Reviews, Thriller

Patriots Day

patriots_day_film

Copyright © 2016 by CBS Films

Story
When two terrorists with Chechen roots set off two home-made explosives in the crowd watching the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260, police sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) searches for clues to apprehend Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) while heading the official manhunt is FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and he is facilitated by Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J. K. Simmons).

Review
Third venture in, director Peter Berg and star Wahlberg pair up for a rousing retelling of a real-life American tragedy which they successfully captured a few months back about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Like ‘Deepwater Horizon’, the latest has Berg skillfully placing human connection above action. The various lives introduced are capably downplayed and add the mounting dread of what is to come next.

The docu-drama form is expertly included, inserting a street-level experience which magnifies the tension when the bomb detonates at the finish line and the city goes into a frenzy. The blast is graphic, setting a macabre tone for the rest of the crime procedural. The monstrosity perpetrated is shed through the cold and distant occupants in the Tsarnaev household.

It is their (seeming) isolation from the rest of the community that motivates these brothers into more heinous crimes such as the brutal murder of a young MIT police officer who died defending his weapon & car, carjacking a Chinese student and an all-out strike in Watertown. The carjacking scene in particular deconstructs a momentary look into Dzhokhar and Tamerlan’s motives with conviction delivered in earnestness from the threesome of Wolff, Melikidze and Jimmy O. Yang, the innocent Mercedes-Benz owner.

If you thought ‘Patriots Day’ is shadowing the underrated ‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’, the former’s political undercurrent is less overt. Other than an unsettling interrogation of Tamerlan’s defiant wife by an intimidating agent donning a hijab, Berg has chosen to center on the efforts of real-life people who were instrumental in the arrest of the Islamic radicals and the valor of the victims. Could be deeper but it is still a thoughtful tribute to a united and strong Boston.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use

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Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Having eluded the authorities, Jason Bourne / David Webb (Matt Damon) survives alone by partaking in prohibited fighting rings. When former CIA operative and aide Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the agency, she uncovers new information about Bourne’s enlistment and his father, Richard Webb’s (Gregg Henry) involvement in the original Treadstone programme. His investigation leads him to unsettling news about his father while being pursued by the CIA Director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a computer specialist and a resentful Blackbriar assassin (Vincent Cassel).

Review
“Bourne has been off the grid for a long time. He’s been hiding in the shadows”, says an ambitious Lee whose frosty façade is complimented by a cool Vikander. She is confident that “bringing him back in is the smart move”. It has been almost a decade since ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ concluded on a high and ‘The Bourne Legacy’ failed to excite fans, scrapping plans for future sequels.

Theoretically anyway. Reassembling the winning team of Damon and director Paul Greengrass who assumed directing duties after Doug Liman’s ‘The Bourne Identity’ renewed hope that the wavering series could be reinstated enthusiastically, promising new revelations of the covert agent with the same initials as the other superspy that garnered two consecutive Oscars for ‘Best Original Song’ and pulsating action.

Greengrass is no slouch when it comes to the latter; ‘United 93’ and ‘Captain Phillips’ are based on real accounts but transformed into riveting pieces about loyalty, unity and tenacity. The chases in Athens and Las Vegas are nothing short of industrious though I still detest the use of handheld cameras. Apart from that, it is a snoozefest with uneven pacing and insipid acting.

You have got some real talent here – Jones, Cassel, Henry and Riz Ahmed; yet they are all wasted on second-rate writing. ‘The Bourne Legacy’ bit off more than it could chew with its intricate framing but I would go for complex over vapid any day. Damon still commands the screen easily although his isolation from interaction squanders further growth on Bourne. He utters only 25 lines in the entire movie? Clearly somebody must have missed ‘The Martian’.

Rating
Entirety: B-
Acting: B
Plot: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language

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The Shallows

Shallows

Copyright © 2016 by Columbia Pictures

Story
Travelling to Mexico, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) is taken by Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) to the same beach her mother used to surf while pregnant with Nancy. She meets two local surfers and they surf together for several hours. The locals leave but she stays on. While waiting for a wave, the medical student discovers a dead humpback whale and decides to leave shortly after. On her way back, she is bitten by a great white shark. Bleeding profusely, she swims to safety and settles on a detached reef. Only 200 yards to shore, Nancy’s medical background and athleticism will be her greatest assets of outsmarting the shark.

Review
Having found success with high-concept films such as ‘Orphan’, ‘Unknown’ and ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest dives into well-charted waters that resurfaces as a survival piece of (wo)man versus beast at its most extreme. His flair to ground implausible circumstances is the reason a homicidal dwarf and an amnesiac assassin remains logically affecting.

It is the Spaniard’s ingenuity and Anthony Jaswinski’s succinct script that distinguishes the collaborative effort from gratuitous B-movie fun to a star vehicle for ‘Gossip Girl’ cast member, Lively. Set in an impossible condition and equipped with merely her wits, Nancy joins the ranks of Dr Ryan Stone (‘Gravity’) and Aron Ralston (‘127 Hours’) as this year’s lone survivor in peril.

Partly inspired by her husband, Ryan Reynolds’ stunning and woeful portrayal in ‘Buried’, Lively is viscerally convincing as a woman tormented by a sadistic fish to a sunnier ending. The pain she enacts while stitching herself up without any anesthesia is eerily conveyed and her lighter moments are represented amusingly with her newfound friend, Steven, an injured seagull.

At least Steven is real (enough) for our heroine to interact with and proves invaluable for her attempts in escaping; Tom Hanks has a Wilson volleyball. Cognizant of Nancy’s characterisation and motivations justifies her independence and fearlessness despite its slender running time. Add to Flavio Labiano’s breathtaking cinematography, deftly capturing the oceanic waves just before the storm, wouldn’t you be tempted for a swim in the shallows?

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language

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Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep

Copyright © 2014 by Clarius Entertainment

Story
After an accident, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) suffers from a rare form of amnesia where she is unable to store memories for more than a day. Each day she awake with only intact memories up until her 20s. She is sought out by one Dr Nasch (Mark Strong) to help her remember what happened a decade ago. He tells her not to inform her husband, Ben (Colin Firth) about their meetings. As she pieces together her findings bit by bit, Christine realises that one of them could have been the perpetrator for her current state.

Review
It must be a nuisance to wake up everyday believing you are still in your 20s when the next 20 years of your life have come and gone with no memory of living it. While we try to forget the most trying period of our existence, there is plenty to revel if you are at the peak of your game and in a seeming ideal marriage. That is what our amnesiac protagonist supposedly has before her fatal ‘accident’ (never good in a whodunit – you will know what I mean if you have read the book).

After acquiring the rights from writer, S.J. Watson, Ridley Scott has rounded up a talented cast and a budding writer/director to translate the literary verses of Watson’s bestseller. Rowan Joffé who is best known for his writing credits in ‘28 Weeks Later’ (horror sequel to ‘28 Days Later’) and ‘The American’ (a George Clooney European-themed thriller) knows what his actors are capable of and allows all three leads (Kidman is as stunning as usual only because she anchors majority of the film) to usher viewers of each person’s motivations (or motives?).

So captivating by the winsome threesome’s persona that we tend to overlook Joffé’s experience as a director. No doubt he gets the job done adequately but does nothing more to set himself apart from the rest. Thanks largely to Kidman’s willingness to bare it all (her vulnerability and grievances are on full display here, another winning variation of her Oscar-nominated role in ‘Rabbit Hole’ besides flashing a little more flesh than usual) and Firth’s flair for the understated yet unsettling help move the plot rapidly to its conclusion (not nearly as satisfying as its promising start).

If not for Kidman and Firth’s natural on-screen chemistry (second collaboration since ‘The Railway Man’), you probably would erase this unimaginative outing the very next day. The problem lies in Joffé wanting to keep proceedings linear and may have been concerned about the story’s consistency should he employ a less orthodox technique. What ‘Memento’ achieved effortlessly is an uphill battle for ‘Sleep’ to keep our eyes wide open.

While Strong hardly missteps in his movie choices (he even came out unscathed from the misguided ‘Green Lantern’) and is pivotal to Christine’s recovery, he is way underused for a person of his caliber. As good as he can be in the constraints of time, he could have been excellent. As the selfless doctor who has taken upon himself to assist (and a rare occasion Strong is heroic), Joffé opts not to pursue any further in the neurologist’s work and growing attraction towards his patient.

The angle would have provided a change in dynamics over Christine’s lopsided relationship. After the abrupt omission of Dr Nasch, she is left on her own to fit the missing pieces of her violent trauma. Depending on which side you are on, you will either salute its slightly ludicrous account of events or wish for a reset before you go to sleep. I for one will not be dozing off just yet.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated R for some brutal violence and language

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The Equalizer

The Equalizer

Copyright © 2014 by Columbia Pictures

Story
A retired black ops specialist, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) returns to his old life after witnessing his teenage friend, Teri/Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a Russian escort being violently beaten by her procurer, Slavi (David Meunier). Unable to resolve the matter peacefully, he kills Slavi and his men. The head of the business, Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) deploys his ruthless henchman, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to investigate the deaths through assistance from Frank Masters (David Harbour), a Boston policeman under the mob’s payroll. Always a step ahead, McCall manages to evade Teddy’s trail until the sadist threatens to kill his co-workers in Home Mart, including Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) whom he has helped train for a position as the store’s security guard.

Review
Here is a fun fact: Washington won his second Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ in a sublime performance as a crooked law enforcement officer in his 2001 partnership with current director of said reboot, Antoine Fuqua. The actor’s subtle yet invigorating depiction in ‘Training Day’ was enough to steal the thunder from frontrunner, Russell Crowe whose odds had been in his favour for a consecutive win since the recognition was first bestowed to the Aussie prior via the sword-and-sandal hit, ‘Gladiator’.

A decade later, the two are in competition again but instead of battling it out in the Dolby Theatre for the opportunity to be grateful on prime time, they are vying for the same project. You do not need three guesses as to who came up victorious. To Crowe’s credit, he may have loss the chance of embodying an efficient former government operative from the Edward Woodward-starred series that ran in the mid-1980s, at least, he is fairly compensated (critically anyway) personifying a biblical saviour in the spring release ‘Noah’.

For one who has never seen let alone heard of its originator, I went in with little expectations and was duly motivated only by Washington and Moretz. From what I gather, the gist and the title are the only components that are used in an otherwise original creation. Positioning himself as what Liam Neeson has accomplished of late, the 59-year-old scores with another number one opener and has the distinction of being the largest September debut for an R-rated picture.

While Neeson’s last few selections i.e ‘Unknown’ and ‘Non-Stop’ are high concept political risk takers, Washington plays it safe for more standard fare. Generic, yes but still engrossing thanks to an immensely likeable lead and memorable supporting works provided by the always dependable Moretz, a scene-stealing comic showstopper from Harbour and Csokas is adequate as the heartless Russian tasked of hunting down McCall.

If halfway through déjà vu begins to kick in, that is because the thrills are a mélange from other action and horror classics. You read right. Horror! Fuqua effectively uses many night scenes to heighten the sense of dread when our Equalizer is out dispensing justice, whether they are the mob, dishonest cops or petty thieves. Though the running time clocks in at 131 minutes, Richard Wenk’s script does not break new ground but is justified by pivotal subplots which integrates coherently to the main story.

They are done right by a skilled director whose last effort is the equally enjoyable ‘Olympus Has Fallen’. While the White House under terrorist command is a comeback vehicle for Gerard Butler, his latest dives into the ongoing fight against the morally challenged that needs to be eradicated for good but only looks poised on becoming bigger threats. Well, if at first you do not succeed, keep on trying (with a sequel or two along the way) and you can be sure there is no crime our man cannot equalize.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

A Dame to Kill For

Copyright © 2014 by Dimension Films

Story
Adapted to the big screen from Frank Miller’s series of graphic novels, the latest acts as a prequel and sequel for the events which took place in the original. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is recruited by Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) whose ex-lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green) has him believe she is physically abused by her husband, Damian (Marton Csokas) and they storm into the heavily guarded residence for a daring rescue. Marv’s skill set is also sought after by Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) to avenge John Hartigan’s death (Bruce Willis), perpetrated by Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). In his regular backroom poker game with his cronies, the senator is confronted by Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young gambler who harbours a family secret and intends to use it against the political figure in the high-stakes game.

Review
I must say, the release of ‘Sin City’ back in 2005 was nothing short of a visual splendour; the mostly black and white picture was perfect for its depiction of a decadent city populated by corrupt politicians and dirty cops who patrol the streets. The inclusion of certain ‘coloured’ characters and objects only added to the dimensionality of the many colourful personalities that light up the screen. Noirer than noir, it remained a unique achievement until, well, number two came along.

After nine years in the making, is it worth the wait? Not as much as you might like to. Clearly, much care has gone into the production and everyone who is onboard knows the importance for it remaining relevant in a field where an overcrowded crop of action thrillers look to strip it off from the minds of young men. To no avail, the grosses from the first week of release are disappointingly low and it does not appear possible to fare any better in international waters as well.

What went wrong? Guess you cannot catch lightning twice in a bottle. While the use of colour layered with shades of grey is still a unique blend for a moody and detach feel, it brings nothing new content wise. Sure, there are a couple of surprises (which you can see a mile away anyway) and the resolutions are closures to certain demises in part one yet it will not leave you wanting more. Much like ‘300’, the tale would have been better off a proud loner than a tiresome twosome.

A real pity though as the lineup is populated by some of the finest in Tinseltown. They are all let down by an undercooked script that is forgetting an important ingredient; character development. Many returning and new members come and go, barely registering an ounce of individuality. A big relief in fact when they are bumped off one by one; fewer superfluous additions to care about for a more blood-splattering, gun-toting, sword-wielding good time.

Leading the diverse but indifferent cast is Green as the manipulative and deceptive dame in question. She is wickedly funny, dangerously seductive and helplessly gorgeous – traits missing in many of the other monotonous performances. Preserving the zeal, Dennis Haysbert who takes over from the irreplaceable Michael Clarke Duncan is a towering and imposing figure of authority while Boothe’s expanded hold on the city comes as a quivering reminder for those who dare to challenge the system.

Where do the good guys stand? The shadow of villainy is set to prevail over whatever good is left (a literal used for a tasteful showcase on Green’s ‘assets’ is both beautiful and bewitching) but originally created for the second installment, Gordon-Levitt breathes fresh life as a confident and brash gambler who has a score to settle with the foul senator. If only the rest of the crusade could have kept up, this would be a killing I do not mind sinning for.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B
Plot: B-

Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use

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Now You See Me

Now You See Me

Copyright © 2013 by Summit Entertainment

Story
Four talented magicians are called upon to perform together and stage incredible magical feats in Las Vegas, New Orleans and New York. When the acts become part of a police investigation for robbing a bank in Paris and pilfering from the magicians’ sponsor, insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and an officer from Interpol, Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) are paired up to unmask the real motive of Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who have also dubbed themselves as the Four Horsemen.

Review
Known for more action-oriented fare i.e. ‘The Transporter’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk’, it is comforting to note that Louis Leterrier’s expanding repertoire is not typecasting him from embarking on high concept projects such as this one. While it is respectably original and far cleverer than it has any right to be, the outrageous premise works through brisk pacing, witty dialogue and star power. Leterrier’s presentation is fairly linear to avoid confusion on the plot’s twisty turns and countless misdirection thrown at the viewer.

The inventively staged illusions are spellbinding realised by the advent of advance computer imagery. The mystery surrounding the magicians’ motives are shrouded in all that razzmatazz, it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the curtains are drawn. For a dose of reality, the film doubles as an exposé on magic being purely a tool for entertainment, a skill honed hopefully for more than just the typical 15 minutes of fame but is usually met with very little fortune.

Although it is ‘Magic 101’, the tricks disclosed by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) provide a continued glimpse to unearth the trade secrets of prestidigitators (more concisely and specifically explored by ‘The Illusionist’ and ‘The Prestige’ previously) which have become increasingly noteworthy since David Copperfield took the world by storm in the 1970s. Freeman rarely disappoints in anything that he is in (while some may argue of his choices lately have been streamlined to repeatedly playing a different version of himself in real life).

Well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? I do not see what the problem is if the role is acted remarkably but does not veer too far out of an actor’s zone for changeability. A good performance will remain as it is no matter how much familiarity sets in. It is disheartening then to learn that the most flawed element in an aptly released escapist fun is the lack of compelling characterisations in absorbing performances from Eisenberg, Ruffalo, Harrelson and Caine.

Eisenberg is laudably suave, Ruffalo’s boy scout has a few tricks up his sleeve, Harrelson balances an uneasy mix of kooky and mature well while obtaining Caine albeit underused only increases the overall enjoyment. Judging from the show’s profit has more than tripled its production budget, it should not come as a surprise that a sequel is already on the way. Even if it is needless, hopefully the questions which have been deliberately left unanswered will be addressed in their next escapade.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content

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