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247 reviews in total 
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322 out of 518 people found the following review useful:
What "Die Hard 5" should have been., 22 March 2013

I find it ironic that Gerard Butler, a Scotsman, as disgraced Secret Agent Mike Banning, embodies the spirit of John McClane much more than Bruce Willis did in that last dreadful outing. If anything, Butler has done nothing more than to cement his reputation as a bankable and likable action hero for the new generation in this old-school action movie. He has a commanding presence on-screen, quips wisecracks, bleeds when it's crucial, and dispatches the bad guys in a methodical cross between Jason Bourne and John Rambo. Not even the fine supporting cast (Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott) can take away Butler's limelight.

Indeed, Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen" is not only terrific entertainment but a terrific throwback to the pivotal 90's action movie, the Die Hard clone - and this film ("Die Hard" in the White House) is another reminder of why the trusted formula works, even if it has been dormant for nearly two decades (the last good big one being Peter Hyams' "Sudden Death").

From the moment the film's main action start, the film doesn't stop running. The bad guys, hoo boy do they mean business. Rarely, if at all, have I seen this much brutal collateral damage in an American action film. Americans citizens get mowed down by bullets from ground and air forces. The all-American (Scottish) hero represents freedom and justice, and the bad guys represent every American's worst nightmare. I haven't seen this much political incorrectness since "The Delta Force". Having said that, Rick Yune surprisingly makes for an effective and nasty villain, who is relentlessly cold, smug and procedural in his mission, following the formula perfectly. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

It's fast, it's loud, it's preposterous, and yet I enjoyed every minute of it. The film is chock-full of sensational and well-shot action sequences/special effects, but its biggest strength is its cohesion. From start to finish the plot moves smoothly, and you can tell who the good guys and the bad guys are. The characters are established, their motives clear, and that's that. The action sequences do not simply skip to each other, they flow perfectly like a stream, thanks to crisp editing. Simplicity is key here, and convoluted plots do not fit in the formula (hear that, "Die Hard 5"?)

Fuqua is no stranger to action, having helmed the solid "Shooter" six years ago. Here he ratchets up the action up to a 10 (CGI is present but used reasonably), and he remarkably doesn't hold back on the tension. It's no "Training Day", but it more or less hearkens back to an Antoine Fuqua who made "The Replacement Killers". Just thrilling fun.

Of course the plot isn't original. It's a genre picture, and what I pay to see in a genre picture is its skillful craft and cohesive plot. This film has both, and resurrects the Die Hard clone from the grave. Here I thought I was getting bored of action movies. The genre is dying, you say? Here's a solid kicker.

98 out of 122 people found the following review useful:
American Neo-Noir meets romantic European fable, 8 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

He looks out the window in the night sky after a long day's work, thinking of what has become of himself. Across his apartment balcony, in the window of the building opposite his, stares a woman, solemn, pained. Their eyes meet, and, slowly, they wave at each other. Not a word was spoken.

Subtle scenes like these evoke memories of the raw power of film - it is emotion, not words or sometimes action - that drive a motion picture. Thing is, Vic is a thug working for a ruthless mobster; and Beatrice is a traumatized victim of a car accident. The subtlety will not last long, but it does make healthy re-appearances.

Niels Arden Oplev's "Dead Man Down" is the English-language debut (third this year overall following two Korean efforts) of the Swedish filmmaker famous for the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" film. He even brought along his star Noomi Rapace for the ride. It is a joy to see a modern filmmaker who cares for and loves his characters as much as the audience expects themselves to, that we are invested in them strongly and want to see them succeed. He crafts the film with love, as the cinematography gracefully dances around the characters, as if it was a complex ballet intrigue and hidden motives. Do we really want to right that wrong? Will it be worth it in the end? For us and for our loved ones?

The movie is, first and foremost, a revenge thriller. But surprisingly, it is also a compelling love story. From the moment the film opens we are thrust into the urban jungle of New York City (accentuated with a moody and atmospheric score by Jacob Groth, composer of the original "Millennium" trilogy), but with a poignant yet meaningful statement by Vic's friend Darcy (Cooper). Writer J.H. Wyman uses strands of earlier revenge films, twisty film-noirs and the classic melodramatic romance of earlier Hollywood films and incorporated them into his screenplay. Oplev transforms the screenplay, with such passionate energy and inventiveness, that the whole film somehow resembles a classic romantic European fable - sort of like this big tough warrior who falls in love with a wounded soul in a far-away and dangerous land, and both become kindred spirits. It is engrossing and captivating to watch the characters actually become real human beings, instead of being caricatures. This is a film where the characters' decisions affects what happens next.

The film would not succeed had it not been for the two leads, Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, followed by a strong and diverse supporting cast. Farrell is strong as Vic, big, tough but withdrawn and solemn, slowly hiding away his anguish and rage towards his real enemy. Rapace, an actress whom I'm starting to grow fond of, is quite wonderful as Beatrice, who is traumatized but is still capable of captivating the lonely Vic. She walks and talks with unease, but there are times where she switches gears and becomes intensely aggressive in her true goal, where it will reveal is eating her up slowly but surely. The strong chemistry between the duo make the movie much, much better than it was intended.

The rest of the cast consists of Terrence Howard as a deliciously ruthless and intimidating as the villain Alphonse (watch the scene where he confronts Vic in a dark apartment room, with backlighting in Paul Cameron's cinematography brilliantly capturing the essence of noir), Dominic Cooper giving Darcy a human and realistic portrayal of a stock crime film character, and brief but warmly welcome appearances of F. Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert.

This is a movie which has something for both guys and gals. Guys will go for the gritty story and the obligatory "Colin Farrell kicks ass" scenes, especially the violent climax. Women would go just to see Farrell the romantic, and the compelling chemistry between the two leads are enough to make them swoon over. But the film is so well made, the characters and story strongly developed and very compelling enough to hold my attention for two hours, that really, you couldn't ask for a more well rounded revenge thriller of late. This is a movie which actually is a real movie, instead of feeling like a movie or being a commercial/stunt/SFX reel. Kudos to especially Oplev, Farrell and Rapace for making a strong, real film about lovable characters.

No doubt the marketing for the film is way off (as an action thriller, as usual) and reveals quite too much. Doesn't matter. "Dead Man Down" is the finest and most meaningful revenge film in years.

Stoker (2013)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
O what a tangled web they weave..., 1 March 2013

Weeks ago we saw the release of two movies: the Arnold Schwarzenegger actionier "The Last Stand" and the Steven Soderbergh-directed "Side Effects", which were hugely entertaining by their own rights. The former was the English-language debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon, and the latter was a faithful homage to Alfred Hitchcock and his techniques for suspense.

Now comes Park Chan-Wook's "Stoker", the second South Korean director this year to make his English-language debut, and a delicious tribute to Hitchcock. Using Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" as a blueprint, Park and writer Wentworth Miller (yes, that very one) weaves their way through many suspense pastiches, and yet, it is a stunningly effective watch.

Miller's characters are, from the moment we first see them, are not what they seem. Tensions are boiling under the surface. India (Mia Wasikowska) looks completely pale, stares into space chillingly, and is so withdrawn towards certain people after her father dies, that you wish she has a pet.. oh wait, no. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) wonders about her predicament as to why her daughter, close to her father but not her, is so distant away from her that she seeks affection for herself to ease her grief, subtly, desperately. Then into the mix comes India's long lost uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) who charms his way into both women's hearts, and his smile and chilling eyes have quite some stories to tell.

The audience today is used to thriller pastiches. They think they know what's going to happen, and they play a guessing game with each other. Park and Miller knows that they think they know, and they turn the tables on the audience, forcing them to think and guess for themselves what exactly will the outcome be. We think we know the characters, but something else is missing. Just when you think you know the shortcut, a detour appears from nowhere. Like a spider weaving a web around its prey, Park and Miller go for the kill.

Wasikowska is good in a departure from her previous roles, as a silent, distant, mysteriously creepy, and yet sombre girl who drifts around looking aimlessly for people to trust, and looking cold while distrusting others. Nicole Kidman is also good as the grieving, desperate mother who looks like she is simmering to a boil. The show belongs to Matthew Goode. His charisma and deliciously creepy performance nails the role. As his "Uncle" Charlie character seduces his way around both mom and daughter, twists and dark plots began to unravel between the trio.

Miller's screenplay is good but not great. It is written well enough, has affection for his characters, and plays a good guessing game with the audience. The film's best aspect is the brilliant direction by Park Chan-Wook, famous for his "Vengeance" trilogy. Park complements the twists and deceit with strikingly beautiful, haunting camera-work and visuals. He even brought his usual cinematographer, Chung Chung-Hoon on this film, and it works wonders. Every frame is beautifully and lovingly crafted, from blood splatter onto white flowes, to flickering lights in the basement, to the meticulous editing by Nicolas De Toth that brings the film to an aesthetic, more sensual level. Complementing these is the music. Oh the music. Clint Mansell, always an interesting composer, again works his way with Miller's material and Park's style and blends the two together with his ominous, brooding and atmospheric score. Credit should also go to the great Philip Glass for composing that beautiful piano solo. Vintage Park Chan-Wook, turning moments of horror and violence into images of stark beauty. On a technical level, the film is brilliant, and gives the film much credit then it initially has.

This is a film that makes you guess what's gonna happen. However, it gives you more than the satisfaction by actually making you think harder. It isn't mind-blowing, but it is supreme, intelligent entertainment, to make your brain do some work. All due praise to Park Chan-Wook for a stunning Hollywood debut and a promise for better things to come.

Snitch (2013/I)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A well-rounded machine, 24 February 2013

Stuntmen-turned-filmmakers can only go so far. Just ask Mic Rodgers, who made the dreadful "Universal Soldier: The Return". The late David R. Ellis at least had the gripping "Cellular" and the wild "Snakes on a Plane" to his name, but they certainly relied on gimmick more than actual plot itself.

Now comes Ric Roman Waugh's "Snitch", mismarketed as a Dwayne Johnson action thriller towards the masses. It is not. It's actually a compelling crime drama about a father who risks it all to save his son. There's hardly any action sequences in the movie save for the final 10 minutes of the movie, of which I'm sure the trailers made full use of to bring in the unsuspecting audience.

After the disappointing "A Good Day to Die Hard", here was a refreshing film to watch. It had a proper plot, it had proper characters, and it had a proper flow. It was clear Waugh and co-writer Justin Haythe clearly show care and concern for their characters, and instead of turning the hero into a wise-cracking superhuman, they turn him into an everyday guy the average Joe can relate to and root for.

Which brings to the question whether Dwayne Johnson, an action hero for the new generation, can pull it off as a normal, vulnerable and believable human being. He does. Granted, it's not great acting, but he is more than competent enough, and that is just about what this movie needs. It's startling to see, the previews before the movie showing two of Johnson's upcoming films "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Fast and Furious 6" showing him as a bad-assed tough guy, where here he subtly shows worry, desperation, and thus gets beaten up by punks within 20 minutes of the movie. A gun is pointed at him and he flinches. He's only human like the rest of us. Scenes where Johnson's character John Matthews is talking to his son is prison is startlingly absorbing and effective, as both father and son exchange their regrets and worries painfully. The film is bolstered by a fine supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Melina Kanakaredes, but a substantial amount of screen time is given to Jon Bernthal's character who seems to parallel John's son, and he does a more than commendable effort in his performance and character arc.

This isn't a perfect film. The main father-protecting-son story has been told before in different movies. The shaky cinematography can be rather distracting at times. But for all it's minor flaws, it's amazingly well rounded, and thus it becomes a real movie. There's not too much, too little character, plot, and drama. The plot is realistic and believable enough, and it will definitely get you thinking about the laws imposed on drug possession. It's just about right, like a well-rounded machine. Waugh certainly knew what he was doing here. The gritty cinematography and the beautifully moody music by Antonio Pinto hits the right notes and makes the film much more grounded in reality.

The film is rated PG-13. I think this is a good thing, seeing that teens who walk into this movie can actually learn and think about something for once. I didn't even realize that this was a PG-13 movie from start to finish.

This is also Ric Roman Waugh's third film, following "In the Shadows" (2001), and "Felon" (2008), another prison drama. Here is a director with potential to create more well-rounded films and make a name for himself as a solid director who directs entertaining yet thoughtful films. As for Dwayne Johnson, things are looking up for him, and it's great to see him do something completely different from his forte for a change.

448 out of 506 people found the following review useful:
What on earth have they done to John McClane?!, 14 February 2013

I am heartbroken.

It's a sad day to say this, but it has to be said: "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a dud. The fifth instalment in the beloved "Die Hard" saga ends up as the worst of the series so far; it falters thanks to a weak characterization, even weaker screen writing, lack of worthy villains, absurd action sequences and incoherent direction. You can bet this movie will be mentioned in the same sentence with "Rocky V", "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", "Speed 2: Cruise Control", "Die Another Day" and "Batman & Robin". Not even the R-rating and the return of the famous "Yippie ki yay" line in full can save this one.

As much as I love action movies, I like mine with a side of plot and character, of which this film fails at. John McClane, one of my favorite film characters of all time, is given a horrendous treatment no beloved character should ever be given: relegated to a sidekick. This is HIS movie, not his son's! From the start he is inexplicably thrust into Russia with no back story of how the previous films over the years have shaped his character now - a key trait that was visible in the previous four films. He is reduced to a wise-cracking action supercop, and even his wisecracks are weak. However, Bruce Willis, bless him, is still McClane without a doubt, as he dishes out the bad guys with weathered-out cynicism in his eyes. He still has it in him, and in no way it is his fault that this movie turned out to be near-crap.

Rather, writer Skip Woods and director John Moore are to blame. Woods clearly missed the whole point of McClane's essence and likability - he is a vulnerable human - an everyday Joe who only stops the bad guys when "there's no one else that can do it". He is a reluctant hero in the first four films, he can get seriously wounded, as he is up against worthy adversaries that are cool, calculative and almost one step ahead of him. Here, McClane, in the opening car chase, and immediately causes mass vehicular damage just to stop thugs from attacking his son, shows no signs of vulnerability (after TWO major car crashes), and has no qualms about killing the bad guys wherever they pop up here. His son Jack (Jai Courtney), filling in for McClane's sidekick, has certain charisma and shows a few glimpses of character development in McClane but it is cut short by the merciless and absurd action sequences.

A good action movie has to have a good villain. "Die Hard 5" has none. It has three primary villains, all of them forgettable. Nothing with the likes of even Thomas Gabriel or Colonel Stuart (the Gruber Brothers must be smirking right now in hell). They're not intelligent, not menacing, not memorable. They're just dumb, die, and that's it. What was their evil plot? What dastardly deeds do they have? Weapons dealing. Oh the humanity!

The film runs at 97 minutes - the shortest in the series. Why the film was released at this length I don't want to know. Nobody complained about the 2 hour running time for each of the previous four movies. Imagine what a better movie this could've been with those cut scenes added back in.

John Moore directs with the subtlety of a car crash. He smash cuts every scene, puts heavy use of slow motion in the excruciatingly absurd climax, and relies heavily on CGI for most of the action sequences. But like all Die Hard movies, there has to be at least one sensational action sequence, and that is at the film's beginning. The only thing I really enjoyed (in a guilty pleasure sort of way) about the whole movie was a massive, destructive stunt-filled car chase throughout the streets of Moscow. It was an intense and exciting scene. Pity the rest of the movie can't hold up to this sensational chase scene alone, especially the end which essentially turns McClane into The Terminator. If you think the F-35 scene in "Die Hard 4" was absurd, hoo boy, wait until you get a load of this one.

At the very least, there's some competent cinematography from Jonathan Sela and a good, riveting music score from Marco Beltrami, who really knows his stuff when it comes to action, as well as incorporating Michael Kamen's themes into this one. If anything, the music is better than the movie.

There is a 6th (and according to Bruce, final) movie in the works. Here's a no brainer - bring back John McTiernan or Renny Harlin (hell, even Len Wiseman for all I care), and hire a good screenwriter who really delivers the old school action goods. I strongly believe Bruce and McClane can deliver the goods still and ride off into the sunset, instead of falling off his horse here. They just need a better story, better direction, and a more than worthy villain with a respected British actor in the role. The franchise doesn't deserve to die with this. It's too good for that.

Shame on you, John Moore and Skip Woods.

Side Effects (2013/I)
70 out of 88 people found the following review useful:
Soderbergh's epilogue(?), 8 February 2013

Steven Soderbergh's "Side Effects" begins with the camera zooming in from the streets to an apartment window, and ends in the reverse manner (no, I'm not spoiling anything). In a subtle way, Soderbergh's final shot represents his "full circle". Will he really retire from filmmaking for good? If so, then we will miss him. He is a truly exceptional filmmaker - and "Side Effects" would be a worthy film to go out on.

Indeed, "Side Effects" is a pure thriller, as it was marketed. While prescription medicine is the central plot device, the film also deals with psychology, law, insecurity, social stigma, corporate greed and obsession. Not explicitly for all of them, mind you, but subtly enough to get the point through, and not dawdling on it a second further. The taut, gripping, Hitchcockian screenplay by Scott Z. Burns gleefully twists and turns its way into unexpected plot developments, allowing Soderbergh to roam the apartments and streets with his camera, creating an intense yet unusually hypnotic atmosphere that is irresistibly gorgeous to watch.

Jude Law, looking more haggard here, is suitably desperate and obsessive as the "good?" doctor who seeks the truth pervasively after a horrific act committed by his patient, Emily (Rooney Mara). Clues lead him to Emily's previous doctor, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), which reveal that things are not what they seem. Zeta-Jones is juicily and devilishly icy-cold in her portrayal of Siebert, reminding me of those wicked female villains of the 90's thrillers. Staying in the background while having an influence throughout the second half of the movie is Rooney Mara, once again giving a strong performance as the conflicted Emily. Extremely vulnerable, soft-spoken, and unpredictable, she continues to steadily rise as one of the best young actresses working today. Channing Tatum too, as her husband Martin, an ex-convict fresh out of prison for insider trading, portrays his character outside of the stereotype, and turns him into a somewhat sympathetic and unfortunate character.

Soderbergh's complete control of atmosphere would not be complete without his usual great cinematography, crisp editing and unnerving music score by Thomas Newman, who conjures up some interesting musical themes at the proper times to rattle the characters even further. This is extremely skillful filmmaking, and although the plot has been seen and done before, it is exhilarating to see how a master filmmaker commands his given material so strongly and fleshing it out with his signature style.

This is a very good film. It's one of those movies that, when you start watching, you want to keep watching to see what happens next. Hitchcock himself would have smiled at this one. As for Soderbergh, he still has that Liberace biopic due for a TV release later this year, so he's not done with it yet. But well, I sure hope he returns someday if he decides to do so.

23 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
The lonely streets at night, 2 February 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One thing about Fisher Stevens' "Stand Up Guys" is that how lonely, not only the primary characters are, but also how the locations are. Take for example, a simple scene where Val (Pacino) and Doc (Walken) walk down the barren street in the middle of the night, as if both represent a bygone era.

Not long after Val is released from prison, one of his two only friends, Doc, greets him at the prison gates. Doc actually is hired by an old employer to kill Val out of revenge, but Doc cannot bring himself to, even long after Val discover the plot. Surprisingly Val is content with it, but Doc isn't; this tension tests and strengthens their friendship further as the deadline becomes closer.

What ensues is a fun romp through the city, along with the last of the trio, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), involving brothels, car chases, bars, beating up punks and breaking into stores, "just like the good ol' days", Hirsch says. "But it's better now, since we can appreciate it," retorts Val. It might all seem silly and out of place, but it fits the characters, and it supports the notion that they want to go out with style, instead of dying broken and alone in some old folks' home. Just like the good ol' days, one last time.

Al Pacino is a magnificent actor, amongst the greatest ever. He isn't called a legend without reason. In this film, performing at his best in a long time, he embodies Val's solitude and longing for companionship perfectly. Here, in one scene after crudely remarking a young woman in a bar, since it's his first night out of prison, his body language and tone changes in his apology, his eyes become more focused. His gravel voice speaks in a somber tone, of the years that have passed, of missed opportunities, of lost friends and loved ones. "I just, wanna dance", he says, longing for the passion of a woman's beauty. The seemingly perverted old man has disappeared completely into this haunted soul of a human being.

Complementing Pacino's performance is Christopher Walken as Doc, also gifted, also great here. Doc paints for a living, and he is subtly in joy to be hanging out with his best pal before the deadline ends - and he is personally conflicted, not just with killing Val, but with his own personal demons. In a diner, Val and Doc discuss their predicament, Val sees right through him, Doc coolly tries to deny it, although there's no denying his facial and vocal expressions which say otherwise. A later scene in the movie briefly showcases Walken's underrated talent in playing vulnerable, broken characters.

Alan Arkin rounds up the Wild Bunch, his presence smoothens the tension between Val and Doc in a light-hearted, humorous way. He is more than eager to leave the nursing home once Val and Doc arrive, and he shows he 's still got it after eluding the police in wild car chase. Hirsch looks at life in a "whatever happens" manner, and Arkin hilariously does very good with his underscored performance of an adrenaline junkie who longs for a rush.

This is a good film, but it's not a great film. Fisher Stevens directs the film with ease, allowing the actors to have a blast and come out guns blazing while they dance around Noah Haidle's sorta-typical screenplay. I doubt that the film would be better if they were to cast younger and more dashing actors in the role - it just wouldn't work. Steven's handling of the progression between the serious and the silly (A "They Live" reference? Really?) doesn't quite gel together, and the ending, it would seem, is too gung-ho for a movie which builds up dramatic tension. Nevertheless, I would suspect that that's how Val and Doc would love to end it all - with a bang. Bon Jovi's solemn song "Not Running Anymore" perfectly sums up the movie's atmosphere.

Good, solid dramedy with a crime setting. This movie is not for everyone though. For a few generations, Pacino and Walken are iconic for being tough, gangster-like criminals who doesn't take crap from anyone. See this if you want to see them reveal their true depths as actors and show bits of how good they can really be.

9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Welcome back, Arnold., 17 January 2013

Action film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen, in top billing, after a political run which lasted a decade. He isn't a good actor, but like fine wine he is improving, and "The Last Stand" is a good indicator that he still has some juice left in him.

Aside from the juvenile and humorless/lifeless supporting cast, and formulaic script which really brings down the film a lot, the film's strength lies in two main things. First, is Arnold's undeniable screen presence, on which he carries the movie on his shoulders and doesn't look back. When he's on screen, good or not, we keep watching, though his acting has visibly improved compared to his past entries. For a big man, he certainly has a commanding aura on screen, and it's still the same with this case. In this film he doesn't pretend that he is aging and vulnerable, but what the hell. He can still shoot 'em up and fight pretty well for a near 66-year old.

The other major thing is the direction from South Korean helmer Kim Ji- Woon. This is Kim's Hollywood debut, having directed the creepy horror drama "A Tale of Two Sisters", the fun 'Kimchi' Western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", and the brutal crime thriller "I Saw The Devil" back in his home country. Kim knows he is working with formula here and he ups the ante with comic graphic violence and fast paced direction, not unlike GBW. While his attempt at English-speaking humor falls flat, he can do better next time around.

Kim has even brought his collaborators, the cinematographer from "A Bittersweet Life", and Mowg, the composer of "I Saw the Devil", to help him out. Mowg's music score stands out unusually as a quality piece of action movie music, with proper emotional and action cues at the right places.

I've giving this film a lot of credit here. Had it not been for Arnold's or Kim's involvement, this would've been an average action thriller. However the stunts are not bad, well choreographed and not a tinge of CGI in sight, and the action comically violent at parts. It's good to see Arnold back on the big screen in action, but both he and Kim need to do better than this cookie-cutter work.

For Arnold though, he already looks to progress onward with bigger and better films, and with his acting improving with age, and impressive future work lined up (a crime thriller by David Ayer), it's a good sign he's going the Clint Eastwood route.

This was a fun movie and I'm giving it credit for not pretending to be what it's not.

Welcome back, Arnold.

0 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Thriller tartare, 13 January 2013

The hunt for Osama bin Laden was an excruciating one, especially by American government agencies. Countless people, both at home and abroad, lost their lives and time fighting and searching for the man, and in a small town in Pakistan, 2011, the search came to a blistering end.

Kathryn Bigelow's docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty" recreates the tense events leading up to that day. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal sidesteps the drama and goes straight for the jugular, a controversial decision given the attention by the masses towards the plot material.

I am not here to divulge into political issues that may or may not have been brought up in the film. I am merely judging the film in terms of its craftsmanship as a thriller. And to that, I say, Bigelow has crafted a superb thriller; raw in suspense and crackling with tension and paranoia, not unlike "The Hurt Locker".

This is not an action movie although there are good scenes which suggest it. Bigelow sheds the genre conventions down to basics to show the journey without any delay. The film is, stripped-to-the-bone, a thriller set on a slow burn, opening with brutal torture scenes, followed by investigative/procedural dramatics for the first half. In the second half, Bigelow purposely left the stove running to a boil, culminating in a surprisingly nail-biting climax.

Characters come and go as the plot requires it, but Jessica Chastain's character remains the core of this movie, as she determinedly buries herself in her job to capture the most notorious man on Earth. At the end of it all, you might be putting yourself in her shoes: is it all worth it?

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Horrifying depiction of a tragic event, 12 January 2013

A moment of guilt sunk in as I was watching Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible". It's during the holiday scenes in the first five or so minutes of the film, where the tourists were happily lighting floating lanterns on the beach the night before Christmas '04. The calm before the storm.

How haunting to remember, the happy faces of the tourists/couples as they bustle about partying and celebrating on the coasts of Thailand. How haunting to know that it would be one of their final nights, as I was, days before the horrific event, treading one of the very beaches struck hard by the waves. It's moments like that you ask yourself, do you truly have a life well-spent? Because it could be gone tomorrow, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Yes, the trailers do indeed spoil the movie, but if you think about it, it doesn't matter if you've seen the trailer or not. We all saw the news footage during and after the disaster, and the images hauntingly burned in our brains as a memento of the merciless fury of mother nature.

But Bayona does something else. The waves devastate the landscape, turning a land of pure beauty into a ruined wasteland beyond comprehension. Trees tumble, buildings are smashed, people are swept away and knocked around within the waves and debris. If that sounds horrific enough, Bayona doesn't hold back and we are treated to his recreation those cringing moments to gripping effect. Naomi Watts' blood-curdling scream as she clings on to dear life amidst raging waters and drifting debris sums the experience up. This scene makes the one in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" look like CliffNotes.

After the tsunami comes another harrowing look at the aftermath. The survivors are meandering around, shell-shocked by the devastation and loss. The Thai hospitals are thrown into chaos as the hallways and rooms overflow with patients and corpses. These scenes are done tremendously well.

The film's focus, however, is on a wealthy British family separated during the disaster. The mother (Watts) is swept away along with the eldest son (Tom Holland), and the father (Ewan McGregor) with the younger two sons. Each side fears the other is done for. It is a testament to their will and determination that all five manage to pull through to ultimately survive this ordeal. Holland and McGregor are very effective in their roles, but Watts gives the best performance, as a woman who has just seen the worst first-hand and still is determined to keep going.

Yes, there are genre conventions. The real family which survived this have all been turned British for this film. Disaster genre conventions, especially fateful meetings and misses, are done to death in a lot of movies in a cheap attempt to exploit the emotion out of the audience. In this movie it's no exception, and the final reunion of the family, where they find each other, is frankly, ham-fistedly directed but well-acted. Aside from that minor gripe, the point is, Bayona uses this family's story as a central point to revisit the devastation of the tsunami aftermath. And he succeeds effortlessly at that.

Three years ago, I saw this Chinese movie called "Aftershock" about the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake in China and it's ripples across a family. That movie used its effects horrifyingly well also, as per this one which ratchets up the cringe-factor up to 11. The PG-13 rating has never been more justified in recent times, with injury-related gore/nudity prevalent throughout the film to show the masses what's real. If you ever wondered if you spent enough time with your loved ones, this film will give you a reminder.

A VERY GOOD disaster film.

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