Sunday, January 29, 2017


Year: 2017
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson

Plot: Three girls are kidnapped by a man with 23 different personalities.

Review: The success of The Sixth Sense has been hard on M Night Shyamalan, as he has struggled to make a film as sublime as that one. And while Split has been doing good business at the box office, I personally feel that he hasn't quite made a complete turnaround just yet.

In Split, three girls: Casey, Claire and Marcia, are kidnapped by Kevin, a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID). He has 23 personalities in total, with the dominant ones being Dennis, who is obsessive compulsive, Patricia, who is reminiscent of Norman Bates' mother, only slightly nicer, and Hedwig, a nine year old. The girls try to escape but eventually discover that Kevin is manifesting a 24th personality, one that is extremely dangerous and will most certainly kill them.

The idea of a person with multiple personalities as a story's protagonist (or antagonist, depending on the scene in this case) has been done before, though perhaps not as ambitious as this film. For this to work, Shyamalan needs an actor that can bring forth many identities and make them convincing. Thankfully, James McAvoy is more than capable for this task. He turns in a tour de force performance as Kevin and seven other personalities throughout the film. It's a pity that Shyamalan didn't make time for the other identities to show up as we only got to see one third of the total, but it's understandable this was done probably to make the film more concise. Anyway, McAvoy is excellent and should have been given attention this awards season.

However, I have to mention the film's main weakness, which is Shyamalan's uneven direction and writing. The premise itself is intriguing, but personally I felt it would be better to view the story only from the eyes of the three girls and Kevin himself. Shyamalan inserts Kevin's psychiatrist, Dr Fletcher into the mix, most likely to guide the less informed members of the audience on DID, but her presence in the film becomes more of a hindrance than a plus. Every time she is on screen, the film slows down. Shyamalan also fails to generate enough suspense here. I mean, this is a kidnap film too, right? So where's the suspense? And lastly, Shyamalan spends too much time giving us flashbacks of Casey's past, which in a way influences how she deals with the situation at hand. I felt there were too many scenes of these, and they could have been lessened in favor of expanding the other two girls' characters perhaps.

Anya Taylor-Joy excels in the role of Casey, obviously the smartest of the three girls, so much so that the other two seem very disposable in comparison. While Taylor-Joy is great here, it is McAvoy's film through and through. The entire film hinges on his performance and he does not disappoint.

All in all, I found Split to be a bit underwhelming despite a superb performance by McAvoy and a surprising but unnecessary cameo at the end. Even so, it's still worth checking out. (7/10)  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

Year: 2017
Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Toni Collette, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Rory McCann, Nina Dobrev, Samuel L Jackson

Plot: Xander Cage is coerced out of hiding to help the CIA to retrieve Pandora's Box, a device capable of crashing satellites to specific targets.

Review: In his prime, Vin Diesel made three movie characters popular: the ruthless anti-hero Richard B Riddick, Dom Toretto, the carjacker who's a family man at heart, and Xander Cage, the extreme sports enthusiast recruited as a secret agent. Out of the three, Cage is probably the least likable one, for me anyway.

In this sequel, Diesel returns as Cage, assigned by CIA agent Jane Marke to retrieve a device known as Pandora's Box from a team of agents led by Xiang. The device is capable of crashing satellites and was recently used to kill Cage's recruiter Augustus Gibbons. Cage assembles his own team of ragtag individuals and locates Xiang's team, only to discover that not everything is as it seems.

I'll start with what I don't like. From the get go, it's obvious that director D.J. Caruso and writer F Scott Frazier were trying to make a fun filled movie, as it's littered with one liners and jokes. The problem is, most of them fall really flat. The dialogue is pretty awful at times, and I'm well aware that they probably want us to not take this film too seriously, but personally I wished they did. I don't mind watching a dumb action movie with funny lines, but the comedy needs to be spot on and they need to be serious when necessary. In this case they were off the mark.

Poor Toni Collette was given some of the worst lines ever as Marke. You would notice her trying to say them with a straight face and not laugh, it was uncomfortable to watch. Tony Jaa was unwisely wasted by the filmmakers here, being utilized only for a handful of acrobatic flips and not much else. Nina Dobrev's nerdy weapons expert/computer whiz is rather annoying overall and Kris Wu's character is here for, get this....taking over a nightclub deejay spot and getting the party started. No shit. Oh, he shoots a few bad guys at the end. That's it. And how much did they pay Samuel L Jackson to show up for five minutes and attempt to recruit Neymar? Really odd thing to see.

On the flipside, Donnie Yen shines as Xiang, excelling in what he does best: kicking ass. His opening fight sequence in the boardroom is pretty awesome. Game Of Thrones' Rory McCann is somewhat hilarious as Cage's team member who drives the team and has a tendency of crashing the vehicle. It's an oddball role but it actually works. Deepika Padukone is alright as Xiang's partner Serena, holding her own against two leading action stars, while Ruby Rose gets more time to shine here than in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter as a sniper on Cage's team. As for Diesel, he's still solid in action sequences, but the Cage character really isn't that appealing here to be honest. I can't take him seriously when he's wearing a fur coat while working.

At the very least, where the script fails, the action succeeds most of the time. There are some ridiculous sequences involving skiing between jungle trees and riding a bike on the ocean, but the final third of the film showcases some neat action sequences as both Cage and Xiang's teams battle the bad guys on the ground and in the air, with a surprise cameo to boot. 

To sum it up, Return Of Xander Cage is an over the top sequel that really requires viewers to turn off their brains and enjoy the action. If they had made the script a lot smarter, it would have been genuinely entertaining. (6.5/10)  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Year: 2017
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts

Plot: The Red Queen gives Alice one last chance to save humanity: an airborne anti-virus that will effectively eliminate all those infected with the T-virus. But in order to get to it, Alice has to go through her old nemesis Dr Isaacs and the man who betrayed her, Albert Wesker.

Review: After 15 years, Resident Evil is at its end at last. Or is it? Hollywood has the tendency to continue beating on a dead horse. For what it's worth, star Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson have withstood all the bad criticism to keep on making these films till now, and that merits them some respect.

In this final chapter, Alice emerges from the rubble of Washington, humanity's supposed last stand against the undead. She runs into the Red Queen, who gives her a mission: retrieve an airborne anti-virus that will save humanity once and for all. A bonus: she gets some answers about her past. However, Dr. Isaacs, whom she thought she had killed in RE: Extinction, is alive and determined to stop her.

First, what I don't like. For the past few RE films, continuity has has been severely absent. Characters disappear and reappear again with no explanation, and new characters are introduced, only to be killed off or vanish again. Perhaps getting the same actors to return had been more difficult than we thought, but they could have been recast. Secondly, Anderson oddly chooses to abandon his slow motion filming style and adopt a quick cut, multiple angle style instead, making it very difficult to see the action sequences properly.

Strangely enough, this would be the first RE film where plot triumphs over action, as we get some answers on Alice's true origins and her connection to the Red Queen. This, coupled with a few twists, make this RE much better plotwise than its predecessors, where the story was paper thin and inconsequential.

Milla is of course, still on point as Alice, with Iain Glen making a solid foe as Dr Isaacs, who is more than capable holding his own against her. Ali Larter and Shawn Roberts return as Claire Redfield and Wesker respectively, but both get next to nothing to do. It really feels like they're here just to fill a contractual obligation and nothing more. The rest of the cast are just fodder for the undead, as usual.

It's a pity that the action sequences were poorly filmed, as Anderson goes all out in creating some awesome sequences, borrowing ideas from Book Of Eli, The Equalizer and even Kingdom Of Heaven. Anderson also adds in more types of monsters to play with, including giant bats. It would really have been nice to be able to see them properly.

Resident Evil ends appropriately, with a tiny window for the future, but not as perfectly as it could have been. If you've been following this franchise from the start, go see this and give it a proper farewell. (7/10)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Patriots Day

Year: 2016
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach

Plot: Based on the true story of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 19, 2013, from the points of view of the Boston police, victims and the bombers, and the manhunt that led to the bombers' capture.

Review: A quick follow up to the recent Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg's Patriots Day is a more solid piece of work. Despite the strong qualities of the former, the result was underwhelming for me and it underperformed at the box office. This latest effort proves to be much better.

Patriots Day can be divided into two parts; the first being the morning that leads into the Boston Marathon and the blast, and the chaos that followed, and the second being the bombers' attempt to flee as the police and FBI organize an intense manhunt to nab them. Berg, who also co-wrote the screenplay, directs this film extremely well, keeping the flow of the story steady and never stalling too long at any time.

What I liked the most about Patriots Day however, is Berg's slick move to establish multiple points of view of the entire story. We get the police, the FBI, the victims and the bombers themselves, each with believable stories to tell. While the film is essentially a drama, it also works as a thriller, with two blood pumping set pieces; one being the blast and the other an intense firefight between the bombers and the police later on in the film, which is by far the best scene of them all.

Mark Wahlberg excels in the role of Tommy Saunders, which is a fictional role, an amalgamation of Boston cops during that time. While Wahlberg is great here, one cannot overlook the work of veterans like John Goodman as the police commissioner, Kevin Bacon as the FBI agent in charge and J.K. Simmons as the sergeant who shot one of the terrorists in the firefight. Also worth mentioning is Jimmy O. Yang as Dun Meng, a Chinese guy whose act of bravery after being carjacked by the bombers is admirable. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze also shine as the pair of Muslim brothers who executed the attacks. Basically, the entire cast brings their A game to the field, and the film works because of that.

Berg has certainly done his homework very well here, as nearly every aspect of the story is covered and it all comes together perfectly, making Patriots Day much closer to Lone Survivor than Deepwater Horizon in terms of quality. As a viewer, I felt like I was immersed in that world for the film's entirety, and I was genuinely concerned for everyone, from the cops to the victims. It's a compelling story and very well told.

As with previous Berg true stories, he makes time for the real faces to step forward at the end, and though I appreciate the effort, I felt it would be better if he made this part a bit more concise. Still, it doesn't ruin the film significantly, and it's something I can easily forgive.

Overall I was incredibly pleased by Patriots Day, a welcome return to form by Peter Berg. It's undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, and it's only January. (8.5/10) 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Monster Calls

Year: 2016
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell

Plot: A young boy whose mother is suffering from terminal cancer befriends a tree monster who helps him deal with his grief.

Review: First things first. If you're thinking this film is similar to kiddie movies like The BFG or Pete's Dragon, you are seriously mistaken. This is not THAT kind of film. A Monster Calls may be a fantasy film, but it is not the cute type. In fact, it deals with some very serious issues, like life and death.

Connor is a young boy whose mother is suffering from cancer. Her condition grows worse day after day, and he tries to stay strong, but it isn't easy, and getting picked on by bullies at school certainly doesn't help. His overly strict grandmother drives him up the wall with her rules as well. One night, he encounters a tree monster outside his house. The monster offers to tell him three stories, and in return Connor has to tell him the truth about his nightmare, which keeps him up at night.

The theme of the film, about death and how to deal with it, may seem bleak, but director J.A. Bayona presents the subject matter in a way that never seems cliched or too tragic, and he certainly doesn't dumb it down for the audience. It's so effective that those of you who have ever lost someone will certainly relate to this. Heck, even the best cynics will probably choke up by the film's end.

The best moments of the film are when the monster tells his stories to Connor, which Bayona illustrates to us via water color graphics, which look really beautiful despite its simplicity. Connor himself sketches from time to time, so art definitely plays a significant part in this film. Speaking of the stories, they are good tales that will teach a thing or two about life, people and what we believe.

Fourteen year old Lewis MacDougall is simply superb as Connor, displaying a level of acting that would put many adult actors out there to shame. He makes Connor really easy to relate to and sympathize with, and in the film's climax, he's in such a way that you can't help but want to give the boy a hug. Lewis is gonna be a big deal in the future. Felicity Jones also puts in great work as Connor's sickly mother, a far cry from her lead role in Rogue One. Liam Neeson is also a perfect choice to voice the monster, which by the way looks like Treebeard from LOTR, but less menacing.

Sigourney Weaver is solid as Connor's grandmother, but I wonder why Bayona cast her when they could have picked an English actress, which for me would have been less distracting. Not that Weaver can't pull off an English accent, it just wasn't obvious enough. Toby Kebbell also shines as Connor's dad, but his subplot seemed extraneous to me, as it doesn't really affect the final outcome.

In the end, A Monster Calls is a cathartic film that convincingly deals with a subject most of us know about but most likely avoid thinking about. Like Pixar's Inside Out, it will stir all the right emotions and touch your heart. Recommended. (8.5/10) 

Sunday, January 08, 2017


Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Plot: A renowned linguist is recruited by the military to make contact with aliens who have arrived on Earth.

Review: In the trailers, Arrival looks like a sci-fi movie featuring Aliens, but it's more than that. There are serious dramatic undertones present here, which elevates the film above viewers' expectations.

We begin with Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who witnesses a shell-like spacecraft land in Montana, and eleven other similar ships land across the world. The military promptly recruit her to help them make contact with the aliens and find out the purpose of their visit. Along for the ride is physicist Ian Donnelly, and slowly but surely, Louise establishes contact with the visitors, but interpreting their circular writing symbols prove to be difficult at first.

Denis Villeneuve, director of Prisoners and Sicario, changes direction towards something less dire with Arrival, though the look of the film is more bleak than you'd expect. While one would expect lots of wide shots in a film like this, Villeneuve and cameraman Bradford Young opt to make more close up shots and tight shots of interiors. Then these are combined with dimly lit rooms and little sunlight to give the film a rainy morning kind of feel, which works very well.

As mentioned, Arrival isn't just a sci-fi, it's a drama too. In between scenes we are shown Louise's memories of raising her daughter and dealing with her eventual death. How this connects with her communication with the aliens is only revealed later on, but it certainly adds more layers to the film, which also focuses on seeking the aliens' purpose as the rest of the world reacts negatively to their presence.

While the film boasts a trio of talented actors, this movie truly belongs to Amy Adams. As Louise, Adams deftly balances her confusion with the aliens' writings and the pressure brought upon her by the government who are impatiently waiting for results, and the weight of her daughter's demise. Jeremy Renner gets the lighter and more humorous character of Ian, and plays off Adams perfectly. Forest Whitaker plays the military colonel in charge, and it's nice to see one who doesn't consider the aliens as hostile like other similar films. 

I do admit that this film moves at a deliberate pace and might disappoint those expecting more suspense. Please note that Arrival is not that kind of film. But at the end of it all, the payoff is tremendous. It will undoubtedly make you think more about life, death and the future.

Aside from one narrated scene in the middle which I felt was slightly out of place (simply because they should have asked Adams to narrate instead), Arrival is a splendid sci-fi drama which hopefully will get fair representation at the coming Oscars. (8/10)


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