Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Equaliser

WRITTEN BY: Richard Wenk
DIRECTED BY: Antoine Fuqua
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Martin Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Johnny Skourtis, David Harbour
RATING: 3 stars

Revenge-style action films are always better when they involve creative ways of killing bad guys. Aside from having an amazing leading man in Denzel Washington, the slaughtering of the villains is definitely the best aspect of The Equaliser. The only problem with it is that the protagonist seemed almost psychotic in his enjoyment of finding unique ways to kill the antagonists. But that can be overlooked in favour of enjoying the humorous entertainment of its ridiculousness. Unfortunately, the film is too long and slow in parts, and the ending drags on. It was as if director Antoine Fuqua did not know when or how to end the film.

Based on the television series, The Equaliser is about Robert McCall (Washington) who has a mysteriously lethal past but has put it all behind him to live a quiet life working at a hardware store. He often sees an escort named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) at a local diner but becomes concerned about the young woman when she is brutally bashed by her Russian gangster employers. McCall decides to come out of retirement to fight for justice for Teri and others. But he may have found his match in Teddy (Martin Csokas) who is sent to the United States from Russia to solve the problems McCall has caused for the escort service.

Washington seems to channel Liam Neeson's recent tough guy persona in this film and while he is convincing, there are some moments that will make you cringe. He does however, have great chemistry with Moretz and the early scenes where we learn more about their respective characters are interesting. Csokas is appropriately creepy with his gruff expression and tattoos, but it is a shame we do not learn more about him. Johnny Skourtis is good as McCall's goofy security guard friend while David Harbour has an integral role as a corrupt detective. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo also have minor roles in the film but their talents were underused.

Ultimately, The Equaliser is ridiculous but relatively entertaining for action fans who enjoy watching a bit of brutality on screen. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Son of a Gun

WRITTEN BY: Julius Avery
DIRECTED BY: Julius Avery
STARRING: Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander
RATING: 3.5 stars

Son of a Gun was filmed in Western Australia, but unlike many other Australian films, it does not push that point. The film could easily be set anywhere in the world and it is not filled with embarrassing Australian references. Clearly, first-time feature film writer/director Julius Avery has not set out to make an Australian film – he has just made a good psychological thriller involving criminals. Son of a Gun begins very strongly with prison scenes that are quite confronting in their depiction of brutal violence. As the story progresses outside the prison, the film starts to follow a very familiar plot line and is rather predictable. Nonetheless, this could easily have been another successful Mark Wahlberg film and it is great to see an Australian film reach that level of action with some impressive car chases and suspense.

Jailed for a minor crime, 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites) soon learns the scary reality of prison bullies. JR falls under the protection of notorious criminal Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), who strikes a deal with the teenager. Upon JR's release from prison, he helps Lynch and his two mates escape and then becomes embroiled in their next criminal activity – a gold heist.

Thwaites is fantastic in this gritty and challenging role. Despite playing opposite a Hollywood A-lister, Thwaites holds his own and carries the film well. It is no wonder McGregor made the trip to WA to make the film because his character is complex and interesting. Alicia Vikander is also good as the sultry love interest for JR.

Son of a Gun is an enjoyable action film, so support Australian cinema and go see it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Maze Runner

WRITTEN BY: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin
STARRING: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Blake Cooper
RATING: 3.5 stars

Adapting thrilling teenage novels to film has been a huge success for Hollywood in recent years, and The Maze Runner looks set to be yet another hit. While I have read the Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent series, I have not yet jumped on the bandwagon for The Maze Runner, but I may have to after seeing the first film. Unlike the aforementioned franchises, there is no intense love story (although that may come later), but there is still a strong young female character. More importantly though, the film depicts a large cast of interesting teenage male characters. It definitely has a Lord of the Flies vibe about it. This young adult post-apocolyptic science fiction story will definitely have you on the edge of your seat.

Based on James Dashner's novel, The Maze Runner begins with Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) waking up in a lift moving up. When the doors open, he finds himself in the Glade – a green field and forest surrounded by a giant concrete maze. The only people with him are a team of teenage boys, some of whom have been stuck there for three years. Each boy has no knowledge of their past and every 30 days a new boy arrives. But less than a week after Thomas arrives, the first girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) joins the group. While the boys have set up a routine to live in the Glade and try to explore the maze to find a way out, Thomas is intent on getting out as soon as possible, even if that means risking his life to run through the mysterious maze that changes every night and is haunted by some alien-like creatures.

O'Brien is a good choice for the teenage hero and it is great to see Will Poulter in a bully role as Gally. Ki Hong Lee plays one of the maze runners, who maps out the maze and he has an interesting character arc, while Thomas Brodie-Sangster is compelling and Blake Cooper is adorable as the token “fat kid”, drawing many of the laughs in the film. Overall, it is great to see a believable young cast. Kaya Scodelario is not given much to do but at least she is tough and not a damsel in distress. Patricia Clarkson also has a small but pivotal role as the mysterious woman in a white coat who haunts Thomas' dreams and fragmented memories.

I jumped more than a few times during The Maze Runner as the suspense built, and there was still plenty of intrigue at the end of the film with even more questions left to be answered in a sequel.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

If I Stay

WRITTEN BY: Shauna Cross
STARRING: Chloe Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach
RATING: 4 stars

Bring lots of tissues and have a good cry when you watch If I Stay. If you do not enjoy those Nicholas Sparks style romantic/sad films then do not even bother reading any further, but if you like being drawn into tragic first love tales, then you will probably get swept up in If I Stay. It has a sweet story, adorable characters and a believable cast. While the film gets a little melodramatic in parts and the final 15 minutes drags on, you cannot help but be sucked into the drama.

Adapted from Gayle Forman's novel, If I Stay is about a teenager named Mia (Chloe Moretz) who seems to have everything going for her. She has a hot boyfriend named Adam (Jamie Blackley) who is in a successful local band and her own talents as a cellist could see her land a position at the prestigious Juilliard school. She also has two former rock star parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) and a little brother – all of whom support her in pursuing her dreams. But on one snowy day, the family take a drive and end up having a serious crash. Mia falls into a coma and her spirit begins watching her family and friends react to the news. As she lays in the hospital bed, it is all up to Mia to decide whether or not her life is worth fighting for or whether she should let go of her life.

Moretz is fantastic, as she so often is, and I am enjoying watching her career progress. She has great chemistry with Blackley, who oozes the charm that teenage girls will swoon over. Enos and Leonard also give great performances as possibly the coolest parents ever depicted on screen, while Stacy Keach plays Mia's grandfather and gives a heartbreaking speech towards the end of the film that left me shedding more than a few tears.

What I really liked about this film is that it is not just a sappy love story. There are real themes about life and a teenager's relationship with their parents. In fact, the most touching speeches that made me cry were more about the family than the romance. The protagonists are on the cusp of adulthood and yet they seem to be far more self-aware and intelligent than most teenagers I have ever known. If you can accept that, then you can enjoy the journey with them. This is a film that teenagers need to see. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Skeleton Twins

WRITTEN BY: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
DIRECTED BY: Craig Johnson
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson
RATING: 3 stars

Funny dramas can sometimes struggle to find the right balance, but when it works, it can make for a great film. The Skeleton Twins does not quite reach the heights of greatness, but it is a very good depiction of sibling relationships, depression, sexuality, love and real life funny moments.

Estranged siblings Milo (Bil Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are both considering suicide. Milo is a gay, failed actor living in Los Angeles while Maggie lives a dull life in New York working as a dental assistant and is married to Lance (Luke Wilson) who is perhaps a little too nice for his own good. As Maggie prepares to swallow some pills to end her life, she gets a phone call that her brother is in hospital having cut his wrists in an attempted suicide. She flies to LA to see her brother for the first time in 10 years and brings him back to New York to live with her. There, Milo starts stalking another man (Ty Burrell) with whom he has a sordid past. Meanwhile, Lance wants to have a baby but does not know Maggie is still using contraception and having affairs.

Hader and Wiig have fantastic chemistry, having worked together before. Their lip-syncing scene is very funny and so too is their scene at the dentist. Both moments are vital bursts of humour in an otherwise dark and sad story. It is a testament to director/co-writer Craig Johnson for striking the right balance. Wilson is also good in a goofy kind of way, and Burrell impresses despite being a bit creepy.

The Skeleton Twins is not the kind of comedy you would expect from Hader or Wiig, but it is great to see the pair convincingly tackle some very serious drama. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Wish I Was Here

WRITTEN BY: Zach Braff , Adam J. Braff
STARRING: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon
RATING: 3 stars

You can see what Zach Braff and his brother Adam were trying to do when they wrote Wish I Was Here, but the film does not quite get to the point it is reaching for. There is too much sappy dialogue about the importance of family and an over-emphasis on the Jewish faith that it could almost alienate some viewers. The film is sweet and funny in parts, but some scenes felt like a series of short films or skits. The film is not very long, but it dragged on. Ultimately, it is a cute story that is easily forgettable.

Aidan Bloom (Braff) is a failed actor whose best job was in a television commercial. All the financial burden is placed on his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson), who hates her job and co-workers. They have two children who go to a private Jewish school paid for by Aidan's dad Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) who is a harsh and grumpy old man. But when Gabe falls ill, he can no longer pay for the school and selfish Aidan is forced to reassess his life choices and how they are affecting his family.

Unfortunately, Aidan is not a very likeable character and it is only because Braff himself seems to be a nice and funny guy in real life that the audience can even care about him. However, he and Hudson do have good chemistry. Patinkin gives a great performance with a complex character. Josh Gad plays Aidan's brother but his character needed more development. Joey King and Pierce Gagnon were both very good as Aidan's children, especially King whose character has an interesting journey as a young Jewish girl. I wanted to know more about her.

Wish I Was Here is sentimental but perhaps a little too over-the-top.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

WRITTEN BY: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Evan Daugherty
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Liebesman
STARRING: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Tohoru Masamune
RATING: 3 stars

It barely even matters that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is only an average film. If you loved the characters as a child, chances are you will still find some delight as an adult watching this reboot. You will probably roll your eyes during parts, but you will also laugh and feel like a child again. Fans will enjoy the nods to the previous films, cartoons and arcade games, as well as pop culture references to other superhero stories and television shows. The plot is quite a stretch and the 3D is not really worth the extra money, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is silly fun.

April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is a young reporter at Channel 6, trying to catch her big break, while her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) just wants to take her out on a date. April begins investigating a case involving Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and the Foot Clan who are taking over the streets of New York. Only four vigilantes seem to be able to stop them. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trained by their "father" a mutated rat named Splinter. Their history is where the story deviates from what we have previously known about the tale and involves April's scientific father and his partner Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) who create a mutagen.

My main problem with the plot, other than its deviation from the original story, is the motivation for the villain. He wants to be very rich, but he already has a massive science and technology lab, a mansion and his own helicopter. How much more money does he really need? Much has been said on the way the turtles look with their menacing faces and bulky bodies. They look tougher, which is great, but then the film is funny and that does not always match up well with the darker look. The action sequences are at least thrilling in parts including some fight scenes involving Shredder, who looks great and terrifying.

Fox has never been known as a particularly good actress and throughout the entire film I kept thinking it would have been better without her. There is not one scene where she is dressed like a journalist and her face is devoid of any expression. Arnett has a thankless role and does not even have much opportunity to be funny. Fichtner is also capable of much more. It is fortunate that the film does not rely on good acting.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be ridiculous, but surely no one expected it to be more than light fluff? 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

WRITTEN BY: Frank Miller
DIRECTED BY: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
STARRING: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
RATING: 3.5 stars

It has been several years since the original Sin City film, but the second instalment has been worth the wait. It is a visually stunning piece of film noir, although its pace is a little too slow. The graphics and sparing use of colour are as fantastic as the first film, if not better. Every frame looks like it has come directly out of a graphic novel. The timeline is confusing because the film is both a sequel and a prequel for different story lines. For example, it is after Hartigan's (Bruce Willis) death but before Dwight's (Clive Owen/Josh Brolin) facial reconstruction. Do not question it, just go with it.

While Marv (Mickey Rourke) was a key player in the first film, he is mostly used in A Dame To Kill For as pawn for Dwight (Brolin) and Nancy (Jessica Alba) in their respective story lines. Stripper Nancy has become a gun-shooting alcoholic in the four years since Hartigan's death as she tries to pluck up the courage to kill the villainous Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). In a separate tale, Ava (Eva Green) is the quintessential femme fatale, a seductive manipulator who uses Dwight and wants to destroy all men. In a third strand of the film, Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a very interesting character who pushes Boothe to his limits during a game of poker.

Rourke is brilliant as the cartoonish but likeable brute, and Brolin is a welcome addition as a replacement for Owen. Green spends much of the time naked but she suits the sultry role. Boothe is also convincing in such a creepy role. Alba lacks sex appeal despite her beauty and continues to disappoint with her acting. She is a weak link in an otherwise strong chain. Rosario Dawson returns as tough woman Gail and Willis is back just to play Hartigan's ghost in a few scenes. A raft of other talented actors appear including Dennis Haysbert as tough guy Manute, Ray Liotta as an adulterer named Joey, Christopher Meloni as love-sick detective Mort, Jeremy Piven as Mort's partner, and Christopher Lloyd as an unorthodox medical practitioner.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is a not like other recent comic book film adaptations we have become accustomed to – it is far darker and gory. But it certainly has appeal.