Category Archives: Rating: 1-1.75 stars

Unnatural (2015)

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Unnatural is a horror film so unnaturally bad that it’s natural to laugh at it.

The premise is this: a genetically modified polar bear escapes from the lab and goes on a bone-crunching, flesh-tearing rampage against a bunch of deserving people in the Arctic.

The cast is better than you’d think as it features some recognisable names who might be in need of a paycheck: Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks), Ray Wise (also Twin Peaks and the original Robocop), James Remar (Dexter’s dad in Dexter) and Graham Greene (the guy who played every American Indian character in the 80s and 90s).

The problem with these fairly good, professional actors is that they appear to be taking the project more seriously than everyone else (out of habit, probably) — in particular some douchebags and a few scantily clad models — who are all hilariously bad and ironically more aware that they are in a horrible film.

There’s not much plot to speak of and all the film can muster is some typical B-grade laughs and not a lot of tension. The crux of the problem is the monster itself, which is created with 80s-level practical effects. You don’t get many good shots of the bear, and the ones that you do get look like a dude crawling around in a furry suit with a taxidermied polar bear head helmet.

To be fair, the film understands its limitations (after all, it was made on a US$3 million budget and had to be shot in the ice) and is perhaps trying to embrace its fate as a cheesy straight-to-DVD monster flick for people looking for a light and forgettable experience. The bar has been set low, so if you don’t expect anything — and that includes a decent story, action, characters, dialogue, acting, special effects and genuine scares — you won’t be left wanting.

1.75 stars out of 5

Blunt Force Trauma (2015)

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It’s not hard to see why a seemingly promising film like Blunt Force Trauma, featuring stars such as Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto and Ryan Kwanten, would end up completely slipping under the radar. It’s a bit rough to call it “garbage”, but it’s not a stretch to say almost nothing about this film worked at all.

The start of the movie does grab your attention. Two dudes wearing bulletproof vests stand face to face across a room, each inside a crudely drawn circle, both holding guns. Like an old Western, they draw at the same time and fire to see who can knock the other person out of their circle first. This kind of showdown is apparently a real banned shooting “game” from South America, and it’s the gimmick that drives Blunt Force Trauma, a thriller written and directed by former Blue Bloods  showrunner Ken Sanzel.

I could see Sanzel’s efforts in trying to create this gritty underground world where people put their lives on the line  — in arguably one of the stupidest ways possible — for some cash and an adrenaline rush. But apart from the initial thrill and intrigue from this “game”, the film is shockingly dull, with weak characters and a weak plot that doesn’t go very far. While the action scenes are decent, they get a little repetitive after a while (I mean, how much can they do with such a simple game), and it seems everyone on screen is taking the movie much more seriously than we are.

Ryan Kwanten is the true protagonist and he does his best to inject a bit of life into the movie, though I had a difficult time buying Freida Pinto’s attempt at reinventing herself as this hardened bad-ass out for revenge. Inconsistent accent aside, she just wasn’t convincing, and it’s almost as though Sanzel recognised this because she was strangely pulled out of the storyline towards the end like she didn’t matter at all.

The big name is of course Mickey Rourke, who doesn’t appear until the final act and doesn’t do much except mumble his way through some lines while looking very Mickey Rourkish. It’s remarkable how much he has beaten himself up with an ugly stick over the past 25 years.

Despite a running time of just 95 minutes, Blunt Force Trauma felt long and uneventful, and more importantly, completely meaningless.

1.75 stars out of 5

PS: Shit ending too.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

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I’ve been trying to fill out my list of worst movies of the year, and the Paranormal Activity franchise has never failed to help me out in that regard.

And so it fills me with a mixture of glee and grief to declare that the sixth and final (really?) instalment, The Ghost Dimension, is indeed one of the worst films of 2015. What, you were expecting something else?

Where do I even start with this piece of found footage crap? Again, it’s about a family who loves to film absolutely everything for whatever reason. They move into a house and weird shit starts happening but they stick around and keep filming anyway and read old books that amazingly explain everything, until shit gets really crazy and they bring in a priest who miraculously knows exactly what to do, except he’s not much of a help, and they keep getting terrified while still filming until everyone gets possessed, dies or disappears.

The story, if you can call it that, is connected to the previous movies, not that I care or can remember. It’s the same thing every damn time anyway, but it’s cheap to make and it makes money, so that’s why I must endure this hell once again.

My problems with found footage films are well documented. Rather than trying to make things a little more realistic this time, Ghost Dimension actually embraces them more than ever. Honestly, I thought they would have thought of the idea of a camera fixed to a pair of glasses or something by now to make it a little less moronic, but of course it makes infinitely more sense for the protagonists to keep filming with the camera right in front of their eyes the entire time despite running for their lives, looking around for their missing child and peeking around while hiding from horrifying monsters. Smart move. Did I mention the film was made to be in 3D?

Ghost Dimension even goes a step beyond by  being even less scary than the previous instalments. Instead of good old fashioned apparitions and creepy atmosphere, the film goes for a combination of Insidious‘s idea of multiple dimensions, Poltergeist’s idea of a little girl getting abducted into another realm, and even — SPOILER for those who still give a shit by this point — time travel. I’m not making any of this up!

The only positive thing I can say about Ghost Dimension is that it at least met my expectations of what it was going to be like. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me six times, shame on Paranormal Activity.

1 star out of 5!

Deep Dark (2015)

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Horror films have been making a bit of a comeback in recent years, and I had heard some good things about Deep Dark, a little indie film with a bizarre premise: a struggling artist finds a talking hole in the wall that can fulfill his dreams for greatness — at a price.

I knew it was not going to be a spectacular horror flick given its low budget — and sure does look cheap — but I was hoping that there would be some intriguing ideas that I would find creepy or at least weird me out.

Unfortunately, Deep Dark fails to deliver. It is indeed an odd film, with a lot more moments of comedy than I had anticipated. However, the storytelling is weak, especially after the hole in the wall appears, taking us down a fairly familiar and predictable path despite the best efforts of writer and director Michael Medaglia to make the film stand out from the pack.

It also did not help that the protagonist is not likable, and neither him nor the supporting characters are well written or developed. The no-name cast is okay, I suppose, adequate but not providing particularly strong performances.

The idea of a talking hole in the wall is cool, though there was no feel of mystery to it. Most importantly, it simply wasn’t scary. There were times when I felt like the scene was building up to something with potential, but apart from a few clever visual gimmicks nothing genuinely horrific eventuates. Instead of a climatic revelation the film went for disappointing melodrama.

Ultimately, Deep Dark is one of those interesting concepts that wasn’t fleshed out effectively enough for a feature-length film (albeit a 79-minute one). Perhaps a short film would have been a better idea.

1.5 stars out of 5

Extraction (2015)

Extraction

I watched a bunch of movies lately and have been working hard to catch up on my reviews. There was one movie, however, that completely slipped my mind: Extraction.

Bruce Willis has been an action hero for as long as I can remember, and after phoning it in for a few years now, I suppose it is time for him to starting hanging up the gloves. And hence Extraction, where a retiring CIA operative (Willis) is kidnapped by terrorists and it is up to his son (Kellan Lutz) and his ex-girlfriend (MMA artist Gina Carano) to, um, “extract” him.

In theory, the film isn’t a bad idea. Willis is getting long in the tooth and Lutz is doing his best to be a new-generation action star. After the failure that was A Good Day to Die Hard, I didn’t mind another attempt at it with someone other than “charisma black hole” Jai Courtney, and without the pressure of having to live up to the name of the Die Hard franchise.

Unfortunately, Extraction is a pure vanilla action-thriller that offers nothing new or creative for fans of the genre. Willis doesn’t get to do a whole lot other than collect another paycheck, while Lutz gives Courtney a run for his money in the “zero charisma” stakes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Lutz — even after The Legend of Hercules — because he seems like a nice guy who is working hard to make the most of his opportunities from Twilight, but no matter what he does here he can’t save the film from being an epic bore.

The action is stock standard, there is virtually no tension, the plot is uninteresting and the characters lack personality. I can’t really be more specific because, to be honest, there’s not much to remember about it. I do recall a particularly stupid pub scene, a moronic strip club scene, wondering why parts of the plot made little sense, and feeling like they completely wasted Carano’s martial arts talent. She was also a mismatch, chemistry wise, for Lutz.

The result is yet another stale and forgettable action flick that’s not necessarily horrendous but just so lame and uninspired that it falls below any reasonable expectation of what a Bruce Willis film should be.

1.5 stars out of 5

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

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I never thought much of the Transporter films that launched the career of Jason Statham, perhaps the definitive martial arts action star of this generation. And so I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Transporter Refueled, yet another reboot of a franchise that’s not even a decade removed from its last entry (Transporter 3 was released in 2008).

As I discovered, Refueled is actually supposed to be the first of a new “prequel trilogy” tracing the exploits of the same protagonist, Frank Martin, aka The Transporter. The new actor playing the role is Ed Skrein, who had a short-lived stint on Game of Thrones as Daario before being replaced due to “politics” (his words). I guess Skrein is supposed to be a younger version of Martin, though the reality is that Skrein is 32, just three years younger than Statham when the latter starred in the first Transporter film.

Anyway, Refueled is, as expected, laughably bad. It literally made me laugh. The plot revolves around a gang of prostitutes seeking revenge after waiting for 15 years (the specifics are never really explained properly) and seek Martin’s services to help them achieve this goal. As insurance, they kidnap Martin’s father (Ray Stevenson), who seems to be both very capable and useless.

You can tell what they were going for with this film. A low-budget (US$22 million) cash grab with a hot new star in Skrein, a bunch of sexy lingerie models, and loads of fast cars and hand-to-hand combat sequences. If it does well, then boom, two more similar films. If not, then no big deal. It’s made US$33 million thus far, which I’m not sure is quite enough to justify sequels (first Transporter made nearly US$44 million at a budget of US$21 million).

Economics aside, there are just so many problems with this film. The first is that Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham. Martin is an iconic character, and the films are too close together for people to forget that he made famous by Statham. Plus Statham had the charisma and the real moves as an accomplished martial artists. When you look at how buffed and slick he is you can believe his badassness. Skrein’s other talent is rapping, and while he’s more traditionally handsome than Statham, he’s not rugged enough by comparison to the original. He’s too tall and gangly, all arms and legs, and he lacks the swift brutality that made Statham such a cool character. Skrein is basically Nicholas Hoult with more muscles and less acting ability, with a style of speaking that comes across as a mumblier British version of Jack Bauer.

You can feel a sense of sexism in the writing of the female characters too. They’re supposed to be criminal masterminds who have been plotting for years, but at various points throughout the movie they’re painted as stupid and emotional and unstable. They look good in skimpy outfits though.

The dialogue is not as appalling as it could have been, though the overall writing and plot development is very poor. (I’m breaking my spoiler-free rule here for those who want to know how funny this movie is, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you still think you might see it.) The film starts when a group of mobsters shoot dead a  bunch of people and takes over the local prostitution ring. We then move forward 15 years (the prostitutes have aged remarkably well), and when we see the gangsters again, the film zooms in on each of them and flashes back 15 years to remind us which gangster they were (like it matters because they’re all just forgettable cannon fodder anyway). I’m being totally serious here. Each and every one of them, one after the other. Reminds me of an Indian soap opera that has to find ways to fill five minutes of running time with a one-page script. Another funny moment is when Martin is driving the women away from a gangster compound and a bunch of goons walk up to the car with no guns (for some reason they all like hand-to-hand combat), but instead of just running over all of them, Martin gets out of the car, and while it continues to roll forward at a snail’s pace he beats them all up by hand before getting back in the car and driving off. “The most hilarious part of the film is that after Martin’s dad is finally released by the hot prostitute women (after a threesome with two of them, no less). Literally a minute later, Martin receives a call from the gangsters, and guess what? His dad got kidnapped again! Twice in one film! You would have thought they’d come up with more than one plot device to advance the narrative.

Refueled is similar in concept to the recent Hitman: Agent 47 film in that they’re both cheap action reboots. Like Agent 47, Refueled does have some decent action sequences — nothing memorable, though well-executed — but its tone is far too serious to fit with the silliness of the film. Agent 47‘s tone was a little all over the place, but at least it seemed to acknowledge how ridiculous it was. My guess is that Refueled was aiming for a Fast & Furious vibe but failed miserably.

On the whole, Refueled more or less turned out the way I expected. It’s a B-grade film that ought to have been a straight-to-DVD experience at best, but because we’re all idiots we get to waste our money on crap like this at the cinema.

1.5 stars out of 5

The Vatican Tapes (2015)

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I need an exorcism to expunge this demon inside me that keeps forcing me to watch exorcism films.

Case in point: The Vatican Tapes, yet another been-there-done-that effort that somehow managed to attract some notable stars. While Michael Pena, Djimon Hounsou, Kathleen Robertson and Dougray Scott aren’t exactly household names, they  at least lend credence to a project — or so I thought.

The premise is as cookie-cutter as they come: a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is involved in an accident and suddenly starts acting all erratic and creepy. I wonder what could be the problem? Call the priests! The power of Christ compels you!

So what makes this possession movie different to its predecessors? Well, as stated explicitly at the start of the film, it’s the idea that the Vatican has a large collection of video and audio tapes of exorcisms it has conducted throughout history (which I think may have already been used in another movie).

While I loathe found footage films, I have to admit the premise seemed suitable for a found footage horror or faux documentary. The problem is, The Vatican Tapes is actually just a conventional horror flick with a few “security cam” scenes tossed in. And just in case we forget the name of the movie, the footage actually has “Vatican Tapes” printed on the bottom of the screen.

In other words, the so-called idea of the Vatican Tapes doesn’t have much to do with the story at all. It’s symbolic of the film’s muddled attempt to differentiate itself and ultimately not knowing what he hell it’s supposed to be. This is made abundantly clear as the film goes completely off the rails in its third act and takes the concept of demonic possession to another level.

Strangely, Kathleen Robertson (TV’s 90210 and Boss) gets top billing although she’s a supporting character who only occupies the middle chunk of the film. Djimon Hounsou is listed third but literally has a cameo, while Michael Pena and Dougray Scott are obviously just there for the cheques. Pena, in particular, playing a serious role for once, seems almost ashamed to be in it.

All of these issues would have been bearable had The Vatican Tapes actually been scary. Sadly, it doesn’t even get close to producing a single scare. Anything this film tries has been done a thousand times before, except better, and with a more effective atmosphere.

So that can only lead to one conclusion: The Vatican Tapes sucked balls. There probably have been worse exorcism films made, but at least they’ll be more memorable than this scareless, run-of-the-mill wannabe.

1.5 stars out of 5

Aloha (2015)

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It’s so unfortunate that Aloha, the new Cameron Crowe film, will forever be remembered for its supposed “whitewashing” and controversial casting of Emma Stone as a quarter-Hawaiian character. Because what it should really be remembered for is being a shit movie.

Truth be told, I was ready to play devil’s advocate. I had planned to be the guy to tell everyone to lay off this film. Seriously, all that furore over the lack of Hawaiians and the casting. Who gives a shit? It’s Crowe’s movie. It’s his prerogative to focus on whatever characters he wants, cast whoever he wants. Why can’t a film based in Hawaii focus on white characters? Are there no white people in Hawaii? Are there no white soldiers based there? Why must he tell the story you think he should tell rather than the story he wants to tell? Call it bad casting or writing, but don’t make it political. It would be a different story if the film was based on true events, but it’s not, so what’s the big deal?

To be fair, Stone’s character might have attracted less attention had she not been blonde and her surname not been “Ng”. It may have been wiser to make her say one-eighth or even one-sixteenth Hawaiian, or change the last name to something more Anglo. But you’re telling me there are no blonde quarter-Hawaiians in this world? Or that there are no blonde Ngs on this planet? (Apparently the character was based on a real-life red-head). Don’t shit on the movie because of that — not when there are so many other things you should be shitting on the movie for.

Let’s start with the premise. Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilcrest, a disillusioned, cynical former soldier who has become a contractor for a billionaire played by Bill Murray. Gilcrest goes to Hawaii to help negotiate a deal with a Hawaiian king to support the launch of a private satellite, and while there, he meets young and naive pilot Allison Ng (Stone) and bumps into his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Woody (John Krasinski) and has two kids.

If that sounds boring to you, that’s because it is. Crowe’s got some interesting ideas on his CV, such as Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, We Bought a Zoo, but Aloha is not one of them. The film never seems to be able to settle on a proper focus, drifting around aimlessly between Gilcrest’s work and his relationships with Ng and Tracy. The problem is, none of those three things are compelling. They’re either uninteresting, cliched or predictable. Crowe is usually pretty good tricking audiences into falling for sentimentality, though in this case I thought all the tactics were far too obvious.

To make matters worse, none of the characters are charismatic, which is an amazing feat given that it stars three of the most charismatic actors around today in Cooper, Stone and McAdams. Gilcrest just seems blase all the time, while Ng is overly enthusiastic about everything, to the extent that her character feels contrived. Tracy isn’t very sympathetic either, and Woody only has a few scenes to provide comedic relief.

Speaking of which, though the film is promoted as a comedy-drama, Aloha is almost completely devoid of laughs. I can’t think of a single joke in the film apart from one very strange scene towards the end, though it is so different in tone to the rest of the film that it just becomes jarring.

I suppose Crowe was aiming for a Hawaiian-themed film similar to Alexander Payne’s 2011 effort The Descendants (the one with George Clooney and Shailene Woodley). That one was also a laid back drama with familial themes, but it was also much better crafted and a lot funnier. Aloha, on the other hand, is all over the place, with a dull premise, poor storytelling and characters not worth caring for. I kept wondering how such a simple story could be such a struggle to follow, and then I realised it was because I simply didn’t care enough. Even without the controversy, Aloha is a real mess, one that even its talented cast could not salvage.

1.75 stars out of 5

Hot Pursuit (2015)

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Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara. A screwball buddy comedy about a rookie cop tasked with escorting the wife of a crime boss while being pursued by baddies. I wasn’t optimistic, but after hearing Grantland’s Wesley Morris sell it on a podcast as a female version of the 1988 classic Midnight Run, I thought perhaps the film could surprise me.

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Wrong!

Hot Pursuit turned out to be everything that I feared it would be, but worse. It’s well-intentioned as a “female-driven” comedy that’s aiming to be a lighter, PG-13 version of The Heat (with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy), but in all honesty it’s completely stupid and lacking in all that makes a good comedy, from wit to coherence to likable protagonists. Worst of all, it’s criminally unfunny; I didn’t even crack a chuckle on the laugh meter throughout the entire 87-minute film. Do you know how hard that is? I guess the combination of predictable jokes that continuously go down the most obvious route and over-the-the slapstick humour just didn’t do it for me. My wife laughed a few times, but only at how moronic the gags were.

Sadly, the film attempts to give us nothing new and appears content with a run-of-the-mill plot featuring all the usual cliches, comedy tropes and characters. There are basically two running gags about Witherspoon’s and Vergara’s characters that are repeated every few minutes, and both of them are based on their physical attributes. Some of the other jokes can also be regarded borderline sexist, racist and even homophobic. It’s the opposite of a progressive film.

I generally like both Witherspoon and Vergara and have seen them be funny in other roles. Here? Not so much; they are more irritating than charismatic, wasting an opportunity to showcase their respective strengths in this odd-couple coupling.

I’d forgotten after all these years that Witherspoon was once a fantastic comedic actress who carried Legally Blonde to unexpected heights. In Hot Pursuit you can tell she’s trying, but can’t compensate for the poor writing and plain stupidity to avoid becoming a goofy caricature. She’s far too pathetic to be endearing.

Vergara, on the other hand, is so grating in the film. It’s basically the same schtick she pulls in Modern Family, except without the good writing to play to her qualities. Instead, she’s just an annoying voice that won’t stop blabbering.

It may seem like I hated this movie but I don’t. There’s nothing in it that offended me or angered me. I’m just disappointed by how bland and unfunny it was. I don’t think any of the previous films directed by Anne Fletcher have received rave reviews, but this has to mark a new low for her. When a comedy ranks below 27 Dresses and The Proposal in my book you know it can’t be good.

1 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Curse of Downers Grove (2015)

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I was quite shocked to discover that The Curse of Downers Grove is written by Bret Easton Ellis, author of one of my favourite books of all-time, American Psycho. Yes, it has that brutal violence Ellis is known for, but in terms of logic and common sense, it’s as though the script was written by Patrick Bateman.

Starring not one but two Aussie starlets, the film is marketed as a supernatural horror about a curse that kills one senior student at Downers Grove High School every year. In reality, the curse is nothing but a red herring, as the bulk of the 90-minute film is a violent teen psychological thriller in the vein of something closer to Cape Fear — where the protagonist is forced to defend herself against an insidious miniacal threat.

The protagonist in this case is Chrissie (played by Neighbours alum Bella Heathcote), who against her better judgment ends up going to a party with her skanky best friend (played by fellow Aussie Penelope Mitchell), where she fights off the sexual advances of a local football star Chuck (played by Kevin Zegers). This sets off a chain reaction in which Chrissie, her brother and her friends become the victims of stalking, threats and abuse at the hands of Chuck and his drugged-up goons, while his typical sports dad (Tom Arnold) keeps his cop buddies at bay.

So The Curse of Downers Grove is a completely different film to what it is being promoted as, which I find strange because teen supernatural horrors are a dime a dozen these days while teen psychological thrillers are rarer and arguably more intriguing.

In any case, the film just doesn’t work. While there are moments of tension, the narrative is all over the place. None of the things any of the characters do in the film make any sense whatsoever, and the two worst culprits are the most important characters to the story, Chrissie and Chuck. It’s hard to list example without giving away plot spoilers, but let me just say that it’s easier to count the instances where their actions and decisions make sense than those that don’t. Normal human beings don’t act in this way, even extremely stupid and naive ones. And yet the film had me wondering whether there was some kind of psychotic fantasy thing going on because no characters were behaving rationally. It didn’t help that there were occasional flashes of what appear to be random visions that had no reason to be in the film at all.

This weird, jarring experience is capped off by a grotesquely violent third act that’s also full of logic gaps before a pretty obvious “twist” ending brings the whole mess to a merciful end. I don’t know what Ellis and director Derick Martini were aiming for here, though it feels like a waste of a talented cast. I think Bella Heathcote has real star potential. She was a standout in the 2012 big screen adaptation of Dark Shadows and has the unique look and acting abilities to take her fame to the next level, which is bound to happen after she stars as Jane Bennett in the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I also quite like Kevin Zegers, who always plays fantastic bad-boy types and will always be remembered by me for snapping his legs sideways and then getting devoured by wolves in the underrated 2010 horror Frozen, not to be confused with the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

Alas, The Curse of Downers Grove turned out to be a frustratingly crap film. There are elements that appear promising, but Ellis’s lunacy and Martini’s ability to shape it into a logical coherent experience killed whatever chance it might have had.

1.75 stars out of 5