstacles in their path, the best of which is a sewer fight against creatures that seem inspired by the vampires in Paul Bettany's Priest. At the same time the group has to be wary of Peeta, who is still psychologically damaged from Snow's brainwashing, and could turn against them at any second.

And then the film takes a twist in the third act, and I must say, if this is what happened in the books, it must have worked better on paper. This turn of events pretty much killed whatever momentum that came before it, not just this film but the other instalments as well. Just think about it; the story was always about Katniss building up towards facing the one enemy that tormented her all this time, and not only did they take the wind out of that face-off, they killed a key supporting character to do it. To make matters worse, they used it to end the much ballyhooed love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Overly convenient for my liking.

The best thing about Mockingjay Part 2 though, is Jennifer Lawrence, who is in almost every scene. She pretty much carries the entire film on her shoulders, even at its worst moments. Josh Hutcherson comes a close second as Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is still terribly bland as Gale. The other supporting characters don't get much time to shine, except Donald Sutherland as Snow, still stealing every scene he's in. Sam Claflin does alright as Finnick, but I saw his fate coming a mile away. Jena Malone returns as Johanna for a couple of scenes with Lawrence, but doesn't get much else to do otherwise, which is a damn shame. And how much did they pay Gwendoline Christie and Robert Knepper for their five minutes of screen time? A terrible waste of two talents here.

As the film sputters towards a pretty weak ending, I had to ask: are there only three people left from District 12? It just seems so strange that there are a handful of questions still left unanswered, and how certain characters' fates and reactions seem muted.

After all this I can finally be happy to close the book on The Hunger Games, and turn my attention to other potentially better YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner for instance. Watch this just for closure, and nothing else. (6/10)     

Monday, November 09, 2015

Spectre

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Monica Bellucci


Plot: James Bond follows up on the previous M's final order to pursue a secret organisation and subsequently discovers that its leader has ties to his own past.


Review: Skyfall, the previous Bond movie was pretty damn good, so much so that it has set the bar rather high for future instalments to reach. While Spectre no doubt tries hard, it doesn't quite match its predecessor's quality, though not for lack of trying.

Spectre begins in Mexico, where 007 kills a man and takes his ring. We discover later that this was the previous M's final order before her death. The ring leads Bond to a sinister organisation known as Spectre, which has connections to people he had killed before. Along the way, he has to protect Madeleine Swann, the daughter of Mr White, who used to work for Spectre. In the meantime, a merger between MI5 and MI6 allows the head of the Centre of National Security to take control and terminate the 00 program, much to M's chagrin.

Director Sam Mendes tries his best to outdo himself here, but with mixed results. A few action sequences, such as the opening chase in Mexico leading to a helicopter stunt, and a scrap between Bond and Dave Bautista's Mr Hinx, look pretty good. Even the snow covered chase between Bond and Madeleine's kidnappers involving jeeps and a plane, while looking simple, was shot quite well. But knowing what he had done in Skyfall, it's hard not to make comparisons and see Mendes come up short. And while the script attempts to make this story as personal as possible by having Spectre's leader be connected to Bond's past in a big way, its execution isn't as convincing as it could have been. The impending shutdown of the 00 program is also somewhat familiar to the plot of this year's Mission Impossible instalment, but to be honest, I don't mind it.

Daniel Craig is on point again as 007, no surprise there. Christoph Waltz is almost playing Hans Landa again here as the leader of Spectre. He's good but much too familiar. Lea Seydoux acquits herself well as Madeleine Swann, getting to save Bond at one point despite being mostly a damsel here. Monica Bellucci has little more than a glorified cameo here while Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris return as the new M and Moneypenny respectively. Ben Whishaw also returns as Q, and provides some much needed laughter.

If there's one thing here that I like better than Skyfall is Sam Smith's theme song, though I'm aware I'm in the minority. It doesn't quite have the energy of my all time favorite theme done by Duran Duran, but it fits the film well.

Bottom line is, comparisons aside, Spectre is a solid Bond entry. Maybe with tighter editing (148 minutes is hefty) and a bit more creativity, it would have been awesome. But go see it anyway. You've come this far. (7/10)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Bridge Of Spies

Year: 2015
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Scott Shepherd


Plot: Based on the true story of Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer who helped negotiate the successful exchange of two American prisoners and a convicted Russian spy during the Cold War.


Review: It's been a long three years since Steven Spielberg directed a film, the last being Lincoln. Bridge Of Spies is another entry into his long list of true story adaptations.

In his latest, set during the Cold War in 1957, Tom Hanks portrays Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer hired by the US government to represent Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy arrested by the FBI. From the outset, it's pretty clear everyone wants to sentence Abel to death, except for Donovan, who believes in giving the man a fair defense in court. Doing so comes at a high price towards him and his family, and getting no cooperation from anyone including his firm and even the judge makes it even harder, but he tries his best anyway, and subsequently loses. Then, an American pilot gets shot down in Russia while carrying out spying activities and Donovan is asked to negotiate an exchange between the US and USSR: Abel for Powers, the pilot. Things become more complicated when an American student named Pryor is arrested in East Berlin by the Stasi, and Donovan wants him released as well.

As usual, in terms of authenticity, Spielberg scores a lot of points. The setting looks good, the costumes fit the era and the things we see on the street, television and cinemas of the era are all spot on. Even schoolchildren are seen being educated about nuclear destruction, as the fear of nuclear war was on the rise at the time. Credit also goes into the amount of details the film shows as regards to story and facts. Spielberg, working on a script by the Coen brothers, puts all the facts in place and for the most part, paces the film well, though it does get a tad tiresome towards the end.

Hanks is as always on point, never making a bad film as I recall. As Donovan, he balances the line between a good family man and a skilful lawyer very well. There is a great scene between Hanks and Scott Shepherd as a CIA agent, arguing about his role in Abel's case, and Hanks shows what Donovan is truly made of. Mark Rylance delivers a solid performance too as Abel, presenting him as an unassuming man who doesn't look like a spy at all, just an old man who served his country and accepts whatever judgment passed on him. The rest of the cast are alright, but they don't have enough screen time to make a mark.

The film is overall solid, as most Spielberg films are, but the man kept the audience at arm's length here. The emotional connection between us and the story isn't really felt, despite the great performances at hand. It serves better as a historical account than an engaging story, though it does have its moments. The editing can also be tightened a little to shorten the 141 minute runtime.

Overall, Bridge Of Spies is a watchable film thanks to Tom Hanks, though it's clearly not Steven Spielberg's best work. (7/10)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

Year: 2015
Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Michael Caine, Elijah Wood


Plot: After successfully killing the Witch Queen, witch hunter Kaulder was cursed with immortality. For 800 years he lives and keeps evil at bay, until he discovers a plan concocted by an evil witch to resurrect the Witch Queen, and he has to rely on a young witch to stop it.


Review: Action fantasy films, when done right, can be quite entertaining. But it's not easy for sure, since the various recent attempts have received critical beatings (Seventh Son, Dracula Untold, RIPD). Personally I thought Seventh Son wasn't bad overall, but I digress.

The Last Witch Hunter begins in medieval times, where a group of men do battle with the Witch Queen, who has cursed the land with the black plague. One of the men, Kaulder, successfully kills her, but not before she curses him with immortality. 800 years later, Kaulder is still keeping the peace for the Axe & Cross, a group sworn to protect the world from evil witches. When his longtime friend and sidekick, Dolan the 36th, is killed by witches, Kaulder looks into his death and discovers a plan to resurrect the Witch Queen. He has to rely on a young witch named Chloe to stop them.

With seemingly all the right elements in place, The Last Witch Hunter should have worked quite well. It surely looks like Keanu Reeves' Constantine in many aspects, but unfortunately it's not as memorable as that movie. Director Breck Eisner manages to keep the film competently moving for the most part, but the flawed script makes it hard for him to sustain the audience's attention. For one thing, the dialogue is cliched and the all too familiar plot of stopping an apocalypse is riddled with plot holes. The occasionally choppy CGI doesn't help either, and the fight scenes suffer from the same problem of being filmed too close.

But it's not all doom and gloom though. Underneath this mess lies a few gems here and there. The film has its entertaining moments, mostly when star Vin Diesel is in form and the CGI actually works. Diesel usually has plenty of screen presence and he brings it again here as Kaulder, though one gets the feeling he's much more comfortable playing Dom Toretto. Game Of Thrones' Rose Leslie gets the lion's share of support duty as Chloe, and acquits herself well despite not having much chemistry with Diesel. Elijah Wood is terribly wasted in a thankless role as Dolan the 37th, by being inserted in the film's climax as part of a plot twist that didn't work at all. Michael Caine is great of course as Dolan the 36th, but has much too little to do here (he does get a pretty funny line somewhere at the end involving a fly). The Witch Queen, played by Julie Engelbrecht, looks almost as bad as the CGI Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns, especially in the final fight. But credit goes to Olafur Darri Olafsson as witch lackey Belial, who is rather intimidating in size, along with a bass voice to match.

Judging by how the film ended, obviously Diesel is hoping to make a sequel. I won't lie, the potential is there, and if done right, it can be great. But it certainly isn't off to a very good start here. The Last Witch Hunter is overall fun but forgettable. (6/10)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crimson Peak

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver


Plot: After a family tragedy, an aspiring writer marries an aristocrat and moves into his crumbling mansion, Allerdale Hall. Soon she discovers her new husband and his sister may be hiding a sinister secret, as there are ghosts in the house that won't leave her alone.


Review: I'm currently following Guillermo del Toro's horror TV show The Strain in its first season. Awesome stuff. While that one is straightforward horror, his latest film Crimson Peak is slightly different.

Crimson Peak, set in early 20th century, centers on Edith Cushing, a young aspiring writer who lost her mother to disease when she was ten years old and now lives with her father, a builder. One day she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe from England, who takes interest in her and her writings, and they subsequently fall for each other. Her father disapproves of Thomas and his more dubious looking sister Lucille, but then he suddenly dies and Edith swiftly marries Thomas and moves into the Sharpe's crumbling home, Allerdale Hall. Shortly after, Edith encounters dead spirits in the house, and begins to suspect that her new husband and his sister aren't what they seem to be.

If you're looking for a visually beautiful film this year, there isn't one more lovely than Crimson Peak (except maybe Mad Max: Fury Road). Cinematography, set design and costume design are all top notch. The set for Allerdale Hall is simply awesome, from the wide open field between the house and its gate, to the eerie mansion that looks gorgeous despite being dilapidated and bearing a huge hole in the roof. It's a set that's begging for an Oscar next year. The visual effects depicting the ghosts are cool too, with long time del Toro collaborator Doug Jones chipping in again as the spirits Edith runs into. The effects show them as bloody skeletons, and they can be quite disarming.

As for the cast, Mia Wasikowska is simply perfect in the role of Edith. Word has it that she is replacing Emma Stone, and thank goodness for that (I can't picture Stone in this role honestly). Wasikowska is a perfect fit for the era in this film, looking really lovely in every frame, and she brings across Edith's enthusiasm, youth and eventual fear very well. Jessica Chastain is also great as Lucille, a character very far removed from her recent astronaut role in The Martian. Chastain is menacing and cold here, a person who is equally disturbing as the spirits in the house. Tom Hiddleston, like Wasikowska, is perfect for the era, and plays the nicer Sharpe sibling Thomas with much charm and gusto. Charlie Hunnam, last seen in del Toro's Pacific Rim, acquits himself well as Edith's childhood friend Alan, but doesn't get much screen time except at the beginning and end of the film. Rounding up the cast is Supernatural's Jim Beaver as Edith's father, and is also a perfect fit for the role.

Now while casting and acting are all solid here, it is the script that is slightly flawed. The story itself isn't a problem, but the dialogue sinks itself into unnecessary melodrama many times. The pacing is also a bit off in the middle third of the film, and while the ghosts are well depicted, I wanted to see more of them. But thankfully del Toro sort of makes up for this with a blood drenched climax, so if you like violence you're in for a treat.

Overall, Crimson Peak is a visual marvel and a solid watch, even though it's flawed here and there. Guillermo del Toro may have not recaptured the brilliance of his magnum opus, Pan's Labyrinth here but it isn't for lack of trying. (7/10) 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Regression

Year: 2015
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Lothaire Bluteau, David Dencik, Dale Dickey


Plot: Set in 1990 in Hoyer, Minnesota, Detective Bruce Kenner investigates a case of a man who had molested his own daughter, but he subsequently discovers its connection to satanic rituals.


Review: On the surface, Regression looked like a film that I would really enjoy. It had a good cast, good premise and a dark setting. Somehow it just fell short of the mark. I'll get to that in a bit.

The film begins with the familiar 'inspired by true events' caption, followed by some information on the increasing reports of satanic rituals in America during the 1980s, which leads us to Hoyer, Minnesota in 1990. Detective Bruce Kenner has been put on a case where a man named John Gray has been arrested for sexually abusing his daughter, Angela. However he has no recollection of the incident. Kenner manages to persuade a reluctant Angela to give her side of the story, and that plus sessions of regression therapy (a form of hypnosis) on John, performed by psychologist Professor Raines, leads him to conclude that a satanic cult is active in town, and they were responsible for what happened. Eventually Kenner starts getting nightmares and is convinced he is the cult's next target.

For the first two thirds of Regression, I felt that we had a film that was on to something. Director Alejandro Amenabar was presenting a psychological thriller with a small dose of horror in it. The pace was deliberate and rather slow at times, but it was moving with a purpose. The cast was good, the revelations were interesting for the most part, and the dark setting of a small town in Minnesota was perfect to create the discomforting mood Amenabar was going for.

Alas, it is in the final third when the film disappoints. Some films heavily depend on its huge twist as its trump card, and though Regression's surprise revelation makes sense more or less, it is rather underwhelming in effect. It also left me with a few questions which I won't divulge here, you'll have to see it for yourself.

Ethan Hawke is doing great work these days and puts in another solid performance as Kenner. Emma Watson is good too as Angela, though she can't quite shake off the Hermione vibe yet. Watson's Harry Potter co-star David Thewlis fares better as Professor Raines, who provides a scientific side of the case quite convincingly. The rest of the cast put in solid work as well, especially David Dencik as John Gray.

Despite all the good work Amenabar and company put in here, the film only manages to be a decent thriller at best. They built it up quite well but wasted its potential towards the finish line. (6/10)


Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Martian

Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Kristen Wiig, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong


Plot: Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on Mars and presumed dead after a freak storm forces his crew to abandon the planet. Stranded by himself, Watney has to figure out how to survive as long as possible and at the same time attempt to make contact with NASA and inform them he's alive.


Review: The Martian has been compared by many people to recent space movies like Gravity and Interstellar, and the similarities are definitely there. In terms of scope, it's somewhere between those two films.

The Martian, based on the book by Andy Weir, tells the story of Mark Watney, who was left behind and presumed dead by his crew after a massive storm hits them on Mars, forcing them to abort their mission and flee. Left alone with their equipment and a generous supply of food and water, Watney has to survive on his own, and knowing that even if he were able to somehow tell NASA that he's alive, he has to last the amount of time it takes for them to rescue him. With that in mind, he, as the trailer of the film shows us, sciences the shit out of the planet, and thanks to his resourcefulness, stays alive day after day on Mars, though not without obstacles.

Ridley Scott has finally returned to form after a few critical failures (Exodus, The Counselor) and gives moviegoers a real treat with this film. The Martian is 141 minutes long, but it's engaging enough for us that we don't feel the time passing by. It's refreshing to watch a movie about Mars that isn't a sci-fi horror or fantasy, and not a tale about isolation and what it does to a person's psyche either. Hollywood already has enough films to cover all that. The Martian is a mostly scientifically accurate adventure film with a balanced focus on drama and humour.

Thanks to Scott's steady direction and Drew Goddard's inspired and sometimes funny screenplay, The Martian is never boring, and with the absence of an actual villain, it's nice to watch a film that shows the best side of humanity for once. Credit also goes to Dariusz Wolski for some great cinematography and Arthur Max for his excellent production designs.

The cast, made up of Hollywood's finest, all put in excellent performances, especially leading man Matt Damon. Damon has demonstrated in the past that he's terrific at portraying the everyman, and here he does it again as Mark Watney. Damon makes Watney very affable from the get go, as well as very human after he finds himself stranded. Watney's never say die attitude is a real inspiration and Damon is in fine form here. The rest of the cast may not hold a candle to him though (it's Damon's show mostly) but they all perform pretty well. Worthy mentions go to Jessica Chastain as mission commander Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA mission control director, Sean Bean as flight director and Jeff Daniels as NASA director Sanders.

The only flaw in the film is that it slows down just a bit whenever the story doesn't focus on Watney. Don't get me wrong, the plot on how NASA plans to bring him back safely is engaging and funny, but watching Watney's struggles and successes is just more interesting to this reviewer.

Overall The Martian is a very satisfying way to spend time at the cinema. Highly recommended. (9/10)   

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Everest

Year: 2015
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly


Plot: Based on the true story of the expedition up Mt. Everest in 1996 that killed eight people.


Review: In 1996, an expedition to climb Mt. Everest ended in disaster after a storm caused several climbers to be stranded and eventually killed by the extreme cold and lack of oxygen. This film tells that story.

The film's main character is Rob Hall, an experienced climber who runs Adventure Consultants, an outfit that guides climbers to the peak of Mt. Everest. Rob takes on the task of bringing among others; Beck Weathers, a wealthy man from Texas, Doug Hansen, a mailman who's never reached the top of Mt. Everest, Yasuko Namba, a Japanese woman who has one final peak out of the seven peaks to conquer, and Jon Krakauer, a journalist whom Rob hopes will put a good word in about him. Also going up the mountain is Rob's friendly rival Scott Fischer and his clients. They all go up there, then unexpected delays causes the group to run into weather trouble, and then casualties start to occur.

If you're looking for an action thriller like Vertical Limit, you're not going to get it here. Director Baltasar Kormakur focuses on the men and women who went up the mountain on that fateful day, their preparations, the progress of their climb and everything that went wrong that day. There's also a subplot on Rob, whose pregnant wife Jan is waiting for him to come home before their daughter is born. Basically, Kormakur's film is a historical and dramatic account of the events on May 10th 1996. To his credit, the film is perfectly paced and gorgeously shot. Every lead character gets their due time on screen, and every shot of the mountain is just beautiful. You can say that the idea of something so breathtaking can also be deadly at the same time is presented well by Kormakur.

The cast all perform splendidly, with Jason Clarke doing a fine job leading the way as Rob Hall. I also enjoyed Josh Brolin and John Hawkes' performances as Beck and Doug respectively. Emily Watson is great as usual in the role of Helen, the Everest base camp manager, while Keira Knightley and Robin Wright make do with their limited screen time as Rob and Beck's wives respectively. Jake Gyllenhaal is also quite underused here as Scott, playing him as slightly more free spirited than the serious Rob. But to be fair, every actor did their job very well, with no one person outshining the other.

I think the film's tagline of this being an "incredible true story" is a bit misleading though. The only incredible thing about this story is the mountain itself. This isn't a story about miracles or heroism, it's a story about tragedy, with no sensational angles to it. This makes Everest more in common with a film like The Impossible, instead of say, Gravity. That being said, I liked how the film turned out overall.

Everest is a solid disaster flick that centres on the drama and not the visual effects, though there's quite a lot of the latter here. It's definitely worth checking out. (8/10)

The Green Inferno

Year: 2015
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Nicolas Martinez


Plot: A group of activists travel to Peru to save indigenous tribes from being driven from their homes by illegal loggers, only for them to be captured by a cannibalistic tribe after their plane crashes in the jungle.


Review: It seems that this film had its release delayed for a couple of years and is finally seeing the light of day. It was inspired by a classic film called Cannibal Holocaust, which I have not seen, hence my curiosity for checking this out.

The Green Inferno begins with Justine, a young student who decides to join a group of activists on a trip to Peru. The objective is to stop illegal logging in the rainforest which is destroying the homes of indigenous tribes there. While the act of chaining themselves to tractors and trees and facing the guns of the loggers' security forces are downright dangerous, it pales in comparison to the threat of a tribe that captures them after their plane crashes in the jungle. As it turns out, the tribe is made up of cannibals, and they have to find a way to escape before they become the tribe's next meal.

Eli Roth has been known for making gory and bloody horror films. Therefore you can expect a high level of the sort here, though thanks to the local censors, I didn't get to see much of it. But I did get to see the horrific plane crash, as well as some of the awful things the tribe does to the group after their capture, including a scene where a tribe woman puts a sharp object into three women's genitals, which although isn't graphically shown, proves to be quite discomforting to the viewer.

If Roth had set out to make a cannibal horror flick through and through, this would have been a much better film than what I had seen. As it stands, it's not entirely that. For the first 45 minutes, we watch Justine trying to sign up to a cause she doesn't totally believe in, probably in an attempt to discover herself or figuring out how to make herself matter. On the plus side, it allows us to connect to Justine as our lead protagonist. But on the flipside, it takes the film quite a while before it gets started.

The film also lacks suspense somewhat, as Roth prefers to rely on the gore to scare the audience. There are a few suspenseful moments here and there, but not enough to keep viewers on edge. The mid credits scene hinting at a sequel is also a poor idea and rather cliched.

The good news is, Lorenza Izzo does a solid job as Justine, with Spy Kids' Daryl Sabara providing the laughs as the stoner of the group. Ariel Levy plays the asshole and leader of the group well enough, but his character is rather two dimensional. The other good news is the way Roth presents the cannibals here. Instead of being shown as violent and merciless, the tribe is presented as rather normal people that are simply different from us because of their isolation from civilization and progress, and the things that they do are regular to them, even though we may think otherwise. Being in their cage is similar to being in a wolf's den compared to a demon's lair.

Overall, The Green Inferno is just a slightly above average thriller, though this reviewer would like to see an uncensored version of this film somewhere down the line. (6/10)  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice

Year: 2015
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg


Plot: The true story of Bobby Fischer, the American chess prodigy and his landmark chess match against world champion Boris Spassky in 1972.


Review: I know too little about chess other than the basic rules, so the true story of Bobby Fischer's rivalry with Russian world champion Boris Spassky is lost on me. But thanks to Pawn Sacrifice, the film that focuses on this story, I know a little more.

The key of making a story like this great is to make it appeal to a wider audience, which includes both fans and non-fans of chess. So it is to director Edward Zwick's credit that his film turned out to be quite appealing to this movie reviewer.

Pawn Sacrifice traces the life of Bobby Fischer, a poor kid from Brooklyn who became a chess master at a young age and went on to face the Russians in a chess tournament. However he became convinced that the Russian players were all cheating and threatened to quit chess for good, until a lawyer named Paul Marshall, who says he can "make things happen", convinces him to change his mind. With Paul and his old friend Father Bill Lombardy by his side, Bobby goes back to the board and earns himself a match against world champion Boris Spassky, at a time when the Cold War is raging on.

In this film, Zwick focuses on two things: Bobby's chess match with Spassky, and his life, particularly his mental problems. While Bobby is an incomparable chess genius, at the same time he was incredibly paranoid, constantly thinking he's being followed or spied on by the Russians. Zwick and writer Steven Knight imply that this is caused by the mathematical complexity of chess, showing what it does not just to Bobby's mind, but Spassky's as well, though of course the focus is more on the former. Zwick's film shows the audience how Bobby's obsession of chess takes him to great heights in the chess world, and how it eventually breaks his mind down. He and Knight deserve praise for keeping the flow of the story smooth and not wasting time with unnecessary melodrama.

Tobey Maguire is quite good here as Bobby, convincingly portraying a man who's great at what he does but is slowly being pushed towards the edge of his sanity. At his best, he's constantly playing chess games in his head, at his worst he's tearing up the room looking for listening devices that aren't there. Maguire may seem to be overdoing it when he's acting in a rage, but otherwise he's spot on. Peter Sarsgaard represents the sane friend that we need in our lives and in this case, Bobby's life. As Father Billy, Bobby's friend who knows chess almost as good as he does, Sarsgaard is solid here, being the voice of reason and probably the only person who understands what the man is going through. Michael Stuhlbarg also excels as Paul, who claims to be a patriot serving his country by having Bobby put America back on the world map after the humiliation of Vietnam, but not really understanding what he's getting Bobby into once the mental problems get worse. Liev Schreiber speaks mostly Russian in his role as Spassky, and to his credit, makes him just as interesting as Bobby, though much more in control of things. It's a pity he is overshadowed by Bobby's story, as a take on his point of view of the chess game would be very welcome.

Speaking of the chess match itself, which happens in the final third of the film, it proves to be both funny and engaging at the same time. One wonders if what Zwick presents here actually happened back then.

The main flaw of the film is the abrupt ending to the story once the match is over. It seems that Zwick and Knight were only interested in Bobby's journey up to that match, filling the rest of his life with words before the credits roll. Because of this, Bobby's biography feels incomplete, though logically, Zwick can't afford more time without making it seem too long. But just saying, it would have been nice to be able to see it.

Overall, this is a solid outing for Zwick, though not as compelling as his other films like Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai. It's worth watching for sure. (7/10)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sicario

Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya


Plot: An idealistic FBI agent is recruited to a task force with a mission to fight the war on drugs at the American-Mexican border. But soon she discovers that things are not exactly as it seems.


Review: I walked into Sicario thinking it would be a gritty action thriller, but it's not quite that entirely. It's gritty for sure, but not the slam bang actioner I was expecting. Perhaps that's why I'm a bit underwhelmed. My mistake nonetheless.

Sicario, which in Mexico means hitman, begins with the FBI raiding a house and discovering dozens of corpses, followed by a huge bomb going off. Agent in charge Kate Macer is then recruited by Matt Graver, who is leading a task force to find the people responsible for the incident. Kate is led to the Mexican border and meets Alejandro, a mysterious man who seems like the Mexican version of a federal agent, but then again not quite. Slowly but surely, Kate is dragged into a world of violence and lies, and she's in over her head.

Denis Villeneuve, who directed the excellent Prisoners, successfully shows us the dirty and violent world of the drug cartels here. He works once again with cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johann Johannsson to create a dark and scary atmosphere. Deakins' lens captures in great detail and style, the brutality of the action scenes as well as the sweeping aerial shots and even the night vision sights of a soldier's gear. A particular shot of the squad walking into the darkness as the sun sets is just beautiful. And Johannsson excels in creating the right mood using huge bass sounds and violins.

Emily Blunt is great in her role as Kate here, being the audience's eyes and ears. At the start, she is as much in the dark of her role in all this as we are, and the deeper she digs, the worse it gets. Her high sense of morality though can be a bit frustrating even to the audience, but it inevitably makes her human. As good as Blunt is though, it's Benicio Del Toro that shines the brightest as Alejandro. He's just terrific as a man of few words and holds all his cards to his chest. He's Mr Cool for the most part, but the kind of guy you don't want to cross, which he effectively proves in the film's climax. Josh Brolin is also solid as Matt, the shady government agent orchestrating their mission. He's sort of the bad cop to Blunt's good cop, except he, like Alejandro, knows more than he's letting on.

The film does feel draggy in parts, particularly during scenes involving a Mexican policeman named Silvio (played by Agents of SHIELD's Maximiliano Hernandez) and his young son. Silvio has a part to play towards the film's climax, so I'm aware of why Villeneuve focused on him, but it could use some editing. The plot is also rather complicated at times, which is made clearer towards the end, but it may test one's patience.

In the end, Sicario is a story of a world that is constantly in a state of grey, and one heroine who looks at everything in black or white becomes a victim when she steps into it. To this viewer, it's less compelling than Villeneuve's masterpiece Prisoners, but it's a solid film nonetheless. (7/10)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Scorch Trials

Year: 2015
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland


Plot: Thomas and his friends have escaped the maze, and are taken in by a man named Janson who promises them protection and safety, only to realise he's quite the opposite. They run away yet again, only to face the horrors of the outside world.


Review: The Maze Runner was a nice surprise last year and a fine addition to the rising YA novel adaptation craze that began with Twilight and the tiring Hunger Games which will finally wrap up later this year. Even more surprising is how quickly they followed it up with this sequel.

In The Scorch Trials, Thomas, Teresa, Newt, Minho, Frypan and Winston arrive at a secure facility run by Janson, who promises the kids safety and a new home for them. Thomas senses something amiss, and his fears are confirmed when a fellow survivor from another maze (yes there are other mazes), Aris, leads him to the truth. The kids decide to run again, out into the open desert, where they encounter infected people that look like zombies, ruined cities and a pirate like man named Jorge.

Credit must be given to Wes Ball, who has successfully expanded and built the world around The Maze Runner. This time around he has a larger set to play with and more characters to introduce. I particularly liked the ruined city where a suspenseful chase sequence between Thomas and the infected takes place. Admittedly, a lot of scenes in this film are reminiscent of other films like The Island, World War Z, As Above, So Below and even The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but Ball uses what he has and presents them well so they don't look like complete ripoffs.

As for characters, Thomas and the newer ones get more screen time here, leaving others like Newt, Minho and Teresa with much less than before. At the very least, the entire cast perform splendidly, with Dylan O'Brien showing more confidence in the lead role of Thomas. Giancarlo Esposito is solid as Jorge, a role that I can imagine someone like Peter Stormare playing. Jorge is a guy who worships the almighty dollar or whatever passes for currency, until he realises the kids' true worth. Aidan Gillen once again plays the sneaky character type well as Janson, while Barry Pepper and Lili Taylor provide good support as the rebels that are against WICKED, though they only appear in the last third of the film. Watch out for Alan Tudyk in a minor role as a club owner. 

The film does suffer from an uneven pace, and at times it feels like Ball is trying to cram too much information into his piece, which is obvious in the climactic sequence. And there are still some moments when the dialogue suffers from cliched questions and responses. However the many twists and turns towards the end succeeds in giving the audience some answers, if not all, and promises more in the inevitable third instalment.

Bottom line is, if you had seen and enjoyed the first film, you ought to see this one. Personally I feel that this franchise is more exciting than both The Hunger Games and Divergent. But that's just me. (7/10)

Sunday, September 06, 2015

No Escape

Year: 2015
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare


Plot: An American expatriate family find themselves trapped and hunted by rebels during a coup after moving into their new home.


Review: No Escape is a story about xenophobia with a dash of cultural shock, something most of us can relate to on some level or another.

After a very interesting opening sequence featuring an assassination, we are introduced to the Dwyer family, made up of Jack, Annie and their two daughters Lucy and Beeze, who have just arrived in an unnamed country in Southeast Asia (it's supposed to be Laos or Cambodia but it sorta looks like Thailand). Despite the major culture shock, they settle in with few problems, until a riot breaks out on the streets, led by rebels who are bent on killing every foreigner they can find. Jack and Annie have to take desperate measures in order to save themselves and their kids, with a bit of help from a fellow expatriate named Hammond, who isn't just a regular traveler.

John Erick Dowdle, who has made slightly flawed but solid films like Devil and As Above, So Below teams up with his brother Drew once again to create a tension filled film which is essentially a long chase sequence. Ironically, Owen Wilson had done something like this before in Behind Enemy Lines, only then he was alone and trained for combat. Here, he plays the everyman who has to protect his family at all costs. The Dowdle brothers, to their credit, do splendidly in raising the tension in the first half of the film as the family attempt to run from their hotel once the rebels bust through the lobby and start the violence. Dowdle does well in putting the audience right in the middle of it as Jack and his family run from their hotel room to the roof, followed by a daring leap to the next building. From there, more danger keeps on coming, though in lesser doses, but more on that later.

The cast all do great work here, with Wilson proving once again that he can play a serious guy. Lake Bell is also solid as Annie, the supportive wife who is naturally terrified but willing to risk her life to save her family. Pierce Brosnan, a long way removed from looking like Bond, plays Hammond as the mysterious guy who is somewhat connected to the reason the riots are happening. He may not be Bond anymore but he can still shoot pretty good. Credit also goes to Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare as Lucy and Beeze. They may be young but they're quite impressive. In fact, the actors playing the Dwyers share great chemistry and thereby making them very believable as a family.

As stated, the first half is solid stuff, and though Dowdle tries his best, the tension starts to wane as the second half progresses. Once Hammond steps in to save the Dwyers at the end of the second act, the film slows down considerably, though it is rather expected. The climax, which features Jack and Lucy in a situation with the rebel's leader, looks poorly constructed despite the two putting in a humongous effort in making it work. 

Overall, despite the flaws, No Escape is a taut little thriller that promises several hair raising moments and solid performances from its cast. (7/10)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hitman: Agent 47

Year: 2015
Director: Aleksander Bach
Cast: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann


Plot: Katia, a girl whose father created the Agent program that breeds perfect assassins, is hunted by a mysterious syndicate that wants to force her father to restart the program for them. Her only hope is 47, an Agent from the program sent after the syndicate.


Review: This is a reboot of the previous Hitman film starring Timothy Olyphant, with Rupert Friend taking over the lead role of 47. However this reboot is not much better than the original.

As the story goes, Katia, the daughter of Litvenko, who created the Agent program, has been looking for her father. She is hunted by two sides, one is 47, the other is The Syndicate (not very original for a name) led by Le Clerq. Le Clerq has been searching for her father too, hoping to restart the Agent program for his own benefit. 47 manages to rescue her, and subsequently gets her to realise that she too has abilities that came from the program.

First time director Aleksander Bach follows the same beats most action films take, but in a time when Mad Max and Mission Impossible are scoring high points in the genre, his efforts just aren't good enough. At the very least, it's a decent attempt and the film is somewhat competent. There is a solid chase sequence in a parking lot that ends on a street junction in Singapore, but every other action sequence suffers from shaky camerawork or too close shots.

Friend plays 47 well enough as an emotionless killer, and excels in the action sequences, but one has to wonder why he chooses to walk instead of run half the time. This is where style triumphs over logic. Hannah Ware is decent as Katia while Zachary Quinto is alright as Le Clerq's point man John Smith, who goes toe-to-toe with 47 a handful of times. Ciaran Hinds and Thomas Kretschmann are underutilised as Litvenko and Le Clerq respectively but it's not a huge issue.

As an action film, it's not too bad overall. But the half-baked plot and weak ending that sets up future sequels just drags the film down to being mediocre. Subplots about humanity and whether 47 feels anything are brought up but not followed through.

I'd say Hitman: Agent 47 is a decent way to kill time, but not much else. (6/10) 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pixels

Year: 2015
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox


Plot: Aliens misinterpret video feeds of 80s arcade games as a declaration of war and attack Earth in the form of those video games. The President calls up his childhood buddy, a former video game champion, to help him fight back and save the planet.


Review: If you were an 80s child, like I was, then you'd know some, if not all of the classic video games that you'll see in Pixels. If you were a gamer during your childhood, then this film will certainly be of great interest to you.

Pixels stars Adam Sandler as Brenner, who was a video game maestro back in 1982. In the present, he's a mere TV installer who is good friends with the president (Kevin James). One day, aliens invade the Earth in the form of classic 80s video games. Having misinterpreted messages featuring those games sent out to space back in 1982 as a declaration of war, they challenge Earth to a fight. The president is forced to call on Brenner and their mutual friend Ludlow (Josh Gad), both video game experts, to stop the aliens. Along the way they recruit Brenner's old rival Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage), who beat Brenner at the world championships in 1982, for assistance.

Director Chris Columbus does a great job in making the well loved 80s video games be a character of their own in this film. While most of the time they turn out to be villains (including the popular Pac Man) some actually become good guys like Q*Bert. The visual effects depicting the games are top notch, making every battle scene a true highlight of the film. While the Pac Man chase is the most obvious favorite of most, I liked the Centipede battle in London.

Sandler and Dinklage are the best members of the cast, the former being a lot more tolerable than he usually is, dialing his style down a bit, the latter being the exact opposite of Tyrion Lannister. In fact, Dinklage is a riot here, being somewhat braggadocious and over the top, but it works. Michele Monaghan fills the requisite love interest role well enough while Brian Cox is quite funny as the comedic version of the army head who just wants to blow stuff up. Kevin James is just okay as the bumbling President, but Josh Gad is annoying most of the time as Ludlow, especially when he screams for no good reason.

Gad isn't the only problem here, as Sandler's brand of comedy is still present every now and then. Thankfully, Columbus manages to keep the film balanced and on track, so Sandler's regular immature hijinks don't become a hindrance.

Overall, Pixels is quite entertaining, even more so if you were a gamer back in the 80s. If not, you might still enjoy seeing stuff like Max Headroom, Hall & Oates, Madonna and even Fantasy Island on screen. Oh, and look out for cameos by Sean Bean and Serena Williams. (7/10)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Inside Out

Year: 2015
Directors: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Voice cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind


Plot: Eleven year old Riley moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, and her five primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, deal with her personality change as she adapts to her new environment.


Review: Pixar is probably the most consistent animation studio there is out there. They are always capable of churning out hits, with stories ranging from talking toys to lost fish to rats who cook to robots that feel and an old man's final adventure with a boy scout.

That last story, Up is one of my favorites, and its director, Pete Docter, co-directs Inside Out with Ronaldo Del Carmen, and they both wrote it as well. The film basically follows the daily activities of the five emotions of eleven year old Riley, starting from the day she was born. It began with just Joy, and then she was joined by Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. Together they control Riley's emotion centre and collect her memories, which they then store away in her mind to build her personality as she grows. One day her family decides to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, so as Riley struggles to adapt, the emotions struggle to keep control of her. Trouble brews when Joy and Sadness get sucked into her long term memory bank, leaving the other three emotions in charge. Being the lead emotion among them, Joy has to return to Riley's emotion center i.e. "headquarters" before things get out of hand.

On the surface, the five emotions' adventures is almost similar to Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy's toys in Toy Story, but the truth is, it's much deeper than that. The five emotions have bigger responsibilities here than the toys ever did. The way they react to whatever Riley faces, from meeting new friends to playing hockey to moving away from home, ultimately decides Riley's own reactions and subsequently, what she does in accordance to them. Joy, being the de facto leader among them, does her best to keep Riley happy while letting Fear, Disgust and Anger chip in whenever necessary, but doesn't quite know how to deal with Sadness, who is pretty much her opposite. When the two get lost in the girl's memories, their adventure to make it back is quite perplexing and fun at the same time, as viewers are introduced to Riley's personality islands, and we get to see stuff like Train Of Thought, Imagination Land, meet Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong and the memory dump, where memories go when they're forgotten. I gotta hand it to Docter and Del Carmen for thoroughly thinking this whole thing out and putting it on screen, with solid animation to boot. Of course, when it comes to Pixar, the animation never ceases to amaze, so I don't have to elaborate too much in that regard.

But in every Pixar story, the most important moment is the dramatic climax, when the point of the story has to come across to the viewer. In this one, Docter and company pulled it off so well, I almost cried, and I haven't felt that way since Jessie's backstory in Toy Story 2. The crux of the story is how Joy and Sadness have to save Riley's personality and memories, which are slowly crumbling away, and while we see this as a sign of inevitable growth for the girl, we also see Joy understanding fully how everything works and what Sadness' role really is. It all comes together beautifully in the last third of the film, and before that we're treated to plenty of hilarious moments, courtesy of the other three emotions' handling of Riley's behavior, so on the whole, it's just awesome.

If there's any downside to this, well.....it's the opening short that Pixar puts in front of each of their films. This one features singing volcanoes. Yes, you heard me. No offence to the people who came up with this, but it was awful. Truly. 

That aside, should you watch Inside Out? Absolutely. Granted, maybe it will be a bit hard to sell this story to really young kids, as I feel adults and younger adults will relate to this better, but from my standpoint, this is one of Pixar's best. Only time will tell if it will achieve classic status. Recommended. (9/10)

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