Movie Review: Red Dawn (2012)

April 8, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Red-dawn-Poster

Given the recent tensions in the Korean Peninsula, I thought it would be apt to review Red Dawn, a strong candidate for the worst movie of 2012.

A friend told me the other day that I needed to be more definitive in my movie reviews and tell readers to avoid certain movies at all cost. I don’t think I can ever do that because I truly want to believe that every movie has its merits, but I suppose Red Dawn is about as close as it gets to an unwatchable movie.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Red Dawn was supposed to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. A remake of the successful 1984 film of the same name about a hypothetical Chinese invasion of the United States (changed to North Korea during post-production for the remake — I guess they just dubbed the voices? They probably think all Asians look the same anyway). An all-star cast led by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Peeta from The Hunger Games (Josh Hutcherson), Aussie bombshell Isabel Lucas and Josh Peck (who starred in that other piece of shit from 2011, ATM — review here). How could things go so wrong?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just know Red Dawn was completely devoid of excitement, drama, tension and most of all, common sense. I scratched my head so many times that my scalp bled for a week.

Hemsworth is a US marine who returns home to visit his father, the town sheriff, and his brother (Peck), a high school football star. Boom, the North Koreans invade, and somehow Hemsworth and a bunch of school kids evade capture and take cover in the woods. Instead of crapping their pants and organizing drunken orgies, the kids decide to become super soldiers and fight back. Go America! F*&% yeah!

Perhaps this concept — kids becoming effective soldiers in an unexpected attack — could have worked 30 years ago. Heck, it kinda worked in 2010, when Aussie filmmakers pulled off Tomorrow, When the War Began (review here), based on the classic novel by John Marsden. But here, thanks to a clumsy script, uninspired direction and cliched plot points, Red Dawn felt like a B-grade affair made by a bunch of people who have lost all touch with reality. Top that off with cheesy dialogue, a predictable storyline, no surprises whatsoever, shitty performances and poor special effects, and what we have on our hands is a royal mess.

Forget how ludicrous the idea of North Korea invading the US, on its own, sounds for the moment. Even if we can accept the premise for a couple of hours, there are still just too many gaps in logic. Why did the North Koreans choose their pointless suburban city? Did they have a presence in all cities? Why did they let the kids run off without pursuing them in the first place? Why is the North Korean army capable of taking over the United States, seemingly with ease, but incapable of standing up to a few kids who have no idea what they are doing? Why can’t trained professional soldiers beat a few kids who just practiced shooting a few bottles in the woods for a week? Why do they keep allowing the kids to sneak into the city to carry out guerrilla attacks and then let them sneak out again? Why do they keep letting the kids get on rooftops (ie, trap themselves), and then let them get away? What the heck were the North Koreans doing in that city again?

So many questions, so little answers.

Hemsworth and Hutcherson exhibit barely passable acting skills, but you could tell from their faces that they knew they were starring in something that was going to be panned for eternity. Peck, on the other hand, was unbearable — a whiny, self-absorbed, greasy-haired douche who discovers the world is not all about him and decides to suddenly grow up and turn into a world-saving hero. None of the other characters were memorable, except for maybe the Chinese, sorry, North Korean army chief (Will Yun Lee), and that was because he played the lead character in the awesome PS3 game Sleeping Dogs!

I’m ashamed to say that I initially thought Red Dawn would be good and was excited to see it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an absurd joke (complete with unintentional laugh-out-loud moments) and a complete waste of 93 minutes of my life. There were times when I wanted to stop the torture but I persisted until the brutal final shot, which was, of course, the American flag.

0.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

January 31, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Print

This was the film everybody knew was coming when US President Barack Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a raid in Pakistan in the early hours of May 2, 2011. I remember thinking at the time that the film was most probably going to be another “Team America!” (f*%k yeah!) style-film like Act of Valor (which I am yet to review) and that it was most likely going to suck balls.

But then I heard that the film was going to be directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, who gave us Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, and more importantly, she had already been planning a film about the hunt for Bin Laden for years and done stacks of background research that could be imported over to this new project.

The result, Zero Dark Thirty, is a tense, meticulously crafted, superbly acted and unsensationalized account of the 10-year hunt for in Laden since 9/11. While I don’t agree with a lot of American critics who are calling it the best film of the year — I actually think it’s an inferior film to The Hurt Locker — I was still fascinated and riveted by this film from start to finish. The final extended raid sequence, which is like another film in itself, felt so authentic that I almost thought I was watching a documentary with actual footage of the assault on Bin Laden’s compound.

This speaks volumes about Bigelow’s ability as a director. We know how the story begins and how it ends, but somehow she still manages to create tension and drama with everything in between. The story focuses on Maya, a young federal agent played by Jessica Chastain (who picked up the Golden Globe and is a favourite for the Oscars) whose job description consists of only one thing: find Bin Laden. We follow Maya for a decade as she endures numerous close calls and goes from green rookie to seasoned veteran, from a novice interrogator (aka torturer) to one of the most instrumental contributors in locating Bin Laden and ultimately convincing the White House to carry out the raid.

Chastain, with her obsessive work ethic and feistiness, is the heart and soul of the film and rightfully deserves the Oscar nomination. A couple of Aussies, Jason Clarke and Joel Edgerton (both of whom will be seen next in The Great Gatsby) also shine in pivotal roles. The most recognizable members of the cast, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, are also stellar and surprisingly non-distracting.

Some say Zero Dark Thirty is a controversial film because of its supposedly pro-torture stance. Yes, it shows torture and the torture being effective in getting terror suspects to talk, but I don’t think that is necessarily saying torture is a good thing. The fact is, the US government did torture terror suspects (though the extent is disputed by officials), and it probably worked. But it’s not just that — I think Bigelow was trying to show the audience the price America had to pay to get their man, and questions us whether it was worth it. In that sense it’s arguable that Zero Dark Thirty is in fact an anti-torture movie. But to be honest I don’t really care. It’s just a movie.

There are parts of the 160-minute film that some viewers will find a little slow. I’ve been addicted to Homeland lately so all that espionage talk and the insights into the politics of politics was right up my alley, though I admit there was, naturally, a sense of inevitability to the whole thing. This is why I still think The Hurt Locker is a better film, but there is no doubt that Zero Dark Thirty will go down in history as the far more memorable one.

4 stars out of 5

PS: The trailer to the sequel below.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

January 22, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

pitch perfect

Pitch Perfect by Hubert Widjaya — watercolor and pen on Canson paper.

Note: Huge shoutout to Sydney artist Hubert Widjaya for providing the wonderful artwork for this post. See below for a casual chat we had about the film following my review.

I’m not ordinarily a fan of musicals, especially ones that look like they are riding the wave of a popular trend to make a quick buck at the box office. But as it turned out, Pitch Perfect was one of the my biggest surprises of 2012, and I must admit that I was completely wrong to prejudge the film as simply a two-hour episode of Glee.

So what made Pitch Perfect so good? It had a formulaic premise — a new girl, played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up in the Air, 50/50, End of Watch — she’s obviously killing it right now) joins an all-girl a cappella group full of misfits and leads them against a rival campy all-boy group in a battle to capture the national title. It was also a little hit and miss at times, as most comedies involving teens and college students can be.

pitch

Original film poster

But Pitch Perfect was funny — very funny, and unexpectedly so. Full credit to director Jason Moore (former TV director) and screenwriter Kay Cannon (who worked on 30 Rock — that explains a lot) for making the humour dry, quirky and satirical, without overstepping the mark (for the most part).

Massive kudos to Aussie Rebel Wilson, who appears to be conquering Hollywood with one scene-stealing role after another. Here she plays Fat Amy, easily the standout character of the whole group and the provider of the best laughs. The rest of the cast, which includes Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening), Anna Camp (The Help) and Brittany Snow (Hairspray), as well as the always welcome Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, were also all very good.

Oh yes, and the singing. I was pleasantly surprised by how excellent it was, especially considering much of the main cast, as far as I know, aren’t known for their vocal cords. I’ve only ever heard bits and pieces of Glee but it was easily just as good as any of the singing in that.

Singing is, of course, just half of the equation. What made Pitch Perfect a real treat for me was the classic songs covered by the singers. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you’ll find yourself nodding along to the Bangles, Ace of Base and the theme from The Breakfast Club, among others, many of which are given fresh interpretations or mixed with more recent hits to form catchy medleys.

While you’re likely to forget about Pitch Perfect in a couple of years, you’re also likely to have a great time while watching it. I certainly did.

Conversation with HW:

PJM: Are you a fan of Glee? Chances are, Pitch Perfect is  an attempt to cash in on the success of Glee, which I thought would have been a recipe for disaster, but I think they pulled it off. What did you think?

HW: Haven’t seen Glee. Judging by the ads Glee looks like its aimed at a girly/female audience, whereas Pitch Perfect had a streetwise chick vibe — which is why I saw it. It solidly lived up to expectation. Great one liners and natural performances.

PJM: Who were the standouts for you?

HW: I have only seen Rebel Wilson in this, but can see why she’s popular. She has a sweet but dirty vibe, and isn’t forcing her charisma, which she does apparently in Bridesmaids. Anna Kendrick though is a standout; she brings the heart, and sweet emotional center to what could have been a low-brow teen flick. In fact, it loses a star for two ill-judged vomit scenes. Like they were trying to appeal to teen boy market.

PJM: I never expected Anna Kendrick to have such a great set of pipes.

HW: You’ve raised a good point. Do you know if they all sing for real or if it’s dubbed?

PJM: I understand it’s all real voices but recorded in the studio. It’s not live like in Les Miserables.

HW: Right.

PJM: How does this film compare to other musicals you’ve seen in recent years, if any?

HW: Only really seen Chicago I think at the cinema, but that was brilliant too. Pitch Perfect was almost like two forms of entertainment for the price of one. A movie and entertaining songs within. Where does it lose marks for you?

PJM: It’s not really losing marks as opposed to not gaining marks. Some of the jokes were a little hit and miss and enjoyment depends on your musical tastes. It’s a good film for people who grew up on the classic songs they sing but have not given up on more modern hits. So what would you give it out of five?

HW: A solid, sing songy 4 stars.

PJM: Me too. 4 stars out of 5.

Movie Review: Alex Cross (2012)

January 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

alex-cross-poster

It’s probably best if you don’t remember the old Alex Cross played by Morgan Freeman from Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. This new Alex Cross from the franchise “reboot” (of sorts) is not a charismatic, middle-aged man with a magnetic, made-for-narration voice. This new Alex Cross is played by a hulking, 6’5″ dude best known for performing in drag.

I can only imagine how Alex Cross, vaguely based on the 12th novel of the series, Cross, by James Patterson, would have turned out had the producers been able to secure their first choice, Idris Elba from The Wire. It wouldn’t have made up for the atrocious script and the deficiencies in the direction, but at least our protagonist would have the edge that Tyler Perry sorely lacks. Perry is clearly very good at what he does (his fortune from the Madea movies, where he plays a thuggish elderly woman, speaks for itself), but this role just felt uncomfortable for him.

Let me backtrack a little. Alex Cross is a psychologist and police lieutenant in Detroit who accepts a job as an FBI profiler. In Alex Cross, he and his partner (Ed Burns) begin a dangerous cat and mouse game with a psychotic killer known as Picasso, played by Matthew Fox from Lost, who enjoys drugging and torturing his victims. That’s basically it. Picasso does a lot of crazy stuff and acts all crazy and Alex Cross and his partner try to track him down and bring him to justice.

The biggest problem with this movie is the script, which I am told has very little to do with the original story. Alex Cross is supposed to be some super clever detective, but in this film all he does is get angry, jerked around and continuously outsmarted by the villain. What’s the point of this movie if all our detective uses is his massive muscles and not his brain?

My second issue is with the direction of Rob Cohen, who really shouldn’t be that bad because he’s the director of The Fast and the Furious, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Stealth, none of which are nearly as horrible as this effort. But instead, the film comes across like a B-grade, straight-to-DVD affair that reeks of laziness. The movie flatlines all the way through without any genuine thrills or excitement. Even the special effects are weak. And what the heck is the deal with those amateurish slow-mo effects during the fight scenes?

This brings me to Tyler Perry, who, to be fair, wasn’t given much to work with but still underperformed as the titular character. I didn’t feel his intelligence or his emotion, even at a pivotal moment when tragedy struck. Still, he was better than Ed Burns and his annoying voice.

Matthew Fox apparently underwent some serious workouts and diets to totally transform his body for this role, and it looks like it was a waste of time. His villain looks menacing enough but isn’t given much substance. He’s undoubtedly crazy, but just not very interesting. Hannibal Lecter he certainly isn’t.

Not much else to say except to confirm that Alex Cross was indeed a huge disappointment. A sequel with Perry reprising the role was announced before this one was even released, but I wonder whether the plans will change with the film being bombarded by poor reviews and a subpar box office performance.

1.5 stars out of 5

Recapping my epic 2012!

December 31, 2012 in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, Novel, On Writing

2012wall

Who would have thought I’d be counting down the hours to 2013 when it was all supposed to end for everyone 10 days ago?

But anyway, I’m here (at work, actually) and I’ve been contemplating what a colossal year 2012 has been. Of course, there’s the big one — learning how to be a father to the most adorable little baby boy in the history of the universe, who has taken up the majority of my time and effort and SLEEP. But it’s also him that has made 2012 the most remarkable and wonderful year of my life thus far.

On the work front, I started a new full-time job where I get to write and edit all day. For the first time ever, I actually don’t mind going to the office every day, and I love the fact that I get to go home at a reasonable hour every night so I can spend time with my son before he goes to bed. It’s also a stable job that potentially allows me to do a lot of extra-curricular stuff, whether it be freelance work or other personal writings, such as this blog. Unfortunately, my lack of experience and desire to “take it easy” means I have probably squandered many of those hours that could have been put to better use.

That said, I have done my fair share of freelance work this year too. I started off completing a mammoth editing job for a travel book that had been horrendously translated. It was definitely not worth it from a monetary perspective but at least I have now been officially named as the editor of a published book (which I am yet to see, by the way). Apart from that and my regular book reviews for a trade publication, I also did some work for a well-known international magazine, which eventually lead to my first cover feature article. I didn’t exactly love the way it turned out after the editor played with it, but it’s better than having no article published at all.

The highlight of my working life this year has to be my trip to Beijing to cover the Communist Party’s leadership transition, which was exhausting but rewarding. I’m glad I got to see and learn so much, but I’m also happy that it won’t happen again for another 10 years.

Health wise, it’s been a mixed bag. Physically, I managed to get fitter than I’ve ever been after commencing a daily exercise routine that began last October and lasted about 12 months. I’m still trying to get back into it, actually. However, the fatigue and poor quality sleep has also taken its toll, and I’ve been under the weather more times than I can remember. It’s frustrating because you feel like you’re rarely feeling 100%.

Despite the positives, it’s also been a year where a lot of my goals went unrealized. I basically did not touch either of my work-in-progress novels for the entire year, which is pathetic and not worthy of an excuse. I didn’t write that screenplay I had been itching to write either. And I also didn’t monetize my blog like I had promised myself I would.

On the reading front, I only read 14 books this year, dominated by the Hunger Games trilogy, Steve Jobs biography and the first two books of the 50 Shades trilogy (I’m still stuck on the third and final book). Actually, I blame it all on 50 Shades for turning me off reading this year because it’s been a huge struggle getting through them. Why do I torture myself?

These are the things I wish I had more time to complete, but my shifting priorities had placed them all on the back burner. In fact, I’m still putting them off until I can finish posting all of my backlogged movie and restaurant reviews, which means it might be a while before I can even get started.

So what’s in store for 2013? A lot. That’s my guess. I’m personally hoping that things will become more stable on a day-to-day basis and that I can be more motivated to work on my projects. My focus next year — my new year’s resolution, so to speak — will be on the things I failed to accomplish this year: the novels, the screenplay, and doing more reading. I tend to always oversimplify things and set myself targets that are impossible to reach, so this year I’ll just say that I’d like to at least do more on/of those things  in 2013 than I did in 2012.

So I guess if my 2012 was “epic” then I’d like my 2013 to be simply “productive.”

See you next year!

 
%d bloggers like this: