Saturday, May 30, 2015

San Andreas

Year: 2015
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson

Plot: A huge earthquake hits California, and a rescue chopper pilot has to make a dangerous journey to save his daughter who's trapped in San Francisco.

Review: Disaster films are mostly alike. They all follow the same formula. Big calamity hits. Lots of people die. A few heroes survive. San Andreas follows this too. The only thing that seems to separate these films now is the amount of CGI used.

San Andreas is set in California, where a massive earthquake unlike anything the world has ever seen hits. In the middle of this disaster is Ray Gaines, a rescue chopper pilot who has to save his estranged wife and daughter who are trapped in the city with thousands of other victims. The film shifts attention between the family and Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes, who tries to warn everyone of the oncoming destruction.

The most impressive thing about San Andreas is the special effects. The earthquake scenes, from the shaking to falling buildings, shifting grounds and the tsunami in the film's climax look pretty awesome. There are a few moments where you'd go 'wow' due to how realistic it looks. 

The other great thing is the acting, which is mostly convincing. Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino make a good couple, and Alexandra Daddario fares well as their daughter Blake, who's rather resourceful in times of danger. Paul Giamatti is ever reliable as the seismologist while Hugo-Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson add some variety to Blake's adventure as a pair of brothers who stick with her during the disaster.

But San Andreas is practically filled with cliches. Broken family as the lead characters? Check. Mum has a new boyfriend? Check. Selfish characters meet their demise? Check. Dad has to go rescue his kid? Check. Will the broken family be mended by the time it's over? You know the answer to that one too. If you've seen 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, all this will be most familiar to you. To top it all off, they have Gugino's boyfriend (played by Ioan Gruffudd) turn out to be a not so good guy, which makes it all the more obvious that she'll reunite with her husband. The only curveball they gave here was the idea of a death in the family in their past, which at least gives some weight to the drama between them.

If there's any reason to see this film, it would be the superb CGI. The heart of the story serves its purpose, but doesn't really add anything new to what has come before. (7/10)

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Year: 2015
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney

Plot: A CIA analyst with zero experience in the field is sent on a mission to stop an arms dealer after the agency's top agents' identities are compromised.

Review: When it comes to Melissa McCarthy, I can be on the fence. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I mean, there's only so much of her foul language and physical comedy that one can endure before it gets old. Good thing for us this time though that Paul Feig uses those skills of hers very well and in the right doses.

In Spy, McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst that helps top agent Bradley Fine carry out his dangerous assignments by becoming his eyes and ears via her computer back at Langley. When he gets killed on a mission by Raina Boyanov, an arms dealer trying to sell a nuclear bomb, Susan volunteers to go undercover since Raina has apparently got all the identities of the agency's top assets. And off she goes in an attempt to be like her idol Bradley, with the advantage of not being suspected as an agent due to her image, and the disadvantage of having zero experience in the field.

Feig is wise enough to make Susan Cooper a competent protagonist. Remember Johnny English? How long before one gets tired of watching him make a fool of himself for the whole movie? In this case, Susan is no weakling. She can fight quite well and although a bundle of nerves at first, manages to get the hang of what it takes to be a spy. To that end, McCarthy hits mostly the right notes by playing Susan the same way we would if we were in her shoes. And it is fun to watch her physical comedy this time around, and see her kick ass so well too. The kitchen fight scene is a memorable standout here.

Jude Law exudes charm as Bradley Fine, but doesn't quite get enough screen time here. Rose Byrne is pretty good as the foul mouthed Raina, but it is Jason Statham who steals the show here as Ford, the equally foul mouthed agent who despises Susan. Statham is awesome here, exaggerating his famous tough guy persona by mentioning his torturous experiences in the field while not exactly being the sharpest knife in the drawer. Miranda Hart deserves mention here as the sort of British version of McCarthy, playing Susan's partner Nancy.

The film isn't perfect of course. Some of the comedy bits don't work so well, for instance the serial groper Italian agent played by Peter Serafinowicz only works half the time, and some of the R-rated jokes don't really hit the mark. The last fifteen minutes of the film is also a tad messy due to an abundance of characters and subplots. 

Overall, Spy is a solid spoof of the spy genre (complete with a 007 style credit sequence) and a step up from Feig and McCarthy's last effort, The Heat. (7/10) 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2015
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton

Plot: In a post-apocalyptic world filled with chaos and insanity, one man is caught in the middle of an escape plan spearheaded by a female warrior who wants to save the wives of a lunatic warlord.

Review: I hadn't watched the original Mad Max trilogy, but I thought I knew what to expect going into this film. After seeing it, I assure you, even if you knew exactly what to expect, you'll be blown away by it.

Writer-director George Miller, who created the original Mad Max films that starred Mel Gibson, has wonderfully brought a hellacious spectacle of a movie that just might be the year's best adventure. Mad Max: Fury Road basically feels like one long chase sequence from beginning to end, but damn if it isn't so much fun to behold.

There is a plot though, don't you worry. A man called Max is all alone in a desert world filled with crazy people. He gets captured by War Boys, a bunch of foot soldiers who follow Immortan Joe, a warlord with five wives who controls a large water supply that the poor folk depend on. His right hand woman, Imperator Furiosa, hatches a plan to turn on Joe and take his wives away to her home far away, and Max gets caught in the middle. Also along for the ride is Nux, a War Boy who seeks to redeem himself after failing Joe.

If there's one thing that really stands out in this film, it's the amount of vehicular carnage on display here. It pretty much rivals all the Fast & Furious films combined. Crashes, explosions, suicide dives, flips, and a huge sandstorm all come together beautifully. Never has destruction looked so cool on screen. And then there are the vehicles, costumes, sets, cinematography,'s insane and yet gorgeous at the same time. You'll have to see it for yourself to know what I mean. Miller is truly a genius, I salute him and his entire production team for creating a world that is visually remarkable and making action sequences, from vehicular destruction to a simple hand-to-hand scrap look awesome.

The cast's three main leads, Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult all deliver outstanding performances. Hardy plays Max as a man of few words but says a lot with his fists and eyes very well, just as he did in Warrior and Lawless. Theron gives Furiosa a fine balance between toughness and delicateness, while Hoult succeeds in making Nux a character worth pitying and eventually root for. Hugh Keays-Byrne makes a good villain as Joe despite wearing a mask throughout the film. While the women chosen to play Joe's five wives look like mere pretty faces, to their credit, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough and Courtney Eaton manage to stand out in their own way, with each of them having their own moment to shine.

If there is a downside to this film at all, it would be Max himself looking like someone who is shoved into the main plot instead of being the focal point of the story. Not much background is given to Max, save for visions and nightmares he keeps having of his dead family. But this is a small complaint, which doesn't really matter when you're in the middle of seeing him and Furiosa kick ass.

I can't say it enough. Mad Max: Fury Road is the most adrenalin-pumping, ass-kicking film of the year. Highly recommended. (9/10) 

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Year: 2015
Director: Leo Gabriadze
Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson

Plot: Six friends communicating on Skype are stalked and then killed off one by one by a mysterious person who is using the identity of their dead friend.

Review: When I saw the trailer to Unfriended a few months ago, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was an innovative way of making a horror film by having it take place on a computer screen, but on the flipside, can it hold the audience's interest for the entire duration of the film?

Thankfully, director Leo Gabriadze, writer Nelson Greaves and the cast successfully pull it off. For about ninety minutes or so, we watch in suspense as these six kids get stalked and horribly killed off by a seventh online friend they can't shake, hang up on or get rid of. All over a damning video posted online that caused their friend to kill herself a year ago. This is basically watching cyberbullies getting their comeuppance.

First, a little details. We begin with Blaire, who is in the middle of a conversation online with her boyfriend Mitch, when they are joined by mutual friends Adam (the jock), Jess (the girly best friend), Ken (the tech whiz) and Val (the bitchy one). Then a seventh person with no profile picture enters their conversation. Upon checking they discover that this person is using the account of their dead friend Laura Barns, who killed herself a year ago after a humiliating video of her was posted online. Then weird things start to happen and one by one the kids get killed off, with the stalker forcing the kids not to leave the chat or someone else dies.

I have to hand it to the filmmakers and the cast for pulling off this feat of making the whole film on a computer screen. It looks, sounds and feels genuine with camera feeds occasionally buffering or breaking up, sound effects of messages and notifications coming in being used...the filmmakers use all the tools available at their disposal like Skype, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Chatroulette and even printers. (I didn't even know there was such a thing as Chatroulette till I saw this film) Word has it that they filmed the whole thing in one take, so that's impressive.

The film is shown from Blaire's POV the whole time, so it is her character that we identify with most, not only by what she says to the others, but also her surfing habits, as well as the secrets she keeps, judging by how she sometimes backspaces her comments before posting them. As it turns out, all of them have secrets, which the stalker uses against them before turning violently on them. This piles on the suspense and keeps things tense for most of the film. When they meet their demise, you'll feel the tension, or maybe you'll just laugh if you're the kind of person that doesn't scare easy.

However, like most horror flicks that involve young kids, the cast is made up of people that are worth getting killed off. While the actors make their characters very believable, at the end of the day, they're all hiding something and probably deserve what's coming to them. That would probably explain why some people in the theatre I was watching this with were either sniggering or decided to get up and leave. There's also a lack of explanation on how the stalker is capable of doing all this, but in the horror genre, logic isn't always necessary.

All in all, Unfriended has innovation and a certain level of originality on its side, and thanks to that, it manages to entertain and scare quite well. It's definitely worth a watch, even if you're not into horror flicks. (7/10)


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