2014 Movie Blitz: Part V

February 12, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Too many movies to review, so I’ve grouped some of the less important ones together in yet another blitz post.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

stonehearst

This is one of those films that, when you see the poster, make you wonder why it didn’t get a bigger release. For starters, it’s based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story, and it features a star-studded cast including Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, David Thewlis and Michael Caine. The story itself is also quite interesting, about a young man (Burgess) who takes residency at a mental asylum allegedly using unorthodox methods to treat its patients.

Despite having all the pieces in place, Stonehearst Asylum turned out to be just a little better than adequate. It does have the feel of a Poe short story, with a good dash of insanity and creepiness, and plenty of devilish twists and turns, though the overall presentation and feel of the film came across as rather flat. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it dull, though thrilling it definitely is not. I just wish the execution could have lived up to the interesting premise.

Fans of this type of genre film could get something out of it, but for me, Stonehearst Asylum is straight-to-DVD selection — albeit a pretty decent one by straight-to-DVD standards.

2.75 stars out of 5

Out of the Dark (2014)

outofthedark

Julia Stiles, Scott Speedman — two actors who have fairly solid careers but never seeming to be able to break through into stardom. That’s even less likely to happen now that they have resigned themselves to starring in the “meh” supernatural horror, Out of the Dark, which debuted at the Germany’s Fantasy Filmfest last August.

Following a typical horror opening where some guy is mauled by an unseen malevolent force, the film follows Stiles and Speedman as a couple who move to Colombia to take over a business run by Stiles’s father, played by Stephen Rea. Naturally, there are scary ghost kids loitering around, and the couple have find out why that’s the case before something bad happens to their daughter.

A couple of effective creepy sequences aside (let’s face it, ghost kids are always scary), Out of the Dark is pure cookie-cutter. You just know there’s some sinister plot behind the haunting and that Colombian superstition stereotypes will be used. I’m not exaggerating when I say I figured out the mystery even before the halfway mark, and I predicted how it was all going to end.

The presence of Stiles, Speedman and Rea will probably ensure that this film gets some attention, but there’s no denying that Out of the Dark is a forgettable experience that offers nothing fresh for horror aficionados.

2 stars out of 5

The Anomaly (2014)

anomaly

The Anomaly is a British sci-fi thriller I would put in the “good try, but no” category. Written and directed by Noel Clarke from Doctor Who, it kicks off with an interesting opening where an ex-soldier, Ryan (played by Clarke), wakes up not remembering who or where he is. He has just enough time to rescue a kidnapped boy prior to losing consciousness, only to wake up again later at a different time and place, with a limited amount of time to put some pieces of the puzzle in place before it happens all over again.

Unfortunately, despite it’s lofty ambitions to be some kind of absurd mix between Memento, The Manchurian Candidate and Source Code, The Anomaly crumbles under the weight of trying to do too much without being clever enough to be able to break through genre conventions or offer anything truly outside the box. And it’s a shame, because the project’s concept was good enough to attract names like Ian Somerhalder (whose face dominates the film posters despite a supporting role), Brian Cox, Alexis Knapp and the least-know of the Hemsworth brothers, Luke.

There are Russian gangsters, sultry prostitutes, federal agents, crazy scientists and plenty of stylistic slow motion hand-to-hand combat sequences, but The Anomaly can’t seem to escape its own campiness. Rather than the brilliant sci-fi classic Clarke was aiming for, the film comes across as more of an uneven, B-grade romp that runs out of steam way before it reaches the third act. There are pleasures to be had from such film experiences, though no pleasures derived from The Anomaly were enough for me to call it anything but a failure.

2 stars out of 5

Dying of the Light (2014)

Dying_of_the_Light_poster

Dying of Nicholas Cage, more like it.

In this profoundly boring thriller, the “actor who will do absolutely anything” plays an old CIA agent who remains obsessed with the terrorist who got away more than 2 decades ago. So when a clue pops up suggesting said terrorist might still be alive, Cage sets out to track him down with the help of a young agent played by Anton Yelchin. Never mind that Cage (and by that I mean his character) is literally losing his mind from a debilitating illness.

Given that Cage’s character is well into his 60s for the vast majority of the film, it’s kind of strange that they preferred to dress him up as an old man rather than simply finding an older actor for the role. Or maybe they just thought Cage was really really good at playing someone losing his mind.

Anyway, Dying of the Light offers very little in terms of intelligence, excitement or thrills. There are a couple of graphically violent sequences and a chase scene, though for the most part the film is devoid of genuine action, especially at the supposed climax, when you’re expecting it.

To be honest, I don’t know what writer and director Paul Schrader, whose distinguished career reached its nadir with Lindsay Lohan and The Canyons in 2013, was aiming for here. If he had intended to resurrect his career by creating a tense, stylish thriller with character depth and political intrigue, then Dying of the Light was a failure of epic proportions. On the other hand, if he just wanted to join Mr Cage in becoming a “keep gettin’ ’em checks” guy by sleepwalking through a straight-to-DVD effort, then I suppose you could call the film a success.

To be fair, Dying of the Light might actually be Nicholas Cage’s best film in a while, but that’s like calling the dump you took this morning the best smelling shit you’ve chucked in years.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Captive (2014)

November 16, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The Captive new poster

Atom Egoyan has made some terrific films about loss and grief throughout his career. His latest effort, The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman and Kevin Durand, has been panned by critics, earning just a 24% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it’s not nearly as good as his earlier movies or recent abduction films like Prisoner, but I think everyone’s being way too harsh.

Ryan Reynolds plays a father whose daughter is kidnapped under his watch. With no witnesses, he is considered the prime suspect by police detectives (Dawson and Speedman), while his wife (Enos) quietly blames him for allowing the abduction to happen.

The story jumps back and forth between the time of the abduction and eight years later, when the daughter is still yet to be found and the lives of the parents are left in tatters. But new clues arise, and it appears their daughter might still be alive and living under the control of a child sex ring.

It’s nightmarish stuff, and the film is often difficult to watch as a result. As a parent myself, I can only imagine the pain and anguish from losing a child under such circumstances. I had never thought much of Ryan Reynolds as an actor, but he is very good here, especially as he has to deal with the suspicions of the police on top of his guilt.

It seems most people who did not enjoy the film had a problem with its preposterous plot. I admit that some of the things that occur in the film are a little fanciful, though thanks to the unsensationalized approach of Egoyan I did not have to suspend my disbelief. In fact, I don’t think anyone would have any qualms about the film’s realism if Egoyan slapped a true story tagline on it (and no, it is not a true story).

My major problem with the film was its unnecessary shift back and forth in time, which were occasionally confusing. Notwithstanding that, however, I think the captive is a flawed but solid thriller worth checking out.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Barney’s Version (2010)

June 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

A bit of a delay in this review, but I guess better late than never.  I wasn’t quite sure going in what to expect from Barney’s Version, a drama starring Paul Giamatti as a man who, based on the snippets from the trailer, likes his ladies.  That was pretty much all I knew.

Well, I admit I was surprisingly impressed with Barney’s Version by the time the credits rolled.  Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a crafty, captivating film bolstered by some superb performances.  Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Barney Panofsky, an unlikely ladies’ man who recalls his unusual and highly interesting life through various flashbacks dating back to the 1970s.  I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s the type of film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you just go along for the ride.  There’s lust, romance, friendship, betrayal and an intriguing mystery too, ensuring that there’s hardly a dull moment in the lengthy 132 minute running time.

What surprised me about Barney’s Version is that I enjoyed the film despite the immensely flawed and unlikable protagonist.  Barney is a fascinating character but he’s a complete douche no matter which way you look at it.  Nonetheless, Giamatti’s performance makes Barney human and almost sympathetic at times.  I was shocked to discover that I was actually touched by Barney’s story towards the end.

Of course, it’s not all Giamatti (who won a Golden Globe for his performance).  The supporting cast was also amazing and it is a travesty that not more acting nominations were garnered.  Dustin Hoffman was a standout as Barney’s father.  Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood were also fantastic in their respective roles.

I understand some of the complaints about the film — that Barney was too much of a prick for the film to be enjoyable, that Giamatti was too fat and ugly to attract such pretty ladies, that it was misogynistic, etc etc — but I think they are missing the point.  For starters, the film is called “Barney’s” Version for a reason, and although the format doesn’t quite capture the ‘unreliable narrator’ of the book as well as I thought it should have, this was Barney’s story from his perspective and his memory.  Besides, there are far less attractive men with more attractive women in the real world, and in any case, I personally thought Giamatti’s persistence and zest for life did give him a peculiar charm (but hey, what would I know?).

Ultimately, I found Barney’s Version to be a lovely film about the ups and downs of life and its moments.  It’s not perfect but it’s one film I’ll likely remember years down the track.

4 stars out of 5