Blair Witch (2016) — REVIEW

The original Blair Witch Project catalysed a new era in horror filmmaking: minimalism becoming an art form within the genre. Opening the floodgates for numerous films across all genres that put us in the shoes of a hero behind a handheld camera. The found footage film has come a long way and there is a treasure trove doing the rounds on the independent scene — the latest instalment in the Blair Witch franchise, is a film that balances subtlety, ambiguity and in-your-face thrills to perfect effect.

Set 20 years after Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Mike Williams went missing in the Black Hills Forest, Heather’s brother James sets out with a group of friends to uncover what really happened to his sister all those years ago.

The film’s technical aspects are a lot more advanced than its predecessor’s, with the sequel’s $5 million budget easily trumping that of the 1999 hit. If Jurassic World is a more tech-savvy version of the classic Spielberg masterpiece, then consider 2016’s Blair Witch the same thing in its respective franchise: it’s bigger, badder, suaver and utilises its own brand of terror that helps it leave the shadow of the original’s iconic status. These merits aren’t written to discourage Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’ magnum opus (which I consider an all-time classic) but to give credit to Adam Wingard and his team on making the best version of this film based on the 21st Century landscape, catering to a diverse range of fans and staying true to their style of filmmaking.

Some of the film’s elements may turn off some purists, like some of the unambiguous moments, but I think director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett hit a home run, managing to present a versatile range of situations for their characters, while maintaining a riveting authenticity over the roughly-90 minute duration.

VERDICT — The sequel to the 1999 hit is a tense, jarring tour-de-force. A lot more mainstream than its predecessor, Blair Witch (2016) hits the perfect balance of subtlety and flat-out exuberance.

RATING: 9.1

MVP: Callie Hernandez as Lisa, who plays Heather’s ambitious spiritual successor and exhibits a versatile emotional range onscreen.

 

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Gone Girl — Review

Directed by David Fincher, who is probably the best director in Hollywood at the moment, Gone Girl is an unflinching, shocking and intimidating tale of marriage on a deceitful and Fincher-esque darkness level.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man who is framed for the disappearance of his wife Amy Dunne. Rosamund Pike earned herself an Academy Award nomination for the role and played the neurotic, upper-class writer astonishingly. The movie begins as an innocent tale of a lost wife but slowly, slowly descends into a unbelievable tour-de-force that you never saw coming.

The film’s narration is said from the perspective of both Amy and Nick, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again craft a gritty soundtrack that fits the mould of its story. One of the great fallacies was its snubbing from the Academy, as I can mention several categories it should’ve been nominated in.

VERDICT — David Fincher’s 10th feature-length film is a tour-de-force of deceit and violence that examines just how much drama marriage can create. Another masterpiece is added to his near-flawless resumé.

RATING: 9.7 — AMAZING

MVP: People are so quick to point out Rosamund Pike as the best on-screen performer. But it’s really Ben Affleck who takes the crown as the extremely likeable, relatable husband with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Chappie — Review (Worst Film Ever Made?)

After the success of District 9 and even Elysium, Neill Blomkamp delved deeper into his near-future forte, focusing on the concept of AI. Instead of presenting such a concept in an elegant manner like fellow 2015 film Ex Machina, we get an overly-sentimental, verbose movie with generic, wooden characters and a huge excess of unnecessary filler that serves as the ultimate detriment to the plot.

In a world where crime is patrolled by robotic police officers, one unit is stolen by a young weapons manufacturer Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, and given new programming, he becomes the first robot to possess the ability of thinking and feeling. Sounds like the beginning of something special, right? Not in Chappie’s case. The scientist is then abducted by Die Antwoord. Yes, the drugs haven’t kicked in, you read that correctly: Die Antwoord! South African rap-rave group who cannot act to save their lives. Their heavy inclusion in the film makes for some tongue-n-cheek, nonsensical and often stereotypical moments, like Yolandi reading Chappie a fuckin’ bedtime story, or Ninja teaching Chappie how to be a “real gangster”. So anyway, he’s abducted and forced to install his AI software into the stolen robot, to suit Die Antwoord’s advantage. The bot awakes in a terrified state of mind, like a confused child. They name him Chappie and begin to teach him words and behaviour. The scientist is forced out of their hideout and Die Antwoord adopt a parental bond with Chappie. Yep — that movie got made.

After their impending deadline of a 20 million rand debt to a powerful gangster draws closer, Ninja grows impatient with Chappie’s development cue and attempts to expedite the process by teaching him what I mentioned earlier “to be a real gangster”. Chappie then adopts the vernacular of a generic, one-dimensional street thug that really isn’t compelling to watch at all. Anyway, some time passes and the corporate Vincent becomes the primary antagonist, played by Hugh Jackman. A battle ensues, Yolandi is killed and Chappie and Deon storm the office of Tetravaal factory, Chappie beats Vincent to near-death and inserts Yolandi’s conscience in a template robot. Wow. What a corny ending.

VERDICT — An insanely disappointing, monumental mess that serves up a story simply not worth telling. An often-times offensive, accidental comedy that is one of the worst movies ever made.

RATING: 1.0 — EMBARRASSING

MVP: For the life of me, I honestly cannot name a SINGLE good aspect of the film.

 

Batman vs. Superman — Review

Released on a budget of 250 million, Zack Snyder is once again entrusted with another blockbuster superhero film, crashes and burns. With poor character development, shoehorned elements and an overlong plot, BvS will go down as one of the most disappointing movies of its era.

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Even the thought of Zack Snyder directing this didn’t slow down people’s anticipation, but going into his films with a grain of salt is the most sensible thing to do. After the critical failure, Man of Steel, comes a long awaited crossover film featuring arguably the two most popular heroes in comic history: Batman and Superman. Ben Affleck is decent as the new Batman, but in no way matches the grounded, realistic portrayal of his predecessor Christian Bale. Seasoned vet Jeremy Irons plays Alfred, much to my dismay. He comes across more like a friend than a father/mentor figure and he just doesn’t really fit the arc at all. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor a.k.a. Heath Ledger Lite, while his amusing monologues provide some brief entertainment in an otherwise tedious movie, the character isn’t properly elaborated on. The Man of Steel casts returns with Henry Cavill reprising his stiff, wooden depiction of Superman. Amy Adams returns as Louis Lane and Laurence Fishburne returns as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet. They even manage to stuff up Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious franchise).

The beaming light of greatness in this movie is Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score, which is definitely well used throughout the 151 minute film. The movie, like your average superhero flick of today, ends on a build up note towards future movies. This kind of ending does not justify 2 and a half hours of a CGI crap fest devoid of any real story aesthetic.

VERDICT — A film that isn’t just disappointing, but awful. The execution is poor, the action is stiff and cluttered like its script. A big thumbs down here.

RATING: 2.5 — AWFUL

MVP: Ben Affleck, whose portrayal is decent at best, but is the more involved character of the film.

Jaws — Review

Amity Island: an idyllic beach resort town where visitors flock from all over the country in the summertime to enjoy some fun in the sun. That fun is nonexistent for their new Chief of Police, Martin Brody: A New York native looking for a change of scenery: “I’m telling you the crime rate in New York’ll kill you.” he remarks during the film;

After a shark attack leaves a young woman dead, Brody calls for a complete shutdown of the town’s famed beach until they can sort out the problem. Afraid the shutdown would hurt the community’s tourism, stubborn Mayor of Amity Island Larry Vaughn rejects those proposals, instead hiring oceanographer Matt Hooper: a young, ivy-leaguer on the side of logic and reason; He sides with Chief Brody and warns of more attacks to come — and a few more subsequent attacks occur; Eventually the mayor succumbs to pressure and allows the Chief to find and kill this demon of the ocean, terrorising their community.

The town hires Quint: an old-fashioned, highly eccentric fisherman obsessed with sharks and their predator instincts. Him, Brody and Hooper head out on Quint’s boat. The character differences are finely put on display, with Hooper’s state-of-the-art marine technology juxtaposing Quint’s old-school approach to things. The culture war is evident between these two and it makes for some compelling moments.

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Brody has the misfortune of being a landlocked New Yorker, not used to the sun-drenched island communities and ocean, whatsoever. Always having a fear of water, seeing him challenge his fear as well as the mounting pressure as Chief in a town he doesn’t understand becomes increasingly engaging.

John Williams composes the iconic score, which became an archetype in suspenseful movie soundtracks. The use of shark is executed perfectly, showing glimpses of the beast throughout the film keeping up the suspense of uncertainty. The monologues are sharp and riveting, definitely the highpoint of the movie.

VERDICT — Jaws is the ultimate summer blockbuster that proves subtlety is more thrilling. A breathtaking character study and one of the most influential movies ever made.

RATING: 10 — ELITE

MVP: Robert Shaw as Quint.

Steve Jobs Review

Biopics of today go far beyond the convention of the figure’s birth and origin. Instead, opting for a different style: beginning at key events in that figure’s career; The Social Network opened with a conversation between Zuckerberg and his college crush, showing how neurotic the founder of Facebook was. Danny Boyle full embraces this style of filmmaking on a bigger level, examining the mind behind Apple through three iconic product launches — backstage.

Aaron Sorkin is a master of establishing characters through witty dialogue and with Steve Jobs, he crafts another screenplay worthy of all the recognition it receives. Telling the story in a unique way, with flashbacks and other people in Jobs’ life who contributed to his success.

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Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels are key supporting actors that add panache. Seth Rogen, in his first serious turn, doesn’t disappoint as Steve Wozniak — friend and collaborator of Steve Jobs who constantly heckles him about acknowledging a pivotal piece of technology in Apple’s staple: Apple II; Kate Winslet is awesome as the nuanced marketer Joanna Hoffman. Her subtle Polish-infused accent is masterfully used, in what could be an Academy Award calling. Jeff Daniels is John Sculley, former CEO of Apple trying to reconcile with Jobs over a falling out.

Michael Fassbender perfectly embodies the role of Apple’s founder, creating something much bigger than himself. His lead performance is another home run for Sorkin, whose lead characters in his last three movies have all been nominated for Academy Awards. Danny Boyle’s trademark use of superimposed imagery is well utilised here, even if I felt the film could’ve offered more story-wise.

VERDICT — Steve Jobs is a riveting look at the man behind Apple. Michael Fassbender is great in this lean biopic.

RATING: 8.0 — GREAT

MVP: Michael Fassbender.

Concussion Review

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Will Smith plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist who discovers indisputable evidence that the bumps and hits NFL players endure have a long-term detrimental impact on their health.

The NFL attempt to suppress the information, in order to keep Americans watching the sport and not blemish their recruitment drive. The supporting cast consists of Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, David Morse and rounded off my Arliss Howard. Their presence is definitely felt, but the true highlight of the film is Will Smith, who delivers a towering performance that was unfortunately overlooked by the Academy. Nevertheless, it is one of the portrayals of the year — his strong Nigerian accent and humble motives make Dr. Omalu a heroic archetype worth rooting for.

The film does have its moderate share of problems. The story is cluttered and features some unnecessarily cheesy moments with its dialogue. Concussion also suffers from tedium, that cripples the film’s ambition of masterpiece status.

VERDICT — An average biographical sports film that’s anchored by a towering performance from Will Smith.

RATING: 6.1 — AVERAGE

MVP: Will Smith.