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The 1977 British haunting known as the Enfield Poltergeist has sparked
controversy and has been accused of being complete hogwash. The famed
paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and
Vera Farmiga) have now got their work cut out for them with this one.
But director/co-writer James Wan is not concerned about busting myths.
The guy wants us to be scared silly and have a ball. He has succeeded.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
That's the modus operandi of Wan's latest scare-a-thon, the sequel to the 2013 summer blockbuster. This is better than the first bigger, scarier and much more intense. The first film was fun, but it relied too heavily on nostalgic and retro traits, having aped/paid homage to 1979's "The Amityville Horror". This new one is no different it acts as a "greatest hits" album of classic horror movie moments specifically, those of "Poltergeist" and "The Exorcist".
Wan's passion for the genre shines through in every scene. His unnerving atmosphere soaks the film in a shroud of doom and gloom, relentlessly unleashing his old- school house of horrors until the curtain call. It creaks, it moans, it shrieks when need be, never short-changing the character development and audience in the process.
This is not the horror film of the year so far (that honour belongs to the haunting indie film "The Witch"), but as far as popcorn horror films go, this one's really good - and a good stepping stone to introduce newcomers to "Exorcist"-style classics, a trait which I suspect was Wan's true intention all along, having already establishing himself as today's go-to filmmaker for spooky films.
It is infinitely better to center horror films around flawed, adult
human beings, rather than seeing another vapid pretty face slashed by a
faceless mook. Filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's
Backbone) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist) understood that notion,
where human flaws and regrets coil up subconscious fears into
horrifying supernatural manifestations. Greenhorn filmmaker Mike
Flanagan, who scared audiences with his surprisingly clever Oculus
years ago, returns to follow these veterans' footsteps with his flawed
but nonetheless human sophomore effort.
Here, Flanagan whips up another spooky tale that effectively doubles as a drama about loss and coping, centering around troubled adult couple Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) coping with the loss of their child Sean. They adopt gifted kid Cody (Jacob Tremblay) whose dreams - and nightmares - come physically alive. Jessie sees this as an opportunity to relive her memories of her dead child, while Mark becomes rightfully concerned. Bosworth and Jane play their roles straight without the slightest hint of genre awareness, instantly grounding the film in tragic plausibility throughout.
Despite some shortcomings - including a half-baked coda that feels like a blatant Nikon ad, Flanagan's clever and wisely understated direction - including a refreshing lack of jumpy moments and music in the favor of slow burn chills - overcomes them and brings out the best in atmosphere and performances specifically that of young Jacob Tremblay, who subverts the evil kid trope by convincingly looking remorseful about his 'gifts', unfortunately to little avail.
For Pitch Perfect's fans who think the infinitely cute Anna Kendrick
could do no wrong, well, there's a first time for everything. Here's a
film that feels like a Monday morning at work: a film with the right
stars who are fully game for the lunacy promised by its strange and
risky "look-at-me-I'm-so-smart" script, but is betrayed by poor,
I will admit, I am not particularly fond of the romantic comedy genre, although there have been occasional stand- outs. This one is woeful because the script tries its darndest to make the bizarre material work, which involves clueless young lady Martha (Kendrick) falling head- over-heels with charming 'nice' guy (Sam Rockwell, Moon) who is actually a deranged assassin offing his contractors. Kendrick and Rockwell are very likable here, showing great chemistry between snapping some truly funny puns and dodging bullets.
But oh, how the filmmakers have let them down. A half-witty, half-annoying and fully self-aware script by Max Landis (Chronicle and son of Blues Brothers' John Landis) would make for a decent watch if handled by a director who understood the transition of tones - Kick-Ass' and Kingsman's Matthew Vaughn comes into mind. Not so for misguided director Paco Cabezas (the poor Nicolas Cage thriller Rage), who shifts from breezy rom-com satire to brutally violent action thriller with jarring violence worthy of a Jason Statham vehicle. It is about as awkward and subtle as a brick to the face and it threw me off the film completely.
2010's Wild Target did this similar material better.
What is the value of a single human life? That's the question rattling
in the mind of American USAF drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who
defies direct orders from British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen
Mirren) and Lt. General Frank Benson (the late Alan Rickman) into
blowing up a terror stronghold in the middle of a crowded Kenyan
neighbourhood, as an innocent civilian walks right into the kill zone.
They are racing against time; the terrorists are readying up for a much
deadlier attack. The harrowing decision, and the dispute that surrounds
it, is the heart of this exciting and frustratingly compelling
thriller, down to its haunting closing scenes.
A dilemma like this, government politicians love to play the 'blame game'. Powell is ready to strike without compromise, but she and Benson can only wait for the greenlight by hesitant superiors. Guy Hibbert's script explores whether the politicians react as such to avoid the burden for approving such a strike, or to pat themselves on the back for averting loss of face. The subsequent moral, ethical and legal dilemmas slowly rile up all major characters like a boiling kettle.
Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender's Game) confidently crafts a gripping tale across continents where morality is given one hell of an endurance test, and invites the audience to debate with him. The work he has achieved with gifted thespians Mirren and Rickman (in one of his final roles) has resulted in a rock-solid morality play, and in a testament to his talent, Rickman's final scene powerfully sums up everything Hood and Hibbert have to say on the matter.
I would not like another person's memory in my head. It wouldn't be too
pleasant. You'd remember connections with complete strangers, have
knee-jerk reactions to different fears, be familiar with behaviors and
even languages you thought you never knew. You might even be pursued by
the wrong kind of people and won't even know it, and that is what
happens to hard- ass, deranged criminal Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner)
when he gets the memories of a dead CIA agent (Ryan Reynolds), wanted
by both his CIA handlers and a fanatic terrorist.
Criminal is a mid-budget, high-concept and brutally violent B-movie, handsomely crafted for the guy crowd. It stars A- listers both present (Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot) and past (Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman) bringing their game faces and having fun - none more so than Costner, here trolling more than ever with a gruff, can't-give-a-damn attitude that combines Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Keith Richards all in one ultra-badass, ultra-insane swoop.
The film was produced by Millennium Films of Expendables and Olympus/London Has Fallen fame, and I'm digging their old- school action offerings. They never aspire to be high-brow entertainment, but given the right script and this one is from the same scribes as The Rock (1996) they can make fun movies with a rough-and-tough edge. This has added midnight movie strangeness to its concept, and to Vromen's credit, no action beat is missed.
For reasons I'll never know, this film is being savaged by Western critics for being too 'dull' and 'dumb'. Perhaps I saw a different movie. It may be dumb, but it sure as hell isn't dull.
The Hitchcockian thriller, having being ditched by Hollywood in favour
of comic- book blockbusters, is alive and well in South Korean cinema.
This incredibly suspenseful film by first- time filmmaker Kim Bong-Joo
continues in the tradition of frustrating audiences with cracker-jack
suspense, as he skillfully unveils the tale of how a politician (Son
Hyun-Joo, very nuanced here), haunted by the loss of his wife (Uhm
Ji-Won), gets a mysterious call from her a year to the date she passed.
Without haste, he immediately tries to avert her death by informing her
of future events, but both find out something's amiss when a
particularly nasty villain comes into play. It's neo- noir by way of
the Twilight Zone.
If you think this admittedly ludicrous plot sounds familiar, it does: it's similar to 2000's "Frequency" starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, with a father-son focus, and an old radio instead of a husband-wife focus and phone, respectively. That American film had a much stronger dramatic dynamic that allowed the audience to invest better in the characters' plights, making their conflicts all the more intense. This film falters on that front, ironically succumbing to Hollywood's popcorn-minded temptations without rising above the genre, especially in the final third. There is a strong sense of urgency, yes, but the film needed a bit more fleshed-out characters for us to make us truly feel for every character's predicament.
No matter, Hollywood can rest easy knowing the genre is in capable hands. Better to play it safe than having it sink further below.
Marvel's "Captain America: Civil War" is a film so sincere in its
aspirations, so determined to stand out from the superhero crowd, that
to see it collapse under the strain of its ambition is quite
underwhelming. The film pits Avengers Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) against each other in a clash of
ideologies, and to see them fairly debate in lieu of individuality and
regulation, respectively, is nothing short of compelling and
thought-provoking, especially since both sides have their own set of
The action sequences and fight choreography are top-notch, probably the best in the Marvel crop, with the Russo brothers proving themselves the studio's golden goose. They (with mightily impressive stunt choreography from the John Wick directors) direct with a slick, brutal efficiency and perfect comic timing that can make action junkies sigh with relief, which aides greatly in that big, highly-hyped superhero throwdown.
But the villainous cog behind the conflict nearly collapses the entire film. It becomes increasingly preposterous the more I think about it. To pit Cap'n and Iron Man against each other, there has to be a plausible catalyst towards their tension to bring any real emotional weight to the film. This villain, all by his lonesome, uses preparations and tactics that would make Bane and MacGuyver blush in comparison, resulting in plot/continuity holes so big a dozen helicarriers combined can fly through them. However, and this doesn't spoil the plot, what he does at the end of the film ditches the core of the film and resembles a Saturday morning cartoon.
It's still a better film than Batman vs. Superman.
"Days of Future Past", the previous X-Men entry, had visions of a stark
post- apocalyptic future ala Terminator, and now comes "Apocalypse",
taking cues from eschatological lore with its titular megavillain
threatening to destroy all to achieve his own vision of grandeur,
forcing the X-Men to unite as one to stop this fallen god. It's pretty
Do not be fooled by its comic-book brand; this is a biblical quasi-disaster film disguised as a superhero film, chock full of thrilling action and urgent, no- nonsense heroics, something that is sorely lacking in most superhero films today (I'm looking at you, BvS and Civil War). Both movies lack the human touch that Singer has given ever-so generously in his films, making the X-Men grounded and human while blossoming with their gifts. The stark difference between this film and Civil War/the DCU shows during one particularly harrowing scene involving Fassbender's Magneto in a Polish forest, which elevates this into a real film with real characters. The humor seems natural, too, save for another scene of fine trolling involving audience favorite Quicksilver that is all too similar to his scene in the previous film.
Still, despite a script that offers nothing new to the table, hats off to director Bryan Singer, proving himself yet again as the golden goose of the franchise, for delivering the superhero goods with balanced, kinda old-fashioned storytelling and a plethora of fine performances from all cast members, especially Oscar Isaac as its titular villainous anti-Messiah. It's very operatic, overtly theatrical without being hammy, and it contrasts nicely with the rest of the grounded characters, truly fitting for a villain named "Apocalypse."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Once upon a time, predatory animals were either the sinister villains
or the square-jawed heroes of Disney Animated films, with the cuddly
animals ("prey" if I'd go further) being either comic relief or the
central protagonist. With "Zootopia", where anthropomorphic mammals
live and breathe in a bustling metropolis ala humans (with nary a homo
sapien in sight), the tables have turned - cuddly animals such as our
heroine, a rabbit cop named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has shifted
into figures of empowerment and inspiration, while big predatory
animals have become either the cute ones - as seen in an overweight
man-child cheetah cop who obsesses over a famous pop star while on desk
duty - or a mischievous comic relief as per con-artist fox Nick Wilde
Wilde is the archetypal wily fox there's not a word that he says that isn't cynical or sarcastic. Although the character is animated, this is essentially Bateman being his laid-back self, which strongly anchors this film down to earth. Wilde provides a pleasant foil against Goodwin's Hopps, who is eager to do good (not unlike co- director Rich Moore's "Wreck-It Ralph") and make Zootopia a better place, but constantly finds her naiveté not only challenged by Wilde's put- downs, but also by her own parents' over-protectiveness and even the Zootopia police chief, a bison (voiced by Idris Elba) and caricature of the stereotypical cop-movie chief, who bluntly tells Hopps that being a cop "isn't some fairy tale with songs and dance. Let it go."
Indeed, "Zootopia" is not the usual Disney fare the similarity ends with the talking animals, extremely likable characters and rapid- fire humor I lost it in numerous scenes, particularly an adorable riff on "The Godfather" that will entertain kids and adults alike. What we have here is essentially a buddy cop movie (think "48 Hrs", "Rush Hour", "Lethal Weapon") that skirts into noir territory at times - where one's a do-gooder cop and the other's a rebel, and they both team up to stop a bigger threat towards the city, bonding in the process. The Disney version, at least. Spoilers ahead.
How this leads into a political conspiracy involving a plot to segregate the prey from predators, I will not reveal. Here Disney makes a bold move, not only subverting their decades-old predator/prey animal tropes, but not-so-subtly confronting the media blitz against race-induced crimes. I am instantly reminded of the American media who gobble up any news involving multi-racial crimes and subsequent controversies with law enforcement, with no qualms given to either side of the fence to express their proper opinion. Howard and Moore, along with their writers, remarkably handle their material sensibly and level-headedness and with Disney's lesson of the movie about acceptance and unity, delivered with care.
This could be one of the year's best films.
Alex Proyas' "Gods of Egypt" is a film that is boldly and unabashedly
silly and preposterous. Few other words can describe it. It has the
pratfalls that beset typical Hollywood fare. It is already the subject
of controversy due to its preeminently Caucasian cast. It has both
critics and audiences sharpening their knives, a film supposedly
destined for failure.
Oh, but it works because the film truly bonkers. Truly insane. Truly out of its mind.
Proyas, a gifted and visionary filmmaker, is renowned for having thought-provoking and striking imagery in all of his films, and this film is without exception. Where in any other film do you get to see goddesses horse-riding giant fire-breathing serpents? Or wagons carrying infinite amounts of gold dumping their load in a funnel-like tube ala dump trucks? Or for that matter, gods bleeding gold? Or Gerard butler riding gold- chromed giant beetles into battle? Or gods that have body parts that, when disfigured, instantly become detachable jewelry? Or...
Admittedlly the plot is indeed silly even by blockbuster Hollywood standards, however a lesser Proyas film is still more visually inventive than the usual Hollywood movie factory output, and that is always a plus. Whereas a film like "Pan" bludgeons us over the head with its disgusting cynicism and disrespect for the source material by portraying its titular hero as a clichéd messiah figure, Proyas directs with the exuberance of a kid in Disneyland - with Disneyland replaced with an Egyptian museum exhibit eager at the chance to create his own action packed tale while still respecting the gods as, well, gods.
What is there to say about the plot, except that it has gods and it has Egypt? You get exactly what's on the tin. You get a chiseled hero in the form of Horus (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau), his athletic and quippy comic sidekick (Brenton Thwaites) and beautiful love (Courtney Eaton), who set out to defeat Horus' evil uncle Set (Gerard Butler, simultaneously parodying his "300" persona while being supremely sinister).
The whole thing sounds very Greek. But rather than eschewing the silly tone and making it "Gladiator"-style dark and dreary ala the recent "Clash of the Titans" movies, Proyas and the actors let loose and have a ball with the material, never being too self aware while being silly enough to make for compelling viewing. Even rising star Chadwick Boseman (terrific in both "42" and "Get on Up"), as Thoth the god of knowledge, relishes in chewing the scenery with every moment, never afraid of being campy. Not bad.
Look, it's clear that the film is a B-grade Saturday night matinée film straight from the 1950s. Ever heard your grandparents told you about those? The ones where there's usually a double feature showcasing silly low budget sci-fi/horror/fantasy plots with handsome men and gorgeous gals, supremely cheesy one liners and having no purpose other than to put a goofy smile on your face from start to finish, almost guaranteeing a good time out? Well, this is one such movie, but with a blockbuster budget and the added pleasure of having Proyas wrapping the fun around with his wonderful thought-provoking visuals and production design, and going wild with this thing. Two set pieces involving a gigantic worm-like demon and the Egyptian afterlife are visual marvels, triumphs of set design and visual effects, evoking senses of awe and wonder like films from yesteryear and other gifted visionaries. For mainstream filmmakers, CGI is the cheat sheet. For Proyas, it's his toy box. This is eye candy on a spectacular scale, and audiences won't get short-changed.
Bear with me here, but if you were to replace the cast with genuine Egyptian actors, I think the film would be mired in even bigger controversies because it will definitely look more inaccurate and seemingly insulting than it supposedly already is. It's stupid, yes, but it's gloriously stupid and never succumbs to taking itself ever so seriously. Proyas sort of knew what he was doing here, and he didn't give a damn about what others thought. And that's the kind of filmmaker I admire the most.
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