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I think "Scream 4" said it best when it comes to the state of horror
films nowadays. It's all either torture porn or failed reboots of
famous classic horror franchises (If they decide to remake "Jaws" or
"The Exorcist" I'll never forgive them), or worse, dumb them down to
PG-13 tween-friendly spooks that will barely raise an eyebrow for
classic horror fans.
"Insidious" does not follow today's trend. It's not gory or bloody, it does not have sex scenes or too much foul language. The PG-13 rating is justified. The movie's sole purpose, like many horror movies, is to scare the crap out of us. And it does. Brilliantly. Using good old fashioned scare tactics without making them cheap - remember the cliché where there is incidental music build up to a probably scary killer/ghost only to cop out to a scared animal or whatever? Nope. None of that here. The music comes strictly when it scares you. The non-music parts greatly serve to build the tension so high to the point that you can cut the tension with a knife. It's old school. I like old school.
In fact, it's so old school with the delivery of the scares, that one may mistake the film for being stuck in between the 1970's or 1980's. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whanell, together with producer Oren Peli, probably fashioned the film to be a homage to the great spook horror films of the past, most notably "Poltergiest", with bits of "The Exorcist", "The Shining" and Peli's own "Paranormal Activity" thrown in for very good measure.
A script which is a homage to other films can either sink or swim. This one swims, because Whanell uses the classic scare elements and removes the clichés. Wan directs with caution, going mostly against audiences' expectations. The actors play their role straight as per the crew - Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are very good in their roles, and Lin Shaye is a bit creepy as the medium who helps them. With the music by Joseph Bishara effectively eerie at many parts and some truly spooky production design and camera work, Wan's tense direction propels a homage script into their own - a great, solid horror flick that does exactly what it's supposed to do - scare - brilliantly.
Look at the horror film directors of the past. John Carpenter. Wes Craven. Tobe Hooper. The granddaddy of horror Alfred Hitchcock. Even Sean Cunningham has a cult following. Does anyone familiar with horror films remember names like Samuel Bayer or Nelson McCormick? Granted, Alexandre Aja and Neil Marshall has done some fairly solid stuff, yet Eli Roth to be honest tries too hard. James Wan isn't up there with the greats yet, but if he keeps up this old-school trend without copping out, he just might very well be. I'm just saying.
This is great stuff for a horror film. This was how scary movies were made in the past, this is how it still should be.
Overall rating: 80/100
This is the fifth movie in the "Fast and Furious" franchise. Fifth.
You'd think the franchise would burn out by the third film and drift
into direct-to-video territory like so many unfortunate film franchises
today (here's looking at you, American Pie), but Fast Five sort of
breaks the taboo and proves that, even at the fifth movie, it can still
be entertaining and appealing as hell.
Sure the acting and screenplay aren't exactly Oscar worthy, but for this genre it does the job great. Vin and Paul, along with many of the reunited cast of the franchise (Matt Schulze, Tyrese, Ludicrous, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot among others) make for a damn good action team, and the nostalgic value of seeing these different sequel's characters teaming up and joking around is one of the best aspects of the film. Oh, that and seeing Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel duke it out mano-e-mano, to see who is the better tough guy.
Chris Morgan and Justin Lin are to take credit here. The first movie was solid, but light on acting and story. The second movie was just dumb. The third movie in which Lin and Morgan joined in, was a bit dull but still kept some interesting bits. The fourth movie reunited the original cast members but it felt a bit boring due to some story developments, but hey, you can't blame them for trying.
This time around, however, Lin and Morgan improved a lot. Morgan tweaks with the sequel, transforming it into a heist film rather than the first and third films which focused on racing, and the second and fourth films which focused on getting a badder criminal. In this sequel the baddie is a corrupt politician/gang leader played by Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho from "Desperado") so you know he's going to be a really nasty villain. The characters are now quite fleshed out and interact more with each other, showing a more older and vulnerable side of them since the last time we saw them in previous films.
Lin shows off his (improved) knack for action sequences. There are some really good stuff to be seen here, one of which involves a train and the other which involves the near-total destruction of the streets of Rio de Janeiro. What is impressive is that most, if not all of these action sequences are shot live-action as opposed to CGI (I never liked the climax involving CG tunnels in the fourth movie). While there are few racing scenes, the last action set-piece, is truly a sight to behold. It is preposterous, yet utterly exciting and hilarious to watch due to the truly amazing stunt work put together by Lin and crew. I've never seen destruction this frenzied and exciting since James Bond's pleasant tank drive in St. Petersburg in "GoldenEye".
It has to be said anyway - this is the best of the franchise, hands down. Morgan and Lin took the franchise to a different and quite mature direction, and let's hope the sixth (yes, it was mentioned a week ago) will be as good, if not better, than this one. This is great entertainment and a solid start to the summer.
P.S. Stay after the first part of the credits. Trust me.
Overall rating: 73/100
Alright, back when this was into preproduction, I (and so many comic
book fans) were surprised when Branagh was slated to direct. Here we
have Thor the god of lightning and his mighty hammer, directed by a man
who works mostly around William Shakespeare plays.
Thankfully, this helps. A lot.
Almost every superhero movie (Marvel, lately) focuses on more action instead of character development. Sure, they may look awesome, but you get used to it. Branagh bravely steers away from this predicament and directs the actors with such skill and flair you may mistake this film for yet another Branagh/Shakespeare costume epic.
Make no mistake this is still a superhero film, with some nice special effects and a stylish production design for Asgard, but there's a nice human twist to the story - that of dueling brothers, or gods, or god- brothers... you get the idea. Chris Hemsworth looks just about right for the part and shows some charisma as well as the hero. Branagh has assembled an interesting mix of actors - we have the great Anthony Hopkins, the cute Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba and even Rene Russo. Tom Hiddleston however steals the scene as the mischievous brother Loki.
Here's another good thing about the movie - the story and acting outweigh the special effects and action sequences. For a superhero film, this is extremely rare. Branagh deserves kudos for the effort, however some parts do not gel in nicely and there's some action bits that are not too well-filmed.
All is forgiven though - "Thor" is an above-average superhero movie, not extremely exciting, but definitely intriguing. Fans of both comic book films and costume dramas will certainly enjoy this.
Two words of caution - one, keep an eye out for some cameos, both during and after the film. Two, for goodness sake do not watch it in 3D. I saw it in normal 2D and that's fine enough by me. I didn't see anything worth watching in 3D in it.
Overall rating: 68/100
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Time and time again Hollywood has delivered many an exciting mainstream
blockbuster with an intriguing premise - this one is no exception. A
pill that allows people to access 100% of their brain... who does not
want that, the answer to all of life's problems? Or so it seems...
Unfortunately, this very ingenious (and admittedly, mostly desirable) premise isn't completely fleshed out due to the middling screenplay. Judging from the talent involved - Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and director Neil Burger - the screenplay never really gels together and is sadly about as coherent as a forgettable blockbuster (if there is such a term).
Which is a shame, really. Cooper shows high amounts of charm and charisma in his first non-ensemble lead role, and he proves he has the chops to carry a big film by himself. Abbie Cornish has nothing to do apart from being the obligatory love interest, but De Niro never really unleashes his true chops and becomes nothing more than a two-dimensional character. As for the production value - design, music, editing and cinematography - top notch and slick, as usual for a movie of this type. I especially admired the visual effects of the continuous and extended zoom, it seemed like the camera really knows no boundaries.
The screenplay, oh why did it cop out? There was so much potential in it - if the pill can exploit 100% of the human brain, we should have seen more effects and consequences of the pill - more philosophical thinking, and how would this affect his new life - but no. All we got is a story of greed and addiction - nice job taking a jab at all those medicinal addictions, but the screenplay seriously needed more work. And where did those pesky Russian thugs come from?
In short, it's quite disappointing. Somewhere in this okay movie is a great movie screaming to come out. But then, for all its slick and glossy finish, it's too two-dimensional to be intelligent, but it's definitely a little food for thought.
Overall value: 64/100
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Source Code" opens with a man who awakens in a train in front of a
woman who apparently is his girlfriend. he then stumbles upon a mirror
and finds that his reflection is different. While arguing with the
passengers the train is blown up, killing everyone on board.
The man wakes up in a metallic chamber of sorts. A screen lights up and shows a female officer debriefing him about his situation. It turns out that he is a soldier used in a revolutionary device known as the "Source Code" which "sends him back" to the time and place before the bombings. No - they do not want him to save the day, the events have already happened and they are using him to find out who did it and to stop them since they had planned it to be a series of attacks on the city.
If the plot is anything to go by, "Source Code" is an extremely entertaining thriller with the right amount of action, suspense, mystery and romance. It is also - a rarity for movies today - a blockbuster which also makes you think. Not at the same level of "Inception", mind you - this is a totally different ball game. While not nearly as deep as "Inception" or "Blade Runner" the science fiction concept got me thinking for a while. This isn't a sci-fi classic, but it's close.
As for the acting, Jake Gyllenhaal makes for a solid action lead with him balancing the emotions at the right time; Vera Farmiga is somewhat cold in the beginning as the officer in charge of Gyllenhaal's situation and Michelle Monaghan plays the clichéd love interest, but both do fairly well in their roles; but Jeffrey Wright is superb as the somewhat quirky/creepy scientist.
As for the plot, some call it an amalgamation of "Groundhog Day" and "Deja Vu" with a heavy twist of "The Matrix". Call it as you like, but I found it intriguing - even bordering on "hard" sci-fi, where done wrong it would be a disaster, however it is done right here; Wright's scientist character explains it all in a short but straightforward way that you will find it easy to understand and yet think whether this is possible or not. Preposterous? Maybe. Ingenious? Definitely.
Production wise - the production design and art direction are good for what they can offer. The special effects - dodgy at times, fluid during others. The editing - good but somewhat hokey during the "time travel" parts. Camera work - superb. You get to see everything that happens without a cameraman inflicted with Parkinsons'. The music is great by Chris Bacon - a fresh composer I've never heard of - whose music style reminisces of the glory days of the '80s/'90s orchestral action film scores by Jerry Goldsmith.
This is director Duncan Jones' second feature film after the brilliant "Moon" two years ago, and Ben Ripley's first mainstream screenplay after the back-to-back direct-to-video Species sequels. Jones and Ripley work wonders with the script, adding a huge sense of unpredictability and intelligence in an already smart script. Just when you think you've got it, there's a surprise after another. Jones keeps the film tight and taut, with the film's length of 90 minutes never holding back.
My only gripe is with the ending, the film could've been a classic had it not been for a (somewhat) Hollywood ending, or if it had the final three minutes cut off, right after the still frame. It may get you thinking about whether it is real or not, though.
In short, this is a very good, though not great, blockbuster, with some really neat thrills and ingenious twists, an intriguing sci-fi concept and some good performances that will reach out to the mainstream moviegoer, that could have been better. Hard sci-fi fans may finds this a tad too tame, but will appreciate Jones and Ripley for trying to bring back the genre one small step at a time.
Overall rating: 77/100
"The Eagle" is another fine film in the sword-and-sandal genre. It has
great action sequences, some fine heroic traits like bravery and
courage, and great performances by Channing Tatum (surprisingly), Jamie
Bell, Donald Sutherland and other good supporting players. It is
history and fiction, yet it is rousing in every sense.
No, it is not as excellent and violent/bloody as "Gladiator". Everyone is quick to make comparisons. But it is still very good, and for a PG-13 movie, it has quite some bloody scenes, as a very stark and bleak atmosphere throughout, with a strong sense of unpredictability running throughout the film thanks to very talented director Kevin Macdonald. This is one of the movie's strongest points, proving that simplicity is the key to making some great moments in the film. It brings you into the movie, taking you on a ride through 140 A.D. Scotland as it really should be.
My only gripe is that some of the action sequences have shaky-camera to it, making a few of the action sequences unfocused, but I think, this time, that shaky camera makes sense because it adds to the chaotic sense during that period, where no one is really sure how to battle in that situation, adding to the unpredictability. The pace is moderate, taking the time to develop Tatum and Bell's characters, and the editing is fluid, nicely putting the scenes together. Atli Ovarsson, too, knows when and where to put his music through, allowing the film's more effective moments to shine through with or without the music.
The script is not exactly new but there are some nice twists given to it. The bonding between the Roman and his Briton slave never really goes beyond that to buddy-comedy mode, but there are scenes of mutual respect shown towards each other in a very realistic fashion. Both Tatum and Bell, showing subtle but good chemistry, are great in their roles, I'm especially surprised at Tatum's good performance, as he has proved that he has the acting chops to go along with his good looks. He isn't playing the fool.
Macdonald skillfully directs the film using the traits above and more with focus and attention, using real stunt-men/extras and real locations without a hint of CGI involved, adding even more points to the raw realism of the film. Of course, seeing Macdonald's documentary background, it comes to no surprise that the film has a very realistic feel to it. The bleak atmosphere, gritty but fantastic production and costume design, beautiful cinematography (by "Slumdog Millionaire's" Anthony Dod Mantle, no doubt), and amazing music by Ovarsson (this is his first score which I actually liked) all combine together with Macdonald and cast and crew to deliver a solid, somewhat spectacular action adventure that is old- fashioned and devoid of the usual clichés (there's no generic romantic subplot, thank God!) that seem to plague this film genre lately.
Made in the hands of another, lesser director, this film will probably end up looking like "The Last Legion" or "Centurion", probably overblown and over-stylized. Not here. Kevin Macdonald knows when to put in the bloody scenes, when to put in the music, and that simplicity is best when it comes to everything. This is terrific entertainment made even better by a director who knows what he is doing, and another fine addition to the sword-and-sandal genre.
They don't make them like they use to anymore.
Overall rating: 74/100
"Sucker Punch" is a difficult movie to rate. It is targeted at young
males who have a penchant for anime, video games, and hot young girls
kicking ass. In other words, Zack Snyder's imagination and childhood
fantasies are completely let loose here, with mixed results.
First off, hats off to Zack Snyder. His world is completely warped. With this being his first original film (the previous others were all adaptations of other works), he unleashes an array of stimulating and sensational visual effects and action sequences the way he normally does so solidly.
Secondly, anyone expecting proper characterization and a coherent story will walk out half-an-hour into the movie.
The story may look stupid on the outside, and believe me it does, but after paying close attention I noticed a real psychological trait running throughout the entire film's duration. There are aspects which are metaphorical and will keep you guessing what is really happening throughout. Although the story is shaped in a very incoherent and unnatural way, it never fully reaches its potential and the psychological aspect pales in comparison with other brilliant films like Christopher Nolan's "Memento" and "Inception".
Thirdly, some of the material may be too dark for it's PG-13 rating, and there is no easy solutions to solve these dark themes. The change of tone between this and its fantasy theme is ultimately very jarring indeed and can cause a lot of viewers to be turned off.
The action sequences, however are very stylized and extravagantly done. It is clear that a lot of thought has been put into the action. Snyder utilizes well-rendered computer-generated visual effects to great use, and the camera work and editing allow the audience to savor the effects and appreciate them. But there are times where the action becomes very overdone, and it drags on too loud and some scenes which have no purpose being there, thus bogging down the pacing too.
The actresses look great and sexy, but in some scenes they show some surprising vulnerability beneath all of those good looks. The supporting cast is good too, most notably Oscar Isaac as the main villain, and it's nice to see Scott Glenn on the big screen again.
My main gripe comes with the music and sound effects, sometimes they're obnoxiously loud and forced, and they make some moments look out of place in the film. Tyler Bates and Marius De Vries may have put a lot of combinations of music in this film, but sometimes one's got to know that too much of a good thing is bad.
No doubt many people will hate this film. Also, not many people may notice the psychological aspect (it was only hinted at in the trailers) running throughout the film, making them think that it's an all out action-fantasy film instead of an action-adventure that takes place in the mind. The film's faults make this Zack Snyder's weakest film thus far, but it is still miles away from ever being called an abomination. The tagline is true, "you will be unprepared", and as I enjoyed the visuals but was puzzled by the story and its resolution, I find this to be not just brainless entertainment on the surface. It may be Snyder's weakest, but it is nonetheless interesting.
Perhaps this is a warm-up, or the release of Snyder's mind, to prepare him for that "Superman" project with Christopher Nolan.
Overall rating: 65/100
"Battle: Los Angeles" is loud, flashy, and expensive. That's the first
thing you should know about the movie. It has non-stop action and no
proper story. It has characters you don't care about. It has a group of
typical American heroes typically trying to save the day.
What I got was instead an all-out assault on my senses, most especially, sight and sound, and even common sense. The film is stupid. It's too predictable, too cliché and too heroic for its own good. It has everything that is wrong with blockbusters today, in terms of plot, camera work and editing. Even most of the actors, especially the tough Michelle Rodriguez, are wasted here.
Directors like Paul Greengrass and Ridley Scott know when and where to use the shaky-camera format to add tension - most especially in their movies "Green Zone" and "Black Hawk Down", respectively. Here, director Jonathan Liebesman frequently uses the shaky camera effect, even in the talking scenes, but for what purpose, I ask? To nauseate the audience and to blur the action scenes/special effects further?
The action sequences are non-stop, so much that the story and screenplay kills itself to the point of banality and the characters just don't matter to anyone anymore. It moves along at a frenetic pace and there's enough explosions and bullets to last half a dozen movies, yes, but I somehow became bored of it somewhere near the halfway mark. The special effects are too clunky and flashy and edited too fast to be convincing enough to the audience. The editing is lazy and choppy, with a quick cut of a character screaming immediately to a quick shot of a bullet flare/explosion. Rinse. Repeat. Add all three with the loud sound effects throughout and you got yourselves a mind-numbing experience. I had the exact same complaints about "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen". Apparently today's filmmakers haven't learned that action movies are all about well-shot and well-directed action sequences that everyone can see and appreciate, not ultra-flashy quick cuts and screaming.
Forgive me, but I also must add that the movie is aggressively "jingoistic". There's nothing wrong with adding patriotic themes in any movie, but did Liebesman and especially music composer Brian Tyler have to make it too blatant for everyone to see? There's a trumpet every time someone dies or there's an inspirational moment. Given the nature of the film it's no surprise that this film can be an advert for the Marines. Good ad, bad movie.
However, every cloud has a silver lining, and the biggest one is star Aaron Eckhart, a genuinely good actor whose commanding star power and determined performance shows him as an action hero worthy of a better movie. The sound effects are good and somewhat startling, and the production design is very convincing. Shame I can't say the same for the creature and ship effects, which look somewhat awkward.
Here's something else you can do: get a copy of "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare" or "Black Ops" or any military video game for the PC. Mod the game so that your enemies are aliens. Congratulations, you have just saved yourself a movie ticket.
This nauseating, aggressively noisy and flashy film works too hard to entertain the audience of today and well, it depends. I didn't like it. I didn't like "Transformers 2" either. But that movie became a big financial hit. So will this movie. Times have changed.
Overall rating: 26/100
The lessons I learned after watching this movie - one: never leave your
briefcase at the airport. Two: Mercedes-Benz makes damn sturdy taxis.
Three: Liam Neeson continues to be a badass even when he's nearly 60.
"Unknown" is mostly a mystery thriller - Liam Neeson's character awakens from his coma after an accident to find out that someone else has taken his identity - and nobody believes him. The plot weaves through the streets of Berlin and some shady characters - with the all too typical thriller lesson of not trusting anyone.
The film is briskly paced, there are slow moments but every 10 minutes there's an action sequence liven up the film, and it's especially during the last half of the film that the action sequences pile up after another. The action is fast and brutal for a PG-13 movie, and is shot quite clearly without annoying shaky camera for the most part, especially during the car chase scenes, while the fluid editing completes the job by adequately pacing the film to be fast or slow if necessary.
And then there's Neeson. Here he is surrounded by both old and new familiar faces. There's Aidan Quinn and Frank Langella as the people with mysterious vibes, and then there's Diane Kruger and January Jones as the lovely-looking ladies but yet there's something not quite right about both of them. German actors Bruno Ganz ("Downfall") and Sebastian Koch ("The Lives of Others") round out the impressive supporting cast, with Ganz commanding the screen every time he appears. But it is Neeson, his age becoming more visible as the years pass, still giving a high- energy and determined performance that becomes the heart of the film and thus cements him as an (late-blooming) action hero/star of this generation. He is believable in the fight scenes, and his humble charisma gets the audience firmly on his side.
And yet this film has its ups and downs. On the positive note, Jaume Collet-Serra's direction keeps the actors focused and the action intense, with the cinematography of Berlin showing both its glamorous and gritty side, what with its blueish hue and whatnot. John Ottman and Alexander Rudd provide a tense music score to the action. On the negative side, some parts had me suspending my disbelief in certain scenes. There is a twist at the end of the movie which I admit did not really see coming, but it wasn't exactly original as I've seen this plot device done in another movie before.
But overall, it's a very solid thriller. It gripped my attention from start to finish, and it kept me guessing on many occasions. It too, made me think a bit about the bad guys - how smart and terrifying their methods are to get what they want at the expense of other innocents. Will this win any Oscars, no. Will Liam Neeson fans love it, I guess so. Will this entertain, definitely. I wouldn't mind watching this again if I had the time and company.
P.S. This would make a great advert for Mercedes Benz cabs in Germany.
Overall value: 66/100
If there were any force of nature that is more powerful that anything
else in the world, perhaps even in the universe, it is the human spirit
- and its will to survive. In Danny Boyle's "127 Hours", Aron Ralston
becomes the embodiment of the human spirit, and we are captivated and
we cheer for him, both towards the film and to the real person as well.
Here is a man that is full of courage and determination to did what he
had to do to survive, and that is a triumph in itself.
In the film, Ralston is played by James Franco. He is the core of the entire movie, with the entire movie focused on him; not only does he physically fit the real Ralston well, he also delivers a terrific performance, that is really physically and mentally draining, both for him to deliver and for us to watch. This is Franco's best film thus far. Take for example the scenes where he interviews himself. It may be comic relief but Franco displays every emotional shade that really showcases his true, raw talent as an actor, and also engages the audience in a thrill ride, even though the film isn't an action film.
But it doesn't need to be an action film. Danny Boyle, fresh from his Oscar win for "Slumdog Millionaire", utilizes his same kinetic and energetic direction in every shot so that Franco's vivid portrayal can shine through with the same energy as a lightning bolt, and the film's pace not feel boring throughout. The editing by Jon Harris is pitch perfect; it is vibrant without being forceful, and it is inventive with its cutting, especially during the split-screen scenes, but in some parts it gets quite distracting. Boyle employs two cinematographers for this film: his usual one Anthony Dod Mantle, and Enrique Chediak. Both make full use of the camera as they both shoot sweeping scenery of the American desert and canyons at the beginning, and then when Ralston is trapped they think of every possible angle they can place their camera on to give a sense of extreme claustrophobia and realism. The home-video feel adds more to the experience and makes the film feel as real as possible. Also from "Slumdog", acclaimed Indian composer A. R. Rahman returns to give an ambient and quite somber score that suits the situations perfectly.
The way Boyle depicts Ralston's excruciating ordeal is raw and almost documentary-like. It's not too dark and brooding and full of hopelessness, nor is it handled in a clumsily light-hearted manner (NO ONE in their right mind will try to craft this film in the latter way). Boyle knows what he's doing. So is Franco. The way the young actor screams, the expressions he shows when he is distraught and desperate, the way the camera focuses on his face somberly as if it was his doom, it is excruciating to watch but at the same time no one can pry their eyes off the screen. At the climax of the film there is a very graphic and disturbing scene that will make the squeamish turn away, but I say it adds greatly to the film's harrowing effect.
In my opinion this film deserves every single accolade it has received. This film is not only an inspiring tale that is well-crafted and extremely well-acted, it's in many ways a testament to the human spirit and it's undying determination to survive. In this world some of us may be cast aside and left unnoticed as the world keeps spinning, but let this movie be reminded that there is still hope, and it comes in strange, and sometimes unpleasant ways. Bravo to Mr. Boyle, Mr. Franco, and the crew of the film, and very especially Mr. Ralston for such a tremendous accomplishment.
Another reason why Hollywood still has some juice in it.
Overall rating: 89/100
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