Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Great Wall

Year: 2016
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Lu Han

Plot: A thief from the west travelling to the east in search of gunpowder gets involved in a battle between the guardians of the Great Wall and an ancient evil.

Review: I can't believe the amount of flak this film has been getting. It's strange. When films like Assassin's Creed take themselves too seriously, people hate them. Then when The Great Wall tries to liven things up with fantastical creatures and colorful costumes, people hate that too. There's just no pleasing everyone.

Anyway, acclaimed director Zhang Yimou collaborates with Hollywood to bring to life a fantasy adventure involving the famous Great Wall of China. We are first introduced to a couple of thieves, William and Tovar, who barely survive a strange creature attack on their journey towards the east looking for gunpowder. They end up getting captured by the Nameless Order, an army that watches and secures the Great Wall. Soon after, a large horde of those creatures, named Taotie, attack the wall, and William decides to forgo his original plan and help the Order, much to Tovar's chagrin.

As far as visuals are concerned, Zhang scores plenty of marks. Sure, some of the CGI looks weak, but overall the film looks really good. Just like Hero, Zhang puts his obsession for colors to use here by giving the Order different colored armors based on their skill set. I am aware that some critics have a problem with that, but I thought it was cool.

The action sequences are well done overall, with the opening battle sequence being the most impressive. There's also a cool sequence in the middle of the film when William and Tovar battle the Taotie in thick fog using noise as their guide.

Matt Damon, probably in his first ever role requiring him to use ancient weapons, does well as William, with Game Of Thrones' Pedro Pascal getting the funny sidekick role of Tovar, which he pulls off well too. Jing Tian (Special I.D.), appearing in next year's Kong: Skull Island, impresses as Lin, one of the few members of the order who admires William, while Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau makes good with his role as Strategist Wang, though his English sounds too phonetic at times.

It's unfortunate though that Willem Dafoe is rather wasted here as Ballard, a westerner looking to steal gunpowder and run first chance he gets. Also wasted are the rest of the commanders of the Order who don't get enough screen time, including star Eddie Peng. I'm also not fond of having the Emperor being a cowardly young boy, and it would have been nice if William had interacted with more of the Chinese cast aside from Lau, Jing and Lu Han (as a guard he rescued). And why do the Order wear their armor at all times, even during meals?

But you know what? Despite everything, and the film borrowing heavily from Aliens and Starship Troopers, I had a blast with The Great Wall. It certainly beats Jackie Chan's poor attempts to merge east and west while championing China in the last few years. This certainly isn't a Zhang Yimou artistic vehicle, but it's a lot of fun from start to finish, and a perfect way to close out the year. (7.5/10)  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Assassin's Creed

Year: 2016
Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams

Plot: Callum Lynch, a convict sentenced to death, is captured by a secret society for an experiment that involves jumping back in time into his ancestor's body in search of an ancient artifact that can cure mankind's appetite for violence.

Review: Video games are the hardest to adapt into film. It seems only Paul W.S. Anderson has been able to get it right, first with Mortal Kombat and then with Resident Evil, the latter's sixth and final film coming out next month. Assassin's Creed, much like Warcraft earlier this year, has a skilled director and a stellar cast, and they both aim high, but both stumble somewhat.

Callum Lynch, sentenced to death by lethal injection, wakes up in a mysterious facility alongside other inmates, and told that he is a descendant of an assassin during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. The facility is run by Sofia Rikkin and her father Alan; the former has a program that allows people to jump into the bodies of their ancestors and relive their experiences. Sofia wants Cal to jump into his ancestor Aguilar's body in 1492 and find out where he hid the Apple Of Eden, an artifact said to harbor the secret to eliminating violence in humans. And so Cal relives Aguilar's battles in 1492, where he and a group of assassins are at war with the Templar over the Apple. But, like most stories of its kind, there's a hidden agenda involved.

Director Justin Kurzel uses the same tactics he deployed in Macbeth, keeping the visuals dark and hazy, and half the time it proves to be a bit too much as it's hard to make out the actors' faces on screen. The fight sequences fare better though, and a dazzling rooftop chase sequence at the middle of the film looked pretty good. Kurzel also does a good job in setting up the plot; while the pace seems slow in the first third, it allows the film's backstory to be properly explored, but unfortunately one feels that a good chunk of the film was edited, particularly scenes involving the supporting characters at the facility. Basically put, in comparison Assassin's Creed succeeds in plot development but stumbles in visual execution, while Warcraft is the other way around.

Michael Fassbender plays the lead roles of Cal and Aguilar quite well, proving he can be an action hero with the right film. Marion Cotillard however is too subdued as Sofia, thus unable to display her true motivations towards the finale. Jeremy Irons is good as Alan Rikkin but isn't given enough time to shine. Brendan Gleeson only has a couple of scenes as Cal's father but makes them count.

As mentioned, the other supporting characters who are inmates at the facility should have been given more time on screen as their team up with Cal in the last third of the film feels rushed, leading to a non-climactic finish, and like Warcraft, an open-ended one (though I admit this finish beats the Warcraft one). 

Imdb states that the film ought to be 25 minutes longer. I wouldn't mind if it was another 15 minutes longer just for the film to be fleshed out better. At least the action sequences and the thumping soundtrack by Kurzel's younger brother Jed make Assassin's Creed a somewhat decent film, but that's about it. (6.5/10)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen

Plot: The story of how a small group of rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, which allowed the Rebellion to defeat the Empire in Episode IV.

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is different from any Star Wars film we have seen, understandably so since it's a spin-off. One would notice the absence of the usual prologue crawl at the start, but the most notable departure is the fact that Rogue One is a mostly serious film, even more so than Episode III or V.

We begin with Jyn Erso, who as a child saw her father Galen being taken away by the Empire to help them build the Death Star, the ominous weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. As an adult, Jyn is sought by the Rebellion to help find her former mentor Saw Gerrera, who has recently captured a recently defected Imperial pilot. The pilot is carrying a message from her father containing critical information about the Death Star. In order to complete the mission and find the blueprints of the Death Star, Jyn teams up with rebel captain Cassian Andor, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, a mercenary, a blind monk and the pilot Bodhi Rook.

Gareth Edwards, who achieved mixed results with his last film Godzilla, manages to make his film different from the other Star Wars movies while still keeping in tune with the saga's space opera theme. As mentioned, the film is pretty serious and rather grim overall, with no Jedi in sight, no handsome smugglers and no cute or wisecracking droids, except for the rebel droid K-2SO, who gets a few memorable one-liners. Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe gets a few jokes in too while he's not fighting, but still the overall tone is dark and tragic.

Speaking of Yen, he's probably my favorite thing about Rogue One. As the blind monk capable of taking on ten stormtroopers the same way Ip Man fights ten Japanese fighters, Yen exudes presence and charisma. He makes a great partnership with Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, who solidly gives his character a brave yet world weary look. Felicity Jones is great as Jyn and Diego Luna is alright as Cassian, a rebel who admits to having to do terrible things in his fight for the Rebellion. Alan Tudyk is always reliable as K-2SO, and Riz Ahmed rounds up the rebels as the pilot Rook. Forest Whitaker is interesting as the eccentric Saw Gerrera while Ben Mendelsohn also puts in good work as chief villain Director Kenric, whom the audience would be able to sympathize with since he's often stepped on by his superiors.

Rogue One does suffer from a few flaws, namely the lack of a proper space fight which Star Wars films are known for. There is one at the end but it is much too brief and forgettable. I also felt Jyn embraced the Rebellion's ideals much too easily after being happy on her own before then. Then there's Edwards' decision to use CGI to recreate the likenesses of characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, which really wasn't necessary (a decent lookalike would suffice in my opinion). But I did love Darth Vader's appearance at the end as he single-handedly disposes of a group of rebel soldiers. Pretty awesome sequence.

All in all, Rogue One is pretty good in its own way, hitting most of the right notes where it matters. It isn't as memorable as last year's Episode VII, but still something worth checking out. (8/10)

Monday, December 12, 2016


Year: 2016
Director: Dain Iskandar Said
Cast: Shaheizy Sam, Iedil Putra, Prisa Nasution, Nicholas Saputra

Plot: A detective and a forensic photographer team up to solve a series of strange murders, which involve antique glass film negatives and a lost tribe.

Review: Dain Said's Interchange is a welcome change from the usual type of films Malaysia is known to produce, such as silly comedies, weak horror films and the standard rom coms. This country does not produce many fantasy films in this modern era, and none have looked this macabre.

In Interchange, Detective Man is investigating a series of strange murders, where the victims are found hanging from the ceiling and drained of all their blood. Pieces of glass film negatives are found at the scenes, prompting Man to seek the help of Adam, his friend who used to take pictures of murder victims, until he got spooked and quit, and now spends his time taking pictures of his neighbors instead. Man persuades Adam to pursue the case with him, and through his mysterious female neighbor Iva, the latter discovers a lost world and lots of supernatural goings on. It all leads to a mysterious man named Belian, who obviously isn't human. So what's going on exactly?

First off, I'll give credit where it's due. For Dain to attempt something so daringly different than what our audiences are accustomed to is commendable. Interchange is dark, bizarre and quite grim, yet most fascinating. I liked how Dain presents us a city that is unnamed (though it probably is KL) and though familiar, still quite different from any place in Malaysia I know of. The camerawork is exquisite, from the tight shots indoors to the wide shots of the scenery when the characters are standing on balconies, rooftops and the like. The shots from Adam's balcony of his surrounding apartment blocks is amazing.

The story however, is almost there. I say almost, because it starts off promisingly enough, but it doesn't quite get the finish it deserves, and a handful of points are left unsolved or properly clarified. In my opinion, Belian's role in all this is the most important point, but never really explained satisfactorily, other than the fact that he is otherworldly and crucially needed for something I can't talk about lest I give too much away. A bit more time spent at the end to clarify things would really help.

The cast perform to expectations, but it is Shaheizy Sam's wise cracking detective that stands out the most. Iedil Putra is alright as Adam but his character is much too two dimensional. Prisa Nasution fares better as Iva, while Nicholas Saputra is solid as Belian, even though the exploration of his character is the weakest, and the poor makeup effects don't help either.

In the end, Interchange is worthy to watch and experience at least once, just to taste something fresh and unconventional in Malaysian film. It lacks a proper finish, but the potential is there. (7/10) 

Monday, December 05, 2016


Year: 2016
Director: Boo Junfeng
Cast: Fir Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad

Plot: Aiman, a young correctional officer, is transferred to a maximum security prison, where he befriends senior officer Rahim, who is in charge of executions. The two men start a friendship, but unknown to Rahim, Aiman's father had been executed by him many years ago.

Review: Apprentice is Singapore's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Oscars. It is an interesting, if not totally perfect film.

Aiman is a young correctional officer transferred to Larangan Prison, assigned to the rehabilitation section. He takes an interest in Rahim, a senior officer in the executions section, and befriends him. The old man takes a liking to Aiman, seeing a younger version of himself in him, but what he doesn't know is that he had executed Aiman's father many years ago. So the question is, why is Aiman seeking him out now?

The answer isn't forthcoming however, or if it was answered, it was done vaguely. Writer/director Boo Junfeng isn't interested in making a vengeance story, which Apprentice clearly is not. This is actually a character study, and an insight into an executioner's duty and what it feels like to work in a prison. Boo's story focuses on two men, one who has a chip on his shoulder, and another who is good at what he does, but not as content with it as he claims to be.

We watch the two men mostly from Aiman's point of view. Aiman carries the burden of his father's crime, and lashes out his anger at his older sister, who is in a relationship with an Australian expat. Rahim on the other hand has done his duty for three decades, and though it seems easy to him, it is clear that taking a person's life does take a toll on him. While Boo fleshes out both characters well, the question as to Aiman's intentions in pursuing the executioner's job and getting close to Rahim is never fully explained. It's obvious he doesn't want revenge, and he can excel at anything other than this, so why? Aside from that, Aiman's disdain for his sister's expat boyfriend is not properly explored either, and his anger towards her for making a life changing decision at the film's half mark is baffling, since he's always so indifferent with her.

But it must be said that Apprentice excels in sound and cinematography. The film is almost scoreless, so every footstep, door slam and the pull of the trap door lever sounds really crisp and perfect. The camerawork is also splendid, as the narrow confines of a prison cell, rooms and corridors are perfectly captured. Even the early morning shots of Aiman going to work are well done.

Acting wise, Fir Rahman is alright as Aiman, but rather inconsistent. In some scenes, he's on point, but in other times he seems much too aloof. Wan Hanafi Su is faultless as Rahim, balancing the character's mentor friendly demeanor and pent up rage brilliantly. Mastura Ahmad also puts in a strong performance as Suhaila, Aiman's sister, who doesn't know what to do with her little brother most of the time.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the execution scenes. While Hollywood likes to portray death row inmates as tough and unafraid of death, it's refreshing to see Boo show them as fearful of their fated walk down the dark corridor to the noose. Boo even spares some time to point his lens at the inmates' family and how they deal with the matter.

In summation, Apprentice is a solid film about the life of an executioner and how it is like working in a prison. The film is a bit rough around the edges, but very promising indeed and worth checking out. (7/10) 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Underworld: Blood Wars

Year: 2016
Director: Anna Foerster
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Clementine Nicholson, Daisy Head, Bradley James, Peter Andersson

Plot: Selene has grown weary of the vampire-lycan war, and is now on the run from both clans, each seeking to capture her for her unique blood, which will give either side the power to win the war. Now she has to fight for her life, with only David, the vampire she saved in Awakening, as her ally.

Review: The Underworld franchise is similar to the Resident Evil franchise: violent, fun and disposable entertainment. The kind that you watch now, have a nice ride and accept for what it is, seldom ranking it as art. So if you've always had a great disdain for these films, you can stop reading now.

Kate Beckinsale has been the center piece of the Underworld series (except for the third film prequel) and continues to do what she does best: kicking ass. In this fifth instalment, Selene is on her own again. She has separated herself from her daughter Eve (introduced in Awakening), not even knowing her whereabouts to protect her from being found. Selene has grown tired of the war, but both lycan and vampire groups continue to hunt her down. Through David, her only ally left, she learns that the vampire council has requested her to train their army into formidable Death Dealers like herself, in order to face the onslaught of the lycans, now united under Marius. However, she's in for a few surprises, and again forced to seek help elsewhere.

New director Anna Foerster, working with a script by Kyle Ward and Cory Goodman, just manages to keep the new Underworld film engaging enough by introducing new places and characters. Sure, some will say the action is more or less similar and the vampires and lycans just picked up where they left off, but for fans, they get to revisit the vampire council (not seen since the first film) and check out a new vampire faction that live in the northern mountains. There is also a subplot involving David's origins which tie in to the vampire council. These elements somehow elevate Blood Wars above what would have been a mediocre Underworld outing.

In terms of acting, the cast do well enough, nothing outstanding, which is forgivable, being an action film and all. Beckinsale does seem a tad tired from doing this role again, but she clearly hasn't lost a step in the action department. Theo James continues to be rather bland as David, but he does try harder this time around as his role has expanded somewhat. Da Vinci's Demons' Lara Pulver and Game Of Thrones' Tobias Menzies are the antagonists here, the former faring better in her role as the scheming Semira, the latter being rather miscast as Marius (sorry, but Edmure Tully just doesn't have what it takes to look evil). Glad to see another Da Vinci cast member, James Faulkner show up as vampire council member Cassius, but he doesn't have enough screen time though. Clementine Nicholson makes an interesting character out of Lena, one of the vampires from the northern clan, though the spiritual mumbo jumbo was a bit too hard to swallow.

If compared to the previous films, Blood Wars does fall short in the action department (Evolution and Awakening were the best), and the ambiguous final shot doesn't help matters. But like I said, one watches these films for entertainment, and as a movie fan, I was entertained.

Bottom line is, if you never liked this franchise, Blood Wars won't change your mind. If you love it, then go see it. (7/10)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Girl With All The Gifts

Year: 2016
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close

Plot: In a dystopian future where most people have been either wiped out or turned into hungries i.e. rabid flesh eaters, a young girl named Melanie may be the key to save mankind.

Review: Much like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, The Girl With All The Gifts is set in a world where most of humanity has been wiped out by a virus, and only a few remain trying to survive against the infected, here known as hungries.

The story begins at a military base, where a group of children are kept prisoner. These children are special because while they have the bloodthirsty instincts of the hungries, they are still able to maintain their sense of humanity and capable of communicating with others. They are kept under surveillance by military sergeant Parks, who considers them abominations, educated by Helen Justineau, the only one who treats them with respect, and experimented upon by Dr Caldwell, who is desperate to find a cure. One particular child, Melanie, stands out among them as she is bright, observant and cares about people around her. However, the army base is overrun by the hungries, and Parks, Caldwell, Helen and Melanie have to run and find shelter in the city.

Colm McCarthy's film may seem like a handsome nod to 28 Days Later at first, but once the film settles into the second half, it partly becomes a character study as we see Melanie learn more about the world around her. Since she had never left the base from the start, it is fascinating to see her react to the world around her, and how quickly she learns to adapt. To that end, young actress Sennia Nanua, impresses in her first feature debut. Her inexperience does show in a few scenes, but her overall performance is very solid.

Gemma Arterton puts in one of her best works as the kind Helen Justineau, who treats the children like actual people, as opposed to Glenn Close's Dr Caldwell, who looks at them like guinea pigs. Close is also strong here, portraying a desperate character who isn't necessarily all bad. The same can also be said about Paddy Considine's Sgt Parks, who demonstrates his mean side early on in the film, but somewhat justifies his motivations towards the end. Considine is also memorable in his role. 

As far as the hungries go, there are a couple of stand out moments. The first involves the initial attack on the base, the second is when the group tries to silently walk through a static horde of hungries in the city, that may turn on them at any second. Credit goes out to the film's cinematography, set design and music team for a job well done.

The film could afford to lose about ten minutes or so, as it feels draggy at times. I also have a slight issue with the manner of demise of two characters at the end, as it seemed too easy. But it's a minor thing, and should not be a reason to not catch this film.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a solid entry into the zombie horror genre, and worth checking out. (7/10)     

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Year: 2016
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper

Plot: Jack Reacher tries to help a female military officer clear her name over espionage accusations while dealing with the possibility that he may have a daughter from a past relationship.

Review: The first Jack Reacher film released four years ago was a solid action film that takes superstar Tom Cruise out of the Ethan Hunt super action hero mold into something more grounded and serious. This sequel pretty much follows the same road taken by the first film.

Reacher, ex-army major now living on the road and off the grid, helping people whenever possible, comes to the aid of Major Susan Turner, who is arrested by military police on espionage charges shortly after her two investigators were murdered in Afghanistan for possibly stumbling upon something nobody is supposed to know about. Reacher helps her escape custody and goes on the run while dragging along a 15 year old girl named Samantha, who may or may not be Reacher's daughter from a past relationship. As it turns out, the bad guys are military contractors who were supposed to bring back weapons confiscated in Afghanistan, but apparently did not, and are willing to kill to keep it secret.

Director Edward Zwick successfully keeps the pace tight so there isn't a dull moment here. The Jack Reacher films may not have the outrageous stunts or high adrenaline excitement of the Mission: Impossible films but it's fine. It makes up for it by presenting Cruise as a mysterious former army man with a strong moral code, and dangerous skills to go along with it. Zwick keeps the story flowing smoothly, and slightly better than the first film's sluggish middle portion.

Cruise is on point as Reacher, still being able to play a full fledged action hero despite his age starting to show on his face. Cobie Smulders is equally good as Turner, playing her as a tough, ass kicking female soldier who isn't afraid to stand up to Reacher or anyone else that talks down to her. Heroes Reborn's Danika Yarosh is annoying at first as Samantha, but starts growing on you as the story progresses.

The weakness of the film is the villains. Patrick Heusinger's nameless antagonist is clearly a physical match for Reacher, but much too two-dimensional. Robert Knepper, who plays his boss, is also a textbook villain, with too little screen time to shine. There's also the plothole on how Reacher seems to know everything and rarely makes a mistake. It's like he's the perfect hero, his only flaw being unable to connect with Turner and Samantha at times.

All in all, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a serviceable action movie slightly elevated by Tom Cruise's star power. I certainly wouldn't mind at all if he kept making more of these. (7/10) 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Doctor Strange

Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong

Plot: When a brilliant neurosurgeon loses the use of his hands in a car accident, he travels east to Nepal to find a cure. Instead he discovers a group of mages who opens his eyes to the truth about the universe, and learns how to be one of them.

Review: After seeing a group of heroes defend the world together as the Avengers, who became so mostly due to science and physics, it's time to meet a hero who defies science altogether and uses magic instead.

Stephen Strange is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who gets into a car accident and injures his hands severely, and now unable to continue being a surgeon. After exhausting all his options, he travels to Nepal to find a group that healed a paralyzed man, hoping they can do the same for him. He discovers the Kamar-Taj, led by the Ancient One, who teaches him about the multiverse and how he can use magic not only to heal himself, but to become one of them and save the world from evil. In this case, it is a former student of the Ancient One, Kaecilius, who seeks to open a door to the Dark Dimension in search of immortality.

I keep hearing how this movie is being compared to Inception and I hate that, since this film is better than Inception and nowhere similar in concept. I prefer comparing Doctor Strange to The Matrix, since both films are about a man who learns that the world is not what he always thought it was, and that he is the chosen one to save it. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) uses a truckload of CGI to present the multiverses and how the film's characters travel through them by opening portals, or fold and spin the world around them (hence the Inception comparison). I have to say that the result is quite impressive, and definitely something Marvel fans haven't seen before in previous MCU entries.

Benedict Cumberbatch is very charismatic as Strange, giving the character an equal balance of ego and subsequent humility, with a dose of humor. Chiwetel Ejiofor in contrast is more serious as Mordo, Strange's comrade, though if you've seen the trailers, you'd know he gets the best joke in the film. Benedict Wong also does well as Wong, the group's librarian, who gets some funny scenes with Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton throws in a straightforward yet curious performance as the Ancient One, and it sort of works.

The weakness of the film is the same thing that has plagued Marvel films as of late: the villain. It's been hard to find one that can match Loki, and unfortunately Mads Mikkelsen's Kaecilius is nowhere close to being intimidating or memorable. It certainly isn't his fault, it's just the way the character was written. Rachel McAdams' Christine Palmer is also a rather poorly written character, being nothing more than Strange's glorified love interest. McAdams does try to stand out though.

The action sequences are quite good, though some of the fights looked a bit blurry. Derrickson probably isn't accustomed to filming fights, but he makes up for it by overall making an MCU film that can stand on its own, with only subtle references to the Avengers, so one can enjoy it without referring to previous entries.

Overall, Doctor Strange is yet another strong entry into the Marvel universe. And as usual, stay for the post-credits scene. (8/10)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Accountant

Year: 2016
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow

Plot: An autistic savant overcomes his disability and becomes an accountant that secretly takes on clients made up of dangerous people around the world, making him a wanted man by the Treasury Department. When he takes on a robotics company as his client, he discovers a discrepancy that someone in the company would kill to hide.

Review: Based on the trailer alone, you can't really tell that The Accountant is an action film. It is, but it's also a character study of an autistic math wiz.

The character study part shows us the life of Christian Wolff, who had high end autism as a child. His father, a military man, rejects the recommendation of a neuroscientist and chooses instead to push Christian to not only overcome his disability, but to use it to his advantage. As a result, Christian grows up to become a math savant, using his skills to provide accounting services to dangerous individuals. Outside of that, he lives a solitary life, listening to loud music to calm down and keeps a trailer filled with cash and valuables. It is when he meets Dana Cummings, the young accountant of his latest client, that he starts to challenge his lack of social skills, and at the same time realizing that the company is trying to cover up something and is willing to go to deadly lengths to do it.

This is where the action part kicks in, as the discovery of some missing money makes him and Dana targets for elimination. If you're an action junkie, you have to be patient as this only happens at the film's half mark. But if you're the kind who loves violent hand-to-hand scraps and shootouts Jason Bourne style, you'll get a real treat here.

Ben Affleck, fresh off playing Batman, gives a strong portrayal of a man who accepts the things that make him different and become a hero that isn't shaded white, but grey. It's one of Affleck's best performances yet. Anna Kendrick is her usual awkward but likable self as Dana, but it works due to her fluid chemistry with Affleck. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson also do well as the two Treasury agents chasing Christian, while Jon Bernthal is great as Christian's adversary.

The downside is the film's weak first half, where director Gavin O'Connor shows us too many things going on at once, causing the film to lose focus. Once the film's action begins, the story becomes clearer.

Overall, The Accountant isn't perfect, but it's an inspiring story in its own way and a solid vehicle for Ben Affleck. (7/10)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Wailing

Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Kwak Do Won, Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee

Plot: When the people of a small town in South Korea start falling ill, going crazy and eventually die, the local police sergeant initially suspects poisonous mushrooms to be the cause, until he hears rumors that a Japanese man that has just arrived there, is up to something sinister and is behind it. When the sergeant's daughter falls ill as well, he takes matters into his own hands, which kickstarts a series of events that spiral out of control.

Review: This is only director Na Hong-jin's third film, but he's already making waves around the world with his work.

The Wailing takes place in a little town in South Korea where Jong-Goo, the local police sergeant lives with his wife, daughter and mother in-law. A series of mysterious deaths start occurring, where someone falls ill, turns insane and starts killing people. At first, Jong-Goo thinks it's just wild mushrooms causing the chaos, but people around him, including his partner, point their fingers at a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods. They claim he's not human and feed on people. Jong-Goo's daughter then succumbs to the same symptoms, forcing him to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including harassing the man and hiring a shaman to cure his daughter. What follows is a shitstorm that will likely not end well for him.

On the surface, Na's film doesn't look like a horror story, until it gets deeper and deeper into the crust of the situation Jong-Goo is in. The Wailing isn't just about evil, demonic possessions and the occult (elements that we've seen in other horror flicks), but also about fear and how it drives us humans to do things that we probably should not do. In this case, Jong-Goo is a devoted family man, though not a very good cop, who allows his own fear and prejudice to dictate his every move, something we can all relate to. Na adds this element on top of the above mentioned horror bits, leading to an intense and chilling final third of the film.

Credit must be given to the superb cinematography, capturing the vast mountains and eerie woods around the town, heck even the darkness of building interiors deserves a mention (though it was a bit too dark in the final scene). Kudos also to production design and makeup for creating such eerie sights of ritual rooms, corpses and animal carcasses, enough to make one feel queasy and uneasy.

Kwak Do Won is outstanding as Jong-Goo, making his character quite likable despite his obvious failings as a cop. He's such a tour de force that the rest of the cast don't hold a candle to him, though credit must be awarded to Jun Kunimura for his subdued yet unsettling portrayal of the Japanese man.

The one thing that bothered me a little was the ending. It was rather ambiguous, and I reckon Na must have intentionally ended it like that, because I did some research a while ago and there seems to be many interpretations of that ending, all which seem equally plausible. Nevertheless, it does spur viewers to go back and see it again to find clues, or try figuring out what it all means. One thing's for sure, as a horror film, it aims high and hits all its targets.

At 156 minutes, The Wailing might seem overindulgent, yet it's one of the best films of the year. Recommended. (8/10)


Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Side Babett Knudsen, Ben Foster

Plot: Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence with a head wound and no memory of what happened in the last 48 hours. When mysterious people start chasing him, he teams up with a young female doctor to follow the clues and stop a plot to unleash a virus that will wipe out the world's population.

Review: With the success of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, director Ron Howard had a lot to live up to for his current Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno. 

Once again, Brown's hero Robert Langdon, is thrust into an adventure that involves dodging bullets, chasing clues and stopping bad guys. This time, it involves a virus, made by a man who claims that the earth is being destroyed by overpopulation, and the virus is the answer to that problem. He has hidden it somewhere in the world, and left behind clues which Langdon must now follow to stop a catastrophe. A young doctor, Sienna Brooks is his only ally, and together they dodge WHO agents and a secret firm whose intentions become clearer as the story progresses.

The good stuff about Inferno is the problem solving, of course. Langdon's ability to read clues, refer to history and use them is always the most interesting part of the series. Here, his knowledge of Italian history and buildings, especially secret passages is most handy. As viewers, we are also treated to a sight of iconic Italian attractions in Florence and Venice, much like seeing The Vatican in Angels & Demons.

However, Inferno suffers from predictability, which one would be able to spot as early as the film's beginning. This makes the third act twist ineffective, and what follows after that seem less exciting. On top of that, there is a huge lapse of logic in the plot, like why would someone go through that much trouble to release a virus, leaving clues and all that, when they can just pick a highly populated city anywhere in the world and just release it there?

Tom Hanks is still on point as Langdon, though you can almost sense him looking a bit tired of doing these films by now. Felicity Jones is serviceable as Dr Brooks, while Irrfan Khan is solid enough as the head of the secret firm chasing Langdon. The rest of the cast are alright but none of them can rise above the flawed script.

Inferno turns out to be the weakest of Dan Brown's trilogy. It's a serviceable thriller, but nothing more. (6/10)

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Girl On The Train

Year: 2016
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney

Plot: A woman obsessed with another woman she sees as she rides the train every morning gets carried away and suddenly is implicated in the latter's murder.

Review: The Girl On The Train is based on the worldwide bestseller, though I reckon now that the story works better on paper than on film.

Rachel is a divorcee, an alcoholic who is unable to let go of her past life, which is being happily married to Tom, who is now married to Anna. They have a child together, which infuriates Rachel even more. She rides the train to New York every day and sees a house two doors away from her former house, where Megan lives. She doesn't even know Megan, but after seeing Megan kiss a man whom Rachel knows isn't Megan's husband, she is compelled to do something about it. Then when Megan winds up missing, Rachel becomes a prime suspect since she was in the area at the time and worst of all she can't remember what she did due to her alcoholism. So who killed Megan?

The Girl On The Train is basically a whodunit, and like I said, it probably worked better on paper. In Tate Taylor's hands, it ends up being rather talky and lacking in suspense. Erin Cressida Wilson's script focuses on the three women, mostly Rachel, and how they relate to one another, and though it gives them plenty of depth, Taylor fails to give the material any kind of edge. The several flashbacks occurring throughout the film didn't help matters either. By the time the perpetrator is revealed, we've almost lost interest, and the climax was almost non-existent too.

Of the cast, Emily Blunt is awesome as Rachel, being very convincing as an alcoholic suffering from severe emotional trauma. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are both solid as Megan and Anna respectively, but they don't hold a candle to Blunt. The female driven film leaves the male cast somewhat underused, but Justin Theroux, Luke Evans and Edgar Ramirez do their best with the material. Evans at the very least is quite intense. Allison Janney lends some good support as a detective investigating Megan's death.

Overall, The Girl On The Train falls short of expectations. If not for Blunt's superb performance, this would be a total dud. (6/10) 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Bastille Day

Year: 2016
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon, Kelly Reilly

Plot: When a pickpocket unknowingly steals a bag containing a bomb that subsequently kills four people, he is wrongfully suspected to be a terrorist. He is forced to team up with a lone CIA agent to clear his name and stop the real terrorists from tearing up Paris on France's independence day.

Review: With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, one would think that this film's timing couldn't be better, or worse depending on how you look at it.

In Bastille Day, an American pickpocket named Michael Mason steals a bag belonging to Zoe, who is a bomb mule. He doesn't know there is a bomb in it, until it goes off mere seconds after he dumps the bag. CCTV cameras capture his image and now the authorities think he's a terrorist. Enter CIA agent Briar, known to be insubordinate and reckless, who must find Mason and find the real bombers together. As they go along they discover that the perpetrators wear police badges.

On the surface, it is easy to dismiss Bastille Day as yet another Bourne clone set in Europe that follows many other films of its kind in the last few years. But there are times when one can simply enjoy a good action film for what it is, and in that regard, Bastille Day delivers. Director James Watkins, who also co-wrote the script, keeps the pace sharp so the film is never boring. Watkins also deserves credit for shooting the action sequences very well, unlike most directors these days who seem to fail making their scenes look good. We have hand-to-hand scraps, shootouts and a neat rooftop chase sequence at the beginning. All of them perfectly filmed.

Cast wise, Idris Elba makes a good action hero as Briar, and its no wonder he's being touted as the next Bond. I do admit he looks a little bored here though. Game Of Thrones' Richard Madden is solid as Mason, with a passable American accent. Charlotte Le Bon rounds up the cast as Zoe, who makes a good case as a manipulated pawn in a large plot by the villains. Kelly Reilly is slightly wasted as Briar's boss.

Now, while I had a great time watching this, I won't pretend that Bastille Day is a masterpiece or anything. The plot is familiar, the twists are predictable and it lacks a proper climax. But I gotta say, I had a lot of fun with this movie. In the wake of recent Euro thrillers like Aaron Eckhart's The Expatriate, Milla Jovovich's Survivor and John Cusack's The Numbers Station, Bastille Day stands tall over them.

If you want something fun and action packed to kill ninety minutes, this is a good choice. (7/10)

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Deepwater Horizon

Year: 2016
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Dylan O'Brien, Gina Rodriguez

Plot: Based on the true story of the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig off the coast of Louisiana that exploded in April 2010, creating the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Review: This film is about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, though it focuses more on the crew of the oil rig who survived the disaster that day.

Deepwater Horizon is seen mostly through the eyes of Mike Williams, Chief Electronics Technician of the rig, who gets caught in the disaster with the rest of his crew when a gas leak ignited and a massive explosion and fire engulfs the entire rig. The film begins with an introduction to the crew, followed by what they did on that day beginning with safety tests, then the disaster hits and what they went through to survive.

Director Peter Berg, who once again cameos in his own film, successfully paints his characters as regular Americans who work hard for their keep, but are willing to help each other during the worst of times despite being totally fearful of not surviving the night. As stated, this isn't about the oil spill but the bravery of the men who lived to tell the tale.

The cast do a great job here, especially Mark Wahlberg as Mike, showing him to be a blue collar worker who loves his wife and daughter, yet willing to risk his life to save his colleagues. Kurt Russell is also solid as rig manager Jim Harrell, while Russell's stepdaughter Kate Hudson puts in a brief yet strong performance as Mike's wife. John Malkovich is alright as the profit minded BP boss, but his southern accent is rather dodgy.

The best parts of the film are obviously the disaster scenes. When oil and mud start shooting out of the drill, it looks pretty damn scary and you'd be convinced that the rig is the last place you would want to be at the time. The subsequent explosion was also well executed and shot by Berg and his crew, as well as the chaos that followed. Another thing worth mentioning is a scene at the beginning where Mike's daughter rehearses a show and tell project at home, using a Coke can to demonstrate how her father drills for oil. It's a fitting precursor of what's to come.

However, the film does take quite some time to get going, as the incident doesn't happen till almost halfway through. Some of the interior camerawork after the explosion was either shaky or poorly lit, making it hard to see who's doing what, or who we're looking at. Also, if you've seen Berg's Lone Survivor, you'd notice that he filmed this almost like that film. Intro, story, survival, real people pictures and acknowledgement at the end, in that sequence. It works of course, but the similarity could have been tweaked a bit.

Nevertheless, Deepwater Horizon is an astounding effort in telling a disaster story. It isn't the best disaster film out there, but it's one worth checking out. (7/10)   

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh Ich Seh)

Year: 2015
Directors: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Cast: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz

Plot: A pair of twin brothers welcome home their mother after a long absence due to an accident. However her strange behavior, and the fact that her face is still bandaged due to cosmetic surgery leads the boys to suspect that she isn't their mother.

Review: This was one of the films released in the last twelve months that I had wanted to catch, and I was fortunate enough to be able to see this in a cinema hall.

Goodnight Mommy, Austria's submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Picture (though it failed to get a nomination), focuses on Lukas and Elias, twin brothers who welcome their mother home after an accident recently. She has undergone cosmetic surgery, so her face is bandaged. She seems all right at first, but her behavior starts to turn peculiar, leading the boys to think that an impostor is wearing the bandages and pretending to be their mother.

Writers/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz present what seems like a normal situation, then slowly ratchets up the tension while keeping things as mysterious as possible. It's a psychological thriller with a twist at the end, and while it was a nice twist, I saw it coming quite early. Nevertheless, Fiala and Franz deserve credit for successfully making me second guess myself a few times.

Technically, the film looks gorgeous. The cinematography is just lovely, as every shot, from the wide view of the jungle and corn fields to the confined spaces of the family home, or the light that comes through the windows when someone pulls the blinds is perfect. Kudos also to the set designers for creating a beautiful house inside and out. It looks fantastic and yet simple.

However, the film does drag every now and then, and certain scenes felt like they were inserted just to create shock horror and don't quite gel with the overall film. Even the ending seems a tad ambiguous, though if one were to decipher it the way I did, it felt tragic, and if that's what Fiala and Franz were going for, then it was well done.

Susanne Wuest and the twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz all put in stellar performances here as the mother and the twins respectively. Each of them get a chance to show how creepy and sadistic they can be, and I loved how it turned out.

Overall, other than the weak editing, Goodnight Mommy is an unsettling yet fascinating thriller, and certainly worth checking out. (7/10)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

Year: 2016
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-Hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard

Plot: When a ruthless industrialist terrorises a small town, they hire seven men to help them defend it.

Review: I had watched the original Magnificent Seven last week, which is itself a remake of The Seven Samurai, and found it to be more dialogue driven than action driven, something that director Antoine Fuqua remedies here. There is definitely more action in this remake, and a decent amount of drama too.

The story is essentially the same. In this case, the town of Rose Creek is being terrorised by Bartholomew Bogue, a man who wants the gold mine nearby and threatens the people to sell him their land for a cheap price, or else. Emma Cullen, whose husband was killed by Bogue just for standing up to him, and her friend Teddy Q, seek help and run into Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter, who proceeds to collect other willing men to assist in their cause. This includes gambler Faraday, Chisolm's old friend Robicheaux, Robicheaux's knife-wielding friend Billy Rocks, tracker Jack Horne, Comanche warrior Red Harvest and Vasquez, an outlaw Chisolm was supposed to capture, but offers him a chance to do some good instead.

From a technical standpoint, Fuqua and company score full marks. Cinematography is beautiful, set design and costumes are spot on, and the late James Horner's score is good too, with the original's theme being used from time to time. As mentioned, Fuqua puts in much more action than the original, allowing each member of the seven to shine in their own way while trimming out the fat that filled most of the first half in the 1960 version. This works better in keeping the film flowing smoothly, but on the flipside, the seven don't spend enough time connecting with the townsfolk, except Emma and Teddy Q who get to stand out the most. As for the action, it is well shot and choreographed. The skirmish between the seven and Bogue's men in the middle third was good, and the final fight is just balls to the wall stuff.

The cast perform to expectations, with Denzel Washington being the leading man he always is. His Chisolm is a serious man with good leadership skills, contrasting Chris Pratt's charming gambler quite well. Pratt plays Faraday almost like Star-Lord, minus the personal baggage. Ethan Hawke's Robicheaux is interesting, being a little like Robert Vaughn's Lee in the original, hesitant about fighting and killing after seeing so much of it. It's a role that requires depth and Hawke pulls it off. Vincent D'Onofrio gets to chew the scenery as tracker Jack Horne while Lee Byung-Hun's Billy is obviously inspired by James Coburn's Britt in the original, but with more lines. I personally liked Manuel Garcia-Rulfo's Vasquez, being somewhat an out-of-the-box choice as a member. Same goes for Martin Sensmeier's Red Harvest, though he doesn't stand out as much as Manuel. Fuqua's Seven is definitely one that is updated for the times and not as whitewashed as the original, which is a welcome change.

Haley Bennett, last seen in Fuqua's The Equalizer, shines as Emma Cullen, who holds her own against her more famous co-stars. Peter Sarsgaard makes a good villain as Bogue, but doesn't get enough time on screen to be truly memorable, which is a pity.

Another thing worth mentioning is Fuqua making several nods to the original, borrowing certain dialogues or scenes and inserting them here. If you've seen the original you would know which and where.

Overall, the remake of The Magnificent Seven is a very fun western movie, which would be even better if Sensmeier and Sarsgaard weren't underused. I enjoyed it for what it was, and wouldn't mind seeing it again soon. (8/10)  

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Year: 2016
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Plot: Based on the true story of Chesley Sullenberger, a pilot who landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson river on January 15th 2009, saving all 155 passengers on board. This incident came to be known as the 'Miracle on the Hudson'.

Review: At 96 minutes, Sully is officially Clint Eastwood's shortest film ever, and possibly the least ambitious of all the true stories/biographies he's done. Yet it is still an effective film.

Sully is based on the true story of how Chesley Sullenberger aka Sully, guided his airplane to a safe landing on the Hudson river after a flock of birds flew into its engines. Despite being hailed a hero by the media and his passengers, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) has a different view, claiming that Sully's actions were somewhat dangerous, and that he still had time to land the plane at two nearby airports, something both Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles disagree on.

Eastwood's film focuses mostly on the events that took place after the incident, i.e. the NTSB's investigation, media reaction and how Sully and Skiles deal with all the attention showered on them, something they were not prepared for or even want. In essence, Sully and Skiles are just two regular guys who were a part of a miraculous event, and simply want to get back to their regular lives once the NTSB wraps up their inquiry. For dramatic effect, the NTSB are portrayed here as the semi-antagonists, looking for evidence to pin the blame on Sully, and obviously being more interested in the fact that the plane crashed and not on Sully successfully saving his crew and passengers. This created some real controversy when the NTSB saw the film, saying they were wrongly portrayed, but we'll never really know how far.

Tom Hanks puts in a subtle performance as Sully, a man who doesn't consider himself a hero, and actually starts to doubt his own judgment on that fateful day. Hanks' restrained performance works well here. Aaron Eckhart also shines as Skiles, being one of the few people who understands and supports Sully's actions that day. Laura Linney is alright as Sully's supportive wife, but the film mostly belongs to Hanks and his struggle against his new found fame.

The film does suffer from continuity issues, as Eastwood chooses to begin his story after the crash, then throw in flashbacks, including a couple where a young Sully had flown other planes such as a jet fighter and a biplane. I personally felt a chronological approach would have been better.

The simplicity of the film means there's not much to look at here than your average Eastwood feature, but Sully is still very watchable. Worth checking out. (7/10)  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Train To Busan

Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Soo-an, Jeong Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok

Plot: A group of train passengers travelling from Seoul to Busan fight to survive a zombie outbreak.

Review: Train To Busan is now officially the film one has to look up if one needs to make a zombie film. It pretty much has everything you'd look for in a zombie horror flick. Action? Check. Suspense and tension? Check. Blood and violence? Check. Heartbreaking tragedy? Check. A reflection of humanity's best and worst traits? Check that too.

Another way for me to put it is this: Train To Busan improves on World War Z's style, magnifies the claustrophobia in Quarantine and matches the bloody chaos in 28 Days Later. In short, it is one mean zombie feature.

The story begins with a fascinating intro involving a truck and a deer, and then we meet Seok-woo, a fund manager, divorced, who doesn't spend enough time with his little daughter Soo-an. She wants to see her mother in Busan, so he accompanies her on a train there. It is on the train where we meet our colorful yet familiar set of survivors: a burly man and his pregnant wife, a pair of elderly sisters, a group of high school kids and a vagrant. Oh, there's this corporate asshole too. Then an infected girl slips onto the train (strange how the platform guard missed her, but anyway), gets into a seizure, turns into a manic zombie, attacks a train attendant, and the fun begins. And from this point, it doesn't let up.

Director Yeon Sang-ho, who also wrote the script, had only directed animated features prior to this. Seems like he's got a good handle on live action stuff as well. Yeon takes a bunch of characters, all interesting in their own way, though not entirely unfamiliar, and throws them into the grinder, and we watch in shock and awe how they react to something they are totally unprepared for. What's great about the film is how he keeps the tension growing. There are a handful of confrontations between the passengers and the zombies on the train itself, and in between them, a memorable sequence at a train stop, which is just insane to behold. And to top it all off, a final sequence at a train yard. And every one of these scenes were beautifully shot. Kudos to Yeon and the cinematographer for pulling it off.

But Train To Busan isn't just about blood and violence. It's also about people and how they react in a crisis. We see good people risk their lives to save a total stranger, and how certain selfish people learn a thing or two about kindness and change for the better. We also watch how people can become total douchebags, and how some give in to fear and pay it with their lives. Audiences will learn about sacrifice, parenthood and the human condition by watching this.

The entire cast are all spot-on choices. Gong Yoo makes a great hero as Seok-woo, who starts off as a non-qualifier for father of the week, and progresses to someone who begins to care about others around him. The stealer of the show though goes to Ma Dong-seok as the burly man, who is a total badass when it comes to zombie killing. In his case, who needs baseball bats when he's got his bare hands?

The only thing I didn't like was a certain character's ridiculous involvement in the demise of a lead character towards the end. I can't say more without spoiling it, but suffice to say, this is what I would call overkill, and totally unnecessary.

All in all, Train To Busan is one of the most fun experiences I've ever had at the cinema this year. Recommended. (9/10)

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Year: 2016
Director: Luke Scott
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Boyd Holbrook

Plot: When Morgan, an artificially created human, attacks one of the doctors in charge of her development, the corporation funding the project sends a risk consultant to assess whether she needs to be terminated or otherwise.

Review: Morgan is the feature length debut of Luke Scott, son of Ridley. While Morgan is nowhere near as ambitious as his father's work, it certainly is quite interesting.

The premise is as follows: Lee Weathers, a risk consultant, is sent by her bosses to a top secret project site, where a team of doctors are watching over Morgan, an artificially created human girl. Morgan may only be five years old, but she has grown rapidly to resemble a teenager. Recently, Morgan attacked one of the doctors, stabbing her in the eye, so Lee must now assess if Morgan will continue to be a liability, and if so, terminate her. But as the story progresses, one realises that things aren't as simple as it seems.

As I began watching this film, it felt similar to watching Deep Blue Sea, Renny Harlin's underrated shark thriller, and in this case, Morgan was the shark. But when Morgan inevitably breaks free, the film switches to action mode, and now it looks like a Jason Bourne movie. Not that any of this is the real problem though. While Scott and writer Seth Owen take their time to explore Morgan's character, they don't spend enough time exploring the other doctors, save for Rose Leslie's Amy, who becomes Morgan's closest friend. All they tell us is that the others care for Morgan and don't believe she should be terminated over one violent incident, heck even the injured doctor played by Jennifer Jason Leigh thinks so. Because of the paper thin characterisation, we don't feel much when Morgan starts taking them out one by one.

Another downside is the camerawork during the fight scenes. Like most poor action directors, Scott puts the camera too close, so it's hard to see who's punching who. Pity, since it's rare to see Kate Mara do kung fu on film. But on the upside, Scott successfully milks tension whenever Morgan is alone with any of the doctors. Even in one scene without Morgan, where the doctors dine with Lee at a table, the tension is palpable. It makes for a good buildup to the point when hell breaks loose as Morgan turns on them. 

As for Kate Mara, she gives Lee Weathers a cold exterior, making it tough for us to root for her. But it's only at the end you realise why. Anya Taylor-Joy scores the most points here as Morgan, giving the character the right balance of child like innocence and chilling demeanor. (Brownie points to the make-up department for giving Morgan pale skin and dark eyes to complete the look) Out of the supporting cast, Rose Leslie and Boyd Holbrook fare the best as Amy and Skip the cook respectively. Paul Giamatti does well in a brief appearance as a shrink, and look out for an even more brief appearance by Brian Cox at the end.

Just as I thought the film would only be slightly above average, a neat twist at the end elevates it a bit. It's rather late, and not quite enough to make Morgan a sure fire hit, but at least it will leave a small impression on you as you walk out of the theatre.

So is Morgan a good movie? Thanks to that ending, yes. Is it a great movie? Not quite. But it's a more than decent way to spend 92 minutes. (7/10)  


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...