Category Archives: Genre: Romance

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

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First the book, and now the movie. I’m not big on romance, but I consider myself a fan of John Green’s young adult cancer romance novel The Fault in Our Stars. Last week I finally got a chance to see the movie adaptation, directed by Josh Boone (set to direct a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand) and starring rising stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as a pair of cancer-ridden teen lovers.

I went in expecting a tear-jerker and still came close to discharging some saltwater from my eyes, which is no mean feat considering I almost never cry at movies and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I don’t have a problem with films that intend to manipulate viewers into crying as long as it is done in a non-exploitative way, and I think The Fault in Our Stars achieves, and if not comes very close to achieving, that objective. The emotions come not just from the realization that young lovers will inevitably be torn apart, but arise organically from the fact that we care about them and the special relationship that they have.

Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a smart, uncannily self-aware teen living with terminal thyroid cancer. She’s already supposed to be dead, but a fictional experimental drug has miraculously extended her life for an indeterminate period of time. At one of the dreaded support groups her parents send her to, she meets Augustus Waters (Elgort) a former basketball star who lost a leg to osteosarcoma. The attraction is instant, and the two begin a sweet but doomed courtship that will take them from Indiana to halfway across the world.

I thought the book was awesome, and the film does a fantastic job of staying true to its source material. Much of the dialogue is there, the key scenes are all there, and some of Hazel’s inner thoughts are projected to audiences via well-timed but not overused voice-overs. There were some small changes, such as the cutting out of some minor characters and a clever (and arguably more effective) tweak to the ending, but for the most part the adaptation is as smooth as fans of the book could have hoped for, and kudos must go to Josh Boone in creating a tone that captures the essence of John Green’s voice and style.

Admittedly, it is difficult to transfer the love story from the page to the screen without losing something, and if one must nitpick it would have to be the loss of some of the sardonic wit of the novel. Much of it is there through the dialogue and interactions between the characters, but I guess it was too difficult to squeeze in all of Hazel’s astute observations and thoughts about the world and the people around her. But hey, I get that the focus is on the love story, and you can’t blame the filmmakers for sacrificing a bit of humour to make more time for tears.

The casting is also a bit of a mixed bag. Shailene Woodley is magnificent. I don’t know if it’s an Oscar-worthy performance, but in my humble opinion it’s as good as performance Jennifer Lawrence has given. Woodley drives the film from start to finish. She’s sympathetic but not pitiful, charming but not obnoxious, and she brings out the best of the qualities of Hazel as the protagonist.

Ansel Elgort, who incidentally played Woodley’s brother in Divergent, is solid but occasionally struggles as the love of Hazel’s life, Augustus Waters. It’s not an easy role to pull off because he needs to be attractive, witty, considerate and caring, and Elgort achieves that for the most part, though at times he fails express his emotions in pivotal scenes, opting instead for an awkward, supposed-to-be-but-not-really charming smile. But still, he’s better than Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

The supporting cast had some big names but not quite what I expected. Hazel’s mother is played by a rail-thin Laura Dern, who despite her excellent performance was not the actress I had envisioned in the role. Neither was Hazel’s father, played by True Blood’s Sam Trammell, who is given less to do and doesn’t deliver any more than he is given. The strangest casting choice was that of Willem Dafoe as the writer Hazel worships, Peter van Houten. Having read the book, I know the character is supposed to be fat and dishevelled, but Dafoe (despite trying to dress down) is neither, and it was hard reconciling the two in my mind. Even had I not read the book beforehand I probably would have expected more from the performance.

As it turned out, it was the lesser-known Nat Wolff (who appeared in Boone’s first film, Stuck in Love) who steals the show from the other supporting characters in his role as Augustus’s best male friend Isaac, who has already lost one eye to cancer and is about to lose the other. He was exactly how I pictured the character to be and comes across as both affable and genuine.

I can only imagine how my thoughts about the film would differ had I not read the book first, though I imagine it would still be highly positive. This is an easy film to like, with likable characters, a witty and thoughtful take on the bleak subject matter of cancer, and of course plenty of heartbreak mixed in with splashes of beauty and joy. It might still be a teen romance, but it’s a heartfelt and powerful one that does its best to avoid the cliches of the genre with rare wisdom and warmth.

4 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part II

The movies just keep coming, I can’t stop them. Here’s another batch of films I saw recently.

The Calling (2014)

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This was supposed to be good. Susan Sarandon plays a police detective living in a small Canadian town trying to track down a serial killer with illusions of religious grandeur. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either, with the likes of Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, while it’s not as horrible as some critics have made it out to be, The Calling lacked real suspense, emotion and surprise, and will likely become one of those movies no one remembers in a couple of years.

I initially thought The Calling was going to be a horror in the vein of Seven, but that was expecting way too much. The film started off well, building up Sarandon’s alcoholic character as a troubled but capable detective. Gil Bellows made a good right-hand man, and Topher Grace gave the police station a much-needed spark with his presence, though both of those guys were somewhat under-utilised.

The murders were interesting for a while, but after a while you begin to realise that the story’s not nearly as clever as it wants or needs to be. After a lot of build up in the first half there was a distinct lack of tension or intrigue in the second, as the perpetrator is revealed with very little mystery or conflict. I didn’t have a problem with the story veering towards the supernatural (which most critics tend to hate), but in the end the outcome was predictable and disappointing.

Though it’s one of those films that could have been a lot better, I’m also glad that it wasn’t a lot worse, which it very well could have been.

2.75 stars out of 5

Rage (2014)

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Seriously, trust those American movie producers to change what was an original and intriguing title like Tokarev to a lame and generic one like Rage. But it is what it is, and it’s still a semi-passable Taken-style movie about a former mobster who will do all that he can to find his abducted daughter — a considerable feat considering it stars none other than Nicholas “I’ll do anything” Cage.

Rage was savaged by the critics as an overly-violent, dull action thriller that belongs in Cage’s movie basement, but I personally thought it was OK. Cage has already been in one Taken rip-off, the blatantly titled Stolen, but this one’s a little different for several reasons I can’t reveal. And Cage, despite the tragic hair, is actually pretty good in it too.

The premise is intriguing — Cage, a former criminal gone straight, goes out for the evening with his lady friend (Rachel Nichols) while his teenage daughter (Aubrey Peeples) hangs out at home with her (boy)friends. A bunch of masked men come in and abduct her, setting Cage off on a rampage to track her down through his old contacts, one of whom he believes has betrayed him to his enemies. The journey takes Cage onto a path he can’t return from as we learn more about his dark past.

Rage is indeed ultra-violent, but it doesn’t have the oomph of Taken because it’s mostly just a lot of loud shooting and meanness. Rather than being a skilled badass like Liam Neeson, Cage is an angry badass, which isn’t nearly as exciting. At just 98 minutes, however, the short length does mitigate some of the dullness. The film loses steam towards the end, but I quite liked the ending because there is a tinge of morality among all the carnage.

3 stars out of 5

Sabotage (2014)

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This was supposed to be one of the big movies of the year. A post-politics Arnie back in full swing with Aussie star Sam Worthington by his side, along with a whole host of big names such as Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard, True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello, Lost‘s Harold Perrineau and Josh Holloway, Martin Donovan and Mireille Enos. It’s co-written and directed by David Ayer, best known for penning Training Day and writing and directing End of Watch.

The premise is a good one too — a bunch of corrupt DEA agents, led by Arnie, decide to skim a little off the top of their latest drug bust. But when the money they are supposed to share goes missing and team members start getting killed off one by one in increasingly gruesome ways, it turns the survivors of the once close-knit team on each other.

I knew it was going to be gritty, violent and explosive. And it was. But it also wasn’t anywhere as good as either Training Day or End of Watch. There are plenty of problems to point to, starting from the unnecessary gruesomeness of the whole thing. Sometimes the violence works, sometimes it’s it doesn’t — here it’s just kind of pointless. The other issue I had was with all the characters, none of whom are even remotely likable. It’s hard to watch a movie like this when you think all of them are basically brutish animals and a-holes you won’t mind seeing get whacked.

I wanted to like Sabotage, but there was way too much testosterone to be shared between all the stars, leading to a lot over-the-top swearing, sexism and fake macho stuff that just turned me off the story, which didn’t turn out to be nearly as clever as you initially thought it would be. And it even has this lengthy epilogue that was completely unneeded. Good performances, especially by Arnie, I suppose, but on the whole this is a misstep for Ayer and everyone else involved.

2 stars out of 5

Winter’s Tale (2014)

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What the hell is this? I don’t mind the occasional fable, but Winter’s Tale was way too unconvincing and sappy for my liking. It’s based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Mark Helprin, and tells the story of guy (Colin Farrell) who is raised by a demon (Russell Crowe) and later falls in love with a sick girl (Jessica Brown Findlay) while riding around on a flying white horse/guardian angel. So…yeah.

I kind of get that Winter’s Tale wants to be this epic, sweeping love story that transcends time and space and all that, but I found the package difficult to swallow, starting from Russell Crowe’s bizarre, indecipherable accent to the contrived love story between Farrell and Findlay, and the fact that Will Smith plays the Devil. Fantasy or not, it’s just not sensible stuff.

A film like this needed to give audiences strong, likable characters we can root for, but despite the significant 118-minute running time it felt as though not enough time was dedicated to developing them. The story has a lot of on-screen magic in it but you don’t feel any magic while watching it. The action is also stale, and the romance — though I’ve seen much worse — comes across as forced. And my god, what the heck is Russell Crowe saying?

In the end, I have no idea what this fable is trying to say. Like most flicks of this type, there’s beauty, love, the magic and there’s miracles, but none of it helped to make Winter’s Tale a fantasy I could enjoy, let alone immerse myself in. It might have worked for the book, but it didn’t come close to working for the film.

1.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part V

The movie blitz is back, and there are some interesting new entries.

Nurse 3D (2013)

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Riding high from her star turn in Boardwalk Empire, Paz de la Huerta gets cast in Nurse 3D, a campy horror film where she gets to play Abby, a crazy nurse who seduces her “deserving” victims before killing them. If anything, Nurse 3D knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be — sexy, bloody, gory and campy. The kind of film you scream and laugh to, depending on your disposition.

The poor woman who gets her life turned upside down by Abby is Danni, played by 30 Rocks‘ Katrina Bowden. There’s some sex, plenty of nudity, and no shortage of gruesome kills and bloody aftermaths. There is definitely a market for this kind of film, and for me it’s preferably to other trite attempts such as the Piranha 3D franchise.

Paz de la Huerta certainly has a screen presence, but I really don’t know what to make of her. She has a nice figure, I suppose, one she is not afraid to show off, but she has a weird face. As for her acting, I can’t really tell if she is really good at trying to be bad, making her really good, or just bad.

Anyway, I didn’t hate the movie and found it occasionally fun, which is surprising, but I think you have to have a certain type of taste to be able to embrace it.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I watched this in 2D, but I can’t really see why this would be a worthwhile 3D film unless you want blood and boobs popping at your face.

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

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Knights of Badassdom is for anyone who enjoyed the live action role-playing scenes in Role Models. It’s basically about a bunch of live action role-playing dudes played by an all-star cast including Aussie Ryan Kwanten (from True Blood), Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (Serenity) and Margarita Levieva (recently seen in Revenge) who bite off more than they can chew when an evil demon is unleashed from the underworld during a major event.

There are lots of nerd jokes, great puns and one-liners, but as is usually the case with such films it’s not quite as funny as you think it should be. That said, there are some solid moments that had me giggling and even laughing out loud. The violence, blood and gore are all intentionally fake and silly, but I suppose you can still call it a “horror.” It should come as no surprise that a flick with a name like Knights of Badassdom is not a good movie. It’s is a complete farce and it knows it, but the problem is that it’s not quite bad enough to be a so-bad-it’s-good type of film. So it’s not very good, but it’s not bad enough to be great. Does that make sense?

Nonetheless, consider all the problems the film went through to get released, it could have been much worse. It had a really troubled production because filming began in 2010 and was in post-production in 2012, but took another year before it was given a limited release. My wife gave up on it after about 2 minutes as she mumbled something along the lines of it being the stupidest thing she had ever seen. But I persevered and had a reasonably good time with it. Not a bad party flick, especially if everyone is drunk or stoned.

3 stars out of 5

Enough Said (2013)

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Enough Said is a nice little romantic comedy that I would never have seen in a million years had it not starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine from Seinfeld, aka the greatest TV actress of all time) and James Gandolfini in one of his final roles before his tragic passing.

The film’s premise is simple. A freelance masseuse (Louis-Dreyfus) goes to a party and meets a fellow divorced fellow (Gandolfini) and they start a relationship. But there are some wrinkles to this relationship, wrinkles I can’t discuss without giving part of the plot away. For me, it was pretty foreseeable, but for others it might come as a twist.

The strength of the film lies in the performances from two of the greatest TV actors of their generation, or any generation (plus the likes of Catherine Keener and Toni Collette in her original Aussie accent), and an extremely witty script by Nicole Holofcener, who also directed the film. It’s rare to see a drama that involves mainly people conversing with each other being so engaging. It may be just me, but I noticed a ton of Seinfeld references in there, which I loved, of course, but apart from that the hilarious one-liners just kept rolling out along with the sharp dialogue.

Leaving the humour aside, the drama is also surprisingly warm, insightful and poignant, and dare I say, realistic. There’s nothing about the film that really stands out (it’s not a film you’ll likely remember years down the track), but for me it’s a sweet little gem I’d definitely nominate to people looking for a DVD recommendation.

3.75 stars out of 5

About Time (2013)

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The poster for About Time almost put me off watching it. A smiling Rachel McAdams and a gingery British fellow (Domhnall Gleeson, whom I had only previously seen in an episode of the brilliant sci-fi series Black Mirror — if you discount the last couple of Harry Potter flicks) standing in the rain. It looked like a romantic-comedy version of The Notebook.

But, as is almost always the case, I was wrong. About Time, in my humble opinion, is probably the best romantic-comedy of 2013. Not that the field is strong, but at least it’s not the worst.

The premise is that Gleeson’s character, Tim, can time travel, like all the other men in his family, including his father (Bill Nighy). He doesn’t develop this ability or find out about it until he’s 21, but once he does, he tries to take full advantage of it. Everyone has different purposes for time travel, be it money or career, but for Tim it’s all about love. And that’s where Rachel McAdams’s character, Mary, comes in.

The bulk of the film is about their romance, as it should be. I mean, come on, who won’t fall for Rachel McAdams? Tim makes good use of his time travelling to woo Mary, but he also discovers that his ability has certain limitations. .

And no, it’s nothing like that other time travel film Rachel McAdams starred in, The Time Traveler’s WifeAbout Time is written and directed by Tony Curtis, who is responsible for penning the scripts for British romantic-comedy classics such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually (which he directed too), as well as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. So hopefully that gives you an idea of the feel of the film and the type of comedy in it.

It dragged on towards the end of its 123-minute running time, but for the most part I simply adored this film. Not there there isn’t anything to complain about — the time travel rules, for example, don’t make any sense if you think about it, and Tim and Mary’s relationship is far too smooth and lacking in conflict. But I’m willing to overlook all of that because there is a sweetness and tenderness to the film that just warmed me up inside. And it’s not just the romance, but the moving relationships Tim has with his father and his sister (played by Lydia Wilson) also got to me as well. Very few, if any, romantic-comedies resonate with me (the last one was probably 500 Days of Summer), so I’m glad I was fortunate enough to have given About Time a shot.

4 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part III

Diana (2013)

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Sixteen years after her tragic death, someone finally decided to make a big Princess Diana movie. But of all the types of films that could have been made, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Invasion) went for a sappy, melodramatic borefest that focuses on a very short period of her life.

Look, Diana is not as bad as some critics have made it out to be (ie, worst movie of the year), but it has been understandably panned because of expectations. Based on the book Diana: Her Last Love by Kate Snell, the film targets the tumultuous love affair between Diana (Naomi Watts) and British Pakistani doctor Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, henceforth referred to as Sayid from Lost!!!).

So basically, the movie starts after Diania has divorced Prince Charles (who’s not even in it) and ends at her death a couple of years later. It suggests that she really only went out with Dodi Fayed, her last boyfriend, because she was trying to make Sayid jealous (and you don’t want to do that to Sayid!).

The problem with the movie is not that it is a romance. The problem is that it’s a very boring romance. They eat, they talk, the have sex, then they fight because Sayid doesn’t like the attention that comes with dating the most famous woman in the world. Then she wins him back, and the same cycle continues.

Naomi Watts delivers a good, albeit unconvincing performance as Princess Diana. By that I mean she did her best with the hair and the mannerisms and so forth, but she still looked and felt like Naomi Watts to me. Sayid, on the other hand, was great – at torturing people, that is — this time with boring conversations and tamper tantrums.

People who go into Diana thinking they are watching a biopic about the Princess’s life will be bitterly disappointed because it’s actually a romance that spans for just two years of her life, with the only other thing it touches upon being her fight against eradicating land mines. People who go into the film knowing all of this will still be disappointed because it’s crap.

2 stars out of 5

Oldboy (2013)

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I haven’t seen the original Korean version of Oldboy, which is based on a Japanese manga and widely regarded as a cult classic, but by all accounts it is miles better than Spike Lee’s US version, one of the biggest critical and box office bombs of 2013.

The premise behind Oldboy is fascinating enough, which is why I guess they decided to adapt it for American audiences. A fat douchebag played by Josh Brolin is imprisoned in a hotel room for reasons unknown to him for a whopping 20 years, with nothing but basic amenities and a TV set. When he is eventually set free after doing nothing except preparing for vengeance, he goes on a violent spree to find out who ruined his life, and why.

The problem with Oldboy is that the tone of it is all over the place and never feels quite right. It’s a crazy premise with a lot of gaps in logic and common sense, and the film can’t figure out whether it wants to be realistic or surreal. There are moments when the film feels like a comical farce, such as when Brolin takes on whole gangs of goons, but there are other times when the film feels dead serious and very disturbing.

And as for the mystery itself, though it keeps up the film’s intrigue factor it’s not really anything mindblowing, and the motivations actually turn out to be quite simple in the end. That said, the whole process of getting to that point is so ludicrous that the film falls apart when it is revealed why Brolin was imprisoned for so long. You also know that there is of course a twist, but it’s pretty easy to guess if you ask me.

Brolin is a good actor so you know he delivers here, but physically and with his performance, but it’s surprising how little he ages over the course of the 20 years, looking old when he went in and young when he came out. Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the twins), who was brilliant in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is also very good but feels underutilized as this is such a male-dominated movie. In terms of the supporting cast, I was surprised to see Sharlto Copley put on a fake British accent, but I was very happy to see Samuel L Jackson launch some of his patented expletives while being tortured.

I don’t know if I will see the Korean original now that I’ve seen Lee’s version, but my guess is that if you’ve seen the Korean version you should avoid the American one. I don’t deny that Oldboy starts off on a fascinating note and is occasionally entertaining, but there were simply too many obvious problems with it for me to be fully engaged with it.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I find it interesting that both Lee and Brolin were annoyed that the studio cut the film from its original length of 140 minutes, which they believed was a superior version, to a more manageable 105 minutes. Perhaps a director’s cut will better do the film justice.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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I remember seeing a shaky, grainy video of a young black man being pinned down and then shot by police a few years back, but like many of these viral videos it was quickly shifted to the back of my mind. Little did I know that the short piece of footage would go on to inspire a critically-acclaimed film that would in the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US dramatic film at 2013 Sundance.

Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler (in his feature debut), tells of the story of what happened to 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the final day of his life. It could have easily been boring, or worse, melodramatic and manipulative, but instead Coogler has produced a powerful film driven by a dynamic performance from Michael B Jordan (whom I had seen recently in the underrated Chronicle).

The impressive thing about Fruitvale Station is that the events leading up to the shooting, which take up the vast majority of the 85-minute running time, do not feel like pointless filler. We get to learn what kind of person Oscar Grant is, what he has been through and what he has ahead of him. He isn’t painted as some kind of hero or flawless guy – he’s just a normal African American male from a disadvantaged background trying to get through life and be there for his young daughter.

There is a sense of inevitability running through the first part of the film, but it conjures up a feeling of dread rather than predictability. And when Oscar and his friends are accosted by police at Fruitvale Station, the “incident” itself is handled with a lot of raw emotion but also even-handedness. It doesn’t try to portray the cops as super evil or play up the race angle – it’s just one of those things where egos got the better of both sides and someone ended up doing something incredibly stupid and tragic.

I don’t know how accurate the film is compared to the real events, though some have criticized the film for inaccuracies and omissions, arguably to drive the filmmaker’s agenda for victim’s rights. All I can say is that from what I have seen, Fruitvale Station is a very impressive debut, a devastating, poignant drama that goes far beyond what was captured on a mobile phone camera back in 2009.

4 stars out of 5

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

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I was pleasantly surprised by the first Despicable Me, which, like many recent animated features, decided to focus on a villain (voiced by Steve Carrell) who’s not really such a bad guy. It was funny enough in places, sweet because of the little kids he eventually adopts, and cute because of those crazy minions, who are about to get their own spin-off movie.

Despicable Me 2 did not have to be made, but the success of the original guaranteed it. It follows on from the first film, with Carrell’s ex-villain, Gru, trying to juggle the responsibilities of looking after three little girls (Margo, Edith and Agnes). To get the ball rolling, the writers went for the most obvious plot device, which is to get the authorities (in this case the Anti-Villain League, or AVL) to recruit Gru and his villainous talents to help them catch a new villain.

I didn’t find Despicable Me 2 as funny as the first one. The story, largely surrounding Gru and his potential love interest Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), felt a little forced, and the attempts at humour appeared more geared towards younger audiences.

People who like the minions will get a kick out of this one, but personally I think a lot of their charisma has already dried up because it’s obvious they are trying too hard to be cute. Even the efforts to make the trio of little girls sweet may have gone overboard, making the overall tone of the film somewhat saccharine.

I’m surprised the film has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but for me it was just serviceable and at best a fairly average sequel that’s clearly just trying to cash in.

2.75 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part II

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

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 I for one thought the first film Percy Jackson & The Lighting Thief, was underrated. Berated as a Harry Potter clone, I thought it was a fairly solid action-adventure flick that differentiated itself with its Greek mythology angle. Nothing special but certainly not horrible.

Given that it was a box office success, it’s no surprise that they went on to make a sequel, based on the second novel in the Rick Riordan’s series. This time there’s no world discovery phase as Percy Jackson (Lerman Logan) is already living at CampHalf-Blood (the offspring of Greek gods).

The story focuses on this special force field that protects the camp after a girl sacrificed herself and became a huge tree (yeah, I didn’t get it either). Of course, the tree is dying and Percy and his friends need to track down the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters to heal the tree. There are raging mechanical bulls and predictable prophecies and other naughty half-god kids getting in Percy’s way. Oh, and Percy discovers her has a half-brother who only has one eye (he’s a Cyclops).

It still feels derivative, but like its predecessor, Sea of Monsters offers sufficient entertainment, humor and special effects (though the effects are barely passable because they look video gamey in several places) for fans of the series. There’s plenty of running around and pretty magic-fuelled action sequences, though I have to admit I had a bit of trouble keep track of the convoluted plot and the plethora of characters.

Regardless, pretty much anything with Alexandra Daddario (who plays Annabeth, the Hermione of the series) is worth watching in my books.

3 stars out of 5

Monsters University (2013)

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It’s quite unusual for an animated sequel, or any sequel for that matter, to come 12 years after the original, but that’s what they’ve done for Monsters University, which is actually a prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc.

I saw Monsters Inc when it came out at the cinemas but don’t recall it being particularly good, certainly not in the same league as Toy Story. Which is why it surprises me to say that Monsters University is an excellent animated film and a strong prequel that outshines its predecessor (or is that sequel?).

Set at an undisclosed number of years before Monsters Inc, Monsters University details how one-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and huge dotty monster Sulley went from rivals to best pals and from students at a “scare” university to owners of the company we know they will one day run.

The film is driven by the stark contrast between our two protagonists – Mike is ambitious and determined but lacks the physical attributes to be a scarer, while the privileged Sulley has all the attributes of a wonderful scarer except he lacks motivation and desire. Naturally, the two clash heads early on, but circumstances force them to work together as they participate in the university’s annual Scare Games.

Despite my bias against animations, the bottom line is that Monsters University is very funny and is a film that can be enjoyed equally by both children and adults. The writers do a great job of taking advantage of the comedic opportunities and stereotypes offered by the university setting and display witty creativity in the monster designs and the overall concept of the Scare Games.

The voice performances are brilliant. Crystal and Goodman go without saying but I was also impressed by the great supporting cast that included the likes of Steve Buscemi, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Bill Hader and Helen Mirren.

Definitely one of the better animated films I’ve seen in recent years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Run (2013)

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Run is a gimmick movie about the growing phenomenon known as “Parkour”, which is basically free running. I could explain it, but you’re better off watching this video below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tznXBzETFUI

In short, Parkour is insane stuff, so you can imagine that a movie about it would be pretty cool. Run’s Parkour sequences are choreographed very well, but that’s about the only strength of the movie because everything else about it, from the plot to the acting, was frighteningly bad.

The story revolves around a 17-year-old kid played by William Moseley (Peter from the Narnia series!) who is a Parkour expert on the run with his criminal father played by Adrian Pasdar (yes, the dude who flies in Heroes!). He hides his identity at his new school but still ends up making friends with a bunch of kids who are, surprise surprise, also into Parkour!

There’s some juvenile stuff, some teen romance, and eventually when the bad guys (headed by Eric Roberts, brother of Julia) catch up to them they must use their Parkour skills to escape and defeat their enemies.

I guess if you watch the film simply for the Parkour sequences and ignore the laughable acting, the cringeworthy romances and the contrived plot, then Run is arguably a fairly entertaining movie. But then again, there are so many great Parkour clips available on YouTube now that you don’t need to watch a movie to see these amazing acrobatics. That said, having not been familiar with Parkour before, I didn’t mind it too much.

2 stars out of 5

Don Jon (2013)

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I have a sizable man-crush on Joseph Gordon Levitt like most heterosexual males, and so I was really looking forward to Don Jon a project written and directed by the man himself.

Gordon-Levitt plays an Italian-American stud, Jon, who loves the ladies but loves whacking off to porn even more, even when he starts dating the drop dead gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, a 10 out of 10 according to Jon’s crude rating scale.

The film is more or less a critique of the modern superficial male, who objectifies women and can’t figure out why they don’t feel physical or emotional fulfilment even when they dating a girl most men can only dream of being with. It also says something about the modern superficial female, who holds men to an impossible standard by comparing them to the perfect male characters from unrealistic rom-coms.

As cynical as that is, Don Jon does offer up some hope as Jon begins to undergo changes after meeting a mature-age classmate played by the wonderful Julianne Moore. But can he stop jerking off to porn in favour of real sex? That’s the real question.

I really wanted to like Don Jon, and there are indeed things to like about it, such as the performance of Gordon-Levitt and some witty interactions between the characters, including with his father (Tony Danza!). But as well-made and edgy as it is, it’s just not quite good enough to be great. The film is promoted as a comedy-drama, but the jokes are more “nice observation” or “I can relate to that” rather than stuff that will make you laugh out loud. And much of it is so brutally honest that it becomes extremely uncomfortable, especially if you are a guy, but my guess is that cringe is exactly what Gordon-Levitt intended.

It’s a nice little directorial debut for Gordon-Levitt that showcases the talent and potential he has as a filmmaker, but Don Jon falls short of being the memorable smash hit I hoped it would be.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

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For some time now I have heard about this “amazing” French movie, Blue Is the Warmest Color, about the relationship between two lesbian lovers.  The film was an unanimous choice for the Palme d’Or from the official jury of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and critics raved about the performances, and yet it was largely overshadowed by the hype over the explicit sex scenes, and later, the controversy over the complaints against director Abdellatif Kechiche made by the film’s two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. And so I checked out the film with a healthy mix of curiosity and scepticism, though I never expected to end up being blown away by the experience. For once, they were right: Blue Is the Warmest Color is an amazing film, one of the best love stories ever depicted on screen.

For starters, let’s not tiptoe around the lesbian theme — some people might be uncomfortable with it for whatever reason (and indeed I had my own reservations about it, believing that it could have just been a gimmick or exploitative) — but honestly, I was so emotionally invested in the characters and their relationship that by the end their sexual orientation became completely irrelevant. The emotions and heartbreak were so agonisingly real that I almost forgot I was watching a film, and I couldn’t believe it when both my wife and I uncontrollably teared up. (What is this salty discharge?)

Based on a graphic novel of the same name, Blue is the Warmest Color begins with high school student Adele being a normal adolescent trying to fit in with the crowd while discovering her sexuality. Two chance meetings — the first of which was just a glance on the street — with blue-haired artist Emma (Lea) changes her life as the two start a love affair which we follow over the course of several years.

It’s not the typical fairytale or whirlwind romance we’re accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films. It’s sometimes passionate, sometimes emotional, sometimes painful and sometimes banal — like real life. And it’s all very raw. But it’s precisely because of that the relationship comes across as genuine and believable, and before you know it you are sucked into their world and into their hearts. The fact that it’s a lesbian relationship does provide some additional friction — such as meeting parents and dealing with the attitudes of bigots — but it’s really no different to other relationship challenges experienced by other couples, gay or otherwise.

It’s a 3-hour film that doesn’t feel like one, an impressive feat given that it’s not action packed or a Lord of the Rings-esque epic. Every long conversation, every longing glance had my full attention, and I was almost sad when the credits started rolling. The length is important because the film does a particularly fantastic job of depicting how feelings can change over time, and the vulnerability, isolation and loneliness people can sometimes feel even when they are supposedly in a loving relationship.

The performances have been lauded and rightfully so. Both actresses are phenomenal and it’s not surprise that they received the Palme d’Or along with the director. Newcomer Adele, as the younger of the two, gets to express more emotion and delivers a powerhouse performance that should have earned recognition from the Academy this year. Lea, who was in Inglourious Basterds and stole Owen Wilson’s (and my) heart in Midnight in Paris, is more mature and reserved, but she’s equally good as the ying to Adele’s yang. Both are straight in real life but you could have fooled me into believing otherwise after seeing the emotions in their eyes in a few of the film’s key scenes.

The sex scenes have received a lot of attention for their graphic nature (apparently it’s aided by “prosthetics” and “effects”) and criticised for being unrealistic and too long. I understand the need to exhibit their passion, but I do agree that they are a bit “too much” and unnecessarily long. Seriously, outside of porn, is there a need for a single sex scene longer than 10 minutes? I mean, I found it educational and all (I was like, “so that’s how they do it”), but I highly doubt shortening the scenes and toning them down a little would have much of an effect on the emotional impact of the film overall. So yeah, I found it gratuitous. As for unrealistic? Heck, how would I know? All I know is that the same could easily be said for most straight Hollywood sex scenes.

Notwithstanding that one minor complaint, Blue is the Warmest Color is an outstanding film, a seductive, beautiful and breathtaking coming-of-age story about not just the discovery of sexuality but about finding out who you are and what you want in life. If you’ve ever fallen in love or had your heart broken then you need to see this film. It might crush your soul in the process but it’s a powerful experience that’s well worth the cost. One of the best films of the year and the best romance I’ve seen. Period.

4.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 6

This Means War (2012)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

Recent Movie Reviews: Part I

My furious rally continues. Here are a bunch of 2013 movies I have yet to review, four at a time. Here is the first wave.

The Call (2013)

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Ever since Catwoman I have been wary of anything Halle Berry does. The Call, about a woman at an emergency call center, did not sound very appealing to me, but positive word of mouth got me to change my mind.

I’m glad I watched it in the end because The Call is a thrill ride that manages to keep up the suspense for the majority of its 94-minute running time. Berry, the call center worker, is haunted by a previous call which resulted in the death of a young girl. Months later, she takes another call, this time from another teenager played by Abrigail Breslin (she’s growing up real fast), who has been abducted by possibly the same guy.

Much of the film follows Berry on the phone as she tries to figure out how to keep the girl alive and how to track down her kidnapper. I was impressed with how director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) kept coming up with different ways to keep the ball rolling without making it seem repetitive or too ridiculous.

That said, I was really irritated by the stupidity of Breslin’s character and her incessant screaming and whining (all to her detriment) — and a part of me really wanted her to get killed — though to be fair if she wasn’t so stupid she probably would have been rescued in about 20 minutes and there would be nothing left to film.

On the whole I really enjoyed The Call, which was on its way to being a huge surprise hit for me until the moronic ending that made absolutely no sense whatsoever and downgraded my rating by at least half a star.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

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I was one of those kids who loved magic growing up and bought magic kits and had dreams of becoming a magician some day (like David Copperfield). So while The Incredible Wonderstone looked pretty awful from the posters and trailer I was willing to give it a go. Besides, it has Steve Buscemi, the greatest actor of all time.

Well, it wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t disastrous either. Steve Carrell and Buscemi are best buds and old school magicians performing in Vegas, but their act is getting old and their thunder is being stolen by new “street” magicians such as Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) — an obvious caricature of douches like Criss Angel and David Blaine.

There are a few decent jokes in Burt Wonderstone, but most of them come courtesy of the crazy antics of Carrey, who is the best he has been in a very long time (considering his last few live action films were Mr Poppers Penguins, I Love You Philip Morris, Yes Man and The Number 23 — yikes). The late great James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin are also excellent in supporting roles, but Carrell is just not very likable and Buscemi’s talents are completely wasted. And Olivia Wilde is painfully miscast as the love interest who is just too young for Carrell.

In the endBurt Wonderstone just isn’t consistently funny enough to make it a good film and completely fizzles as it enters the final act, which is a shame because it started off quite strongly.

2.75 stars out of 5

Now You See Me (2013)

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Another magic movie, but Now You See Me, unlike Burt Wonderstone, actually received good word of mouth despite lukewarm reviews from critics.

As for me, I have mixed feelings about it too. I think it is a fantastic concept — four magicians of diverse skills (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are brought together by a mysterious leader who gets them to perform otherworldly but legally questionable acts, while a detective (Mark Ruffalo) is hot on their feels trying to figure out how the stunts were carried out so he can arrest them. It’s an alluring premise for a caper movie and the magic tricks, some of which are explained, are fun to watch and debunk.

On the other hand, the film is kinda rough around the edges and suffers from a lack of precision. There is almost no character development and the dialogue is atrocious, giving the film a B-grade feel and a sense that the talents of the all-star cast are being wasted. All the effort was put into the the style but not enough attention was paid to the substance.

The film relies on its twists and turns to keep audiences intrigued, but for me the big reveal was rather predictable (maybe I’ve seen too many movies). Still, I had a good time with it, though it was so unmemorable that I had totally forgotten to review it until now.

3.25 stars out of 5

Warm Bodies (2013)

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A zombie movie from the perspective of a zombie sounded like it had potential for some great laughs. And the first few moments of Warm Bodies were indeed promising as we watched zombies wander around aimlessly and trying to communicate through a series of hilarious grunts.

But Warm Bodies is really a romantic comedy masquerading as a zombie movie, which is a good thing because the zombie gimmick gets old pretty quickly. It has obvious allusions to Romeo & Juliet, as our protagonist zombie (arguably the best looking zombie in movie history), Nicholas Hoult, is named “R”, while his love interest, Aussie Teresa Palmer, is “Julie”.

To make the film work as a romantic comedy, many fundamental rules we know about zombies are bent, if not broken. I didn’t have a problem with that per se because it was important to look at the zombies as the “good guys”, but I didn’t think it was necessary to create another breed of zombies, known as “Bonies”, so we are clear who the real “bad guys” are.

So Warm Bodies was just OK for me. It had a great premise and a few early laughs, but as a romantic comedy it wasn’t particularly romantic or funny once the zombie gimmick ran its course. It’s not a bad date movie because it is sweet and has charm, but I think it falls way short of the cult classic status it was perhaps aiming for.

3 stars out of 5

PS: That’s four very average movies.

Movie Review: The Host (2013)

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There is only a handful of times in a life that one will see a movie that is so laughably pathetic that they don’t even know how to react to it. The Host is one such movie.

Based on a book written by the skilled pen of Stephenie Meyer, the author who bestowed upon us the Twilight Saga, The Host tells the story of how mankind has been mostly taken over by an alien race. These aliens, who look like big dandelions and are called “Souls” (convenient), inject themselves into human bodies and use them as hosts (hence the clever title). The consciousness of the original human owner is erased and replaced by the alien, who still retains the human’s memories and knowledge. One particular alien called Wanderer takes over the body of a young girl, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), whose consciousness refuses to subside and battles the alien for control of the body. The alien is moved by this wonderful love Melanie had as a human with Jeremy Iron’s son, Max Irons, but there’s also some other dude (Jake Abel from I Am Number Four — Kevin Bacon’s son?) that fancies her — cue patented Stephenie Meyer love triangle.

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Twilight. Shudder.

I can imagine this kind of story working as a novel, but as a film (especially one that is merely hoping to cash in on Twilight‘s popularity) it just had no chance. I tried to give The Host a genuine shot, but the plot had more holes than Prometheus and the love triangle made the one in Twilight seem like the greatest love triangle of all time. I found myself either shaking my head or bursting out in laughter from the unintentional hilarity for almost the entirety of the torturous 125-minute running time.

Technically, the visuals and the direction of Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time) are fine. Even the performances from the all-star cast (which also includes William Hurt and Diane Kruger) are not too bad, considering the lines they had to spew out. But there is little anyone could do when the source material and the screenplay and dialogue are so awful. For starters, Saoirse Ronan has conversations with herself all throughout the movie because she is, um, trapped within herself. Trust me, it’s stupid.

Then there are the questions. Of all the relationships in the world, the alien is moved by one between a young girl and guy who have known each other for a couple of months? WTF? Why does Wanderer (“Wanda”) go from hated enemy one second to the most beloved and trusted ally the next? Why does Jake Abel go from wanting to kill Wanda one second to wanting to make out with her the next? Why does she have to make out with people for contrived reasons? (There is, I swear, one scene where the guys take turns making out with her). The list goes on.

And the ending, which I will not give away, is the icing on the cake. You have to see it to believe it.

What else can I say? The Host is dull, lacking in tension, excitement and heart, and just plain absurd. Avoid it if you dare.

0.5 out of 5…

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 8)

The Art of Getting By (2011)

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This is a really weird movie which I don’t really get. It’s the first feature from writer-director Gavin Wiesen and I believe it’s supposed to be a coming-of-age comedy drama, although the whole thing just felt kind of “meh” to me.

George (Freddie Highmore) is a high school student and gifted artist who is a rut because he finds life meaningless. He is put on academic probation and told to get his act together, and at around the same time he meets a pretty girl, Sally (Emma Roberts). They form a bond, become friends and maybe something more.

See, even writing that brief synopsis was boring to me. I’ve always been a fan of Highmore and I think Roberts is a cute actress, and both put in solid performances, but the film itself failed to sustain my interest (and it’s only 84 minutes!).

Perhaps I am getting too old, but for some reason the actions and dialogue of these kids seemed totally unrealistic to me. It’s not just they are so self-absorbed but watching them act and talk like adults made them lose whatever charm they had. I didn’t find them innocent or sweet at all.

There might have been a bigger message in the film somewhere but it jumped right over my head.

1.5 stars out of 5

Drive Angry (2011) (2D)

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Another Nicolas Cage movie where he’s paid to be Nicholas Cage? Yes, that’s precisely what Drive Angry (which is supposed to be in 3D at the cinemas, though I caught it on the small screen) is all about.

Cage plays Milton, a felon who breaks out from Hell (yes, the opposite of Heaven) to prevent a satanic cult led by Billy Burke (the dad from Twilight) from sacrificing his granddaughter. Somewhere along the way he picks up a waitress played by Amber Heard. Lots of gun fights, car chases and explosions ensue.

Surprisingly, however, Drive Angry is not as bad as it sounds. Sure, it’s forgettable and blends into all of the other B-grade films Cage has made in recent years, but at least it is occasionally fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Classier moviegoers might be turned off by all the relentless, over-the-top violence, the loud sound effects and the ludicrous but unapologetic plot, but those looking for a silly albeit entertaining grindhouse flick might find it a guilty pleasure.

By the way, the score probably would have been lower had I watched it in cash-sucking 3D.

3 stars out of 5

The Rum Diary (2011)

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I am a fan of Hunter S Thompson’s writing and his Gonzo journalism, so I was kind of excited about a film based on his novel starring Johnny Depp. But The Rum Diary turned out to be slightly disappointing. It was occasionally entertaining and amusing but felt like there was no focus and the film drifted all over the place without a compelling storyline to follow.

Depp plans Paul Kemp, a down-on-his-luck writer who gets a job for a paper in Puerto Rico. There are shady deals, lots of drinking and crazy shenanigans, but nothing that really gripped me to the characters or the plot.

Depp is pretty good, as is the steady Aaron Eckhart. Amber Heard is very good as the seductress, so good, apparently, that she ended up breaking up Depp’s marriage. Oh well.

On the whole, The Rum Diary is not bad for some light amusement (although it felt too long with a 2-hour running time), but it’s ultimately quite forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Devil’s Double (2011)

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The Devil’s Double is apparently a true story based on the life of Latif Yahia, who looked so much like Saddam Hussein’s son Uday that he was forced to be his body double.

The story has not stood up well after several debunking attempts, but I still found the concept utterly fascinating. Imagine being forced to be the doppelganger of the son of a ruthless tyrant and being sent to do all the crap he doesn’t want to do and the places he doesn’t want to go. It also means constantly being placed in danger and having no way out – well, apart from torturous deaths for you and your family.

Dominic Cooper players the duel role of Latif and Uday and he is dynamite. There was never any doubt in my mind that he was two completely separate people, and it’s not just because of the clever make-up and prosthetics that made their appearances slightly different, at least at the beginning before the forced plastic surgery. Can’t believe was only nominated for a single Saturn Award for this performance.

It’s a flawed film with an overdose of brutality and occasional lulls in the narrative, but Cooper’s performance and the premise alone were enough to keep me interested for the majority of the 108-minute running time.

3.75 stars out of 5