Category Archives: 2012

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 14

Movies reviewed: Cloud Atlas, About Cherry, Dredd, To the Wonder

This is probably going to be my last 2012 movie blitz (at least for now) because I’ve promised to do my best and worst of 2012 before the end of this year and the days are running out! I believe I only have about 4 movies left to watch (I’ve discarded the rest), but since none of them will likely make either list I’m just going to leave them for later.

If this is indeed the last one then I’m going out on a high as this blitz is a great one, packed with some high-profile flicks from 2012.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

CloudAtlas-Poster

Cloud Atlas was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, but for some reason the film either (1) never made it to Taiwanese cinemas; or (2) was only showing for such a short time that I missed it completely. I’m not sure what happened because it had been slated to be Oscar bait and one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, but perhaps it was the furore over the Asian-izing of white actors that sunk the film even before it made its way to Asian shores.

I finally got around to watching it the other day, and my reaction to it is mixed. I can see why it was so polarizing – there are elements about it which are amazing, but on the other hand it felt like an ambitious film like this was doomed to failure from the start. Success or failure, Cloud Atlas is without a doubt one of the most ambitious films ever made, and kudos must go to the Wachowskis (for those who don’t know, they are no longer the Wachowski “brothers” because one of them is now a “sister”) for even attempting a film of this size and complexity.

Spanning nearly 3 hours, Cloud Atlas is an epic set across six time periods, from the mid-1800s to the 24th century. Each period is played by more or less the same set of actors playing different characters, and that is where the ridiculed makeup and special effects come in (I’ll get to that in a sec). The reason why they got the same actors to play characters in different time periods is because they are supposed to be reincarnates from different lives, and the film is pretty much an exploration of the idea that people go through life after life, that they are bound to certain people in each life, and that actions in one life can affect or shape lives in the future.

The narrative jumps around between the six time periods, which can be confusing and daunting for some, but for the most part the Wachowskis do a stellar job of keeping the story flowing and bringing its core concepts to the forefront. That said, with so many interlocking stories and characters, it is difficult to afford all of them enough time to develop, and as a result I found parts of the film unsatisfying and lacking in emotional depth. There is a payoff at the end, but it took a very long time to get there.

The all-star cast is blameless in all of this. Really, how can you complain about the likes of Tom Hanks, HalleBerry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant? Each of them play a wide range of characters from good to evil, and they each do it convincingly, as far as performances are concerned. What didn’t work so well was the makeup and effects needed to transform those actors from one race to another. This was something that didn’t pose a problem in the novel, and it’s hard to fault the Wachowskis for trying to overcome the issue by, for example, turning Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving into slanty-eyed Asians, and HalleBerry and Korean actress Doona Bae into white women. As good as makeup is these days, the results were laughable in many of the cases, especially for Sturgess and Weaving, who look like absolute freaks and more Alien than Asian.

But is that reason enough to bash the whole film? I don’t think so. They did the best they could under the circumstances, but for many people it will mean putting aside the absurdity of the characters’ appearances to enjoy the movie.

Like it or hate it, Cloud Atlas is a memorable film. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece it set out to be, though it is certainly not the spectacular turd that some critics and audiences have labelled it. If you can ignore the freaky faces and immerse yourself into the story, Cloud Atlas could be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year, complete with well-executed action and eye-popping special effects. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that it is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, so on my first (and possibly last) viewing I’ll give it…

3.5 stars out of 5

About Cherry (2012)

cherry

The film is called About Cherry, but it’s really not about much at all. Technically, it’s about a naïve and pretty girl (Cherry — -played by Ashley Hinshaw, who had a small part in the underrated Chronicle) who sinks into the world of pornography, but in reality it’s just about a girl who decided to get into porn for a quick buck.

I thought it would a good, or at least interesting, film because it was backed by a strong cast of supporting stars headed by James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham and Lili Taylor. I’m not sure why they were drawn to this project, the directorial debut of American author, journalist and activist Stephen Elliott, but I doubt this will end up being a film placed high on their respective CVs.

The biggest problem with About Cherry is the titular character, who is played well by Hinshaw but offers no real redeeming qualities or genuine personality. She’s just a girl who wanted to make money, and saw porn as an easy route (no pun intended). There’s no manipulation, no exploitation, no coercion or persuasion – it’s just a consenting adult wanting to make money. And that doesn’t make for very compelling viewing.

Sure, her career creates some friction in her life – with her best friend (Patel) who is painfully and obviously in love with her, a fact she has no trouble using and abusing to her advantage; with her boyfriend (Franco), a druggie lawyer; and her mother (Taylor), a deadbeat alcoholic – but honestly, it’s not that bad.

We don’t really gain an insight into why Cherry went down this path or why it escalated from solo pics to real sex, apart from the suggestion that her mother is a loser and she wants to get away from her. And besides, all these relationships are not resolved properly, with the James Franco arc being particularly bizarre, almost as though he decided to quit the film midway through the shoot and they had to come up with a rushed solution.

The film is made slightly more interesting by the presence of Graham, who plays a porno director who becomes infatuated with Cherry to the detriment of her long-term relationship. But the way this part of the story is wrapped up is stupid and could be perceived as an insulting message about the nature of human sexuality.

In the end, apart from the soft core porn scenes there just isn’t a lot to like about the movie. It’s not poorly made, and the performances are decent, but it’s hard to a connect with a film on an emotional level when the characters feel so remote and uninteresting. Maybe I missed the point of About Cherry completely. Frankly, I don’t care.

1.5 stars out of 5

Dredd (2012)

dredd

It’s unfortunate that the comic strip hero Judge Dredd almost always conjures up the image of Sly Stallone mumbling about something incoherent, with Sandra Bullock beside him wondering what the hell she’s doing. This “remake”, just Dredd, probably won’t erase the memory of the 1995 disaster, but it’s nonetheless a much much better film that’s surprisingly effective and exciting.

For starters, Dredd knows exactly the type of action film it wanted to be – brutal, violent, unflinching, dark, gritty and littered with hints of political messages. This time Karl Urban (who never shows his face) plays Dredd, a Judge who plays judge, jury and executioner in a dystopic future world. Most of the action takes place in a massive slum building block controlled by drug lord Ma-Ma, played awesomely by Lena Heady (from 300 and Game of Thrones). Dredd and a new recruit with psychic powers (Olivia Thilrby) are sent to investigate the building after a brutal execution-style killing, and find themselves trapped against a whole army of criminals.

It’s a fairly simple Die Hard premise, though the look and feel of the film is closer to a futuristic version of the 2011 Indonesia masterpiece The Raid: Redemption – and it would be unfair to suggest Dredd is anywhere near as good as either film. But for the most part, Dredd is effective and should appeal to fans of the source material.

While the plot leans close to predictable, the action is explosive and thrilling, the special effects are sharp and the dialogue is darkly humorous. Plus Karl Urban and Lena Heady are just so good. It’s not quite enough to elevate Dredd above the rest of 2012’s top action flicks, but it’s not far too from the apex of the pack.

3.75 stars out of 5

To the Wonder (2012)

TotheWonder

The title of Terrence Malick’s latest romantic drama, To the Wonder, is very apt, as I am still wondering what the hell I watched. I’ve given Malick a lot of tries through the years, starting with The Thin Red Line, The New World and Tree of Life, and I’ve come away disappointed every time despite all the praises and accolades.

Like those films, my guess is that To the Wonder will polarise audiences, with some critics loving it (as evidenced by its Golden Lion nomination at the 2012 Venice Film Festival) and the majority of audiences hating it. I am siding with the latter.

The premise of the film seems harmless enough – a Ukrainian woman played by Olga Kurylenko moves to the US after meeting Ben Affleck’s character in Paris. She feels isolated and she returns to France – during which time Affleck dates Rachel McAdams – and then returns to try and rekindle the relationship.

But in typical Malick fashion, To the Wonder is all about the arty farty, the beautiful imagery, the barely decipherable whispering monologues (luckily this time there’s no Nick Nolte) and people dancing and prancing around in the meadows, staring out the windows, running around and flailing their arms about like lunatics.

All of this is done in rapid cuts (in one instance you get what feels like 100 snippets of two people frollicking through a cornfield) and minimal, almost inhuman dialogue, which makes it an unusual viewing experience but also a very annoying one. In short, To the Wonder is REALLY self-indulgent.

Maybe some viewers can appreciate the beauty of it all and understand what Malick is trying to do with this movie, but I found it emotionally unsatisfying and bordering on laughable. I thought I would love a film where Ben Affleck says almost nothing and where Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams are the lead actresses, but for most of the painfully long 113-minute running time I was either confused or irritated by it. Javier Bardem playing a priest who questions his faith was pretty funny though, albeit unintentionally.

Bad films that are supposed to be bad I can take, but pretentious films like To the Wonder really get to me. Or maybe we’ve all been fooled and it’s supposed to be a parody, though that doesn’t make the movie any better.

1 star out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 13

And the blitz continues. We’re heading towards November 2013 and I still haven’t done my best and worst lists of 2012. The heat is on!

Rock of Ages (2012)

rock-of-ages-poster

Not usually a fan of musicals (The Sound of Music being an exception, of course) but Rock of Ages seemed like it had potential because of the classic ballads and the fact that it featured stars you thought couldn’t sign, such as Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin.

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is your typical romantic comedy about a young girl (Julianne Hough) who leaves everything behind to venture to the big city to chase her dream of becoming a star but learns things are a lot messier and more difficult than she imagined.

I enjoyed the film not because of the story it had to tell because of the stars. Tom Cruise really surprised me and stole the show somewhat with his performance as disillusioned rocker Stacee Jaxxx. The Scientologist can sing! It was also good to see the likes of Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Malin Ackerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and of course Bryan Cranston having fun with their respective roles.

It’s overlong, bland, cliched, cheesy and not especially romantic or funny, but audiences who like the music in it (Hit Me with Your Best Shot, More Than Words, Wanted Dead or Alive, I Wanna Know What Love Is, etc) might be able to overlook some of these flaws. It’s not a memorable musical movie like say Chicago, but Rock of Ages could have been a lot worse (like say Mamma Mia).

3 stars out of 5

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

man with iron

I get what they were trying to do with this movie, or at least I think I do. A farcical, satirical, yet semi-serious American martial arts film paying homage to the classic HK kung fu movies — the unintentionally hilarious dubbed ones — Quentin Tarantino loves so much. And yet the movie is directed by and stars rapper RZA, plus a cast including Russell Crowe and just about every Asian actor in and on the outskirts of Hollywood.

The story is set in ancient China and is about a blacksmith (RZA) entangled in warring clans. Needless to say, he ends up turning into titular character and takes on a bunch of kung fu badasses led by MMA fighter David Bautista. Crazy fight scenes, bloody violence and cheesy melodrama ensue.

The result is a mixed bag. But if you’re looking for a parody-type laugh and some half decent kung fu scenes, then The Man with the Iron Fists is OK. Not great, not horrible, but just OK. It’s intentionally silly and means well, but it walks a strange line the feels awkwardly out of place. The problem is that it doesn’t really offer anything original or exciting. The target audience — fans of such films — will enjoy it, but for mainstream audiences the message could be lost in the translation.

2.25 stars out of 5

Here Comes the Boom (2012)

HERE_COMES_THE_BOOM-Poster_596x951

I was really surprised with this one because I don’t exactly equate Kevin James to a leading man in a good comedy. The style of his comedy often feels too obvious to me, which makes him a better sidekick — or so I thought.

Here Comes the Boom is what I would call an effective family-comedy-slash-inspiring-underdog-story. Kevin James is a disillusioned biology teacher who turns to paid MMA fighting to help out a music teacher (played by Henry Winkler) struggling from funding problems. Winkler, doing his best Arrested Development Barry Zuckerkorn impression (making him the by far the best thing about the whole movie), helps James out in his corner with the aid of a trainer trying to gain his American citizenship, while fellow teacher and love interest Salma Hayek tends to his many wounds.

It’s a ridiculous premise that’s pure fantasy, especially if you consider James’s physique, but that’s what underdog movies are all about. The fight scenes are done pretty well and there’s not much to dislike about the film despite how generic it feels at times.

The reason why Here Comes the Boom works is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously but is amusing enough and the characters are likable enough to get the job done. Look, it’s not Warrior, the best MMA movie of all time, but it’s not exactly Never Back Down 2 (one of the worst MMA movies of all time) either. It definitely could have been funnier and the plot could have been stronger, but I think despite its flaws and lack of memorability, its scaled back violence, easy-to-get humour and heart-filled message makes Here Comes the Boom a good DVD choice for kids and families to enjoy.

3.25 stars out of 5

Rites of Passage (2012)

rites of passage

Wow. Christian Slater. Stephen Dorff, Wes Bentley. All guys who had promising careers at one stage. Slater was the man for a while (check out this list: Heathers, The Wizard, Young Guns II, Pump Up the Volume, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Untamed Heart, True Romance, Interview with the Vampire, Broken Arrow, Hard Rain — those are his major hits from 1988 to 1998). Dorff was in one of my favourite horror movies as a kid, The Gate, and hit the big time with The Power of One in 1992, though for some reason the biggest movie he did after that was Blade. As for Bentley, he was supposed to be IT after American Beauty, and your guess on what happened to him is as good as mine.

But I digress. All three guys are in Rites of Passage and it’s a straight-t0-DVD piece of crap. Basically, it’s about an anthropology college student (some random) who wants a right of passage to transition himself to manhood. He takes his college buddies to a ranch along with his buffed professor (Dorff) and runs into his brother (Bentley), who a psycho addicted to psychedelic drugs. And also hanging around is a psycho hillbilly (Slater) who talks to…wait for it…a monkey sock puppet. By the way, this is a slasher movie.

Piles of cliches, plenty of stupidity and hordes of unlikable douchey characters, though I admit there was also some occasional entertainment, mostly from watching Christian Slater talk to a monkey sock puppet. I just don’t know what to think of this film. It was just so silly and trite that I thought I might have been having a wild fantasy nightmare. I mean, just look at the poster. It says it all.

1.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 12

Yes, there are still movies from 2012 that I have not yet finished reviewing or watching. But I am getting there. I swear. Here are four more film reviews.

Byzantium (2012)

byzantium-poster-180412

This was one I had been really forward to because it’s directed by Neil Jordan, and I really needed Saoirse Ronan to redeem herself in my mind after the disaster that was The Host. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of Byzantium, which is an interesting twist on the vampire genre and relies a lot on its brooding and melancholic atmosphere as opposed to cheap scares — though I wish I could have found it more engaging and frightening.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are a mother and daughter vampire pair who have been around for a few hundred years by surviving on human blood. The story is dominated by a back story dating back to the Napoleonic Wars of how they became who they are, interspersed with their modern day exploits and typical (or not so typical) mother-daughter tensions. And of course, there are mysterious people hunting them down.

It’s a very dark (literally — the film is almost always poorly lit), bloody and violent film that provides a welcome escape from all the vampire lover fantasies we’ve had in recent years. I also loved the whole concept of how they are made into vampires and the way they transform when they feed. It’s different and haunting, driven by two very strong performances from Arterton and Ronan.

On the other hand, the dreariness got to me a little as the film progressed, and I yearned for less melodrama and more excitement. The back story, to be brutally honest, was somewhat predictable and stale, and I think that is what dragged the film down and prevented it from being an exceptional vampire flick. A minor disappointment because of high expectations, but not a bad film to catch on DVD on a rainy night.

3.25 stars out of 5

Cosmopolis (2012)

Cosmopolis_PosterArt

So I keep hearing about what a great American writer Don DeLillo is, and Cosmopolis is based on one of his novels. And it’s directed by David Cronenberg (who gave us the magnificent A History of Violence and Eastern Promises in the last few years). Sure, it starred Shovelface, aka Robert Pattinson, but Cosmopolis was definitely high on my list of most anticipated movies of the year.

What’s it about? That’s hard to describe, but essentially it’s about a young billionaire (Shovelface) trying to head to his barber in a limo and gets sidetracked. He meets a bunch of people (from his wife to an assortment of mistresses) and things suddenly start to spiral out of control. Just 109 minutes of people saying and doing strange, random, confusing things.

The film has gotten mixed reviews and two minutes in I could see why. Cosmopolis seems like a great story on the paper, but adapted to the screen and it just feels all wrong. Every scene and conversation feels painfully contrived, like they are trying to sound mysterious and befuddling. No one on the history of the planet has ever spoken like the characters in this film, and yet everyone in it speaks in the same way.

I like the feeling of not knowing what is going on as things are slowly revealed to me throughout the film, but this film tries way too hard to mess with the audience’s mind and challenges them to look for deeper meaning (the follies of capitalism and materialism, perhaps?) when there isn’t really anything to look for. At least it feels that way anyway.

Cronenberg’s direction is stylish and the film is atmospheric, and the performances are strong, though that doesn’t make up for all its faults. It’s disappointing because there was definitely potential here, but instead all Cosmopolis did for me was bore and frustrate.

1.5 stars out of 5

Killing Them Softly (2012)

killing them softly

I was warned about Killing Them Softly, which received praise from critics but was panned by many regular people who watched it. In fact, I was warned by an aunt to avoid it at all costs because it might bore me to death. Being the sucker for punishment that I am, I braced myself and watched it anyway, and to be honest I just thought it was OK — not boring, not great. Just OK.

The premise is simple. Ray Liotta runs an underground gambling ring for mafia types and once held up his own den to steal money off his patrons. Armed with the knowledge if that it happened again that people would automatically point the finger at Ray, a couple of goons (Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy) are hired to rob the place. In the aftermath, a hitman played by Brad Pitt, who likes to “kill them softly” (ie, quick and relatively painless) is assigned to…sort things out.

This is one of those movies I probably would have fallen asleep in a few years ago, but nowadays I have come to appreciate the art of “slow storytelling” and have come to understand why certain films are paced in a certain way. Killing Me Softly is undeniably slow, with lots of well-crafted dialogue and pauses. But the dark and bleak noir atmosphere is definitely intriguing, and when the violence hits it is brutal and uncompromising.

Having said all that, there’s not a lot about the movie that makes it something I would want to recommend to others. It’s simply a well-made movie that is slow and gritty, with big name stars delivering the expected strong performances. I wouldn’t call it boring, though it’s not exactly entertaining either.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Expatriate (2012)

the-expatriate-poster

Known as Erased in the US, The Expatriate is a bit of a “meh” film in the sense that it’s perfectly adequate but does little to suggest that it should be anything other than a straight-to-DVD film, which is is.

Aaron Eckhart is a former CIA agent (kinda like Liam Neeson in Taken) who is living with his daughter in Brussels while working as a security expert. One day he suddenly discovers that all traces of his existence have been “erased”, so to speak, forcing him on the run as his ex-colleagues all start dropping dead. So essentially the whole movie is about him trying to survive while figuring out what big conspiracy he has been dragged into.

It’s not the most original premise, but there are elements of the film that work effectively for this to be an above average thriller. But when you have movies like Taken and those from the Bourne franchise (which this film borrows from liberally), a movie like The Expatriate pales in comparison and feels almost redundant.

I’m a fan of Aaron Eckhart and I think he does a great job in it, but it’s hard to like a movie when you feel like you’ve pretty much seen everything before, except done better.

2.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 11

Safe House (2012)

safe-house-movie-poster-02

Denzel Washington plays an ex-CIA operative who turns rogue and becomes an international criminal who, unsurprisingly,  appears to be more than meets the eye. Ryan Reynolds plays a low-level CIA agent who is tasked with looking after Denzel when the latter is captured and brought to a South African safe house (hence the title. Disaster strikes, and Reynolds is thrust into a dangerous situation in which he must figure out who he can trust in order to discover the truth behind everything.

It’s the type of basic premise we have seen dozens of times before (albeit with slight variations) — where a decent but relatively inexperienced guy out of his depth is paired with a slick professional and there is a big conspiracy waiting to be unveiled (is this considered a huge spoiler?).

I don’t mind these movies per se, but I’m a bit sick of the whole “Denzel is so cool” routine we seem to be getting in just about every film we see him in these days. You know, charismatic, super cool under pressure, extremely gifted in firefights and hand-to-hand combat, acts like he doesn’t give a crap about anything but cares deeply about doing the right thing in accordance with his own principles. As for Reynolds, I’m assuming he just played exactly the same type of character in RIPD (which I haven’t seen yet but will).

Look, Safe House isn’t bad — there’s intensity, action, suspense and a few semi-predictable twists here and there — but there is nothing that makes it memorable or stand out. In fact, I had forgotten a lot of the details and had to give myself a little refresher on YouTube and Wikipedia just to write this review. The performances are solid, but I didn’t like how the action sequences were edited with those quick, choppy cuts that prevent you from seeing exactly what is happening.

On the whole just an OK thriller that fails to live up to its full potential despite Denzel and an all-star cast that also features Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The-Perks-of-Being-a-Wallflower-poster

I swear I still intend to get to the acclaimed book on which this film is based, written by Stephen Chbosky. I’ve heard so many people rave on about the book that it would be an injustice for me to ignore it. Interestingly, the film version is directed by the author, who wrote the screenplay as well. Usually it’s a recipe for disaster to place so much of a story in the hands of a single person, but in this case it was complete justified because The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be one of the best coming-of-age movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Charlie, played by Percy Jackson‘s Logan Lerman, is a high school freshman dealing with a traumatic loss from the year before. Shy and withdrawn, he is a wallflower, someone who observes but is never really part of the story — until he meets step-siblings Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), who accept him as part of their group.

Without going into too much more detail, this is a story about the loss of innocence, friendship, falling in love, loyalty, betrayal, and all those things many of us go through as we grow into adults. With full control over the material, Chbosky delivers an extremely genuine and heartfelt story told through a sensitive and delicate lens that I’m sure will be easy for many teens to relate to and conjure up a deep sense of nostalgia in adults. It’s hard to explain except to say that I connected with this film more than I thought I would and that I fully believed in the story from start to finish. Yes it is sentimental in parts but not overly so.

I’m astounded that Chbosky has only previously directed one other film, in 1995. The tone and atmosphere he creates in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is masterful and reflects just how in command of the material he is. He must also be credited for eliciting the best performances I have ever seen from Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. Let’s face it, Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers are not the best films for a thespian to show off their acting talents, but Lerman is unbelievably believable as the mild-mannered Charlie who is immediately likable but is also clearly holding onto something that prevents him from opening up. Your heart goes out to him. The only complaints could be that he is not quite young-looking enough to pull off a freshman or that he is too good looking to play such a loner.

As for Emma Watson, wow. I always thought she was the most talented out of the Harry Potter trio, but here she completely sheds the shackles of Hermoine and gives us the best performance of her career. The same can be said for Ezra Miller, whom I thought would forever be trapped in my nightmares as the horrific Kevin (from We Need to Talk About Kevin, one of the best movies of 2011). Here he is a completely different character as the giddy and affable Patrick and totally made me forget that he butchered a bunch of kids in his previous role.

In some ways, The Perks of Being a Wallflower might oversimplify or even glamorize some difficult issues in adolescent life, but for me it’s a small flaw in an otherwise brilliant motion picture.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: I’m almost doing The Perks of Being a Wallflower a disservice by reviewing it as part of a four-film movie blitz, because it deserves a solo review of its own. But I am lazy and I can’t be bothered.

Deadfall (2012)

deadfall_xlg

A stylish crime drama of intersecting subplots that feels strangely complicated but is actually very straightforward.

Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play a pair of siblings on the run after a casino heist has gone horribly wrong. For some reason they must split up so they could reach their goal of making it across the Canadian border under blizzard conditions, kicking off a string of violent events and coincidences that eventually all comes to a head in a climatic flurry. The film is powered by an A-list cast that also features Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Kris Krisofferson, Treat Williams and Sissy Spacek.

I found Deadfall a difficult film to grasp because it seems to be moving along confidently, taking the audience in several directions seemingly without aim, but there is actually an underlying strategy all along to pull all the strands together by the end. But at the end of it all, I said to myself, “Is that it?” Despite the intrigue, I was left wondering what the fuss was all about.

That said, I was engaged and kept wondering what was going on through the majority of the 94-minute running time. I suppose you could call it dark, character-driven film, but then again I didn’t really care for any of the characters. Could it be described as a B-grade movie masquerading as an A-grade movie because of its sound technical efficiency and the super cast? I dunno. I can’t decide whether I liked the film, disliked the film, or if I am just indifferent about it. Meh.

2.5 stars out of 5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

seeking-a-friend-for-the-end-of-the-world-poster

Every now and then comes along a really interesting idea for a movie and the execution is nearly good enough to pull it off, but for whatever reason just doesn’t quite get there. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, is such a film. It starts off brilliantly and has its fair share of genuine laughs and oddly comical moments all the way through, but unfortunately it loses steam halfway through and drifts towards a rather disappointing final act.

The film starts off with the announcement that the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. A giant asteroid is coming to Earth and there’s no Bruce Willis to save us. With just three weeks until impact, the world is understandably flipped into chaos (with drugs and suicides and looting and guilt-free sex dominating), but at the same time there are many lost and lonely individuals out there who have no idea how they are going to spend the last few days of their lives. Steve Carrell, whose wife leaves him in the opening scene, is one of them, until he meets Knightley, who had just broken up with her boyfriend and has no chance to see her family in England one last time.

Seeking a Friend could be described as a road trip comedy-drama, but it’s really a fascinating imagining of how the world would react if everyone thought they had just days to live. Would you keep working in your job because you have nothing else better to do? Or would you stay with family and go have beach BBQs all day? Or will you go crazy and break every law you can think of, just for the sake of it? A lot of the things depicted in this film, as random and outrageous and hilarious as they are, strangely ring true. I laughed often and hard, especially early on.

I’ve never been a big fan of either Carrell or Knightley, so I was shocked to discover that I really liked both of them in this. Despite the age gap (51 to 28), they had a comfortable rapport and a sweetness to them, and the resulting banter was sharp and clicking.

However, perhaps feeling like it cannot be a pure comedy with no emotion (given it is the end of the world, after all), the film starts to become more personal and begins venturing into light melodrama, regretfully sucking out its earlier charm. The closer it got to the end, the more flat and uninteresting things got. Some of the attempts are indeed poignant, but frankly I just wanted more laughs.

3.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 10

The Tall Man (2012)

The-Tall-Man-2012-Movie-Poster

An interesting thriller about a mysterious figure (the titular “Tall Man”) who has been kidnapping kids from a small mining town. Jessica Biel (whatever happened to her movie career?) plays a widowed nurse whose child is abducted and must do all that she can to track down the perpetrator.

I say interesting because The Tall Man is not as straightforward as it seems, with quite a few twists and turns including a major one that occurs, surprisingly, NOT at the very end. Writer and director Pascal Laugier does a good job of keeping the audience off balance with an eerie atmosphere and an unsettling sense of dread and even a bit of surrealism.

Unfortunately, the tone of film lacks consistency and the plot twists aren’t very coherent if you think about them in any detail. The film also slows down a lot from about the halfway mark once the mysteries start unravelling. That said, it’s still a solid (relatively) small-budget film (US$18.2 million) powered by a solid performance from Biel. Those with children might find it more chilling. Not a bad film for DVD night.

3.5 stars out of 5

Fire with Fire (2012)

fire-with-fire-poster

There is a reason why this Josh Duhamel revenge action-thriller went straight to DVD. It’s silly, unoriginal, mundane, and simply not very good. It’s better than the 8% it got on Rotten Tomatoes, but with a star-studded cast that also includes Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, and of course, the ubiquitous Bruce Willis, you could be forgiven for expecting a lot more.

Duhamel plays a fireman who is at the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up having to go into witness protection. For a bunch of reasons he no longer wants to be protected and actually wants to come out and take on the guys who want him dead. I don’t get it either.

Fire with Fire offers nothing we haven’t seen before, except with more brutal and unnecessarily violence. It just plods along from one implausible encounter to the next without any real sense of danger of excitement. Generic is probably the best way to describe it.

1.75 stars out of 5

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

ghost-rider-2-final-poster

The first Ghost Rider, otherwise known as “Nicholas Cage with hair plugs”, was an uncomfortable mix of horror action and campy comedy. It wasn’t bad, but just not very good. The inevitable sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, carried much less fanfare and hair from Nicholas Cage, who reverted back to his barely-hanging-on but more natural haircut.

It’s been 8 years since the events from the first film and Cage is still the fiery spirit who feeds on the sins of his victims. He is approached by Idris Elba (The Wire) to save a young boy in exchange for the removal of his demonic curse, setting off a new adventure with a new villain, Blackout (Johnny Whitworth).

The film itself is also more conventional and tonally consistent, but it’s also easy to see that it had a much smaller budget (US$57 million compared to US$110 million) and excepted a lot less from itself. The result? A leaner, more straightforward film that probably would have gone straight to DVD had Cage’s name not been attached to it.

I don’t think it’s as appalling as it has been made out to be (ie, made the first one look like The Dark Knight), but I was kind of bored with it as it felt like the entire film was simply going through the motions so everyone could just collect their paychecks. In a dramatic turn of events, Cage has declared that he won’t star in another Ghost Rider film (yes, there are films that he turns down), meaning the likely end of the franchise. That’s a good thing.

2 stars out of 5

House at the End of the Street (2012)

House-at-the-End-of-the-Street

Jennifer Lawrence has come a long way since 2010’s Winter’s Bone, having gone on to bigger and better things such as The Hunger Games and winning an Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook. Years from now, House at the End of the Street could very well be the big black mark on her resume.

It’s a commercial slasher thriller with a teenage slant, which immediately places the film at a disadvantage. Plus, it was made in 2010 but not released until September 2012 to take advantage of Lawrence’s surging popularity. Indeed, the film debuted at no. 1 in the US.

Lawrence is good in this as a girl who moves into a new neighbourhood with her mother, played by Elizabeth Shue, and she befriends and enters into a relationship with the local hunk (Max Thieriot, Chloe), the sole survivor of a murdered family. He’s not very popular with the locals because he’s bringing their house prices down (how nice).

There are some interesting ideas in this film but the execution is so bad that there are almost zero frights in what is supposed to be a horror film. How you can have a thriller with no thrills or suspense is beyond me. On top of that, everything else about it just felt like your run-of-the-mill teen slasher flick. Sadly, apart from seeing Jennifer Lawrence in a tight singlet (as emphasized on the posters) there really isn’t much else going for it.

2 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 9

This latest tranche has a political flavour…kind of…

Act of Valor (2012)

act-of-valor-nuovo-poster-usa-232089

Just the title alone made me sceptical of this film, essentially a US Army recruitment video starring real-life soldiers. There must be people who lapped up the salty patriotism and corny melodrama of Act of Valor, but I was not one of them.

The plot — and there is a plot — is not important, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of it. The story focuses on a team of Navy Seals who have to shot and blow up enemies who pose a threat to freedom in the United States. Terrorists, that is.

The action scenes are well-choreographed, I don’t dispute that. Apparently they are realistic, but the shaky camera movements were too much for me. I had trouble telling what was happening when they had the helmet-mounted cameras and a few of the scenes made me feel nauseated.

But the main problem with Act of Valor, apart from the cookie-cutter plot, is the unintentional Team America: World Police feel that runs throughout the whole film. Much of it stems from dramatic score and the really really really atrocious lines spewed out by the really really really wooden “actors.” They just didn’t feel like real people. It was so bad that it was often either hilarious or distracting, or both. No offense to the soldiers, but it was akin to letting Stallone and The Rock go fight real terrorists on behalf of their country.

2 stars out of 5

PS: The mix of shaky camera movements and over-the-board heroism was enough to do this to me.

 

Game Change (2012)

game-change-poster

A great film for anyone interested in just how stupid Sarah Palin really is. Game Change is based on the true story of the 2008 Republican ticket of John McCain and Palin, and it’s a ripper. Sharp, funny and at times bewildering, it provides a fascinating insight into US presidential elections and the campaign strategies that direct the outcome. And above all, it reveals just how insane the Republicans were to take on a risk like Palin, who was believed to be a potential game changer — and she was, just not the way they wanted.

I loved the Tina Fey impersonations but Julianne Moore is equally brilliant in this more serious portrayal of Palin, who is depicted as an ambitious, self-righteous but incredibly naive and ignorant politician. Most of her most famous gaffes are repeated in the film, and they’re still just as funny. But it was also easy to see why the Republicans were so enamored with her in the beginning and so frustrated with her by the end. They essentially created a monster and didn’t know how to rein her back in.

Ed Harris was surprisingly good as John McCain, who I’ve always liked and was portrayed as a very decent man who really had no idea what he was getting himself into with Palin. The rest of the supporting cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, was also excellent. Just a classy production all round.

Of course, the accuracy of the events depicted in the film have been disputed, but I’d like to think it captured the spirit of the campaign. Besides, both Palin and McCain, who said the film was inaccurate, never even saw it.

I really enjoyed it, even though it did have quite a strong TV-movie atmosphere.

PS: Here’s a scene by scene comparison between Palin and Moore.

4 stars out of 5

The Campaign (2012)

The Campaign

While we’re on the subject of election campaigns, I’d like to review The Campaign, a pretty stock standard Will Ferrell farce about two numskulls vying for a congressional seat in a small town.

Ferrell plays his usual douche self who expects to earn another trip to DC unopposed, but a semi-retarded man played by Zach Galifianakis is somehow manipulated by corrupt businessmen to run against Ferrell so they can profit from a Chinese company (go figure). Retardation ensues as the two start getting down and dirty with outrageous plots to derail the other’s campaign.

If you know Ferrell’s brand of comedy and Galifianakis’s brand of comedy then it’s likely The Campaign will offer few surprises. It’s a lot of stupidity and randomness for about 85 minutes, a welcome length because the film starts to lose steam towards the end.

That said, there are some decent moments in The Campaign, and if you were lucky to have missed the spoilers in the trailers then you might find it rather enjoyable. Many of the jokes are borderline offensive or just plain offensive, but because they are almost always self-deprecating and take jabs at the usual politician antics they aren’t difficult to stomach or even appreciate. Both Ferrell and Galifianakis are in fine form and they do have nice chemistry on screen together.

At the end of the day, The Campaign is a forgettable comedy, but it’s also a pretty damn funny one (for the most part).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Watch (2012)

the-watch-poster

Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty good together in Dodgeball, so I thought would give The Watch a shot. Without giving too much away (and there are potential spoilers), it’s about a bunch of average guys who decide to form a neighbourhood watch when locals start dying under weird circumstances.

The main foursome who form the neighbourhood watch are Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (an English comedian I’ve never heard of). They get up to stupid, juvenile stuff, predictably, until a discovery that puts their lives in real danger. There’s a lot of screaming in feigned fear and plenty of vulgar and sexualised jokes but sadly not a lot of originality or wit. In fact, I found the whole film strangely dull despite all the energetic stuff that was happening on screen.

Part of the problem is that Stiller and Vaughn (and to some extent Hill) seem to be playing the exact same characters with the same personalities and traits in every movie. Stiller is the bumbling nice guy who wants to be something more, and Vaughn is the deadpan specialist, while Hill is the awkward fatty. There’s just nothing fresh about it and they feel like actors playing themselves rather than characters.

I’ll admit, there were a few times in The Watch where the inner juvenile in me found a joke in the film funny — but these moments were few and far in between. As much I as enjoy these group buddy movies as much as the next guy, this one was uninspiring and forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 8

Men in Black 3 (2012)

mib3-poster

I still remember the hype surrounding the original Men In Black in 1997, which officially catapulted Will Smith into big screen superstardom. I also vividly remember watching Men In Black II in 2002, and falling asleep during it. So when Men In Black III, which comes 10 years after the sequel, hit our cinemas, I didn’t have much interest, though I did eventually catch it on DVD.

This time, with Tommy Lee Jones quite literally “too old for this shit,” they got Josh Brolin to play a younger version of Agent K to team up with Will Smith’s Agent J in a plot commonly seen for third movies in a franchise — time travel, in the vein of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (classic film and arcade game).

As expected, MIB III was a tired old affair trying to milk the dollars. It wasn’t horrible, and it was an undoubted upgrade over its immediate predecessor, but there just wasn’t anything that could get me excited. I love aliens as much as the next X-File fan, though in this case they weren’t enough. Josh Brolin was surprisingly good and convincing as the younger Tommy Lee, who still got top billing despite the very limited screen time, though there were just too many Will Smith-esque dry jokes for my liking.

I know some critics found the film unassuming and fun, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. And I can’t believe they have confirmed another one.

2 stars out of 5

Ted (2012)

Ted-movie-poster

I keep reminding myself to watch more of Seth MacFarlane’s stuff, especially the sharp and cutting Family Guy, but for whatever reason I just haven’t found the time. I was fortunate enough to watch Ted on a long-haul flight last year, and notwithstanding the effects of my soothing in-flight Xanax, I found the film to be a cracking good time. Not perfect by any means, but different enough and funny enough to make it one of the standout comedies of the year.

Marky Mark Wahlberg plays John, a kid whose wish that his teddy bear — Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) — would come to life. Sure, they are celebrities for a while, but eventually they grow up and have the face the realities of life, including John’s girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis.

At its core, Ted is a buddy movie where one is a screw-up (in this case the teddy) who holds the other guy back from realizing his full potential, but in all honesty the film is all about the laughs and the crude jokes. The script is somewhat inconsistent, but when it comes to generating laughs, Ted delivers. There are times when MacFarlane tiptoes around the edges of good taste (and in some cases steps over the bounds), but it really depends on what your personal limits are. For me, the vast majority of it was fine, and even the ones that were dangerous elicited a guilty chuckle.

MacFarlane does a wicked Ted, with a low, alcoholic voice laced with a thick Boston accent. Marky Mark is also perfect playing his typical dropkick-with-a-heart-of-gold character, and Mila Kunis shines as his sassy girlfriend. Special mention goes out to Giovanni Ribisi, who delivers a hilarious performance as a psycho obsessed with Ted.

In all, Ted is an acquired taste that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but as warped as it is the film is also undoubtedly funny.

4 stars out of 5

Flight (2012)

flight-poster-US

Denzel being Denzel is pretty much how I would sum up Flight, Robert Zemeckis’s (trying saying that quickly three times) first live action film since the awesome What Lies Beneath from 2000.

Denzel plays Whip, a skilled airline pilot who dabbles in women, alcohol and drugs. But when he miraculously lands a crashing plane and saves nearly everyone on board, he is hailed a hero — until the authorities start looking into his toxicology reports. Should the pilot’s state of mind and body be relevant if it wasn’t his fault that the plane was crashing in the first place? Shouldn’t all that matter be the fact that he saved people’s lives? And just how far would you go to protect your reputation even if it isn’t real? Those are the type of questions Flight asks its viewers.

It’s a fascinating story about truth and addiction and one man’s battle against demons that threaten to consume his life. Denzel is of course brilliant as the complex Whip, which is why he got another Oscar nomination, but the one who stole the show for me was Brit Kelly Reilly (I last saw her in the 2008 horror Eden Lake with Michael Fassbender), who plays a recovering drug addict with demons of her own.

Flight is a heavy drama tackling depressing issues, so there was a sense of gloom throughout the whole film, but you know the emotional lift will come eventually after Whip hits rock bottom. In that sense I found the whole thing a little predictable, though I can’t deny the effectiveness of the dramatic sequences and the performances. It’s one of those films you can appreciate but won’t be much more than a fuzzy memory in a few years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Smiley (2012)

smiley-poster-internacional-399x600

I was surfing YouTube for film trailers one day at work and I kept seeing ads on the right hand column for this slasher flick called Smiley, featuring a killer with — you guessed it — a mutilated smiley face. The trailer looked generic and horrible but I watched it anyway, and it is a decision I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

In short, Smiley is one of the worst movies of the year. Pathetic and derivative plot, laughable acting and zero scares, not even visceral ones. The idea  is a mish mash rip off of Candyman and Scream — that if you type a silly phrase into a webchat three times, Smiley will show up and kill the person on the other side. Of course, some moronic girl, played by Caitlin Gerard, decides to do it, and watching Smiley kill someone traumatizes her. The bodies then start piling up, and surprise surprise, no one believes her and thinks she’s going crazy. This was about the same point I wondered whether I was going crazy because surely the film could not be this abhorrent. But it was.

Caitlin Gerard is pretty to look at but all that crying and screaming and acting scared convinced no one. Even at 95 minutes I wondered regularly if the film was ever going to end. The end.

0.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 7

Dark Shadows (2012)

dark shadows

During my 9 month studying at Cambridge between 2008-2009, the only extra-curricular event I attended without being invited is a session about Dark Shadows, the cult American gothic soap opera from the 1960s. I didn’t know anything about the show at all, but it was about TV/entertainment and it had a horror slant to it, so I figured it was good enough for someone bored out of their mind from reading law textbooks all day. So on that afternoon, I saw an episode of the show, and heard that a movie version was in the works directed by Tim Burton, and of course, Johnny Depp. I thought it had potential.

Fast forward to last year, and Dark Shadows the movie was finally here, with Depp as the protagonist vampire Barnabas Collins and Eva Green as his jealous ex-lover. The all-star cast also features Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley.

Though technically a horror, Dark Shadows intended to be a campy comedy about a vampire locked away for two centuries before being released in 1972. Most of the jokes, therefore, stem from Depp’s clueless attitude towards the “modern” world and the people who inhabit it, kind of like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.

Unfortunately, while not horrible, Dark Shadows was rather lame and elicited few chuckles. It was pretty to look at, but the whole film was a tiring affair with obvious gags and not a lot of life (and I don’t mean that as a joke because vampires are supposed to be dead). To be fair, it was always going to be a difficult task to make a film based on a 60s TV show, but in this case it had me wondering whether they completely wasted their own and everyone else’s time. There just wasn’t anything inspiring or memorable about it. Encino Man was so bad it was awesome. Dark Shadows isn’t anything.

2 stars out of 5

The Words (2012)

the words

A seemingly interesting film that really doesn’t say much in the end. Bradley Cooper plays (like he does in Limitless) an impossibly handsome but struggling writer, who finds a riveting manuscript he decides to pass off as his own. But of course, he was never going to get away with it, and must face the consequences, including answering to his wife, Zoe Saldana.

To make matters more complicated, Cooper and Saldana’s story is actually a book written by Dennis Quaid, and he’s unveiling the story at a public reading. Meanwhile, there’s Olivia Wilde, an attendee at the reading who gets cozy with Quaid but can’t figure out how much of the story is autobiographical. And to really mess with you, when Cooper is confronted by the real author, he is told the story of how the manuscript came to be.

On the surface, The Words looks like three-tiered a morality tale, a story within a story within a story that tells us it’s naughty to steal someone’s work. And for most of the movie, I was hoping it would turn out to be something really intelligent and thought-provoking. But eventually I realized that it was just a bunch of contrived plot tricks masquerading as a clever movie, one that never really provides any answers or a satisfactory conclusion.

That said, as I kept hoping to be impressed and was curious about the questions the film raised, I was completely engaged for the majority of the film’s 96-minute running time. Unfortunately the payoff was a huge disappointment, but at least it wasn’t boring.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: Ironically, the film was accused of having ripped off a German novel (true fact).

The Five Year Engagement (2012)

The_Five-Year_Engagement_4

I thought The Five Year Engagement looked like a pretty “meh” film from the trailers, to be honest, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised by how funny, warm and genuine it felt.

Emily Blunt and Jason Segel, who have amazing chemistry in this, are a couple who get engaged but then for various reasons are unable to marry and keep extending the engagement (for guess how long?). From work to deaths to misunderstandings and mishaps and temptations, the engagement just keeps going and going. I thought it would get tedious after a while but somehow director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) keeps it interesting by varying things up with jokes couples can relate to, plus the occasional bit of wacky or random humor.

It’s one of those films where you’re likely to find yourself rooting for them to stay together because the leads and the characters they are playing are so likable and they make such a sweet couple, but at the same time the circumstances make you wonder whether things are just not meant to be. As a result the film’s tone is infused with a sense of bittersweet melancholy — that mixes unexpectedly well with the light humour.

I wouldn’t call it an excellent film, but The Five Year Engagement is certainly one of the better rom-coms of the year.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Babymakers (2012)

babymakers

This was another attempt to cash in on the adult comedy market with a crude, outrageous jokes, but according to Wikipedia the film made about $8,000. I don’t think it’s that bad, but it’s not particularly funny and there’s nothing really helping it stand out from the rest of the pack.

Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Paul Schneider (Parks & Recreation) are a couple trying to get pregnant without much luck. Schneider discovers that his boys aren’t exactly swimming but remembers that he used to donate regularly to the local sperm bank years ago, when his boys were more capable swimmers.

But for some reason the bank won’t budge and Schneider intends to break in to steal his “stuff”, along with his buddies and a “professional” played by the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar. Craziness ensues.

Sounds like a fun premise — a heist film where the bank is filled with something other than money — and I have to admit there were moments when The Babymakers elicited a chuckle here and there. But the humour was too sporadic and was overshadowed by all the gross-out stuff that was completely unnecessary (sperm plays a large role, as you can imagine) and frankly not all that funny. And the film just trips and falls flat on its face by the end.

I like Olivia Munn from watching The Newsroom and she does have some comedic chops, as does Schneider, but sadly The Babymakers’ few good jokes were lost in a sea of crap ones.

2.25 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 6

This Means War (2012)

this_means_war

I don’t really care for Reese Witherspoon, but I do like Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and I love Bane (Tom Hardy), and so I checked out This Means War, a romantic comedy about a couple of CIA operatives going to extreme lengths to win over the girl of their dreams.

The central joke comes from the farcical premise that two supposedly highly trained and professional men would backstab each other and use government resources for the sake of love. A lot of the laughs come from the guys trying to one-up each other and using their special agent skills for moronic purposes. (I don’t get it, personally, why Reese is so appealing, but I guess that’s just me.)

Unfortunately, This Means War cannot escape the fate of the generic rom-com. The idea is a good one, but it’s no more than a mildly amusing, silly, and unmemorable film trying to get by on the charm of its three stars. The editing is messy and the action scenes are poorly done. The intention of the craziness is to create some fun, but I got the feeling that the actors were enjoying it a lot more than the viewers.

The film has been savaged by critics but I don’t think it’s that bad, as they are a couple of funny moments here and there, but on the whole it’s just barely passable.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Lucky One (2012)

the-lucky-one-poster

Nicholas Sparks could very well be the devil. He drew us in with his debut, The Notebook, which everyone loves, but then since then we’ve been given one sappy melodrama after another.

The trend continues with The Lucky One, essentially a Zac Efron vehicle about a US marine in Iraq who is saved from a deadly blast because he found a photo of a pretty lady (hence he is “The Lucky One”). After returning home, he sets about finding this woman who “saved his life”, and when he does, he inexplicably starts working for her but can’t bring himself to tell her the truth for some reason.

Typical small town drama ensues, with sceptical busybodies, jealous husbands and young children all thrown into the mix. Of course, Efron plays this perfect guy who is just nice to a fault and the lady (Taylor Schilling) cannot help but fall in love with him. You can guess the rest.

This might be one of Sparks’ better novels — I have no idea — but it’s still a pretty difficult film to stomach. It’s directed by Aussie Scott Hicks, who gave us Shine, so technically the film is very sound. But the emotional manipulation and sappiness is just trite, and watching Efron prance around on screen pretending to be Mr Perfect is quite unbearable.

There is clearly a market for Sparks adaptations or else there wouldn’t be this many. What is clear though is that I don’t belong in this market.

2 stars out of 5

The Dictator (2012)

dictator

I am a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I love the characters Ali G and Borat, which show off his genius at improvisation and ability to generate laughs on so many levels. His main advantage was anonymity, which allowed him to dupe people by pretending to be this outlandish character. Now that he is world famous, Cohen has no choice but to head in the direction of scripted comedy. And unfortunately, he’s just not very funny when he does this.

Like the miserable failure that was Ali G Indahouse, Cohen’s latest effort, The Dictator, just isn’t any good. It’s sad. I can tell he tried, really hard, to infuse some of his trademark lowbrow humor into the script, but you can see the punchlines a mile away. Take away Cohen’s masterful spontaneity and he’s not much more than an average — if not somewhat obnoxious — comedian. He’s simply too obvious.

The Dictator is not a mockumentary like Borat or Bruno, but a straight-up comedy about the tyrannical but moronic ruler of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya. You would have already seen some of the so-called best bits in the trailers, such as the sprinting contest where no one has the guts to beat the great leader. It’s an obvious parody of dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il.

Strangely, the film soon becomes a kind of Coming to America imitator as Cohen’s character is brought to the United States and becomes a regular Joe who has to fit in with the rest of society. He meets a boyish woman played by Anna Faris, meaning lots of sexist jokes, but of course he eventually realizes he may have feelings for her, turning The Dictator into a rom-com as well.

The result is a messy mishmash of genres, tonal unevenness and a lot of bad jokes mixed in with a couple of decent (usually very crude and/or politically incorrect and/or inappropriate ones). There is the occasional bit of satirical sharpness in Cohen’s political messages, though I’d still classify The Dictator as a letdown because it just isn’t consistently funny enough.

2.5 stars out of 5

Wanderlust (2012)

Wanderlust-Poster

One of my favourite actors (Paul Rudd) teams up again with one of my least favourite actresses (Jennifer Aniston) to bring us Wanderlust, about a financially strapped couple who escape society by moving to a hippy commune full of weird and wacky characters. (The two had previously worked together on 1998’s The Object of My Affection, and also on a lengthy arc in Friends.)

This is an interesting idea with great potential for laughs, and I was surprised that the film lived up to the potential somewhat. It’s a good movie for people who enjoy random humour and unusual situations, as there’s plenty of both. It makes fun of the “free love”, “non-violent” principles of such communes, but it’s not done in a mean-spirited way and actually makes them likable as opposed to just bizarre characters. So I guess what I am saying is that this is a rare movie that has both genuine laughs and heart.

The role of the husband is tailor-made for Rudd, who is at his best as the awkward bumbler who gets in over his head. Aniston, I will admit, is not too bad here either in this role (by that I mean not annoying). Her real life beau, Justin Theroux, almost steals the show as the nutty leader of the commune, and has probably the most hilarious sequences in the movie. Also worth noting are the couple who play Rudd’s intolerable brother and sister-in-law, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins. They are awesome.

Wanderlust did awful at the box office but I think it’s a little gem of a comedy with some real wit and several laugh-out-loud nuggets of gold. It loses some steam towards the end and got unnecessarily messy in trying to create a crisis to serve as the film’s climax, but I think it is definitely one of the more underrated comedies of 2012.

3.75 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 5

Man on a Ledge (2012)

20130801-224136.jpg

The aptly titled Man on a Ledge is about — wait for it — a man (Sam Worthington) on a ledge. It looks like he’s there to commit suicide, but there’s more to the story because Worthington is actually an ex-policeman turned ex-crim who stole a very valuable diamond from a douchey businessman played by Ed Harris. Elizabeth Banks plays a negotiator with the most perfect hair in the world despite being summoned at a second’s notice, and Anthony Mackie is Worthington’s old partner. And Ed Burns plays an officer with the most annoying voice in the world (actually, that’s just because he’s Ed Burns).

Man on a Ledge is a fairly interesting film with a nice set up but it should have been a lot better. It’s a crime thriller that works backwards in the sense that you start off at a climatic situation without knowing what is going on, and the film takes you through various twists to turns to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Personally, I like such films, but the execution here is too weak to make the film compelling. Apart from the implausible plot and the even more impossible stuff that happens in the film, the tension was never there — even though you have a man standing on the ledge of a building the whole time!

Sadly, despite the great cast and interesting set up, Man on a Ledge is straight-to-DVD fodder.

2.5 stars out of 5

Piranha 3DD (2012)

20130801-224054.jpg

I watched the predecessor to this film, Piranha 3D, for some reason I cannot recall. I had been expecting a gimmicky Jaws-like tribute in 3D that was enjoyable in a campy sort of way. As it turned out, it was gratuitously gory, tasteless and not nearly fun enough. It was a film made for the stupid generation who just want to see naked girls and carnage. I think I gave it 2 stars, even though looking back on it I can’t see how it could have been so high.

The title of the sequel, Piranha 3DD, should give audiences a fair idea of what they are in for. With a smaller budget (US$5m vs US$24m for the first film) and a lesser known cast, Piranha 3DD tried to make up for it by upping the gore and tastelessness to a new level, including coming up with possibly the most gruesome sex scene in history (you can take a guess). Maybe I am showing my age again, but is this seriously supposed to be funny? What is wrong with people these days?

I have trouble remembering the plot but it had something to do with a family water park and the prehistoric piranhas being unleashed on the poor patrons. As expected, the carnage is epic and there’s a lot of over-the-top blood and guts and people screaming and fish being blown up. Strangely, I found all of it mind-numbingly dull.

The only positive worth noting from this film, if it can be called that, is an extended cameo from David Hasselhoff as himself, playing a douchebag parody of himself (potentially accurate depiction). Unfortunately, even that is nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers thought it was.

0.5 star out of 5

Project X (2012)

20130801-223941.jpg

I don’t care if everyone else in the world liked it or thought it was making some kind of meaningful social statement — Project X is without a doubt one of the worst films of 2012. This is one movie I will gladly admit I didn’t get it.

The film is allegedly based on the antics of Corey Worthington, the worthless Melbourne party boy who shot to international fame for about 15 seconds after holding a party at his parents’ house that spiralled out of control. The story itself was newsworthy, I get it, but I just didn’t understand why people think trashing your parents’ house is a cool thing to do.

That didn’t mean Project X had to suck though. But it did. Badly.

As the story goes, three friends want to throw a party to make themselves more popular. They invite a lot of people and the invitations go viral, and as a result the house is flooded with losers. Drinking, dancing, drugs, sex, infantile behaviour — all the stuff you would expect — ensues, before things get so out of control that police, firefighters and media descend upon them.

The movie is largely captured by a handheld camera belonging to one of the three protagonists, which adds to the obnoxiousness of the whole affair. If the movie was actually funny it would have made a huge difference on my opinion but sadly it was criminally unfunny, so much so that I have genuine fears about the future of humanity. It would be false advertising to market this movie as a comedy.

Add on top of that unoriginal, mean-spirited, moronic, charmless, and infuriating (and many more words not suited for this family-friendly blog), and what you end up with is one of the worst movies of the year, or any year. Sometimes movies are just bad. Project X is loathsome.

PS: It’s frightening that a sequel is in the works.

0.25 stars out of 5 — and only because I don’t believe in zero stars

Iron Sky (2012)

20130801-223846.jpg

I was excited about Iron Sky, or at least the concept of Iron Sky, which is about Nazis who fled to the moon (and colonised it) after their WWII defeat but are planning their return to conquer the world in 2018. It’s a premise so deliciously outrageous that it seemed like a cult classic waiting to happen.

With great expectations come great disappointment, and unfortunately Iron Sky was at best a mediocre farcical comedy that couldn’t quite get over the hump. The jokes were largely based on the idea that the Nazis were stuck with their primitive 1940s technology and their outdated political ideals, which worked for a while but soon became stale. The tone was also all over the place, making the film feel like a complete mess at times despite the occasional good joke.

The film also employs a cool colour scheme of mostly all greys and blues, which made it almost graphic novel-esque, and I kind of liked it, even though the dreariness got a bit annoying by the end.

In all, it was simply not good enough to be just a good movie, and not bad enough to be a guilty pleasure or cult classic; just a worst place to be for a film — frustratingly mediocre.

2.25 stars out of 5