Tag Archives: 2014

The 10 Worst Movies of 2014

Here we go, my worst 10 films of 2014. I saw a lot of terrible movies, but none worse than these 10.

As with previous years, this list is based on my ratings at the time of review, and I made it extra easy for myself this year because there are exactly 10 films I rated 1.5 stars or below.

I still had some difficult decisions to make, however, as movies 8-10 on this list all had the same rating. It does mean though that the top 2 were clearly head and shoulders above (or should I say below) the rest.

Unfortunately, that means some truly terrible movies missed the cut. These dishonourable mentions include Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy, Nicholas Sparks’ The Best of Me, and Samuel L Jackson’s Reasonable Doubt.

10. Sniper: Legacy

I need the money
I need the money

I had a long hard think about placing this film, an obvious B-grade, straight-to-DVD abomination, higher on the list. Strictly speaking it is probably worse than some of the other films ranked above it, but the difference is that no one expected Sniper: Legacy to be anything but a low-budget cash grab milking the legacy (pun intended) of the original film released 21 years ago. Its shittiness is almost anticipated, so I can’t claim an ambush. I totally deserve this one.

9. Winter’s Tale

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Colin Farrell’s hair sums up this movie quite well

On paper, Winter’s Tale should have been pretty good, a magical fantasy romance fable with big stars (Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Will Smith). Sadly, all it did was make me cringe and bored. Non-sensical, contrived, manipulative and just plain silly at times, it’s the perfect example of what works on the page won’t necessarily work on the screen.

8. The Other Woman

Yes, it's as stupid as it looks
Yes, it’s as stupid as it looks

As annoying as the self-righteous women are in this film, it’s worst sin is still the most serious one when it comes to comedies: a dearth of laughs. You would think a movie that’s supposed to about female empowerment would have some positives, but the fact that it’s branded as mysognistic shows how far off the mark it was.

7. Ouija

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All signs point to “crap”

I think Oujia boards are really scary and I knew it was only a matter of time before a horror film based on this theme is made, but Oujia turned about as cliched and unimaginative as it could have been. The characters don’t act remotely like how normal human beings would act. The dialogue is cringeworthy and full of obvious exposition. Silly, non-sensical and employing only the most typical scare tactics, this is a disappointment that’s even more disappointing than usual.

6. Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Oh god…

Let’s face it, no “worst of” list is complete without an entry from Michael Bay. Strictly speaking, Transformers 4 is not the worst of the franchise, but the accumulated annoyance from the same old loud noises, boring characters and formulaic execution makes it difficult to bear for 90 minutes, let alone an inexcusable 165. Additional demerit points for all the awkward “Chinese elements” they forced into the film.

5. Walk of Shame

It is indeed a shame
Don’t shoot me for making this movie

It’s hard to hate a film when it’s so “meh.” And that’s what Walk of Shame is, an unfunny, boiler-plate screwball comedy that shits all over the lovely and talented Elizabeth Banks. I didn’t find it as sexist or racist as lot of other offended viewers and critics, though when a movie is so lacking in wit and pathetic perhaps a bit of controversy would have at least stirred up some interest.

4. I, Frankenstein

Aaron Eckhart worked out for this?
I got ripped for this shit?

I knew it wasn’t going to be great, but I, Frankenstein crashed below the low expectations I already had and was a complete waste of the talents of Aaron Eckhart and his impressive workout regime. Incredibly silly even by graphic novel standards, the film takes Mary Shelley’s source material as fact and throws in a bunch of gargoyles, demons and angels into a war with poor fight sequences shocking and shockingly bad CGI effects. The 2014 “blockbuster” that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons if it hasn’t been erased from memories already.

3. When the Game Stands Tall

What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus do?

Now we get to the three films of 2014 I loathed for reasons that are beyond objective and even generally subjective. First up, When the Game Stands Tall — relatively recently watched and still fresh in my mind– an infuriating corny and melodramatic film with sickening sports cliches, unbelievable characters and unashamedly overpowering religious themes. Laughably horrible trash masquerading as a triumphant true story.

2. Extraterrestrial

I'd rather be probed than sit through this shit again
I’d rather be probed than sit through this shit again

I love aliens and I love alien conspiracy movies. Extraterrestrial has turned all that on its head. Apart from being in the dreaded found footage format, this monster slasher also takes home the award for least frightening horror movie of the year, most annoying characters of the year and worst ensemble acting of the year notwithstanding the efforts of Shawshank’s Gil Bellows to bring up the average a little bit. This is so bad that it even destroys the possibility of a so-bad-it’s-good film.

1. Left Behind

Nicholas Cage. 'Nuff said
Nicholas Cage. ‘Nuff said

Of all the horrible 2014 movies I’ve seen, one film dominates all others — and honestly, it’s not even close. And you know that this film is entering a different stratosphere when I proclaim that it could very well be Nicolas Cage’s worst film ever. It’s just one of those surreal experiences where you have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s not a nightmare. It’s actually easier to conceive a world in which Christians are beamed into heaven while everyone else is left behind to suffer Hell on Earth than fathom how a film this shit could have ever been made.

So there you go, my worst 10 movies of 2014. Next up, the 10 best.

Movie Review: Into the Woods (2014)

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Sometimes you just have to go against the grain. Despite the awesome ensemble cast, the reputation of stylish director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean 4), the box office and critical success, there is only one thing I am certain of: Into the Woods is a shit film.

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, Into the Woods cleverly builds a world combining several Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk. At the centre of the story is a couple played by Emily Blunt and James Corden, who come in touch with all these classic fairy tale characters as they try and break a curse that has prevented them from having a child.

It sounds like a fun idea, and for the first few minutes of the film (at least) it was not difficult to see the potential of the premise. You get a bunch of big name stars — from Meryl Streep (whom I cannot believe was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role at the upcoming Oscars) and Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine and Johnny Depp — playing wacky characters. The tone is light and tongue-in-cheek, and the script makes good use of our knowledge (and the characters’ lack of knowledge) of the fairy tales they’re in.

And so it came as a slow and painful shock to me that Into the Woods simply didn’t work as a feature film. It may have as a Broadway musical — I don’t know because I haven’t seen it — but I found myself not caring much for the story or the characters. There are some admittedly funny moments, many of which are sarcastic or involve Billy Magnussen, who plays Rapunzel’s unfortunate prince, though the whole “turning fairy tales on their head” gimmick grew tiring in a hurry.

At 124 minutes, the film is far too long and the dark final act dragged on for what felt like an eternity. I actually thought the movie was already long when it hit its faux ending much earlier and had to be forced to endure about another 20 minutes of soulless mayhem.

Strictly speaking there’s nothing wrong with the production per se, though as a whole Into the Woods failed to engage me. I couldn’t get into the story because it was so all over the place, I didn’t get into the songs because there was nothing resembling a catchy melody or song, and I didn’t care about anything or anyone because there was no heart or genuine emotion.

Maybe it’s my bias against fairy tale “reimaginings” or my inability to get most musicals, most notably the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables from 2012. But  even had I approached it a clean slate I just don’t see how I could have come to a different conclusion — and that’s the film is strangely detached, unexciting, and far too long.  It’s a pretty movie to look at and I have the utmost respect for the talented cast on the screen, though these positives alone are insufficient to drag Into the Woods out of the shitter.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Horns (2014)

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I’m just going to come out and say it. I think Horns is awesome. It’s weird and surreal, and it’s a little all over the place, but it’s also original, devilishly twisted and wickedly funny.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, a young man who has been shunned by his small town after being fingered as the prime suspect for the rape and murder of his lovely girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). One morning, Ig awakes with two horns protruding from his head. He has no idea where they came from and he can’t get rid of them, but there’s clearly something supernatural about it all because the horns seem to come with certain powers — powers he will exploit in an effort to clear his name.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. Some of you might not know this, but Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he displays a lot of the same wicked sensitivities as his old man. The central idea of the film may start off as a gimmicky concept, but Hill manages to infuse the tale with a sharp satirical edge and plenty of dark humour to firmly distinguish himself from his old man.

The film has received mixed reviews from critics largely for its tonal inconsistencies, and I agree to some degree. It has been marketed as a horror, though it also has elements of comedy, fantasy, family drama, mystery and romance. You could even call it a part-religious satire or allegory for the way it takes on religion and religious symbolism. Either way, the shifts in tone are far from seamless, and as a result viewers could find themselves questioning what the film really wants to be and what it is trying to say.

For me, Horns is first and foremost a black comedy because its hilarity is what stands out the most. I laughed more times in this movie than pure comedies I’ve seen in years, though that might say more about my twisted sense of humour than anything else. The film does become less funny and more dark as it nears its conclusion, but for me it will always be a black comedy at heart. And besides, there are very few attempts to scare the audience for the first three-quarters of the film, and even when it started veering into horror I found it more unsettling than frightening.

I can’t think of another film quite like it. The one that pops up in my mind, strangely, is Jennifer’s Body (the Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried flick from 2009). That one was sexier and much scarier, but it has the same type of twisted, surreal tone and satirical wit.

Director Alexandre Aja has a bit of a mixed-bag career — he rose to stardom with Haute Tension in 2003 and did a fine job with the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, though he followed those efforts up with the clunky Mirrors and the campy Piranha 3D. In my opinion, Horns may actually be his best film to date.

Daniel Radcliffe has been busy trying to reinvent himself since Harry Potter ended, starring in a range of flicks from The Woman in Black (straight horror) and Kill Your Darlings (biographical drama) to The F Word (rom-com). Horns is arguably his most daring post-Potter venture to date, and I also believe it’s likely the best performance of his career — and that’s even with him putting on an American accent. Radcliffe is proving himself to be one of those rare actors who couldn’t act for shit as a child but has gradually developed into a quality thespian with a bright future ahead of him.

The rest of the cast is not too shabby either. Even though she’s supposed to be dead, Juno Temple appears more than you’d think through flashbacks, and she does a fine job of convincing audiences that she’s someone all the boys in town would pine for. Max Minghella is solid as the best friend-slash-lawyer, while Joe Anderson plays the quiet brother. Veterans such as Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan and David Morse round out the impressive ensemble.

My main problem with Horns is not the tonal inconsistencies, but rather, the predictable nature of its central mystery. Maybe it’s just me, but I figured out the real killer about 10 minutes into the film. Fortunately, there were plenty of other little curve balls and surprises to keep the film intriguing for the remainder of its 2-hour running time.

The best black comedies always say something about the darkest aspects of human nature. Horns is about our constant judgments of others. It’s about living up to the image we think society has carved out for us. It’s about the hypocrisy of thinking one way and saying or doing another. It’s about selfishness and self-preservation. That’s why I think it is a stroke of genius for Hill to bring out all of these nasty sides of human nature in a story about a guy demonized by his community appearing to be literally turning into the devil, and to do it in such an original, twisted, and intentionally unsubtle way.

And so, despite recognizing its flaws, I had an absolute blast with horns. I think it is a unique genre-bender and one of my Darkhorse favorites of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

DUFE

I had been really looking forward to Deliver Us From Evil, supposedly “inspired” by true events endured by a real NYPD sergeant by the name of Ralph Sarchie. With one of my favourite actors, Australia’s own Eric Bana in the leading role, I thought the film carried a lot of promise.

Sadly, despite Bana’s best efforts, Deliver Us From Evil disappoints on almost all levels. It starts off as an intriguing story about a cop struggling with his inner demons but soon becomes a far-fetched tale about “real” — and super powerful — demons possessing US war veterans.

The film does have its moments, with director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) pulling out his big bag of tricks to fuse a creepy atmosphere with traditional exorcism-related scares. It’s dark, moody and bloody, with an extended exorcism climax that works better than most similar efforts in recent years. Ultimately, however,  Deliver Us From Evil fails to “deliver” due to several fundamental problems.

I did a bit of post-viewing research to confirm what I already suspected — that the term “inspired” is applied so loosely that the film’s pants are in danger of dropping down to its ankles. None of the stuff that happens in the film are based on real events chronicled by Sarchie in his book. I have no idea why they went down this route — perhaps the book is not very exciting– but the plot is so ludicrous that it feels a lot more than a comic book adaptation than anything resembling reality. This is a real shame because I would have much rather preferred strong execution of a dull story than dull execution of a silly story.

Apart from the plot, Deliver Us From Evil is actually also a very unpleasant film to watch, and I mean that in a bad way for a horror movie. Having dark tones and “visual grit” is one thing, but this film goes a little overboard with it. Throw in the flashing lights that almost gave me an epileptic fit and all the rapid-fire cuts, I felt like I really needed to give my eyes a good rest after watching the film.

Eric Bana does the best he can as Sarchie, though the limits of the material make him just yet another troubled cop with a dark past. We’ve seen too many of these “losing my faith” redemption stories for Sarchie to come across as anything special. Edgar Ramirez, who plays an unorthodox chain-smoking Spanish priest, is not your typical exorcist. He’s interesting for a while, though not interesting enough to be a truly memorable character. Olivia Munn plays the wife, and it’s sad to see such a beautiful, talented woman like her being relegated to such a thankless role.

I genuinely wish I liked Deliver Us From Evil more. With the exception of a couple of bright spots, however, this is a film that belongs well hidden in the shadows.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

tmnt-poster

They’re the world’s most fierce fighting team. They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green.

That’s right, I still remember the song words. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as encapsulated by the 1987 cartoon series, will always have a soft spot in my heart. I’d watch it every morning before schoo. I collected all the toy figurines, and distinctively recall lining up outside the department store and rushing in as soon as it opened to get the latest additions. I had Ninja Turtles stationery, I played Ninja Turtles video games, and I even bought a whole bunch of crap just so I could collect these stupid complimentary Ninja Turtles coins. Those were the days, and Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo were the shit.

And so I’m not ashamed to say that I was kinda looking forward to the new live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, even though I have not followed the franchise for a couple of decades and did not watch the new cartoon series nor the 2007 computer animated feature film. And dammit, even if Michael Bay was involved and Megan fox plays April O’Neil, I was still determined to see it.

If I could sum up the film in one word, it would be: underwhelming. I don’t think it is as bad as some critics have made it out to be (must be the automatic bias from knowing that Michael Bay produced it), but everything about it is too “by the book.” From the plot to the action to the humor, there is absolutely nothing to get excited about. Director Jonathan Liebesman, who doesn’t have a terrible track record with a CV that includes Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, treads too lightly to make waves. As a result, the film is cookie-cutter. It’s pure vanilla. If not for the CGI, motion-capture turtles, the film doesn’t add much, if anything, to the legacy of the franchise.

The story could not be more conventional, even by Hollywood standards. It’s an origins story, so you’ll get the whole spiel about how the turtles mutated and were turned into martial arts experts by a mutant rat named Splinter. There’s the evil Shredder, there’s his Foot Clan, and there’s the reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett). They made a few minor tweaks around the edges of the script and added the new character, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner)– whom I initially and erroneously thought was Shredder — but apart from that everything stays quite close to the cartoons I watched.

The action generally lacked creativity. With martial arts movies taking it to the next level these days, it’s disappointing to not see something with a little more flair considering that the turtles are CGI. Yeah, I know they are motion captured, but it doesn’t hurt to give them some additional enhancements. The only time the action tried anything daring was in an extended snow sequence that reminded me a lot of the river scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And like that scene, this one also felt somewhat cartoonish — yes, even for a film largely based on a cartoon.

As for the turtles, while I liked the idea of CGI motion capture, I wasn’t a huge fan of the designs. I didn’t mind the Kanji characters and little bits and pieces added to their respective bodies, but they looked way too big and muscular (the original Ninja Turtles were supposed to be only about five feet tall). And they’re ugly fellas too, with the beady nostrils and menacing faces. They looked more like villains than heroes, to be honest, and the performances from the actors (Alan Ritchson, Shawn Kavanaugh, Pete Ploszek/Johnny Knoxville, and Jeremy Howard) didn’t make them any more likable. Too much cheese, not enough charm.

Fortunately, my favorite turtle, Michelangelo, looked at least semi-normal. But the glasses thing with Donatello made him look like a freak, while Rafael, who for some reason always get special attention in the movies despite being an angry, unreasonable douchebag, just looked gross.

And Splinter, strangely voiced by Tony Shalhaub of all people, was just weird. I thought the turtles generally looked realistic enough, with the exception of a couple of close-ups under bright lighting conditions, but with Splinter, he looked too CGI almost all the time and came across as more of a creep than the trusted and loving sensei of my childhood.

I’m a fan of William Fichtner and thought he would excel as the villain Schredder, whom they more or less turned into Edward Scissorhands with a helmet. I actually thought it was a nice modern adjustment to fuse the look of Schredder’s traditional samurai armour with advanced weapons technology, but unfortunately, Fichtner was not Schredder, who turned out to be some lame Japanese guy whose face you barely saw for the entire movie. Honestly, it would have been so much better had they just made Fichtner Schredder. It would have made more sense too, plot-wise. Maybe he could fulfill that destiny in the planned sequels.

The one thing the film got right was making sure the turtles, rather than the humans, were the stars of the show. Megan Fox is not someone I had pictured for the role, but she’s actually not awful here. She’s OK, and that’s good enough for a supporting actor.

The film’s biggest asset turned out to be Will Arnett, who provided all the jokes in the movie — at least the jokes that were funny anyway. and he did it by unashamedly channeling GOB Bluth from Arrested Development. Not that I am complaining, because GOB is one of the funniest TV characters of all time. AD fans will get a kick out of his performance, as well as the AD Easter eggs they put into the movie.

Perhaps I’ve become too cynical of a moviegoer after all these years, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, despite not being a complete failure, didn’t do much for me. Granted, it is better than the recent Transformers entries. It’s less loud, less obnoxious and less long (101 minutes), and for some, that’s probably enough. The 1990 film was most likely not very good either, but I loved it as a kid. Accordingly, I think it’s possible that younger viewers could enjoy the 2014 version a lot too. Sadly for me, no amount of nostalgia can make me come to the conclusion that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is anything more than average.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Wolves (2014)

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There have been a plethora of werewolf and vampire movies and TV series hanging around ever since Twilight took off, and I don’t think the unimaginatively titled Wolves, a Canadian production looking to ride the wave, has gotten the message that too much is just…too much.

Wolves is technically not a bad effort. It just fails to provide anything new or even attempt a creative spin on the familiar teen genre. Lucas Till, whom some of you might remember from the two most recent X-Men movies as Havoc, plays Cayden Richards, a happy teenager and jock who suddenly discovers that he is a werewolf. He ends up on the run and lands in the town of Lupine Ridge, a town full of his breed, to find out the mysteries of his heritage. Naturally, he meets a hot young girl (Merritt Patterson), and the two fall for each other because there’s no one else around. No love triangle is refreshing, but it’s also kinda boring.

However, the focus of Wolves is, thankfully, not on the romance. It’s more about tensions between Cayden and a dangerous pack of wolves led by Connor, played by Game of Thones’ Jason Momoa. The big fella is the headliner for the movie but he comes across as fairly bland. In fact, most of the film comes across as fairly bland. There’s werewolf sex and werewolf fights, but the story itself is not interesting or distinguishing enough for Wolves to avoid the label of a wannabe attempt.

On the bright side, it’s solidly directed by writer/director David Hayter (who penned the scripts for X-Men, X-Men 2 and Watchmen) in his directorial debut, and the wolves look more like traditional werewolves than the big dogs they’ve become thanks to Twilight.

Still, it’s hard to determine what Wolves was aiming for other than another run-of-the-mill teen wolf flick. It was made for a minuscule budget of US$18 million. It is, as far as I know, not based on any best-selling books. It doesn’t appear to have any major rising stars or teen heartthrobs, unless you put Till (who looks more “unusual” than handsome in my humble opinion) or Momoa (who is too old) in those categories. And it appears to be a standalone with no prospects of a sequel.

Perhaps it will give those suffering from Twilight withdrawal symptoms a shot in the arm, but for everyone else, Wolves should either be watched as a DVD rental when the options are limited or a late-night cable entry when there’s nothing else to do.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Chef (2014)

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Chef is 100%, completely unabashed, unapologetic food porn. Written and directed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau, it tells the story of a master chef (Favreau) who loses his way before rekindling his passion for scrumptious cuisine by starting a food truck. On its face, Chef is a road trip movie about one man’s quest for redemption, but in reality it’s more or less one delicious course after another that will probably make viewers extremely hungry and foodies like myself spray their shorts in uncontrollable excitement (and envy) .

No one will deny that Chef is a vanity project. Favreau clearly loves his food (as evident by his sizable girth) and he has a passion for making it. There are lots of big names in the film, from Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson to Dustin Hoffman and Sofia Vergara, but you get the feeling that all of them agreed to appear as a “friendly” favour to Favreau.

But as another great self-indulgent piece of entertainment once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” In fact, some of the best movies and TV shows of all-time are self-indulgent, and it is in my humble opinion that one of Favreau’s greatest claims to fame lies in his role as Eric the Clown on the show that made the abovementioned line famous.

Anyway, Chef is essentially a very simple, family-friendly story about a guy who likes to make food. While working for a top gourmet restaurant in LA, Carl (Favreau) becomes engaged in a very public spat on social media with a prominent online food critic (Oliver Platt), resulting in a humiliating fall from grace. Then, with the help of his buddy (John Leguizamo), son (Emjay Anthony), his ex-wife (Vergara) and her other ex-husband (Downey Jr), he starts a food truck selling Cuban sandwiches. This time, he uses social media to his advantage in promoting the new venture as he makes a road trip back to LA via some other cities known for their culinary delights.

The story and the script could not be simpler, and you get the feeling watching the film that everything is secondary to the food. I saw the movie after a big meal and I was still getting hungry. Whether it’s gourmet cuisine or basic roadside snacks like Cubanos, Chef makes the food all look scrumptious enough to die for. It’s not as easy as it seems because I’ve seen plenty of food shows where all the grubby hands and sweaty chefs have turned me off. Watching Chef,  however, I felt like I could channel Favreau’s passion and almost smell the saliva-inducing aromas.

If you take away the food (no pun intended), Chef would be a barely passable movie with a cliched message telling everyone to do what they’re passionate about (with a side message about the dangers and powers of social media). There are some poignant moments between Carl and and his son, the core relationship in the film, but apart from that the film’s just an excuse to keep shoving delicious stuff in our faces.

My main problem with Chef is that after Carl’s initial fall from grace there’s almost no tension or conflict the rest of the way. It’s all just one big, smooth-sailing ride back up to the top. Even the ending is too neatly tied up into a perfect bow, and the cynic in me couldn’t help but cringe at all the mushiness. I guess it will work for audiences who are after nothing but a feel-good experience — which the film delivers expertly — but personally I wanted my emotions to be challenged a little more.

At the end of the day, Chef is what it is. Feel-good food porn that should be a hit with families and foodies alike. The foodie in me thinks it’s sensational, while the movie critic in me says “Meh.” My overall impression probably falls somewhere slightly above the average of the two (I am, after all, a pig).

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Lucy (2014)

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Lucy is a big deal in Taiwan. About half the movie was shot in Taipei, which is why locals have been so supportive by flocking to see it by the truckloads, turning the sci-fi action flick into the No. 2 film at the domestic box office for 2014 (behind — you guessed it — Transformers: Age of Extinction). The film’s reception in Taiwan has been somewhat muted. Some people say it’s awesome, while others have given it the lukewarm “It’s OK.” No one in the country really wants to say it. So I will. Lucy sucked.

Our eponymous protagonist, played by Scarlett Johannson, is a young woman living in Taipei who becomes an unwilling drug mule to some Korean gangsters. During her ordeal something happens, opening up her brain capacity from the normal (mythical) human 10% and accelerating it towards 100%. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know some crazy stuff goes down. She doesn’t just become a smart gal. She becomes a freaking superhero who would shit all over the Avengers if they ever met in a dark alley (and yes, that includes the Black Widow).

It sounds like a cool idea, and writer and director Luc Besson (who is also very popular in Taiwan) clearly thinks so too. But for a movie about an unfathomably intelligent being, Lucy is remarkably stupid. Stories about maximizing human brain capacity are not novel — Bradley Cooper gave it a shot in the flawed but vastly superior Limitless back in 2011 — but in Lucy the enhanced brain functions are taken to a whole new level, giving her ever-expanding supernatural powers like telekinesis, super-hearing, mind-reading, shape-shifting, tapping into electronic signals, controlling gravity, expert marksmenship, time travel, etc — you name it, Lucy can do it. And you thought the stuff Johnny Depp could do in Transcendence was ridiculous.

So basically, any semblance of real science goes out the window. The film is more or less a superhero action flick, and everything about it — from the tone of the film and its completely over-the-top action scenes to the way she transforms after gaining her powers — tells us not to take things too seriously. And yet, Lucy lacks the elements of what makes a superhero movie good. The problem lies with the complete lack of character development, or rather, the reversing development in her character. Lucy started off semi-likable, but the more powerful she grew the less human she became. She loses her morals and emotions. She essentially (and quite literally) turns into a machine — and we don’t give a shit.

When a film fails to make any emotional connection we start looking for something else, and in this case it’s the action. Lucy is adequate in this regard but nothing special. There is one scintillating car chase scene through the streets of a major city, but apart from that there’s not much we haven’t seen before. One of the reasons the action fails to truly excite is because Lucy becomes so powerful that she has no enemy who could provide the film with some much-needed conflict or tension. There’s no formidable foe or arch nemesis to give us the type of showdown a movie like this demands.

Worse still, Lucy has a distinct dearth of humour for a Luc Besson film. There’s a little bit of the usual cheekiness, perhaps, but there are no laughs to be found in Lucy, which is strange given the film’s farcical nature and tone. As for the performances, Johansson and Morgan Freeman are about as good as you could have expected, while the special effects are admittedly seamless, though both are things we tend to take for granted these days.

Unfortunately, my gripes go deeper than that. For all the hoopla about filming in Taiwan, it turns out that those scenes could have been shot anywhere. So we see some shots of the busy Taipei streets and various angles of Taipei 101. Big deal (sadly, for some Taiwanese audiences, that’s enough to make the movie great). We actually have no idea what the heck Lucy is even doing in Taiwan. We know she lives there and she appears to be a student, but that makes no sense because she doesn’t know a lick of Mandarin. Moreover, the antagonists in the movie are Korean. We don’t know what they’re doing in Taiwan either. They don’t speak English or Mandarin. It just makes the whole Taiwan setting extremely pointless.

I consider myself quite a careless viewer in that I don’t usually notice holes in movie storylines, but in Lucy they were jumping out at me because they was so obvious. For example, when Lucy goes into a Taipei hotel to look for a Mr Jang, the receptionist connects her over the phone and acts as a translator between the two. The problem is, the receptionist is speaking Mandarin to Mr Jang and/or his henchmen, and we find out later that they’re all Korean! Or when Lucy is in Taiwan and tells Morgan Freeman that she’ll be at his place in Paris in 12 hours — except a direct flight from Taipei to Paris is 12 hours and 35 minutes, and she’s not even at the airport! And I haven’t even talked about how Lucy apparently loses most of her teeth at one stage, only to have them apparently all grow back (so she’s got Wolverine powers too?) or how she kills a whole bunch of innocent people for trivial reasons (or no reason at all), and yet spares all the bad guys who are hell bent on tracking her down and annihilating her. Just really careless, sloppy stuff.

Having said all that, I didn’t loathe Lucy, or at least not as much as I think I should. The film actually started off relatively strong and was packed with a decent level of intrigue, but the further along it went the more preposterous and — pardon my “political correctlessness” — retarded it became. Apart from all the batshit insane stuff Lucy was doing, the film was filled with trite philosophical BS pretending to give meaning to the story, complete with Terrence Malick Tree of Life-style random snippets of micro-organisms, (copulating) animals and outer space. And if that’s not crazy enough for you, the Akira-esque ending almost makes Muholland Drive seem logical

All of the above combines to make Lucy a trippy, messy, cheesy experience where the enjoyment level is heavily dependent on how much nonsense you can stomach. If you go into it knowing you’re about to see the dumbest action movie of the year rather than the intelligent sci-fi it appeared on paper, you might even find the silliness endearingly fun. For me, however, Lucy was just one big clusterWTF that’s neither clever nor funny, rarely exciting, and only passably entertaining.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Noah (2014)

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Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is one hell of a trippy experience. You cannot possibly go into this movie without some preconceived notions of what it is about, but ignoring those notions is imperative if you want to comprehend it, let along enjoy it.

As the title suggests, the film centers around the biblical character of Noah, and if any actor can be accused of having a God complex it would have to be the man playing him, Aussie Russell Crowe (or when he makes a dick of himself, “New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe”).

But the thing is, Noah is decidedly a non-religious movie. It’s a fantasy film that is so loosely based on the source material that it would be misleading to even call it “loosely based.”

God is not called “God” — he’s the Creator. We never see Noah speaking to him, and thankfully we never see the Creator talking back. In fact, there is no concrete evidence proving that the Creator even made contact with Noah, who may simply be a lunatic, though everything that happens in the movie strongly suggests that everything we are seeing is not just a string of random coincidences.

To make things even weirder, the film is filled with strange animals not of this world and creatures that look like they came straight out the Middle Earth, including these stone golems called the Watchers (apparently called Nephilim in the Bible) who remind me of LOTR‘s Ents. Parts of the film, in fact, have a distinct LOTR-type feel, with epic battles, epic speeches and an epic old man with white hair who seems to know a little bit of magic (in this case he’s Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, played by Anthony Hopkins).

(On the other hand, there is a guy called Noah, he does build an ark, there is a flood, and there are references to the Garden of Eden, and everyone’s a descendant of either Cain (the guy who killed his brother Abel) or his brother Seth.)

So if Noah is a Bible movie it certainly does not feel like legitimate one, and if you are a devout Christian expecting a “faithful” experience like The Passion of the Christ, you will likely come away not just disappointed but wondering what the heck just happened.

Having said that, Noah still works — surprisingly well too — as a timeless fable, a fantasy morality tale that could have been set in another world. And let’s face it, most reasonable Christians would probably concede that the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark is not a literal story but a fable, or at least take the position that it does not matter if it really happened because it’s the message that’s ultimately important. The universal themes — faith, family, vengeance, survival, love, compassion, mercy and salvation — are all there anyway, so what’s the big deal if they spice it up a little with some added melodrama, crazy creatures and eye-popping special effects?

This is a cliche, but another reason why the film stays afloat (pun intended) is because of the performances. Russell Crowe brings an intensity and sincerity to Noah that’s necessary for us to believe in the character, but he’s also complex and far from a saint. Jennifer Connelly again does a great job of playing Crowe’s supportive and stoic wife, bringing back memories of her Oscar-winning performance in A Beautiful Mind. Emma Watson is all grown up and plays their adopted daughter, while her love interest from Perks of Being a Wallflower, Percy Jackson aka Logan Lerman, plays Noah’s horny son, who just wants to “get married” before he is wiped from the face of the planet. They’re both somewhat annoying, but they serve their purpose. Ray Winstone, on the other hand, gets the meaty role as the film’s primary protagonist, Tubal-Cain, who wants to steal Noah’s Ark for himself.

On the whole, Noah is probably not what people envisioned when they first heard the film was being made, but if you can keep an open mind you might come away pleasantly surprised. The story on which the film is based has always been one of the more implausible tales of the Bible, and instead of taking on the difficult task of trying to make it more “realistic”, Darren Aronofsky just ran with it, creating a wild, crazy, trippy yet thoughtful fantasy experience that even non-believers can take something out of.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Those who have read an article or two on this blog might have noticed that I have what you might call a bit of a Planet of the Apes infatuation. I declared the franchise reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the best film of 2011. I declared its long awaited sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, my most anticipated movie of 2014. I’m not quite sure what it is, but there’s just something about the story, the franchise, that has me going all ape.

This time around, the story takes place about a decade after the end of the previous film, when the so-called Simian flu — the same virus that gave the apes their intelligence — has wiped out the vast majority of the human population. All that remains, as far as we know, is a group of naturally immune survivors living in San Francisco led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Desperate for a source of power, a band of humans led by Malcolm (Aussie Jason Clarke) venture into the woods, where they run into the protagonist of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and his growing tribe of smart apes.

Just like its predecessor, the humans in Dawn take a back seat to the apes, who are far more interesting and dominate the narrative. It was a necessary decision to abandon the human cast from the first film, in particular James Franco’s Dr Will Rodman, the man responsible for creating the Simian flu in the first place (Franco is too busy posting nude photos of himself on the internet anyway). This is because, as an ape film, it’s important to see Caesar’s continued growth into the great revolutionary leader he’s destined to be. In Dawn, he has established societal order in his ape tribe, built a home, and started a family. He is compassionate, loyal and intelligent — but he can still be a total badass when he needs to be.

Key returning ape characters include Maurice (Karin Konoval), the big, clever orangutan who acts as third in command and the apes’ voice of reason, as well as Koba (Toby Kebbell), the tortured, mutilated ape Caesar liberated in the first film who understandably has trouble containing his distrust for humans and his violent temper. The most important new additions are Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar’s partner, and Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), their rebellious son.

On the human side, the central character is Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, but apart from him everyone else is underdeveloped. There’s his second wife, Ellie (Kerri Russell), and his teenage son, Alexander (fellow Aussie Kodi Smit-McPhee), plus a stereotypical human a-hole named Carver (Kirk Acevedo from Fringe), but none of the supporting human characters get to do much, not even the legendary Gary Oldman.

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To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the film is driven by the characters and their relationships. Apart from the bond between Caesar and Malcolm, which forms the heart of the film, there’s also well-executed conflicts between Caesar and his son Blue Eyes and with his second-in-command Koba. This could have very easily been a big, dumb action flick with lots of loud explosions, pointless violence and flashy effects (in the vein of Michael Bay), but director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), who took over the reins from Rupert Wyatt, managed to keep his focus on the things that truly matter.

Dawn is not just a humans vs apes story — it’s a tale of survival that traverses universal themes such as ingrained discrimination, tribal loyalties, political complexities and familial bonds. It’s Reeves’ ability to craft these themes amid the chaos and action that enable the emotions to resonate, and it’s also what makes Dawn more memorable than your average sci-fi.

There were perhaps some missed opportunities to explore relationships on the human side (in particular Malcolm and his son), and some audiences might be disappointed with the lack of prominent female roles (Cornelia, in particular, felt like a wasted character), though on the whole I felt like the script by returning writers Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa and new addition Mark Bomback (who has s chequered history with Die Hard 4 and the crap Total Recall remake but also the underrated Unstoppable and last year’s The Wolverine on his resume), was more than adequate.

Part of the reason the ape characters are so compelling to watch is because they come across as real people (even more so than the humans), but at the same time we are constantly reminded of how different they are and how dangerous they can be. All wonderful ape performances are again done by motion capture, and the technology is even more impressive than it was last time as the apes have a more expansive vocabulary and hence more facial movements and expressions. I’m sure real apes don’t look quite like the apes in the film, but what matters is that they look incredibly realistic, not only in their physical appearance but also in the way their bodies move and interact with their surroundings. There was not a second during the film when I thought anything looked unnatural or out of place, and full credit must go to the special effects team and the understated performance capture of the actors.

And it is thanks in large part to the special effects that Dawn contains some of the most epic battle sequences and fight scenes you’ll see this year. As the number of apes have increased dramatically, the scale of the action dwarfs that in Rise, with several sublimely choreographed scenes that had me staring in awe from the edge of my seat. Further, the violence was never without reason or purpose, so unlike some action flicks (cough, Michael Bay) I never felt like I was getting numb from it all. Apes against humans, humans against humans, apes against apes. It’s pure, satisfying, mindblowing entertainment.

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Having set myself up for disappointment by living in ape hype for the last three years, Dawn actually lived up to my unrealistic expectations. Yes, I admit I am partial to the franchise, but how rare does a blockbuster of this magnitude turn out to be as good as you predicted? While the film was different to what I thought it would be, it was still bloody freaking sensational. As tense, emotional and exciting as I had envisioned. As visually stunning as I had imagined. As epic as I had hoped. Sure, if you want to you can nitpick all day, about the weakness in the script, the lack of development of the human characters (especially the females), the Hollywood stereotypes and cliches, the too-obvious exposition in the dialogue, the untied loose ends, and so forth.

Ultimately, however, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about as close as you can get to the perfect summer blockbuster. This goes beyond just living up to its excellent predecessor — Dawn is to Rise what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars, what The Godfather: Part II is to The Godfather. It might not be as intelligent as it wanted to be, but it’s still undeniably thought-provoking. It might not be as emotionally involving as it could have been, but it still tugs at the heart strings. There could have potentially been more action sequences earlier on or a more climatic ending, but you can hardly complain about what’s already there. When you factor in everything the film got right and the complete-package experience that it provides, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is simply the most flat-out awesome movie of the year.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: Now it’s another 2-year wait until the next instalment in the series, currently scheduled for July 26, 2016 release date.