Category Archives: Rating: 2-2.75 stars

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2015)

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I’ve got way too many movies to review, so I thought I’d start with the remaining 2015 films first so I can at least fulfill my promise of punching out my Best Of and Worst Of lists.

Kicking off the home stretch is The Taking of Deborah Logan, a recommendation from my sister. It’s a found-footage horror movie that has received surprisingly positive reviews from critics (83% on Rotten Tomatoes, though only from a sample size of 6) but also one few people have even heard of.

The premise is interesting at least — a PhD student (played by the familiar face of Michelle Ang — I had to look her up to realise that she was Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies!) decides to record the everyday life of an Alzheimer’s patient (Jill Larson). Things start off innocently enough until strange shit starts to go down, and it seems Alzheimer’s might not be the correct diagnosis after all.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is not bad as far as found-footage horror flicks go. There are moments of genuine horror, and the special effects are done well enough (despite the low budget that they don’t stick out like a sore thumb). There’s one image near the end that The performances, especially from Larson, are also unexpectedly decent.

That said, it’s still a found-footage horror movie, and at the end of the day, it’s just a variation of the same old crap. There’s the slow build up, the filler moments, the little scares here and there in the beginning that rely on well-trodden horror tropes, etc etc. And of course, there’s some unnecessary and convoluted explanation for everything and you have an “all hell breaks loose” climax at the end.

While the film is definitely not as infuriating as other found-footage horrors in recent years, The Taking of Deborah Logan still doesn’t do enough to fully separate itself from the pack. A nice premise, a couple of decent shocks and scary images don’t make up for the shittiness of the gimmick.

2.5 stars out of 5

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Girl in the Photographs (2016)

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The Girl in the Photographs is the last film produced by horror master Wes Craven. I’m sure it’s not the worst thing on his resume, but I really wish it could have been a more worthy film.

The plot is simple: an attractive girl (Claudia Lee) stuck working as a supermarket cashier in a sleepy town called Spearfish starts receiving photos of brutally murdered women. A douchebag artistic photographer (Kal Penn) from Spearfish catches wind of the photos and decides to return to his hometown for some stupid reason, taking along with him a bunch of attractive models and assistants (including Kenny Wormald, the guy who starred in the Footloose remake).

The interesting thing about The Girl in the Photographs — and/or the boring thing — is that there’s no real mystery as to who the killer is. Accordingly, it just becomes a formulaic slasher thriller where obnoxious characters get picked off one by one — and not in very creative or frightening ways either.

It’s a shame, because the film actually starts off really well thanks to an extended cameo from scream queen Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) that was both tense and unnerving. It’s also great watching Kal Penn being a complete dick — albeit a different kind of dick to Kumar  — because you know he can do it so well. Kenny Wormald has some talent as does Claudia Lee, who establishes herself as a starlet to look out for in the future. Oh, and it also stars Mitch Pileggi! Yes, Skinner from The X-Files!

Unfortunately, despite the promising start, a solid cast and what could have been a fascinating premise had they just bothered to explore it, The Girl in the Photographs quickly reverts to fairly standard, straight-to-DVD-level scares and tactics. Director and co-writer Nick Simon does a decent job in creating a brutal and sadistic vibe and embraces the campy atmosphere rather than shy away from it. This makes the movie better than it should have been, though that still doesn’t make it a good movie.

Truth is, we’ve seen this type of thing countless times before, and The Girl in the Photographs fails to stand out. It may not be horrible, but neither is it particularly intelligent, funny or scary.  The film may have been able to redeem itself with a great finish or shocking twist, but as it turned out, all we got was an anti-climatic climax and shitty, cookie-cutter ending. Oh well.

2 stars out of 5

Dirty Grandpa (2016)

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Hollywood is going through a “bad” phase, with bad Santas, bad neighbours, bad moms (this one’s not even released yet). Apart from from having “bad” in the title, the other common thread is that they are all pretty bad movies too.

So this brings us to Dirty Grandpa, a film that surely would have been called Bad Grandpa had Johnny Knoxville not already made a film with that title back in 2013. The underlying concept is the same: someone you don’t typically expect to be swearing and doing naughty things doing exactly those things. It’s outrageous, and these days, outrageous equates to funny.

Suffice it to say, I did not have high hopes for those movie. Sure, it has Robert De Niro, but this seemed like just another one of his many “keep gettin’ ’em checks” projects from recent years. And Zac Efron’s body might be ripped as usual, but his film choices have all been geared towards showing off said body rather than any genuine comedic chops.

So the premise goes like this: Robert De Niro’s character becomes a widower, and for some reason he needs to get somewhere. He can’t get there on his own and enlists the assistance of his lawyer grandson (Efron), thus setting up a wild road trip. How convenient. Of course, Efron’s about to get married to a self-absorbed and controlling girl (played by Julianne Hough), and on this road trip his dirty grandpa just wants to get laid, making things very difficult for him.

You don’t need me to tell you where this goes. The formulas are in full swing all the way through this one. From road trip cliches to identity crisis cliches to shock comedy and gross-out comedy cliches, this movie has them all down pat. Masturbation joke, check. Paedophelia joke, check. Penis jokes, check. Getting drunk and high and doing stupid stuff joke, check. Gay jokes, check. Black gang jokes, check. New love interest to remind us how shit the old love interest is, check.

The whole film really only contains variations of two central gags — 1. Robert De Niro doing and saying dirty things to show everyone what a cool and hip old man he is; and 2. Zac Efron’s uptight, straight character getting into a bunch of awkward and embarrassing situations so he can realise he’s not really happy in life. Oh, and if you can consider this a third, Efron is mostly naked for half the movie.

And yet, for all the crap I’ve dumped into this movie, I have to admit that there are funny moments. I did chuckle and laugh out loud a handful of times. But these hits, these brief moments of enjoyment, were all drowned out by the tsunami of hard misses. Dirty Grandpa tries to swing for the fences but ends up striking out most of the time. I would find myself thinking, “That’s not a bad joke,” but then almost immediately there would be something that completely oversteps the line — and unnecessarily so — to ruin whatever goodwill the movie had built up. I get that it wants to be a raunchy comedy, which is fine, though I don’t see any reason to go as far as it did. Adding copious amounts of shock value doesn’t improve a joke.

The performances are okay. Even a shit De Niro is better than most. But to see one of the greatest actors of all time defile his own legacy like that stings me as a fan. Efron does what he does and does it well — ie, take his shirt (and pants) off — though he doesn’t offer anything any other young pretty boy actor couldn’t have pulled.

The supporting cast is better. Audrey Plaza does her airhead skank thing and it’s funnier than I expected, while Julianne Hough has a hilarious sequence that delivered the biggest laughs of the entire movie. Lea Thompson’s daughter, Zoey Deutch, and Dermot Mulroney, however, are unfortunately under-utilised as Efron’s new love interest and father, respectively.

On the whole, Dirty Grandpa is a desperate attempt for laughs that falls flat on its face. Despite a few promising moments, the film goes overboard with the vulgarity — and in the end, with the unwarranted sentimentality. It may have achieved the goal of being offensive, but certainly not the goal of being funny.

2 stars out of 5

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

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I thought I was done with 2015 movies, but I was on a short flight today and Our Brand Is Crisis turned out the be the only movie I hadn’t yet seen, so I thought, “Why not?”

I had very little interest in this movie when I saw the poster and trailer for it. Basically, Sandra Bullock plays a crazy political fixer who will do whatever it takes to help her candidate win. She’s apparently “the best”, but for some reason she has stepped away from the game for years and lives out in the middle of nowhere.

So when two American campaigners played by the fantastic Ann Dowd (from Compliance) and Falcon (ie, Anthony Mackie) are hired by a Bolivian candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) for a struggling presidential campaign, they decide to entice Bullock out of retirement so she can go up against her arch nemesis, a skeletal, sleazy SOB by the name of Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Joining the team are the marketing guru (played by the guy who recently lost his legs to Superman, ie, Scoot McNairy) and a miraculously good investigator who can also speak Spanish (Zoe Kazan).

And so begins a battle of wits between the two fixers, who continue to raise the stakes and become more relentless in their pursuit of victory at any cost. It’s a film set on the campaign trail, tackling one sneaky tactic at a time, and with periodic updates of poll numbers to let us know how far away we are from the climax.

So I’ll just come out and say it: Our Brand Is Crisis is a weird film. First of all, it’s a fictionalized account of a true story and actually shares the same name as a 2005 documentary. In other words, pretty much everything is fiction except for the broad premise of an American campaign team working on a Bolivian election. So it’s kind of real but not real, and the film is kind of a drama, kind of a comedy and kind of satire, but it’s not really any of those either. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film begins with a serious vibe, making me think that we were going down the route of something like say The Ides of March or Primary Colors. But then it goes all goofy and jokey, with fairly standard gags and slapstick humour. There’s even the impassioned (campy) speech by Bullock’s character that made me feel like I was watching Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. And then at the end, political commentary competently takes over and tries to convince you that it’s deeper and more meaningful than it really is.

Secondly, as the film is set in Bolivia, you have the politicians and locals speaking Spanish, while the American campaigners speak English. I’m sure that’s what actually happened in real life as well, but it just seems like a lot of work for everyone involved, including the audience.

Thirdly, Billy Bob’s Candy is a weird antagonist. He starts off as a caricature, and you only get more and more surface with him, but never any depth. He’s kind of just there to irk and egg on Bullock, because by the end of it all you still don’t really know what to think about the guy.

Having said that, the film is passable from a entertainment perspective. Bullock does her usual thing and it works to a degree, though her character isn’t likable enough for you to want to genuinely root for her. Her team is actually where the fun is at, but unfortunately there’s not enough screen time to go around for everybody. They all get a nice little intro but then get shoved to the side and basically forgotten. Scoot McNairy was a lot of fun but doesn’t get much to do, which also goes for Dowd and Kazan. Mackie, in particular, is under-utilised and you never get a proper picture of who he is.

Instead, much of the story is spent on a wide-eyed Bolivian youngster who is a fervent supporter and works as a campaign assistant simply because of a brush with the candidate as a child. We’ve seen the “enthusiastic young man gets disillusioned with politics” angle countless times in movies like this, and while this one wasn’t badly done, it just felt like time could have been better served on what makes the movie different, rather than the same.

In all, Our Brand Is Crisis is a shade-above-average politics film that never ends up as intriguing, funny or profound as it wants to be. It’s watchable for a flight film, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

2.75 stars out of 5

The 5th Wave (2016)

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The young adult dystopian future series adaptations just keep coming. Our latest entry is The 5th Wave, based on the well-received book of the same name by Rick Yancey. And yes, it’s not very good.

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, The 5th Wave tells the story of an alien invasion that has been happening for a while now (in “waves” of attacks), which I suppose is a little more interesting than a film that begins at the beginning (though we do get flashbacks to fill us in). There’s a body snatchers situation going on here where our heroes don’t really know who they can trust, and of course a love story (kind of a semi-triangle thing) going on as well. Honestly, it all feels very familiar and it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before. I mean, come on, the aliens are called “The Others”.

With a budget under US$40 million, the special effects aren’t as good as they need to be, and there’s just not a lot of excitement or thrilling action. Despite solid performances from a talented cast that also includes Mario Bello, Ron Livingston, Liev Schreiber, Maika Monroe (It Follows), Nick Robinson (the elder brother from Jurassic World) and Alex Roe, the film plods along and never offers anything to make it stand out from the crowded pack of young adult adaptations.

I wouldn’t say I was bored, just indifferent to the fate of the characters or their world. Sometimes I think such films might actually be better if they were more melodramatic or outrageous, because at least they would be a little more memorable. With The 5th Wave, I felt like I was simply being carried along by the current without any sense of urgency or satisfaction.

Moretz, a really underrated actress, does her best as young heroine Cassie, infusing the role with her usual sass and vulnerability. It’s just a shame the movie doesn’t make her character much more interesting than your typical teen protagonist. My main problem with the movie, however, still lies with the plot, which makes less sense with each twist and turn. I know they’re aliens, but their methodology for taking over the Earth is simply ridiculous.

In the hierarchy of young adult book adaptations, The 5th Wave is clearly several notches below the frontrunner, The Hunger Games, though to be fair it is also significantly better than the cellar-dweller, The Host (God that trash was awful). I’d probably put it in the somewhere below the Divergent series (which has gotten worse with each subsequent film), roughly around The Mortal Instruments. Perhaps the series could redeem itself if given the opportunity to make a sequel, though this is still up in the air given the poor critic ratings and uninspiring box office earnings (albeit it still made money overall). I’m not holding my breath.

2.5 stars out of 5

Pan (2015)

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Pan, unfortunately, was a self-fulfilling title. Getting panned with a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes was bad enough, but I’m sure getting panned by audiences in taking in less than US$130 million worldwide on a US$150 million budget (sans marketing costs) hurt even more.

So why was Pan such a critical and commercial flop? Did it deserve to be? Well, for starters, I just don’t think Peter Pan, in the modern superhero and video game era, is really as much of a draw as he used to be. And secondly, the film was a little “meh”. It’s never boring but never quite as magical as it set out to be.

Designed as a prequel to the classic Peter Pan story we know (the one with Captain Hook, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell et all), Pan is about how a young orphan named Peter becomes the boy who could fly, never grows up and all that.

The film actually starts off quite well, creating a sense of time and place as well as a rebellious and adventurous spirit. Newcomer Levi Miller is a solid choice as Peter too, not just looking like Pan we’ve seen in cartoons but also giving off the vibe of a star in the making.

As expected, the scene later shifts to Neverland, where we are introduced to some new and familiar characters such as Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and a young man by the name of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who still has both his hands at this stage.

And so begins a rollicking coming-of-age adventure that moves at a frantic pace, with lots of running around, explosions, flying pirate ships, mermaids and fairy dust. Theoretically, this sounds like the movie should be a lot of fun, but I never got into the story like I thought I would.

Part of it is because the story simply isn’t that interesting and feels eerily familiar to other Neverland films of the past, even though it’s supposed to be different because it’s a prequel. The “chosen one” narrative doesn’t add much freshness either. On the whole, the storytelling from director Joe Wright lacked the intrigue and depth to match all the colourful visuals and busy action.

The other reason the film didn’t work for me was the excessive reliance on special effects. Most big movies these days are stuffed with CGI, but they usually aren’t as overwhelming as they are here. As soo as the movie moves into Neverland, it’s as though everything you see on screen apart from the actors is computer generated. And it’s not that it’s done poorly, it’s just that it dominates to the point of being distracting. I had the same feeling during some of the busier action scenes in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it felt like I got that for nearly 2 hours straight in Pan.

Despite these two major problems, Pan isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be. The performances are solid across the board, and they all seem to understand the kind of vibe the film is trying to achieve. We’re talking disappointing mediocrity, not a colossal stuff-up like say the Fantastic Four reboot (which is also better than its reputation). And let’s face it, no one was really getting super excited by this film or expecting it to be fantastic, so I don’t get all the hate. I suspect the decision by Wright to have people singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in one of the pivotal scenes was so sacrilegious that it skewed the overall perception of the film. I agree it’s a bad choice because it ruins the sense of time, but if you take that out, I bet the vitriol wouldn’t have been as acidic.

2.75 stars out of 5

Gods of Egypt (2016)

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The things parents do for their children.

When I first saw the trailer for Gods of Egypt, I thought to myself that the film looked like a total disaster. My eldest son, however, also saw the trailer, and he started obsessing over it because of all the crazy monsters the film seemed to feature.

And so after he finally proved himself last night by accumulating 20 good-boy stickers, I made good on my promise to take him to see the movie today.

You know what? I didn’t think it was that bad. At least my four-year-old still thinks it’s the best thing ever.

The story is taken from Egyptian mythology and imagines a flat world in which the gods live among the humans (they’re just bigger — like Yao Ming height — and can have superpowers such as morphing into powerful creatures with metal armour for some reason). I know how it sounds, but stay with me here.

Angry god Set (Gerard Butler doing his best bad King Leonidas impersonation), is pissed off that his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) is turning the throne over to son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and decides to take the crown by force, stealing something valuable from poor Horus in the process (yes, I also thought it was weird that Butler plays Coster-Waldau’s uncle). And the only person who can return the stolen item to Horus is a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who happens to have a hot young girlfriend name Zaya (Courtney Eaton). Cue the adventure music.

Gods of Egypt has been more or less universally panned by critics, with a score of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and 23% on Metacritic. Yes, it features copious amounts of CGI and some very fantastical character/monster designs. And yes, it is silly and campy and conventional in terms of plot. Having said that, I agree with Aussie director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I Robot, Knowing) in his scathing Facebook retort that audiences should see it for themselves and not write it off just because of what some critics are saying (I think that goes for all films). I think it’s unfortunate that there’s now a sort of peer pressure to agree with critics and it’s become “cool” to trash a film even when you haven’t seen it.

That applies especially in this case because, if you’ve seen the posters and/or the trailer, you should know what you’re in for: a whimsical adventure that doesn’t take itself seriously; a popcorn action flick that knows what it is trying to be; a CGI fest with lots of preposterous action, one-liners and corniness. And as great men once said: not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you like this kind of really far-fetched fantasy world stuff with magical monsters and talismans and all that crap, Gods of Egypt could be right up your alley.

That said, Gods of Egypt wasn’t really up my alley. I said it wasn’t that bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m probably more predisposed to enjoy this movie than others because I do like stories based on ancient mythology. I’m one of the only people I know who liked Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans. However, Gods of Egypt isn’t just a Titans clone wrapped around in Egyptian mythology instead of Greek — it’s a completely different type of film. It’s much less grounded plot-wise and a lot more vibrant and colourful visually. It’s even more reliant on CGI and impossible feats to tell its story. The comparison is akin to the contrast between The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure.

So theoretically, Gods of Egypt is a film that can be enjoyed, whitewashed casting notwithstanding. Admittedly, I had fun with the premise and thought some of the adventure sequences and fight scenes were executed quite well, making good use of terrain and cool creature designs to generate excitement and cheap thrills. It wasn’t as funny as I hoped it would be, though there are a few good one-liners in there. I wasn’t captivated, but I wasn’t bored either.

As it turned out, my problems with the movie are far more fundamental. The script is clunky as, with a storyline that jumps all over the place without ever getting a good grasp on the narrative thread. As simple as the story is supposed to be, it feels convoluted and filled with exposition (especially in the dialogue), though the biggest flaw is all the contrivances that are squeezed in to make the plot work. I remember multiple instances where I told myself, “Well that’s convenient!”

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The other Achilles heel of the film is the special effects. Due to the kind of bright, clear look that Proyas was aiming for (as opposed to dark and gritty, which would have made it easier to hide the CGI), everything in the movie looks rather fake. The shots of the city from afar look obviously animated, and the size difference between the humans and the gods feels much more awkward than it did (for elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc) in The Lord of the Rings. And those movies were was made more than a decade ago. The worst still has to be the metallic transformations of the gods, which look like they were taken straight out of a PS2 video game. All these flaws are accentuated on the big screen, and it’s hard to focus on the story and characters when you’re constantly distracted by how fake it looks.

Taking all this into account, it’s amazing that the performances aren’t horrible. Considering they must have been acting against green screens and inanimate objects most of the time, everyone on the cast gives it their best shot. Brenton Thwaites has a terrible wig on his head, but he does what he needs to do as the stereotypical humble human hero who accomplishes miraculous things. The same goes for Coster-Waldau, who channels “good” Jamie Lannister for the most part, as well as Butler, who tries to add some more layers to his otherwise conventional villain. It was good to see Elodie Yung (the new Elektra on Netflix’s Daredevil) show off her acting range as goddess Hathor, and Aussie starlet Courtney Eaton (last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road) serves her purpose as the love interest and cleavage supplier. The only weak link in my opinion was Chadwick Boseman, the future Black Panther, who seems to be exerting most of his effort on his British accent. Amazingly, the great Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Sun God Ra, manages to deliver his role with a completely straight face, when any other great actor probably would have given us yet another Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard some label Gods of Egypt as this year’s Jupiter Ascending in that it’s a crazy mess of an action flick overwhelmed by CGI and flopped badly against a massive budget. I think it’s an apt analogy, though I was also one of those people who didn’t think Jupiter Ascending wasn’t as atrocious as critics made it out to be. Both are ambitious failures, but I applaud Proyas for having the balls to at least go for it and try something different. I like the vision he had for the film, but I think he just went a little (or a lot) overboard. A tighter script with more humour, less reliance on CGI, and none of that metallic monsters business, and Gods of Egypt might have been pretty good. Sadly, it will end up being remembered for all the wrong reasons, much like Clash and Wrath of the Titans, though that’s arguably still better than being completely forgotten, like Immortals (remember the Greek mythology film with Henry Cavill and Freida Pinto?).

As we stepped out of the cinema, my son started asking me about when they’re going to make a sequel to Gods of Egypt. He really enjoyed it that much. With a dumbfounding budget of US$140 million (plus much more on marketing) and current box office returns of just US$43 million, it breaks my heart to have to tell him that it’s probably not going to happen.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Forest (2016)

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We all need a shit horror movie every now and then to remind us to appreciate all the good movies released every year.

To be fair, The Forest is not as garbage as I thought it would be. Yes, it’s a little rubbish, but its biggest problem is that it is as generic as its title suggests. The film is basically a sobering reminder that Hollywood almost never gets J-horror right.

Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer plays Sara, a young American woman who heads to Japan in search of her messed up twin sister, Jess. Apparently, Jess has ventured into Aokigahara, a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji notorious for being a suicide site. This aspect of the story is true — dozens, sometimes hundreds of suicides are reported in the forest each year, making it a naturally suitable location for a horror flick.

As expected, Sara meets a bunch of stereotypically weird and creepy Japanese people and a mysterious hunky American (Taylor Kinney, aka Mr Gaga), who offers to be a bridge of sorts between American and Japanese language and culture. In defiance of about a hundred warnings (I believe it’s close to literal) about angry spirits and hallucinations and other nasty, dangerous, potentially lethal threats, Sara decides to venture into the suicide forest in search of her sister. What do you think happens next?

If there have been any Japanese films about Aokigahara forest I’d sure like to see them. Because with its history and real-life stories of stumbling across dead bodies all over the place, the atmosphere alone would be eerie enough to creep me out. But in the hands of Hollywood, it becomes all about stupid, annoying people, predictable jump scares, and scary faces that fly into the screen.

It’s hard not to be cynical about The Forest being a cash grab. Made on a shoestring US$10 million budget, the film has already grossed more than US$30 million worldwide. And yet it seems they put such little effort into making the movie stand out or simply a little different to what’s already been done a thousand times before. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could predict exactly what’s about to happen next. Most things that happen in the plot are contrivances to set up scary situations (eg, when someone warns Sara about something, you can be sure she’ll do the exact opposite), and even the scares are telegraphed so badly that you can basically pinpoint exactly when the “boo” moment will come (it’s usually three beats after everything goes completely silent).

On top of that, the plot makes very little sense, but I envy how the filmmakers just pretended all the ridiculousness was par for the course. The ending, in particular, was so ludicrous I actually laughed out loud.

Sadly, Natalie Dormer is pretty good in this, but watching her spew out such impossibly bad dialogue only accentuates what a joke the script is. And while Mr Gaga has been described as so wooden that he might as well have been playing the titular forest, I actually thought he wasn’t too bad. He’s ambiguous and creepy enough to make his character the only interesting subplot of the film.

As atrocious as The Forest is, I didn’t hate it or get angry while watching it. Technically, it’s roughly on par with films like The Grudge and so forth, and if you haven’t seen much J-horror before you might even get a few thrills out of it. I didn’t take the movie as seriously as it took itself, and as a result I found it quite an amusing experience that offered a nice release from all the heavy-hitting Oscar nominees I’ve been viewing lately. Go in with zero expectations like I did so you can’t possibly be disappointed.

2.5 stars out of 5

Solace (2015)

 I like my psychic movies, and hence I was automatically drawn to Solace, a thriller about an old police medium (Anthony Hopkins) forced to come out of retirement to catch a mysterious serial killer. By his side are two good-looking officers played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who seems to be in everything these days, and Australia’s very own Abbie Cornish. Rounding out the star cast are Colin Farrell and Northern Exposure alum Janine Turner (remember her?).

I really wanted to like Solace because of the intriguing premise, though at the end of the day this is very much B-grade, straight-to-DVD stuff. Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Afonso Poyart, the film offers a mix of weird ideas — there appear to be visual influences from TV’s Hannibal — and sentimentality, but never really the nail-biting horror or suspense I had been hoping for, nor does it provide any real insight into what it’s like to be a police psychic or to work with one.

Instead, the film is surprisingly philosophical and goes into this exploration of the morality of death and suffering. That’s fine if it’s what the movie is trying to aim for, except there’s not enough depth or new ideas to keep it interesting. The film just takes itself far too seriously when it only scratches the surface of the issues it is trying to tackle.

To be fair, the film does begin with promise and at least makes an effort to offer something a little different. The actors are also solid — none of them are phoning it in, and there’s even decent chemistry among them, in particular Hopkins and Farrell. However, it doesn’t take long — though it might feel like a long time — before the film starts becoming tedious. Even if you haven’t seen it before you’ll feel like it’s all awfully familiar. There are a couple of little surprises here and there, though by and large it struggled to maintain my interest. And that’s unfortunate, because the potential was there at the beginning to be more than just another average thriller.

Ultimately, Solace is a case of “good effort”, but not much more than that. It’s nothing special, though you could do a lot worse if you’re randomly picking titles to watch on an uneventful evening.

2.75 stars out of 5