Tag Archives: Atom Egoyan

Movie Review: The Captive (2014)

The Captive new poster

Atom Egoyan has made some terrific films about loss and grief throughout his career. His latest effort, The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman and Kevin Durand, has been panned by critics, earning just a 24% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it’s not nearly as good as his earlier movies or recent abduction films like Prisoner, but I think everyone’s being way too harsh.

Ryan Reynolds plays a father whose daughter is kidnapped under his watch. With no witnesses, he is considered the prime suspect by police detectives (Dawson and Speedman), while his wife (Enos) quietly blames him for allowing the abduction to happen.

The story jumps back and forth between the time of the abduction and eight years later, when the daughter is still yet to be found and the lives of the parents are left in tatters. But new clues arise, and it appears their daughter might still be alive and living under the control of a child sex ring.

It’s nightmarish stuff, and the film is often difficult to watch as a result. As a parent myself, I can only imagine the pain and anguish from losing a child under such circumstances. I had never thought much of Ryan Reynolds as an actor, but he is very good here, especially as he has to deal with the suspicions of the police on top of his guilt.

It seems most people who did not enjoy the film had a problem with its preposterous plot. I admit that some of the things that occur in the film are a little fanciful, though thanks to the unsensationalized approach of Egoyan I did not have to suspend my disbelief. In fact, I don’t think anyone would have any qualms about the film’s realism if Egoyan slapped a true story tagline on it (and no, it is not a true story).

My major problem with the film was its unnecessary shift back and forth in time, which were occasionally confusing. Notwithstanding that, however, I think the captive is a flawed but solid thriller worth checking out.

3.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part IX

This is the last one. Seriously. The best and worst of 2013 coming right up after this!

The Family (2013)

the family

Robert De Niro may be a legend, but his career choices are inching closer and closer to Nicholas Cage territory with every mediocre film he decides to star in. The Family, on its face, should not have fallen into that category, as it’s directed by legendary Frenchman Luc Besson and features an all-star cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones and Glee‘s Dianna Agron. But somehow, this uneven, largely unfunny black comedy manages to turn itself into a mess that De Niro will likely want to pretend never existed.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, Mafia boss who turns to snitching after an attempt on his life. So together with his wife (Pfeiffer) and two kids (Agron and John D’Leo), they relocate to France under a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI agent Stansfield (Jones).

It’s an interesting premise brimming with potential. The central joke is that, as a Mafia family, they can’t be normal even if they tried. They’re scheming sociopaths and borderline psychopaths who just can’t play along and pretend to be a normal family. De Niro can’t stop killing people who offend him; Pfeiffer loves burning stuff down; Agron has a violent streak in her; and D’Leo is a scheming weasel who is the ultimate reconnaissance expert.

There are several key problems with The Family. The first is that Besson never gets the tone quite right. It’s a very dark comedy accompanied by over-the-top violence, but the violence itself is not funny like it is for a film like say Pulp Fiction or Fargo. It felt like the violence never found its role properly.

Secondly, all the central characters are just a little off, and as a result they don’t come across as likable. And it’s hard to root for them when you don’t like them very much. But you can tell Besson is trying to make them likable, which is why it was so strange watching them on screen.

And thirdly, and very strangely, Besson makes French people look like complete a-holes. I understand it was necessary to some extent so that the family can rain their vengeance upon them, but in my opinion it felt obligatory and unnecessary. I know the French are supposed to dislike Americans and vice versa, but this was too much. And they all spoke surprisingly good English too.

In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to like this one. Despite the strong cast, legendary director and best of intentions, The Family is a top-grade disappointment.

2 stars out of 5

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

welcome to the punch

First of all, Welcome to the Punch is a really horrible title for this movie. It makes it sound like an action comedy, when in fact it is a gritty action thriller. But apart from that, it’s actually not a bad British cops and robbers flick with some solid performances, stylish action sequences and a few interesting twists and turns.

James McAvoy is Max Lewinsky, a headstrong London cop determined to catch Icelandic criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who has surfaced after his son was involved in a heist gone wrong. It’s a complicated case that has been a major headache for the police, and so Lewinsky and his partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough) are frequently met with internal opposition — opposition that might be intended to impede their progress, and the only person they appear to have in their corner is their superior, Thomas Geiger (The Walking Dead‘s David Morrisey).

What follows is an intriguing game of cat and mouse that features a lot of well executed gunfights. The plot is a little convoluted for my liking, and I admit McAvoy’s protagonist is somewhat douchey, but on the whole I enjoyed the friend-or-foe dynamic between him and the intense and charismatic Strong, whom I believe has a dominating’s screen presence that is second to none.

Welcome to the Punch is not a superior thriller, but it’s a damn serviceable one that can be quite enjoyable if you go in with moderate expectations. Recommended DVD rental.

3.5 stars 

Devil’s Knot (2013)

DVL00056INTH_DEVIL'S-KNOT.indd

I’m always intrigued by Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s take on grief and loss, and so I was somewhat disappointed to hear lukewarm reviews for Devil’s Knot, a dramatization of the true story of the notorious West Memphis Three. Well guess what, I ended up being riveted by the movie from start to finish, so much so that I went on to devour all four documentaries made on the subject — Paradise Lost and its two sequels, and last year’s West of Memphis, made by Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh.

The true story, for those unfamiliar, takes place in 1993 and begins when three young boys in West Memphis disappear one afternoon and are later found dead, naked, tied up and mutilated. Given that hysteria surrounding Satanic worship was at a peak, it came as no surprise that police targeted local “white trash” teenage outcast Damien Echols and his two friends, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley — the trio that would later be known as the West Memphis Three.

The evidence against them is supposedly strong (Misskelley, who is borderline retarded, confesses), and the penalty is potentially death. This leads anti-capital punishment advocate and private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) to lend his services to the overwhelmed defense team. Lax starts out only wanting to prevent the boys from being executed, but the more he digs, the more he becomes convinced that the teens are innocent. On the other hand, Pamela Hobbs (a frumpy Reese Witherspoon, who was pregnant at time of filming), the mother of one of the victims, struggles to deal with her son’s death and the subsequent media circus.

Putting aside the merits of the film, Devil’s Knot is one of those films that’s inherently compulsive to watch simply because of the subject matter. It’s a true story that’s stranger than fiction, complete with a long list of potential suspects, intriguing characters, bizarre pieces of evidence and mass hysteria. The police witch hunt and incompetence is undeniable. And yet, at the end of the day, there are no definitive answers, only suspicions.

I suppose that is why critics were harsh on the film, with many calling it a “frustrating” experience because of the lack of a genuine resolution. I do agree with that to some point, but at the same time it does point us in a certain direction and asks us to draw our own conclusions as to the guilt of the West Memphis Three and the “alternate” suspects. Maybe that was the point Egoyan was trying to get across — that is, this is perhaps a mystery we’ll never truly get to the bottom of, and many true crime stories of immense loss fall in the same category.

For me, this was fantastic filmmaking, backed up by excellent performances. The initial pain and devastating felt real. The subsequent anger and thirst for revenge felt real. And that feeling when everything you thought to be true is turned upside down was expertly delivered. My main complaint about it is how abruptly it ends and how it required a long slab of writing onscreen to explain an aftermath that would extend for another 18 years.

Now having seen all the documentaries, I sort of understand why critics say Devil’s Knot did not provide any new insight and really had nothing to add. I don’t agree. While the film only captures a fraction of all there is to tell, and dramatizes scenes that are already captured in the documentaries, I still think there is something to be gained from the viewing experience. It’s a different medium with a different style, and as a result the emotional impact is also completely different. Perhaps my opinion would be different had I watched the documentaries first, but since I did not, and did not know how things turned out in the end, I found Devil’s Knot to be one of the most haunting and engrossing films of the year. I’d definitely recommend it for people who haven’t seen the documentaries and know little of the true story.

4 stars out of 5

Homefront (2013)

homefront

Feels like we’ve seen it all before, but what the heck. A bit more ass-kicking from  Jason Statham is rarely ever a bad thing.

In Homefront, Statham plays an undercover DEA agent who relocates to a country town with his young daughter after his cover is blown. And guess what? the place is running amok with the rednecks and hillbillies, who present themselves as perfect fodder for Statham to beat the crap out of them.

But wait, there’s more. After a run in with a hillbilly woman played by Kate Bosworth and her fat bully son, Statham becomes embroiled in an increasingly dangerous dispute with her brother and local meth kingpin, James Franco. Yes, James Franco!

From there it’s all very predictable. A lot of danger and a lot of ass kicking. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill action thriller that reminds me of those low-budget 80s classics, though I must say I enjoyed it somewhat on a pure entertainment level. If you want to see Franco get the shit kicked out of him then this is the movie for you. The story is actually based on a book that has been adapted into a screenplay by none other than Sylvester Stallone, so you know it’s overcharged with masculinity and macho dialogue. And of course, realism is not a priority.

I was also surprised by the cast. Apart from Statham, Bosworth and Franco, there was also Winona Ryder in a strange role as Franco’s ex-girlfriend, and everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank, Clancy Brown, playing the local sheriff.

The trailers made Homefront look much more A-grade and intriguing than it really is. I’m not saying it’s bad — as I said I rather enjoyed it — though ultimately it is one of those forgettable films that don’t really matter, and without its all-star cast, it’s hard to see how this film could have gotten a cinematic release.

3 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III

Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!