Tag Archives: Eric Bana

Movie Review: Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

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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: Lone Survivor (2013)

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Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, about how a team of Navy SEALS tasked to capture a Taliban leader end up fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. I was curious about the film because it features a very stellar cast headed by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film, along with Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, John Carter), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Ben Foster and Eric Bana. On the other hand, it’s directed by Peter Berg, who has had a very mixed record with previous efforts such as The Kingdom, Hancock and Battleship.

War movies based on true stories are always at risk of becoming glamorized or glorified into recruitment propaganda films, like 2012’s Act of Valor, which was a noble effort and solid from an action perspective but too Team America for my liking. Lone Survivor is better than that, though I still had a lot of problems with it.

For starters, the title of the film is incredibly stupid. I know it’s based on the nonfictionbook of the same name, but couldn’t they have come up with something that’s a bit less of a spoiler? Behind Enemy Lines is already taken, but how about something as simple as Operation Red Wings? Even worse than knowing that only one of the four SEALS survive is that you find out which of the four survives in the film’s very first scene (no prizes for guessing who it is). What it means is that you end up watching the movie expecting three of the SEALS to die, and waiting for the surviving SEAL to be rescued, and that really saps a lot of the excitement and suspense out it.

The first half an hour or so of the film sets the stage by introducing us to the SEALS, showing us how heroic and badass they are by always pushing themselves to the limit without fear. It’s supposed to be building the characters so we get to care about them when they are in mortal danger, but instead those scenes feels more like hastily constructed fillers to pad the screen time to two hours. And consequently, apart from Marky Mark, we don’t really know much about the personalities of any of the other characters apart from a bit of perfunctory and cliched fluff (such as emails and calls home, the photos on the walls, etc).

The action sequences which take up the majority of the film are, I admit, very well executed and for the most part come across as authentic and realistic. The four SEALS take on a lot of heavy fire from Taliban soldiers in difficult terrain, and show just how incredibly skilled, tough, courageous and durable they are. The bone crunching sound effects really add to the visceral thrills and tension, though some of the scenes feel a little over the top, and after a while they start to get repetitive. There’s only so many times I want to see people jump from cliffs and roll down hills while smashing into a lot of things. If I want to see that I’ll just watch this scene from Hot Rod.

By the end of the film, however, the realisation of what the SEALS just went through began to dawn on me, and the final scenes ended up being surprisingly emotional. I don’t want to give away probably the only thing the film’s title hasn’t given away already, so I’ll just leave it there.

My conclusion? Great cast and a few effective and exciting action sequences, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression. Better than Act of Valor, but Zero Dark Thirty this is not.

3.25 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 11

Safe House (2012)

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Denzel Washington plays an ex-CIA operative who turns rogue and becomes an international criminal who, unsurprisingly,  appears to be more than meets the eye. Ryan Reynolds plays a low-level CIA agent who is tasked with looking after Denzel when the latter is captured and brought to a South African safe house (hence the title. Disaster strikes, and Reynolds is thrust into a dangerous situation in which he must figure out who he can trust in order to discover the truth behind everything.

It’s the type of basic premise we have seen dozens of times before (albeit with slight variations) — where a decent but relatively inexperienced guy out of his depth is paired with a slick professional and there is a big conspiracy waiting to be unveiled (is this considered a huge spoiler?).

I don’t mind these movies per se, but I’m a bit sick of the whole “Denzel is so cool” routine we seem to be getting in just about every film we see him in these days. You know, charismatic, super cool under pressure, extremely gifted in firefights and hand-to-hand combat, acts like he doesn’t give a crap about anything but cares deeply about doing the right thing in accordance with his own principles. As for Reynolds, I’m assuming he just played exactly the same type of character in RIPD (which I haven’t seen yet but will).

Look, Safe House isn’t bad — there’s intensity, action, suspense and a few semi-predictable twists here and there — but there is nothing that makes it memorable or stand out. In fact, I had forgotten a lot of the details and had to give myself a little refresher on YouTube and Wikipedia just to write this review. The performances are solid, but I didn’t like how the action sequences were edited with those quick, choppy cuts that prevent you from seeing exactly what is happening.

On the whole just an OK thriller that fails to live up to its full potential despite Denzel and an all-star cast that also features Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

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I swear I still intend to get to the acclaimed book on which this film is based, written by Stephen Chbosky. I’ve heard so many people rave on about the book that it would be an injustice for me to ignore it. Interestingly, the film version is directed by the author, who wrote the screenplay as well. Usually it’s a recipe for disaster to place so much of a story in the hands of a single person, but in this case it was complete justified because The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be one of the best coming-of-age movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Charlie, played by Percy Jackson‘s Logan Lerman, is a high school freshman dealing with a traumatic loss from the year before. Shy and withdrawn, he is a wallflower, someone who observes but is never really part of the story — until he meets step-siblings Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), who accept him as part of their group.

Without going into too much more detail, this is a story about the loss of innocence, friendship, falling in love, loyalty, betrayal, and all those things many of us go through as we grow into adults. With full control over the material, Chbosky delivers an extremely genuine and heartfelt story told through a sensitive and delicate lens that I’m sure will be easy for many teens to relate to and conjure up a deep sense of nostalgia in adults. It’s hard to explain except to say that I connected with this film more than I thought I would and that I fully believed in the story from start to finish. Yes it is sentimental in parts but not overly so.

I’m astounded that Chbosky has only previously directed one other film, in 1995. The tone and atmosphere he creates in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is masterful and reflects just how in command of the material he is. He must also be credited for eliciting the best performances I have ever seen from Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. Let’s face it, Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers are not the best films for a thespian to show off their acting talents, but Lerman is unbelievably believable as the mild-mannered Charlie who is immediately likable but is also clearly holding onto something that prevents him from opening up. Your heart goes out to him. The only complaints could be that he is not quite young-looking enough to pull off a freshman or that he is too good looking to play such a loner.

As for Emma Watson, wow. I always thought she was the most talented out of the Harry Potter trio, but here she completely sheds the shackles of Hermoine and gives us the best performance of her career. The same can be said for Ezra Miller, whom I thought would forever be trapped in my nightmares as the horrific Kevin (from We Need to Talk About Kevin, one of the best movies of 2011). Here he is a completely different character as the giddy and affable Patrick and totally made me forget that he butchered a bunch of kids in his previous role.

In some ways, The Perks of Being a Wallflower might oversimplify or even glamorize some difficult issues in adolescent life, but for me it’s a small flaw in an otherwise brilliant motion picture.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: I’m almost doing The Perks of Being a Wallflower a disservice by reviewing it as part of a four-film movie blitz, because it deserves a solo review of its own. But I am lazy and I can’t be bothered.

Deadfall (2012)

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A stylish crime drama of intersecting subplots that feels strangely complicated but is actually very straightforward.

Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play a pair of siblings on the run after a casino heist has gone horribly wrong. For some reason they must split up so they could reach their goal of making it across the Canadian border under blizzard conditions, kicking off a string of violent events and coincidences that eventually all comes to a head in a climatic flurry. The film is powered by an A-list cast that also features Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Kris Krisofferson, Treat Williams and Sissy Spacek.

I found Deadfall a difficult film to grasp because it seems to be moving along confidently, taking the audience in several directions seemingly without aim, but there is actually an underlying strategy all along to pull all the strands together by the end. But at the end of it all, I said to myself, “Is that it?” Despite the intrigue, I was left wondering what the fuss was all about.

That said, I was engaged and kept wondering what was going on through the majority of the 94-minute running time. I suppose you could call it dark, character-driven film, but then again I didn’t really care for any of the characters. Could it be described as a B-grade movie masquerading as an A-grade movie because of its sound technical efficiency and the super cast? I dunno. I can’t decide whether I liked the film, disliked the film, or if I am just indifferent about it. Meh.

2.5 stars out of 5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

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Every now and then comes along a really interesting idea for a movie and the execution is nearly good enough to pull it off, but for whatever reason just doesn’t quite get there. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, is such a film. It starts off brilliantly and has its fair share of genuine laughs and oddly comical moments all the way through, but unfortunately it loses steam halfway through and drifts towards a rather disappointing final act.

The film starts off with the announcement that the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. A giant asteroid is coming to Earth and there’s no Bruce Willis to save us. With just three weeks until impact, the world is understandably flipped into chaos (with drugs and suicides and looting and guilt-free sex dominating), but at the same time there are many lost and lonely individuals out there who have no idea how they are going to spend the last few days of their lives. Steve Carrell, whose wife leaves him in the opening scene, is one of them, until he meets Knightley, who had just broken up with her boyfriend and has no chance to see her family in England one last time.

Seeking a Friend could be described as a road trip comedy-drama, but it’s really a fascinating imagining of how the world would react if everyone thought they had just days to live. Would you keep working in your job because you have nothing else better to do? Or would you stay with family and go have beach BBQs all day? Or will you go crazy and break every law you can think of, just for the sake of it? A lot of the things depicted in this film, as random and outrageous and hilarious as they are, strangely ring true. I laughed often and hard, especially early on.

I’ve never been a big fan of either Carrell or Knightley, so I was shocked to discover that I really liked both of them in this. Despite the age gap (51 to 28), they had a comfortable rapport and a sweetness to them, and the resulting banter was sharp and clicking.

However, perhaps feeling like it cannot be a pure comedy with no emotion (given it is the end of the world, after all), the film starts to become more personal and begins venturing into light melodrama, regretfully sucking out its earlier charm. The closer it got to the end, the more flat and uninteresting things got. Some of the attempts are indeed poignant, but frankly I just wanted more laughs.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hanna (2011)

Hanna is not a great film, but it’s exciting and it’s different.  I’d call it ‘pretty good’.

Saoirse Ronan is mesmerising as the titular character, a teenager taught to be an assassin by her father (played by Eric Bana) — for reasons we discover throughout the movie — since the age of 2.  A corrupt CIA agent (played by another Aussie, Cate Blanchett) and her henchmen are after her.  That’s about all you need to know.

With this unique premise, Hanna already sets itself apart from the majority of Hollywood action films that get released these days.  Directed by Joe Wright (best known for period dramas such as Pride and Prejudice and Atonement), Hanna is surprisingly fast-paced, with its adrenaline-pumped action sequences playing out almost like MTV music clips on steroids.  With the thumping music, it reminded me, strangely, of Run Lola Run.

For the most part, I found Hanna to be a compelling action-thriller because of the mystery behind Hanna’s origins and Wright’s excellent handling of the material.  In lesser hands the movie could have been a mess, but Wright’s visual flair, combined with Ronan’s icy yet human performance, manages to keep the film afloat.  There are also some humorous, almost surreal comedic moments in Hanna which provide a nice change of tone.

That said, I’m not sure Hanna is a movie I would likely remember years from now.  It’s a smarter, prettier than average roller coaster ride fuelled by a marvellous performance.  Technically it is very good, but there’s really nothing about it that made me go ‘wow’.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

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I had been wanting to watch the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife ever since I heard it was being made (it was actually optioned by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt before the novel was even published).

It is such a beautiful book, taking a seemingly ridiculous, science-fictionesque premise to deliver a tragic love story that somehow works.  One of those rare stories that made the outrageous feel normal because the characters and what they felt for each other was so painfully real.

I’m glad to say that the film version, while not perfect by any means, is very good, capturing the essence of the relationship between Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to unintentionally and periodically time travel, and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the girl he was destined to fall in love with.

Of course, the success of a movie like this depends largely on the performances of the leads.  When I first heard that Eric Bana was cast as Henry, I was sceptical because he didn’t appear to fit the novel’s description.  But as I watched him, it became clear to me that he was spot on for the role.  He captures Henry’s love, pain and fear so well in a wonderfully controlled performance.  On the other hand, it doesn’t matter who Rachel McAdams plays.  She is so sweet, beautiful and classy that it’s not hard to believe anyone will fall madly in love with her.

However, a person’s enjoyment of the movie may well depend on how much they can accept the time travelling premise.  If you find the idea stupid, then it’s unlikely you’ll give the film much of a chance.  I think it’s quite possible for someone, especially if they haven’t read the book, to get a bit confused with all the travelling back and forth through time.  It’s easy to put up your hands and say ‘this is all too silly’ and let it overshadow the central love story.  On the other hand, if you can overlook some of the unexplained holes in the logic and just accept the premise (a pre-requisite for sci-fi films), then you may find yourself absorbed in Henry and Claire’s complex relationship.  For me personally, it was the type of film where the flaws become easier to forgive because it knows how to tug the heart strings.

Keeping in mind that the novel is 546 pages and spans a lifetime, the film adaptation is surprisingly short, clocking in at only 108 minutes.  This naturally means that the film lacks the full emotional depth of the novel (few films can match the novel in that regard anyway).  In condensing the book to fit the screen, characters were cut, roles were reduced and subplots were canned.  Nevertheless, I believe this actually worked in the film’s favour rather than against it.  It kept the focus solely on Claire and Henry’s relationship, and prevented the story from dragging on too long, which it did start to feel towards the final quarter.  It would have been very easy to make this a 2 hour 45 minute-plus movie, but I applaud the restraint from director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) in keeping the running time manageable.  Trying to be truthful to the source material while keeping the film from being overlong can be a tough balance, but for the most part I think Schwentke and screenwriters Jeremy Leven (The Notebook) and Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) did a decent job in the circumstances.

Perhaps I am a little biased because I’m a big fan of the two leads, but I believe  The Time Traveler’s Wife is a solid adaptation of a novel that was extremely difficult to adapt.  Those who are fans of the novel will likely either love it or hate it.  As for newcomers to this story, I’m not sure, but judging from the number of red, watery eyes I witnessed stepping out of the cinema (including my wife’s), my guess is that more people than not will be moved by it.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I was surprised that the film relied mostly on make-up and not technology to show the aging process (which, after Benjamin Button, we know can do an extraordinary job).  Unfortunately this means the physical transformations of the characters are not as pronounced as they could have been.]

Movie Review: Funny People (2009)

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Judd Apatow is a name that gets thrown around a lot these days when it comes to comedies (as writer and producer), but in reality, there have only been three films where he has been the director – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and his latest, Funny People, starring his former flatmate Adam Sandler and a mid-weight-loss Seth Rogen (I believe he’s lost more since).

Very loosely based on some of Apatow’s experiences as a struggling comedian, Funny People is about stand-up comedians and, basically, their lives, from those battling at the bottom, to those living it up at the top.  I don’t want to reveal much more than that.  If you haven’t seen the previews, then good for you, because as usual, it reveals some of the best parts and spoils the surprises.

You hear the names Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, and you may be thinking ultra-hilarious, stupid, vulgar comedy, but Funny People is more accurately classified as a drama-comedy.  Put it this way – it’s more Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love than Happy Gilmore and Pineapple Express.  That said, the film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, often coming from unsuspecting cameos, of which there are many.  The film did a splendid job of combining people acting as other characters and people playing themselves (or at least public versions of themselves).  Things such as fictional movies and movie posters (some just in the background) mixed in with real-life archive footage added an extra layer of comedic complexity to the film.

The stand-up routines were also apparently written by the actors themselves, performed and shot in front of live audiences and then edited for the movie.  I suspect there must have quite a bit of improvisation too.  It makes me wonder how many of the actual lines were ad-libbed, because some sounded too spontaneously brilliant to have been scripted.

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However, it is the dramatic elements of Funny People that set it apart from Apatow’s earlier films.  There are some pretty emotional scenes in there, and I was surprised how well Apatow pulled them off.  Not all of them scenes may have worked, but enough did to make Funny People an engaging drama as well as a clever adult comedy.

As for the cast, Apatow employs the usual suspects to support Sandler and Rogen – Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann (his wife in real life) and even  his two daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.  The addition that may seem out of the blue to some is of course Eric Bana, who demonstrates his comedic talents to the world (outside of Australia) for the first time.  To fellow Aussies, his hilarity comes as no surprise (as he was a comedian before he turned serious), but I think those who only know him from Hulk and Troy are going to be pleasantly surprised.  Oh, and I must say, I usually find Jonah Hill rather irritating, but he’s actually funny here.  Jason Schwartzman was excellent too.  I knew Adam Sandler was capable of being a great dramatic actor, but was pleasantly surprised by Seth Rogen.  He was very very good.

My main complaint with Funny People is its running time, which at 136 minutes is far too long, even for a drama-comedy.  The ending was also a bit ‘meh’.  Nevertheless, overall this is still a quality film, definitely worth your time.

4 stars out of 5!