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)

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Dark Tower

Year: 2017
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Claudia Kim, Dennis Haysbert, Fran Kranz

Plot: In a parallel universe, warriors known as Gunslingers protect the Dark Tower, the source of protection of all realms from the darkness beyond. The last Gunslinger alive, Roland must now protect a young boy from Earth, whom a mysterious Man In Black intends to use to destroy the tower.

Review: I almost decided not to watch this film after hearing about the poor reviews it got. After seeing it, I have to say it's not too bad. Much like last year's Warcraft, The Dark Tower suffers from not making enough time to explore its universe, though compared to the former, it is at least more comprehensible.

It's basically the story of two men and a boy. Roland, the last Gunslinger, has given up his duty to protect the Dark Tower and only wants revenge against Walter a.k.a. The Man In Black, who had killed his father. Walter needs a special child with strong enough psychic abilities to destroy the tower and unleash hell on the universe. Jake, a boy from our world, is the child in question, and now Roland has to protect him from Walter at all costs.

If you're looking for a straightforward action fantasy movie, The Dark Tower pretty much fits the bill. The CGI is good, the action is well shot and the old fashioned tale of good vs evil is the film's centrepiece. In short, if you lower your expectations and just have fun with this film, chances are you'll enjoy yourself, just like I did. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the film with Akiva Goldsman and two others, does a decent enough job in pacing the film and keeping things coherent for the most part. A film where characters jump from one universe to another can get complicated but Arcel is up to the task.

Idris Elba is perfect as Roland, balancing perfectly between weary hero and father figure to the boy. He also excels in the action sequences; I gotta say, watching him shoot and reload his guns is the coolest thing about this film. Matthew McConaughey plays Walter with a mixture of devilish charm and cold calmness, and a worthy opponent for Roland. I only wish the film was a bit longer so we can see more of him. Tom Taylor is splendid as Jake, a boy who misses his late father and looks up to Roland as a friend and surrogate dad.

Apparently, test audiences didn't like the film and reshoots were done, so if you've seen the trailers, you'd notice a few missing scenes; even the climax of the film ended pretty abruptly. And, as mentioned, like Warcraft, you get the feeling there's a whole backstory to this that could have been explored or at least briefly explained, like Walter's origins, or why a child is needed to bring the tower down, or who made the portals that allow them to travel between universes. 

To sum it up, The Dark Tower is fun, but it's over way too soon. With a bit more time spent on its story, it could have been truly memorable. It is written by Stephen King, after all. (7.5/10)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, John Bernthal

Plot: A young getaway driver plans to break free from working for a crime boss after meeting the girl of his dreams, but his boss has other plans.

Review: Call me crazy, but I don't really enjoy a film when it has too much fun with itself. There are a few notable exceptions, like say Shoot 'Em Up or Con Air, being so silly that there's only one way to enjoy them. Baby Driver isn't quite like that, though it tries hard.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a young man constantly attached to his iPod who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss with a knack for planning heists. Baby is a tremendously gifted driver, thus his skills are really useful to Doc. He falls in love with Debora (Lily James), a cute waitress, and plans to run away with her once he squares his debt to Doc. But the old man will not let him just walk away, and hires him for a heist alongside three very volatile criminals; Buddy, Darling and Bats.

Edgar Wright, who wrote and directed this film, set out to do only one thing: create a fun filled action comedy driven by his favorite songs, and to a certain extent, he succeeds. The car chases are good (the opening chase is the standout, the others don't come close), the dialogue is funny (Jamie Foxx's lines are the best) and the acting for the most part, are spot on.

Elgort is reasonably charming as Baby, and makes a great pair with James as Debora. Spacey is just oozing cool and mean at the same time as Doc, while Foxx is just batshit crazy as Bats, with Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez being both magnetic and deadly as Buddy and Darling respectively. Foxx in particular is hilarious, even when he means business.

Now, here's my problem. I do not dig Wright's move to dictate pretty much everything in this film by song and song beats. I get it, Guardians Of The Galaxy was cool for the most part because of great music choices, but let's not get carried away. Wright doesn't just put in killer tracks in the background of nearly every scene, he also sets what happens on screen to the beat of the music, from Elgort's dancing and strutting (which I found quite annoying) to gunshots and action beats etc. It's overkill for me. It's like Wright is trying so very hard to make this film look and sound cool, when he really doesn't have to. I also felt that the editing could be a bit tighter and the third act was a tad messy for my liking.

With all that being said, Baby Driver is reasonably entertaining thanks to a fine cast and great dialogue, but after reading all the hype from reviewers everywhere, I have to say this film is quite overrated. It's fun, but much easier to run with if it was simpler. (7/10)


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