Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

Year: 2016
Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Jack Huston

Plot: The five lovely Bennet sisters deal with the pressures of finding a husband while surviving a growing horde of zombies in 18th century England.

Review: I had never seen Pride And Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, which is widely praised, nor have I read the book. And while this version of the well known Jane Austen novel as re-imagined by Seth Grahame-Smith and directed by Burr Steers has the potential of being fun, I wasn't sure if I was ready to dive into a period romance flick.

Rest assured, especially for guys who can't stand romantic movies, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a ball of fun, violence and charm, though admittedly, the violence is a bit tamer than the kind you'd see on The Walking Dead. While this film has plenty of zombies in it, it also puts equal focus on the love lives of the Bennet sisters, particularly the leading character Elizabeth Bennet.

It's 18th century England, and the zombie plague has killed many and turned plenty of them into the undead. Mr Darcy, a skilled zombie hunter, accompanies his friend Mr Bingley to a dance, where he meets the strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet, who unlike her sisters, isn't too keen on finding a suitor, much to her mother's chagrin. The two get off on the wrong foot, but continuously bump into each other, half of those times with a zombie or two in their presence. Elizabeth and her sisters however are no damsels. They are perfectly capable of looking after themselves in the face of a zombie attack. So will Liz and Darcy put their animosity aside long enough to fall in love and survive the zombies? Does that question even need answering?

To his credit, Burr Steers keeps his film moving briskly with a witty script and zombie killing action. I've learned that the film is pretty accurate as far as Austen's novel is concerned, except in this case, we have zombies thrown into the mix. Be warned though, this isn't a serious drama nor an action movie set in a zombie apocalypse. PPZ is a love story, much like the original Pride And Prejudice, with some zombie action. What makes the film work is the healthy amount of charm, humor and romance Steers throws in.

The cast all perform very well, but the show truly belongs to Lily James and Sam Riley as Elizabeth and Darcy respectively. James is stubborn to a fault, but very likable as Liz. Riley plays Darcy as unsociable and proud, but a man of honor. The two have great chemistry together and look convincing as a couple. Matt Smith succeeds as the film's defacto joke centre, Mr Collins, while Game Of Thrones' Lena Headey and Charles Dance put in solid work as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the Bennet patriarch respectively.

If I have to fault the film, it's the action sequences set at night, which are too dark to make out. It would have also been nice if some supporting characters like the other Bennet sisters and Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte had received more screen time, but it's a minor complaint.

PPZ may not be as action packed as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith's other adaptation, but it's a lot of fun, even if you're not into period films. Oh, and stay during the credits for one last scene. (7/10) 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Finest Hours

Year: 2016
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, Graham McTavish

Plot: Based on the true story of how four Coast Guard seamen miraculously rescued 32 crew members of the SS Pendleton during a massive storm on February 18th 1952.

Review: The Finest Hours follows in the footsteps of a handful of disaster films based on true stories that we have seen over the years, such as Apollo 13, the excellent The Impossible and the recent Everest. In fact, The Finest Hours is almost similar to another such film, The Perfect Storm, but much better.

The story goes like this: In 1952, the SS Pendleton, a ship caught in a storm 10 miles off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, gets ripped in half by huge waves. The surviving crew, led by chief engineer Mr Sybert, try their best to run the ship aground while hoping the Coast Guard will rescue them in time. Meanwhile, Coast Guard seaman Bernie Webber is sent out with three others to save the Pendleton crew, despite the fact that the huge storm would most likely kill them first.

Director Craig Gillespie centres his film on two men: Bernie and Sybert. What's most interesting about these two is the fact that they aren't the typical heroic guys we see in most American films about heroism. Sure, they are regular joes but what's fascinating is that neither of them was born to be a leader, and yet they rise to the occasion in face of insurmountable odds. This, added to some great CGI work (especially in creating huge tidal waves) and some solid acting from the cast, elevates The Finest Hours above the average disaster film viewers would come to expect.

Chris Pine is pretty good here, playing Bernie as someone who is a direct opposite to Captain Kirk. Kirk is brash and confident, but Pine's Bernie is anything but. He's a guy who would follow orders despite them not being logical ones, and is unsure of himself in front of his lady love, Miriam. Pine is convincing indeed and he makes the viewers root for him easily. Casey Affleck is equally good as Sybert, the engineer who isn't the most popular guy among the ill-fated crew of the Pendleton, but reluctantly takes on the role of leader in order to save his men. Affleck proves yet again that he's a better actor than his big brother. Also worth mentioning are Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and John Magaro as Bernie's crew, as well as Holliday Grainger as Bernie's fiancee Miriam.

While Gillespie keeps his film tightly paced for the most part, it does lose its momentum every now and then, thanks to the story moving away from the sea to Miriam and the people of Chatham waiting anxiously for news of their family. Some of these scenes could have been edited a bit, though on the flipside it does add some layers to Bernie's past concerning a ship he had failed to save. 

On the whole, The Finest Hours is a great addition to the true disaster genre, and it turned out better than I thought it would. It's definitely worth checking out. (8/10)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams

Plot: Wade Wilson, a low rent mercenary is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He accepts an offer from a shady looking recruiter who claims his team can eradicate his disease and give him superpowers. But the process severely disfigures him, though it does give him regenerative abilities. He sets out to get even with the people who did this to him. Cue the music.

Review: Deadpool was first introduced in X-Men Origins: Wolverine by Ryan Reynolds as a guy who can't shut up, who then became a supermutant with his mouth sewn shut. A lot of people hated that version, which is why Reynolds worked so hard to get this film off the ground, and I gotta say, it was worth it.

From the promos you've probably seen to death by now, you have to be able to guess that this isn't your regular superhero movie. And Deadpool works just fine that way. While the main theme of the film is vengeance, Wade will tell you that it's also a love story. More than once.

The story, told with flashbacks, narrations and lots of fourth wall breaks by Ryan Reynolds, focuses on Wade Wilson, a mercenary with a hot wife who is dying of cancer. A man offers him to become a superhero and be rid of the cancer at the same time. He accepts, only to discover that they breed superslaves, but it's too late by that point and he is badly disfigured. While he has amazing healing powers, he can't heal from the awful scars his body has taken. So he seeks revenge on the people who did this to him, while being assisted or hindered by a couple of X-Men.

Reynolds and director Tim Miller have clearly done well here. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to sell a superhero film that steers away from the usual path the genre takes. Deadpool is having fun poking at itself, giving audiences a ton of R-rated jokes, violence and dozens of references to other superhero films, including a couple that Reynolds were in before. It's also refreshing that this isn't a superhero film about saving the world, just Deadpool wanting to exact some payback while addressing the audience about how he got here etc. Oh, and the music choices are lovely. It's Like Guardians Of The Galaxy, only intentionally cheesier. I mean, how many films of this genre plays Careless Whisper while the credits roll?

Reynolds is of course, very game for the role of Deadpool/Wade. There literally is no other person who can do it except him. Morena Baccarin is easy on the eyes as usual in the role of Wade's wife Vanessa. T.J. Miller provides some side humour as Wade's best friend, being more normal than the lead character. And yes, there is a Stan Lee cameo.

The weaknesses come in the form of the film's villains. Ed Skrein and Gina Carano are unfortunately much too bland, and their characters are not very well written either, making them quite forgettable. At the very least, they both look good in the action sequences, so that's a mini plus.

2016 is said to be the year of the superheroes and it's starting off very well indeed. I recommend giving Deadpool a shot, especially if you're familiar with the Marvel universe. And of course, stay for the post credits scene. (8/10) 

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Revenant

Year: 2015
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

Plot: A frontiersman fights to survive after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting crew in 1820s Louisiana.

Review: The Revenant has received a huge number of nominations for the upcoming Oscars, and after viewing it, I have little reason to argue with that.

The story takes place circa 1823 in the Louisiana woods where a group of fur trappers are suddenly attacked by the Arikara natives, forcing them to flee. On the way back, Hugh Glass, the man in charge of directing the men home, is mauled by a bear. Severely injured and possibly facing death, the captain orders two men, Fitzgerald and Bridger to keep Glass and his half native son company till he passes, then bury him properly. Fitzgerald, greedy and fearful for his own life, kills Glass' son, lies to Bridger and heads back to camp, leaving Glass to die in a shallow grave. However, the man survives, slowly heals up and makes his way back through the cold winter to get even with Fitzgerald.

The first thing you'll notice about The Revenant is how beautiful it looks. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki puts in amazing work in capturing the adventure and scenery here. It is so good it puts the viewer right there with the actors, which is no small feat. Credit also goes to Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto for their awesome score and Jack Fisk for stupendous set design work. But truly, everything comes together thanks to director Alejandro G. Inarritu, who successfully translates a partly true story to the silver screen. The opening natives attack is pretty intense and violent, which is almost reminiscent of the Normandy attack in Saving Private Ryan. The bear attack scene is brutal as well, followed by Glass' harrowing and painful journey towards revenge. Inarritu has obviously put himself and his cast and crew through hell to bring this film to life, and it's worth every dollar spent.

Leonardo DiCaprio, still hunting for his elusive first Oscar, may very well earn it here. His approach to playing Hugh Glass is almost like how Daniel Day Lewis would inhabit a role, though he stops short at adopting exact mannerisms and whatnot. DiCaprio is as convincing and intense as he's ever been, and it shows. Tom Hardy is equally good as Fitzgerald, playing a man who is greedy and desperate, but not totally deplorable. Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter also put in solid work too as Captain Henry and Bridger respectively, but this film is mostly DiCaprio's shining achievement.

The film's main flaw is the editing, as there are too many draggy scenes involving still shots of trees or the sky, or dream sequences involving Glass' late wife and son. This does cause the film to be less compelling than it could have been, but not too much. Thanks to DiCaprio and Hardy, The Revenant manages to keep the audience mostly focused till the end.

One could say that The Revenant is a film that will be one of its kind for many years to come, simply because of how magnificent it is to behold. Recommended. (8/10) 


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