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Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Huge improvement on its predecessor.
"Ouija" was poorly executed and badly received, and is generally regarded as one of 2014's worst films, so it's hard to imagine anyone eagerly lining up around the block for a follow-up film. As it turns out, the prequel "Ouija: Origin of Evil" is a massive improvement on its predecessor.
Talented director Mike Flanagan – confirming his status as the latest horror maestro by adding this to his 2016 output alongside "Hush" and "Before I Wake" – has been brought in to class up the proceedings and he succeeds admirably. Flanagan captures the look and feel of 1967 Los Angeles and adds a number of neat visual throwbacks and details (such as Universal's 1963–90 logo that opens the film). "Origin of Evil" also has more on its mind than might be expected, raising some interesting ideas around the issues of faith, belief and the existence of an after-life, mainly via protagonist Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), and most effectively when it examines with her belief that the supernatural force in her home is her husband attempting contact from beyond the grave.
The film has a number of effective frights, with the scene where Doris (Lulu Wilson) first sees a ghostly apparition through the Ouija's planchette probably being the best jump-scare. Wilson also brilliantly delivers a monologue to her sister's boyfriend about being strangled to death, an utterly chilling moment and, thanks to Wilson, one of the stand-out scenes of the film. It's also nice to see Annalise Basso back in another Mike Flanagan film, after she showed such promise in the brilliant "Oculus".
Unfortunately "Origin of Evil" goes a bit off the rails in the final act. Up to this point, much of the film thrives on how the haunting plays into the family dynamic and the feelings of the characters, but this is abandoned in favor of a seen-it-all-before haunted house explanation which feels over-the-top for this particular story. The depiction of Doris' possession also becomes a bit stereotypical as the film goes on. She spider-walks up the side of a wall, stretches her mouth to inhuman lengths, whispers malevolently in the ears of other characters all things that feel old hat (and aren't always visually convincing), unlike the aforementioned monologue scene. Ultimately it feels like "Origin of Evil" succumbs to typical supernatural-horror excess, making it only two-thirds a great film, and overall simply a quite good one. But for a follow-up to such a dreadful first entry into the franchise, this film is far better than anyone had a right to expect.
Worth seeing for the performances.
The main thing that pushed me to finally watch "Affliction" was to check out the Oscar-winning performance by James Coburn. Correct me if I'm wrong, but at the time, this legendary actor scooping up Best Supporting Actor over more the more heavily favored Ed Harris ("The Truman Show") was something of a surprise. Personally, I would've still selected Harris on that ballot, but there can be no doubt that Coburn's skin-crawling turn as an alcoholic, abusive father is also deserving of recognition. He makes this character – who could've been an absolute cartoon – feel completely three-dimensional, and shares a palpable familial chemistry with on-screen son Nick Nolte (also excellent). Coburn's imposing and unpredictable presence ensures the film is infinitely more interesting every time he appears on screen.
Director Paul Schrader establishes a believable small town atmosphere in the film's first hour. The snow-coated, winter setting adds an atmosphere of detachment and bleakness entirely fitting to the journey of the main character.
However, I'd be lying if I didn't say I found "Affliction" to be an overly slow-paced film, lacking in narrative drive. Even the 'murder mystery' aspect (along with it's "is-that-it?" resolution) does not do much for the plot. There is also heavy-handed and unnecessary voice-over narration. Bizarrely it is delivered by Willem Dafoe, who doesn't show up in the film for quite some time, and when he does, doesn't leave much of an impression. It would've been better to omit the narration altogether.
I wouldn't entirely dissuade audiences from checking out "Affliction" – but it is likely to frustrate the mainstream audience expecting more of a murder-mystery thriller. Schrader has opted instead for an introspective character piece, which is certainly going to satisfy some (including, as it happened, the critics, who lavished praise upon this film), but frankly it is going to flat-out bore many viewers.
As Cool as I Am (2013)
Claire Danes fans will be disappointing in this messy, seemingly pointless coming-of-age drama.
"As Cool as I Am" is a well-intentioned coming-of-age story, but it seriously lacks focus. The story jumps from one thread to the next, back-and-forth between the main characters' romantic relationships, all with little clarity, understanding of character motivation or overall narrative drive. In amongst this messy storytelling are a few prominent moments: a rape scene, and a moment where a neglectful father slaps his daughter. Both of these jarring moments seem to be almost immediately forgotten about, lacking sufficient follow-up or indication of how the events affect the lives and psyche of the main characters. It's irresponsible of the filmmakers to raise sensitive themes like rape and abuse and not take the time to properly deal with or resolve them.
I've become an increasingly avid Claire Danes fan since 2011 when I became obsessive over "Homeland" – the superb TV drama she headlines – and her involvement was the main factor drawing me to "Cool", her first feature film performance in five years. Sadly it has to be said that if this is the best script Danes can find to draw her back to the big screen, she'd be better off sticking with the box.
Unfortunately for fans like myself, "Cool" doesn't offer Danes (who only gets a sketchy outline of a character at best, and is relegated to the sidelines most of the film) much of an opportunity to stretch her considerable acting muscles. Her performance actually falls flat during the major cathartic, emotional scenes in the final third. The star of the film is Sarah Bolger, who is in almost every scene of the film and leaves a real impression. She's the most genuine thing about the whole project, and her major emotional moments ring true – she even sells her main character's culinary interests which are otherwise undercooked (excuse the pun).
"Cool" has a distinctly unfinished feel. Characters (particularly Danes') make utterly baffling decisions toward the end of the film which are never resolved, and far too many threads are simply left dangling by the final frame. This sub-par, shoulder shrug of an ending leaves a feeling of redundancy around the whole film. What was the point? And another question that just has to be asked while I'm at it: what on Earth is the meaning of the film's title?
No Good Deed (2014)
Formulaic, but not awful.
"No Good Deed" isn't a bad home invasion thriller, but it's completely unremarkable, and merely satisfied with fitting a standard studio woman-in-peril mould. It's not difficult to tell where the events are all leading right from the beginning.
To its credit, the performances from Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson and Leslie Bibb are decent, and the film manages one strong suspense sequence early on (Elba's first encounter with his ex-girlfriend after he leaves prison). There's also one mildly surprising twist in the final third, but its not enough to save a tepid, predictable middle section.
"Deed" is a film is enjoyed best as mindless entertainment on a rainy, stormy night (like the one in the film), with the proviso that you expect a film that trots along an utterly formulaic, seen-it-before path.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Not a film I feel passionately about, but still an undeniably fantastic second feature from Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino had an immediate fan base following his career after the release of the excellent "Reservoir Dogs" in 1992, which only grew significantly upon the release of the much-revered "Pulp Fiction" two years later. Commonly referred to by many as one of the best films of the '90s, the film was simply a revolution, its impact undeniable. Many - perhaps the majority excepting those who prefer "Jackie Brown" - consider "Fiction" Tarantino's finest work. Countless film fans worship at its alter. Am I one of them? Not really. I think the film is fantastic for reasons I'll soon explain, but I don't passionately subscribe to it as Tarantino's best either. In fact, "Django Unchained" is easily better, and this film has serious claims to that title from "Inglourious Basterds" or "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" (YES, I think it's better than number one, okay...easily better, in fact).
But why is this film so particularly popular? It's remarkably clever, pop-culture-hip, reference-heavy dialogue is one such reason. There's no wonder it won Tarantino and Roger Avary an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The technique on display only matches the words - Tarantino's patient, passionate direction and Andrzej Sekuła's stylish yet unobtrusive are a match made in heaven.
The film is consistently tense, electrifying and unpredictable, and that is aided by its (at the time at least) unique non-linear narrative. It never complies with Hollywood movie clichés, and even in 2016 this approach is refreshing.
Fans and viewers which of "Fiction"'s distinctive four chapters is its best. Some, like me, will place the first chapter (somewhat smug and self-satisfied, like Uma Thurman's performance on re-watches) and the last (overly convenient - how come nobody walks into a previously packed diner and interrupts the goings-on?) the worst of the best. They'll prefer the brutally tense mid-section involving the sexy anti-hero Butch Coolidge (perhaps a career-best Bruce Willis) and the darkly hilarious, clever Harvey Keitel-assisted murder clean-up. They are certainly the film's highlights for me. But the film encourages subjectivity (the suitcase, hello?) and perhaps these different interpretations are part of the fun of this wickedly clever, irrefutably influential modern classic.
A disappointing sequel to 2014's promising young-adult sci-fi film.
"The Maze Runner" was one of 2014's biggest surprises, but unfortunately its immediate sequel "The Scorch Trials" sends this franchise somewhat off the rails, lacking the components that made the first film so entertaining.
"The Maze Runner" worked extremely well because it grasped a simple concept and rendered it intriguing and highly entertaining for those naiive to novelist James Dashner's young-adult book series. "The Scorch Trials" does the opposite. The more it reveals about this post-apocalyptic dystopian future, the less interesting and more formulaic it seems to become. The film gets so bogged down in overly convoluted, exposition-heavy storytelling that it's hard to care, for instance, about the discovery of an important resistance group in the final third. The 'shocking' cliffhanger is equally a "meh" moment. By this point the film has, like a vacuum, sucked out a lot of what was interesting about the first film.
As protagonist Thomas, Dylan O'Brien competently holds the film on his shoulders. He's charismatic and convincingly physical and intense. But the surrounding film lets this young actor down significantly. It's bereft of character development. Try naming anyone other than Thomas, and perhaps Patricia Clarkson's icy villainess Ava Paige who isn't completely forgettable. Kaya Scodelario in particular flounders, appearing to give her best Kristen-Stewart-in-Twilight impression, and failing to find depths in her explicable character, who is responsible for a couple of big plot twists.
The film at least manages to be fun some of the time - for the first third it is essentially one big chase scene. A nightmarish, claustrophobic and surprisingly-violent-for-this-age-group attack on the central heroes by zombie-like desert inhabitants is undeniably pulse-pounding. But even then, that otherwise-well-done sequence ends at an 'oh well', abrupt anticlimax. It's the first sign of the choppiness that will remain consistent through the rest of the film (another sequence featuring a desert storm is similarly lazily resolved - it cuts to the characters suddenly, and inexplicably, under shelter in fine weather). What are we to invest in a film that lacks the resolve to see these intense encounters through to the end?
And, eventually, even the film's fun chases become a bit exhausting and tiresome. At least one could've been cut to match the first film's tight plotting and pacing. "Trials" is notably overlong and plodding, especially in its aforementioned third act, where all but the most invested of viewers will have lost interest.
One hopes that the third film can redeem this franchise, but it'll take a lot to restore investment from the viewers - such as myself - who found this second instalment severely disappointing.
L'inconnu du lac (2013)
An admirable thriller - but extremely explicit
A very explicit French gay-themed film. Sometimes it felt a bit overly so - including graphic unsimulated scenes of oral sex and even a shot of a man, erm, climaxing. But I kind of admire the movie at the same time for not shying away from showing anything. The characters are intriguing and the film is beautifully photographed in long, uninterrupted takes and panning shots of the lake setting. The setting itself is one of the best things about the movie. Everything takes place either on the lake or shore surrounding it, in the forest behind the lake, or a car park. You become so accustomed to these settings that everything else outside them seems meaningless - for instance we never see what the main character does for a living, or the supposed 'happy hour' drinks many of the cruising characters in this film attend after a day on the lake. None of that would've been necessary because the film is all about the character's interactions with one another on the beach, anything else would've felt out-of-place. It's a brilliant choice on the part of the director and has an interesting, hard-to-describe effect on the viewer. The film also has a healthy dose of humor (the police inspector is hilarious) and several very intense scenes, especially towards the ending. Recommended, but not for the squeamish or conservative!
What Richard Did (2012)
Morally complex Irish drama with a fantastic central performance.
"What Richard Did", which I saw as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, is a low-key but very powerful and morally complex film.
It features an excellent performance from newcomer Jack Reynor. While his titular character is obviously charismatic and charming throughout, Reynor's performance explores the depth of the character, particularly his restrained rage. There's a scene near the end of the film where he breaks down alone in his family's beach house, and it's truly heartbreaking and memorable. You really feel for the character's plight throughout the movie.
My only real complaint would be, by contrast, the performance of Lars Mikkelsen. He's not a good crier at all and one key scene in the film almost had me laughing because of his acting. A small flaw in an otherwise highly recommended movie.
Robin Hood (2010)
Visually handsome and not without some well-executed sequences, but overall one of Scott's lesser pictures.
"Robin Hood" is a bit of a letdown for fans of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's previous collaborations, especially the great "Gladiator" which is its closest cousin. Crowe's performance never projects the same animalistic intensity he gave to Maximus in that film, and as a result his Robin Hood is somewhat bland. Not to mention his all-over-the-place Irish (?) accent seems to change by the scene.
The love story he shares with Cate Blanchett feels very by-the-numbers and overall it's totally unconvincing. Both actors fail to create a spark of chemistry with the other, and the movie works better when they are apart. Blanchett, when she's given the opportunity to take centre stage away from her dull romantic story with Crowe, emerges as the best part of the film. It's odd that she steals the lion's share of the memorable scenes, given that the story revolves mostly around Crowe's titular hero. In a scene where her village is set upon by vicious pillagers and she is nearly raped, Blanchett is so good you'll almost want to cheer for her. This entire sequence is worth mentioning as it's the film's highlight. If the rest of the film had been this emotional, Scott might've been onto a winner.
This is a Ridley Scott production, so the mise-en-scene is typically spot-on, and it's visually handsome throughout. The cinematography captures the vast landscapes of the period beautifully, and brings intensity to the multiple battle sequences.
Scott clearly sets the stage for a sequel with his final scene, and if it ever emerges (which based on the so-so critical reaction, it won't) you'd hope he spends less time on the muddled plot and expositionary dialogue, which could take up probably 1/3 of this effort and bogs down the finished product considerably. If it had the sense of adventure the legend is known for, this might be a character I'd look forward to revisiting. Perhaps in this film Scott has chosen to take his source material far too seriously.
It's one of Scott's least enjoyable films to date, though worthy of checking out for a couple of undeniably powerful moments and the beautiful visuals. Just don't expect "Gladiator".
A very cool movie, bound to start a deserved cult following, and featuring a brilliant leading performance from Gosling.
Ryan Gosling is fast becoming one of the most exciting actors working today. It's nice to see him overcome the 'heartthrob' status achieved thanks to his role in the overrated "The Notebook" and work on genuinely interesting, and challenging projects like his latest, "Drive".
The film thrives on his excellent performance. Whether getaway driving or charming Carey Mulligan, he's nothing short of riveting to watch. As an action hero, this guy makes Liam Neeson in "Taken" look like a whimpering pussy in comparison. Simply put - he's awesome, and utterly sells this character. I look forward to another quality performance from Gosling in the upcoming "Ides of March".
I was lucky enough to see this film at its (apparently) second screening in the world, at the Wellington International Film Festival in New Zealand. It was obviously massively popular during this screening, rousing an opening introduction speech (it was the festival's closing night film) and an enthusiastic clap from the audience at the climax. It's not hard to see why audiences embraced "Drive". It's both an unpredictable and exciting outing for action fans, but all the same well-observed and gritty, which will no doubt appeal to indie viewers.
The film's stunning cinematography envelopes the audience in the proceedings. The adrenaline-fueled car chases are furiously shot and nothing short of thrilling. Director Refn's camera also beautifully captures the Los Angeles skyline and the sprawling lights of the city. It's some of the best photography there's been of this city that I've seen in a film.
There are a couple of really well-filmed "shock" moments worth mentioning. One is in a car parking building and one a hotel bathroom, both featuring gunshots. Both are jump-of-your-seat scenes at their very best. Refn constantly keeps the audience on their toes, and there's no way to predict what will happen next. That's one of the most refreshing things about "Drive".
Carey Mulligan could've been utilized a little more, especially in the film's final third, where she sort of just disappears. It's disappointing because she really gives the movie a heart in her handful of scenes with Gosling. I was glad she wasn't reduced to a typical "damsel in distress" role (the film actively avoided action movie clichés, much to my delight), but she could've been included somehow.
Overall, it's small complaint in a very "cool" movie that a lot of people are going to love. Is the movie likely to be a little overrated and over analysed? Probably a little. Is it going to start a cult following and does it deserve said following? Most definitely. It's a refreshingly unpredictable and well-made roller-coaster ride featuring another excellent performance from one of Hollywood's hottest talents in Gosling, who is proving himself to be one of the most reliable leading men in modern cinema.
Away We Go (2009)
A nice change of pace for Sam Mendes.
Sam Mendes takes a welcome break from his high-budget, A-list starring films to direct this neat little movie that has an indie-vibe about it. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph have wonderful chemistry, playing two mobile mid-thirties "fuck-ups" who cris-cross across America in search of the perfect city to lay down roots and raise their impending family. Krasinski in particular is lovable and very funny in his role. As the couple travel to different cities in search of a new home, we are introduced to an array of supporting players who, despite limited screen time, make just as much of an impression as the two leads (who are basically in every frame of the film). Maggie Gyllenhaal is stand-out hilarious as NL, a "new age" mother, the segment at her home is easily the film's funniest. Melanie Lynskey and David Messina break your heart as a big-hearted married couple unable to conceive their own children. Kudos to Lynskey for really making a pole-dancing scene suitably remorseful, and Messina's monologue whilst he watches his wife is one of the film's emotional highlights. From this lovely film it's clear that Mendes directs an intimate, subtle and observant story just as brilliantly as he does the "big" movies he's commanded since American Beauty. More ventures like this would be a welcome treat from him.
Crazy Heart (2009)
Bridges' much-hyped performance doesn't disappoint, but the film itself isn't a masterpiece.
Crazy Heart has often been dubbed "The Wrestler, Part 2". This film's general premise is much the same (swap wrestling for singing country songs), and while this story works well enough, it can't help but compare to The Wrestler and feels inferior and almost a rehash of that film. The pace is slowed considerably by the extended musical performances, they frankly drag and distract from the more interesting personal struggles of the two lead characters. Bridges' much-hyped performance doesn't disappoint, he truly inhabits this character – flaws and all – and gives a gritty showing that is some of the best acting of his great career. Gyllenhaal, too, is superb, her and Bridges have a wonderful chemistry that is the film's highlight. Too bad Cooper's film stands as just good, rather than great, as he invests too much in the overlong musical sequences and not enough in exploring these two appealing characters and their believable connection.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
A refreshing, quirky romantic comedy.
(500) Days of Summer is a truly original and refreshing romantic comedy, that feels straight from the heart and relative to almost any audience. Every character, whether it be Gordon-Levitt's embarrassing drunk workmate or the quirky, totally unpredictable Summer herself, feels utterly authentic and any viewer should be able to relate back to the people they know. As well as a stand-out performance from Gordon-Levitt, the movie also offers a number of the year's most memorable and unique scenes. Expectation/Reality is a heartbreaking, perfectly edited split-screen sequence that dashes Gordon-Levitt's hopes of regaining Deschanel's love after they split. The film also perfectly captures that "first love" feeling of being on cloud nine with the hysterical dance sequence.
Overall, the film is as unique and vibrant as the character of Summer herself, and for a film fitting the description of "romantic comedy" in this current cinematic climate, that's some feat indeed.
Not the most action-packed of the films, but a worthy adaptation nonetheless.
As it happens every time a new "Harry Potter" film is released, there was a giant amount of hype surrounding "Half-Blood Prince". Add to the fact that it's obviously going to be popular due to the Potter phenomena that's swept the world over the last 10-12 years or so, the movie was met with glowing reviews - many indicating it was the best film in the saga yet.
This I personally disagree with. "Half-Blood Prince" was never my favorite of the books - it was still very good - and the film definitely isn't my favorite of the movies thus far. It lacks the constant excitement of "Goblet" and anyone who was let down by the Department of Mysteries sequence in "Phoenix" will be gob-smacked by the fact that the entire Death Eaters vs. Hogwarts students/teachers battle that took place at the end of the sixth film is nowhere to be seen in "Half-Blood Prince". One of my biggest beefs with the film personally. Apparently Yates didn't want it to be too similar to the end of the final film, this isn't a good enough excuse for me. It was one of the most entertaining sequences in the book and should've been in the film. It felt a little too casual how Snape just killed Dumbledore and strolled off on his way. Thankfully the actual scene with Dumbledore getting killed was very effective, as is the touching memorial his students display around his body after the murder.
For most of my friends and a lot other audiences, the film simply doesn't feel like "enough" is happening per se. The film goes along at a fairly slow pace which will put a lot of viewers off. Probably because Yates, director, focuses his energies more on the analysis of Harry, Ron and Hermione's teen angst than the action/epic side of Potter. Not such a bad thing for me as a viewer, because this is portrayed better than it has been in any of the other films. The dialog is sharp and witty, and the young actors are stepping up to their roles more. Watson, always strong, is really developing into a great young actress. Radcliffe too is at his best as Harry and he too has developed a lot as a performer since "Philosopher's Stone".
Jim Broadbent is a welcome addition as Professor Slughorn and is very humorous and quirky here. He makes the character more intriguing than he was in the books and that is true credit to his performance, considering how detailed Rowling's writing is.
I'd like to give special credit to the whole seaside/cave sequence with Harry and Dumbledore finding the first Horcrux (or do they?), this is the most well-realized section of the film. The movie really rockets alive during this sequence that was always the best part of the novel as well. It's displayed in such a perfect way that was personally *exactly* how I had imagined it in the books. The visuals in the sequence were truly spectacular and it was emotionally effective as well (containing one of Gambon's most outstanding scenes in the franchise).
Overall, a strong entry into the Potter canon, but far from the best as a lot of the reviews are indicating. Perhaps one should stray from reviews and not read them before seeing movies they're anticipating so as to not be letdown, but it's hard for any movie-goer to do. Nonetheless, the movie is good and succeeds in leaving viewers on the edge of their seats for next year and the first part of the final Potter installment.
Southland Tales (2006)
Watch it a couple of times.
This is one of those movies that you need to watch a couple of times to really appreciate the story that's being told. There's no doubt that Richard Kelly is blatantly very ambitious with this project and packs - for most viewers - way too much storyline into his epic that can sometimes make it hard to follow. But a couple of repeat viewings really does the movie justice, at least for me.
Despite Kelly's over-ambitiousness and the movie's subsequent messiness, it's refreshing to see such a creative film literally bursting at the seams with ideas. Every shot feels energetic and detailed. The plot line keeps you thinking and is topical and relevant. Some of the dialog in the film doesn't always sound as cool as Kelly would like it too, but a lot of is also fantastic. Pretty much any line spoken by Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar, the comedic highlight of the film) is instant gold. There is a large ensemble cast and the movie boasts a number of great performances.
The soundtrack is brilliant and use of song in the film really works in it's favor. Particularly a climactic sequence near the end of the film played over Moby's "Memory Gospel" will burn in the memory as the most compelling part of the film.
Didn't enjoy it the first time? I recommend giving this movie another go. It makes a lot more sense the second time around and you start to really see the messages Kelly is attempting to bring across to the audience, rather than spending your viewing time figuring out the sprawling storyline. Invest time in this film and it's a near-masterpiece. Not perfect, but damn close.
The Air I Breathe (2007)
Gellar's performance is truly breathtaking, and the film as a whole is very entertaining and dramatically effective.
The Air I Breathe (2008) Dir. Jieho Lee
The Air I Breathe is one of the most underrated and under-seen films of the year just recently gone by. It is similar in style to many other recent dramas in which the story of the various characters intertwines and connects throughout the film. In this movie, it's done in an interesting style with lots of surprises and memorable moments along the way. Novice director Jieho Lee has done a very good job in presenting a visually appealing and consistently interesting multi-layered interpretation of an ancient Chinese proverb dividing life into four emotions: Pleasure, Sorrow, Love and Happiness.
Forest Whitaker's story - Happiness - opens the film, and is one of the film's weaker links. Whitaker himself, after showing true dramatic depth with The Last King of Scotland, disappointingly doesn't really sell this role. His crying scene is distinctly fake and nearly laughable, when it should've been dramatically effective. When he robs a bank in what is practically the next scene (feeling somewhat rushed...suddenly this timid man is going to do something so bold?), he runs through the streets with a gun flailing his hand for all to see. The chase scene with him and the police is thrilling, and the sequence on the rooftop concluding the film's first act is particularly compelling and elevates this story more.
The film's middle act is it's strongest and features all the best parts of the film. Brendan Fraser gives an understated performance as a clairvoyant gangster in a moral rut. It's his best performance to date. The film splits the actors' screen time pretty evenly but Fraser solidly carries this section of the film as a lead. Andy Garcia is also appropriately menacing as Fingers, Fraser's malicious and powerful boss, and even brings a sympathetic nature to such a vicious role. In one hard-hitting moment in the film where he proclaims "I'm not a bad guy", aa lesser actor than Garcia couldn't have sold it but it feels absolutely genuine. Garcia is a subtle actor but it works with this kind of role. There is also a very amusing supporting performance from Emile Hirsch as Fingers' horny nephew.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is a powerhouse as Sorrow, a character who seriously gets put through the ringer and Gellar makes every nuance felt with her incredible dramatic skills. She is worthy of awards for her investment in this role and critics agree, one even stating she achieved the same level as Halle Berry's similarly tragic and Academy Award-winning Monster's Ball performance. It's a shame Gellar doesn't pick projects that showcase such amazing talents more often. Her section of the film is also the most interesting.
Kevin Bacon and Julie Delpy's story feels more like an afterthought than anything else and was my least favourite section of the film. I'll admit that while I think this movie is very well-written for the most part, sometimes the story twists are just too convenient and far-fetched to be believable - and this is most true for Love's (Bacon) storyline. A person who studies snakes is stupid enough to let one bite her is far enough, but also the whole blood-type thing was verging on silly. Thankfully Gellar's character invests this segment of the film with a little more dramatic intensity. Her scene on the rooftop with Bacon is very emotional and gorgeous cinematography - the scene appears almost like a classic, beautiful painting. The film across the board is visually effective, also loved Fraser's sometimes misleading (for the character) flashes of the future.
Overall, this is a very strong first effort from a talented director who hopefully can produce more great dramas, even though this movie wasn't as much of a success as it should've been. It's not perfect and you have to forgive some story conveniences along the way and really just go with the movie. But it's fast-paced, never boring and features some seriously outstanding work from Gellar and many breathtaking and heartwrenching story twists that make the mediocre moments all worth it. I've watched this film a bunch of times and it's become a personal favourite of mine, I really want more people to see it and enjoy it.
House of Wax (2005)
"House of Wax" (2005) Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra It's become something of a cliché with film critics or movie reviewers to begin their reviews of "House of Wax" by confirming whether or not Paris Hilton can act. Obviously most of the reviews will have extremely negative comments about Hilton's performance, but I really don't think she was as dreadful as you might expect. Perhaps Hilton might not have really wanted to be an actress by ambition or gained her part in this movie through hard audition and practice routines, the way she is indicates she probably woke up one morning with a hangover and decided she might go out and begin acting today.
However, her performance really isn't that bad. Maybe this is just me being biased since I do enjoy "The Simple Life", I find Hilton extremely attractive, and enjoy seeing what she's up to in every other magazine, but I do also think she does reasonably well with a small part. Her chase scene and showdown with the killer particularly is one of the film's best sequences, and since Hilton doesn't really have that much to do in the movie (and what she does have to do she does adequately, sometimes even charmingly - I enjoyed the "yes, let's follow the smell...why?" scene with Elisha Cuthbert), critics who rant that she gives the year's worst female performance are completely unfair, they are most probably simply hating Paris in the movie because she's Paris.
Now that we've passed that fiasco, the film overall was an enjoyable night out - it had everything you look for in this genre and left me feeling satisfied and entertained throughout.
Personally I didn't find the movie very scary, but it did have some very good boo frights (the mirror one especially), and the wax people were genuinely creepy. The film manages to maintain a great atmosphere, there's a constant chill in the wind in this deserted and rundown town, you can tell something's wrong the moment they set foot in the town (if it's not already obvious from trailers or reading what the film's about).
I noticed to my great surprise that the filmmakers attempted to develop these characters, which leads to it being dragged out a little too long. While I did respect this decision to try and add some meat to the bones of the six teenagers, it never really works as naturally as it did in 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", such a brilliant success that year that it now seems like the slasher movie to beat. Most of the character/non-waxy material in "Wax" just feels unnecessary in the long run, the only character who benefits from this period of 'development' is Chad Michael Murray, awkwardly unlikeable and harsh at the start, he becomes more sympathetic and likable after we hear a little about his life and begin to come to terms with why this guy is the way he is. I was expecting to hate the overexposed Murray in this film but he ended up being one of my favourite characters in the movie.
"Wax"'s deaths and scares may not come as fast as you may expect, but they are definitely worth waiting around for. This film, unlike so many of the slashers being released lately, doesn't hold back on the gore and doesn't let the gorgeous celebrities (even those who survive) to go out gracefully.
I have another complaint that I see other reviewers and movie fans have had with this most-enjoyable film: Paris Hilton, nor any of the other characters in the film, never touch wax and say "that's hot". A pet peeve, but it's something I was looking for. Never mind though - "House of Wax" is a lot of fun and will immediately fall into the good graces of horror fans. Enjoy!
The Longest Yard (2005)
Enough with the football, Adam!
"The Longest Yard" (2005) Dir. Peter Segal Gosh, Adam Sandler really does need to call it a day with these mediocre football films. "The Waterboy" was retarded and lame, bringing Sandler down from a once actually-quite-good-comedic-reputation. "Yard" is better than "Waterboy" but it is still nothing more than just another football movie from Sandler with a lame moral.
It actually doesn't start out too bad. Courteney Cox-Arquette plays the bitch from hell with great breasts so well you're not left wanting her to wither and die in the closet she's locked in but to come out of there and join the football team herself. The situation which leads to Sandler being thrown in the joint is fairly humorous and well-filmed.
Once he gets there, the film remains entertaining and puts Sandler's character in a tight spot, he is left to recruit an entire football team by orders from the nasty warden played by James Cromwell (perhaps spoofing his own role in "The Green Mile"?) to play the guards, despite William Fichtner's vicious guard leader seriously disapproving of the competition.
Sandler goes off about recruiting members of the football team to play, and in a jail full of huge, scary convicts, it isn't too hard to get together a team to bring Fichtner's guards to weak knees. I particularly enjoyed the basketball sequence, very cool, and the character of the enormous black guy who could lift an entire bench of his inmates up like they were flies, while all the time underneath being a bit of a big softie.
The film is successful in that it works up a number of likable, funny characters, even though most of them are stereotypes. The draggy/cross-dressing stereotype is played on in a funny way when they become the official cheerleaders. The black guys, big guys who look scary but are nice underneath, all of that is here. All of these are obviously unoriginal and undeveloped characters but they remain fun to watch nonetheless.
Less enjoyable to watch are the prison guards, though we see very little of them. When it comes time for us to finally feel sympathy for them and kinda like them a little bit, it's too late in the game (no pun) as we haven't had enough time prior to this development to give it any build-up. The battle between the prison guards and the inmates is also irritatingly far-fetched at times, it's doubtful that the guys doing time would be given enough freedom to gain access to the guards' locker rooms, or that they would be left alone in the projector room! But where the movie really falls from grace is the last half an hour or so, which feels like the entire two hours all in one go. The final game against the guards and inmates (held in a stadium to cheering fans, dear God) just drags on for too long, personally I lost momentum and interest after five minutes.
Chris Rock is also wasted here, the resolution to his character is such a bad move for the film, showing that he was in "Yard" to be nothing more than Chris Rock himself and make funny lines in the background. He had no relevance to the plot at all.
Sandler himself is stomachable enough, I always like him better when he's not doing his crazy over-the-top antics ALA "Little Nicky" and is just playing the regular guy facing off against incredible odds. The film's cast is actually quite impressive, with Burt Reynolds playing a supporting part with enough Reynoldsy charm to render him watchable, and Nelly being one of the film's highlights (!). Nelly even holds his own in a sort-of dramatic scene in which the guards continuously drop books while Nelly's character is doing library duty. He was very likable in the film and one of my favourite parts of it.
Though the film has energy to spare until the last frame, Sandler doesn't know when to call it quits with the damn final football game, and he has to realise that watching guys to tackled OVER and OVER again (a Nelly song, in fact) may not be as enjoyable for an impatient audience as it is for him.
Fantastic Four (2005)
"Fantastic Four" (2005) Dir. Tim Story Going into "Fantastic Four", I had absolutely no expectations, no good ones at least. I thought the trailers made the film look like a cheesy and dreadful mess and I was certain I would completely loathe this movie and it would turn out to be one of the year's worst films.
As can be expected, this movie is not perfect, due to the main problem in blockbusters these days - the script. While there are some witty lines, some great comedic humour and a simple yet effective overall storyline, "Four" suffers from some truly awful one-liners. Lines that particularly stuck out in my head after viewing were "no, LETS!" from Jessica Alba's Invisible Woman and "the day...of the FANTASTIC FOUR!" from Chris Evans' Human Torch. These one-liners will no doubt have the majority of viewers cringing in their seats, instead of on their feet cheering - which was probably the director's intent.
"Four" also has some strange pacing. Though the movie remains entertaining through it's entirety, I couldn't help but feel that Victor Von Doom (played by "Nip/Tuck"'s Julian McMahon) came into play too late into the film. He made for a nasty and cool villain, and should've been used more effectively. His sequence where he intends to destroy the Fantastic Four group at the end of the movie is one of the movie's highlights as Von Doom really gets into the meat of the story and McMahon goes all-out, and he plays his part with glee and seems to be having a lot of fun. Since his material is some of the movie's strongest, he could've perhaps been incorporated more into the film's mid-section, though this is a flaw that didn't bother me nearly that much because it was simply just great to see McMahon, one of my favourite TV actors, on the big screen.
As for the rest of the cast, Ioan Gruffudd has never been much of an actor (he was very mediocre in "102 Dalmatians" and last year's disaster "King Arthur") and he doesn't do much to further his reputation in "Four". He seems to flounder under the pressure of his first lead male role, and just doesn't convince as the big-man leader of this group at all. His awkward American accent also gets irritating after mere minutes.
It is thankful that the rest of the cast give much better performances than Gruffudd, McMahon already mentioned as a fantastically evil Von Doom, Alba strutting her stuff looking damn fine and in an enjoyable role as The Invisible Girl. Evans makes an impression with enthusiasm and charisma, and I liked that his younger character saw the upside of these powers rather than showing them as a burden ALA almost everyone else in the film, but it is a shame that time is wasted on his character doing silly extreme sports. They just feel like a way to try and get the attention of teenagers and even though I've never read the comic book in my life, I severely doubt that Human Torch had anything to do with extreme sports in them which was quite annoying.
Michael Chiklis absolutely steals the show and gives a sympathetic performance as The Thing. It is a credit to Chiklis' performance that underneath all the (amazing!) make-up, Chiklis still makes this "monster" a very humane and likable character, whom we can sympathise with throughout the film. I've never seen Chiklis on "The Shield" before but I wouldn't mind seeing him in some more feature films as he impressed me a lot with his role in "Four".
I loved the media-coverage side of the movie, which expanded on similar themes in "Spider-Man" ("Four" is quite similar to "Spider-Man" - Von Doom is a better Green Goblin), it was a nice original touch in a not-all-that-original-really movie. With Evans' Johnny Storm truly loving the media and lapping up all the attention he can get, while his sister (Alba) truly can't stand and the group overall feels the need to stay locked up away from public, it seems to mirror different sorts of celebrities, which was clever and entertaining to watch.
The action sequences in this movie are not quite phenomenal, and there may not be as many as you think. They're not BAD action sequences but "Four" also has a lot of comedic material and even (shock-horror!) some character development so the big action sequences come at the end of the film. This is a pretty spectacular final battle against McMahon, with each of the Four getting to use their stunning powers against him. The ideas of the superpowers are utilised to their full potential in both the action sequences and in some humorous scenes (Gruffudd's power in particular - watching him wrap himself around Chiklis and Evans reaction to him reaching under a door and undoing the lock are both very funny). The special effects are realistic while also maintaining a cool comic-book edge throughout the movie.
Coming out, I was extremely surprised, in fact overwhelmed, at how much I had enjoyed "Four". I'm still sort of shocked I actually liked it as much as I did seeing as I thought I was absolutely sure to hate it. "Four" was more than twice as good as I had expected, making it one of the year's biggest surprises.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
An unforgettable, enthralling experience, that draws you in more and more with every viewing.
"House of Sand and Fog" (2003) Dir. Vadim Perelman This is a film that relies not on it's director or cinematographer, though both of these are very good, it is an atmospheric movie that certainly looks beautiful, but it is a movie that is most reliant on the performances of the lead actors, and with such a strong cast, not a lot could go wrong.
The weakest link of the cast is Ron Eldard. Though as the movie gets further into his character his performance improves drastically (his face-off with Kinglsey where he threatens to deport them is Eldard at his best), it's not quite enough to forget how uncomfortable and cheesy he was in the film's earliest scenes. His character does have some interesting scenes and traits (his relationship with his wife being one of them) but in comparison to the other stories in the film, Eldard just doesn't hold up as well.
One thing that has annoyed me about "House of Sand and Fog" is perhaps not the film itself but the awards attention it received. Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo both give strong performances and were awarded with Oscar nominations, but there is still the burning question over a year after the 2004 Oscar ceremony - What. About. Jennifer. Connelly? I've heard critics and film fans complain about her performance being too similar to her tear-heavy shows in such masterpieces as "Requiem for a Dream" and "A Beautiful Mind", - but this didn't bother me at all. Connelly is absolutely one of my favourite actresses and "House of Sand and Fog" is, in my opinion, her best performance. It didn't bother me that she cried a lot like she has in other movies, we should know now that playing women who have lost everything and perhaps might not deal with it in the best way is one of her strong-points, why should she be bad-mouthed for something she does well? I found this performance astounding from her and next to Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron, she is one of the Best Leading Actresses of 2003. The Oscars failed to realise how heartbreaking, relentless and honest she was in this role and it makes me want to go and slap them with a big stick!
Onto the performers in this film who did get acclaim. Ben Kingsley, certainly one of the world's most popular and diverse actors, gives a strong showing in this film, but I found it overrated. At the beginning of the film he comes across as slightly cheesy and cartoonish, not until the middle of the movie or so does he add human traits, whereas Connelly ensures this is done from the beginning. However, by the end of the movie, Kingsley had me absolutely convinced of his talent and ability in his role as Behrani.
Shohreh Aghdashloo, playing Kingsley's wife in the film, is astonishingly good. Aghdashloo seems to have put much of her own personal experience into this film, once being an Iran actress and fleeing the country, it is quite possible that Nadi's fears of being deported and her awkward conversations with English people when she's not really sure of the language herself, is coming from both the script and Aghdashloo herself.
The score for this film accompanies the atmospheric and beautiful cinematography, and has a tragic sound all its own. There is a scene at the very end of the film which wraps up Kingsley's character in an extremely depressing way (accompanied by beautiful flashbacks) - this is where the score hits its peak - without the music, this scene would not have half the impact it did.
Grief and depression is a major theme of this drama, and it is brilliantly played, as the movie goes on we learn more about the characters, much is revealed, and some go so far off the rails by the end they've reached breaking point. Kathy's story is about her feeling at a loss in life, direction-less and slowly losing everything she cares about, she feels as though she has screwed everything up, and Connelly, as expected, plays it masterfully. A scene in particular had my jaw on the floor - I am of course talking about a certain scene where she sits outside her old house in her car, whilst Kingsley fixes a table. This is a heartbreaking and tragic scene that sees her character reach complete desperation. Connelly is fascinating to watch here and really rips up the audience. Kingsley by the end of the movie could be called responsible for some of the tragic events that occur, but we feel such sympathy for both him and Connelly we cannot call either one of them "responsible" or "the villain", they're both just flawed human beings, which is one of the strongest points of "Fog". The film ends on a truly haunting note that it will leave it lingering your mind for weeks, and if you're anything like me and drawn to the film so utterly and completely - you'll be visiting this house again within that period of weeks, more than once.
"Troy" is a thrilling ride, one of the year's best and most underrated action movies.
"Troy" (2004) Dir. Wolfgang Petersen I, like so many others, was expecting A LOT out of "Troy" when I headed along to opening night and sat in the dark cinema, watching the action unfold. Initially, I didn't think as much of the movie as I now do. I gave it a 7/10 on first viewing, but I knew I had to see it again, it is just one of those films that demands multiple viewings.
So I saw it again for History class (since it's not historically accurate, perhaps that wasn't the best idea). And I bought the DVD.
And look what happened.
I strongly suggest to anyone who was looking forward to "Troy" in cinemas to rent or buy the DVD and give it another chance in your home. It is truly a much richer, perhaps even exciting experience, as your expectations have been lowered, and often this makes a movie-watching experience better.
Anyone who is not tired of the two-huge-armies-face-off battles we've been seeing in "The Lord of the Rings" films and now many other films following in that trilogy's footsteps will sure love the battles in "Troy". "Troy" takes it's battle sequences very seriously and while they have an epic grandeur look about them, at the heart of the battle - men are dying, men are killing other men. It's not all about kicking ass in this film. The battle sequences are a little more graphic than you might expect, and they are certainly brutal.
Brad Pitt, looking absolutely incredible here (the months of training sure paid off), shoulders the movie with much confidence and adds layers to his arrogant, self-centred Achilles. It's refreshing that Pitt, though technically the central hero of the piece, plays the character in a less likable way than you might expect. Achilles is unpredictable and dangerous, he was "born to end lives". As the greatest warrior in history, he is most definitely convincing.
Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom play more emotional heroes, and while Bana manages to give Hector an awesome kick-ass edge, strong nobility and adds many dimensions to his heroic part, Bloom doesn't quite handle the job as well. I do not dismiss Bloom's part in the film to be the "pussy" as so many have put it, but in emotional scenes, Bloom simply falls flat. His lines ("I'll hunt deer and rabbit, we can live off the land!") are often laughable due to bad delivery. It is more likely Bloom was put in this part for his looks rather than his talent, which is still in question by yours truly. I did like, though, that Bloom had a more realistic touch, the scene in which he faces Menelaus and fails to defeat him, running back to his brother, is nerve-wracking and powerful, not all men were great butt-kicking heroes, even back then, so it's good to see that put into the film, even if he does play the more "pussy" role.
One of my main complaints about the film the first time around was the unnecessary relationship between Briseis and Achilles. With more viewings, I have come to appreciate this subplot a lot more. As Achilles puts it, she gave him peace in a time of violence and war. Achilles is a character so often covered in other men's blood, constantly killing and fighting, that Briseis allows for Pitt to show the more sensitive side is actually useful to the character's development. Their final scene together is very emotional and the actors have genuine chemistry.
Wolfgang Petersen was criticised for being too much of a claustrophobic director to take on one of the biggest films ever made, but he handles the epic, large scale of the film nicely, if perhaps maybe not using as many swooping, stunning shots as he could. I certainly would've liked to have seen more of the set of Troy exposed. In the inevitable fire-fuelled finale it is showcased brilliantly, but more of these kinds of sequences would've been useful for Petersen to shut his critics up. He does a good job with the film, rooting the battles in genuine emotion and intelligence, and giving it a distinctive, memorable atmosphere and artistic look.
Perhaps as a historical piece, "Troy" isn't the film you're looking for. But for sheer entertainment value, it is one of the best films of 2004. Again, I urge anyone who was disappointed by the film to rent/buy it on DVD and give it another spin, it's not a decision you'll regret, I know I didn't.
The Matrix (1999)
The Reality Beyond Reality.
The first time I saw The Matrix, I thought, this movie sucks! But a few months ago I took another look, and I loved it. It is certainly one of the best films of last year, it takes sci-fi and action a place where no other film has gone before. I actually hate science fiction films, but this one had we enthralled, intrigued, entertained and amazed. This movie is one of the best science fiction films this CENTURY has seen.
I recommend you see The Matrix, it will entertain you and I don't think you will ever see the world quite the same again. Free your mind, with this incredible movie.