Man the movies are piling up, so it’s time to my first movie blitz of 2014. Surely it won’t be the last.
13 Sins (2014)
This one’s quite an interesting, clever little horror film. If you look at it as a small, self-contained indie flick rather than a US remake of a Thai film (13 Beloved), you might end up having some fun with it.
The story revolves around Elliot (played by Mark Weber, who is married to Aussie Teresa Palmer in real life), a salesman who is engaged to be married but falls into debt and becomes desperate. He receives a phone call from a mysterious game show host who convinces him to perform certain acts for money. If he can perform all 13, he wins a million dollars.
It starts off innocuously enough, with silly stuff like eating a fly, but of course the tasks soon escalate and become more sinister before everything spirals out of control. It’s a well executed idea that builds up the tension as it moves along, and Mark Weber’s performance delivers that paranoia and WTF feeling this kind of film needs.
It gets bloody at times, but the true horror comes from that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a situation you can’t get out of, and there’s no way out no matter which way you turn. There are plenty of improbable and virtually impossible things that happen in the film, but I liked how it only offers bare bones explanation of the game at the end without going into specifics, which allows the suspension of disbelief to continue instead of destroying the entire premise.
I wasn’t a fan of the look of the film, with that gloomy 80s feel, colours and tones, though considering what a low-budget film this is I think it qualifies as a solid DVD rental.
3.5 stars out of 5
Reasonable Doubt (2014)
It’s never a good sign when I have to Google a film to jog my memory before doing a review. I love Samuel L Jackson, but he’s pretty much become the black Nicolas Cage — ie, the actor who would do any role some cash.
I tried to give Reasonable Doubt some reasonable doubt despite seeing how horribly it rated on Rotten Tomatoes (13%!), but despite going in with an open mind I ended up being bored and uninspired by this dull mess of a film.
Dominic Cooper plays an up-and-coming district attorney who gets himself into trouble after a hit-and-run after a few drinks one night. Samuel L Jackson is arrested for the crime and Cooper, who is assigned the case, feels obligated by conscience to let Jackson walk. But, you see, there’s a twist, and Cooper ends up wondering if he’s actually done the wrong thing.
It’s a fairly typical thriller that was interesting until about halfway through, then it just fell apart and offered nothing new in terms of action or excitement. Neither guy seemed interested in what they were doing on screen and were simply going through the motions as the plot plodded along until a predictable conclusion that was surprisingly tame — and lame.
To be honest I can’t remember much more about this film other than Samuel L doing a lot of yelling and Cooper acting terrified. An accurate comparison for Reasonable Doubt is one of those TV movies you come across one night and end up watching to the very end, and then immediately regret wasting your time on it.
1.75 stars out of 5
Ride Along (2014)
I haven’t had much of a chance to experience Kevin Hart’s humour other than the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, of which he is a three-time MVP (fan voted, of course). I thought he was loud and seemed like he would never shut up, but he was generally funny enough to not come across as unbearably obnoxious.
His new star vehicle, Ride Along, was a huge hit in America, which seems to have a market for black buddy movies. Hart is a cop wannabe who is dating the sister of a hard-edged cop played by Ice Cube. To dissuade Hart from joining the police force, Ice Cube takes him on a “ride along” one day and lines up all the worse cases he can find. You can guess the rest.
Hart is like a likable itch you can get rid of, and he tries to channel that persona to the big screen, while Ice Cube plays the straight man who sets up the comedic punchlines for him. The two form a high-energy duo who carry the film – at least comedically — most of the way until it decides to raise the stakes so there can be an action-packed climax of sorts.
If we’re being honest here, Ride Along is not a good film. There’s no shortage of Hart talking and yelling like he always does, and after 100 minutes you’re praying that Ice Cube kills him. I wouldn’t have minded the standard buddy cop movie plot where two guys who can’t each other eventually learn mutual respect and going through some near-death experiences — but only if the film was genuinely funny. However, Ride Along’s jokes are painfully obvious almost all the time (you know, like Hart height jokes) and the slapstick that pokes fun at Hart’s lack of physical prowess gets old in a hurry.
I didn’t have any true “laugh out loud” moments in the film and only had a handful (less than 5) giggle moments. That’s just not enough to sustain a comedy. And yet, I hear there’s going to be a sequel set for release in 2016.
2 stars out of 5
Veronica Mars (2014)
I never watched a single episode of the TV series, which is why it made little sense for me to catch the movie version of Veronica Mars, set nearly a decade after the conclusion of the show. Still, I think there’s enough juice here for people like me, as the characters and plot are introduced and developed well enough for me to get a general feel of what the fuss was all about all those years ago. And it doesn’t have a bad mystery to solve either. Considering it had a budget of only US$6 million and relied on crowdfunding, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Kristen Bell reprises her role as the titular character, who returns back to her hometown after starting a job as a lawyer in NYC. The reason for her return is because an ex-boyfriend has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, and he knows Veronica is the one person who can help him prove his innocence. I’m assuming a lot of the characters in the film are also from the series, such as her father, played by Just Shoot Me‘s Enrico Colantoni, as well as a bunch of her high school friends. Either way, while I didn’t have the background I was never confused by all the pre-existing relationships.
In essence, Veronica Mars is a neo-noir detective film, but it’s also strongly character-driven and sharply written. Despite some adult themes, the film has that nostalgic high-school drama feel to it, which I presume is handed down from the TV show, but there’s also an added maturity because the characters are no longer kids. The dialogue, which is crisp and humorous at times, reflects that.
I was impressed with how the writers moulded the plot and character development so that the film never felt like a 2-hour version of a TV show. There was a genuine mystery to be solved and it wasn’t a tacky mystery either, though at the same time they didn’t go for anything too ambitious that would have taken the characters out of their comfort zone.
In many ways, Veronica Mars is the perfect 10-years-later film version of a TV show. It brought back the characters, showed us how their lives had moved on since the show ended, and brought freshness with a new mystery that was big but not too big for their self-contained world. Obviously, being a newbie to this world I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have had I been a fan of the TV show, but I nevertheless found it quite enjoyable as a standalone mystery flick.
3.25 stars out of 5