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Saat po long 2 (2015)
Retaining the gritty, no-holds-barred spirit of the original, this in-name only sequel is a compelling crime thriller with some worthily exhilarating action of its own
It has taken slightly more than a decade for someone to pull off an 'SPL' sequel, but not for a lack of trying. Hey, it isn't quite so straightforward to make a sequel to a movie which had the balls to kill off each one of its three main characters played by Donnie Yen, Hung and Yam, and this long-awaited sequel is even more gratifying because it is in many ways as good as, if not better, than the original.
Rather than be tied down by the events of the first movie, incoming writers Jill Leung Lai-yin and Wong Ying have gone for a completely new narrative that honours the themes in the original. Yes, for the uninitiated, 'SPL' stands for the names of the three stars in Chinese astrology that signify destruction, conflict and greed, and just as these elements drove the characters in the first movie to their fateful end, so too do they propel the destinies of the main characters here Kit (Wu Jing), a drug-addicted Hong Kong undercover cop in an organ trafficking syndicate who finds himself in a Thai prison after his cover is blown; Wah (Yam), his uncle and handler also assigned to the same case; and Chai (Tony Jaa), a guard at the prison Kit is locked up in whose daughter Sa is suffering from leukaemia and needs a bone marrow transplant soon.
As it turns out, the potential donor which the hospital has identified for Chai's daughter happens to be Kit, though both will remain unaware of that stroke of fate until much later. It is a somewhat implausible coincidence no doubt, one that we would readily scoff at in any other movie, but which you'll have to accept as being central to 'SPL 2's' very premise. The other intertwining thread of events has to do with Hung (Louis Koo), the ailing leader of the aforementioned syndicate which he runs with the corrupt prison warden Ko (Max Zhang) at the penitentiary Kit has been sent into. Hung himself is in need of a life-saving heart transplant, although because of his rare Bombay blood type, his only hope lies in his younger brother Bill (Jun Hung), whom he resorts to kidnapping when the latter refuses to donate his very organ.
Whereas the emphasis was very much on Yen's action and action choreography previously, this sequel pays a lot more attention to both character and storytelling. Indeed, each one of the many characters is distinctly defined by their proclivity to preserve their own life and/or that of a loved one, while being forced to confront how far they are willing to go to compromise their own sense of morality, justice or duty. In particular, Jaa gets his meatiest role yet playing a father who is forced to choose between a human cure for his daughter's blood ailment in exchange for his silence on the illegal skin trade happening right under his watch, and the actor gives probably his most nuanced performance to date. Also noteworthy is Koo's villainous turn, whose character justifying his selfish deed by the countless other lives he has saved before.
It is to Cheang's credit that the various narrative threads never get confusing, especially so at the start when he jumps back and forth to explain how Kit landed in prison. Though it may seem like a gimmick, the non-linear manner in which Cheang introduces us to his disparate characters eventually makes for a surprisingly compelling plot for a film of its genre, which often treats the latter as no more than filler in between the crowd-pleasing action sequences. Not that Cheang neglects the latter though it is for its hard-hitting action that its predecessor was known for, and with action director Li Chung-Chi, this sequel honours that spirit with some truly exhilarating fights of its own.
Because Wu Jing, Zhang Jin and Tony Jaa are martial artists in their own right, there is no need for that sort of distracting camera-work that Hollywood action movies seem to be very fond of in recent years. Yes, Kenny Tse's cinematography is clean, simple and crisp, conveying the balletic moves of the stars who are front and centre in each and every one of the sequences. Li choreographs the poetic mayhem with flair, which consists of impressive set-pieces, such as a shootout at Hong Kong's new cruise terminal following a sting operation and no less than a full-scale prison riot filmed in one single unbroken tracking shot, as well as intimate mano-a-mano fights between the principal characters.
The best is saved for last, as Kit and Chai make their last stand against Ko and his henchmen in the penthouse of the Lotus Medical Centre in Thailand. The scenes towards the end where Kit and Chai tag-team to take down Ko are especially exhilarating, and most certainly match up to the sheer thrill of watching Donnie Yen and Wu Jing go at each other in a narrow alleyway in the first movie. Yes, those wondering if this sequel lives up to the action orgasm of its predecessor need not worry; the combination of Tony Jaa, Wu Jing and Zhang Jin makes for just a lethal concoction of bare-knuckle fights and bone-crunching violence.
But more than just a pastiche of well-staged action sequences stitched together, this sequel is a better film on the whole than the original thanks to an engaging story and some genuinely empathetic characters. Yes, the premise itself guarantees a certain degree of narrative contrivance, but Cheang's film preserves the no- holds-barred spirit of its predecessor while delivering a compelling crime/ morality thriller. It's as good a follow-up as fans will get, and well-worth the decade wait for one of the best action films you'll see this year.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
If you can accept a revisionist sequel, you'll enjoy this fine piece of summer popcorn entertainment that perfectly captures the spirit and tone of the James Cameron originals
Three sequels and thirty-one years after James Cameron's seminal man-versus-machine science-fiction, 'Terminator Genisys' attempts to make the franchise relevant for a whole new generation by re-setting the clock. So here is as much advice as warning to fans you'll do well not to cling too stubbornly to what you already know if you are going to appreciate the liberties which the filmmakers have taken in order to invigorate this aging series.
Notwithstanding the initial fan uproar, we have to say that the screen writing duo of Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have concocted an impressive scenario that balances a deep respect for the first two Cameron films and the need for new creative possibilities beyond the original Connor genealogy. How much of its predecessors to keep in mind is laid out in the prologue, which tells of the death of three billion people on Judgement Day itself and the resistance led by John Connor some thirty years thereafter. It is at that same fateful moment that Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) steps into the time machine to go back in time to protect Sarah that another Terminator from the future (played by Doctor Who's Matt Smith) attacks John, establishing a whole new chain of events while leaving Kyle with fractured memories from both parallel timelines.
Indeed, though this Kyle arrives stark naked in the same dark and grungy alley of Cameron's first movie, the 1984 which he finds himself in is vastly different. For one, the T-100 which Skynet had sent to kill Sarah is upon its arrival greeted and terminated by a T-800, which as we earlier mentioned, has been no less than Sarah's guardian. For another, Sarah is no longer hapless and confused but a tough warrior who has been resisting the Terminators since her childhood days. And instead of Robert Patrick's T-1000, Kyle is welcomed by Lee Byung- hun's sleek, mercury-like killing machine, the choice to cast an Asian no doubt informed by modern-day blockbuster sensibilities.
To its credit, the film does reflect the inevitable bewilderment of its fans in Kyle's struggle to reconcile the past he knows with flashbacks that he gained from the time jump and for those who are wondering what the science behind it may be, Sarah's T-800 does offer some intellectual mumbo-jumbo in the form of a "nexus point". That same logic is also used to justify the new date for Judgment Day, which is now scheduled to take place in 2017 via an omnipresent operating system known as Genisys. Just as the original tapped into the zeitgeist's fears of technology, this reboot retains the same paranoia but updates it for the smartphone era of interconnected devices.
As we are soon told, Genisys is no more than a cover for Skynet to unleash global annihilation with the help of none other than John Connor himself, who has undergone a "machine phase matter" evolution to become a Terminator. If there is one conceit on which this new premise rests on, it is the complete reinvention of John Connor's revolutionary leader, and Jason Clarke does an excellent job of making the character fearsome and formidable. His John Connor makes a perfect foil to Courtney's Kyle Reese, whose fresh-faced earnestness makes him an endearingly empathetic hero. Somewhat less convincing is Emilia Clarke's portrayal of a hardened Sarah Connor, especially when one recalls how compelling Cameron's ex-wife Linda Hamilton was in the role. In contrast, the Sarah here lacks Hamilton's combination of grit and vulnerability, which also in turn weakens the connection that she is supposed to develop with Kyle notwithstanding that we are foretold they are meant to fall in love and "mate" with each other.
On the other hand, the franchise's most iconic star Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a pleasantly surprising breath of 'Terminator' roles with the parallel timelines not only as the T-100 and T-800 we've seen him as, but also a much more visibly aged T-800 and a spiffy new upgrade right at the end. Schwarzenegger is still having fun turning his character's utter humourlessness into deadpan comedy and besides trying to add new catchphrases like "bite me" and "I'm old not obsolete" into the lexicon, also has a field day trying to look friendlier by putting on a robotic smile.
Though he isn't quite Cameron, Alan Taylor does a fine job keeping all the moving pieces together. As he did with 'Thor: The Dark World', Taylor demonstrates a workmanlike proficiency in summer blockbuster-making, alternating between deafening action sequences and obligatory exposition while interspersing the proceedings with cheeky self-aware humour and moments of obligatory poignancy. Unlike the entirely dour 'Terminator Salvation', Taylor pretty much keeps to the tone of the first two Cameron movies, so much so that his rendition feels familiar and fresh at the same time. Except for a massive vehicular smash-up on the Golden Gate Bridge that culminates in a school bus dangling over its edge, there are no standout sequences here, but Taylor maintains a brisk pace throughout so you'll never get bored.
At this point in the franchise, it is perhaps too tall an order for any filmmaker to reclaim the aura of Cameron's groundbreaking originals, but 'Terminator Genisys' comes the closest of the three sequels since to their spirit. Even if it isn't outstanding, it is a fine piece of popcorn entertainment that is as good an introduction as any to the franchise as much as it will be nostalgia for fans, provided they can accept that the timeline they knew will be no more. And at thirty- one years (or sixty-seven for Schwarzenegger), one could certainly say that the Terminator is old, but as this sequel cum reboot shows, age does not necessarily make one obsolete.
The minions have their spin off movie, and with it, lots of moolah from massive merchandising
It has come to this we are giggling ourselves silly at some yellow blobs which speak gibberish.
If we had to be the ones to jog your memory, here goes. In 2010's Despicable Me and its 2013 sequel, the protagonists were Gru (voiced by the ever reliable Steve Carell) and his three adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes. How many would actually remember the names of these characters? What you probably brought home were memories of the yellow minions, which, to be fair, are adorable in their blabberish ways.
Oh, you also brought home lots of merchandise (admit it: you have an irresistible urge to join the long queues to own every one of those plastic yellow fast food toys), and boasted to your friends how much you love the minions. As a lead up to this prequel and spin off to the original movies, have you collected all three limited edition yellow cases containing banana flavoured candy?
Ah, the power of marketing, cuteness and gibberish.
So what's in store for viewers in terms of, well, story development? It's sort of like Batman Begins, actually (we kid you not!) because it explains the origins of these yellow creatures. History has it that minions have existed since the beginning of time, evolving from one single celled organisms. They only have one purpose in life: to serve the villainous masters. You probably didn't know T Rex, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Dracula were served by these creatures, and had their lives destroyed by them too.
The brief but cheeky introduction is really the best bit of the 91 minute movie. Sad thing is, you probably have watched the scenes in the marketing trailers. Moving forward, the minions fell into depression and over the centuries, they managed to remain cute, but never managed to pick up a proper language. Before long, three of them (you can be sure viewers will remember their names long after the credits roll: Kevin, Stuart and Bob) find themselves in New Yorkto serve the world's first female super villain, Scarlet Overkill. Their adventures begin, crossing paths with Queen Elizabeth II and her crown, as well as the mythical Excalibur from the tale Sword in the Stone.
Sounds like a whole lot of fun? For the kids, that's a guaranteed yes. The misadventures of the minions are funnier than the humour from your average weekend morning cartoons. The minions, needless to say, continue to spout nonsensical blabber, and that should have viewers chuckling too.
It is evident that this movie is a money milking cash cow when you see stars like Sandra Bullock voicing Scarlet Overkill (nothing particularly spectacular here, by the way), Jon Hamm as her inventor hubby (his character is a little more fun to watch), and Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as a rather underused bank robbing couple. Geoffrey Rush narrates the story of how the minions have travelled through time, while co director Pierre Coffin is the best voice actor of them all, providing the countless gabbling lines (listen out for something close to home towards the end of the movie!) to entertain his viewers. Big Hollywood names and colourful animation should get the adults' attention, if they aren't already going gaga over the cuteness of the minions already.
Jurassic World (2015)
The best yet since the original, this reboot 22 years after is a non-stop thrill ride with pleasantly surprising doses of good humor and warm nostalgia
Let's cut to the chase for those of you who just want to know if 'Jurassic World' is as good as 'Jurassic Park', the answer is no, but it does come pretty damn close. To be fair, it was going to be a tall order to top the Steven Spielberg original, a fact which the revamped park's own management, owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and his right-hand woman Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), readily acknowledge. It isn't enough that we are seeing dinosaurs come alive before us; in order to dazzle, the animals has got to be "bigger, louder, and more teeth".
And so in their quest to create a new attraction for the park, its chief scientist Dr Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the only cast member from 'Jurassic Park' to reprise his role) turns to genetic modification to create varieties that never existed 65 billion years ago. That research has yielded the Indominous Rex, a hybrid whose DNA is based off a T- Rex and is spliced with the genome of other species which we slowly learn (the hard way) of its predatory functions. Bred miles away from the actual visitors' areas, it sets a trap to bait its breeders into its paddock and, during the ensuing mêlée, breaks out of the enclosure to wreck havoc not just to the humans on the Isla Nubar but also the rest of its own kind living on the island.
With the Indominous Rex on the loose, ex-Navy man Owen (Chris Pratt) springs into action to try to stop the beast before it reaches the 20 thousand over blissfully unaware visitors and at the same time rescue two kids (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), who happen to be Claire's nephews, that are in imminent danger after veering off the beaten course. Save for a little spot of complication from the corporation's head of security, Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose idea to employ raptors against the Indominous Rex backfires in a jaw-dropping 'oh sh*t' moment, the narrative unfolds in as linear and straightforward a manner as you can imagine.
Not that we're complaining despite crediting four writers, 'Jurassic World' is supposed to be a movie built on thrill and spectacle more than anything else, a fact that isn't lost on its director Colin Trevorrow. Despite having only one other feature- length movie to his credit, Trevorrow proves more than able to construct riveting action set-pieces that are keystone to the franchise. Among the highlights Masrani's attempt to take down the Indominous Rex from a helicopter that comes to a fiery end and sets free the winged predators held captive in an aviary, the birds' subsequent attack on the hordes of visitors in the main theme park, and the raptors' hunt for the Indominous Rex that takes a surprising turn.
Just about the last hour and a half is packed wall-to-wall with non- stop action, as the characters run, duck, hide, chase, rinse and repeat in order to save their own and prevent a bigger calamity from shutting down the park forever. Trevorrow lacks Spielberg's gift for creating and sustaining tension, but in place of iconic moments like the ripples in the glass of water on the dashboard or the velociraptors opening a kitchen door, he simply keeps the action going and going, pausing only to a) let in a kicker and/or b) pay tribute to his predecessors. That said, it is to us also the reason why this entry pales in comparison to Spielberg's original, which was a quintessential masterpiece in choreographed suspense.
Rightfully, Trevorrow shows the utmost respect for the establishing blocks of the franchise. Although the theme park has undergone a major makeover with snazzy new attractions like a dinosaur petting zoo, an amphitheater featuring a monosaurus feeding show and face- to-face safari-like dino excursions in a circular self-powered vehicle called a gyro-sphere, there are constant nods to the original movie. The original Jurassic Park Visitors Centre makes a pleasantly surprising appearance midway into the film, and for that matter so does its banner and T-shirts. Most significantly, the finale pays homage to the first movie in truly cheer-worthy rah-rah fashion and while we will agree with the cynics that it is deus ex machina, there is no denying that it closes the film on a high note.
Though this is the first chapter in the series to introduce a whole new set of characters, they are well written and well played enough to compensate for any nostalgia one may have of Dr Alan Grant or Dr Ian Malcolm. Pratt's good-natured charisma rubs off amply on his character, and Howard manages to go from unlikeable to someone we care about with surprising clarity. Most delightful however is the sibling dynamic between Simpkins and Robinson, which provides much of the film's emotional anchor; indeed, it is from their perspective that we are brought into the titular resort, and whose survival we come to fear the most for.
Back in the day, the Steven Spielberg original was the very definition of blockbuster entertainment, especially in how it so seamlessly fused CGI with animatronics to create awe-inspiring renditions of the beasts that once walked our earth. Like we said at the beginning, it is probably too much to ask that 'Jurassic World' has that same effect on us, but it is also the only entry thus far to come close to replicating that experience. The effects are obviously leaps and bounds over the 1993 game-changer, such that what was real feels even more so now. It is also a non-stop edge-of-your- seat thrill ride, one that hits the high gear even before the halfway mark and never lets up. You bet you'll be humming that John Williams theme song as you step out of the theater, and if you ain't awe-struck, we guarantee that it will still leave you breathless.
One for the fans - 'Entourage' returns sharp, funny, and entertaining as ever, for better or for worse
Let's put it simply 'Entourage' is meant for those who wished the ride wasn't over for Vinnie Chase, his loyal buddies E, Johnny and Turtle, and not forgetting of course his longtime agent Ari Gold. If none of those names don't mean anything to you, well this movie probably won't either, but those looking to relive the escapism which ended four years back when HBO called it quits after eight seasons will find themselves right at home. Indeed, though the series ended in 2011, screenwriter/ director Doug Ellin plunges us right back to where he left off at the end of Season 8, which in a nutshell had Vince marrying Vanity Fair writer Sophia, Eric announcing that his on-off girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) was pregnant, Johnny finding some success in an animated series called Johnny Bananas, Turtle's tequila business going big, and finally Ari receiving an offer to run a studio.
Well, you can pretty much guess how Vince's nuptials worked out for him by the opening sequence alone, which sees E, Johnny and Turtle riding a speedboat to meet Vince on board a massive yacht with bikini-clad babes in the dazzling waters of Ibiza. Other than that, E is finding it difficult to move on from Sloan despite hooking up with a hot blond named Melanie (Sabina Gadecki), Johnny's TV show has all but gone bananas, and Turtle's business is still booming. Most importantly, Ari is back from his self-imposed exile (with the Mrs' blessings no less) to run a major Hollywood studio, and wants Vincent to star in the first big-budget feature he greenlights. Vincent's reply? Sure, but I also want to direct it.
So the story really begins eight months after Vincent muscles Ari into letting him direct a $100 million futuristic sci-fi called 'Hyde' that is loosely based on the classic 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', that is already $10 million over budget and in need of another $15 million for visual effects. Unfortunately for Ari, the studio's co- financier is a Texan oil baron named Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton), who would only agree to put in more money if his ne'er- do-well son, Travis (Haley Joel Osment), likes the rough cut of the film which Vince has been working on in the editing studio. Hint a certain Sports Illustrated model named Emily Ratajkowski as well as Johnny's supporting act in Vince's film will complicate relations between Vince and Travis.
Amidst the budgetary tussle, other individual character subplots unfold. E is still trying to get back with Sloan, who is due anytime soon. Johnny is still stressing over auditions, and worse becomes the 'talk of the town' after a video of him masturbating is leaked by the vengeful boyfriend of a girl he was engaged in webcam sex with. Turtle wants a date with UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and must prove himself worthy after unintentionally snubbing her. And oh, Ari's former gay assistant Lloyd (whose contact he stores as 'Gayasian Lloyd') is getting married and wants Ari to give him away though Ellin has saved that for a mid-credit scene with George Takei as the minister who officiates the wedding.
As any fan of the TV series will tell you, the plot is secondary to the repartee that, at its best, is smart, sharp and really funny. Ari still has the best lines of course, and Jeremy Piven delivers them with his signature zing and pizazz; in particular, a sequence where he is interrupted by a phone call while reciting the lines of a CD playing in his car that is meant to help soothe his nerves is simply priceless. Next to Ari, Johnny has been and continues to be the funniest one of the group by simply being clueless, daft and self-absorbed, which is also why we absolutely buy into his social media faux pas. And yet, as its title implies, this was never a show about any particular character, and true to that, the chemistry between Vince and his buddies is priceless. It was what gives the show its energy and its vibe, and is what gives the movie its pulse.
Yes, many may argue whether it is an examination or a celebration of the worst of Hollywood culture, and at the same time criticise it for being shallow, misogynistic, self-serving, xenophobic and even racist. But even as it treads on the meta between fiction and reality, Ellin's creation was never meant to be more than just entertainment for the casual viewer based upon a souped-up universe of booze, weed, parties, sex and other forms of hedonism. A lot of it is meant to be fantasy, the glitz and glamour of fame and celebrity that lures people to Hollywood, but between that are also bits of sobering reality about how the business is run, especially in the central narrative of just who has artistic license in such big-budget investments.
At no point does anyone take the film too seriously, which is precisely why you'll find a whole list of real-life celebrities willing to stake their appearance in the film, including Armie Hammer as an emotionally unhinged version of himself miffed at Vince for dating Emily and Jessica Alba as a wannabe first-time director who begs Ari to greenlight her film. Kelsey Grammar, Liam Neeson, Jon Favreau, Pharrell Williams, TI, David Spade and Warren Buffett also turn up at some point to join in the fun. Even the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) lends their annual Golden Globe Awards to top it all off. It's a party all right, and anyone looking for more won't find it here. Though the happily-ever after ending feels more tacked on than anything in any of the seasons, there is plenty of goodwill to go around, and fans should know better than to begrudge this reunion. We're not sure how much gas is left in this tank, so savour it while the ride ain't over.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
Little more than a dull retread, this third instalment doesn't so much venture into the Further than take the 'Insidious' franchise backwards into mediocrity
Rather than go Further with the 'lipstick-face Demon', co-creator Leigh Whannell takes the 'Insidious' franchise to the next chapter by going back in time to explore the origins of the psychic Elise Rainier (reprised by Lin Shaye). 'Chapter 3' is therefore set before the haunting of the Lambert family, way before that in fact, when Elise was in semi- retirement mode after being tagged by an evil spirit of her own. So when 15-year-old Quinn Brenner (Stephanie Scott) knocks on her door asking for help to contact her deceased mother, Elise turns her down at first, though she eventually relents and uses her powers to try and communicate with Lillith, whom Quinn claims has been reaching out to her the past few nights.
As you can probably guess, it isn't Lillith that Elise realises has been trying to establish contact with Quinn, which leads Elise to issue a grave warning. "You have to be very careful," Elise cautions. "If you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you." Unfortunately for Quinn, it is already too late to simply walk away from the entity which has been masquerading as her mother and that is waiting to possess her body entirely. In fact, it only becomes clear that the entity has nothing other than malevolence on its mind and after being the cause of an accident that causes Quinn to break one of her legs, the entity makes its presence even more obvious by appearing in form in Quinn's bedroom and even dragging her out of bed or off her wheelchair to his lair upstairs.
Like the first chapter, Whannell uses a hapless protagonist to draw in his audience's sympathies; and whereas that person were the young boy Dalton who lay in a coma while his soul was imprisoned in the Further, it is the wheelchair-bound Quinn whose life we fear for here. Taking over Patrick Wilson's role of the helpless parent here is Delmot Mulroney, who depends on Quinn to look after her younger brother Alex (Tate Berney) and is left struggling to come to terms with the supernatural events that are afflicting his family. Unlike Wilson's character however, Sean (Mulroney) isn't gifted or cursed, depending on which way you look at it to enter into the Further, but Whannell gives him the honour of being the one who first makes the connection between Quinn's hauntings and the abandoned apartment unit directly above theirs.
Frankly, there isn't anything novel that Whannell conjures here which we haven't already seen or seen better of in the first two James Wan-directed chapters. Indeed, those who are well acquainted with Wan's brand of horror will know that he is a master of choreographed tension, which was largely why Chapters One and Two were so edge-of-your-seat gripping. On the other hand, Whannell displays no such faculty in his directorial debut, relying largely on soundtrack cues to get a jolt out of his audience. Yes, whereas its predecessors were masterclasses in dread and suspense, this latest chapter hardly gets under your skin at all, lacking in the sort of carefully choreographed sequences which Wan excelled in.
But perhaps the most damning critique we have of Whannell's chapter is how it really is no more than a dull retread of Wan's superior entries. His vision of the Further isn't much scarier than a haunted house in an amusement park, and doesn't get much more imaginative than that as well. His so-called finale is in fact a sequence that was much better executed by Wan in the first chapter, i.e. when Elise calls for a séance together with the rest of the members of the afflicted's family and journeys into the Further in order to rescue the soul of the living trapped by one of the dead. It is one thing to remain faithful to an artistic vision already articulated, and quite another to reproduce it slavishly; unfortunately, Whannell happens to do most of the latter and too little of the former here.
Even as an origin story of sorts for Elise, Whannell's film falls short. Yes, it does explain just who the old woman that was terrorising Josh Lambert (or Patrick Wilson's character) is even before she had her eye on Josh, she had already latched herself onto Elise. It does also explain just how Elise came to form a professional relationship with Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), the two gadgets- savvy ghostbusters who were seen in the first chapter assisting Elise and in the second avenging her death. And yet, neither of these backstories add anything more that we care about to the 'Insidious' mythology, such that this chapter feels no more than a placeholder for something much more substantial to come.
Whether that eventually materialises remains to be seen, since it is clear at the end of this chapter that Whannell is keen to continue the franchise by further exploring the supernatural exploits of Elise, Specs and Tucker. Yet if this chapter is anything to go by, Wan and Whannell should just have stopped at the last chapter. Not only does it feel dull and repetitive, especially if you've seen its predecessors, 'Insidious: Chapter 3' isn't at any point genuinely scary, relying less on a careful buildup of tension to get the most out of a moment than bursting that moment in our faces with a loud shriek or music cue. Like we said at the beginning, it doesn't quite take the franchise forward; instead, one may even argue that it moves it backward both literally and metaphorically, a shadow of what the first two chapters were. If you're a fan, we'd advise you to stay away, for there is only disappointment waiting in this part of the Further.
San Andreas (2015)
If you're in need for a disaster-movie fix, 'San Andreas' is a Rock-solid bet
'2012' marked a pinnacle of sorts for the natural disaster movie sub-genre, containing in a single picture earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis occurring across various cities at the same time. That probably explains why there hasn't been a big-budget studio movie to that effect since then till now, and also why this latest in a while feels the constant need to up the ante. Indeed, 'San Andreas' wears its ambition of being the biggest earthquake movie to date on its sleeve, but unless you haven't gotten your fix of such VFX-enhanced natural catastrophes, you probably will be left nonplussed.
For the geographically challenged, the title refers to the nearly 800-mile fault line that runs through California. As seismologist Lawrence Hayes (a very grave-looking Paul Giamatti) intones at the beginning, it has been predicted that a big one will happen every 150 years, and we are already almost 100 years into the current interval. And so, as far as the science goes in this movie, a magnitude-7.1 along a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam will trigger a "seismic swarm" along the titular San Andreas fault, precipitating a magnitude-9.1 in Southern California and another even more powerful magnitude-9.6 further up north in San Francisco (for context, the 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the current world record holder).
Amidst the toppling buildings, the human tale that emerges is one of a LAFD helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) who flies into downtown Los Angeles to rescue his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and then, together with Emma, into the heart of San Francisco to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Instead of a multi-character narrative, veteran TV writer Carlton Cuse's screenplay focuses pretty much on Ray's solo rescue mission, albeit with some tangential cutaways to see Emma's cowardly boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) get his comeuppance for abandoning Blake earlier on in an underground car park. Fortunately for Emma, a dashing Brit geek named Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) whom she just meets steps up to free her, and with the latter's younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), the trio travel together to find higher ground to rendezvous with her parents.
It's a clichéd setup no doubt, and the denouement is to be expected, but Ray's race-against-time to get to his daughter turns out surprisingly affecting. Instead of establishing every little detail upfront, Cuse's script keeps us wondering just what led to Ray's estrangement from his family, which leads to a poignant moment between Ray and Emma at the halfway mark. And instead of reprising another macho action hero role, Dwayne Johnson stays admirably grounded in the role of a father who is driven by equal parts love and grief to make sure that his child is safe. It is probably Johnson's most nuanced performance, and he gets reliable support from Gugino in their third on-screen collaboration to date.
Leaving Johnson to do the emotional heavy-lifting, Brad Peyton instead concentrates on choreographing the mayhem around him. No stranger to VFX-heavy setpieces, Peyton tops his previous work in 'Cats and Dogs 2' and 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island' with some truly jaw-dropping visual spectacle. From the fracturing of the Hoover Dam just ten minutes into the film, Peyton moves on to design the destruction of the entire Los Angeles skyline before moving on to extend the same devastation to the whole San Francisco Bay Area. It is one thing to see skyscrapers like the US Bank Tower and the Citigroup Centre falling and quite another to witness a giant tsunami send a container tanker smack into the Golden Gate Bridge, and let's just say this is probably as real as it gets next to it happening for real.
Whether it was intended at the start, the choice to cast Ray as a helicopter pilot turns out to be quite the inspired one. With generous help from his cinematographer Steve Yedlin, Peyton toggles between three different perspectives from which to let his audience appreciate the scale of the disaster. There is Emma's point-of-view from someone on the ground, Ray's point-of-view from in between the toppling buildings as he tries to retrieve Emma from mid-air, and finally an even more birds-eye point-of-view of the whole earth shaking, buckling, broken, on fire, and inundated with water. The combination of these distinct points-of-view should keep audiences looking for spectacle thoroughly engaged, especially those who can't quite care more about the unfolding human drama.
And yet, even though it does follow disaster-movie formula to a fault (pun intended), there is no shaking off that feeling of 'been there done that'. Yes, like we said at the start, there isn't much more any filmmaker can do to top the Armageddon wrought by Roland Emmerich in '2012', and to be sure, Peyton doesn't do that. That said, if you're looking for an earnest reminder just how unpredictable and cataclysmic Mother Nature can be, then you'll find no fault with 'San Andreas'. It doesn't get too sappy or too melodramatic, and even contains some useful PSA tips on just what to do if and when you're caught in one. It's a Rock-solid disaster movie, we'll give you that.
It's no 'Prison on Fire', but this earnest throwback to the prison dramas of the 80s and 90s is trashily entertaining for what it is worth
Because the only thing we knew before going into 'Imprisoned: Survival Guide for Rich and Prodigal' was that the creative team of '3D Sex and Zen' and 'Due West' were behind it, we went in with just about the lowest of expectations. No offence to its lead actors Gregory Wong and Justin Cheung or its director Christopher Sun, but neither of those films were anything more than trashy, so you can't quite blame us for thinking the same of their prison comedy-drama. True enough, their latest under producer Stephen Shiu Jr's China 3D Entertainment amounts to little more than trash, but at least it is entertaining while it lasts.
Scripted by Sun, Mark Wu (of the trashy 'Lan Kwai Fong' franchise) and Shum Shek Yin, it portrays prison life from the perspective of a greenhorn named Nelson (Gregory Wong), who is sentenced to a year and a half after he runs over an elderly woman while drunk driving. Nelson isn't just some random twenty-something year-old, but a pampered '富二代'whose mother (Candice Yu) dotes him with all the cash that he wants and the most costly defense lawyer that money can buy, so this is also really his coming-of-age story much as how National Service is for our Ah Boys to Men.
As we already know from Ringo Lam's classic 'Prison on Fire' and its sequel, there is a whole microcosm behind prison walls, and for the benefit of us neophytes, Nelson gives us the full rundown just how it works. Beginning with the full body scan which used to be performed by hand but is now done by X-ray (though that machine has to break down just as Nelson steps through it), Nelson greets with wide-eyed horror the initiation for a fellow new inmate charged (though acquitted) of rape, sieving through soiled underpants while on laundry duty, and the terrible meals served by an unsympathetic cook (Lam Suet). Naturally, there is some degree of exaggeration in the 'culture shock' Nelson experiences, but hey Sun isn't exactly aiming for authenticity here.
Instead of cash, cigarettes are the currency in prison, and a fair bit of the first half is spent detailing just how privileges are bought and bartered with cigarettes. It is also through this trade that Nelson gets acquainted with his cell leader (and we don't mean this in a religious context) Seatto (Wong Kwong Leung) and the latter's trusty right-hand man Coyote (Philip Keung). It is also through that trade that he finds a buddy in Wu (Babyjohn Choi), a meek and subservient cellmate who walks with a limp and is often ridiculed by everyone else with the derogatory nickname 'Cockroach'. And so, even though it isn't like before, Nelson settles in rather comfortably within this world with its own set of rules and operatives.
That balance is however disrupted with the incarceration of Jack (Cheung), another '富二代'who is not just pampered but bastardly. A prologue establishes the enmity between them after Nelson 'f**ks' Jack's girlfriend at a party in the latter's house. Unlike Nelson however, Jack's triad connections on the outside his uncle is played by no less than Ng Chi-hung help him secure 'bodyguards' on the inside, so that even behind bars, he gets to be an arrogant tyrant. Their mutual conflict however threatens to disrupt the entire social order of the place, but it is also through this baptism of fire that Nelson finds a father figure in Uncle Dat (Liu Kai Chi) and realises the folly of his past wilful hedonistic ways.
It is as predictable as it gets yes, and quite frankly, not as poignant as it makes itself out to be. In the first instance, it is hard to sympathetic with a caddish man-child who still lives off his mother and loses his girlfriend after mixing up the two letters he had asked a fellow cellmate to write for her and his other plaything, so we aren't quite taken when he finally has a change of heart. Indeed, it is telling when we end up feeling much more for Uncle Dat when he relates just why he ended up in prison than we ever do at any point for Nelson. Truth be told, while this is Nelson's story of imprisonment, it is his fellow prison mates who steal the show.
Besides Liu, Sun has assembled a veritable cast of veterans to join Gregory Wong. Those who recall 'Prison on Fire' will surely recognise Wong Kwong Leung as well as the recently deceased William Ho Ka-Kui, the latter in a bit role as a lackey whom Jack's uncle asks to look after his nephew in prison. Other notable faces include Ken Lo Wai-Kwong as a prison warden, Elvis Tsui as his supervisor, Vincent Wan and Tony Ho as inmates tasked to insert ball bearings up Nelson's penis after he loses a bet with Jack, and Yuen Qiu as a politician who pays a surprise visit to the prison but is subsequently humiliated by one of the inmates.
Thanks to the supporting cast of notables, 'Imprisoned' feels like a sequel of sorts to 'Prison on Fire', though a much poorer cousin of course. In spirit, it is a nice throwback to the prison dramas of the 80s and 90s, notwithstanding that Gregory Wong is no Chow Yun- Fat. And while it never presents itself anywhere near as compelling, there is still trashy fun to be had inside this microcosm of prison life, which also moves at a brisk clip despite its almost two-hour runtime. Like we said at the start, we weren't expecting much to begin with, and perhaps that's key to appreciating the cruder pleasures that 'Imprisoned' affords. It won't be a classic anytime soon, but by giving a reverential nod to the classic Ringo Lam film right at the start, it's got its heart in the right place.
Like a seemingly thrilling theme park ride that never delivers a satisfying payoff, 'Tomorrowland' offers thrill in the journey but not in the discovery of what it really is
Very little has been said by its creators about 'Tomorrowland', so you can't quite blame us for feeling skeptical about this amusement- park adaptation. After all, pretty much all we know is that it has something to do with a teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson) who comes into possession of a magic pin capable of transporting her into the titular metropolis, almost just as soon finds herself being chased by a couple of 'men in black', and is saved (reluctantly) by a grumpy scientist played by George Clooney who has a rocket attached to his second- floor bathroom tub. But as we've come to realise, there is a good reason for all that secrecy; indeed, if there's one thing we will say now that we have been there and back, it is that the thrill is in the journey of discovering.
Framing the narrative that follows is Clooney's curmudgeon inventor Frank Walker, who tussles with an off-camera female voice at the start over how to explain the context for our benefit. When he finally gets started, we find ourselves being acquainted with Frank when he was a young boy (Thomas Robinson), who brings his first big invention to the 1964 New York World's Fair. A retrofitted Electrolux vacuum cleaner that he intends as a jet pack, the contraception is scoffed at by a dismissive Hugh Laurie, but greeted with admiration by an enigmatic wise-beyond-her-years young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Athena invites Frank to follow her without telling him where she is headed, but after a brief ride through a wink-wink attraction called 'It's A Small World', Frank ends up making his first trip to the gleaming city of the future, or to be more accurate, a city situated on a whole different plane.
Fast-forward many years later, and we are in Cape Canaveral, Fla, where we meet Casey for the first time. The daughter of a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw), Casey sabotages the imminent demolition of a NASA rocket launch site in hopes of keeping the space programme going. Her latest attempt gets her caught, and it is upon being bailed out that she first finds the small pin with a 'T' emblazoned on it. Her initial shock and disbelief aside, Casey is fascinated by the shiny skyscrapers at the end of the golden wheat fields and heads right towards them to find swooping highways, crystal spires, airborne automobiles, and spectacular multi-level cylinder-like swimming pools that allow you to plunge one into another. It's spectacular all right, and we are invited to share Casey's awe in a single extended tracking shot that follows her monorail ride through the futuristic city.
Alas, the future which Casey glimpsed is already in the past, and as she soon learns from she-who-gifted-the-pin Athena, the Tomorrowland of today is a hollowed-out mausoleum of glass towers. This is also where we stop, and leave the rest for you to find out layer by layer. Why was Frank and Athena booted out of Tomorrowland? What is that invention Athena talks about which should never have been invented? How is this tied to Casey, or for that matter, the fate of the present world as she knows it? TV's Lost creator Damon Lindelof is one of the two screenwriters here, so be warned that his story does keep its cards very close to its chest, revealing just enough at each turn to sustain your intrigue. And yes, there's no denying that Lindelof, who co- wrote the script with director Brad Bird, has woven an engrossing mystery about the intertwining fates of three distinct characters that are surprisingly well-defined next to one another.
Like we said earlier, the thrill is in the journey of discovering; and sure enough, what we eventually find is somehow not quite as exciting or groundbreaking as one may come to anticipate. To reveal the destination would inevitably spoil the trip itself, but suffice to say that Bird tries to make a statement about the future that pop culture seems all too happy to sell us these days and ends with a call to action. Yes, many commentators have already pointed out the film's message on how inaction and nonchalance leads to a self- fulfilling prophecy of doom and destruction, and notwithstanding Bird's noble intentions at using a big-budget studio movie to put across an earnest plea for imagination, hope and collective will, let us warn those who don't like to be lectured that it does get extremely preachy right before it ends.
That however proves to be the lesser of its faults. Saddled with the need to deliver blockbuster action, Bird relegates the second half of his movie to a glorified chase movie. From Frank's house of booby traps to the Eiffel Tower and all the way to Tomorrowland before the big finish, we get the equivalent of a souped-up kiddie flick, so much so that when the Paris landmark transforms into an interstellar rocket ship launcher, we are left unimpressed. Conversely, too little time is spent in and around where we actually are spellbound, such that the Tomorrowland we see seems like the build-up for a ride that never took off, which is unfortunately how we end up feeling about the entire film once the answers we are looking for are in essence told to us through clunky exposition delivered in part by Clooney and in part by Laurie.
For a film supposed to move its audience to think bold and stay positive, 'Tomorrowland' comes off feeling just 'meh'. There is excitement in finding out what it is all about, but once we do and that veil of secrecy is lifted, we are left thinking 'so, that's it?' And yet for all its promise, it neither leaves you much inspired nor even enthused; instead, it leaves you wanting, wanting for more adventure, more heart, more wow, and most of all, more of Tomorrowland.
Even funnier than 'Bridesmaids', Melissa McCarthy reteams with writer-director Paul Feig for a riotous send-up of every cliché and stereotype you've had of the spy movie genre
Move over, James Bond. The coolest spy in town is the CIA's Susan Cooper, a rotound desk agent who looks and walks like Melissa McCarthy that is given her first field assignment to stop a Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna (Rose Bryne) from selling a rogue nuclear weapon to the highest bidding terrorist. While her textbook- suave male counterparts get to don tuxedos and hide behind cool aliases, Susan gets assigned to be a divorced mother-of-three from Iowa or a single woman living with ten cats in her apartment. Clearly, she isn't who you would normally associate with spy material, but hey that's precisely why writer- director Paul Feig's send-up of the genre is so, so funny.
The official synopsis will let you know that Susan is called upon to assist the Agency when her assigned field agent, Bradley Fine (Jude Law), is killed in the call of duty by Rayna, the latter also threatening to know (and therefore kill) every single active field agent of the Agency has. So, from her vermin-infested basement where she acts as the eyes and ears for Bradley, Susan volunteers her anonymous self for a "track and report only" mission in Paris, where Rayna is supposed to meet with a notorious middleman named DeLuca (Bobby Cannavale). Needless to say, the enthusiastic former desk jockey steps out of the mission parameters very quickly, and throws herself right into the thick of the action, globetrotting across Europe to Rome and finally to Budapest in order to track down the missing nuke.
As far as spoofs go, 'Spy' is surprisingly well-plotted. Instead of a catfight between McCarthy and Bryne, Feig has them form somewhat of an unlikely friendship somewhere during the middle act, as McCarthy pretends to be a bodyguard hired by Bryne's father to protect the latter. Watching Bryne's snobbish, judgmental Reyna trade verbal barbs at McCarthy's in-your-face, expletive-hurling Susan is a hoot, and their chemistry is even more delightful than discovering that Susan has an "inner rage" that makes her one hell of a mean fighter in the first place. Ditto it is to find out that Statham isn't just rehashing his action hero persona from the countless B-grade movies he's been of late, but instead sending it up by constantly exaggerating the things he has had to endure in the line of duty (like having to cut one arm off and sew it back with the other).
From its James Bond-style title sequence, there is no doubt that Feig has his tongue firmly in his cheek. And yet unlike other send- ups, Feig plays his with a thoroughly straight face, and comes off all the better for it. At no point does it come off looking silly (just look at 'Austin Powers' as a counter-factual); quite the opposite, you might even be inclined at several points to call it brilliant, which only goes to show just how deftly Feig has managed the fine balance between farce and genius. Like his past two female- centric comedies, that genius lies also in Feig's gleeful lack of regard for political correctness, so those who cannot stand the pottiness of 'Bridesmaids' or 'The Heat' should know that this is likely to offend your delicate sensibilities as well.
Yet if there's something these previous Feig-McCarthy collaborations have shown, it is that theirs is truly an inspired comedic pairing. It was Feig who first introduced us to McCarthy's foul-mouthed attitude in 'Bridesmaids', but as 'Identity Thief' and 'Tammy' showed, her trademark shtick can get tiresome and ingratiating very quickly without the right finesse. Feig knows exactly how far and when to push the right buttons, so that McCarthy's outward bravado never gets on your nerves. More than in her previous roles, there is palpable sense of insecurity to McCarthy's fish-out-of-water character here, and the highly gifted comedic actress delivers her most heartfelt performance portraying Susan's anxieties as she realises how way out of her league she is.
In place of the ensemble in 'Bridesmaids' or the complement that Sandra Bullock was in 'The Heat', Feig surrounds McCarthy with a colourful cast of supporting characters. Statham and Law have a whale of a time with their winking performances, the former as a tough-talker and the latter as a debonair spy who isn't so perfect (heck, he accidentally kills the one man with the information he needs when he squeezes the trigger while sneezing). Bryne is gloriously bitchy, and like we said earlier, her scenes with McCarthy snap, crackle and pop. Other no less entertaining additions include Miranda Hart, who plays McCarthy's colleague down in the basement that harbours similar dreams of being out there in the action (her ideal codename being Amber Valentine no less), as well as British actor Peter Serafinowicz, who plays an amorous local CIA handler enlisted to help McCarthy while she is in Rome. Feig juggles all these distinct characters beautifully, while never ever forgetting that this is McCarthy's show through and through.
If you're looking to be tickled silly, we guarantee that 'Spy' will leave you in stitches, but the real ingenuity in this espionage spoof is how it is never in itself silly. Indeed, its humour lies not in putting down its characters or by extension its actors, but rather by subverting our stereotypes of just who and how certain people are supposed to be. It is precisely because we do not expect someone of McCarthy's calibre to be a secret agent that we laugh at how wrong we were and yes, contrary to what you may expect, McCarthy does get to kick ass, a lot of them. The same goes for each one of her other co-stars, whose characters are deliberately meant to be counter-intuitive. But hey, one can say precisely the same about 'Spy', which easily surpasses what Feig and McCarthy have done before. It is funny as hell all right, and it even has a genuinely exciting spy story in itself.