Category Archives: 2015

Ip Man 3 (2015)

ip man 3

I remember seeing either Ip Man 1 or 2 on TV while out at lunch one day, and I thought to myself, man, this movie sucks. Yeah, the fight scenes are pretty good, but it was pretty much Team China vs nasty, evil, big-nosed white people who can’t act.

Apparently, I’m in the minority, because everyone seems to love the Ip Man movies, which explains why they made Ip Man 3, AND managed to get Mike Tyson to go up against Donnie Yen for an epic showdown.

So is Ip Man 3 actually any good? Yes and no. Again, I came away thinking the film was a little tacky. It has a very simple plot with a righteous protagonist who might as well be Asian Jesus because all he can do is good. And of course, the film milks the fact that Bruce Lee was Ip Man’s student for the third time in three movies. So if you’re looking for high quality storytelling and drama, you’re not going to get it here.

Having said that, Donnie Yen is actually a much better actor than people give him credit for, and he makes Ip Man likable despite the obvious contrivances written into the film to make him too good to be true. I get that he’s a great martial artist and Wing Chun master, but they make him basically unbeatable, so the vulnerability never feels real. Plus I really don’t see the need to make him an all-round super bloke on top of that, a fantastic husband and father who also happens to be super wise. It makes him a little boring.

And then there are the fight scenes. They are absolutely superb, proving that Yen is not only one of the greatest martial artists alive today, he’s also one of the best fight choreographers there has ever been. Whether it’s solo training or hand-to-hand combat or fighting with weapons, Yen makes  sure it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Quick cuts are cut to a minimum, and the controlled pace and flow create a breathtaking experience.

The Tyson fight scene does not disappoint. The set-up is silly and almost laughable, but when they start going toe-to-toe it becomes a majestic chess match of grace against power. Tyson shows off some of the moves that once made him the “baddest man alive”, while Yen does a great job in showing off the contrasting styles between the two fighters.

So while Ip Man 3 is still marred by problems commonly seen in Asian martial arts movies, there’s no denying that the film can be exciting and a pure pleasure to watch at times. On a pure spectacle and popcorn entertainment level, the movie delivers in spades. In my opinion it is worth sitting through all the other stuff just for the action scenes alone.

3.25 stars out of 5

Anomalisa (2015)


Like I’ve said many times, I’m not a huge fan of animation. But Anomalisa, the stop-motion passion project of genius writer Charlie Kauffman, is a whole other beast altogether. In the vein of other memorable classics on his resume, like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotlight Mind, this one is unique, utterly unusual, somewhat absurd, and surprisingly full of heart. If I must squeeze the film into the animation category, then Anomalisa is without a doubt my favourite animated film of the year, no small feat considering I really enjoyed Inside Out, the Pixar flick that bested it at the Oscars.

I went into Anomalisa without any idea of what the film is about, which turned out to be both good and bad. As per usual, no spoilers from me, though I think it would be helpful to have an inkling of the premise so you don’t end up completely lost.

Based on a stage play penned by Kauffman, the film follows a middle-aged man named Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) as he heads to Cincinatti for work reasons. The majority of the movie takes place in the hotel where Michael is staying and details his interactions with others people, all of whom are voiced by Tom Noonan and have identical faces (this is important but was lost on me for half the movie). Only one person is different — Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh — and her appearance turns Michael’s life completely upside down.

This is one weird-ass film, but it’s also completely absorbing and riveting to watch for several reasons. First of all, you never know where the plot is heading — it’s a wild, wacky ride, and you simply have to surrender yourself to Kauffman and trust him to handle the rest.

Secondly, the animation is captivating. All the characters are eerily life-like, save for a strange crack on the sides of the heads. But even the expressions and movements have this human quality to them, which is both amazing and unsettling. It apparently took two years to shoot everything, often a second or two of footage a day — that’s how meticulous it is.

Thirdly, the movie is funny — really, really funny. In typical Kauffman fashion, the humour is often awkward and dark, but it sure is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And there aren’t many cheap jokes either — everything is dialogue, characters and situation. Fantastic use of profanity too.

Fourthly, I just couldn’t believe how much heart the film had — not just for an animated film, but any film. I believed in the characters and what they were saying. I connected with their personalities and I felt their emotions. All of this despite the surreal vibe coursing through the entire film. A good chunk of the credit must go to Thewlis, Leigh and Noonan for their phenomenal voice performances. It shows just how much of acting is in the way the lines are read.

The result is a trippy, funny and poignant experience unlike anything I’d seen before. My only real problem is that the protagonist, Michael, is actually a bit of a douche, and as such it’s not as easy to empathise and sympathise with the guy as Kauffman may think. Apart from that, I have nothing but positive things to say about Anomalisa. I embraced the weirdness and loved it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Pan (2015)


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

The Green Inferno (2015)


When it’s all said and done, The Green Inferno will probably go down as the film that surprised me the most in 2015. Pleasantly surprised, that is.

Eli Roth’s name has been attached to loads of horror movies, but he has actually only directed a handful of them. I loved the one that first made him famous, the wacky Cabin Fever from 2002 (“Pancakes!”), but I wasn’t a fan of the films that made him a household name, Hostel and Hostel: Part II. Last year’s Knock Knock with Keanu, on the other hand, had some good ideas and moments but was ultimately a mixed bag.

To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for The Green Inferno, a homage of sorts to the Italian cannibal films of the 70s and 80s. I’m not a fan of torture porn, and this one, at least from the premise, seemed kinda schlocky.

Roth’s real-life wife, Lorenza Izzo (who was also in Knock Knock), plays Justine, a college student who somehow gets dragged into social activism and ends up on a tree-hugging trip to the Amazon rainforest to save it from loggers. As you already know, they encounter a tribe of cannibals living deep in the jungle, and you can guess what happens next.

I was stunned to learn that the film was screened at TIFF in 2013, but financial difficulties pushed the release back for two whole years. That never instills anyone with optimism.

Having said all that, The Green Inferno is actually a very well-made film that knows exactly what it wants to be. It delivers a subversive, albeit not-very-subtle message, about all the misguided activism going on in the world today, particularly in first world countries like the US. It’s also wicked funny, satirically and otherwise, channeling fond memories of Cabin Fever. Horror-wise, it does have some gory, confronting and nauseating scenes, but the atmosphere is crafted so well that it’s more likely to elicit nervous laughter than genuine screams. It’s one of those films that challenges you to look away and not look away at the same time. I can understand why Stephen King raved about this movie.

I initially thought The Green Inferno was going to be a bunch of boring fillers for about 30 minutes, and then an hour straight of torture porn. I could not have been more wrong. The start of the film was actually interesting and hooked me into the story. The characters are of course not fully three-dimensional people, but they’re more than just caricatures waiting to bite the dust. They each have their own traits and, after a while, you get to know who they are and what their personalities are like. The standout has to be Ariel Levy, who plays the leader of the activists. He’s just so deliciously over-the-top that you can’t help but laugh at what a complete douche he is.

As for the horror, you kind of already know that you’re going to get lots of blood, limbs, guts and gore. Admittedly, there were a few scenes where I had to turn my head to the side a little, though they weren’t the ones I had expected. Unlike Hostel, where it’s more authentic torture porn, The Green Inferno feels more satirical, perhaps even “lighter”, if that’s a term you can use to describe graphic, cannibalistic violence. There’s a fair amount of humour threaded through the entire film, often as a tension reliever during some of the most horrific moments. It brings a levity to the experience and reminds us that Roth isn’t taking the movie very seriously.

Now, I’m not going to get into the accusations of exploitation, racism and xenophobia that some critics have levelled at the film. I know they got a real tribe of people to portray the cannibals, but it’s a satirical, fictional film about a fictional tribe. Get over it. No fear of Amazonian tribes aroused by this film will have any impact on real life or the real world. If anything, the tribe should be commended for their convincing performances.

Of course, everything I’ve said about The Green Inferno is relative to expectations and perceptions. Praise it as I may, this is still an exploitation film about cannibals in the Amazon, complete with cheesy dialogue and mostly average acting. You’re not going to find a lot of depth here. But you know what? I’ve seen other exploitation films in the same vein, and none of them have been as compelling and watchable as The Green Inferno. It’s savage, it’s darkly comedic, and it has a slightly cheeky vibe that balances out the sheer terror of the visceral carnage. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and I sure didn’t think it would be mine, but I must admit I found it to be an entertaining and fun — albeit sometimes uncomfortable — experience.

3.75 stars out of 5

Daddy’s Home (2015)


Will Ferrell’s comedy has always been an acquired taste. For me it’s a little hit and miss, even when it comes to his best stuff, like Anchorman. Which is why is surprises me to say that I laughed a lot when watching Daddy’s Home, his latest effort and second collaboration with Marky Mark Wahlberg (with the first being The Other Guys).

The premise is this: Ferrell plays Brad, a bit of a wuss who is stepdad to two kids after marrying the lovely Sarah (Linda Cardellini). As the title suggests, the biological father of the kids, cool dad Dusty, suddenly announced he is dropping by for a visit. Chaos ensues as the two grown men battle it out to one up each other in the daddy stakes.

One of the advantages I had when watching Daddy’s Home was that I didn’t see much of the trailers, which I assume spoiled some of the film’s best jokes. Having also been underwhelmed by The Other Guys, I went into this one with low expectations. And perhaps I was in the right mood for some stupidity, because I certainly laughed a lot throughout Daddy’s Home, easily obliterating the 6-laugh test for a good comedy.

If you’ve seen any Will Ferrell comedy you’ll know his style — moronic, awkward and with a touch of the random, plus some over-the-top slapstick. A lot of the gags in Daddy’s Home are indeed stupid and immature, but for the most part I think it does a good job of being crude without falling into gross-out, vulgar or gratuitous comedy.

The strength of the film still lies in the charismatic paring of Ferrell and Walhberg, who has proven many times that he has the comedic chips when called upon to display them. They already had great chemistry in The Other Guys, but that film felt like it tried too hard to create gags out of the police action premise. This time, being in a domestic setting, the ambitions are lower but as a result the jokes are also simpler and more effective. Part of it also stems from the design of their characters’ personalities, which suit the actors really well and allows them to play off each other with a lot of juvenile fun, but never in a vicious way. Maybe it’s because I’m a father too, because I can certainly appreciate the lengths grown men would go to impress their kids.

The supporting cast is also great, in particular Hannibal Buress, who is funny more because of his delivery than his actual lines, and Thomas Haden Church, who digs back into the archives of Ned and Stacey fora classic deadpan performance. I do wish Linda Cardellini could have been a little more than just the straight-face character though because she can definitely deliver laughs when given the chance.

There are of course a fair share of misses along the way, though in my opinion the jokes that don’t work are easily outweighed by the ones that do. I particularly liked the basketball set piece, which was hilarious just from the perspective of it being a playoff game between the cellar-dwelling Lakers and Pelicans and Kobe still being a dominant player!

In all, this is one of Will Ferrell’s more likable comedies in recent years. While it perhaps doesn’t take full advantage of the satirical possibilities the premise offers, it is a film that plays to Ferrell’s strengths as a comedian while minimising his annoying tendencies that tend to make watching his movies cumbersome after a while. He seems comfortable in this family setting and with the character he plays, and as a result the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It might not be a classic or even a memorable film, but as a generic, formulaic stupid comedy, Daddy’s Home is plenty of fun.

3.5 stars out of 5

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

secret in their eyes

Hollywood remakes seldom live up to the originals, especially if the original as an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. That’s unfortunately also the case for Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentine film El secreto de sus ojos (review here) that took home the gong in 2010, even though the Hollywood version features heavyweights such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, as well as Alfred Molina and familiar TV faces such as Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Michael Kelly (House of Cards).

I remember hearing about the remake years ago and was surprised that it took them this long to finally release it. Most of the elements of the original are there, but the setting is of course changed to the United States and the time period updated to the post-911 world. The story is essentially the same in that it revolves around a tragic incident that forever changes the lives of three people in different ways. Thirteen years later, the ghost of the past resurfaces, and the narrative switches back and forth between the two periods as we gradually piece together the shocking mystery.

Like the original, Secret in Their Eyes is a slow burn of a film with some intense moments, brutal violence and heavy drama. It is a tribute to the Argentine film that when I watched the remake I was able to recall the exact same scenes I saw more than five years ago. The execution by writer and director Billy Ray (best known for directing Shattered Glass and penning the scripts for The Hunger Games and Captain Phillips) is solid, though for some reason the film never managed to fully grip me like the original. Part of it is that it was sometimes difficult to tell which time period we were in (they all aged well), and another part is that the atmosphere wasn’t as well-crafted. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the original I would have thought differently, but now I’ll never know,

The performances from the two Oscar winners and one Oscar nominee are, needless to say, splendid. Ejiofor, who plays an obsessive FBI agent in the counter-terrorism unit, carries the film pretty much from start to finish with his usual intensity and emotion, while Nicole Kidman, a district attorney, fulfills her role with grace and underlying fierceness. That said, the chemistry between the two could have been stronger, making the relationship less involving than it otherwise should have been. Julia Roberts is the standout of the trio. It’s an extremely difficult role to portray, but she does it without underselling or overcooking her performance.

I’m somewhat surprised by the film’s low 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and score of 45 on Metacritic. It’s perhaps a little disappointing given how remarkable the original film was and the incredible cast, but in my mind it’s certainly a much better movie than the reviews suggest. My wife, who has not seen the original, didn’t think it was great but thought it was quite a compelling and gut-wrenching story, and I can’t disagree with her assessment. Flaws notwithstanding, this is a very solid film that probably should have been more, though certainly not a failure by any means.

3.5 stars out of 5

Concussion (2015)


“Tell the truth,” Will Smith (and Jada)! Concussion didn’t deserve any Oscar nominations!

After all the hoopla about how the Smiths boycotted last month’s Academy Awards because of a perceived snub against the film — and in particular, the Fresh Prince’s portrayal of Dr Bennet Omalu — I decided it was time that I checked out this controversial flick about the deviating effects of repeated head injuries in the NFL.

As the true story goes, Omalu (Smith), a Nigerian forensic pathologist, performs an autopsy on former gridiron great Mike Webster (David Morse), who suffered from terrifying mental illness in his post-playing days prior to his death. He found it bizarre that Webster turned out that way despite his apparent sound physical health, and further investigation and research led him to conclude that repeated head trauma incurred throughout a long career in football was the cause behind a disorder he refers to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Needless to say, this finding doesn’t go down too well with a lot of people (I thought it was common sense that getting concussed isn’t good for your brain, but whatever), from organisations that make billions out of the brain jolting to casual lovers of America’s No. 1 sport. As you might expect, Omalu is faced with loads of obstacles, abuse and threats, but the determined dude soldiers on to force the NFL to “Tell the truth!”

First of all, I’m going to address the controversial inaccuracies before casting them aside. I didn’t know how closely the film followed real life until I read up about it later, so I’m not going to let that affect my initial impressions. It does appear that Concussion took a lot of “artistic liberties” with the truth, and while some of it can be attributed to the same people who wanted to silence Omalu in the first place, there are several  irrefutable facts that are clearly manipulated for movie purposes. But let’s not pretend Concussion is the first “true story” to have a few fictional elements.

My problem with Concussion is that it comes across as far too neat, far too conventional, and far too shallow for what is supposed to be a complex, explosive, adrenaline-pumping drama about something so many Americans care deeply about. While it is well-made for what it is, the film follows a familiar Hollywood trajectory that hits predictable plot markers all the way through. You know he’s going to find something and you know it’s going to stir up trouble and you know he’s going to fight. There’s really nothing that will catch you off guard.

To be fair, there is sufficient intrigue — largely thanks to the subject matter — to maintain interest, and the performances from the all-star cast add a nice touch of class to what is obviously a top notch production. But the overwhelming vibe I got from watching the movie is “packaged”. Its depiction of the scandal is extremely simple, straightforward and one-sided, and for a story like this you almost need it to be messier and to have more risk-taking.

That scene in all the trailers where an emotional Omalu demands that they “Tell the truth!” is a great illustration of my point. You can tell it’s been set up as Will’s big “Oscar moment”, from the lighting to the camera angles to the fact that Omalu had never been anything close to as animated as he was, making the outburst somewhat jarring. I imagine they had planned for the clip to be played during the introduction of the Best Actor nominees at the Oscars ceremony. You know they did.

Will Smith typically plays characters with clean images, and Omalu is unfortunately also portrayed as a saint, which I believe is to the detriment of the film. He’s a man of God and science, a genius with more than half a dozen degrees, and a perfect gentleman with the utmost manners and integrity. He’s a little eccentric but not socially inept or odd, and the only time he loses his temper is when he wants people to “Tell the truth!”

It’s fine if that’s who Omalu really is, but from some accounts he’s actually quite a flamboyant character who doesn’t mind the finer things in life. Wouldn’t a complex protagonist be a lot more interesting than some boring, lionised hero who always does the right thing against all odds?

None of this is a criticism of Smith, who delivers another stellar performance notwithstanding his lack of physical resemblance to the real Omalu (think a shorter, chubbier version of David Oyelowo, who actually would have been an awesome choice). And you could have fooled me that Smith’s African accent wasn’t shaky because it sounded pretty good to my untrained ears.

The rest of the cast is also very solid, with Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks being the standouts along with rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who feels slightly wasted in the love interest role.

In other words, the fundamentals of a good drama are all there. Writer and director Peter Landesman also doesn’t press too hard on the audience manipulation, setting up the impactful moments but not shoving the emotions down our throats (apart from “Tell the truth!”). For some, that might actually be a negative, as there are audiences who no doubt prefer to be told how to feel (a la The Blind Side).

Concussion is therefore not a bad film, but it’s also an unremarkable one. While the subject matter and overall quality of the production guarantee a viewing experience of a certain level, the decision to play it safe and stick to the oft-used blueprint for true stories/biopics denies it the opportunity to rise above the pack in the way that Spotlight did. And that’s the truth!

3.25 stars out of 5

Trumbo (2015)


I heard about Trumbo quite some time ago because I worship at the altar of Bryan Cranston, but I never really got the urge to see it until Oscar season, when Mr Cranston was duly nominated for Best Actor. It just seemed like one of those movies: a well-made, well-acted, albeit somewhat boring Oscar bait.

Well, I’m glad to say that despite my reservations, I enjoyed Trumbo a great deal. It’s a fascinating true story (though I know it has been criticised for historical inaccuracies) with universal themes that are still relevant today, and the brilliant cast led by Cranston does a magnificent job of conveying the tale in a breezy but respectable fashion. It is indeed a drama that might have had Academy voters in mind, but boring it definitely is not.

For those who don’t know, Trumbo follows the life of legendary scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was imprisoned and blacklisted by Hollywood due to his active membership in the Communist Party during the McCarthy era. I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea  who he was before I watched the film, because the dude penned some of the most classic films ever made, and he seemed to do it with ease and inhuman speed.

It’s actually a very simple film that runs chronologically and with quite a conventional structure. But director Jay Roach (who surprisingly directed the Austin Powers films and Meet the Parents, but more recently has delved into more political topics like Game Change and The Campaign) does a solid job of taking advantage of the simplicity in his execution, keeping the story flowing and the characters developing all the time without ever making it difficult for mainstream audiences to follow.

Consequently, Trumbo is unlikely to wow many people, though it’s hard to deny that it is still fun, educational and enjoyable. While the tone is light, it knows when it has to get serious to bring out the drama and conflict, and Roach manages to transition between the two with commendable ease.

And the cast, the glorious cast. Apart from Cranston, you’ve got the marvellous Dame Helen Mirren as a snarky anti-communist columnist, Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Elle Fanning as the daughter, John Goodman as a studio exec, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis CK, Alan Tudyk, David James Elliot (remember the guy from TV’s JAG?), and special mention to Dean O’Gorman, a dead ringer for his character Kirk Douglas. Little did I know O’Gorman’s actually played Fili in The Hobbit. All that star power doesn’t overwhelm the film, and each of them are so good that you nearly forget that you’re watching recognisable actors.

Having said all that, the trade-off with the lightness and simple fun of Trumbo is that it inevitably has less layers and emotional impact. The result is a very good movie that falls short of being great or memorable.

3.75 stars out of 5

Point Break (2015)

point break

I swear, I was all pumped to hop on the Point Break remake bandwagon. The 1991 original with Keanu and Swayze was a guilty pleasure of mine growing up. It was cool, exciting and extremely rewatchable. I must have seen it at least half a dozen times, mostly on TV reruns. And I didn’t even know until a few years ago that it was directed by future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), though in hindsight her trademark intensity was indeed all over the movie.

As you may recall, the film is about a young FBI agent named Johnny Utah who investigates a bank robbery case and ends up infiltrating a surf gang led by a mysterious and charismatic leader called Bodhi. Of course, Utah grows close to Bodhi over time and begins to question where his loyalties lie.

I don’t know how the film holds up today, but I agree that a remake was completely unnecessary. That said, the trailer for Point Break 2015 didn’t look all that bad, upping the ante from regular surfing to extreme sports all around the world. I had just seen Edgar Ramirez in Joy and thought he had the charisma to pull off Bodhi, and while no one would ever be “dude” enough to replace Keanu, I’m always up for supporting Aussie actors like Luke Bracey, who plays Johnny Utah. Bracey hasn’t wowed me with his past performances like November Man with Pierce Brosnan and Nicholas Sparks’ The Best of Me, but at least he’s still better than Jai Courtney.

Point Break 2015 turned out to be one of the biggest flops of the year, both critically and commercially, scoring a paltry 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and making just US$100 million worldwide against a mammoth US$130 million production budget. In all honesty, I went into this one hoping to play devil’s advocate. I wanted to be the guy to tell everyone that Point Break 2015 isn’t as bad as it has been made out to be.

Unfortunately, I can’t. For once, the critics and audiences got it right. The film sucks sweaty balls on a hot summer’s day. There are just so many things wrong with it, starting from the fact that it didn’t even need to be called Point Break. And it shouldn’t have been because there are substantial differences. Change the characters’ names and make a few more tweaks around the edges and you could have called this something else altogether. It wouldn’t have made everybody who didn’t want a remake roll their eyes, and it wouldn’t have been doomed with expectations it can’t possibly live up to. So that’s mistake number one.

Secondly, the script is really, really bad. In short, it tries way to hard. In trying to be a cool new take on the original story or even an homage, screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (whose other winning writing efforts include the 2012 Total Recall remake and the shitty Law Abiding Citizen from 2009) arbitrarily takes bits from the 1991 script and actually makes them lamer. Apart from all the contrivances and stuff that makes little sense, the dialogue is atrocious and occasionally laughable, and there’s just no cohesive narrative thread. It’s like a bunch of set pieces that has been forcibly stringed together, with a few key plot points from the original thrown in there to guide the plot. On top of that there’s this spiritual journey BS and silly mystical quest business that I didn’t buy at all. The more seriously the characters took it the less I believed in it.

Thirdly, the film is surprisingly dull. You would think with all these extreme sport scenes it would be one adrenaline rush after another. Instead, what we got was a lot of CGI-heavy sequences that looked quite fake. And instead of getting your blood pumping all it does is make you wonder why people would do such stupid things. I remember there were some wonderfully executed action sequences in the original, but they were nowhere to be found here. Rather, they filmed at all these amazingly beautiful places around the world and chose a greyish colour tone that just made it look bleak and unattractive.

At the end of the day, the biggest problem is that the film doesn’t make you care about the characters. They aren’t developed at all, so you don’t really give a crap if they live or die. At least with Swayze’s Bodhi I kind of liked him while being wary of what he’s capable of. With Ramirez’s Bodhi I was just indifferent. And while Bracey does his best as Utah, I think we can all agree that he’s no Keanu. It never felt like he was torn between two sides. There was simply no emotional connection to anything he was doing. It’s as though the film takes for granted that audiences know Bodhi and Utah will bond, that Utah will have a love interest, and puts zero effort into actually creating organic relationships and characters that we can believe in.

As for the supporting cast, both Delroy Lindo and Ray Winstone (is he the Gary Busey character?!) look liked they phoned it in. And Aussie Teresa Palmer, who plays the Lori Petty love-interest character but renamed to Samsara (seriously, WTF?), was barely passable in a completely thankless token role.

I didn’t want to dislike Point Break 2015 this much. Sadly, it’s a complete mess, a spastic remake that takes a massive dump on everything that was good about the original. Inexplicably boring for an action thriller, contrived and predictable drama; this is one of those films that make you go what were they thinking? US$130 million for this? Some remakes didn’t need to be made. Point Break 2015 unequivocally should not have been made at all.

1.5 stars out of 5

Brooklyn (2015)


I’d like to say that I saved the best for last, but no, Brooklyn is not the best of the eight Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. It’s a solid movie, though in my opinion also the weakest of the lot. It is, in fact, the only nominee I didn’t genuinely love.

Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name by none other than Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, Brooklyn is a period drama-romance set in the 1950s. It tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who leaves home for the United States (guess which area?) for a job and prospects of a better life. I don’t want to give too much away — I had no idea where the story was heading and probably liked the movie more because of it — except to say that of course she meets a nice young fellow (Emory Cohen), resulting in some classic romance but also plenty of heartache as Eilis finds herself forced to make some difficult choices.

Brooklyn is without a doubt exquisitely made, capturing the look and feel of the era and infusing the narrative with a good dose of nostalgia. It was a more innocent and optimistic time back then, and Crowley does a fine job of developing the young romance in a sweet albeit slightly romanticised way.

Saoirse Ronan delivers a wonderful performance that’s as good as any of the other Best Actress nominees this year (I’d probably still give it to Brie Larson or Charlotte Rampling though), and it’s a delight to hear her speak in her natural accent for once. She was almost good enough to make me forget she was in The Host, one of the biggest atrocities to hit the screen in 2013.

The rest of the cast is solid too, with Emory Cohen showing off enough charm to make us believe in the courtship and the ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson delivering yet another strong, understated performance. Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent — it’s a classy ensemble with no weak links.

Thanks to the script, direction and acting, the central romance works in an awkward and cute way, and not without a touch of humour. I started to like the film, and, as expected, something happens to change its trajectory. I even enjoyed this change of pace and how the plot continues to develop — until a deflating and thoroughly unsatisfying final act that totally ruined it for me. It made me realise that I actually didn’t like the protagonist and I didn’t want to root for her after all.

That shouldn’t take away from all the good Brooklyn delivers, though when a film leaves a bad aftertaste that’s the thing you remember the most. However, even if you discount the disappointing third act, I thought the film would have had more of an impact on me with its depiction of that feeling of fear, uncertainty and homesickness that comes with moving to a foreign land, especially since I had experienced something similar. Not to say there weren’t moments that tugged my heartstrings, though pound for pound, Carol, another period romance-drama fueled by phenomenal performances, was the superior experience for me (that said, neither makes my personal Best Picture list).

It’s always easier to be critical of an acclaimed film because of heightened expectations, and Brooklyn is no different. While I appreciate the quality of the production and the performances, I personally feel there are more deserving films that could have replaced it in the Best Picture category. At the end of the day, Brooklyn is still a fine film, an lovely motion picture with some touching moments, just not one of the top eight of the year.

3.5 stars out of 5