Tag Archives: Anton Yelchin

Green Room (2016)

As far as non-supernatural horror-thrillers go, Green Room is about as terrifying as you can get.

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the film is about members of a punk rock band who witness a crime while performing at a remote neo-Nazi bar and end up barricading themselves inside the titular green room (basically the waiting area/change room for performers), with a gang of vicious skinheads — led by Patrick Stewart, no less — out for their blood.

As he did with the acclaimed Blue Ruin, Saulnier takes this semi-original premise and turns it into a stripped-down, horrific, visceral experience. After a short build-up, the film gets insanely tense and claustrophobic. I don’t want to give away too much because the element of surprise works to the film’s (and your) advantage, though I must warn that you need a good stomach to sit through it, because there are some absolutely shocking images that will stick with you for a long time. It’s just a really brutal, uncompromising ordeal that forces you to place yourself in the shoes of the characters. What would you do in such a nightmarish situation?

This is the kind of film that proves that you don’t need a big budget or special effects to make a great horror flick. As long as you’ve got a director with the right vision and skills and well-cast, talented actors, you can create nail-biting tension and the thrills needed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Speaking of the cast (sigh), the late Anton Yelchin is magnificent as Pat, the bassist, exuding just the right amount of fear, desperation and vulnerability for the role. Patrick Stewart doesn’t have a big role, but he really showed me a different side to Professor X. The dude is straight up malicious. Apart from Yelchin and Stewart, Alia Shawkat (from Arrested Development), Mark Webber and Imogen Poots are the other known commodities. They’re all really good, Poots especially.

Granted, Green Room doesn’t look pretty and can be a harrowing experience — and hence not for everyone. But if you enjoy being terrified and can appreciate stripped-down, low-budget films that are well-made and acted, you really can’t get much better than this. With a running time of just 95 minutes, there’s no excuse for not checking it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Star Trek Beyond, grammatically confusing title notwithstanding, is the solid albeit less ambitious third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise that began with Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, both films I really enjoyed.

This time around, Fast & Furious 3-6 director Justin Lin has replaced Abrams, with Simon Pegg (Scotty) penning the script. Most of the cast is back, with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin, in his final role, as Chekov (a name that, when yelled in an American accent during times of distress, which happens numerous times in this film, sounds a lot like an insult — you figure that one out for yourself). Unfortunately, as Alive Eve had a scheduling conflict, her character Carol Marcus from Into Darkness simply disappeared from the crew USS Enterprise. Joining the cast this time are Sofia Boutella as Jayla, an alien scavenger, and Idris Elba as the unrecognisable alien Krall.

The plot of Star Trek Beyond is very simple: The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission after receiving a distress call. Stuff happens and basically the entire movie is spent on a barren planet against a powerful alien enemy. Each member of the main cast is dealing with something personal, and there are a few twists and turns along the way, but on the whole, there’s nothing mindblowing about the story.

The same can be said for the action. Justin Lin is essentially the director responsible for turning the Fast & Furious franchise into the juggernaut it is today, so you know he’s got a great feel for action. But the action sequences in Star Trek Beyond, while visually impressive, aren’t at the same level as the Fast & Furious films in terms of innovation and adrenaline-pumping thrills. The special effects are also in the same category — they are good enough to get the job done, though there are no jaw-dropping or memorable images.

These elements combine to make Beyond feel more like a glorified season finale of a TV series than a major cinematic blockbuster. Perhaps that’s downplaying the overall quality of the production, but both of its predecessors felt a lot more like event films, whereas this one came across as more run-of-the-mill and par for the course. And it shouldn’t have been this way considering that its US$185 million budget was equal to that of Into Darkness and US$35 million higher than Star Trek.

That said, despite the seemingly lowered ambitions, I still found Beyond to be a pretty enjoyable popcorn flick. The biggest reason is not the action or the special effects, but the chemistry and interactions between the characters. I’m not a Trekkie and have never been one, but I had a lot of fun watching the back and forth banter and camaraderie between the cast members, especially Spock and Bones, and Scotty and Kirk. By the end of it all, I found myself engrossed in the story and invested in their fate. Pegg deserves a lot of credit for the dialogue and bringing out the essence of so many of these beloved characters.

My biggest disappointment with the film was the character of Jayla, who seemed to have a substantial and pivotal role in the film judging from the trailers and the posters. And while she is important, she doesn’t quite live up to the expectations or the hype of her well-designed physical appearance. On the other hand, the villain Krall turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and that speaks to the imposing screen presence Idris Elba always brings to every one of his roles.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond is a well-made and very watchable third entry in a franchise that appears to be heading toward an inevitable decline. It’s not spectacular but it’s also far from weak. If future entries can maintain this standard — and they’ve already said there will be more — I certainly wouldn’t mind going on more of these adventures aboard the Enterprise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part V

Let’s take some time out from my 2012 Movie Blitz to go back to some movies I have watched more recently.

Evil Dead (2013)

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The original Evil Dead directed by Sam Raimi is now widely considered classic even though it’s actually a very flawed horror film that happens to have a few iconic images. Thirty-two years later, we have what is considered a reboot as well as a loose continuation of the franchise. This time, the film is directed by Fede Alvarez in his big screen debut — and the results are surprising.

In keeping up with tradition, this reboot is also about a bunch of young people who end up in a cabin in the woods (this time for drug rehab purposes) and one of them stupidly brings a demon to life by opening a book he/she shouldn’t have. The demon possesses one of them, and like a zombie virus, the possession is spread from one to the next.

Much of the scares come from the visceral details of the graphic injuries. They get scalded by hot water, get stabbed, punctured, tossed around, covered in glass and have limbs torn right off, and yet they just keep soldiering on. And the craziest thing is that the non-possessed humans are even harder to kill than the demon-possessed characters. It’s so outrageous it’s funny — but in a good way.

I didn’t expect much from Evil Dead given the disappointing horror reboots in recent years (just about all the ones you can think of). I had heard that this one was effectively gory and disgusting but not particularly frightening — but I respectfully disagree. Yes, it was excessively bloody and gruesome and gross, but it was done effectively and not gratuitously like say the horror porn films such as Hostel and the later entries in the Saw franchise.

I didn’t recognise any of the actors except Shiloh Fernandez, who was in that awful Red Riding Hood movie, but everyone does a decent job — no small feat considering that most casts of such film are laughably bad.

So yeah, while this rendition of Evil Dead won’t make us forget the original any time soon, it was still an unexpected pleasure in the way that only gross horror movies can be.

3.5 stars out of 5

Gangster Squad (2013)

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Gangster Squad has all the ingredients of a great blockbuster — the “loosely based on a true story” concept, the noir atmosphere of the post-WWII era, a fundamental good vs evil storyline, and a ridiculous cast headed by Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, plus Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick. Everything was seemingly there, and yet the film felt like it was missing…something.

I can’t quite put my finger on it except to say that there was a sense of familiarity with the film, as though I had seen it or experienced it all before. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with that, but for a film of this magnitude carrying hefty expectations it just felt like the film fell well short of expectations.

The story is based around real-life notorious crime boss and former pro-boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who basically ran LA back in those days by eliminating witnesses and bringing legal officials. When even the cops tell their own not to venture into Mickey’s property, you know he’s not to be messed with. But Josh Brolin is a sergeant who can’t say no to justice, and he accepts a clandestine mission from his boss, Nick Nolte, to bring Cohen down off official police books. The rest of the cast mentioned above are pretty much all members of Brolin’s Gangster Squad, except for of course Emma Stone, one of Cohen’s women who falls in love with Ryan Gosling (because everyone loves Ryan Gosling — even though he puts on this weird, whiny voice in this movie).

Gangster Squad is a pretty-looking film that successfully captivates the mood of the era and has some crafty action sequences (including a bare-knuckle showdown that made little sense). It is ultra-violent and perhaps unnecessarily so, but I never have a huge problem with violence as long as it’s not blatantly gratuitous (well, and even then…). Where I think the film falters is the script, which never brought out the characters properly and as a result we never develop any emotional connection to them. It’s not awful by any means, but given the stars involved being merely average is not good enough.

3 stars out of 5

Dark Skies (2013)

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I love horror films and I love alien/UFO films, and Dark Skies is an attempt to roll both genres into one.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are a couple struggling with financial difficulties, bringing a lot of tension to their relationship with each other and as well as with their two sons. Like a poltergeist movie, strange things start happening in and around their home, and if you know your alien abduction cliches, you would have seen them all. But thanks to some effective direction from Scott Stewart (who last gave us the lacklustre Priest), the scares are still quite effective.

The frequency and intensity of the weird stuff increases as the couple realise that there might a sinister force trying to take over their lives, leading them to seek the help of an “expert” played by JK Simmons (with some unintentionally amusing results). After receiving some advice, they buckle down and face what is going to inevitably come at them anyway — but wait, there might be a twist. Sound familiar?

I sound harsh about this film, but the thing is, you should not approach Dark Skies like it’s going to be some fantastic masterpiece. It’s a sci-fi horror about alien abduction, so keep your expectations in check. All you can really hope for are some eerie atmospheric tensions, a few creepy incidents, some “boo!” scares, an effectively climax and an ending that doesn’t suck too badly. Dark Skies delivers all of the above, albeit in ways we’ve all seen before. Thanks to my bias for scary aliens, I still had a pretty good time with it.

3.25 stars out of 5

Odd Thomas (2013)

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I first became acquainted with Odd Thomas, the character not the film, a couple of years ago, when a friend got me In Odd We Trust, a graphic novel about a young man who can see dead people and decides to do something about it. The graphic novel is based on a series of novels written by horror master Dean Koontz.

I liked the graphic novel but thought it would be even better as a movie, and what do you know, a year or two later and we have Odd Thomas, the motion picture version, starring Anton Yelchin (one of my favourite young actors) as the titular character and the pretty Addison Timlin (whom some might recognise from Californication) as love interest Stormy. The film is actually in limbo at the moment because of a lawsuit, so I won’t disclose how I actually came about to watching it.

Odd Thomas is a film that is tonally difficult to get right because it’s supposed to be scary (with dead people and ghosts and demonic creatures and so forth) but at the same time it has to have that kiddy graphic novel feel where you have to partially suspend disbelief but not to the extent where it becomes a farce. And at the center of it lies a sweet romance between Odd and his one true love, Stormy, but it can’t be too sweet or else it will put off viewers.

Amazingly, director Stephen Sommers (GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Mummy franchise) gets it right, or at least gets close enough. Odd Thomas is essentially a fun, quirky and sweet detective film laced with elements of horror and fantasy — and some well-executed action. Not everything works (some of the concepts were either too “out there” or convoluted for my liking) but on the whole the elements meshed well together.

Anton Yelchin’s unusual look makes him a perfect Odd, and his chemistry with Timlin is scorching. Willem Dafoe also gets to show off some of his comedic chops as the police chief who can’t seem to get a minute alone with his wife. It’s not cult classic material but I’d like to think it’s enjoyable enough to possibly be the first instalment of a franchise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fright Night (2D) (2011)

The original 1985 Fright Night was one of the first movies I can remember watching as a child (a disturbing fact in itself).  My uncle had borrowed the video from the local store and ‘forgot’ to return it, and when the video store went bust (because of people like my uncle), Fright Night became part of the family video collection.

And so I had mixed feelings when I heard that they were doing a remake, and that it was going to be in “I can’t take anymore” 3D.  One of the reasons I was optimistic was because of the awesome cast — Anton Yelchin (there’s something about this kid that I love) was going to play the teenage protagonist Charley Brewster (previously played by William Ragsdale), Toni Collette was going to play his mother, and Colin Farrell (previously Chris Sarandon) was going to be Jerry, the vampire next door.

But on the other hand, a remake is a remake, and remakes seldom hold a candle to the original.

Fortunately, this particular remake was pretty good, primarily because it does not slavishly follow the original (from what I can remember).  The characters are the same and the plot (a teenager suspects the charming next door neighbour is a vampire) largely follows the same trajectory, but the progression, the minor plot points and the overall feel are rather different.

Like the original, one thing this Fright Night remake does extremely well is finding the right balance between horror and comedy.  The horror bits are genuinely scary without relying on cheap shots and the comedy bits are actually quite funny.  It pays homage to the original (Chris Sarandon even makes a cameo appearance) but director Craig Gillespie (who is going to be at the helm of the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) clearly had his own vision for this film.

I’m not sure if it’s because of my affection for the original, Anton Yelchin or the fact that the vampires in this film are the evil bloodsuckers they’re meant to be — nothing like those corny Twilight and True Blood romantics — that I found Fright Night to be one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011.

3.75 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, I had to make quite a trek to find this film in 2D, as almost all cinemas in my area were showing this film exclusively in 3D.  I’m sure it prevented it from losing a half star from my rating.  Sadly, I think the 3D exclusivity is turning a lot of audiences away from this film, which is why it hasn’t stuck around for very long.  When will these 3D money grabbers learn?

Movie Review: New York, I Love You (2009)

I just went to see a screening of New York, I Love You, a collection of 10 short films masquerading as a full-length feature.  Despite having one of the most amazing ensemble casts ever, it was no good.  No good at all.

New York, I Love You comes to us from the producers of the French film Paris, je t’aime (ie “Paris, I Love You”) and has basically the same concept.  All stories take place in the city of New York, and each one is about love, or the search for love (which is often confused for sex).  Apart from that, they are entirely different and standalone pieces, even though it is put together as though it is a single film.  Characters from one story might make a cameo in another every now and then — and there’s one character, a girl who walks around New York carrying a video camera, that I suppose links the pieces together — but there’s absolutely no connection between the stories.

You can’t discuss this movie without talking about the actors that make up the ensemble cast.  Just off the top of my head, there was: Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Bradley Cooper, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Christina Ricci, Julie Christie, James Caan, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, Jacinda Barrett, Maggie Q and Shu Qi.  Brett Ratner directed one of the stories and Natalie Portman wrote and directed another.

I guess the whole point of New York, I Love You was to show off New York as a city, and to make some sort of general comment about the “moments” and “connections” people make, whether it is with a completely random stranger or with someone you’ve been with for 60 years.

Needless to say, I struggled with this movie.  Putting aside that I did not know it was really a collection of short films as opposed to a segmented narrative (eg Love Actually, Crash, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentines Day), many of the stories didn’t work for me.

That’s what happens when you combine what is essentially 10 films written and directed by different people.  There is no consistency in the style or the tone or the feel of each one (for instance, some stories used internal dialogue; another had a narrator).  More importantly, many of the situations and much of the dialogue felt contrived.  It was very uncomfortable watching something you know is trying to manipulate your emotions in a hurry because it only has 10 minutes in which to do it.  I often found myself shaking my head wondering who on the planet reacts and talks like that to random strangers!

The short films all certainly had a lot of style — with the pretty shots, arty imagery and poetic chit chat — but there was rarely enough substance to establish an emotional connection.  And besides, even if you did connect with a particular character, you may never see them again anyway.

Individually, some of the stories were pretty good, witty and insightful.  My favourite one was a short conversation between Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q.  A couple of others, the one with Anton Yelchin and the one with the old couple, were decent.  However, not all of them hit the mark.  One or two were actually quite boring or irritating.  And the worst part about this being a collection of short films is that about half of them (or more) had a twist ending.  Usually one or two in a film is fine, but when it keeps happening over and over, it can start to get a bit tedious.

I would have very much preferred it had they simply presented the movie as 10 short films written and directed by different people, and broken them up accordingly without trying to force an unnecessary link between them.  Knowing when one short story ended and another began would have helped me reset and watch the next one with a clean slate.  Instead, the “combined” collection we ended up with felt uneven, disjointed and lacking in direction.

New York, I Love You is technically sound, shows New York in a nice light, and features an amazing cast — but so what?  It wasn’t enjoyable and that’s all that mattered in the end.

1.5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

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I went to see Terminator Salvation with reasonable (albeit guarded) expectations, but the film absolutely exceeded them.  In my humble opinion, it’s the second best film (out of four) of the great Terminator franchise.  Bearing in mind that I thought Terminator 2: Judgment Day was one of the best action movies and sequels of all time, that’s a pretty big compliment for the new film directed by McG and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

As per usual, I’ll keep plot details to an absolute minimum.  All that needs to be said is that the story revolves around a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale, or Edward Furlong from T2 and Nick Stahl from T3).  If you’ve seen the previous 3 films or have a vague idea what they are about, then no further explanation is necessary.

However, you don’t need to have seen any of the previous Terminator films to appreciate this one.  It stands up well as an independent feature, and is significantly different in style to its predecessors.  It’s substantially more dark, grim and gritty, capturing the pessimistic mood of the world perfectly.  But when it comes to action sequences, of which Terminator Salvation has plenty, it doesn’t do too shabbily when judged under the high standards set by the franchise.

While I said the story revolves around John Connor, the movie really belongs to new character Markus Wright, played by Aussie Sam Worthington (who will be appearing in Avatar later this year and will play Perseus in the remake of Clash of the Titans).  Worthington is arguably the lead character of the film, and shares just as much as screen time as (if not more than) Bale – and he has the more interesting story.  This is the second time in a row Bale has been relegated to second fiddle despite being the supposed ‘lead character’ for a major film (the first, of course, is when Heath Ledger’s Joker upstaged his Batman in The Dark Knight).  Maybe that’s the real reason Bale went American Psycho on the set!

While Bale and Worthington hog most of the minutes, Anton Yelchin absolutely steals the show as a young Kyle Reese.  He is terrific in this role, and I have become a big fan.  Also solid is Moon Bloodgood, a Resistance soldier, and Jadagrace Berry, too cute for her own good.  Michael Ironside grunts his way through the film for his paycheck, but it is Bryce Dallas Howard that has the most thankless role as as Kate Connor.  She really got short changed.

When people hear a guy named McG directed the film (you may remember him from such films as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), they cringe and refuse to give it a chance.  Poor guy, but that’s the nickname he was given from birth because too many relatives had the same names (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol).  However, McG does a splendid job in Terminator Salvation, creating a realistic, believable world, keeping the action thrilling and dynamic (with creative camera angles and movements), while managing to add in some cool homages to the previous films.  I thought they were cool anyway.

The special effects were superb, but audiences don’t expect anything less than seamless these days.  Although there were some highly creative sequences, none of them were as iconic as those from T1 or T2.

I was surprised how relatively little fanfare accompanied the release of this movie, which was the first in the franchise without Governor Schwarzenegger in the lead.  I’m not sure if it was because I was hidden from the world during my studies, but to me, Terminator Salvation had none of the hype that surrounded the release of other recent major films such as Star Trek or Angels & Demons.  Of course, there was that infamous psychotic Christian Bale rant on set that made headlines all around the world, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the unexpected low-keyness of it all.  Then again, that didn’t stop the early reviewers of the film from spoiling the many wonderful surprises in this underrated blockbuster (if you haven’t seen it yet, dear reader, then I hope you had more success than me in avoiding them).

Okay, now the verdict.  In my opinion, it’s better than a 4-star film, but not quite good enough to warrant 4.5 stars.  Hence, I will have to settle for 4.25 stars out of 5!