I like my psychic movies, and hence I was automatically drawn to Solace, a thriller about an old police medium (Anthony Hopkins) forced to come out of retirement to catch a mysterious serial killer. By his side are two good-looking officers played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who seems to be in everything these days, and Australia’s very own Abbie Cornish. Rounding out the star cast are Colin Farrell and Northern Exposure alum Janine Turner (remember her?).
I really wanted to like Solace because of the intriguing premise, though at the end of the day this is very much B-grade, straight-to-DVD stuff. Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Afonso Poyart, the film offers a mix of weird ideas — there appear to be visual influences from TV’s Hannibal — and sentimentality, but never really the nail-biting horror or suspense I had been hoping for, nor does it provide any real insight into what it’s like to be a police psychic or to work with one.
Instead, the film is surprisingly philosophical and goes into this exploration of the morality of death and suffering. That’s fine if it’s what the movie is trying to aim for, except there’s not enough depth or new ideas to keep it interesting. The film just takes itself far too seriously when it only scratches the surface of the issues it is trying to tackle.
To be fair, the film does begin with promise and at least makes an effort to offer something a little different. The actors are also solid — none of them are phoning it in, and there’s even decent chemistry among them, in particular Hopkins and Farrell. However, it doesn’t take long — though it might feel like a long time — before the film starts becoming tedious. Even if you haven’t seen it before you’ll feel like it’s all awfully familiar. There are a couple of little surprises here and there, though by and large it struggled to maintain my interest. And that’s unfortunate, because the potential was there at the beginning to be more than just another average thriller.
Ultimately, Solace is a case of “good effort”, but not much more than that. It’s nothing special, though you could do a lot worse if you’re randomly picking titles to watch on an uneventful evening.
Bus 657 might not be a great name for a heist film, but it’s at least less generic than Heist, the name they later changed it to. And that’s ultimately the problem with this star-studded movie — everything about it feels awfully generic. It’s might be better than your average straight-to-DVD action flick, but you’ll just as likely forget about it next week.
Take the first three sequences of the film, for instance (too early spoilers, no?). It starts off with a bunch of masked robbers hijacking a bus full of people. In the next scene, a couple of people are being threatened and tortured by someone working under Robert De Niro, whose character is the ruthless boss of a casino. The third scene shows Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character working at that casino and desperate for money due to a sick daughter. Now, I bet you have basically figured out what this movie is all about.
You’re right, Heist is essentially a casino robbery meets Speed. You’ve got the robber with a heart of gold who is doing naughty things because he has no choice. You have the bad guy accomplice who deserves all the blame (Dave Bautista) because he’s doing it for selfish reasons. You have the scary casino boss who wants his money back. You’ve got the young police officer (MMA star Gina Carano) who develops a connection with the robber and the chief who will do whatever it takes to rescue to hostages (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
It is absolutely by-the-numbers, even with the obligatory little twists thrown in along the way. Soon I started guessing how the plot would develop with high accuracy, and even when I missed I wasn’t impressed by what they did instead because it was even more cliched than I anticipated. While I would not call the film dull, the strong generic feel and predictability never got my heart pumping either.
The biggest problem I had with the movie was all the plot contrivances that stretched the limits of credulity. The characters did a lot of things that made little sense, but the film asks you to take them at face value instead of setting them up to be believable. I just didn’t buy their motivations and reactions.
It begs the question why so many name stars or at least former stars would latch onto this project, a film with a reported US$2 million production budget, no less. Usually you’d get maybe one star looking for a quick paycheck (think any Nicholas Cage film made in the last five years), but certainly not this many. I doubt they’re all starving, anyway. I haven’t even mentioned the highly-billed Kate Bosworth cameo and DB Sweeney’s role as the bus driver (hey, don’t knock DB Sweeney — he was pretty big back in the Fire in the Sky era). I’m sure there was something about Heist that made them think it could be a hit, but for whatever reason the potential did not translate to the finished product.
I’m probably harsher on this film than I would have been had it just featured a bunch of no-name actors. If you strip the expectations away, Heist is probably an above average rental or VOD given that it is generally adequate in most areas, from the production value to the direction of Scott Man (The Tournament), the execution of the action and even the dialogue. I guess it’s one of those unusual films where the great cast is a detriment because it develops unrealistic expectations. It’s always better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed, no?
After Hannibal, it’s difficult to watch great Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen these days without thinking that he’ll start eating everyone on screen. But such is his awesomeness that I almost forgot this when I saw him in The Salvation, a good, old-fashioned Western about a man’s quest for vengeance.
Directed and co-written by Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring, The Salvation tells the simple story of two Danish brothers who immigrate to the US in search of a better life. Seven years later, Jon (Mads — what an awesome name) finally brings his young son and wife to the country, but a stroke of fate ends up shattering his Amercian Dream. What follows is a brutal tale of revenge that will bring Jon face-to-face with a notorious gang leader played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his damaged sister-in-law, played by Eva Green.
There’s not much to The Salvation in terms of plot or character development, but that doesn’t stop it from being a highly watchable film. That said, while I was expecting a violent rampage like Taken, The Salvation actually has more depth than that. It’s one of those films where you have to keep watching the protagonist suffer — whether it is pain, loss or injustice — with the unspoken promise that he’ll eventually turn things around in the end and get his “salvation.”
It’s far from an original concept, though when executed well it can still be darn entertaining. The Salvation succeeds in doing that thanks to the aesthetically pleasing cinematography (certain scenes look like paintings), the grounded direction of Levring, and of course Mads’ mad performance (I’ve always wanted to say that). Keeping in mind that he’s an immigrant in 1870’s America, Jon is a man of few words and expressions, but you can sense his pain beneath the stoic surface because that’s the type of nuance Mads can deliver.
Notwithstanding that there was less action — especially less stylised action — than I had anticipated (not to mention less cannibalism), The Salvation is a gripping and satisfying Western fuelled by a master performer at the peak of his powers.
The Possession, a supposedly “true story”, has a less than creative title, a cliched plot and employs some very old horror movie tricks. But for all its faults, The Possession IS freaking scary. I know this year hasn’t been a great year for horror films so far, but off the top of my head, I believe it is the scariest horror film I have seen this year, rather easily edging The Woman in Black.
It would be remiss of me to not mention upfront that The Possession is not even close to being “based on a true story.” The film is based on the tale of the “Dibbuk Box”, which is allegedly some kind of haunted Jewish wine box that allegedly brings bad luck to the owner. It became famous after one such box was sold on eBay and, as expected, a bunch of morons thought it would be great to buy it. You can read up on it here, a website dedicated to the story that looks so good it makes me suspicious about everything. In short, none of the stuff that happens in the “real” story happens in the movie.
Anyway, The Possession is about a recently divorced couple played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the American Javier Bardem) and Kyra Sedgwick and their two young daughters, one of whom comes across the dibbuk box at a garage sale. Naturally, strange and frightening stuff starts happening, and the parents have to work together to find a way to save their little girl.
Yes, it is yet another movie is about demonic possession of a young girl, but The Possession does have a lot going for it. For starters, unlike the majority of such films, it is genuinely creepy and has some really terrifying scenes, usually amped up by a blaring score that reminded me a little of Psycho. A lot of the scares are typical, classic tricks you might have experienced before, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. The Jewish slant adds a dash of freshness to the concept but also unintentional laughs during the final climax, which has elements of brilliance but didn’t break any new ground in the end.
Some of the “scary” scenes do fall a little flat, especially if you have seen the trailer. There are also some sequences that are too over-the-top for my liking, contradicting what Danish director Ole Bornedal (who did Nightwatch with Ewan McGregor and Josh Brolin, a surprisingly underrated horror flick) said about aiming for the subtlety of The Exorcist, the greatest horror movie of all time.
The Possession does start off with subtlety in mind, but unfortunately by the end it inevitably unravels and goes crazy — unnecessarily so, in my opinion. If you manage to get into the flow of the movie then you might be able to forgive some of the more outrageous scenes that were there merely for the sake of cheap thrills, but if you were sceptical from the outset you might find yourself laughing at how silly and nonsensical it is.
The performances of Morgan and Sedgwyck were strong, as were those of the two girls that played their kids, Natasha Calis and Madison Davenport. You really do get a sense of a familial bond between the four of them. One of the biggest and scariest shocks in the movie was discovering that Sedgwyck’s boyfriend in the movie is played by an initially unrecognizable Grant Show! Yes, I’m talking about Jake from Melrose Place!
The Possession is not what one would expect to be a good movie, and strictly speaking, it isn’t. But if it is just scares you are after, you may not find a more effective film this year.
I’ve been watching too many movies lately and I don’t have the time or energy to review them one by one…and hence, here is my ‘End of Year DVD Blitz’…Part I!
Jonah Hex (2010)
I remember when I first saw the trailer for this comic adaptation starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich and thought it was going to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. And I waited and waited for its release until the entire film vanished in a puff of smoke and never made it Australian cinemas. Somehow, Jonah Hex, a film that cost $47 million and featured three big stars, went straight to DVD.
After watching this fantasy western, I can see why. Jonah Hex, the titular character, is a scarred hero who is after revenge and killing bad guys. Megan Fox plays herself as a crackwhore. Even John Malkovich couldn’t save this mess of a film, which was all over the place, confusing and unengaging. There were some visually impressive elements, a few good ideas and several valiant attempts at action sequences, but on the whole Jonah Hex was an uneven failure, which is a shame considering how much promise it appeared to have.
2 stars out of 5
Here’s an underrated sci-fi horror that few may have heard of, but it’s a good one for hardcore fans.
Not an entirely original premise — Earth is running out of natural resources and send a colony of humans to the only Earth-like planet they’ve found in the galaxy. But as usual, something goes wrong, and when Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid wake up from their hypersleep (or whatever it is), the ship has become a dangerous survival ground.
Pandorum works well as a dark, atmospheric and thrilling sci-fi action horror. It’s entertaining, frightening and sickening, and it’s made stylishly, with good performances (including from German babe Antje Traue and MMA star Cung Le) and special effects all round.
Some might find it derivative or a bit ‘out there’ for them, but for me, it’s exactly the type of film that I can really get into and enjoy.
4 stars out of 5
The first ever game I got on my PS2 back in the day was Tekken. I never thought it was a great game, but I was still intrigued when I heard that Americans had decided to make a film about it. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat — I don’t know what possessed me to watch this one, but I guess I deserved what I got in the end.
Tekken was horrible horrible. Horrible. It stars a British, half-Asian martial arts guy by the name of John Foo, who decides to enter the ‘Iron Fist’ (in Japanese that’s ‘Tekken’) tournament for revenge. His mother is one of the ladies from The Joy Luck Club (Tamlyn Tomita) and his love interest is the lovely Kelly Overton (mostly from TV), also a contestant in the tournament. And one of the bros from Bros (Luke Goss) is his ‘sponsor’.
There was basically no plot, just a bunch of okay-choreographed fights and guys and girls looking pretty. The script, seriously, was like a ninth grade school project. The acting was awful, but I blame a lot of that on the dialogue. Except for John Foo. In a world where everyone spoke in American accents, including his mother, this guy couldn’t even make an effort to disguise his distinctive British bite.
No wonder Katsuhiro Harada, director of the video game series, tweeted that he thought the film was a piece of crap.
1 star out of 5
The Losers (2010)
Another comic book adaptation, one that didn’t look particularly interesting to me. However, The Losers is fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than popcorn entertainment. I read that the film drew comparisons to The A-Team, but I actually thought this was better.
Yes, it’s silly, over the top, and the characters take themselves way too seriously, but the action is good and the laughs are decent — plus there is one saving grace, which I will get to shortly. The Losers stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana (Avatar) and Chris Evans (Push), and the absolute standout — Jason Patric, who is simply hilarious as the villain. I haven’t seen Patric in such terrific form since that sauna scene from Your Friends and Neighbors, which I have taken the liberty of posting below.
The Losers is a slightly above average comic book action movie, but including the extra half-star just for Jason Patric, I’m gonna give it 3.5 stars out of 5
There’s going to be at least two more instalments in this DVD Blitz. At least. Stay tuned. Anyway, here is Jason Patric from Your Friends and Neighbors.
I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).
Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).
Director: Zack Snyder
Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)
Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA
Running time: 163 minutes
4 out of 5 stars
Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see. It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie. Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes). It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong. Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness. In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.
As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea). All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War. This becomes clear in the opening sequences.
However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie. The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks. There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions. At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.
The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting. For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion. It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period. Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.
Directing and Screenplay
Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last. As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great. The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored. Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it. For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.
The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated. For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions. The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far. You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face. You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask. Truly brilliant.
Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.
If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias. While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character. Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.
Violence, Sex and Special Effects
Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected). I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.
The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late. And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less. On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.
As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking. They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).
On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be. It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.
There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent. Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between. I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.