Tag Archives: Kate Bosworth

Heist (2015)

heist-2015

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?

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Still Alice (2014)

still_alice

Note: Getting this review in just before they announce Best Actress at the Oscars!

I was in the mood to be depressed, so I went head and watched Still Alice, a sobering drama about a renowned linguistics professor’s battle with early onset Alzheimer’s.

It’s a respectable take on the illness that doesn’t go the whole way in capturing the worst the disease, preferring to leave its titular character with her dignity in tact. In that sense, Still Alice isn’t as quite as heartbreaking as I braced myself for (I had the Kleenex ready and everything), though the film surprised me with its gripping depiction of Alice’s family members and the way each of them reacts to the devastating news.

Based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, Still Alice begins with Dr Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) celebrating her 50th birthday. With a successful career, a loving husband and three fully grown children, there’s not much more she could ask for.

But of course, the signs of the illness soon begin to manifest, randomly, sporadically, and with varying degrees of seriousness. Co-sreenwriters and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland — along with Moore in perhaps the best performance of her stellar career — do a solid job of conveying the initial shock and confusion from the onset of the symptoms. From a forgotten word here or a misplaced item there and getting gradually shittier at Words with Friends (I enjoyed this especially), to getting lost in what should be a familiar place, the trio manage to capture the angst as well as the physical disorientation through the use of camera panning and blurred backgrounds.

Moore’s deteriorating appearance is also used to match her crumbling mind. In the beginning I remarked on how amazing she looks for a 50 year old (54 in real life), though as the film progressed she grew increasingly lined and disheveled — though let’s face it, still pretty good for a 5o-year-old Academic who squeezed out three children.

It was a clever idea to make the subject of the illness a top linguistics professor who appeared to have everything, allowing the contrast ensuing from her illness to be even more stark. It’s bad enough for ordinary people, but for someone for whom words and language are her pride and define who she is, the blow must be incomprehensible. I know some will whine about how lucky Alice is to have money and family support compared to others suffering the disease, though it’s not the movie’s fault that it can only focus on one story.

I knew Moore was in it and is a favourite for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars, but I had no idea there were so many big stars in it. Alec Baldwin delivers a controlled, layered performance as Alice’s husband John, a brilliant researcher in his own right who struggles to deal with not only his wife’s deteriorating mental capacity but also the impact on his own career. The way he deals with losing he woman he has loved for so long, especially her losing perhaps the biggest reason for his love — her sharp mind and fierce career ambitions — is truly heart wrenching in more ways than one.

Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish (from Weeds) play Alice’s three children, each of whom reacts differently to the diagnosis. Stewart, who gets the meatiest role of the three, is especially good, displaying a tenderness and non-constipated demeanour I thought I would never see again after “The Saga”. But to her credit, she has proven that there is life after Twilight.

The main complaint I can make against the movie is that it plays out too conventionally, pretty much the way I anticipated a movie about Alzheimer’s to go. The film alludes to how bad things will eventually get, but spares us the pain of actually seeing it. Maintaining the dignity of sufferers and reminding us that she is “still Alice” no matter what, appears to be a priority. Some will applaud the sensitivity of the approach, while others will say it sanitises reality. Everyone will have an opinion on how it affects the film, though it is undeniable that it would could have been edgier had it dared to venture a little further from expectations.

And for all the great depiction of Alice’s family, the film did very little to look at how her relationship evolved with her friends. In fact, I don’t even remember her having any friends at all.

It is not an easy movie to watch, and it’s hard to call it an enjoyable experience. If it’s superb performances and depressingly gripping drama you’re after, however, it’s hard to go past Still Alice. The script is perhaps too conventional for the film to be something truly special, but Moore’s performance elevates it far above what it would otherwise have been.

3.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part IX

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

The Family (2013)

the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 stars out of 5

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

welcome to the punch

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

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

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

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

3.5 stars 

Devil’s Knot (2013)

DVL00056INTH_DEVIL'S-KNOT.indd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 stars out of 5

Homefront (2013)

homefront

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 stars out of 5

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part I

As documented on this blog, I visited China a couple of months ago.  Apart from the Great Wall, China is also very well known for its DVD stores.  I visited a couple of these while I was there, and they are amazing.  For some reason, these stores stocked all the latest movies and TV shows some that weren’t even out at the cinemas yet!  And they were all perfectly packaged.  No wonder they say the future of the world lays in China’s hands.

I bought a few to sample and they were the real deal.  Here are my reviews.

The Warrior’s Way (2010)

I saw the trailer for this on the Internets and was intrigued because it was one of those Asian martial arts fantasy films with a Western backdrop.  Led by Korean ‘superstar’ Jang Dong-gun, the film also featured the likes of Hollywood stars such as Kate Bosworth (whom I hadn’t seen since Superman Returns), Geoffrey Rush (talk about a man willing to be in absolutely anything) and Danny Huston.

I can’t really remember much except that the Korean dude was some super swordsman that went to America with a baby, and there were lots of sword/gun fights.  I didn’t expect much from it but I did expect it to be slightly more fun than it was.  Visually it was impressive, even more fantastical than films such as House of Flying Daggers, The Promise and Hero, but like those films the engagement factor was pretty low.

2.5 stars out of 5

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

This was an interesting documentary about the crippled education system in America.  It was expectedly scathing when it came to public education and the quality of teachers, but for me the most compelling part was watching how various families pinned all their hopes on their child getting into a particular charter school through a student lottery.

I had no idea what charter schools were (basically an alternative to public schools and can have their own system of rules and regulations that hold both students and teachers more accountable for their performance) and I was fascinated by this idea of a child’s entire future riding on luck.  If they get into a charter school, their future looks bright.  If they don’t, they’re stuffed.  That was how the film conveyed it anyway.  As a result, he lottery scenes towards the end of the film had me riveted.

It’s not an exceptional documentary (too many numbers and slow bits) but it’s an important one.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

I’m trying to think of a good feature film with Jessica Alba (in a significant role) that was any good.  If Sin City doesn’t count (because she was hardly in it) then I can’t think of any.

The Killer Inside Me was barely okay.  It stars Casey Affleck as some sick psycho and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the women in his life.  It’s a stylishly shot film set in the 1950s (I think) and has some confronting moments that are brutally violent, but I didn’t get a connection with any of the characters. It was 109 minutes but felt like 3 hours.

PS (SPOILERS): I read somewhere that the film was criticised for being misogynistic, which is stupid.  Watching Alba and Hudson getting the crap beaten out of them was one of the less boring parts of the film.

2 stars out of 5

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

I always wondered why Odette Yustman (star of Cloverfield and The Unborn) was not a bigger star.  Unfortunately, And Soon the Darkness will definitely not make her a bigger star.

Yustman and Amber Heard are two young American girls backpacking in Argentina, in an area where young women have gone missing.  Yada, yada, yada, they get in trouble, stuff happens and people die.

I suppose there were a few entertaining moments in this film (which also stars Karl Urban as the ‘is he the bad guy or not?’ guy) but it was impossible to like either of the annoying girls whose stupidity and lack of common sense made me want to see something bad happen to them.  But then again, if they weren’t so moronic none of the things in this film would have happened.

2 stars out of 5