Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)

November 8, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Prisoners poster

I really wanted to watch this one and I’m glad I got the chance because it’s very very good. It’s the type of film that could have been a B-movie but ended up being a punch-in-the-gut type thriller because of the confident direction of Denis Villeneuve, the terrific ensemble cast and powerful performances by the two leads, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The story starts off simple: Jackman and his wife Maria Bello take their daughter to the home of their friends played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, who have a daughter of their own. The two girls go missing, and Jackman, who is a bit of a hotheaded psycho, decides to take matters into his own hands even though the case is being handled by a very capable detective played by Gyllenhaal. That’s a nice little premise summary that doesn’t give too much away, and the only thing I will add is that the film’s title is an apt one.

Prisoners is a dark, disturbing and emotional roller coaster ride that will have you questioning right and wrong and the lengths you would go to if your own child was taken and you feel like the police aren’t doing their job properly. It’s brutally violent but not in a gratuitous way because the psychological impact wouldn’t have been the same without it. There aren’t a lot, but there a few solid twists and turns which I much prefer to a lot of cheap ones, and it keeps up the tension as the characters become more desperate with the clock running out.

A big part of the reason why the film is so compelling is the performances of Jackman and Gyllenhall. These are complex characters with demons lurking behind them in the shadows, without these two Oscar-nominated actors in the roles I’m not sure all the layers could have been brought out as well as they were.

Also fantastic is Paul Dano, who I have always been a big fan of, as a mentally challenged suspect. Melissa Leo is again a chameleon in yet another unrecognisable role, while Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Mario Bello round out the superb ensemble cast by making the most of their more limited screen time.

While there is nothing jaw-dropping or groundbreaking about the plot and the final revelations don’t quite live up to the rest of the film, Prisoners is still one of the best suspense thrillers of the year, an unsettling, creepy climb into darkness thanks to effective execution and great performances from the all-star cast.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: End of Watch (2012)

October 16, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I initially wasn’t planning on watching End of Watch even though it was directed and written by David Ayer, the same guy who gave us Training Day (as well as SWAT and Street Kings) — which was fantastic but also emotionally draining and exhausting to get through because it was so heavy duty. The trailer made it look like just another gritty cop drama, which I usually prefer to catch on DVD rather than at the cinemas. But in the end, strong word of mouth won me over.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two police officers working in South Central LA, which is one nasty place filled with drug dealers, gangs and drive by shootings. Gyllenhaal’s character is doing a film project for class, which requires him to carry around a camera whilst on duty.

I didn’t like how the film started or where it appeared to be heading. I am sick of these “found footage” or faux documentary films made with shaky cameras that make me want to throw up, and End of Watch initially made me think that the whole film was going to be a frustratingly nauseating ride.

Fortunately, although somewhat strangely, the film more or less reverted back to traditional film-making methods with steady shots, interspersed with these film project cams and other police security cams (such as from their patrol vehicle). On the one hand it was a relief knowing I wouldn’t have to feel like vomiting all throughout the movie, but on the other it begged the question of why those shaky shots were necessary at all, given it wasn’t pretending to be real footage anyway.

Like Training Day, End of Watch is gritty and hardcore, with intense action, edge-of-your-seat suspense and confronting scenes that challenge the audience to not avert their gaze. The key difference between the two films is that End of Watch is driven by the close friendship and brotherhood between the two leads. I like Gyllenhaal and I love Pena (I think he is one of Hollywood’s funniest and most underrated actors), so I guess that helped skew things in the film’s favour for me.

The movie is dedicated to police officers, but it’s not a total suck job like say Act of Valor. The characters are presented as believable people with personality quirks and flaws, real hopes and fears. It’s proof that well fleshed out characters can do wonders in terms of engaging the audience.

The supporting cast is also solid, including the recently omnipresent Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez, who play the partners of the two leads, as well as America Ferrera aka Ugly Betty, a no-nonsense female police officer. Special mention goes to Yahira Garcia, who was frighteningly convincing as gang member Lala (at least for someone who has no idea what gang members act like).

End of Watch is a film that creeps up on you. In the beginning I was thought I was going to hate it because of the camera issues. Then for a while I thought it was repetitive and wasn’t getting anywhere — it felt like a Cops marathon, with the two officers going on episodic missions, one after another, with no real sense of a progressive narrative.

Eventually, as the various strands began to become tied together, I discovered that it was actually a very well-crafted film. The final climax, in particular, was riveting stuff, as suspenseful as anything I’ve seen from an action or thriller this year. It was also good to see the film not bow down to cliches and finish on a strong note that tugs the heartstrings by just the right amount.

On the whole, End of Watch wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it turned out to be a satisfying experience largely thanks to the genuine chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena. I did have some issues with the arguably unnecessary shaky camera and an occasionally stagnant narrative during the first half, but all things considered it’s still a superior action thriller.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: It’s actually a good thing if you don’t know what End of Watch means (its a euphemism) because it gives away part of the plot.

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

June 18, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Entertainment, Exercise, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

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Movie Review: Source Code (2011)

May 9, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

There’s nothing like a clever, action-packed sci-fi film to get the mind spinning and the blood pumping, and that’s exactly what Source Code is.

Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a Chicago-bound train sitting across from Michelle Monaghan, not knowing how he got there and uncertain of who he is.

Without giving away too much, there’s a terrorist threat and he’s the only one that can stop it, thanks to some top secret military experiment that allows him to relive the same eight minutes over and over again.  I’ll stop there, but there’s a lot more to the story than just that.

To be fair, it’s not exactly an original idea, because we’ve seen this type of concept before, perhaps most recently in Tony Scott’s 2006 film Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington.  But Source Code, directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, and based on a screenplay written by Ben Ridley, is a much better film that intrigues from start to finish with its compelling mysteries, many twists and turns, and some top notch performances from its stars (in particular Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga, though I thought Jeffrey Wright’s performance was a little over the top).

Initially I was concerned because the idea of reliving the same eight minutes over and over for even a 93-minute film seemed kind of tiring to me.  But thankfully, the film was much more than that, creating such different scenarios each time and mixing it up with interesting breaks in between, never making the film repetitive and always making you wonder what will happen next.

What set it apart from others similar films in the genre, however, was the crafty human edge they managed to splice with the techno-thriller plot.  Without being corny or overly melodramatic (always such a fine, difficult line), Source Code featured some unexpected moments of tenderness and packed more heart than films of this type could have hoped for.

Of course, as with most sci-fi movies, logic issues and plot holes are always there if you go looking for them.  But on an overall level, I was satisfied with all the explanations once we got to the end.  In any case, with all the tension and trying to figure out the mystery of the ‘Source Code’, it wasn’t hard to overlook the flaws.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

June 2, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I’ve been a fan of Prince of Persia as a video game since the 2003 version on the PS2, The Sands of Time.  However, given the track record of game-to-movie adaptations, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the Disney spin-off film, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton and Ben Kingsley, and directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

Well, I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t do a whole lot for me in the end either.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (let’s just call it PoP from now on) is first and foremost of popcorn movie, and as such, it isn’t too bad.  The action and the feel of the film, for the most part, is exciting.  As there is a lot of running around, being chased and fending off enemies, the film has this kind of Arabian Nights/Aladdin feel to it, which I thought was pretty cool.  You know, lots of sand, people dressed in cloaks, a tightly built city, arrows and daggers, that sort of thing.  I can honestly say that the film captured, to the extent it could have, the essence of the original video game on which it was based.

Before I forget, yes, PoP does have a plot.  The plot revolves around a King, a few Princes, a Princess, a poorly concealed villain, and a magical weapon that can turn back time.  It’s an adventure film that takes the central characters on a journey, and on their way to solving a mystery they find out a few things about the world and about each other.  Not exactly groundbreaking stuff but it could have been a lot worse.

Jake Gyllenhaal, looking all buffed and tanned, makes a fine Prince Dastan, capturing the spirit of the video game character by climbing off walls, jumping from building to building, swinging off beams, poles and so forth.  It was probably all stunt doubles, but nevertheless…whoever it was, it looked like fun.  He’s a good, but not very memorable character because he lacks the charm of, say, a Captain Jack Sparrow.

Gemma Arterton has been in a lot of big movies lately (I last saw her in Clash of the Titans), but I don’t quite understand why she is so popular yet.  She’s not a bad actress and she’s certainly not unattractive, but there’s something about her character, Princess Tamina, that got me irritated whenever she was on screen.  Perhaps it was because she tried too hard to be a “feisty” heroine.  Or maybe it was just the whiny voice.

Ben Kingsley doesn’t get to do a whole lot here, so it was up to Alfred Molina to save the minor characters with his Sheik Amar, who provided most of the comic relief.  Steve Toussaint, who plays his knife-throwing sidekick, was probably the coolest character of the entire film, and he has a climatic battle that tops the action sequences.

My problem with PoP was that the pieces didn’t all fit together.  Most aspects of the film were adequate, but nothing was particularly outstanding.  In terms of excitement, action, comedy, drama and special effects, the film was above average in all departments, but the sum of the parts didn’t elevate it to another level.  I want my big budget blockbusters to be great, not just good.  And if there is one major gripe, it’s the ending.  I absolutely hated it.

3.25 stars out of 5

 
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