Tag Archives: sequel

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

I don’t like to just accept the word of other people when it comes to shit movies. I have to experience it for myself before I can call a movie shit. And so, despite the negative reviews, I decided to throw down some cash to watch Assassin’s Creed, the long awaited adaptation of the popular video game franchise that I have always wanted to but never played. And NOW, I can finally say it: Assassin’s Creed is indeed shit. Very shit.

Like Warcraft before it, Assassin’s Creed was hailed as the possible saviour of the future of game-to-film adaptations. There was certainly every reason to be optimistic: It is directed by Aussie filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who first shot to fame with the harrowing true story Snowtown. Kurzel has a way with gripping storytelling and a flair for visuals, and seems to always manage to bring out the best of his actors, as he did with Michael Fassbender (henceforth “Assbender”) and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard in Macbeth. And guess who also stars in Assassin’s Creed? Yes, Assbender and Cotillard, plus Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons, Silver Bear winner Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson and Omar Little himself from The Wire (ie, Michael K Williams). So you know they had every intention making a great movie.

Sadly, it feels like Assassin’s Creed to was doomed to failure from the start. Sure, the visuals are great — it’s exactly as how I imagined an adaptation would look from the snippets of the game I’ve seen. The action is solid (though not spectacular — I felt it could have been more inventive and there was a lot of killing but not much “assassinating”). The performers do their best to give emotion to their wooden lines of exposition. However, nothing could save Assassin’s Creed from its ridiculously silly and non-sensical premise and convoluted plot.

I haven’t played the game so I don’t really know how much the script is based on the game, but essentially, there is some ancient mystical item called the Apple of Eden (roll eyes), which contains the genetic code for free will. You read that correctly. The Knights Templar want it for world domination, and the Assassin Order (why not just call it Assassin’s Creed?) are a clandestine group sworn to protect it. I could probably work with that premise, except they chose to set the film in the present day and have a scientist (Cotillard) send a descendant of one of the assassins (Assbender) — who, by the way, looks exactly the same as his ancestor — back to the past using some sci-fi machine to access his “gene memory” so they can trace the Apple of Eden back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Yeah.

I knew the film was in trouble right from the opening text explaining the above premise on the screen. It’s just too non-sensical and unnecessarily complex for a movie like this. Kudos for making everyone speak Spanish for the 15th century scenes, but apart from that, the decision to have this dual timeline made it virtually impossible for Assassin’s Creed to be any good. Knowing that everything you see from the 15th century has already happened and cannot be changed (it is, after all, just “gene memory”) really saps the excitement and tension out of it. And let’s face it: None of it makes any sense. The modern rock music choices were also quite jarring, kind of like how Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was blamed for ruining Pan in 2015. Rather than wasting all this time on this split/dual timeline, they could put more effort into character development, of which there was virtually none to speak of.

As I mentioned earlier, Assbender and Cotillard do their best, though all throughout they had this sad look on their faces that screamed, “This isn’t working.” I actually whispered to myself during the movie, “What the f*&% is going on?”, and, I kid you not, only to hear Assbender’s character say the exact same line just seconds later.

Some ideas work well for games but stink for movies. I’m more convinced than ever that Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example of this. The filmmakers were probably afraid of offending the game’s fanbase and tried to mirror the premise as closely as possible. It’s a fatal mistake that crushed any opportunity for the movie to succeed. Instead of a film that gives hope to future video game adaptations, Assassin’s Creed should make film studios very, very afraid. If all this talented cast and crew can produce is an incoherent, ludicrous, lifeless piece of garbage, what chance does everyone else have?

1.5 stars out of 5

PS: I forgot to mention the anti-climatic ending that presumes a sequel is coming. Assassin’s Creed has made around US$150m off a US$125m budget, so that should (with the addition of marketing costs) equate to a loss that will keep everyone safe from a sequel.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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As far as conventional horrors go, The Conjuring (2013) was one of the best we’ve had in recent years. Despite the clichéd haunting plot we’ve seen countless times, legendary Aussie director James Wan was able to make the most of it with his reliable bag of tricks, combining a creepy atmosphere with well-timed “Boo!” moments to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Wan did not direct the failed prequel, Annabelle (2014), but he’s back again to helm the sequel to The Conjuring, imaginatively titled The Conjuring 2. This time, the world’s most renowned ghost-hunting duo, the Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), have returned to tackle the infamous Enfield Haunting in the UK. There was actually a recent TV mini-series called The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy “Mr Turner” Spall and Matthew “Mr Darcy” Macfayden, which was actually pretty decent and most likely closer to what really happened than the hyper-sensationalized version told in The Conjuring 2.

Anyway, like The Conjuring, the sequel focuses on both the Warrens and the family being haunted, the Hodgsons — a single mother (Australia’s very own Frances O’Connor) and four children living in suburban England — in particular the second-eldest daughter Janet, played superbly by Madison Wolfe. Some of you might already know the story because the haunting is perhaps the most well-known in British history, but if you don’t, brace yourself for some scary shit.

The film shifts back and forth between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, telling essentially two stories simultaneously. To Wan’s credit, splitting the screen time actually adds to the film rather than take away from it. The Warrens get a bit more of a personal story this time, and it’s good to see actors the calibre of Farmiga and Wilson strut their acting chops. They’re both really good, and their fantastic chemistry helps make their relationship the core the movie.

As with most haunting films, this one plays out as you would expect, starting with a few little weird things here and there to whet the appetite before all hell breaks loose and the ghostbusters come in to save the day. Notwithstanding the boiler-plate structure, Wan works his magic again, turning the first half of The Conjuring 2 into one of the most terrifying movie experiences I’ve sat through in years. I’m sure watching in the cinema definitely helped the atmosphere, but it really is due Wan’s masterful control over everything that is happening – from the atmosphere and the characters (it makes a huge difference when you care about them) to the use of darkness and lightning, and especially the blaring score and sound effects. I’m not going to lie: there were a few sequences where I had an anxious inner debate with myself on whether to shut my eyes for a couple of seconds.

After the nerve-wracking first half, however, the film does settle down, and the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as frightening. Though the rhythm picks up and tensions are supposed to rise, by the time the Warrens arrive to do their thing I had started to get that “here we go again” feeling. While Wan was fantastic in making me forget about how conventional the film was in the first half, in the second half he was less successful. There were still some decent moments as the film ramped up to its finale, but for the most part I found myself significantly more relaxed that I was in the first hour or so.

I also didn’t like the way the script wrapped up the story in a way that connected the dots and made the different strands converge. Frankly, in trying to find a way for help the story make sense it actually made things more confusing and make less sense. And of course, the movie definitely is too long at 2 hours and 14 minutes. It’s never boring or slow, but shaving 15-20 minutes off would have been welcome.

On the whole, The Conjuring 2 is a solid follow up to its predecessor. The first half was decidedly scarier than the latter, though even with a fair share of flaws, the film is still a top-tier horror flick, the type that only comes around a handful of times a year.

4 stars out of 5

PS: A new spin-off called The Nun is apparently in the works.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

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I was not one of those people who enjoyed Snow White and the Huntsman. Visually, it had some positives, and Charlize Theron really nailed her role as the wicked Queen, but I just found the whole thing pretty moronic. However, the movie was a financial success (nearly US$400 million on a US$170 million budget), so of course they had to make an unnecessary sequel/prequel: The Huntsman: Winter’s War. And boy does it suck.

This is a movie that had no shame. With Kristen Stewart refusing to return to reprise her role as Snow White, they decide instead to focus on Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), whom you might recall in the first film was a widower and drunkard who made a deal with Queen Ravenna to track down Snow White in return for bringing back his dead wife.

Well as it turns out, contrary to everything the first film suggests, Eric the Huntsman is actually some kind of super warrior trained since he was a child by none other than the Queen Ravenna’s younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who happens to be a real life version of Elsa from Frozen. What’s even crazier is that there’s actually a whole army of Huntsmen just like Eric, including Sara (Jessica Chastain), a redhead adept with a bow and arrow who has alarming similarities to Merida from Brave. There’s a lot more ridiculous stuff that this film pulls out of its anus just to make the contrived story work, but I can’t divulge them without spoilers.

What is fascinating is that the film is both a prequel and a sequel in that it begins before Snow White and the Huntsman and ends after it. Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is referenced several times but you kind of forget she’s even part of the same world. And it ignore the fact that the first film totally alluded to a romantic future between her and the Huntsman. Basically, it just completely distorts the events and characters from the first film so that a new story can be concocted. It’s as though the writers just sat around a table and just brainstormed a bunch of ideas — like stealing from Frozen and Brave — and then made up ways to fit them into the same universe. It wasn’t supposed to fit and didn’t fit, but they forced it in anyway.

And look, it’s not like Snow White and the Huntsman made any sense either, but it made a lot more sense than this one because at least that was written as a standalone film. Winter’s War, on the other hand, was an obvious and contrived money grab that pillaged any scraps it could find from its predecessor to cobble together a barely coherent mishmash of blatantly rip-off ideas and cliches. This wasn’t a “Oh, it’s clever how they created a sequel by expanding on the existing universe” situation. This was more of a “WTF is going on?”-type situation.

It felt like the all-star cast had a lot more fun making the movie than audiences had watching it. Whether it was the lure of playing crazy fantasy characters with magical powers or a paycheck that got them on board is anyone’s guess. In all fairness, however, the acting wasn’t too bad considering the material they had to work with. The special effects and costume teams, both of which picked up Oscar nominations for Snow White and the Huntsman, do a solid job again here, so at least visually, the film isn’t too bad.

Sadly that’s about the extent of the praise I can twist myself into giving Winter’s War.   It is by no means the worst film of 2016 thus far, but it certainly is the most irritating.

1.75 stars out of 5

Zoolander 2 (2016)

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There’s no to sugarcoat this: Zoolander 2 is gaaaaaabage. Of all the sequels that should never have been made, this one’s right near the top of the list.

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea when Ben Stiller had nothing to do one day and decided to bring back his iconic character, the dim-witted supermodel who made “Blue Steel” the look everyone was imitating back in 2001. But like when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels returned for Dumb and Dumber To 20 years after the original, it’s just as funny after so much time has passed. And sadly, Dumb and Dumber To is the far superior sequel. Minus a bit of nostalgia and a couple of decent laughs on the rare occasion, everything else about Zoolander 2 just feels stale, contrived, lame, and worst of all, unfunny.

The story is also set about 15 years after the original, with Zoolander and his former sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) living very different lives after another stupid tragedy. A new character, an Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz, gets the ball rolling when celebrities are being killed all around the world. And of course, Will Ferrell returns as villain Mugatu.

So yeah, there’s essentially no story, just a bunch of idiots doing idiotic things. That’s not to say idiocy can’t be funny, because obviously enough people thought it was hilarious in the first film. But it’s simply just not funny here. I’d say a good 95-99% of gags fell entirely flat. It’s not even the delivery — the jokes themselves just had no wit, creativity or element of surprise. After a while, it will make you start to wonder whether you may have been overrating the first Zoolander for all these years. Personally, I started zoning out a little.

It’s unfortunate because the film starts with so much promise. The Justin Bieber gag that kicks off the show is pretty satisfying, though of course it would have been much funnier had the punchline not been tossed entirely into the trailer. In fact, almost all the good jokes have been spoiled by the trailer, which is sad considering the trailer is only about 2 minutes long.

As for the other 100 minutes…well, at least there’s a lot of celebrity cameos for people into those sorts of things. The list is far too long to even bother trying to name them (apparently there’s 39), though those who have seen the trailers won’t be surprised to see the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch or Kiefer Sutherland. Most play caricatures of themselves, and it makes you wonder whether they were just doing Ben Stiller a  favour or if they genuinely thought it was a good idea.

Back in 2001, Zoolander was a sharp satire on the fashion industry. In 2016 — though I’m sure it was made with the best of intensions, — Zoolander 2 feels like nothing more than a stale, feeble cash-grab when the ideas well has run completely dry.

1,5 stars out of 5

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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There are some movies that are remembered to be better than they really are. The 2008 Matt Reeves film, Cloverfield, is one such movie. The found-footage alien-monster horror flick has a solid reputation today, but in my opinion it is vastly overrated. The shaky-cam literally made scores of people vomit (and brought me perilously close to it), while the characters were annoying and the dialogue insipid. Yeah, it was an innovative idea for its time, had a cool marketing campaign with a memorable poster (the one with the Statue of Liberty missing its head) and a well-designed monster at the end, but we had to endure 80 minutes of filler before a brief glimpse of it at the very end.

Still, Cloverfield earned its reputation and became a recognisable brand, which is why, eight years later, we got 10 Cloverfied Lane, a little side project described as a “blood relative” and also produced by JJ Abrams. Like the film it got its name from, 10 Cloverfield Lane was made on a super low budget (US$15 million, compared to US$25 million for Cloverfield) and got a fantastic marketing campaign. No one even knew the film existed until the start of this year, and even after the trailer was released people still didn’t know what it was about or what to make of it. In other words, huge success, because the less you know about this movie the better.

I saw it after having managed to avoid all spoilers (I only saw the moronic super-spoiler international poster later) and was absolutely blown away by the film. Simply put, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the best movie I’ve seen on the big screen thus far in 2016. It’s clever, incredibly tense and full of twists and turns. It’s one of those films where you don’t really know where it is heading, which makes it an absolute rarity in today’s cinematic landscape.

The premise is simple. A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a mysterious location after an accident. There are two other people there — a middle-aged man (John Goodman) and a young man (John Gallagher Jr — ie, Jim from The Newsroom). She’s being told there’s a reason why she’s there, but she doesn’t know if it’s true. She’s not sure what to believe and who to trust. And it’s all a matter of life and death.

I feel like I’ve already revealed too much, but all of this is in the trailer. As I said, the less the better. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle is something every wannabe screenwriter ought to aspire to. It’s (relatively) cheap to make, it has only a handful of characters, and most of the story takes place in one place. And yet, it is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve seen in a while. There is so much tension in the dialogue, the actions of the characters, and even the silences; the growing sense of dread, the paranoia, the claustrophobia from the confined spaces. And it’s not like the film is dead serious all the time — there are lighter moments that bring some welcome relief and remind you to breathe. All of it is crafted so well, with a kick-ass musical score to boot, and executed to near-perfection by director Dan Trachtenberg in his feature debut.

I love how, like Michelle, you don’t know who or what to believe, and that what you believe could keep changing, sometimes in an instant. I had my suspicions throughout the film, but I could never be sure and kept second-guessing myself. I knew the title of the film would lead to certain insinuations, though at the same time I wondered if it was merely a red herring. And after being gripped by the story for more than an hour, the climatic payoff was, at least in my opinion, worth the wait. It might not be what some people are hoping for, but I enjoyed how bold it was and how certain it was of its vision.

The performances are outstanding — all three of the leads shape their characters the way they need to be. John Goodman, in particular, is ridiculous, and I’m sure some nominations (for whatever awards) are going to be coming his way. I’ve been watching him in movies for decades and I never knew he could be this good in a non-comedy role.

Of course, this is still a small film for which expectations need to be kept in check. You’re not going to be getting loads of action or special effects, and to make the story work there are certain contrivances and deliberate tactics that might not be entirely realistic. Having said that, 10 Cloverfield Lane is still intelligent, thrilling, horrifying and fun — it’s the type of film cinemagoers should relish because they don’t come around very often. In a year where we’re getting more than half a dozen big superhero movies, several major epics/blockbusters and another Star Wars film, it’s great to be able to see a little gem like this come out of nowhere and remind us that great movies can come in all shapes and sizes.

5 stars out of 5

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

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You know, The Last Witch Hunter ain’t all that bad. At least from my point of view, it’s already a lot better than I thought it would be.

I hadn’t seen any trailers for it and thought it would be along the shitty lines of something like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, except with Vin Diesel doing deep-voiced Vin Diesel things — ie, act suave and charismatic with a smug smile and the donning same expression no matter what role or situation he’s in. By the way, I like Vin Diesel.

And so I was kinda shocked to see that The Last Witch Hunter: 1. has a sensational supporting cast that includes Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine; 2. is much scarier than your average fantasy action film, with legit grossness and horror; 3. doesn’t take itself 100% seriously, with some solid one-liners that makes fun of its own ridiculousness; and 4. features some pretty awesome, albeit video-gamey action sequences.

As a purely visual experience, The Last Witch Hunter rocks pretty hard. Superb character and monster designs, cool weapons and special effects, all combined with slick stylistic direction and choreography — at times it felt as though I was watching a sick video game cut scene (there’s even one outdoor scene that looked like it was ripped right out of The Last of Us). It’s something the sweaty nerds will definitely appreciate and enjoy.

On the other hand, The Last Witch Hunter offers very little in terms of an engrossing story — or just any story. I’ll admit I wasn’t paying full attention, but it just seemed like the plot was far too convoluted for its own good. I didn’t get all of it, nor was I interested in getting all of it. Can’t we just see Vin Diesel defy death a hundred times a minute rather than him trying to convince us he can act?

Speaking of acting, the performances are solid — including Diesel — though I felt Rose Leslie, as hard as she tries, doesn’t quite fit as well as she should have. While there is potential for good chemistry with Diesel, right now it’s a little rough around the edges and can come across as awkward.

The result is an uneven and ultimately empty experience that is more eye candy than anything else. There are moments of visual awesomeness that brought out the inner gamer in me but also moments of plodding plot development that made me yawn. There are occasional ripping one liners but also occasional excessive seriousness that overshadows the tone, and a proper balance is never achieved.

Still, I’d put The Last Witch Hunter in the “better than anticipated” category thanks to its aesthetic qualities. If only it were a little simpler and less serious, the film could have ended up being a fun, campy popcorn ride. Vin Diesel has already announced that a sequel is in the works, so hopefully they can get the narrative right next time without sacrificing the visuals, action and horror.

3 stars out of 5

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)

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Ain’t gonna lie: I had heard some abominable things about Hitman: Agent 47, the latest attempt to adapt the popular video game Hitman. So why did I watch it? Well, as the immortal George Costanza once said, “Because it’s there!”

I have a vague recollection of the 2007 adaptation, Hitman, starring Timothy Oliphant in the title role, and it wasn’t a positive one. Not necessarily horrible, but just forgettable.

This time, the budget is slightly bigger (US$35 million, up from US$24 million) and they have Homeland‘s Rupert Friend as the mysterious government experiment designed to be the perfect assassin. Anyone who has seen the last couple of seasons of Homeland will love this guy, and I’m glad he got an opportunity to cash in.

That said, it doesn’t change the fact that Agent 47 is bad. Really bad. So bad, in fact, that it borders “so bad it’s good” territory. If anything, it will be at least more memorable than the 2007 version.

So Friend plays Agent 47, who starts off trying to track down a woman played by Hannah Ware, who in turn is looking for her scientist father. It’s not clear if he’s trying to kill her or help her, but whatever it is, Sylar/Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trying to stop him.

The plot is basically just an excuse for a lot of crazy, stylistic, Matrix-like action sequences involving a lot of guns and violence. It’s outrageous and ludicrous, but that’s what you’d expect from a video game adaptation, no?

Bizarrely, Agent 47 is written by Skip Woods, the same guy who wrote the 2007 film. Seriously, if it didn’t work the first time, give the guy another chance! Woods, his co-writer Michael Finch and Polish music video director Aleksander Bach appear to have done everything in their power to make Agent 47 as moronic and campy as they possibly could have.

The film never takes itself seriously, but was it really necessary to make the dialogue so laughably horrendous? I’m not even exaggerating when I say it is laugh-out-loud funny. Was it really necessary to make the plot and character motivations and reactions retarded? The fundamentals are just so poorly done that it makes you wonder whether it’s intentional.

Friend, Ware and Quinto are all quality actors, but even they can’t help but look amateurish spewing out the lines they’ve been given. Quinto, in particular, has some real howlers that made me laugh as hard as I have in any comedy I’ve seen recently.

All can be forgiven if the action is otherworldly. Unfortunately, despite some attempts at creativity and originality, the vast majority of Agent 47‘s action sequences are underwhelming and familiar. There’s really nothing that will make you go “wow”.

The result is a film that’s every bit as bad as advertised, except worse. In fact, it’s so bad that it starts becoming kind of good. Well, not good, but enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way. At some point, probably quite early on, I stopped hoping that Agent 47 would be better than I thought it would be, and started cheering for it to be as bad as it possibly could be. That changed the entire viewing experience and I ended up not hating it. Doesn’t change the fact that it is a terrible movie, though at least it’s at least not a loathsome one.

2 stars out of 5

The Exorcism of Molly Hartley (2015)

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Two exorcism films in two nights. I surely must be possessed.

The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is apparently a rare sequel to a straight-to-DVD film from 2008 called The Haunting of Molly Hartley. That one had Haley Bennett and Chace Crawford (from TV’s Gossip Girl)and other recognisable names such as AnnaLynn McCord and Jake Weber (I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic but I actually recognise these names). I may have seen the film (poster rings a bell) but don’t remember a thing about it.

The story takes place years after the first one ended and features a completely new cast, led by Sarah Lind as the “grown up” Molly Hartley.

It doesn’t get off to the best of starts. The very first scene sees a priest looking through an exorcism kit before a camera focuses on the back of his closely-shaved head. The way the camera lingers and slowly zooms in makes you expect to see freaking Brad Pitt on the other side, but eventually it’s revealed to be…Devon Sawa!

I didn’t recognise him at first because it’s been that long. Remember Devon Sawa? The teen heartthrob who was at the cusp of superstardom with films like CasperIdle Hands and Final Destination in the late 1990s all the way to the turn of the century? He was even the star of the music video for that Eminem song Stan, remember that?

Anyway, back to The Exorcism of Molly Hartley. Basically, Devon Sawa plays a priest ostracized by the church and gets the chance to redeem himself when Molly Hartley gets possessed (it can’t be a spoiler if it’s implied by the film title, right?).

To be fair, the film is better than The Vatican Tapes, which I saw the night before and was stunned by how derivative and shit it was. The experience of that shocker perhaps elevates Molly Hartley higher than it should be, but at least this one had a few decent attempts at scares, primarily through the ghastly appearances of the possessed victims. The plot also has a few twists and turns to keep it interesting. In all, despite not offering much else, it’s a better executed film than Vatican Tapes.

But a B-grade straight-to-DVD film is still just that. Molly Hartley is, to put it lightly, rough around the edges. There are scenes of unintentional comedy, logic and common sense gaps galore, and of course appalling dialogue. I can’t tell if certain sequences are homages to exorcism classics (include the classic) or poor imitations. I remember laughing out loud then being confused near the start of the movie when I heard that Molly had just been made the partner of a law firm at age 24. First of all, that’s impossible, and secondly, Sarah Lind looks like the oldest 24 year old in the world (she’s actually an old-looking 30 in real life). I would have been okay with cheesy, but much of this film is just plain bad.

Oh well, at least I got to see Devon Sawa again. He’s not in the best shape but at just 37 it’s not too late for a career revival. Unfortunately, this is not the film to kick that off.

Any other 2015 exorcism films to recommend?

2.25 stars out of 5

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

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The Maze Runner was one of my surprise hits of 2014. I know a lot of people didn’t like it, or even hated it, but I loved the concept, the intrigue and the action sequences. I even went as far as saying that it should be considered an A-grade teen franchise like The Hunger Games.

And so I was very excited to see the sequel that was destined to happen after the first film made back the budget 10-fold. I’ve heard some people say that Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is an improvement over its predecessor, though I must say I respectfully disagree.

I haven’t read the books and don’t intend to, though I hear that the film diverges from its source material quite a bit. The film’s story picks up not long after the first movie ended. The kids from the maze, led by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), are in danger right off the bat, and shortly after they meet a mysterious new character named Janson — played by Aiden Gillen, otherwise known as the notorious Littlefinger from Game of Thrones. Jason says he wants to help them out, but of course, if you know anything about Littlefinger you’ll know that things aren’t quite what they seem.

Much like other teen series that achieve success after the first book, the Maze Runner sequel feels somewhat arbitrary in that it starts resorting to less original ideas. I thought the maze idea was fantastic in the first film, but of course they can’t just recycle the exact same approach. And so the story goes down another well-trodden path — the road trip.

Yes, just like Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, Scorch Trials takes the characters on an adventurous journey from point A to point B for some reason. They encounter new people, overcome new obstacles along the way, and try to keep one step ahead of baddies chasing after them.

As a result, the film feels more contrived to me. The intrigue is not built into the plot like the maze, and so screenwriter TS Nowlin and director Wes Ball (who also directed the first film) had to manufacture ways to maintain the mystery. No one they meet is “straight up” — they all act mysterious, don’t answer questions and love to say, “Follow me,” without explaining anything. Honestly, just about every new character that appears on screen utters that phrase.

At 131 minutes, it’s also about 10-15 minutes too long, and watching it I could tell there was fat around edges that could have been trimmed. Yet despite the length, there’s actually not as much character development this time around, though on the plus side we do get to find out more about what’s going on. I also think it’s a smart move to make WCKD, the shadowy organisation seemingly behind it all, morally ambiguous, so that you have to make up your own mind whether they really are the bad guys.

Notwithstanding to the amazing CGI renderings of the desolate landscape of the outside world, the most appealing aspect of the movie is still the action, which is again executed really well, with multiple heart-pounding sequences that kept me on the edge of my seat. There’s a lot of frantic running and chase scenes that utilised the shaky-cam, something I ordinarily hate, though in this case it was acceptable as it did add to the intensity and was used sparingly enough to avoid nausea.

Interestingly, the film also has quite a few horror elements and actually works best when it’s in scare mode (as opposed to mystery or adventure mode). For the video game fans out there, however, the film gave me a sneaking feeling that it was ripping off perhaps the best game of all time, The Last of Us. From one perspective, that’s great, because The Last of Us is so awesome, but on the other it worries me that we’re getting too many Last of Us wannabes, to the extent that when the real Last of Us film adaptation finally comes out we’ll all be too exhausted to be impressed.

The cast was a pleasant surprise to me too. Dylan O’Brien is as good as playing Thomas as he was last time, and the film also brings back the welcome familiar faces of Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster — aka Jojen Reed from Game of Thrones), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). I liked the dynamics between these characters and was glad that the relationships didn’t veer towards the teen cliches we’ve seen a zillion times before.

Apart from Littlefinger, the biggest new addition to the franchise is Rosa Salazar’s Brenda, yet another actress who has hit 30 still playing a teen. The other notable teen character is played by the film’s third Game of Thrones alum, Nathalie Emmanuel, aka Missandei, who has a small role.

There are lots of big names among the “adults.” Patricia Clarkson returns as the head of WCKD, while Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, aka the legendary Gus Fring, joins the cast as Jorge, the leader of a new group. Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor and Alan Tudyk all have smallish roles too.

With so many big names and excellent special effects and action sequences, it’s hard to believe that Scorch Trials was made for just $61 million and has already nearly doubled that in box office takings. That means we’re guaranteed to get Maze Runner: The Death Cure, which I am so glad to say WON’T be split into two films. Massive kudos to all involved in that decision.

I said at the start of this review that I believe Maze Runner is on the same level as the Hunger Games franchise  not necessarily as good, but at least they share an identical plane. Admittedly, Scorch Trials has its fair share of flaws and for me is a notch below its predecessor, but the more I think about it the more I like it, and I am still of the opinion that the notion stands.

3.5 stars out of 5