January – April 2013 Movie Review
Bad Romance is a mashup of odd treatments that don’t really work together. Through its runtime, it’s able to squeeze in canned laughter, animation, references to mainstream romances and television shows, Japanese faux-philosophy, blatant product placement for Chooks-to-go, and a whole lot of murder.
Andrea (Mercedes Cabral) works the front desk of the Castaway Hotel, a hotel so isolated that getting any cell reception is rare. She is obsessed with actor Sam Lloyd Pascual (Francis Lopez), and spends much of her day watching his TV show and dreaming about meeting him. It just so happens that Sam Lloyd turns up at the hotel one day, staying there while he rides out a public scandal. Andrea is immediately swept off her feet as Sam Lloyd shows her some interest. But Sam Lloyd is not the perfect boyfriend that she imagines, and things soon go horribly wrong.
The comedic side of the film is built on the rocky foundation of pop culture references, the movie quoting lines verbatim from old mainstream romcoms in place of actual jokes. The thriller half falls apart due to practical concerns, the movie unable to put together a coherent sequence of events.
Mercedes Cabral isn’t really able to sell the crazy shift that takes place within her character. Francis Lopez mumbles through some of his lines, the lack of enunciation taking away from whatever intention was embedded into his dialogue. The supporting cast is underutilized, their performances lost in the shuffle of the movie’s whims.
Bad Romance seems to have separate ideas about its two halves, both drawing heavily from cinematic cliché.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.
Eighteen months ago, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) saved the president’s life, but in doing so, he failed to save the first lady. Though he clearly made the right choice, he’s taken out of the president’s security detail, the president unwilling to deal with a constant reminder of the day his wife died. Now, a group of North Korean terrorists manage to get into the White House and take the president hostage. Mike, now working in the treasury, rushes to the White House to help his brothers in the Secret Service. Unfortunately, all of them get wiped out, leaving Mike as the only one the president has for rescue.
Like most presidential action thrillers, there’s a certain amount of patriotic cheerleading that goes on when America gets the bad guys — particularly after national landmarks like the White House and Washington Monument have been destroyed. Audiences demand revenge, and director delivers it in bloody sequences intended to prove that it just takes one well-armed, well-trained American (OK, Butler’s actually Scottish, but he’s playing an American) to mete out justice. Butler, who’s also a producer, has made a series of duds recently, but he’s in his element cursing and killing and promising to save the president.
The real problem is mixing the inherent craziness of the form with a weirdly dour, self-serious tone. The movies tells this story as if it were a docudrama, complete with little title cards informing the audience of the current time and date, as well as introducing each of the major characters in government.
To be fair, the stabbing and the shooting and all the action is fairly well done. But the film as a whole just isn’t very smart. The filmmakers don’t even understand how DEFCON numbering works. All of the cast members bring their A-game to a script that isn’t exactly inspired but doesn’t need to be when the White House has been attacked, the vice president executed on television, and the female secretary of defense (Melissa Leo, who gives an electric performance) is being tortured and beaten while she recites the Pledge of Allegiance. The screenwriters know there’s no way this story can end without a climactic fight between Butler, Yune, and Eckhart, who plays a remarkably fit president. And Freeman and Angela Bassett (as head of the Secret Service) are very good in their secondary roles.
Olympus Has Fallen is a better Die Hard movie than It’s a Good Day to Die Hard was. At the very least, its action scenes are more coherent, and it isn’t afraid to show an uglier side of violence.
NARUTO: ROAD TO NINJA
Naruto: Road to Ninja begins with the young ninja of Konoha village defending their home from the Akatsuki, a rogue team of shinobi that are all supposed to be dead. They fend them off well enough, but it turns out that their opponents were merely the puppets of a much more sinister force. Soon after the attack, Naruto and Sakura are transported to an alternate reality, a mirror universe where everyone they know has an opposite personality. The two try to figure out how to get back, but the new reality offers them things that they’ve always dreamt of.
Actually, the film doesn’t even really explain the significance of the main villain of the story. Stripped from context, it all becomes a series of blank signifiers, the full effect of the reality-jumping plot losing a lot of the impact. Putting that aside, the movie has other problems. The main one is that one of its story threads is much more interesting than the other.
There are a number of noticeably static frames in the movie, entire scenes that play out with no actual movement. It’s a cheap trick that really shouldn’t be in a major motion picture. Naruto’s character arc is pretty compelling, building on a well of emotions that doesn’t really need explaining.
Naruto: Road to Ninja isn’t that much of an upgrade, and one of the two main character threads is just painful to sit through. For the faithful, the movie is somewhat of a return to form; capturing much of what is odd and unique about the anime and the source material and translating it to a feature length form. What the film tries to do, it does well. Most of the personality changes are superficial to the story, but are played to great comedic effect. In the quieter moments you get to peer into Naruto’s inner thoughts and his increasing turmoil as he struggles to accept his parents (whom he understands to be false) and his new identity. Combined with the reactions of the family he never knew, you’ll likely be weepy (or teary-eyed at least). And laughing a moment later.
The film brought back everything that was great about the series (the humour, the emotional ties, the many characters and their skills), and compressed it into a package that fans should never miss. This is one trip down memory lane that’s worth every penny at the cinemas.
Tom Cruise stars in Oblivion, an original and groundbreaking cinematic event from the visionary director of TRON: Legacy and producers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man’s confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind. 2077: Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth.
Earth, in the near future. Decades after a massive war against an alien race known as the scavengers, the planet lies broken and lifeless. Most of the population has been relocated to one of Saturn’s moons. The only humans left on Earth are Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). The two watch over the machines that harvest the planet’s resources for energy, defending them against the remaining scavengers. But not everything is as it seems, and when a spacecraft suddenly crash lands on to the planet, Jack is soon confronted with the truth of his existence.
The film is big on ideas but light on details, with major revelations mentioned offhand, the consequences and practicalities hardly considered. It basically stops at being cool, the film rarely doing the work necessary to fill in these big sci-fi concepts. It would be a bit too much of an exaggeration to say the effect is ‘stunning’. We all know what the sky looks like, after all. Instead, it’s just very natural, as the set is lit by these projections. Hence, on this set all the reflections get the skyscape too, there’s no major green screen hell here for the actors and compositors to deal with. Kosinski was also keen to make this a “daylight” sci-fi flick and chose Iceland’s terrain and seasonal all-day sunshine as the main outdoor location.
So does this movie have a similar whiff about it? Well it’s doubtful if it will be hailed as a sci-fi classic, but it’s still an entertaining enough romp. The fragmented lives aspect of the storyline makes it more difficult to feel any warmth for the female characters given their spooky ways, but it remains nevertheless intriguing, even if you’re not exactly rooting for Cruise, Kurylenko and co. Still, their performances are convincing although Morgan Freeman doing his stereotypical wise old man routine shows rather unimaginative casting. Cruise is now best when his character is in peril, when the circumstances and his physicality are made to provide the emotional content. In other contexts, Cruise feels a little otherworldly. Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko play their roles equally cold.
Oblivion eventually gives up its secrets by introducing some flashback elements that join the dots in a way that doesn’t suggest that this is simply an aliens v. humans battle built around pre-owned ideas. The film brings to light one of the great paradoxes of the modern cinematic age. One would think that science fiction would get the most benefit from the advancements in special effects technology.
IT TAKES A MAN AND A WOMAN
It Takes a Man and a Woman is the third and final installment in A Very Special Love series of films. It follows the life of Miggy (Cruz) and Laida (Geronimo) after their break-up which occur after the events of the second film. Miggy, who is now in a relationship with Isabelle (Daza) while Laida is now fiercer woman after living in the United States. They try to co-exist in the same company, while Laida tries to opposed Miggy’s business decision.
The story then shifts to a more serious tone which is effectively heart-wrenching. When Miggy confronts Laida in the elevator and she finally unleashes what she has been feeling all along, one can’t help but be moved with that scene. The moment perfectly captured the pain of breakups and that not even time and separation could easily erase it especially if the love shared was deep. The fact that this is the third part of this story helps because we already have an investment to their relationship and it also feels like they are just going through a natural cycle of real life relationships. It also had a thought-provoking insight about forgiveness which was helped even further by a subplot that involves Laida’s parents.
Sarah Geronimo and John Lloyd Cruz are able to express such longing pain and regret in their quieter moments, filling in whatever gaps the narrative might have. The two exhibit so much talent and chemistry that the relationship remains entirely credible, despite the fact that the two never even kiss. The supporting cast features solid performances, particularly from the great Irma Adlawan. It just that some of these actors feel a little extraneous, playing parts that belong entirely to the bloat.
The film might just be too stuck on the idea of what made the previous films successful, relying heavily on goofy humor and the romcom formula to tell the story. But these characters have grown up and changed, and are now wrestling with deeper issues. It might have done the film good to just take a more subdued approach, trusting in the talents of the two leads to provide the mainstream appeal. That said, the current approach still provides some charm. There’s just a sense that it could have been so much more.
When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about, proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.
What if everything you love was taken from you in the blink of an eye? “The Host” is the next epic love story from the creator of the “Twilight Saga,” worldwide bestselling author, Stephenie Meyer. When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about – Jared (Max Irons), Ian (Jake Abel), her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) , proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.
The film glosses over the practical details of the conceit, never really explaining how this benign, seemingly peaceful alien race was able to overcome the Earth’s defenses, or why they feel the need to control so many planets. The central concept just seems shaker than it needs to be, the very nature of the antagonists odd and contradictory. Moving past the premise, the film delivers a story that is equally prone to lazy writing. Characters are ill defined, and conflict only seems to happen sporadically, in brief spurts between long stretches of enervating exposition.
The film gets off to a promising start and then just slowly, methodically dies. The story makes less and less sense as the story goes along, bringing up questions that will never be answered. And the plot just refuses to take off, the movie just lacking the conflict to make any of it interesting. The best the film can offer are a couple of impressive images that imagine a world far richer than the story can really provide. It just isn’t enough.
GI JOE (Retaliation)
In this sequel, the G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
GI Joe Retaliation tries to be a sequel and a reboot at the same time by desperately trying to extinguish our memories of the terrible first film. When The Rock was cast in the recent Fast and Furious movie, the move somehow breathed new life into the waning franchise.
Most of the characters aren’t even interesting. The film barely bothers to come with any personality for some of its players. Flint and Jinx are so completely devoid of any defining characteristics. They could have been replaced by pieces of tofu and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. D.J. Cotrona and Elodie Yung are terribly handicapped in these roles, the two just not given anything to work with. Dwayne Johnson fares better as Roadblock, but the movie’s weird seriousness doesn’t play to the actor’s strengths. And Bruce Willis phones in yet another performance.
There is no one in the world that will tell you that the first G.I. Joe movie was a masterpiece. But there is a growing contingent in both the popular and critical worlds that has fallen to its strange charms. But there is nothing charming about G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the film falling prey to the homogeny of the blockbuster. What used to be about toys becomes something else entirely, the guns becoming all too real, the deaths coming fast and furious. Whatever joy was established by its predecessor is all gone now, replaced by the cold Hollywood sheen.
A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.
Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Paul Rudd (This is 40) are paired for the first time on-screen in Admission, the new comedy/drama directed by Academy Award nominee Paul Weitz (About a Boy, In Good Company), about the surprising detours we encounter on the road to happiness. Every spring, high school seniors anxiously await letters of college admission that will affirm and encourage their potential. At Princeton University, admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is a gatekeeper evaluating thousands of applicants. Year in and year out, Portia has lived her life by the book, at work as well as at the home she shares with Princeton professor Mark (Michael Sheen). When Clarence (Wallace Shawn), the Dean of Admissions, announces his impending retirement, the likeliest candidates to succeed him are Portia and her office rival Corinne (Gloria Reuben). For Portia, however, it’s business as usual as she hits the road on her annual recruiting trip.
The film miscalculates a bit in taking the form of a light comedy. It gets off to a rocky start as it establishes this quirky tone that seems intent on ending every scene on a one liner. There’s a serious dimension to this milieu that seems to go mostly unexplored, some of it playing second fiddle to the more familiar rhythms of set up to punchline. But the story deals with issues that are a little heavier than the tone can carry. Big dramatic points are played for laughs, the film setting up these large comedic set pieces that end up in tears. It can be whiplash-inducing at times.
The film ends up a little more middle-of-the-road than the story ought to suggest. There is a seed of something truly fascinating in here, the wealth of ironies and personal drama that could have blossomed into a really daring film. But this film isn’t quite up to that challenge. It stays within the comfortable bounds of the romantic comedy, putting all the serious questions on the backburner as it plays most of its drama for laughs. To be fair, those are often quality laughs. But one can’t shake the sense that there could have been something more.
Eep (voiced by Emma Stone, a teenage cave-girl living in prehistoric times, longs for adventure in the big open world right outside where she lives with her entire family — mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), grandmother Gran (Cloris Leachman), brother Thunk (Clark Duke), baby sister Sandy (Randy Thom), and dad Grug (Nicolas Cage). Grug is a traditionalist, believing that there’s no safe place beyond the cold dark of their hideout cave. He thinks that Eep should rein in her adventurous side because it can only lead to danger, that you should “never not be afraid.” He means well, but Eep feels very constrained. She longs to explore what lies beyond their hole-in-the-mountain wall, and not only when it’s time to hunt for food. One day, she sneaks out, lured by a sliver of light, and meets a young man named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who knows how to start a fire. He’s a confident explorer with an adorable creature named Belt (Chris Sanders) as his only companion. Guy knows there are big changes ahead: The ground is literally shifting under their feet. Guy thinks Eep and her family have to run to safety with him, but to where? A whole new world that even the anxious Grug concedes may be the only key to survival. But that means going out into the open for the Croods, and they aren’t used to being so vulnerable.
The movie presents two sides of a very strange argument. Grug is all about keeping his family safe, and he thinks the only way to do that is to quell all curiosity. Guy, on the other hand, represents the other extreme, at one point telling a story where falling off a cliff does not end with death, but instead flying towards the sun. The lengthy second act lingers on this argument, repeating the simple rhythm of the family into trouble, Grug failing to get them through, and Guy coming up with the solution.
Visually, the film is gorgeous, benefitting from a strong sense of design and an almost painterly approach to lighting scenes. Hyperkinetic action scenes pick up the pace through the sloggier story sections. The film looks great in 3D, though at this point, the novelty of the technology is wearing thin. A strong voice cast further enhances things. Emma Stone’s distinctive voice gives Eep a delightful sense of defiance. Nicolas Cage gives Grug surprising dramatic range. And Ryan Reynolds is perfectly charming as Guy.
What makes the film great is how it doesn’t just rest on its CGI glories (though they’re pretty amazing — see below!). Though the visuals are exciting, there’s a steady heartbeat that booms at the movie’s center. Stone Age they may be, but Grug — and, to a certain extent, Ugga — struggle with a parenting dilemma that iPhone-lugging moms and dads experience, too: having to let go of children on the cusp of adulthood and, even more important, learning from them, too, as they experience a bigger, more complicated world. The Croods explores this dynamic with compassion and surprising depth. There aren’t as many knowing winks at the audience as most other movies in this genre, but you won’t miss them much. Would it be icing on the cake if a film with an assertive, intelligent teenage girl as its main character didn’t end up having her — and the other females, for that matter — rely on the men to save them? Yes. Does it take away from the film’s girl-power message? A little. Is this an awesome film anyway?
Adapted from the novel by author Kei Oishi, Ataru Oikawa’s Apartment 1303 explores the horrific case of a purportedly haunted apartment. Sayaka was excited at the prospect of striking out on her own; so excited that she invited her closest friends to her new apartment to celebrate. In the middle of the party, however, Sayaka begins acting very strangely and lunges over the balcony to her death. But Sayaka was never suicidal, and her friends refuse to believe that she could have taken her own life. When Sayaka’s sister Mariko decides to investigate, she discovers that her sibling wasn’t the first to take a fatal plunge from that particular apartment.
A modern ghost story which turns a love hate relationship between mother and daughter into a tale of horror.
The plot is basically summed up in this statement: “There’s a murderous ghost in this apartment. I will stay here and do nothing about it.” That’s all that happens. Even after finding out the sad history of the place, receiving warnings from the creepy girl next door, and experiencing various supernatural events that leave bruises, the protagonists of this movie do nothing to avert their fates. There is no tension because there is really no conflict. Conflict requires effort from both sides, and in this case, the protagonists seem content to commit suicide by apartment. The production values are awful, the film often looking even worse than some of the lowest-budgeted local movies.
The film is representative of everything that is wrong with many of today’s horror movies. It is, first of all, a remake, the entire project beginning from a dearth of originality and creativity. It acts mostly as a delivery system for jump scares, eschewing things like character development and plot in order to make room for long scenes where the music swells and something creeps in the background. The horror genre used to be a place where young filmmakers could experiment, putting their own twist on long established tropes. But now it is just a clearinghouse for the same cliché elements, none of them actually scary.
Pagari tries to show the misconception of Muslims, the true meaning of friendship and the love of Allah.
Muhammad and Abdullah (Teejay Marquez and Arkin del Rosario) are best friends. This much is clear from the film’s opening narration. In dazzling defiance of storytelling’s “show, don’t tell” rule, the film has this narration over the very first scene that has the interacting. We hear nothing of their conversation, the voiceover narration delivering an unwieldy amount of exposition. And even with all that, the information delivered basically adds up to “Muhammad and Abdullah are best friends.”
As for showing the misconception of Muslims, it’s hard to tell where the movie is coming from. It shows very little of the religion. There are just two mentions of Islam in the entire thing. The first comes when Muhammad asks Abdullah if he’d still want to be a Muslim if he somehow had a second life. The second mention is in voice over narration, Muhammad informing us that their fathers had already abandoned the tenets of Islam. The point could be that Muslims are actually indistinguishable from other people, the boys showing almost no indication that they follow the teachings of the religion.
The film has the form of a personal statement. It all seems to be coming from a very specific place, and that much should be respected. But the statement doesn’t come through very clearly. The movie is put together so poorly that whatever ideas the movie was trying to get across simply fail. Intentions can only get a movie so far. One tends to require skill and technical know how to craft something that’s actually watchable.
Dario Argento finally is back with a new movie, this time it is all about vampires. You might think Argento is jumping the band wagon since the overload of vampire related series and movies. But you should see this more as a counter attack of Argento to try and bring back class to the vampires.
t the height of his powers, there was no one better at exploring the intersection of sex and violence and terror, making the director a unique fit for Stoker’s masterpiece. But today, it’s a little harder to make that case. Argento has now spent decades making movies that only offer a pale imitation of his former glory. This version of Dracula is mostly inert and wooden, and occasionally unintentionally funny.
The performances from most actors aren’t bad, they are completely coming over as b-actors thanks to bad character development and a bad script. This is really taking a toll on the complete movie. I really must say this is one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time. Argento is trying new things and that is not a bad thing at all but the movie just suffers because of it. Not only is the script badly done the 3D CGI effects are even worse. It is like a crappy 3D artist that just started school could have made them. There is this one horrible transformation of Dracula turning into a wolf and it really makes me want to scream at the screen! And not in a good way.
The film doesn’t really add much to the story. It follows the plot pretty closely, rarely making any diversions from the established canon. That might sound like the movie is being faithful, but that’s giving it too much credit. To be really faithful to the book, the movie would need to have a measure of greater subtext floating beneath the bloody surface. But this adaptation is entirely too flat and straightforward, lacking any sort of sophistication. It’s also an awkward fit for a three-act movie. The story starts and stops in a way that simply works better in novels.
It is incomprehensibly bad, the film turning one of the great classics of horror literature into a really tepid, often silly little movie. It’s hard to reconcile the Argento that made Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage with the Argento that directed this film. Then again, we haven’t seen the classic Argento in a long while. Perhaps being a legend just doesn’t sit well with the director. Perhaps he needed the struggle of making his name to really inspire him.
A tough, street-smart private eye is hired by the FBI to go undercover in a college sorority.
When the FBI hires her to go undercover at a college sorority, Molly Morris (Miley Cyrus) must transform herself from a tough, streetwise private investigator to a refined, sophisticated university girl to help protect the daughter of a one-time Mobster. With several suspects on her list, Molly unexpectedly discovers that not everyone is who they appear to be, including herself.
The film attempts to give the sorority some personality by contriving odd rituals and specific language. But it all feels like an older person’s conception of what a young woman is like nowadays. Apparently, sorority girls all hang out in their underwear talking about owning white Bentleys. They have sparkly cellphones and say things like “amazeballs.” At no point do they ever seem like actual college girls. Some exaggeration is necessary in any comedy, but the film’s complete disconnect from reality makes it difficult to invest in.
It’s probably worth noting that So Undercover didn’t even make it to theaters in the U.S. It ended up as a direct-to-video feature, a status that is usually reserved for B-movies and the occasional terrible sequel to a popular film. I guess So Undercover might qualify in a weird way for the latter type of movie, since it might as well be a terrible sequel to Miss Congeniality. Of course, Miss Congeniality already had a terrible sequel, which makes this the third-tier option.
When young Jay Moriarity discovers that the mythic Mavericks surf break, one of the biggest waves on Earth, exists just miles from his Santa Cruz home, he enlists the help of local legend Frosty Hesson to train him to survive it.
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity,” Emerson once advised. It’s a path embraced by the wetsuit warriors in “Chasing Mavericks,” a surfing movie about men, water and waves, and how and why they sometimes come together beautifully and sometimes collide with terrifying force. The movie, directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted, is based on the true story of a Santa Cruz-area surfer, Rick Hesson, entertainingly nicknamed Frosty — welcome to California, people! — who back in the day helped shape a legend-to-be: Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), a boy with a dream and a battered board.
The film ends up taking a very familiar form. A young hothead takes training from a wise elder with unorthodox methods. Though the film is based on a true story, it squeezes that story into the confines of the sports movie formula. It does so in strangely unexciting ways, too. One of the big challenges that Jay is faced with is writing an essay. The film is set in a particularly interesting milieu, filled with breathtaking views and heart stopping action, and it settles on having its main character struggle with a typewriter.
Ironically, considering all that raging water and pumping adrenalin, it’s a disappointment to have their story’s telling so dryly and listlessly executed.
As no-nonsense Hesson, Butler convincingly invests his character with a commanding presence and rugged physicality, although it’s a shame the Scottish-born actor’s commitment to a credible, consistent American accent wasn’t as equally fierce.
Chasing Mavericks kind of does a disservice to the memory of the real Jay Moriarty. Though the film seeks to celebrate his life, it instead reduces it, compressing it to fit the familiar dramatic cliches of mainstream cinema. It finds little insight into his character, turning him into a bland hero who can’t really seem to deal with his problems unless they involve a surfboard. The movie proclaims him an inspiration, but it portrays him as indistinct.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE
When a street magician’s stunts begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt.
The movie itself is another matter. It starts off with a flashback to young Burt, a suburban latchkey kid bullied remorselessly at school, discovering the wonders of a do-it-yourself magic kit. (“Everybody loves a magician … and they’ll love you, too,” it not-so-subtly promises.) He soon enlists fellow loner-nerd Anthony as his sidekick, and the two quickly become inseparable and grow up to become a popular magic act, the Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, played by, respectively, Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi. But by the time the film settles into its story, they’re on the verge of has-been-dom: Regaling ever-dwindling crowds with old-fashioned, vaguely sexist spectacle, they’ve turned their childhood fantasies into a tired Vegas routine. (One of their tricks involves a faux-high-school pantomime about Burt stealing a jock’s girlfriend.)
The film can often be funny in singular bursts. Likewise, the dramatic bits can also be effective in isolation. The problem is when one looks at the larger picture. The film is about the love of magic, but it exhibits little love for the craft itself. It espouses a kind of magic that does no harm to anyone, but settles on a final trick that contradicts that idea. It is too goofy to be taken seriously, but also too mushy to have its meaner bits just laughed off.
There is fun to be had in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone but the movie still fails to pay-off its central themes and is surprisingly devoid of intriguing magic tricks. Carell and Carrey poke fun at stunt magicians and casino illusionists, but even by the end, the movie doesn’t say anything interesting about either category. Characters are haphazardly thrown together in uninspired setups and while the film spouts one truism after another on the subject of magic, friendship, and even love, none of the ideas are ever exemplified through the actual actions of the characters on screen.
The film simply suffers from mainstream laziness. It feels like it’s just filling out an equation, going through the rhythms of the modern comedy without really thinking of how those pieces interact. And so there is some semblance of heart, a couple of outrageous bits, and a lot of jokes at the expense of a particular profession.
Aparisyon is not a horror film, it is a very quiet film. Much of it takes place within the walls of a peaceful little convent, where the residents mostly concern themselves with communing with a higher power. But the movie wields its silence with often-frightening power, the absence of sound representative of something far more destructive just floating in the air, causing tension and erosion between these women of faith.
Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) enters a monastery located in a remote area where the nuns are shielded away from the rising tension of the Marcos regime. There she meets Remy (Mylene Dizon), a nun who secretly attends meetings of activists. One day, Lourdes accompanied Remy in one of the meetings but it ran late and they were unable to go back to the monastery before dark. On their way home, the nuns were assaulted by bandits. Remy manages to escape but Lourdes was left behind. Worrying about the nuns who haven’t come home yet, Mother Superior Sister Ruth (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio) and her assistant Sister Vera (Racquel Villavencio) searched for them and what they discovered will forever change their lives.
Silence is the film’s weapon of choice. The halls of Adoration Monastery echo with forceful silence; the kind of quiet that suffocates and terrifies. It’s a deceptively simple story: once the act of violence occurs, the film retreats inside the convent to basically document how the nuns react. But from this simple plot, the film extrapolates a grand allegory, exploring the futility of passivity in the face of an increasingly violent society. The movie constructs an intense atmosphere, built on the thick air of guilt and denial, as it examines the murky consciences of these holy women.
Even if the film is almost entirely set in the monastery it was able to maximize the surrounding to make the viewers feel the coldness and sullen mode of the convent after the tragedy happened. Moreover, the film was able to tell an affecting story with less dialogue and even in silence. The film didn’t have to resort to use drawn out speeches or lines to tell us the inner turmoil the characters are going through. The very talented cast was used efficiently.
It’s really the best kind of movie that can emerge from the boundaries of that particular grant system: it’s modest in scope but grand in ambition, finding complex themes within smaller stories.
DEAD MAN DOWN
Niels Arden Oplev, the acclaimed director of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), makes his American theatrical debut with the new action thriller, Dead Man Down. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star as two strangers who are irresistibly drawn to one another by their mutual desire for revenge. The film co-stars Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper, from a screenplay by J.H. Wyman (Fringe).
The film is structured weirdly, the narrative built entirely on a series of twists. The movie parcels out its information slowly, trying to obscure as much of the story as possible before suddenly releasing a burst of exposition. There are elements of interest through all this, but a lot of it is obscured by the film’s insistence on indirect storytelling. The film keeps the characters’ intentions unclear for far too long, keeping them at an awkward distance and making it difficult to forge a connection. The film also tends to overcomplicate things, burdening this otherwise simple revenge narrative with a few too many plot threads.
Whereas the film up to this point has presented the complete opposite, situations both controlled and highly manipulated. And again it’s odd because it’s here, Dead Man Down forgets its own core concept – revenge is never that easy.
Dead Man Down is all flavor and no substance. The camera and the sound design offer up plenty of atmosphere, and the supporting cast offers surprising nuance, but the story is just too slow and convoluted to be interesting. At times, it feels like the film is just catching up with the audience, slowly making up the ground that it lost through its awkward storytelling choices.
It’s an almost sad admission as Dead Man Down works fantastically with its cast but falls short with its story due to a lack of refinement.
Ivan (Daniel Padilla) and Patchot (Kathryn Bernardo) have been friends since they were kids. They have been through a lot together. Ivan was there when Patchot’s beauty queen mother left her family for loftier career opportunities, and Patchot stood by Ivan when his father ran off with another woman. When they grew up, their familiarity starts to pose a problem with Patchot, who starts to develop feelings for her best friend, who finds it hard to see her beyond the friend zone. Worse, Patchot’s cousin Angel (Liza Soberano) arrives from the US and Ivan immediately falls for her. Even worse, Patchot’s dad (John Estrada) would not allow her to explore her femininity because he fears that Patchot would turn out exactly like her mother, the deserter. When Ivan’s gay uncle (John Lapuz) decides to help out the lovelorn teen, Ivan begins to see a whole new side to the friend that he has known forever.
The film is weirdly pragmatic in that way, juxtaposing this young romance against a history of failed loves. Teenage romance can feel awfully fluffy, but the film imbues the central relationship with emotion weightier than puppy attraction. The most affecting part of the movie has Patchot confronting her father about the identity that he has foisted on her, the young girl begging for leeway to discover who she really is.
If I were to post any complaint about the movie, perhaps, it would only be overselling of the tomboy angle for Patchot in the beginning. It is one thing to be boyish but it would seem that her character was also oblivious to the basic tenets of personal hygiene, appearing always caked in dirt, sweat and charcoal. Also, the speed of the courtship between Ivan and Angel seemed to proceed at too fast a pace.
Must Be…Love is a tough movie to rate. Ratings are terribly arbitrary to begin with, but numbers are increasingly inadequate for movies that can inspire mixed emotions. There is merit in the themes the movie manages to explore. Behind the cutesy façade of teen romance lies an actual theme worth exploring. It questions the simplistic truism that people just ought to be themselves, pointing out quite fairly that young people probably don’t even really know who they are, and that a large part of their identities come from external influences.
It spoke about love between friends, family and and love for oneself — looking beyond the superficial and appreciating a person for what he/ she is. It’s a bit cliche but for a movie that targets mostly teens, its still a great lesson to impart.
A series of interconnected short films follows a washed-up producer as he pitches insane story lines featuring some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
The film is sketchy, in every sense. It’s a collection of short comedy movies in the manner of the 70s cult classic Kentucky Fried Movie, each with a separate director, in which many very famous actors have been persuaded to take part. It looks like a lot of favours have been called in, from very big names who are being very good sports. It is crass, infantile, grossout, sometimes funny, mostly not, and most of all it’s very strange to witness this cameo parade of stars, a substantial proportion of whom have no obvious gift for comedy.
The movie’s general lack of inspiration is even more egregious when one considers the talent involved. It really is hard to imagine how the likes of Winslet and Jackman got roped into this disaster. But it’s really more disappointing to see generally great comedic actors squandered with these lowbrow concepts. Chris Pratt and Anna Faris are wasted on the film’s most scatological segment.
The names involved would suggest some appeal, at least, some measure of inspiration that would such draw such acclaimed stars to the project. But inspiration is short in Movie 43.
Movie 43 could never hope to achieve anything above the very low bar it sets for itself – but it certainly comes pretty close to maintaining that low standard throughout. Definitely not a cult-classic like Kentucky Fried Movie (and I imagine a fair number of the actors in the cast wouldn’t cry if this film was overlooked), but it will make for a fun rental down the line.
QUEST FOR A HEART
The format of animation is less restrictive as opposed to actually filming the movie and especially in the case of a fantasy film. However, it seems the scriptwriters weren’t really paying attention to the essentials of what makes a good Rölli film (see “Rölli – Amazing Tales”) and instead what we end up is very similar to “Rölli ja Metsänhenki”. A generic children’s fantasy-film with Rölli slapped on to make it sell.
Long ago, the gods created the Heart of Understanding as a means of ending the conflict between them. Milli (voiced by Lisa Stansfield) is an elf who seeks the Heart in order to save her village. Along the way, she encounters the Rölli, a race of hobbit-like creatures who revel in being horrible and filthy. At first, the Rölli aren’t very nice to her, but they soon become her unlikely allies. A small group of Rölli accompanies her on her epic journey to a far off mountain, where they must all face their greatest fears.
The film looks so incredibly unremarkable, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect from a straight-to-TV or DVD animated film. While the character designs are themselves good the character-portrayals are disappointing. Everyone over-acts and they should have found far more appropriate voices for some of them.
The lines are often spaced out awkwardly, and the English dialogue doesn’t always seem to match up with the animation. Lisa Stansfield makes Milli a little more annoying than was probably intended.
Having said all this movie does actually have some funny moments and an okay plot, but even Rölli himself comes off incredibly lame for some reason. The film is a good children’s animation film, but parents are likely going to get bored with it.
It seems like a really tough sell, and it isn’t like we are hard up for children’s entertainment. Quest for a Heart is already at a disadvantage with its lack of specific cultural context. The fact that it’s almost six years old makes it an even more difficult proposition. And beyond all this, the movie just isn’t very good.
Adonis and Amanda (Lawrence Manalo and Renee Lopez) are vigorously trying to have a baby, but they aren’t having any luck. Amanda’s younger sister Myra (Mia Henarez) moves in, bringing along her boyfriend Glenn (Christopher Capistrano). In a moment of weakness, Amanda betrays her husband and her sister by sleeping with Glenn. She tries to end the affair soon after, but her intentions are thwarted by her sudden pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Adonis’ younger brother Xander (Jay Enriquez) is exploring his own sexuality, having his first gay experiences. The film basically runs the gamut of clichés of this genre. It barely tries to string together a logical sequence of events. It’s more likely to linger on a bathing scene than explore the emotions inherent to the story. Seriously, this movie has two of the longest bathing scenes I’ve ever seen, the camera digging into every nook and cranny of its actors’ naked forms.
Sabik doesn’t even bother to make the sex feel natural. The people on this movie seem to have sex based simply on proximity, their bodies just moving on their own accord, ignoring the severe lack of mood or motivation.
The film ends up going nowhere as well, the story unable to capitalize on any of the potential drama borne from the situation. The movie just thuds into a perfunctory ending that deigns to offer some sort of moralistic judgment on its characters. That’s really rich coming from this movie, which is really little more than a framework for really long bathing scenes.
Very near to a trash film.
THE DINASAUR PROJECT
The Dinosaur Project features previously unseen footage from the ill-fated, eponymous 2011 expedition to the Congo in search of the Mokele Mbembe. Discover a world lost for millions of years.
The film is an ambitious quest by a team of western explorers, hoping to find a water creature, whose origins are rooted in myth and fantasy. The head of the expedition, an Indiana Jones type, has his plans for a successful trip spoiled though, after his helicopter is brought down by a flock of strange enormous birds and to add to his troubles, he also has to look after his stowaway son Luke. Luke is the film’s main narrator; with an arsenal of personal cameras at his disposal, the young techno-geek captures every minute of this project, which becomes a lesson in survival.
The special effects simply aren’t up to par, the interactions between the humans and the dinosaurs looking really awkward. The shaky camerawork seems to have been employed specifically to hide the shoddiness of the production. The movie relies too much on the inherent chaos of a handheld camera to suggest danger, it scenes lacking any kind of building suspense or tension. The acting is similarly subpar.
The creatures themselves predictably disappointing, the effects created by the same company that crafted the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur and failing to ever rise above TV quality; the reveal of Mokele Mbembe particularly underwhelming.
It never really uses it to its full potential, the aesthetic more of a smokescreen than a means of immersing the audience in the action. Not that there’s much action to be immersed in, really. The Dinosaur Project, a found footage flick that disappoints at just about every turn, and makes you wish the tapes had remained lost.
Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago. Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave.
It is probably enough to mention that the film is wildly entertaining. The movie builds a thoroughly engaging caper, filled with compelling turns and a good amount of action. The film is stunningly shot and scored, fully capturing the scale of Westerns of old while still maintaining a more modern sensibility. And Tarantino’s knack for dialogue remains dazzling, his characters gifted with verve and wit unmatched in most of cinema.
Tarantino’s fascination with language comes to the fore in the terrifying verbal conflict between DiCaprio, the ornately loquacious villain, and Schultz, the eloquent democrat. They provide the prelude to the film’s violent climax the way the debates over abolition were the curtain-raiser for the civil war. Django Unchained is a long, powerful film, its dramatic brush strokes broad and colourful, its psychological points made with considerable subtlety and wit.
The film isn’t perfect by any means: it lapses into self-indulgence in the last twenty minutes or so, betraying much of its own complexity with a more simplistic morality. The film never does get around to questioning its own thirst for vengeance, laying it out as a triumphant solution to a rather complicated problem. But this isn’t nearly enough to undo the good laid out by the first two hours of this picture.
Perhaps the most significant moments are when Django is trained by Schultz as a gunfighter. From any distance, on any occasion, Django can shoot with ruthless accuracy and verve, and afterwards permits himself a grin of pleasure.
THE LAST EXORCISM 2
As Nell Sweetzer tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan.
Continuing where the first film left off, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is found terrified and alone in rural Louisiana. Back in the relative safety of New Orleans, Nell realizes that she can’t remember entire portions of the previous months only that she is the last surviving member of her family. Just as Nell begins the difficult process of starting a new life, the evil force that once possessed her is back with other, unimaginably horrific plans that mean her last exorcism was just the beginning.
The movie spends all of its time with her, but the writing keeps her completely indistinct. She simply conforms to the needs of every scene. She’s timid except when she’s not. She’s demure unless she hears a couple of people having sex in the next room. She doesn’t trust anyone, except she does. The rest of the characters are similarly vague, making it hard to care about anybody’s well being. And in a horror movie, that ought to be a requirement. Ho-hum acting from the cast only compounds the problem.
The bad news is that this matter-of-fact, brick-by-brick approach to building scares and tension probably won’t work for audiences who just want to scream a lot, so Gass-Donnelly undercuts it all by haphazardly tossing in jump scares of the cheapest, most predictable kind, which force their own, crippling rhythm to the movie. Instead of experiencing the slow build of tension, watching this girl’s reality unravel around her, we wind up being carried along from cheap thrill to cheap thrill. And they’re not even particularly good thrills.
It is easily argued that The Last Exorcism Part II is an unnecessary sequel. There have already been so many exorcism films, and this one doesn’t really try to do anything different. It just meanders through the same dumb clichés that have defined the genre for decades now. If you watch closely enough, you’ll see that somewhere inside The Last Exorcism Part II is a very good thriller — a genuinely unnerving movie about possession — struggling to get out. But then the sound drops out, the music shrieks, a figure jumps out, and we’re back to the same old, same old.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY
From the big top to the big screen, visionary filmmaker James Cameron and director Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Narnia) invite you and your family on an all new 3D adventure: Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away. A young couple who is separated, must journey through the astonishing and dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other, as audiences experience the immersive 3D technology that will allow them to leap, soar, swim, and dance with the performers.
The film is actually composed of acts from several of the Cirque du Soleil shows. There is only a trace of narrative, and it invariably gives way to whatever thing they want to show next. It doesn’t make for a very coherent experience. It’s difficult to find much of a connection, for example, between a scene featuring Asian contortionists and a group of superhero costume-clad trampolinists bouncing around to an Elvis tune.
A gamine woman (Erica Linz) wandering into a circus is smitten by a daring young aerialist, whose sudden plunge from the trapeze takes her with him into a hallucinatory world of performance. One is soundtracked to the Beatles, another to Elvis; one looks like a really expensive mime on Flash Gordon, complete with Ming the Merciless. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it, just a lot of elaborately costumed gymnasts showing off their athletic strength and bendiness.
What is more doubtful, however, is the staging of these scenes. First of all, the 3D is pretty ineffective, since everything is shot against a flat black background. And the camera does these acts no favors. Applying the language of cinema to the acts only results in a dichotomy between action and reaction. Changing angles lessens the impact of an acrobatic feat, the integrity of the action lost between cuts.
The rest of the movie kind of misses the point, however. Some things are just meant to be seen live.
A father goes undercover for the DEA in order to free his son who was imprisoned after being set up in drug deal.
In the fast-paced action thriller SNITCH, Dwayne Johnson stars as a father whose teenage son is wrongly accused of a drug distribution crime and is looking at a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years. Desperate and determined to rescue his son at all costs, he makes a deal with the U.S. attorney to work as an undercover informant and infiltrate a drug cartel on a dangerous mission — risking everything, including his family and his own life.
The movie lapses into pulpy action elements near the end, but for the most part, it stays neatly within the realm of social drama. The film dissects the weakness of mandatory minimum laws, looking into how the war on drugs can be thoroughly unjust and ruins the lives of good kids who might have just made one bad decision. The film’s argument is surprisingly cogent. It portrays a drug war as a battle between two morally compromised sides.
Snitch has an uphill struggle from the get-go. Though its subject matter reeks of gravitas, it doesn’t have the chops of a rich, complicated film like traffic (despite a cast that includes the underused Sarandon and the top-rate Bratt), nor does it have the taut pacing of the Bourne movies. But for an action thriller with a message (that drug-sentencing laws for first-time offenders are massively unfair), it moves at a good clip and lets the plot, based on a true story, unspool in a straightforward, if pedestrian, manner.
It’s a less interesting solution than the movie has been proposing so far. But for most of the movie, it’s able to stay grounded in this reality, one where generally good kids can end up in prison, where they have the good beaten out of them.
Snitch is no trailblazer, though not every movie has to be. It’s really more of a two-and-a-half-star film than a three, but we’ll give it the extra half star, anyway, for the eye-opening, fast-moving story.
21 AND OVER
The night before his big medical school interview, a promising student celebrates his 21st birthday with his two best friends.
Miller and Casey (Miles Teller and Skylar Astin) are at Northern University visiting their high school best friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) for his 21st birthday. They urge him to go out and have a drink, in spite of the fact that he has a medical school interview the following morning. What was supposed to be just one beer turns into a bar crawl, and soon enough, Jeff Chang is passed out. Miller and Casey soon realize they don’t know where Jeff Chang lives, and they have to scramble around campus to find his address and get him home before his dad arrives to pick him up for his interview.
21 and Over was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover, so they know a thing or two about raunch, and they know a thing or two about story; what made The Hangover work so well was in part its odd, mystery-genre structure. They try for a bit of the same in this new film, in that our heroes spend much of the film trying to find JeffChang’s house, but a bunch of guys looking for a house isn’t a mystery, or at least not an interesting one.
The film does offer a hint of something deeper going on, with the characters slowly discovering that their friend Jeff Chang isn’t as put together as they remember him. But that thread pretty much fizzles out and gives way to the much less intriguing drama between friends who just don’t call each other enough.
More importantly, and more fatally, the raunch itself isn’t all that nutty, either. Sure, there’s a teddy bear glued to genitalia, there’s an elaborately grotesque nod to Eyes Wide Shut, there are surreal party scenes galore, not to mention the aforementioned cascade of dude nudity.
But it’s still a lot more entertaining than 21 & Over, owing to its genuine sense of danger and solid cast. With that movie already existing, this is little more than a redundancy.