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The Suspect

By: Addison WylieTheSuspectPoster

You can’t say The Suspect was mismarketed.  All that spectacular stunt work that’s flashed in the film’s trailer is there, and it’s still enthralling in context.  What the trailer doesn’t capture is how overblown Won Shin-yun’s film is.  Maybe that’s for the better since the lethargic narrative is a major turnoff.

First, the film’s key strength: Shin-yun knows how to map out an action sequence.  There are more than enough car chases and crashes in The Suspect to get anyone’s adrenaline pumping.  The pursuits are no where near as compelling as the ones movie goers will see soon in Need for Speed, but the chases in The Suspect wet our whistle well.  Same goes for the hand-to-hand combat and the gunplay.

My only suggestion for Shin-yun is he shouldn’t feel the need to present his work as anymore generic as clichéd American action fests in order to capture some sort of recognizable excitement.  The camera work in The Suspect is either too closed in, shaking around like crazy, or both – which causes some of the fine choreography to be lost in translation.  The sloppily choppy editing is also to blame.

There are way too many add-ons set on driving up the film’s intensity.  Shin-yun is trying too hard to convince the audience what they’re watching is impressive and energetic.  That said, Shin-yun could possibly be shovelling on more of these contrivances to cover up how dull Im Sang-hoon’s revengeful script plays on screen.

Sang-hoon has a very hard time adding onto his characters or the nature of getting even.  Instead of building off of his own material, he plunks a lot of “stuff” on top of unfolding events and the emotional characters – none of which are interesting or thrillingly intriguing.  He attempts to add twists and new motives, but inverts his characters in a way that make each person on screen become more complicated than they need to be.

The Suspect lacks confidence.  The film has the appearance of a movie that knows how baggy it’s getting, and is constantly vying to win back its audience while trying to make ends meet with its own story.

The Suspect does have the look and feel of a smart thriller.  As I often drifted into a dazed state, I found myself wondering what a Bourne endeavour would look like through Won Shin-yun’s filmmaking vision.  In time, I think he’ll follow the same steps as Fast and the Furious filmmaker Justin Lin and grow to have what it takes to direct a franchise.

Unfortunately with The Suspect, Shin-yun finds himself spinning a number of plates. It’s neither enjoyable for him nor his spirited audience.

3 Days to Kill

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison Wylie3DTKposter

3 Days to Kill pairs action veteran Luc Besson with the imperious directing efforts of McG.  The two filmmakers have unmistaken love/hate relationships with movie goers, but it’s clear that these men have strengths in specific areas.  Besson has shown audiences how action can be exciting with jaw-dropping stunts, and McG knows how to capture an explosion.  The latter may sound underwhelming compared to Besson’s clout, but “flash” is McG’s forte.

Their newest cinematic contribution involves a secret service agent who’s long in the tooth within his career and can feel continual pulse-pounding palpitations while on duty.  His poor health is contributed by an aggressive sickness that is slowly eating away at agent Ethan Renner (played by Kevin Costner).

He’s given an experimental antidote by his aggressively sultry boss Vivi (played by a foolishly directed Amber Heard) in exchange for one last job – to kill a conniving villain named “The Wolf”.  Renner will, of course, have to keep his mission under wraps in front of his doubtful estranged ex-wife (played by Connie Nielsen) and his even more doubtful estranged daughter (played by Hailee Steinfeld).

3 Days to Kill sounds like the perfect vehicle for Besson and McG to bring out those referenced special abilities.  Instead, the film only brings out the worst in both action devotees as this tedious tease focuses on the weaknesses these two both share – straight family sentimentality and comedy.

Audiences will be surprised by how little action there is in a movie titled 3 Days to Kill.  I wouldn’t feel threatened to state that the grand total of casualties is under ten while McG’s explosion count stayed low at a measly one-and-a-half – two at the most.

For the most part, 3 Days to Kill directs its focal point on Ethan’s parental absence.  It’s a film that is much more interested in worrying about why his daughter is unable to ride a bike than to distress about life threatening crime.

Whenever Besson wants to develop troubling families in his past work, it doesn’t last long.  There’s just enough to convince audiences that these characters are human beings.  In 3 Days to Kill, there’s nothing but those preliminary scenes where Ethan tries to have heart-to-heart conversations with his child, or tries to convince her mother that he’s changed.

This film doesn’t show any growth from Besson in regards to writing a realistic troubled family, and the talks between Costner and Nielsen feel like direct pinches from Besson’s Taken screenplay.  He sure doesn’t get any help from his co-writer Adi Hasak either, who unconvincingly fleshed out another Besson story in From Paris with Love.  Both men are also guilty of stupidly stereotyping races, especially Besson who has done this incessantly in the past.  I don’t understand why he hasn’t put a stop to this.  His cultural missteps are unfunny and could easily be offensive.

I tried to figure out what exactly would draw the hyper-active McG to a project like this.  Then it hit me.  McG has obviously realized just how imbecilic his last feature film This Means War was.  This is his attempt to show audiences that his filmmaking can mature.  He’s much more than women in bikinis and fiery combustions.

However, McG falls flat in a harsher way than how Rob Zombie did with Lords of Salem.  McG has married so much attention into making a more adult project that he’s forgotten to add personality or oomph to any of his characters or scenarios.  Scenes drift as bored actors try and stay awake amidst the wooden production and try to look alive when they’re bonded in feigned fodder; such as during a scene where Ethan teaches his needy daughter how to slow dance.

McG, along with Besson and Hasak’s uncooperative script, gets into a routine of setting up stirring situations and cheat the audience with lame outcomes.  Ethan is constantly getting interrupted by his daughter during torture sessions with baddies.  Just as Costner is about to prove his toughness, he’s knocked down by Steinfeld’s annoying pleas for attention.

This also opens the floor up for ill-timed comedy as Ethan uses his father figure persona to help save the day and to benefit his family.  An unfathomable sequence featuring the rough-and-tough Costner trying to get his flamboyantly Italian hostage to help Steinfeld with a recipe for pasta sauce is when 3 Days to Kill officially hits rock bottom.

I felt trapped watching this stupefyingly awful movie.  I couldn’t leave for fear I would miss a spurt of action, and I was never rewarded for my patience.  However, 3 Days to Kill turns out to be Bathroom Break: The Movie.  Every scene is expendable and as absent minded as the one before it.

The only other time recently that I felt invisibly braced to my seat was during this month’s Vampire Academy, and that still defeats 3 Days to Kill in a competition of deplorability.  But, McG’s inane, extremely lacklustre, never-ending action-comedy-drama-whatever is a wreck and always found a way to repel any sort of concern or interest – big or small.

Pompeii

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WyliePompeiiPoster

By definition, Paul W.S. Anderson is a filmmaker.  In my eyes, he’s not a very good filmmaker, but he’s been able to create brainless successes.

His latest blunder Pompeii is by definition “mindless entertainment”.  The film follows similar conventions that were used in his Resident Evil adaptations, and he crosses his fingers hoping people will eat it up all the same.

It’s expected people will walk out of Pompeii passively shrugging off the film as “dumb, but passable fare”, and be perfectly indifferent with it.  For some reason, knowing that something is going to be “dumb, but passable fare” before going into the movie allows Anderson to do just that and not let down movie goers with those low expectations.  It’s how he was able to get away scot-free with most of his action flicks, and why people consider his work “critic proof”.

As I stated in my steaming review of Resident Evil: Retribution, audiences deserve better – even if it is just surface-level escapism.  Pompeii is another example of this filmmaker shafting movie goers in every single way, along with an added PG-13 rating restraining Anderson from showing any over-the-top violence.

The movie takes place in 79 A.D. preceding a monumental catastrophe.  It’s to no surprise that Anderson’s drowsy directing leads to borrowing beats from more enthralling epics such as Gladiator, Titanic, and miscellaneous disaster movies.  It never feels original because of these blatant rip-offs of other popular films.  Even so, Anderson can never sell us on his second-hand saga because of how little effort everyone involved has put forth.

Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington takes the role of the film’s brawny protagonist, Milo.  He fills out the part physically, but hasn’t done any further work to make this character into anything more than a cardboard standee.  This is merely a starring role to test the cinematic waters of whether Harington convinces audiences nationwide that he’s a tough guy on a bigger screen.  He may look the part, but with due time, he’ll realize sombre gazes and rippling abs don’t necessarily help develop a character.

The rest of the cast follows along similarly.  They’ve been cast based on looks alone.  The film’s logic behind its casting is that if you can look attractive while touting a wiry beard or filthy volcanic schmutz on your face, you can be a movie star.

The rest of Pompeii’s production is comparably unsubtle and shoddy.  Whether it’s caking make-up onto an increasingly scantily clad Emily Browning as Milo’s love interest, or showing Keifer Sutherland’s credit as he enters the scene articulating a ridiculous accent with overacting theatrics.  We’re constantly reminded that this is one big, loud, clumsy movie.

For a film carrying historical content, I at least expected Anderson to impress me with period detail.  It appears everyone is costumed in proper garb, but Anderson flatly shot his film as if he’s wanting to emphasize that everything’s been shot indoors on a sound stage.  There’s no movie magic here.  Just a bunch of clanging effects mounted on top of artificial acting.

It goes to show paying audiences that no one behind Pompeii cared to make a convincing product.  The general attitude was apathetic and as static as those inevitable post-screening shrugs.

It’s as if before a day of shooting, Anderson grouped the cast and crew together for a powerpoint rundown of “how to make a by-the-numbers money maker”.  It’s a list of steps dancing around the fact that the end product will also be defunct of any legitimacy amongst the reactions on screen and in the audience.  But, the filmmaker would remind his team that everyone would collect a hefty paycheque once the turkey was in the can – this would cause a cheerful uproar.

The steps on Anderson’s play-by-play include pausing the film to spill countless pages of spoken exposition, drawn out buddying between Milo and his oppressive cell mate Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and silly romance with forced chemistry in tow between Browning and Harington.  Plus, you can’t forget those choppy fight sequences that have been hacked to death by autopiloted editors, and their collection of odd pandering zooms to highlight intensity.

Of course, if you’re going to make a big blockbuster involving lots of flying debris from a natural disaster, it has to be in 3D.  If Pompeii’s 3D is what counts as today’s standard for the groundbreaking technology, I’m in the wrong business.  Apparently, in the case of Pompeii, all you have to do is make a few ashes float towards the viewer and have credits punch out.  With an entire two thirds dedicated to droning dialogue in darkly lit settings, it’s the laziest and most unnecessary use of the technology since Thor.

Pompeii is the junk food everyone knows is loaded with carbs and sugar, but they give in because they’re jonesing for the occasional juicy treat.  Trust me, there are better ways for those movie goers to indulge in mindless entertainment.  If they’re patient, they can hold out for that movie that understands the trick to trashy thrills.  Eager audiences shouldn’t feel the need to count on Paul W.S. Anderson’s stale bargain bin tidbits to get their fill.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieHGCatchingFirePoster

It was nice to see a young adult book series stick to its gritty tone and not feel the need to make it lighter for a mainstream audience.  That’s exactly what The Hunger Games did with its first venture to the big screen.

It did, however, succumb to attributes that felt reminiscent to other franchises with a widespread teen audience.  One of these beats being complications with affection between two strapping young lads and a strong willed heroine.  I guess that’s what happens when the franchise is being touted as “the next big thing” for that core crowd.

The second instalment to The Hunger Games story – Catching Fire – is even darker than the first film.  It even affects the movie’s colour palette which has a deeper hue to the riveting visuals.

That said, it doesn’t feel as if Catching Fire is trying to purposely separate itself from other films based on books; this is coming from someone who has never picked up a Hunger Games novel.  It completely stands on its own, but movie goers don’t see this as an intentional decision made by producers.  It’s to stay faithful to source material that has an impending sense of doom.  At least, that’s my estimation.  Fans will be the ultimate judges.

What feels like a large portion of Catching Fire is dedicated to the film’s build up.  Katniss Everdeen (played with force by Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (played effectively by Josh Hutcherson) are now dealing with post-game ceremonies, public appearances and keeping up the facade of the “perfect power couple”.

Scenes between Lawrence and Hutcherson are reserved and moderately paced to fit their growing relationship in the film.  After all, they’re still learning about each other.  These exchanges are competently acted by both leads and have a genuine essence of watching two people warm up to one another.

Then, there are the politics behind the confidence and the celebrity statures Katniss and Peeta have to keep up.  Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz reprise their roles as the couple’s support team and personal relations committee.  They too are putting on an act and have their stakes raised as quickly as Katniss’ and Peeta’s.

Catching Fire is a film that takes place in its own dystopian universe, but these tricks of the trade materializing each strategy brings that much needed realistic depth to the sequel.  These scenes of planning and manipulating while trying to cast emotions aside are actually more captivating than the action itself.

When Katniss and Peeta are thrown into a new game of survival against past winners of The Hunger Games, I was still interested but I wasn’t as excited as Francis Lawrence’s movie wanted me to be.

Everyone competing in the grand game is a great performer ranging from Jenna Malone’s catty Johanna Mason and Jeffrey Wright’s conserved tech wiz Beetee Latier.  However, it’s as if everyone’s been directed to downplay nearly every element of the battle.  When the brawl gets lively, it catches us off guard and it’s fleeting to boot.

I can appreciate the filmmaker wanting to apply the same taut poker faced suspense that worked wonders earlier in the film.  But, when these characters are faced with more critical life-or-death circumstances, I expect to see everyone sweat a bit more.

The Hunger Games was a good film overall and a pleasant welcoming into a new world.  While Catching Fire’s second and third acts are not as enthralling as I hoped they would be, the sequel is still a notch above its predecessor.  This series is heading in a progressive direction.  Bring on Mockingjay!

Odd Thomas

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieOddThomasPoster

Odd Thomas is certainly an odd case indeed.  Stephen Sommers’ adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel has good things about it, yet it has difficulty coming together as a whole.

Anton Yelchin stars as Odd Thomas, a sweetly distraught hero with an ability to avenge the deaths of others.  He’s approached by silent spirits who then lead him on paths, and it’s his duty to right whatever wrongs he faces.  The local police chief Wyatt Porter (played by Willem Dafoe) knows very little about the extent of Odd’s visions, but knows enough to believe him.  With the additional support of his bewitching girlfriend Stormy (played by Addison Timlin), this particular mission Odd Thomas is exposed to could be his biggest challenge yet.

Yelchin has recently been in this horror/comedy realm with the underrated remake to Fright Night.  He’s shown in other vehicles that he does a solid job as a performer showing that growth from an awkward bystander to a stronger, more protective character.

With Sommer throwing Yelchin immediately into the rugged role of Odd Thomas, the first couple of scenes are jarring and hard to take seriously.  Yelchin, being an easily adaptable and talented actor, eventually stands his own in this off-kilter flick.

Everyone has a good relationship in Odd Thomas, and that helps the film tremendously.  Although, the dialogue Sommers has written for the characters tends to be a bit too snappy for the film’s own good.

The rapport between Porter and Thomas is charming, and its a nice change seeing authority giving the cuckoo lead the benefit of the doubt.  The chemistry between Odd and Stormy is very cute, as is the compatibility between Yelchin and Timlin.  The quirky couple can sometimes push the limits of being too adorable with Stormy also being too accepting of Odd’s oddities, but these hiccups don’t take away from an especially emotional conclusion.

I even enjoyed the design of the invisible creatures known as bodaches.  They slither around unbeknownst pedestrians as they seek evil to feed on.  The film frequently resembles a Sunday night movie on a family oriented television network, but the film is not afraid to get bloody and the bodaches’ shapeshifting quickness will give audiences the willies.

The faults at hand are caused by Sommers’ overstuffed and baggy script.  It’s clear to see the filmmaker was wanting to capture a noir feel to the mysteries surrounded by fantastical beings with Odd Thomas being our slick sleuth.  We’re supposed to hear this through Yelchin’s narration, but Sommers accidentally mistakes inner monologues with long-winded expository narration.  And, we get lots of it.

I haven’t read Koontz’s work, but it seems as if the author is grabbing hold of a variety of different tones amongst the weirdness.  When Sommers applies all of these different moods to a film, it feels as if the filmmaker is trying to cover too much ground as he digs a hole that becomes deeper and deeper with each scene.  A strenuous climax is the perfect example of the screenplay piling on more stuff to the point of exhaustion.

We do, however, get plenty of high-flying battles; showing that Sommers hasn’t lost his touch to deliver clamouring action pieces.  Except this time, it’s set in a lower budgeted movie.

Odd Thomas is adequate, I suppose, but even that feels like I’m trying too hard to be optimistic.  By the end, I was sort of glad the film had ended; which is too bad considering before my sigh of relief I was finding enjoyable spurts inside this yarn.

Need for Speed

February 11, 2014 4 comments

By: Addison WylieNeedForSpeedposter

Need for Speed is an awesome movie.  And, not in the way you call Patrick Swayze’s Road House “awesome” after a couple of beers.  It’s a film that legitimately has so many exhilarating moments, you’ll want to watch it again as soon as the credits start rolling.

Don’t get me wrong though.  The film has plenty of corn and cheese to go around.  Luckily, it all happens within the first 30 minutes.

It’s not necessarily the kind of hackneyed goofiness that pits itself as a foreboding sinking feeling.  It’s more so a kind of entertainment you’d find at a theme park during one of those “wild wild west” live performances with stunts, exploding gas valves and fire.  You’re fully aware of how gagged up the dialogue sounds, but you’re having no problem admitting how much fun you’re having.

That may sound like a backhanded compliment towards the production, but it’s not.  In fact, that’s a major pro and a great start for Need for Speed.

Scott Waugh’s film has a couple of elements going against it.  For one, a video game franchise is attached to it – never a real confident plus.  Secondly, this is a starring debut for Aaron Paul.  No matter how much positivity the actor is riding on from his impressive work on TV’s Breaking Bad, this vehicle (no pun intended) still comes across as Hollywood striking on his popularity while the iron’s still hot.

For this action film to draw us in as much as it does during those initial introductions to the brawn, the babes, and the beautiful cars is a compliment to how this movie has been made.  It’s a film here to deliver the goods, and it does so instantly with an intense race through the night down narrow streets.

As audiences are jiving with the idea of accepting Need for Speed as a guilty pleasure, that’s when Waugh’s film pulls somewhat of an ole’ “bait n’ switch”.

Need for Speed pulls off a gradual and calculated transition.  It smoothly goes from being a glitzy cheese-fest and becomes a movie you’ll be proud to take in as a stand alone ode to classic car films.

Using very minimal CGI on added flames to explosions, Need for Speed has car chases that are all practical.  From luscious locations to tight windy tracks to the glamourous cars.  The production has gone out of its way to make sure it’s not bringing the usual computer-animated spiel to its motor head audience – it has paid off big time.

By giving movie goers such a vivid look at real-time racing utilizing point-of-view angles and high rise shots, Need for Speed doesn’t beat around any bushes and has us on the edge of our seats.  Each race has taken a considerable amount of time to plan and film, yet we’re not distracted by any of it.  We’re too busy eagerly awaiting who wins.

The film pays tribute to those older car flicks without beating the audience over the head with obvious influences.  Gamers will also be dazzled by how committed the production was to sticking to the loosely structured games.  Foggy surroundings and treks through deep redwoods look as if they’ve been lifted straight from animated escapism.

How does Paul work out in the leading role?  Fantastically.  The fetching star – as well as the rest of the cast – know exactly what type of movie they’re in.  But, just like their keen director, they want to bring more to the table.

As the film becomes more of a road movie involving chemistry between Paul’s Tobey Marshall and Imogen Poots’ Julia, the film tilts its head towards those bubbly buddy movies featuring a hard-boiled male and a strong but effervescent female.  Waugh is also the first filmmaker to figure out how to use Poots’ sense of humour and sex appeal, evoking her into a great leading lady and love interest for Paul.

Around Paul and Poots are a collection of colourful characters ranging from Scott Mescudi’s bombastic role as Tobey’s security, Dominic Cooper’s scowlingly effective villain, and Michael Keaton’s manic turn as a race enthusiast.  I wouldn’t say Keaton is chewing scenery in a way that’s bad, but he is having fun going buggy berserk from behind his broadcasting system with a performance that probably took a few hours to shoot.

Need for Speed may kick ass, but I can still understand it has completely outlandish moments.  Mescudi effortlessly gets his hands on just about every kind of helicopter you can imagine and police are only needed when called upon.  And, does Cooper really need that much spiky hair gel to let the audience know he’s the bad guy?

However, the astonishing action is non-stop and the film’s stupefying cinematography and overall attitude tells the audience it’s unlike any action film you’ll see this year.

After Earth

January 2, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison WylieAfterEarthPoster

Much like After Earth, this review is going to be a bit of a confounding thing to endure since the substance behind it is puzzled itself.

Will Smith seems like a levelheaded guy outside of movies.  I’m sure there was concise logic behind his story to which he’s credited for in After Earth.  If so, there’s been a severe case of “Broken Telephone” during the film’s production that eventually led to M. Night  Shyamalan’s retelling using a stuffy screenplay written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta.

Will Smith is also a very charismatic actor and he’s able to use that charisma to his advantage to draw in audiences.  It’s that pizazz and wit that makes the roles he plays so exciting.  Even when he was generating award buzz for his portrayal of Mohammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali, he was still using those built-in strengths to make that performance his own creation.

It’s baffling that Smith would sign on to a project that called on him to strip everything he’s good at away from his central performance.  Actors are always searching for new territories to branch out to, and I commend those performers for taking risks with their career.  But, the transition can be seamless if the actor holds onto a tiny bit of those attributes that make him an interesting screen presence.

The eldest Smith in After Earth plays an emotion stricken Father named Cypher, who goes around “ghosting” to save his race from dangerous, scary creatures.  “Ghosting” means that one becomes a walking void in order to remove all fear to navigate around and attack these pheromone-sniffing beasts.

Removed of all feelings, Cypher ends up in a gruelling accident causing him to be stationary for a large chunk of After Earth.  He was monotonous with his flattening line readings, and now he literally has nowhere to go within the film.

Will’s son, Jaden Smith, is in a similar predicament.  Jaden has shown growth in roles that pit him with other characters.  That same charisma his real-life Father shows stems from his interaction with other actors.

After Earth instead has Jaden playing Kitai, Cypher’s son, who has little involvement with anyone.  For a large chunk of the film, Kitai is forced to save the day by venturing off into the woods – by himself – to rescue equipment.  Just as Will Smith has been subtracted from his fortitude, Jaden has been taken away from his.

The two wandering vacant performances are complicated anagrams for the film’s clueless director, who usually has a hard enough time guiding competent actors with texture in their characters.

After Earth has no wonder or dazzle to any sort of detail in its physical form or its narrative.  The environments and costuming exude staleness and the story itself of family bonding through the most turbulent of times has been tackled halfheartedly.  Shyamalan’s film must be “ghosting”.

The apathetic filmmaker disappoints yet again by having his characters speak motivations or communicate directions to each other rather than having his players simply act like human beings.  I know After Earth takes place in the future, but this is the work of a passive filmmaker who has done nothing but watch old sci-fis in order to capture the essence of a space-age world.

Another movie with a robotic lead followed these same steps – Meet Dave.  Remember that movie where Eddie Murphy plays a spaceship where a smaller Eddie Murphy controls from the inside on a mission to understand Earthlings?  Everyone hates that movie, but I know what it’s all about.

I know for a fact that the minds behind Meet Dave love old sci-fi and were deliberately trying to hit those hackneyed habits found in cheesy science fiction.  It’s certainly not perfect, but I have fun defending that corny movie because I can piece it together in a way that everything makes sense.

I can’t comprehend After Earth and I’ll never understand it.  Quite frankly, that’s ok with me.