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)   


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...