Tag Archives: Jason Statham

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Like a sizeable portion of its fans, I didn’t really “get” The Fast and the Furious franchise until about the fourth entry or so, when the films started to embrace the cheese and its own ludicrousness. The crazy action kept ramping up unapologetically as the cast became a likable “family” fans could root for. The fun culminated in a Puthy climax in Furious 7, where we bid a tearful farewell to Paul Walker (“It’s been a long day without you my friend…”)

I thought it was a good place to end the franchise, but of course that was never going to be the case when the Furious 7 made over 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. And thus when Mini-Me on steroids (Vin Diesel) announced that Fate of the Furious would kickstart the “final trilogy” of the franchise (who the hell does that?), no one was surprised. The question was, would they be able to continue upping the action and stakes when things were already cranked up to 11?

The Fate of the Furious is a lame name, but I was still optimistic because they were bringing back Jason Statham and adding Charlize Theron as the villain. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know Dom (Diesel) turns to the dark side this time around for some reason and takes on his old “family” alongside Charlize. You also knew that the reason would be incredibly contrived.

The film starts off in Havana and appears to be paying homage to the franchise’s roots with an exciting drag race featuring Dom, but very soon the film returns to the heist formula that has worked so well for it in recent years. Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody, and Clint Eastwood’s offspring, Scott, is introduced as a new comic relief character to add a bit of freshness to the cast. Familiar faces such as Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese and Ludacris are also back, as is The Rock and the aforementioned Statham.

There are a lot of things to like about The Fate of the Furious, directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) which does pare things back a little but manages to add some very creative ideas to make up for the relatively less intensive action of its predecessors. There is one lengthy sequence featuring unmanned vehicles that should end up as one of the best action scenes of the year, albeit with some shaky CGI at times. To satisfy its core audience, there are still sexy girls in skimpy clothes and plenty of cheesy humour, neither of which really worked for me most of the time because it comes across as trying too hard.

My favourite dynamic of the film remains the feud between The Rock’s Luke Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard Shaw, who somehow goes from irredeemable villain (for killing Han) to just another lovable member of the family. The prison sequence in the trailer is as good as advertised, and Statham has a well-choreographed solo sequence later on that stands as probably the most fun part of the film.

My biggest problem with the movie is still the character of Dom and Vin Diesel, whose head just keeps growing bigger and bigger with each installment of the franchise. Diesel can’t seem to stop playing these characters who have no flaws and are supposed to be so righteous, suave, cool and sexy all the time and loved by everyone. When The Rock does it, I can almost let it go because he has the charm to pull it off. When Diesel does it, I just find it cringeworthy. It’s almost embarrassing because we all know he only gets to play such characters because he’s a producer. I had just watched Diesel take his insufferableness to another level in the latest XxX movie, so perhaps that heightened my aversion to Dom even more than usual.

In the end, The Fate of the Furious turned out better than I had expected, largely due to Statham and Theron, but it’s still a step down from both a pure action level as well as an emotional level compared to the last couple of entries in the franchise. I enjoyed it overall, though I’d say it was probably one of the weaker installment in the franchise since Tokyo Drift (which I liked more than most because I’m a fan of drifting and I love Tokyo and Lucas Black).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

transporter

I never thought much of the Transporter films that launched the career of Jason Statham, perhaps the definitive martial arts action star of this generation. And so I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Transporter Refueled, yet another reboot of a franchise that’s not even a decade removed from its last entry (Transporter 3 was released in 2008).

As I discovered, Refueled is actually supposed to be the first of a new “prequel trilogy” tracing the exploits of the same protagonist, Frank Martin, aka The Transporter. The new actor playing the role is Ed Skrein, who had a short-lived stint on Game of Thrones as Daario before being replaced due to “politics” (his words). I guess Skrein is supposed to be a younger version of Martin, though the reality is that Skrein is 32, just three years younger than Statham when the latter starred in the first Transporter film.

Anyway, Refueled is, as expected, laughably bad. It literally made me laugh. The plot revolves around a gang of prostitutes seeking revenge after waiting for 15 years (the specifics are never really explained properly) and seek Martin’s services to help them achieve this goal. As insurance, they kidnap Martin’s father (Ray Stevenson), who seems to be both very capable and useless.

You can tell what they were going for with this film. A low-budget (US$22 million) cash grab with a hot new star in Skrein, a bunch of sexy lingerie models, and loads of fast cars and hand-to-hand combat sequences. If it does well, then boom, two more similar films. If not, then no big deal. It’s made US$33 million thus far, which I’m not sure is quite enough to justify sequels (first Transporter made nearly US$44 million at a budget of US$21 million).

Economics aside, there are just so many problems with this film. The first is that Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham. Martin is an iconic character, and the films are too close together for people to forget that he made famous by Statham. Plus Statham had the charisma and the real moves as an accomplished martial artists. When you look at how buffed and slick he is you can believe his badassness. Skrein’s other talent is rapping, and while he’s more traditionally handsome than Statham, he’s not rugged enough by comparison to the original. He’s too tall and gangly, all arms and legs, and he lacks the swift brutality that made Statham such a cool character. Skrein is basically Nicholas Hoult with more muscles and less acting ability, with a style of speaking that comes across as a mumblier British version of Jack Bauer.

You can feel a sense of sexism in the writing of the female characters too. They’re supposed to be criminal masterminds who have been plotting for years, but at various points throughout the movie they’re painted as stupid and emotional and unstable. They look good in skimpy outfits though.

The dialogue is not as appalling as it could have been, though the overall writing and plot development is very poor. (I’m breaking my spoiler-free rule here for those who want to know how funny this movie is, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you still think you might see it.) The film starts when a group of mobsters shoot dead a  bunch of people and takes over the local prostitution ring. We then move forward 15 years (the prostitutes have aged remarkably well), and when we see the gangsters again, the film zooms in on each of them and flashes back 15 years to remind us which gangster they were (like it matters because they’re all just forgettable cannon fodder anyway). I’m being totally serious here. Each and every one of them, one after the other. Reminds me of an Indian soap opera that has to find ways to fill five minutes of running time with a one-page script. Another funny moment is when Martin is driving the women away from a gangster compound and a bunch of goons walk up to the car with no guns (for some reason they all like hand-to-hand combat), but instead of just running over all of them, Martin gets out of the car, and while it continues to roll forward at a snail’s pace he beats them all up by hand before getting back in the car and driving off. “The most hilarious part of the film is that after Martin’s dad is finally released by the hot prostitute women (after a threesome with two of them, no less). Literally a minute later, Martin receives a call from the gangsters, and guess what? His dad got kidnapped again! Twice in one film! You would have thought they’d come up with more than one plot device to advance the narrative.

Refueled is similar in concept to the recent Hitman: Agent 47 film in that they’re both cheap action reboots. Like Agent 47, Refueled does have some decent action sequences — nothing memorable, though well-executed — but its tone is far too serious to fit with the silliness of the film. Agent 47‘s tone was a little all over the place, but at least it seemed to acknowledge how ridiculous it was. My guess is that Refueled was aiming for a Fast & Furious vibe but failed miserably.

On the whole, Refueled more or less turned out the way I expected. It’s a B-grade film that ought to have been a straight-to-DVD experience at best, but because we’re all idiots we get to waste our money on crap like this at the cinema.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Spy (2015)

spy-poster

I won’t lie. I initially had zero interest in Spy, the new comedy directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and starring his favourite collaborator Melissa McCarthy. The poster just made it look generic and lame, and I always thought Feig’s earlier films were overrated.

Just shows we shouldn’t judge a movie by its poster or preconceived notions based on the past. Because Spy is really funny. Hilarious stuff. Laugh-out-loud gags with a progressive slant. In my opinion it’s easily the best film either Feig or McCarthy have been involved in.

It doesn’t have a mindblowing plot — McCarthy plays a former teacher-turned-CIA-agent who acts as the eyes and ears of the agency’s top spy, played by Jude Law. She’s meek and awkward and disappointed with how her career change has turned out.

Naturally, an opportunity arises in which she is thrust into dangerous undercover field work, and this brings out the hidden beast in her as she tries to track down a lethal nuclear weapon.

All the kudos in the world for having McCarthy as the undisputed female lead and a kickass spy, an absolute rarity in sexist, beauty- and weight-obsessed Hollywood, but none of that would have mattered if Spy turned out to be a stinker.

Fortunately, Spy smashes the six-laugh quota for a decent comedy with ease thanks to a variety of factors. First and foremost, McCarthy, who gets the opportunity to show her range by playing essentially two personalities — the meek, and the snarky one we’re used to seeing from Bridesmaids and The Heat. 

In the former, she’s funny in the hesitant, awkward manner she’s very capable of pulling off. However, she’s at her ripping best in the latter, firing off quick-witted, sharp, acidic one-liners and well-placed profanity to elicit the chuckles. I always found this crude version of McCarthy funny, but too much of it felt grating and exhausting. Feig’s decision to give us half a film of it ended up being perfect; just the right amount of familiar McCarthy.

Rose Byrne, who seems to be in absolutely everything these days, once again displays her  ample comedic chops as the stuck-up villain with the posh accent. She’s not afraid to make fun of herself and go head-to-head wih McCarthy in the profanity stakes; I believe this could be as funny as she has ever been.

Jude Law, who has been out of the limelight in recent years, returns as a James Bond spoof of sorts, probably a nod to the fact that he was almost picked to be the iconic spy years ago. He’s clearly aged and appears to have gotten some plugs, though the charisma is still there. He gets to joke around the least as the tongue-in-cheek straight-man of the comedy but takes the role in stride.

Up to this point, Spy is already a fairly decent comedy. What takes it to the next level, however, is the presence of Jason Statham. As the most bankable martial arts action star of today, Statham has only been on the fringes of comedy, and by that I mean wisecracks and one-liners in between beating people up on screen. He finally gets to show off his incredible self-awareness and untapped comedic timing in Spy as a disgruntled rogue agent who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Statham’s character is British, but he’s also crass, profane, arrogant, mysognistic and hyperbolic. He reminds of a hardened version of Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China. His hilarity is undeniable, and it adds an edge to the film I doubt anyone else could have offered.

I thought after Kingsman: The Secret Service the year’s best action-comedy had been set in stone, but now I’m not so sure. Spy isn’t nearly as stylish or visually impressive, but it’s much more of a pure comedy in that it generates bigger and more frequent belly laughs. I had an unexpectedly good time.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Furious 7 (2015)

furious7

The Fast & Furious franchise has more or less perfected the craft — a team of familiar characters and stars, suped-up cars, scantily clad women, stylised violence, over-the-top action sequences and a truckload of cheesy one-liners. It’s a formula that has worked wonders for the last few entries, and Furious 7 takes it up yet another notch notwithstanding a major director change from Justin Lin to James Wan. Though Wan is known as a master of horror (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), the Aussie legend doesn’t miss a beat.

As I’m not a car fanatic and can’t stop thinking of Mini-me on steroids whenever I see Vin Diesel’s face, I’ve always been somewhat “meh” about the Fast & Furious franchise. This time, however, I stopped hoping for something I knew I was never going to get and just went along for the ride. As a result, I had a blast. If you’re after the ultimate popcorn movie, look no further — this is it.

The film takes place after the events of Fast 6 and around the time of Tokyo Drift (the third film in the franchise), which unfortunately means we are missing the cool Asian guy (Han) and is hot Israeli girlfriend (Gisele), with Sung Kang and Gal Gadot relegated to brief flashbacks, though Tokyo’s new drift king, Lucas Black, does make a triumphant return in a cameo, looking about 10 years older for some strange reason (racing with Mini-me must have taken a lot out of him).

On the bright side, the loss of Han and Gisele ensures more time for the other characters and offers enough room for the addition of Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays a hacker Kurt Russell wants Mini-me’s gang to track down so the US government can get their hands back on a super surveillance device called God’s Eye. The trade-off is that if Mini-me can get it for Russell he’ll be able to use it to track down supervillain Jason Statham, who plays the big brother of the baddie from the last movie (Luke Evans).

This premise allows the film to do several things. It still gets to do the whole heist thing that has worked well for the franchise the last few times, while also setting up epic set pieces to showcase the talents of the characters and cast. Apart from crazy car stunts, the film is highlighted by several brutal one-on-one confrontations. The Rock, Mini-me, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez all have their own well-choreographed fight scenes, but the best ones of course involve Statham, who absolutely shines in this role with his slick moves and brooding charisma, and elevates the movie several levels above what it should have been. He’s the perfect addition and the most memorable villain in the franchise — by far.

Two other new characters to steal a couple of scenes are MMA queen Ronda Rousey and Thai martial arts expert Tony Jaa, each of whom get to show off their stuff by squaring off against members of Mini-me’s gang. The only guy who doesn’t get to do much is Djimon Hounsou, a bland secondary villain who pales in comparison to Statham.

So just when you thought the batshit insanity of the last two films the franchise could not be topped, here comes this masterclass in how to depict over-the-top action, car chases and violence on the big screen. Cars and bodies are constantly being tossed, crashed into and mangled throughout, in ways that would be laughable had everyone involved not embraced the absurdity with so much genuine enthusiasm and confidence. Everyone’s pretty much indestructible unless they need to die.

This is the type of movie that The Expendables wants to be and what Michael Bay has been trying to make every time he sits in the director’s chair. What sets Furious 7 apart is the creativity and the overall sense of fun. It’s not just big, loud explosions all the time and obnoxious characters shooting things with massive guns. Furious 7 has likable characters who take on their tasks with just the right amount of cheesiness, and they’re put in situations we might not have necessarily seen before. You can complain about the cliches and the bad dialogue and the stupidity of it all, or you can embrace it like I finally am.

Of course, everyone will remember this one as Paul Walker’s last film after the actor died tragically in a car crash before the film was completed. Furious 7 does a great job of finishing off his scenes with his brothers as stand-ins coupled with CGI effects, and more importantly it provides him with a moving tribute by offering his character a fitting send-off. He’ll be missed, but with The Rock and Jason Statham likely becoming franchise regulars, there should be some life left in this series yet.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Wild Card (2015)

Wild-Card

Wild Card is a really unusual film starring action superstar Jason Statham, undoubtedly one of the busiest men in Hollywood. Directed by Simon West, who has some notable credits on his resume including Con Air and The Expendables 2, it’s actually a remake of the 1986 adaptation of the same name starring Burt Reynolds and based on the novel Heat by William Goldman.

Statham plays Nick Wild, a super lethal dude who earns money by doing odd jobs around Las Vegas. We learn early on that he’s a reasonable guy who doesn’t like to rip off his clients and likes to help people out in a no-nonsense way. When a good friend of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia’s real-life daughter) is brutalized by three thugs — led by Milo Ventimiglia (remember him from the TV series Heroes?) — Nick reluctantly agrees to help seek revenge.

So far so good, except that the film then goes off on a completely unexpected tangent, where we discover that Nick is also a gambling addict who has serious trouble knowing when to call it quits. From here, Wild Card turns into a weird gambling movie for a while , which is OK, but then his actions against the thugs come back to haunt him and the film flips into something else again. In some ways, Wild Card is a — pardon the pun — a wild collection of set pieces, each of which works effectively on its own but doesn’t quite come together as a complete motion picture.

The action sequences are very good, with an impressive visual flair that utilizes slow motion and bone-crunching sound effects that almost make you feel the pain. Here is where Statham is at his absolute best, and to his credit he absolutely milks his charisma and knowledge of on-screen fighting to their fullest.

His acting is obviously not as good, which is probably why West decided to pair him with some outstanding performers. Ventimiglia, who has faded since Heroes turned to shit (though I hear it’s coming back without him), is actually excellent as a buffed up, narcissistic douche. The great Stanley Tucci makes an appearance as a crime lord of sorts, while other big names landing extended cameos include Jason “Costanza” Alexander, Hope Davis, Anne Heche and Sofia Vergara.

Wild Card is not great — it’s too all over the place to be anything close to that — but there are aspects of it I enjoyed, such as the action and some of the dialogue. I was quite stunned to discover that it was made for a budget of US$30 million, which feels excessive considering what I saw on screen, though I was even more astonished to learn that it made just US$1.6 million at the box office, which is far too low for what it deserves. While you won’t miss much by skipping this at the cinema, catching it on DVD won’t be the worst decision you could make.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables 3 (2014)

The-Expendables-3

I remember when I thought the idea of The Expendables, which grouped together a huge handful of old action stars, would be a good premise — if the film was made 10-15 years ago. That was back in 2010, when they made the first film. Now, with the stars another 4 years older, slower and more mutated by HGH, we have been bestowed a third installment in the franchise, and the results are more ghastly than the cracks on Mel Gibson’s face.

The first Expendables was not very good, but at least it was fresh. The second film was more of the same, except less fresh, and now the third film is simply stale. The Expendables do a dangerous job, a villain appears, hurts or kills one of their own, and revenge is ultimately accomplished following a lot of gunfire, explosions, poor attempts at “character development,” and Sly Stallone running around in platform boots yelling incoherently. It’s a proven formula for box office success.

In fact, you’re not likely to remember what the film is even about the next day, and memories of all three films will probably blend into one giant I-don’t-give-a-shit. For the loyal fans, it doesn’t really matter.

My memory of the film is already starting to fade. I am fairly certain that Mel Gibson is the villain because this is the only role in Hollywood he can get these days. I know Harrison Ford is in it because I remember thinking that he is doing a horrible job of convincing people that he has not turned completely senile. Wesley Snipes is the new addition to the oldies, but he doesn’t offer much apart from a “they went there” joke about his well-publicized problems. Arnie is back, but Bruce Willis is out (complete with a cheesy joke to go along with it). Jet Li makes his usual contract-obligated cameo, and Antonio Banderas is in it for some reason. As you can see, The Expendables franchise has more or less become a charity for old actors who want to keep gettin’ ’em checks. But hey, why blame them for exploiting the market? As long as there is demand there will be supply, no matter how many wrinkles there are. I fully expect Nicholas Cage to be in the next one.

To be fair, Stallone does try to infuse new blood into the series by hiring a bunch of potential box office draws, such as MMA badass Ronda Rousey, Twilight alumnus Kellan Lutz and former welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz. They each get to show off a little bit, but with so many people sharing the same pie it’s not really worth your time if you just want to see the film because of one or two people.

Now that the novelty of star power has worn off for good, The Expendables franchise must turn to action and cheesy humor to make up for it. The action, to be honest, felt like more of the same. I suppose the guns, knives and explosions are arguably bigger, but for me it was a case of different shit, same smell. I do, however, give kudos for the tongue-in-cheek cheesy humour. One of the franchise’s greatest strengths is understanding what a big joke everything is and its stars’ ability to make fun of themselves, and The Expendables 3 is no different.

I understand the appeal of the Expendables concept and why people (including myself) have flocked to it time and time again. The undeniable reality, however, is that the films have never lived up to the concept, and I doubt they ever can. I can see how there are those who still enjoy it, but I’ve become numb and indifferent after three mediocre efforts. I think my wife summed up my sentiments best with her one-word review when I asked her what she thought of it: “Whatever.”

2 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

Recent Movie Reviews: Part II

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

20130718-100024.jpg

It’s rare that a film franchise hitting its sixth entry can still generate so much hype and continue to attract new A-listers to join the cast. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Fast and Furious series (I don’t care much for cars) but I’ve watched most of them and found them to be solid popcorn entertainment.

Fast and Furious 6 is more of the same, but it’s arguably the best of the lot. The Rock and his steroids are back and they need the expertise of the fugitives led my man-sized Mini-me Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to help the feds capture an ex-British special forces dude played by Luke Evans. He’s really mean and nasty, but he has a secret weapon — Vin Diesel’s ex-girlfriend, the believed-to-be-dead Michelle Rodriguez (making this the second time in about a year she’s returned from the grave after the latest Resident Evil instalment — though don’t worry, she’s not a clone this time).

A lot of cheesy jokes, hot women, crazy combat and car chases ensue. I guess you could say it’s a guilty pleasure, but to be honest I think it’s good enough to just be “a pleasure.” Credit to Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin for divvying up the screen time appropriately between the stars and adding a bit of variety to the action so it’s not just the same thing over and over. It’s silly but it knows it and makes the most out of the situations to create unexpectedly effective humour.

The end of the film is even tied up to Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, which I think was the fourth film of the franchise but chronologically the final one — until Fast and Furious 7, of course, which has already been green-lit and will be fast tracked to our screens next year with a different director (James Wan from Saw and Insidious). It will also star new addition Jason Statham, who makes a brief cameo in this one. I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Parker (2013)

20130718-100448.jpg

Speaking of Jason Statham, the next film in this review blitz is Parker, a strange little revenge action film with lots of excessive violent behaviour. Even more strangely, it stars JLo in what must be her first role in some time, and she’s playing an unappealing supporting character I would not have expected her to say yes to at the peak of her fame.

Anyway, Statham is the titula Parker, who is a shady fellow with a lot of principles. He gets involved in a heist but is stabbed in the back by his fellow crims and left for dead. He survives, however, and goes about trying to get his share of the money back and making his former partners in crime pay.

It’s by no means an original movie or a memorable one, but watching Statham in action as a ruthless, vengeful crim has its moments. I don’t know if the film had to be that violent but it works on a visceral level.

I didn’t love it or hate it. It was entertaining for the most part but nothing special. In fact, it felt like a very solid straight-to-DVD flick but not much more than that. Oh, and by the way, the film also co-stars Nick Nolte. I still don’t have a clue what the heck he is mumbling on about.

3 stars out of 5

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

20130718-102343.jpg

I’ve come to expect nothing but turds from Adam Sandler these days, but Hotel Transylvania is an animated film, so I thought I would give it a chance.

Well, I shouldn’t have. It sounded like a good idea on paper with many opportunities for great laughs — a hotel getaway for misunderstood monsters like Dracula (Sandler), Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, werewolves, and so forth — but the jokes were so cliched and obvious and lame and nowhere near as cool as it wanted to be. It felt like a film desperate to get laughs but didn’t have a clue how to do it. The whole premise was to make fun of the flipped idea that monsters are really afraid of humans, not the other way around, but the monster stereotypes aren’t enough to keep the film afloat.

The great thing about films like Toy Story and Up is that they appeal to both children and adults alike with a broad spectrum of multi-layered jokes, and they have plenty of heart. The message in Hotel Transylvania is that you need to follow your heart no matter what — a noble message — but one that has been done to death already in much superior films.

This one was a dud, possibly the worst animated feature I’ve seen since the awfully misguided and derivative Shark Tale nearly a decade ago.

1.5 stars out of 5

Stoker (2013)

20130718-102421.jpg

Huge anticipation for this bizarre psychological thriller penned by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller (who shopped around the script using a pseudonym).

Stoker is an eerie, sexually charged, almost surreal film dominated by a trio of formidable Aussies. The lead is played by Mia Wasikowska, a young girl mourning the loss of her father when her mysterious and handsome uncle (played by Watchmen‘s Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her mother, Nicole Kidman. The third Aussie is Jacki Weaver, who has a small but important role as Mia’s great aunt.

I found myself intoxicated by Stoker because I had little idea where it was heading and whether what I was seeing was real. Korean director Park Chan-wook (in his English-language debut) infuses the film with a dreamy, horror-inspired atmosphere that is effectively gothic in nature (not surprisingly, as the film has allusions to Bram Stoker’s Dracula — though this is a psychological thriller as opposed to a supernatural one). It’s a film where people do strange things and have strange reactions but draws you in and keeps you unsettled so you never quite feel like you know what is going on.

I wouldn’t call it a brilliant thriller but it definitely had me intrigued with its dark atmosphere and demented characters. The plot twists are interesting but not as clever as I had hoped them to be, but overall it is still a finely crafted film I would recommend, especially for those looking for something a little different.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables is the type of idea that would have been really amazing 15, maybe even 10 years ago: an all-out action blockbuster featuring all the most famous action superstars in the world.

Unfortunately, as often is the case, the idea turned out to be a thousand times better than the actual film.

The Expensables may have Sylvester Stallone (Rocky and Rambo), Jason Statham (the Transporter), Jet Li (the guy with the Kiss of the Dragon), Dolph Lundgren (my personal favourite, Drago), ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Randy Couture (pro-wrestler/MMA fighter), with cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as fine macho actors Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, and beefy funnyman Terry Crews (every time I see this guy I think of White Chicks) (all it was missing were Van Damme, The Rock and Jackie Chan) — but it also has one of the worst screenplays (written by Stallone and David Callahan) for a blockbuster in recent memory.

Virtually no plot, uninteresting protagonists, horrible cardboard villains, even worse female characters, and dialogue that switches between grotsequely cheesy, cringeworthy and WTF — all these faults could have been forgiven had The Expendables simply been mindblowingly exciting and entertaining — but miraculously, against all odds, it wasn’t!

It wasn’t boring or anything, but despite all the fists, knives, guns, bombs, explosions and over-the-top carnage (think Rambo IV), The Expendables was nothing special.  I was particularly surprised by the relative large number of slow and ‘character development’ scenes.  When the action was going at full blast, I have to admit it was pretty good, but there simply wasn’t enough of such sequences.

Again, I go back to the horrendous script and I also partly blame the direction (also by Stallone).  To me, it didn’t feel like any of the action roles were written with the specific action stars in mind.  You would imagine that the film would play to the strengths of each of the action stars, but it doesn’t.  I was appalled to see a hand-to-hand combat scene featuring Jet Li absolutely destroyed by rapid camera movements and cuts.  What’s the point of filming a kung fu master using techniques that would allow any character to play the role?

Instead of roles written specifically for the stars, what you got was the opposite — a bunch of bland, stock standard roles that happen to be filled by past and present (mostly past) action stars.  How is it possible that with so many fantastic personalities that not one character was interesting or featured an ounce of creativity?

As for the performances, they weren’t bad if you factor in the material they had to work with.  With the 103-minute running time, there was really only room for two main leads — Stallone and Statham, with the rest relegated to filling thankless roles and cameos.

The reason I said the idea may have worked 10-15 years ago is because at least some of the stars would have been closer to their primes (and audiences would have loved the cheesy lines) .  With the exception of Statham, all of the action dudes looked and felt too old for their respective roles.  Now, it’s kind of sad to see a bunch of old guys trying to hold on to past glories.

Stallone, in particular, demonstrated perfectly why men over 60 should never use human growth hormones, work out with heavy weights, inject botox, pluck their eyebrows, or try to run with platform boots.

Stallone posing after a workout for the film

Ultimately, The Expendables was a good (albeit aged) idea that ended up as a failed experiment.  It felt as though Stallone had put all his effort into gathering these amazing stars into one film rather than creating a coherent and exciting movie experience.  What a shame.  There was so much potential wasted here.

2.5 stars

(In all honesty this is quite generous — but I have to give big kudos for getting all these guys together, and in particular the one classic scene where all three Planet Hollywood owners — Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger were on screen at the same time.)