Sunday, December 31, 2017

All The Money In The World

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer


Plot: Based on the true story of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world during the 70s, who refused to pay the ransom for his 16 year old grandson's kidnapping, much to the chagrin of his daughter in-law, Gail Harris.


Review: All The Money In The World already made headlines when the studio decided to remove Kevin Spacey's involvement in the film due to his sexual assault allegations and replace him with Christopher Plummer, after the film had wrapped production. As a result, director Ridley Scott had to reshoot the film with Plummer, and he did it in eight days. It is an astounding feat, considering the role is quite substantial.

This fact alone should be enough to draw audiences to watch the film, which is based on the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world in 1973. The film revolves around the young Getty's experience with the kidnappers, the senior Getty's refusal to pay the ransom and his excuses for not doing so, and his daughter in-law's efforts to save her son, with the help of Getty's negotiator Fletcher Chase. Scott deftly flips back and forth between the three subplots and rarely wastes any time in moving the story forward, and still manages to make the entire film fascinating to watch. 

Mark Wahlberg is pretty much himself in playing Chase, and it's clear he fits the role like a glove. It's predictable but it works as it plays to his strengths. Michelle Williams gets the tougher role as the desperate Gail, who has to find a way to pay the ransom to save her son, but as she accurately puts it in a scene, "I'm fighting an empire." Williams easily nails the part. Plummer scores as the elder Getty, turning in an engaging performance overall. While he may seem cold in his refusal to pay the ransom, Plummer gives Getty a sense of amiability which makes him more human than one would expect. Also deserving praise is Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of the kinder kidnappers who tries to protect the young Getty whenever possible.

The film however is less engaging in an emotional sense. All The Money In The World feels much closer to American Gangster than Gladiator, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (I loved American Gangster more than some people). Scott may have given us a less dramatic story than I would have liked, but as far as true stories go, this one looks quite good.

All The Money In The World is a solid feature from Ridley Scott. Not one of his best, but very watchable. (7.5/10)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Bleeding Steel

Year: 2017
Director: Leo Zhang
Cast: Jackie Chan, Callan Mulvey, Show Lo, Erica Xia Hou, Nana Ouyang, Tess Haubrich


Plot: A dangerous man who possesses strength and invulnerability thanks to a top secret bio project, hunts down the scientist in charge and the rest of his research. However, a cop whose daughter is terminally ill, uses the research to save her and tries to keep her out of the man's clutches 13 years later when he resurfaces and tries again.


Review: Jackie Chan in a sci-fi movie? Well, this is rather new territory for him, but certainly better than his attempts to merge his culture with other cultures recently. But honestly, I'm giving semi faint praise here.

Actually, Bleeding Steel isn't half bad. For the most part, Chan is all business and in serious mode. This isn't one of those films where he does his comedic slapstick stuff. Like The Foreigner, he's mostly serious, except for a few moments here and there. He's also the best actor in the film as everyone else either tries too hard (Show Lo) or not enough (Nana Ouyang, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich). Erica Xia Hou, who plays Chan's subordinate and also wrote the screenplay, excels in a few fight sequences but is rather wooden in the acting department.

The action sequences are the highlight of the film for sure. While the opening firefight seems a bit messy in its execution, it looks quite good with multiple explosions and some good stunt work from Chan and his team. There's another sequence where Chan slides down the roof of the Sydney Opera House, which is a nice throwback to some of the crazy stunts he had done in his youth. Chan certainly hasn't lost his edge here. The rest of the action are just so-so as they come with a significant amount of CGI, which really isn't Chan's forte.

The weakness of the film is certainly the plot and dialogue, which involves a lot of corny lines and borrowed ideas from other sci-fi films. Mulvey's villain looks like a blatant ripoff of the Borg from Star Trek, and his goons are dressed like Robocop (the remake, not the original). Show Lo, who plays Chan's sidekick Leeson, is mostly unfunny in his attempts at comedy, save for a scene where he saves Chan's daughter from a group of troublemakers. Haubrich, while not excelling in terms of acting, holds her own in the action department, looking quite good in her scraps against Chan.

Overall, Bleeding Steel is a decent effort from Chan and company, but science fiction really isn't his wheelhouse. He ought to just stick to tried and true action movies he's known for. (6.5/10) 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Year: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro


Plot: While Rey tries to convince a disillusioned Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Jedi, the Resistance under General Leia's leadership flees from the First Order's attacks.


Review: The Force Awakens was a huge success for the Star Wars franchise, even though some fans called it a repeat of A New Hope. Thus director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson had a huge task ahead of him to top that feat.

In some ways, The Last Jedi almost feels like The Empire Strikes Back, and I mean that as a compliment. But more importantly, Johnson expands on the Star Wars universe a little by introducing a few new things while making time to bring back a couple of iconic elements from the past. He deftly balances the fun factor of the franchise and the seriousness of the ongoing war, thereby making the entire experience truly entertaining. 

The film is basically divided into two stories; the first featuring Rey and her training with Luke Skywalker, who isn't quite the same farm boy turned hero everyone knows from the past, and the second about the Resistance running from the First Order. This passive move from Leia's substitute Holdo doesn't go well with Poe Dameron, who enlists Finn and mechanic Rose to find a way to save the Resistance. And in between all this, Kylo Ren's conflicted emotions come to a head as he and Rey share a connection of some kind.

Everyone in the cast hits all the right notes, with veterans Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher leading the way. Fisher puts in a subtle but memorable final performance as Leia, while Hamill is superb as the disillusioned Luke who has to find a way to redeem himself over failing his student. Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega continue to impress as Rey, Poe and Finn respectively, with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran providing solid support as Rose. Tran scores in a scene where she explains her motivations to Finn. Adam Driver fares better here than the last time as Kylo Ren, having much more to do and thus more opportunity to show his acting chops. Finally, Benicio Del Toro gives an eccentric performance as DJ, a criminal who helps Finn and Rose during their mission.

If there's one thing that I can complain about The Last Jedi, it's the length. Johnson gets carried away a little with an extended third act that features two battles between the Resistance and the First Order, though he makes up for it by making both of them look extremely good on screen. 

All in all, The Last Jedi is truly one of the best Star Wars entries yet. Don't let the small group of haters sway you. If you're a fan, or a casual movie fan who has followed this saga from the beginning, you have to see it. (9/10)  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wonder

Year: 2017
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic, Noah Jupe, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Millie Davis


Plot: August "Auggie" Pullman is a young boy who's had 27 surgeries on his face since birth due to Treacher Collins Syndrome, and has been home schooled by his mother all his life. His parents finally decide to enter him into elementary school in fifth grade, where he will interact with other kids his age for the first time.


Review: Wonder is based on the best selling novel of the same name by RJ Palacio. The movie addresses the issue of looking past one's physical appearance and recognizing the human traits underneath. While this isn't exactly an unexplored subject as far as movies are concerned, Wonder is more than just a story about a deformed child trying to fit in the world, it's also about the people around him.

Auggie Pullman, facial handicap aside, is just your regular kid who loves his family, his dog, playing video games and Star Wars. But he has never been to school with other kids, until now. Naturally, the first day is tough as the other kids just can't help but stare at him. But over time, Auggie successfully makes friends with a couple of nice kids, though not without its own hurdles. It also helps that Auggie is very smart academically. 

As mentioned, this film isn't just about Auggie. There are a few separate chapters that focus on the people around him, such as his older sister Via, who has lived in her brother's shadow for years; his best friend Jack Will, who isn't as forthcoming as he should be, but eventually learns to genuinely respect Auggie; and Miranda, Via's best friend who loves Auggie like her own sibling, but has drifted apart from Via because of a lie she told.

Director and co-writer Stephen Chbosky efficiently tells Auggie's story without a dull moment in sight. Every character has a reason for being there, and nearly every interaction and conversation has a purpose. More importantly, Chbosky makes it all feel genuine and engaging, and he never makes Auggie feel pitiful, even in moments when he breaks down because some kids were mean to him. There are also a few funny moments when Chbosky attempts to highlight Auggie's love for Star Wars by having a couple of characters randomly popping up in his imagination (a certain Wookie comes to mind).

The entire cast put in solid performances. Jacob Tremblay, the wonder kid from Room (no pun intended), once again scores as Auggie. While the makeup limits his facial expressions a bit, Tremblay still turns in an engaging performance. Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts do a great job as Auggie's parents, though they are less believable as a married couple. Izabela Vidovic is superb as Via, who loves her brother dearly but trying to make her own way in the world, and finding love in the process. Noah Jupe is excellent as Jack Will, who gives a mature performance for a kid his age. Also worth mentioning is Daveed Diggs as helpful English teacher Mr Browne and Mandy Patinkin as school principal Mr Tushman.

If Wonder has any flaw, it's in the final fifteen minutes or so when the filmmakers go out of their way to tie up every loose end before the uplifting final scene, which is somewhat inevitable, but I suppose the book did the same thing. I also would have preferred Miranda's strained friendship with Via receive its proper moment of resolution, but Chbosky inexplicably left it out and asks us to assume it instead.

All in all, Wonder is a well made and engaging feel good movie that the whole family can enjoy, and even learn from. (7.5/10) 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Beyond Skyline

Year: 2017
Director: Liam O'Donnell
Cast: Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic, Iko Uwais, Pamelyn Chee, Yayan Ruhian, Callan Mulvey, Antonio Fargas, Jonny Weston


Plot: A policeman and his son try to survive an alien invasion, and eventually team up with a motley crew of survivors to fight back.


Review: Does anyone remember Skyline, the alien invasion movie made by the Strause brothers that seemed promising until that ridiculous ending? Well, the brothers now serve as producers to this sequel directed by Liam O'Donnell, and not only have they made a much better film this time around, they even made better use of that stupid ending.

Just like the first film, this sequel's main strength is the visual effects. I recall being very impressed with the way the filmmakers depicted humans being sucked into the aliens' spaceship, and it's just as awesome to watch again here. Overall the CGI is pretty good, except for one of the final battle sequences where two huge aliens engage in a fight. This sequence looked quite bad on screen, but other than that, the visual effects are great.

As for the story, it's more engaging for sure. This time, we're not confined to one small apartment and the survivors are much smarter. They know when to run, and they're not afraid to fight back. I'll admit, a few of the deaths felt senseless, but I was able to ignore it and just go with the flow. The first half features Frank Grillo's cop character Mark trying to rescue his son after he gets abducted, and teams up with train driver Audrey and blind war veteran Sarge to do so.

Then the film changes scenery as our heroes wind up in Laos and runs into a couple of underground rebels led by The Raid star Iko Uwais. This part of the story slows down a bit as the audience learns more about the aliens, but picks up at the climax when Grillo, Uwais and his fellow The Raid star Yayan Ruhian team up to take on the aliens. All this adds up to a genuinely entertaining sci-fi action movie.

Most of the acting here is just average, though Grillo is surely the best one here, followed by Antonio Fargas, who steals the show as Sarge. Bojana Novakovic and Singaporean actress Pamelyn Chee provide some female kick ass action as Audrey and Uwais' sister respectively. Uwais gets to speak English for the first time on screen as Sua, though it's just passable. But who cares? He kicks alien ass, which is what matters here. Watch out for Callan Mulvey, known for playing physical bad guys take on a nerdy scientist role here, he's nearly unrecognisable.

Now, I won't lie, Beyond Skyline is still essentially a B movie overall. The acting is so-so and the camerawork during the fight sequences were quite shaky. But don't let it keep you from checking this out. Soemtimes we just go to the movies because we want to watch something silly and have fun, and this is it. If you ever wanted to know what it would be like if The Raid stars fought aliens from outer space, go check this out. (7/10)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express

Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr.


Plot: When a murder takes place aboard the Orient Express, famed detective Hercule Poirot, who happened to be on the train, is recruited to investigate.


Review: Not being a fan of Agatha Christie's novels, I hadn't watched the original adaptation in 1974 nor read the book, so I shall review this with fresh eyes. I'll begin by saying it is a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Kenneth Branagh, who not only directs, but stars as Hercule Poirot, presents a classic whodunit story the best way possible; with intrigue, suspense and a touch of humour, with a quick pace to match. There is rarely a dull moment here as Branagh and his esteemed cast drive the plot together, and they work extremely well with each other on screen.

From a technical standpoint, the film is beautiful to watch. While some of the exterior shots were probably green screens, there were many real locations used here as well to showcase the gorgeous snowy mountains surrounding the train. Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos not only excelled in capturing the exterior shots, but also the tight spaces of the train corridors and ingeniously shooting from the ceiling at times. Praise must also be given to set design, costume design and music, whose crew all perform to high expectations.

The cast are all up to the task in bringing their roles to life. While Branagh obviously gets the lion's share of the scenes, and owns each one too, the others such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and even Josh Gad have their moment to shine. I must admit, I do feel Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp are quite underused here, but even so, they make their appearances count.

Not being familiar with the story, I was quite surprised by the final revelation, and Branagh executed it well. In reality it would seem rather far fetched, but this is a work of fiction, so I don't really have an issue with it.

Overall Murder On The Orient Express is a very entertaining piece of work. The purists have already criticised it, but I say just go see it for yourself and enjoy it. (8/10) 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Brink

Year: 2017
Director: Jonathan Li
Cast: Zhang Jin, Shawn Yue, Wu Yue, Gordon Lam, Janice Man, Yasuaki Kurata


Plot: A renegade cop goes all out to apprehend a ruthless smuggler attempting to smuggle gold retrieved from a sunken ship.


Review: The Brink is director Jonathan Li's first feature film, serving mostly as assistant director prior to this. While the film isn't perfect, it shows some promise for sure.

Action star Zhang Jin plays Cheng Sai Gau, a cop who follows his own book when executing his duties. After being freed from suspension following his act of accidentally causing another cop's death, he and his partner A-De (Wu Yue) investigate a case of black market gold being smuggled out of a sunken ship by Jiang (Shawn Yue), whose greed is only matched by his ruthlessness. When Jiang kidnaps A-De, Cheng is forced to use his questionable tactics to stop the former, much to the chagrin of his superior, Chan (Gordon Lam).

As an action film, The Brink scores mostly high points. Li successfully executes and films a handful of creative and hard hitting fight sequences, some taking place in locations we don't normally think of, like an open air parking lot, a wet market and an unstable ship being rocked by a storm. Li's uncanny eye for camera movements during these sequences ought to be commended.

The cast perform competently for the most part. Zhang isn't a great actor but he is quite believable as the rebellious cop Cheng, and excels tremendously in the fight sequences. Yue turns in a cold performance as Jiang, which works well when he's trying to torment someone, but not otherwise. The ever reliable Gordon Lam once again does well as Chan, while his SPL Paradox co-star Wu Yue gets less screen time here as A-De, but still gets a few opportunities to show off his fighting skills. Legendary Japanese actor Yasuaki Kurata gets a supporting role as a gang boss but unfortunately doesn't get to fight here.

While The Brink has the right amount of action, violence and grittiness that is reminiscent of the SPL films, its story and characters deserve more exploration. Cheng's penchant for violence isn't properly explained, and his relationship with a young girl he adopted feels tacked on. Jiang's girlfriend, played by Janice Man, has an undying loyalty towards him, but it's not fully explored either. Even A-De's partnership with Cheng, which seems quite crucial considering the lengths the latter would go to to save him, isn't given the backstory it deserves. If Li had given all these more time, the film would be much improved.

All in all, The Brink is an entertaining action film that gives Zhang Jin an opportunity to be the leading man for the first time, but the story itself could be better overall. (7/10)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League

Year: 2017
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams


Plot: Steppenwolf, an ancient being bent on conquest, seeks the three powerful Mother Boxes, which when combined, will enable him to enslave the planet. With Superman gone, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting superpowered people to their ranks; the king of Atlantis, a cyborg, and the fastest man alive.


Review: There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Justice League to succeed. After all, it is supposed to be as big a deal as The Avengers, bringing together the greatest heroes of the DC universe in one film. While the DCEU has made a box office killing so far, it has not been a darling of the critics, save for Wonder Woman's recent solo adventure. While Justice League is nowhere near the train wreck Suicide Squad turned out to be, it isn't exactly the epic it could have been.

It starts off well enough; a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows by Norwegian singer Sigrid as the opening credits roll, showing the aftermath of Superman's death. This is probably my favorite part of the whole film, which says a lot about what the rest of the film looks like. Bringing Joss Whedon onboard to finish Zack Snyder's work after he departed due to personal matters may have lightened the previously sombre tone felt in Batman Vs Superman, but personally I didn't care either way. Justice League has a few cool moments, such as Diana coming to the aid of a handful of hostages about to be blown up by a doomsday cult, a chase sequence between the Amazons and Steppenwolf, and a resurrected Superman (yes he returns, don't pretend you didn't know that was going to happen, it's no spoiler) getting into a mini fight with the League. The banter between the League members work for the most part, and Ezra Miller's Flash is actually quite funny, even more so than Tom Holland's Spider-Man or nearly every character in Thor: Ragnarok.

But Justice League falls a bit short on being the superhero epic it could have been. For starters, Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash deserve more time for their characters to develop. Cyborg honestly was the least affected by the lack of time, as his struggle to accept his new form after being resurrected by his father feels genuine. Flash is presented here as an underachiever, living as a petty thief while lamenting his father's wrongful incarceration for murder. I felt there was a lot more about him that Snyder / Whedon could have explored. And Aquaman is just a guy with a rock star attitude spending time saving people from shipwrecks and helping fishing villages, who has his own parental issues. Again, his story is not fully fleshed out. 

The action sequences are mostly clunky and filled to the brim with CGI and green screen effects. While using CGI is pretty common in most superhero movies, it felt quite overused here, and it doesn't help that some of it looked weak, none more so than Steppenwolf. His look here is only a couple of notches above the bad CGI in The Scorpion King. Speaking of Steppenwolf, he's pretty much one of the weakest villains I've ever seen in a superhero movie. Unlike the charismatic Loki or the brilliant Joker, Steppenwolf feels like a prelude to a greater villain that will come later.

Acting wise, the cast are mostly spot on. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot both bring a good amount of gravitas to their respective roles as Batman and Wonder Woman. Ezra Miller is perfect as the comedic Flash, though I wish he was given more to do, including the action sequences. Jason Momoa gives Aquaman plenty of attitude while Ray Fisher brings a subtle performance as Cyborg. Jeremy Irons has much less to do here as Alfred, and J.K Simmons has even less time than Irons playing Commissioner Gordon, sporting a horrible toupee while he's at it. Amy Adams is always welcome as the returning Lois Lane, while Henry Cavill does what he can as Superman, only appearing in the second half of the film. In fact, once he shows up, the rest of the League nearly gets upstaged by him.

In the end, Justice League is entertaining and coherent enough to not be bad, but considering that this should be the DCEU's crown jewel, it should have an epic feel and more "wow that's cool" moments. It's a good movie, but not a great one. 

P.S. Stay till the credits finish for two post credit sequences. (7/10)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Only The Brave

Year: 2017
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale


Plot: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters who battle wildfires across the country, until tragedy befell them in Yarnell.


Review: Most true stories brought to the big screen would focus on a certain event at a specific time, but Only The Brave takes a different route by taking an in depth look at the men who make up the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots, their professional and personal trials, right up to the tragedy at Yarnell Hill.

The first half of the film focuses on team superintendent Eric Marsh trying to get his team certified by the government, as at the beginning, they were largely considered a trainee B team sent in to clean up the mess instead of being at the front line. The second half shows the team doing what they do best after receiving certification, until the fateful Yarnell incident. In between, we witness the team members' personal problems, ranging from unhappy spouses to fatherhood and women trouble etc.

Director Joseph Kosinski, who had directed sci-fi thriller Oblivion previously, paces the film quite well, never letting it stall too long while making sure the dramatic elements are played out perfectly. I am impressed with how Kosinski directs the firefighting sequences as they look very authentic. Director of photography Claudio Miranda deserves praise for capturing the wide skyline and billowing smoke beautifully; there's one scene in the film where he shoots the Hotshots walking in between burnt trees from a bird's eye view, which looks simply marvelous.

The acting is superb all across the board. While James Badge Dale (a popular choice for playing working class heroes) and Taylor Kitsch provide solid support as team captain Steed and senior member Mackenzie respectively, the film mostly belongs to Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. Brolin superbly plays Eric Marsh as a strict but fair man, who has dedicated his life to his job, which puts a strain on his marriage. In that regard, Jennifer Connelly matches Brolin as his wife Amanda, and their relationship comes off feeling very genuine. Teller plays McDonough, a former junkie rebuilding his life by signing up as a firefighter in order to provide for his newborn daughter. He's almost unrecognizable with blond hair, but pulls off the role effectively.

The film does feel less exciting when there's no fire to run towards, and Kitsch's women problems, along with a handful of other juvenile level humor feels more of a distraction than being authentic, but overall it isn't enough to ruin the whole experience. As a biography on courageous firefighters, Only The Brave scores mostly high marks, and ought to be checked out. (7.5/10) 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Jailbreak

Year: 2017
Director: Jimmy Henderson
Cast: Jean-Paul Ly, Dara Our, Tharoth Sam, Celine Tran, Savin Phillip, Dara Phang


Plot: Three cops and a French-Cambodian exchange cop are assigned to escort a convicted criminal named Playboy to prison. However, they end up getting trapped in the prison when a riot breaks out, set in motion by the leader of the Butterfly gang, who wants Playboy dead before he can expose them.


Review: One look at the film's trailer and it's obvious that Jailbreak was inspired by Asian actioners like The Raid and Ong Bak. While the film isn't quite as good as those films, it still manages to deliver some excitement throughout its 92 minute runtime.

The premise is simple enough; four cops have to protect a white collar criminal from being killed by dozens of prisoners who have been let loose by another prisoner hired by Madame Butterfly, seeking to silence her former associate before he talks. Thus begins the difficult ordeal of the cops who have to fight for their lives against impossible odds. 

I must note that unlike The Raid and Ong Bak, Jailbreak is actually quite light hearted in its approach. Director Jimmy Henderson makes several attempts to ellicit laughter from his audience, mostly by having the criminal Playboy run away in fear and do all sorts of things to stay alive. There's also a Hannibal Lecter-like convict who breaks out and starts chewing everyone he gets his hands on. Literally. It's clearly an attempt at comedy, though not all of them work that well.

As for the action, there are some really well choreographed scraps between the four cops and the prisoners, though the ones that really stand out are the one on one fights, the best one being Tharoth Sam versus Celine Tran. Sam nearly steals the show with her skills which are reminiscent of Tony Jaa in this fight alone. Lead star Jean-Paul Ly also impresses every time he is in a fight with anyone. The acting however is a letdown, as the quality ranges from wooden to just average.

Henderson's direction is also rather uneven as the film loses momentum in the second half, whenever he tries to serve the plot and stop the action. In fact, Henderson should be raising the tension and intensity towards the end, but fails to do so properly, resulting in a rather unsatisfactory ending. 

All in all, while Jailbreak doesn't have the intensity of The Raid, nor the inventiveness of Ong Bak, it still is a slightly more than decent attempt at delivering an action vehicle from South East Asia. Personally I'd like to see more from these guys in the future. (6.5/10)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch


Plot: Hela, the Goddess of Death, Odin's first born and Thor's sister, has returned to take over Asgard. Thor and Loki try to stop her, but they fail and end up on a distant planet called Sakaar, where the former becomes a prisoner of the Grandmaster and forced to fight in his arena against his champion, the incredible Hulk.


Review: After a dozen or so movies that have raked in big bucks, Marvel Studios must feel pretty confident. They probably also got tired of churning out film after film that some critics have deemed too indistinguishable from one another. So what does director Taika Waititi and his trio of writers do? They turn Thor into a comedy.

But wait. Isn't the MCU supposed to be light-hearted enough, compared to the dark tones of the DCEU and the convoluted mess of FOX's mutants? Apparently Waititi and company don't think so, and as a result, Thor: Ragnarok has become a "one joke per minute" film. I don't think there was a time in the movie where a joke wasn't thrown for more than 2 minutes. It begins just as soon as we see Thor hanging from chains in front of his captor Surtur, as he spews the kind of comedic lines we'd expect from someone like Tony Stark. 

But it doesn't end there, as we are treated to more and more comedy. Loki throws an outrageous play about his faked death (featuring cameos that didn't elevate the scene whatsoever). Doctor Strange makes an appearance and shows how much he's learned about jumping from one place to the next. Karl Urban's Skurge jokes about naming his guns (facepalm moment). And it goes on and on. And this is before we even get to Thor and Loki ending up on Sakaar where more jokes await. Some of which, comes from a talking Hulk, while the rest mostly from a very unfunny Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster.

Now, making jokes is not really a bad thing. But it most certainly is when it's either not funny or poorly timed. Do these filmmakers not realize that we can't take the movie seriously (because we have to at some point, the universe is at stake, isn't it?) if they keep making fun of everything? Since when does Thor have a humongous need to be funny? It's not too bad when Loki's with him, then the banter between them balances it out somehow. But all the same, it would have gone down easier if it was worth laughing at.

I also have an issue with Waititi and company treating a handful of supporting characters poorly, by killing them off without a second thought. I won't spoil it, but the way it was handled left a bad taste in my mouth. Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie was also badly written, and Thompson's arrogant performance doesn't endear her character well either. Valkyrie is supposed to be an indifferent character who slowly ends up giving a damn again here, but the whole process wasn't convincing.

Only Idris Elba's Heimdall and Anthony Hopkins' Odin appear to be unaffected by the bad script, thankfully so. Mark Ruffalo's Banner is at least hilarious when he tries to be, but the rest of the cast are let down by a script that does not allow them to be the same heroes we loved before Ragnarok. As for Cate Blanchett, she does what she can with her part, but isn't given more time to shine, thanks to the script's need to pander to a bathrobe wearing Goldblum, who has no real value to the overall story.

So what's left that's good? The Thor vs Hulk scrap was well done, one of the highlights of the film. Most of the action sequences were good, save for the last one where too much is happening on screen and thus too difficult to properly enjoy. Some of the exchanges between Thor and Loki were good, especially when they were being serious. Their final moments with their father was also well executed.

I'll be honest though. The MCU can't really make a horrible film (like the Fantastic Four remake for instance), but they came very close here. Thor: Ragnarok isn't bad, just terribly underwhelming. At this point, they should be firing on all cylinders and deliver a better film than the last before Infinity War gets here. I really expected more.

P.S.: Stay for the first credit scene. You don't need to see the second one, trust me. (6/10) 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dohmnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig


Plot: A couple's tranquil home is disturbed by sudden unexpected guests.


Review: Much has been said about Mother! recently. Some call it brilliant, some call it garbage. After seeing it, I can say this: it's not meant for everyone.

Writer and director Darren Aronofsky's new film is an allegory of sorts, one that I can't say too much about, lest it spoils the true plot of the film. The closest thing to an idea of what it's about that I can mention is that it's a message from Aronofsky about the way the world is. To say anything more would be wrong to those of you who have yet to see it.

But let's cut to the all important question: is it good? Well, yes and no. If one were to view it the way Aronofsky does, then yes it would be. But movies are so much more than just seeing through the director's eyes and feeling it through your bones. It's about being entertained and experiencing emotions like excitement and sadness. If that's what you're looking for, you're going to be somewhat disappointed, for Mother! is not that kind of film.

The impeccable cast all deliver sterling performances, whether their appearances are minor or major. Javier Bardem still commands the screen well, and Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dohmnall Gleeson all contribute in their own way. Pfeiffer in particular comes off suitably sinister for the most part. But Mother! truly belongs to its main star Jennifer Lawrence. As much as I abhor Lawrence's role choices, she delivers a tour de force performance here. Her job is basically to make the audience feel the same way she does, and she accomplishes that perfectly. 

I'm aware I'm not giving you much to go on with this review, but it's better that way. It's a divisive film, and one that is difficult to comprehend fully even when you think you get the idea. You'll either love it or hate it, or like me, you'll find it fascinating but confusing at the same time.

If you're the curious type, then by all means, go check this out. If you want to be entertained, stay away from this. (7/10)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Year: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Lennie James, Carla Juri, Hiam Abbass, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi


Plot: 30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner, the Tyrell corporation has been bought over by Niander Wallace, who now manufactures replicants who obey. The older models are still being hunted by blade runners. K, a blade runner who is a replicant himself, finds a clue about his past which leads him back to Rick Deckard, who has been in hiding for three decades.


Review: The original Blade Runner wasn't a success story at first, but has since become a cult favorite. Fans would say that the sequel can't possibly top it, but acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve has proven them wrong.

Thirty years removed from the first film, Earth hasn't changed that much. It still rains a lot and looks rather bleak. K, a replicant blade runner who hunts down his predecessors, finds a box of bones next to a tree along with a clue that ties in to one of his memories. He is aware that his memories aren't real, so his curiosity leads him to the origins of the memories and to whom those bones belong to. Meanwhile, Niander Wallace, the new man behind the creation of replicants, is also after the same thing, and the clues lead them both to Rick Deckard, the original blade runner.

But unlike the original Blade Runner, 2049 explores its protagonist's background and develops his character thoroughly. K isn't just a replicant programmed to obey, he actually is as they say, more human than human, judging by his need for companionship in the form of Joi, a holographic consort. He is still required to take tests to show his emotional detachment, which is all part of his struggle in walking the line between human and replicant. Without a doubt, 2049 is K's story, and Deckard only steps into the picture in the third act. Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Fancher wrote the original as well) have certainly outdone themselves here.

From a technical standpoint, 2049 is gorgeous. The great Roger Deakins, who worked with Villeneuve on Sicario and Prisoners, once again turns in superb work, coupled with great production design and visual effects, making it look like a world we'd easily want to step into ourselves. Credit also goes to Renee April for the costume designs and the pair of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch for the music score. Some, if not all of these departments are due for Oscar nominations next year.

Almost every cast member is on point. Ryan Gosling nails it as K, exuding magnetic presence without much effort. Harrison Ford plays the other human heavy role as Deckard, and still shines despite having limited screen time. All the other supporting actors, from Robin Wright as K's superior, to Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace's strongwoman, to Lennie James as a child labor boss, to Mackenzie Davis as a hooker who is part of the replicant freedom movement, also turn in great peformances. Even Dave Bautista impressed me in his small role as an older model skinjob, who will easily get your sympathy here. Special mention goes to Ana de Armas as Joi, who like K, longs to go beyond what she was made for. Oddly enough, it is Jared Leto's Wallace that becomes the weak link among the cast. Not that Leto wasn't good, it's just that his eccentric performance was predictable, even though it suited the role.

Despite running at a lengthy 163 minutes, 2049 doesn't really feel that long, thanks to Villeneuve's solid direction. Aside from Leto, the only other flaw would be the subplot about the replicant freedom movement which isn't fully explored.

It must be said; Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best sequels ever made, and is one of the best films of 2017. I do recommend watching the original before checking this out. (9/10)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Foreigner

Year: 2017
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Ray Fearon, Michael McElhatton, Rory Fleck Byrne, Charlie Murphy, Lia Williams, Orla Brady


Plot: When his daughter is killed by a bomb blast perpetrated by a group of Irish rebels, a middle aged Chinaman seeks revenge. He targets the deputy prime minister of Ireland, whom he suspects knows more than he's letting on.


Review: Now here's a rare opportunity: to see Jackie Chan in a serious action film. No comedic flips, no slapstick punches. In fact, Chan barely smiles throughout the whole film.

Chan plays Quan, whose daughter dies in a bomb attack by a group of Irish rebels who are targeting Great Britain. Quan goes to meet Liam Hennessy, the deputy prime minister of Ireland, and asks for the bombers' names. Hennessy, who was once part of the old faction himself, denies any knowledge, but as the story goes on, it is clear that he is connected to the incident, even as he tries to handle the matter on his own. Quan continues to harass Hennessy to give up the names, and the game turns more dangerous as the film moves on.

Director Martin Campbell, working with a script by David Marconi based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman, has made a film that wouldn't look out of place among the many Bourne knock offs that have emerged over the years, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. We have explosions, gunfights and fistfights here and there, and Chan plays it straight here. No nonsense whatsoever, which is good for him.

However, Campbell and Marconi spent a significant amount of time developing Hennessy's involvement with the bombers, his handling of the matter and how his closest acquaintances may or may not be on his side. All this takes away too much attention from Quan's story, who is simply a father seeking justice. There isn't enough time spared for Quan to properly grieve or ponder the consequences of his actions, thereby making this story rather uneven.

Chan shines as the vengeful Quan, who seems mild mannered on the outside, but is capable of taking down much younger guys. Pierce Brosnan is solid as Hennessy, playing him as someone who isn't immediately sympathetic or otherwise. I only wish they had spent more time developing scenes between the two men, as the film only allowed for three.

While I approve of the few twists the film throws in, it still adds up to a rather overcomplicated plot that didn't really need to be that way. Brosnan also doesn't get to partake in any action sequences, so if you're a fan of his Bond days, you may be disappointed.

In the end, The Foreigner is a solid action vehicle for Jackie Chan, but is slightly let down by a convoluted plot and unbalanced direction. (7/10)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Year: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum


Plot: When a drug lord poisons every drug user in the world with her new revolutionary drug and destroys the Kingsman's headquarters, Eggsy and Merlin head to the U.S and joins forces with their American covert relatives, Statesman, where they discover Harry, the original Galahad, is still alive.


Review: Matthew Vaughn's KIngsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit, even for me as I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. That success paved the way for this sequel, where Vaughn expands on Kingsman's universe.

As far as our young hero Eggsy is concerned, life couldn't be better. He's a top agent who's in a relationship with a Swedish princess, but it all goes south real quick when Poppy Adams, an eccentric drug queen, destroys each one of Kingsman's secret bases and kills all their agents, save for Eggsy and Merlin. The duo discover the existence of the American version of their organization, Statesman, and travel there to seek their help. They find out that Harry survived the supposed fatal gunshot in the first film and now suffers from amnesia. The two spy teams join forces in an effort to stop Poppy, who has poisoned every drug user on earth and will only save them if the President shuts down their war on drugs.

In essence, The Golden Circle is a lot like The Secret Service, minus the part where Eggsy has to learn the ropes on how to be a super agent. We have more ridiculous stunts, fights, violence and another over-the-top villain with an over-the-top scheme. But one can't help but feel that Vaughn was overindulgent here, as he spends a lot of time on exposition and taking the long way around to get to his point, which results in this sequel being 141 minutes long. There were definitely a few things that could have been edited, including a supposedly dramatic twist at the climax which led to another excuse for a ridiculous fight sequence.

Taron Egerton and Colin Firth are still the main stars here, still kicking ass as Eggsy and Harry respectively. Egerton in particular seems to have settled in with his role quite well. Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges only make minor appearances as Tequila and Champagne respectively, leaving Pedro Pascal with most of the Statesman's action as Whiskey. Halle Berry is okay as the Statesman's tech support Ginger Ale, but doesn't get much to do other than speak about being underappreciated by her peers. Mark Strong still scores as Merlin while Julianne Moore, like Samuel L Jackson before her, hams it up as Poppy, but comes off being more annoying than intimidating. Look out for Elton John playing himself as a prisoner of Poppy, it's quite funny actually.

Besides the overindulgence above, I was also displeased with Vaughn for eliminating a few characters from the first film here, whom I felt deserved to continue appearing in future instalments. Then there's the music choices, which were terrible, except for Take Me Home, Country Road.

All in all, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an imperfect but fun sequel, which could use some tighter editing. (7/10) 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

American Assassin

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Cuesta
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, Shiva Negar, Scott Adkins


Plot: A young man hell bent on taking revenge against terrorists is recruited by the CIA to join their special team of elite killers.


Review: The success of the Bourne films have generated a massive number of similar copycat films over the last decade. Some films like Salt and Safe House were successful, while others like Hitman: Agent 47, The Expatriate, The November Man and Survivor were only so-so. Now we can add one more to the genre.

Based on one of the Mitch Rapp novels by the late Vince Flynn, American Assassin tells the story of Rapp, whose girlfriend is killed by a terrorist attack in Spain. Fueled by vengeance, Rapp trains himself to become a killer all on his own and successfully infiltrates the terrorist cell responsible. CIA deputy director of counter intelligence Irene Kennedy sees potential in him and recruits him to join Orion, a special black ops team under the tutelage of former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley, a no-nonsense instructor. Rapp turns out to be an efficient spy despite having problems taking orders from people. When the CIA discovers a former student of Hurley's attempting to make a nuclear bomb, Hurley and Rapp are sent to handle the problem.

The storyline here is rather similar to Skyfall, where a spy has gone rogue and wants to get even with his handler, though this particular plot isn't fully explored. The idea of two spies, in this case Rapp and Ghost, his predecessor, being pitted against one another by people who have or is pulling their strings, and having so much in common, would have been interesting to watch. But director Michael Cuesta (Kill The Messenger) spends most of the film focusing on Rapp's training and his drive for vengeance or getting things done his way. Ghost's intentions here only seem to be getting even with Hurley, which is fine, but makes him a less cerebral antagonist.

As far as the action sequences go, Cuesta doesn't hold back on the violence, just the way I like it. The opening terrorist attack was a sight to behold, and there are some well choreographed fights and a decent torture sequence, so overall Cuesta got it right.

Dylan O'Brien is splendid as Rapp, looking very different from playing Thomas in The Maze Runner films. Here, he's intense and mostly angry, but still easy to root for. Michael Keaton scores the most points here as Hurley, being convincing enough as the tough spy trainer with experience during the Cold War. Sanaa Lathan's Irene Kennedy is mostly a suit-wearing bureaucrat here, but she makes it work, while newcomer Shiva Negar does alright as a Turkish agent working with Rapp. As for Taylor Kitsch, he is believable enough as Ghost, the man who has an axe to grind with his superiors, but doesn't quite get enough time to show what he's really capable of, which is a pity. Initially I thought his acting would be a letdown, but he kinda impressed me. I am disappointed though, that B-movie action star Scott Adkins is reduced to playing an unlucky second fiddle agent, since he's supposed to be a badass.

In essence, American Assassin doesn't quite break new ground on the spy genre. If you've seen the Bourne films already and seeking something innovative, you won't find it here. Personally though, I found it entertaining. I've learnt that some movies need not be original to entertain the audience, that one can go see an action movie and enjoy it for what it is, and American Assassin is that kind of film. (7/10)  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It

Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Cast: Jaden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard


Plot: In the summer of 1989, seven high school kids battle a demonic clown that has been kidnapping and eating children in the town of Derry, Maine.


Review: The much hyped remake of Stephen King's It has finally arrived. This reviewer only has vague memories of the original TV miniseries, so he won't be making comparisons here.

We begin in October 1988 as the film shows how the evil Pennywise the dancing clown kills seven year old Georgie Denbrough while he was playing with his paper boat in the rain. Cut to eight months later, where we are introduced to a bunch of high school kids who are considered "losers" by their seniors: Ben, a tubby kid who loves listening to New Kids On The Block; Stanley, a Jewish boy struggling to pass his upcoming Torah test; Eddie, a hypochondriac kid; Richie, a fast talking boy who isn't as cool as he thinks he is; Beverly, a young girl who is a victim of sexual abuse by her dad; Mike, an African American kid working at a meat factory; and Bill, Georgie's stuttering older brother who still believes he's alive. Each of them encounter Pennywise on different occasions, and when they realise this, they decide to band together and take the fight to him.

Director Andy Muschietti skilfully balances the drama and horror elements here, and even manages to throw in some humour while he's at it. The horror here is based on what frightens the kids the most and how Pennywise uses them to his advantage, so we get a variety of scares here, from a dark library to an abandoned house, to a flooded basement, a scary painting etc ....though my favorite one involves a bathroom sink. To be honest, if you're a seasoned horror fan, none of these scares might seem original, but Muschietti uses them well and films them perfectly (the cinematography by Chung Hoon Chung is sublime), so none of them feel out of place at all. 

Performance wise, all the kids chosen to play the losers put in stellar performances, but personally I enjoyed Jaden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis' work the most as Bill and Beverly respectively. Lieberher, recently seen in Midnight Special, is very convincing as the boy struggling to come to terms with his brother's demise, while Lillis, who resembles a young Elizabeth Olsen, is perfect as the tough yet vulnerable Beverly. As for Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard does a good enough job here, but I personally didn't find him scary. I wouldn't blame this on Skarsgard though, perhaps the script just didn't paint him as dark as he could have been.

On the flipside, the film does take a good amount of time to build itself up to the final battle, but it's well worth the wait. Muschietti doesn't hold back on the violence here, so this is definitely not for the faint-hearted. 

In the book, the kids will return as adults to face the clown one last time, but we will have to wait for the sequel to see this. No worries, It is a solid horror flick which will perform well enough at the box office to earn the sequel it needs. (7.5/10)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Cage Dive

Year: 2017
Director: Gerald Rascionato
Cast: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, Megan Peta Hill


Plot: Two brothers and a girl travel to Australia to participate in cage diving with sharks, and plan to film their entire experience so that they can appear on a reality show. But when their boat gets hit by a tidal wave, the trio are forced to survive in open water surrounded by sharks.


Review: Cage Dive is supposed to be the third film in the Open Water franchise, though the film itself didn't use the Open Water title. Anyway, let's get to the review.

Jeff and Josh are a pair of half brothers, who along with Jeff's girlfriend Megan, plan on signing up for a reality show, and for their entry video, they travel to Australia to go cage diving with sharks. Naturally, things go wrong when their boat is hit with a tidal wave and they wind up in the ocean with no protection against the deadly sharks. Will they be rescued before they become shark food?

Considering this is a found footage film, you already know the answer to that. The film begins with a broken camera found on the ocean floor by a diver, who retrieves the memory card and plays back the footage for the audience. They even include interviews with the brothers' cousin living in Australia and some news footage to make it feel authentic. And while it is a nice touch by director and writer Gerald Rascionato, it doesn't hide the film's weaknesses. 

The main weakness here is Rascionato's attempt to give the trio a background, which lasts for quite some time. The first third of the film features the trio preparing for the trip, as Josh acts on his secret feelings for his brother's girl, which creates a love triangle that comes into play towards the end of the second act. Personally I felt that this angle wasn't necessary and only felt like padding on top of a story that could work on its own, and it made the film feel longer even though it only runs 80 minutes.

Another thing would be Rascionato's decision to have Megan commit a bone headed move in the second act. Now, I know all about people making dumb decisions in horror movies, but this one takes the cake. This move was a means to an end, but Rascionato could have justified it way better than that.

Acting wise, Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff and Megan Peta Hill are convincing enough as Jeff, Josh and Megan respectively, but the occasionally poor writing lets them down and makes them look bad.

On the plus side, the cinematography is good despite it being shaky due to the found footage aspect. Like most films of its kind, it utilises night vision during the night scenes, and even throws in a handful of blackouts every now and then when something bad hits the camera. Authenticity is the one thing the film got right.

In the end, Cage Dive is merely a decent shark attack film which uses its found footage aspect well, but not much else. (6/10)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

SPL: Paradox

Year: 2017
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Louis Koo, Wu Yue, Gordon Lam, Chris Collins, Hanna Chan, Jacky Cai, Tony Jaa, Ken Lo


Plot: When his daughter is kidnapped in Pattaya, a Hong Kong cop travels there and teams up with a Chinese born local cop to find her.


Review: Paradox is the third entry in the SPL anthology of films, which began with Donnie Yen, followed by Wu Jing and Tony Jaa as the heroes, and now Louis Koo and Wu Yue in those roles.

Koo plays Lee, a Hong Kong cop who raised his teenage daughter by himself after his wife's death in a car accident. When she travels to Pattaya and subsequently gets kidnapped by an organ trafficking ring, Lee heads there and joins forces with Chui, a Chinese born local cop, (himself an expecting father) to find her. But their investigation is hampered by interference from someone in the higher ranks of the police department, who is in the pocket of the mayor's assistant. The mayor is in dire need of a heart transplant, and Lee's daughter is a candidate for an involuntary donation.

From the way this movie was filmed, and the fact that organ trafficking is once again the chosen subject matter (SPL II covered the same crime), one has to believe that director Wilson Yip wants to highlight the seriousness of this issue, and to that end he succeeds. This is a despicable crime that goes from the ruthless criminals running the syndicate, to people in power that are willing to abuse that power to keep it going smoothly. Yip shows all of that in a gritty, no holds barred manner, focusing more on the violence than the action that the film keeps marketing.

Koo does well as the desperate dad who is willing to overturn every stone in Pattaya to find his only child. Wu is also equally commendable as the expecting father who tries to uphold the law while helping Koo in his quest. Gordon Lam plays the cold mannered, goal driven mayor's assistant to perfection, though he isn't really the film's main villain. That role belongs to Chris Collins, who although fights very well, isn't quite a convincing actor. Tony Jaa unfortunately only gets a brief appearance here as Wu's partner, though he manages to squeeze in one solid fight sequence with Collins, so if you're a fan of Jaa, you might be a bit bummed like I was.

Sammo Hung, the man himself, did a splendid job in choreographing the fight sequences, even managing to make Koo (an actor not well versed in fighting) look good. Granted, Koo's style is mostly grounded, while Wu is given the more complicated sequences with Collins, but bottom line is Hung has done a great job here.

The only issues I have with the film are a couple of scenes that didn't quite make sense, and Jaa's brief appearance (along with his precognitive ability which is not explained). Otherwise, Yip deserves credit for tackling this subject matter and not sugarcoating the outcome.

Overall, SPL: Paradox is a commendable action thriller worth checking out. (7.5/10)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Hughes
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida


Plot: A skilled bodyguard is tasked by his ex-girlfriend, who is an Interpol agent, to escort a hitman to The Hague in order to testify against a brutal dictator charged with war crimes. The problem is, the bodyguard and the hitman have a past, and they have to keep themselves from killing each other while being chased by the dictator's men all the way to the court building.


Review: The concept behind The Hitman's Bodyguard is quite familiar by now: two people who can't stand each other have to set aside their differences and work together to stay alive. 

We are first introduced to Michael Bryce, a top dollar bodyguard whose reputation goes down the drain after one of his clients gets killed. One day he gets a call from his ex-girlfriend Amelia, an Interpol agent, who needs to transport Darius Kincaid, a mouthy hitman to The Hague in order to testify against President Dukhovich of Belarus, who is being charged with war crimes. Amelia can't trust her own team after they're attacked in broad daylight, so Bryce gets the call. However, he and Darius have a history of trying to kill each other, which they must now put aside if they want to make it to court on time.

Since this is an action comedy, you can expect Bryce and Darius to continuously get on each other's nerves and arguing all the way there, and eventually bonding and coming clean with certain things. This is the predictable part of course, but The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't trying to break new ground on the genre, it's just trying to get the audience to have fun, which it does for the most part. Director Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) does a splendid job keeping the film steadily moving with one action sequence after another, and all of them well shot. The final third of the film is pretty good as Hughes treats us to a car, bike and boat chase simultaneously, which then moves to a car chase and a foot chase in parallel. As far as the action goes, the film doesn't disappoint.

The jokes however, are hit and miss. Half the time, it works, usually when Darius and Bryce are arguing, but it misses when Darius tries to make fun of his unwilling partner, or when Salma Hayek's character (Darius' wife) goes on a rant in her prison cell. In fact, Hayek's presence here is quite a waste as she spends most of her screen time away from the two leads, and only has a small connection to the main plot.

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson work very well together as Bryce and Darius respectively, with Reynolds being a less verbose version of Wade Wilson, and Jackson being the slightly reckless, shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. Gary Oldman plays Dukhovich the same way he played the villain in Air Force One, which is nothing new but works nonetheless. Elodie Yung is underused as Amelia, not being allowed to show her ass kicking skills we know she has.

Another miss for the film is the soundtrack, which varies from eighties hits like Hello and I Want To Know What Love Is, to loud heavy metal music. Hughes should just stick to one genre.

Overall, The Hitman's Bodyguard is an enjoyable action comedy which won't stay in your mind when it's over, but it's at least fun to watch. (7/10)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Year: 2017
Director: David F Sandberg
Cast: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee


Plot: A dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their home, years after they had lost their own daughter in an accident. Once there however, the girls start to sense an evil presence in the house, which is connected to one of the dollmaker's creations, Annabelle.


Review: John R Leonetti's Annabelle, made in 2014, was little more than to capitalize on the success of James Wan's The Conjuring, and simply wasn't scary. Thus, Annabelle: Creation, a film that goes back even before the first Annabelle, now arrives, hoping to do what its predecessor failed.

The story begins with Samuel and Esther Mullins, a dollmaker and his wife, who live happily with their beloved daughter Annabelle "Bee" Mullins, until she is tragically killed in an accident. Twelve years later, the Mullinses welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their large home. Soon after they arrive however, strange things start to happen, and it's all centred on a forbidden room in the house, where a porcelain doll in a white dress resides. It's possessed, and it wants a soul, and it has targeted Janice, the girl who walks with a limp.

Director David F Sandberg (Lights Out) has done a stupendous job in generating the scares, using darkness, creaky doors and floors, and of course, objects that move by themselves, from the Annabelle doll itself to a scarecrow and even lightbulbs. His style is quite similar to Wan's, but it works very well. Almost every jump scare here is well earned.

What this film also has is something that Annabelle did not have: a convincing relationship. Much like Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring films, Creation has a solid relationship here as well; a sister-like friendship between two of the orphans, Janice and Linda. Janice's handicap makes her an outcast among the other girls, except for Linda, who treats her like a best friend and always stays by her side. This connection is truly crucial as the audience can't help but care about what happens to these two girls as the story moves along.

Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson are the standouts here, giving believable performances as Janice and Linda respectively. Wilson, who last wowed audiences in Ouija: Origin Of Evil, is on the mark here, this time playing scared instead of scary. Bateman is also superb as the target of the evil spirit, displaying a palpable sense of vulnerability. Stephanie Sigman gets the token disbeliever role as Sister Charlotte, but much more likable than Ward Horton's John from the first Annabelle. Veteran actor Anthony LaPaglia also shines as Samuel Mullins, being emotionally cold for the most part, due to his personal loss, while Miranda Otto doesn't get much screen time as Mrs Mullins, but plays a crucial role in the third act.

As with most horror films these days, the downsides usually involves questionable decisions by its characters, like why do they go into a forbidden room, or why not run when something scary is coming etc. But the best way to enjoy this film is to just suspend disbelief a little bit and enjoy what unfolds.

All in all, I enjoyed Annabelle: Creation thanks to Sandberg's ability to scare audiences formidably, and tying this film to the other Annabelle film. Stay tuned till the credits finish rolling for another brief scene. (8/10)

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