Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

The Accountant (2016)

Ever wondered what the Bourne movies would have been like had they cast Ben Affleck instead of Matt Damon? Well, The Accountant is probably about as close as you’re gonna get.

Directed by the acclaimed director of Warrior, Gavin O’Connor, The Accountant stars Affleck as a highly functional autistic mathematics genius named Christian, who makes a living uncooking the books of some of the most dangerous criminals in the world.

Christian’s world is turned upside down when he ends up working on a new case for a company run by John Lithgow, and finds himself in mortal danger along with the young company employee who found a discrepancy in the company’s books (Anna Kendrick). Pursuing him is Oscar-winner JK Simmons, playing a Treasury agent, with the assistance of a junior data analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), as well as a hitman played by Jon Bernthal.

One important fact I forgot to mention in the above synopsis is that Christian is also a Jason Bourne/John Wick-type ass-kicker who is incredible with a sniper rifle and deadly in hand-to-hand combat. Don’t freak out — there is an explanation for this, but it sure does elevate the threshold for suspension for disbelief.

And that’s the really just one of the many problems of The Accountant — it takes itself a little too seriously for a premise you’re more likely to see in a comic book movie. There are moments of humour and levity, but for the most part O’Connor keeps the film as a straight action-thriller, and as a result there’s a bit of a disconnect. This is particularly so as the film moves into the final act and there are a few plot twists and reveals — the first  is telegraphed from very early on and not a surprise at all, and the second, which comes at the very end, is pretty ridiculous.

My other main problem with it is the casting of Anna Kendrick, who could not be a worse match for Ben Affleck. The two just look so wrong together on screen, and even decent performances from both can’t make the chemistry work. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Affleck’s acting, though here he is good enough because he simply needs to be expressionless or dopey-looking the majority of the time. I do have to say that he executes the action sequences flawlessly (maybe it’s the Batman training) and makes you believe that he really has all those moves.

Weirdly, not withstanding all the flaws, I actually really enjoyed The Accountant. I thought the premise and concept were intriguing and the plot itself compelling enough to keep my interest. The action scenes were also extremely well done, nearly on par with what you might see in a Bourne film. I just had to take a step back and treat it as more or less a superhero movie — not of the fantastical Thor or Iron Man nature but more grounded, like say Netflix’s Daredevil or Luke Cage — and I soon found it highly watchable and entertaining. Go in with reasonable expectations and you might too.

3.75 stars out of 5

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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There’s just no gentle way to say it: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a disappointment. It would have been impossible for the film to live up to the hype anyway, considering this is the first time in history the world’s two most popular superheroes have shared the big screen together (fanboys haven’t been spraying their shorts all over the world for nothing). But despite a few cool moments and scenes of action brilliance, this is a deeply flawed movie, an overlong mess with fundamental issues in storytelling.

Remember when audiences complained about all the seemingly innocuous destruction in Man of Steel from the final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon)? Batman vs Superman starts off by making us think that was their master plan all along, revealing that there was indeed a lot of collateral damage, some of which had a very personal impact on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the billionaire vigilante otherwise known as Batman.

And so begins an epic sulking match between two dudes with very different philosophies. One is a god among men but a relative amateur at being a superhero, while the other is a jaded superhero who takes the law into his own hands and believes the caped crusader cannot be trusted.

In line with Man of Steel, the tone is very dark and sombre, which have led critics to accuse the film of being too serious and lacking in fun. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it as DC had to find a way to differentiate itself from the Marvel cinematic universe, and we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan’s wonderful Dark Knight trilogy that dark can work.

This all sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s a premise that should work in theory, though in practice it’s s different story. The problems remain in the surprisingly shit script by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio (Argo; he also wrote the screenplay for Man of Steel) and David S Goyer (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) and the execution by director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, 300, Watchmen).

Snyder has always had talent for visual flair and action, though crafting a compelling narrative hasn’t always been his forte. Batman vs Superman is an accurate reflection of Snyder’s strengthens and weaknesses as a filmmaker. The images are never a problem; the gorgeous bluish grey colour palette, the expensive special effects, and the bone-crunching action sequences offer a smorgasbord of visual delights that will no doubt satisfy fans. A couple of the fight scenes involving Batman and a sequence with the Batmobile are particularly spectacular and warrant the praise.

On the other hand, the storytelling left a lot to be desired. The first half felt like a Batman movie, told from his point of view, which is partly understandable because we’re getting a new actor playing him. But we got so much Batman that Superman became more of a symbol than one of the two main characters. And then towards the end, it shifts uncomfortably into a Superman movie. The result of a Batman-heavy first half and a Superman-heavy second half — rather than letting one of them own the whole film (like what Marvel is doing for Captain America: Civil War) or focusing on both of them at the same time — is that the film feels uneven and disjointed, and neither character gets the development they deserve.

Instead of the layers a film like this needs, all we got was a lot of brooding and angry reactions, which are fine if these emotions are set up properly. However, people just pop up without adequate introductions, and the transitions between plot points are all over the place. It assumes you’ve seen Man of Steel, and secret identities don’t mean much at all. Plot holes, which are expected in any superhero movie, are poorly masked. It’s not that the narrative doesn’t adhere to common sense, it’s just that the story is pieced together in a rather incoherent manner. To be honest, even the trailers feel like they are structured more adequately than the film itself.

Even the dialogue is a mixed bag. You have these fantastic monologues and exchanges some of which you would have already heard in the trailers. But while they sound totally epic in trailers, in the context of the movie they often feel contrived.

My suspicion is that a lot of stuff probably got left on the cutting room floor –important pieces of exposition and explanation are left out, while needless dream sequences take up way too much valuable screen time. Perhaps we have to wait for the R-rated version Snyder is preparing for the Blu-ray release, but at 151 minutes the movie is already way too long — and feels that way too.

Interestingly, the two actors people were concerned about when the cast was announced turned out to be fine. Ben Affleck turned out to be a pretty decent Batman, both physically and acting-wise, while Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was probably the best thing about the whole movie, making it justifiable to be excited about her upcoming standalone movie.

Sadly, Henry Cavill appears to have drawn the short straw. Most of the time he’s relegated to second fiddle behind Batman, and then he’s suddenly called upon for some heavy duty emotional scenes as though we’re supposed to care about him, which isn’t very fair.

As for Jesse Eisenberg, who I really like and think is a good actor, there’s no other  way except to say his Lex Luthor was a misstep. It’s less of a casting problem and more of a characterisation problem. This version of Superman’s nemesis looks like the Riddler and acts like the Joker (and not the Heath Ledger version). Most importantly, he’s simply not putting any fear into anyone.

Amy Adams actually has quite a meaty role as Lois Lane, but the rest of the all-star supporting cast doesn’t get to do much. Still, it never hurts to see the likes of Lawrence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons and Diane Lane (and a couple of surprising cameos).

I’m not trying to trash the film. It has good moments, epic moments that live up to the promise of the trailers. But so much of that good is outweighed by fundamental problems that would doom any movie.

Batman vs Superman has so far polarised fans and critics. As usual, I probably fall somewhere in the middle, though I must say on this occasion I’m more inclined to side with the latter. The fanboys, some of whom have waited decades for this movie, are probably willing themselves to believe this movie is the best thing ever. Or maybe I missed the point and need to see the movie again to understand it better, though to be honest I’m not getting the urge to sit through it again.

Having said all that, Batman vs Superman does do a solid job of setting up what is yet to come (it is, after all, called Dawn of Justice), giving us the hope that the future Justice League films (yes, it’s in 2 parts) will be able to finally get it right.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

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I honestly had no idea what to expect when I rushed to see Gone Girl, the highly-anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s breakthrough novel directed by the legendary David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Seven). The early buzz was overwhelmingly positive, but through word-of-mouth I also learned that many who had read the book first found the film underwhelming.

As a huge fan of the book, I can’t say that surprises me. A significant part of Gone Girl’s allure stems from its delicious twists and turns, and knowing exactly how things will turn out will obviously dampen the experience. There’s just no way around it. No one would be able to enjoy The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense as much if the twists in those films had been spoiled in advance either.

With that in mind, I thought Gone Girl was brilliant. I had been curious to see how Fincher would handle the multi-layered material, the difficult themes, the portrayal of the main characters and the controversial ending — and he delivered about as well as I could have imagined, with a steady, confident, yet understated control that captures the tones and essence of Flynn’s writing.

Keeping in line with my usual effort to be as spoiler-free as I can, I thought adapting Gone Girl to the screen would have been a nightmare because of its multiple view points, shifts in time, and the clever use of a diary plot device. I was therefore surprised at how seemingly straightforward it was for Fincher and Flynn, who adapted her own novel, to make everything work so well. The result was a film that followed the novel — both in plot and progression — very closely, so much so that I can’t think of any salient things that didn’t make the jump successfully.

If you’ve seem the trailer or heard about the film in passing you’ll know the story is about a beautiful woman (Rosamund Pike) who goes missing in a small town and her husband (Ben Affleck) becoming the prime suspect for her murder because he’s not acting the way a loving husband would. It sounds like such a simple, cliched premise, and yet the amazing thing about Gone Girl is that it explodes and snowballs into so much more, asking complex questions about relationships, marriage, parents, children, sacrifice, compromise, honesty, sexual politics, the economy, the public psyche and role of the media. I could probably write an entire essay about all the things about the book/film that fascinate me, but that would involve dreaded spoilers, and I can’t possibly have that. What’s relevant is that all these questions from the movie are also asked in the film, and that’s what kept me interested and on the edge of my seat.

I had mixed feelings when I heard about the casting. I love Ben Affleck as a director, but as some of you may know, I’m not the biggest fan of his acting. As the douchey Nick Dunne, however, Affleck has found a role that was custom made for him, and he absolutely blitzes it. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call it the best performance of his entire career. I’m not encouraging award voters to jump on Affleck’s bandwagon, but if they did I would resent it a lot less than when they went nuts for Matthew McConaughey.

As Affleck’s other half, Rosamund Pike is a low-key choice for Amy Dunne considering all the other big names that were being rumored for the role at the time. I didn’t love her performance at the beginning, but there were reasons for the way she acted the way she did, and by the end of the film I was sold.

The supporting cast was also very strong. When I first heard Neil Patrick Harris was involved I was still picturing him as his alter ego in Harold & Kumar, so I thought he would be cast as Nick’s flamboyant lawyer Tanner Bolt. Instead, he was fantastic as Amy’s wealthy, creepy ex-boyfriend Desi, and the even bigger shock was that Tyler Perry (yes, Tyler Perry!) was awesome as Tanner Bolt. Those casting choices completely bowled me over.

I was also impressed with the performances in two supporting female roles — Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo, and Kim Dickens as lead detective Rhonda Boney. Both extremely important characters who served their functions well without stealing the show from the stars of the show.

The film is quite long at 149 minutes and occasionally feels like it, especially towards the end as the story searches for the perfect point to end on. But Fincher’s pacing is superb, and his ability to manage the subtle shifts in the film’s tone throughout all its twists and turns — it’s sometimes drama, sometimes black comedy, sometimes horror — is what glues the story together. A lesser director might have turned Gone Girl into a clunky mess, but Fincher gets it just right.

The ending is something I was curious to see because apparently Flynn had “rewritten” it for the big screen, though the changes are more artificial than substantial. I’m not disappointed, however, because I loved the book’s chilling ending.

Having said all that, I’m sure I am less enthusiastic about the movie than I would have been had I not read the book first. It helps that I have a terrible memory and that I read it more than a year ago, but like I said, there’s just no way around it. I’d say that the book is better at keeping the twists hidden while the movie can struggle to conceal what’s coming, though that’s a natural advantage given that readers can be manipulated easier on the page than on the screen. Still, I would recommend those who have seen the movie to give the book a try, and vice versa, because the two present two rather different, but equally rewarding experiences.

4.25 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part 1

I’m trying my best to get through as many 2013 movies as I can so I can complete my best and worst lists for last year. And since I’m scheduled to be a consultant again at this year’s TTV Oscar’s broadcast, I better get a move on and finish watching the last few movies outstanding on the Best Picture nominee list. Don’t worry, it’ll be done. In the meantime, here is the first batch of my 2013 movie blitz!

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

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Guess what? One of the biggest flops, not to mention most-panned films, of 2013, The Lone Ranger, is actually a fairly decent film. I don’t know why critics hated it so much, whether it was the well-publicized budget cuts, the high expectations or weird Johnny Depp fatigue, but to be honest I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the same director, Gore Verbinski.

Armie Hammer (both of the Winklevii in The Social Network) is John Reid, a scrupulous lawyer who would eventually become the titular character. His sidekick is the more famous and higher-billed Johnny Depp, who plays a Comanche Indian by the name of Tonto. Together they try and take down a notorious outlaw played wonderfully by William Fichtner. Strong supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Stephen Root and James Badge Dale.

Now I know the film’s name does not make sense considering the Lone Ranger clearly does not act alone, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid piece of entertainment fuelled by the chemistry of the two charismatic leads.

I can understand if people are sick of Depp playing these oddball characters, but he’s funny as Tonto in the same quirky way that people love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, the entire film has that same adventurous, them-park-ride vibe running through it like the Pirates franchise, and it baffles me how people can love that but hate this.

The action is extremely over the top as well, but it’s done well in a surreal kind of way, and my main complaint is the bloated length of 149 minutes, but I said the same thing about all the Pirates movies too.

It’s nowhere near one of the top movies of the year, as Quentin Tarantino rated it, but The Lone Ranger is definitely a lot better than what most critics would have you believe. I enjoyed it for what it is – a light, comedic action popcorn blockbuster.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2 (2013)

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Grown Ups was yet another new low for Adam Sandler, one of the worst films of 2010 and the nastiest comedy I had seen in years. It was basically just a bunch of dicks (I mean, comedians) being mean to people less fortunate than them, and it wasn’t funny.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I ended up watching Grown Ups 2, which brings back Sandler and his group of friends such as Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, with Salma Hayek and Mario Bello playing two of the wives.

And make no mistake, Grown Ups 2 is a horrible movie – something I knew from the opening scene when a wild deer pisses over everyone in Sandler’s family – BUT you know what? It’s actually better than the first one.

I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, despite the fact that Grown Ups 2 has not discernable plot and simply follows Sandler and his buddies around as they carry on with their daily lives back in Connecticut, where they grew up.

There are some puerile and downright awful attempts at comedy as expected, most of which are pee pee, poo poo and lame sex jokes. Having said that, this time around the characters are not as mean-spirited as they were, and are in fact more the butt of the jokes than the ones dishing them out.

There are two reasons why laughed a few times. The first is the always legendary Steve Buscemi, who has a slightly meatier role this time after a light cameo in the first film. The second is the surprisingly comedic Taylor Lautner (of Twilight fame), who is perfect as the douchey fratboy alongside a nearly unrecognizable Milo Ventimiglia (from Heroes).

Grown Ups 2 is still a crap movie, but fortunately, and sadly, it’s better than its predecessor.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

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He’s talented and charismatic and not afraid to make fun of himself, but he’s still Justin Timberlake, so I need to dislike him on principle. Throw in Ben Affleck, one of my favourite directors but least favourite actors, and I knew the chips were stacked against Runner Runner from the beginning.

Timberlake plays this college kid called Richie Furst, a genius with numbers (yeah right) whose greed gets him into trouble and leads him into the world of online gambling. I’ve always been sceptical of these online gambling sites, and fair enough, Richie discovers that he’s being cheated by the system. However, instead of going to the authorities he takes his find to the web casino’s owner Ben Affleck, who ends up taking Richie under his wing and introduces him to the high life.

As these stories typically go, Richie discovers that not everything in the high-roller world is roses and must find a way to redeem himself while fleeing the inevitable danger. To add to the cliché is the potential love interest played by Gemma Arterton, who just happens to be Affleck’s ex-lover.

It’s not that Runner Runner stinks (okay, maybe it does a little), it’s just that we’ve seen this type of story so many times that nothing comes as a surprise. Paranoia, which also came out in 2013 and stars Liam Hemsworth instead of Timberlake, is pretty much the exact same movie but with a slightly different setting. You know there will be an initial high but then everything will fall apart and things will look hopeless until a “twist” involving a stroke of genius allows the protagonist to escape unscathed. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, of course.

It’s better than Paranoia, which was even more boring, but RunnerRunner is at best a barely passable DVD rental if you have nothing else to choose from or if you really like Justin Timberlake.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

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I love Ryan Gosling a lot. Maybe not as much as some heterosexual women, but he’s up there in my list of favourite actors, plus he seems to keep churning out excellent, edgy films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. I was hoping that Only God Forgives, a crime flick set in Bangkok written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who also directed Drive), would be more of the same, but unfortunately I have to tell it like it is and admit that this was a terrible misstep for Mr Gosling.

Brutally violent, deliberately paced, surreal and downright bizarre at times, Only God Forgives treads a fine line between art and pretentiousness, and in my opinion falls to the side of the latter.

Gosling plays Julian, an American ex-pat who runs a muay thai kickboxing gym in Bangkok that is really a front for a family drug smuggling operation headed by his sadistic brother Billy and his even crazier mother Kristin Scott Thomas. When Billy rapes and murders a local prostitute, it sets of a series of bloody events driven by revenge and Julian is unwillingly caught in the middle of it.

It’s a strange film that mixes sexual fantasies, violent visions, extended karaoke performances, gun fights, fist fights and swinging sword decapitations. There is a certain stylishness and visual flair about Only God Forgives that brings back memories of the brilliant Drive, but it’s also far more confusing and far less gripping. We get bursts of emotion from the characters but they don’t feel anything like real people, and their interactions are too minimal and deliberate to come across as genuine drama.

The result is a film that is very difficult to describe and understandably polarizing. Because of Drive I will always remain interested in what Refn has in store for audiences next, but on this occasion I think he missed the mark with Only God Forgives.

2.25 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 14

Movies reviewed: Cloud Atlas, About Cherry, Dredd, To the Wonder

This is probably going to be my last 2012 movie blitz (at least for now) because I’ve promised to do my best and worst of 2012 before the end of this year and the days are running out! I believe I only have about 4 movies left to watch (I’ve discarded the rest), but since none of them will likely make either list I’m just going to leave them for later.

If this is indeed the last one then I’m going out on a high as this blitz is a great one, packed with some high-profile flicks from 2012.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

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Cloud Atlas was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, but for some reason the film either (1) never made it to Taiwanese cinemas; or (2) was only showing for such a short time that I missed it completely. I’m not sure what happened because it had been slated to be Oscar bait and one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, but perhaps it was the furore over the Asian-izing of white actors that sunk the film even before it made its way to Asian shores.

I finally got around to watching it the other day, and my reaction to it is mixed. I can see why it was so polarizing – there are elements about it which are amazing, but on the other hand it felt like an ambitious film like this was doomed to failure from the start. Success or failure, Cloud Atlas is without a doubt one of the most ambitious films ever made, and kudos must go to the Wachowskis (for those who don’t know, they are no longer the Wachowski “brothers” because one of them is now a “sister”) for even attempting a film of this size and complexity.

Spanning nearly 3 hours, Cloud Atlas is an epic set across six time periods, from the mid-1800s to the 24th century. Each period is played by more or less the same set of actors playing different characters, and that is where the ridiculed makeup and special effects come in (I’ll get to that in a sec). The reason why they got the same actors to play characters in different time periods is because they are supposed to be reincarnates from different lives, and the film is pretty much an exploration of the idea that people go through life after life, that they are bound to certain people in each life, and that actions in one life can affect or shape lives in the future.

The narrative jumps around between the six time periods, which can be confusing and daunting for some, but for the most part the Wachowskis do a stellar job of keeping the story flowing and bringing its core concepts to the forefront. That said, with so many interlocking stories and characters, it is difficult to afford all of them enough time to develop, and as a result I found parts of the film unsatisfying and lacking in emotional depth. There is a payoff at the end, but it took a very long time to get there.

The all-star cast is blameless in all of this. Really, how can you complain about the likes of Tom Hanks, HalleBerry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant? Each of them play a wide range of characters from good to evil, and they each do it convincingly, as far as performances are concerned. What didn’t work so well was the makeup and effects needed to transform those actors from one race to another. This was something that didn’t pose a problem in the novel, and it’s hard to fault the Wachowskis for trying to overcome the issue by, for example, turning Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving into slanty-eyed Asians, and HalleBerry and Korean actress Doona Bae into white women. As good as makeup is these days, the results were laughable in many of the cases, especially for Sturgess and Weaving, who look like absolute freaks and more Alien than Asian.

But is that reason enough to bash the whole film? I don’t think so. They did the best they could under the circumstances, but for many people it will mean putting aside the absurdity of the characters’ appearances to enjoy the movie.

Like it or hate it, Cloud Atlas is a memorable film. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece it set out to be, though it is certainly not the spectacular turd that some critics and audiences have labelled it. If you can ignore the freaky faces and immerse yourself into the story, Cloud Atlas could be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year, complete with well-executed action and eye-popping special effects. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that it is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, so on my first (and possibly last) viewing I’ll give it…

3.5 stars out of 5

About Cherry (2012)

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The film is called About Cherry, but it’s really not about much at all. Technically, it’s about a naïve and pretty girl (Cherry — -played by Ashley Hinshaw, who had a small part in the underrated Chronicle) who sinks into the world of pornography, but in reality it’s just about a girl who decided to get into porn for a quick buck.

I thought it would a good, or at least interesting, film because it was backed by a strong cast of supporting stars headed by James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham and Lili Taylor. I’m not sure why they were drawn to this project, the directorial debut of American author, journalist and activist Stephen Elliott, but I doubt this will end up being a film placed high on their respective CVs.

The biggest problem with About Cherry is the titular character, who is played well by Hinshaw but offers no real redeeming qualities or genuine personality. She’s just a girl who wanted to make money, and saw porn as an easy route (no pun intended). There’s no manipulation, no exploitation, no coercion or persuasion – it’s just a consenting adult wanting to make money. And that doesn’t make for very compelling viewing.

Sure, her career creates some friction in her life – with her best friend (Patel) who is painfully and obviously in love with her, a fact she has no trouble using and abusing to her advantage; with her boyfriend (Franco), a druggie lawyer; and her mother (Taylor), a deadbeat alcoholic – but honestly, it’s not that bad.

We don’t really gain an insight into why Cherry went down this path or why it escalated from solo pics to real sex, apart from the suggestion that her mother is a loser and she wants to get away from her. And besides, all these relationships are not resolved properly, with the James Franco arc being particularly bizarre, almost as though he decided to quit the film midway through the shoot and they had to come up with a rushed solution.

The film is made slightly more interesting by the presence of Graham, who plays a porno director who becomes infatuated with Cherry to the detriment of her long-term relationship. But the way this part of the story is wrapped up is stupid and could be perceived as an insulting message about the nature of human sexuality.

In the end, apart from the soft core porn scenes there just isn’t a lot to like about the movie. It’s not poorly made, and the performances are decent, but it’s hard to a connect with a film on an emotional level when the characters feel so remote and uninteresting. Maybe I missed the point of About Cherry completely. Frankly, I don’t care.

1.5 stars out of 5

Dredd (2012)

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It’s unfortunate that the comic strip hero Judge Dredd almost always conjures up the image of Sly Stallone mumbling about something incoherent, with Sandra Bullock beside him wondering what the hell she’s doing. This “remake”, just Dredd, probably won’t erase the memory of the 1995 disaster, but it’s nonetheless a much much better film that’s surprisingly effective and exciting.

For starters, Dredd knows exactly the type of action film it wanted to be – brutal, violent, unflinching, dark, gritty and littered with hints of political messages. This time Karl Urban (who never shows his face) plays Dredd, a Judge who plays judge, jury and executioner in a dystopic future world. Most of the action takes place in a massive slum building block controlled by drug lord Ma-Ma, played awesomely by Lena Heady (from 300 and Game of Thrones). Dredd and a new recruit with psychic powers (Olivia Thilrby) are sent to investigate the building after a brutal execution-style killing, and find themselves trapped against a whole army of criminals.

It’s a fairly simple Die Hard premise, though the look and feel of the film is closer to a futuristic version of the 2011 Indonesia masterpiece The Raid: Redemption – and it would be unfair to suggest Dredd is anywhere near as good as either film. But for the most part, Dredd is effective and should appeal to fans of the source material.

While the plot leans close to predictable, the action is explosive and thrilling, the special effects are sharp and the dialogue is darkly humorous. Plus Karl Urban and Lena Heady are just so good. It’s not quite enough to elevate Dredd above the rest of 2012’s top action flicks, but it’s not far too from the apex of the pack.

3.75 stars out of 5

To the Wonder (2012)

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The title of Terrence Malick’s latest romantic drama, To the Wonder, is very apt, as I am still wondering what the hell I watched. I’ve given Malick a lot of tries through the years, starting with The Thin Red Line, The New World and Tree of Life, and I’ve come away disappointed every time despite all the praises and accolades.

Like those films, my guess is that To the Wonder will polarise audiences, with some critics loving it (as evidenced by its Golden Lion nomination at the 2012 Venice Film Festival) and the majority of audiences hating it. I am siding with the latter.

The premise of the film seems harmless enough – a Ukrainian woman played by Olga Kurylenko moves to the US after meeting Ben Affleck’s character in Paris. She feels isolated and she returns to France – during which time Affleck dates Rachel McAdams – and then returns to try and rekindle the relationship.

But in typical Malick fashion, To the Wonder is all about the arty farty, the beautiful imagery, the barely decipherable whispering monologues (luckily this time there’s no Nick Nolte) and people dancing and prancing around in the meadows, staring out the windows, running around and flailing their arms about like lunatics.

All of this is done in rapid cuts (in one instance you get what feels like 100 snippets of two people frollicking through a cornfield) and minimal, almost inhuman dialogue, which makes it an unusual viewing experience but also a very annoying one. In short, To the Wonder is REALLY self-indulgent.

Maybe some viewers can appreciate the beauty of it all and understand what Malick is trying to do with this movie, but I found it emotionally unsatisfying and bordering on laughable. I thought I would love a film where Ben Affleck says almost nothing and where Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams are the lead actresses, but for most of the painfully long 113-minute running time I was either confused or irritated by it. Javier Bardem playing a priest who questions his faith was pretty funny though, albeit unintentionally.

Bad films that are supposed to be bad I can take, but pretentious films like To the Wonder really get to me. Or maybe we’ve all been fooled and it’s supposed to be a parody, though that doesn’t make the movie any better.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: Argo (2012)

Argo, Ben Affleck’s latest film, proves two things. One, he is still a mediocre actor. And two, he is developing into one heck of a director.

Following on from one of my favourite films from 2010, The Town, Affleck returns to the director’s chair for Argo, a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis where 52 Americans at the US Embassy in Tehran were held hostage by Islamist students and militants.

The movie itself centers on a fascinating but lesser-known aspect of a side story to the crisis in which US involvement was not declassified until 1997. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative tasked with finding a way to bring back six Americans who escaped the embassy at the start of the crisis and took refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). At a time where the six Americans would likely be tortured and killed if discovered, Mendez concocted a plan that would have been unbelievable had it not been true: producing a fake sci-fi movie.

The timing was perfect, given Star Wars had taken off and Hollywood producers were scrambling to make rip-offs. But of course, if it were so easy to get them out the film would not be two hours long.

Argo doesn’t have much of that stuff you see in action films these days, but it’s still incredibly tense and exciting all the way through. The background and context to the crisis is swiftly and effectively dealt with at the beginning, and the initial scenes of the civil unrest expertly generate a genuine sense of terror and panic that lingers on for the rest of the film.

It could have been very easy for this film to become dull and stagnant, but Affleck sustains the tension through a series of well-crafted incidents and conversations, ensuring viewers never lost track of what was at stake and the imminent danger the Americans were in at all times. Needless to say, things were probably never that tense in real life, but that’s why this is a movie.

Credit has to go to Affleck for his brilliantly authentic recreation of 1979 Tehran, which as the end credits showed paid painstaking attention to detail. Everything from the architecture, the clothing and the hairstyles brought me back to those times, and I wasn’t even born then!

The performances from the all-star cast were solid. The ever-present Bryan Cranston (sorry, Heisenberg) was subtle as Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s supervisor, and yet electrifying when he needed to be. Breaking Bad has already proven Cranston to be one of the greatest TV actors of all-time, and I hear maybe Argo has given him some Oscar buzz. John Goodman, who plays Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin, who plays  director Lester Siegel, provide some of the more lighthearted moments and are both excellent.

As for the six US diplomats, the only actors I recognised were Tate Donovan (best known for being engaged to Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock) and Clea DuVall (whom I will always associate with The Faculty), but all of them were very good.

As it turned out, the weakest link was probably Affleck himself as Mendez. Apart from the lack of a physical resemblance (everyone else was pretty spot on), Affleck played Mendez with his usual “blank” face and unlayered line delivery. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and perhaps the muted performance was intentional, but to be honest I never really felt as much for his character as I probably should have.

Overall, Argo is unquestionably compelling cinema and solidifies Affleck’s reputation as a director who knows how to craft impeccable dramas filled with thrills and style. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Town (2010)

I finally got to see The Town, the Boston crime drama/thriller co-written and directed by Ben Affleck.  I had heard some good things about it, but I certainly did not expect The Town to be one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

There’s nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about the premise of ‘The Town’, ie Charlestown, a small neighbourhood that boasts the highest number of bank robbers in Boston.  Affleck plays Doug MacCray, a local crook with a shady family history and a hot-headed best friend, James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker).  An introductory heist introduces two key characters — Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a pretty bank manager, and Adam Fawley (Jon Hamm from Mad Men), an FBI agent hunting them down.

The Town is an intense, emotional and explosive roller coaster ride that’s gripping from the very beginning until the final scene.  It’s incredibly sharp, well written, has a great cast, and the heist sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Affleck, who has never been the greatest actor in my opinion, has established himself as one heck of a director, and I certainly hope there will be plenty more to come from him in the future.

Affleck, Hall and Hamm are all solid — but for me it’s the brilliant Jeremy Renner who steals the show as the impulsive, reckless, but extremely loyal friend.  The guy exudes screen presence and put me on edge every time he appeared.  He was terrific in The Hurt Locker, where he was the ‘good guy’, but he’s probably even more effective here as a villain of sorts.  I was surprised the film didn’t get more love from the voters on the Golden Globes, but I’m pleased to see that Renner got the nod for a best supporting actor nomination (the film’s only nomination).

Another pleasant surprise was Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who has a small but important role as the local skank.  Lively has a tendency to annoy me on Gossip Girl, but I can’t deny she was amazing in this.  Well done.

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this film.  I’ve heard that critics are comparing The Town to the classic 1995 De Niro/Pacino film Heat. I was too young to remember the latter film favourably, but I am so impressed with The Town that I will definitely go check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5!