Reviews, Thriller

Prisoners

Prisoners

Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
In the midst of a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis), both Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) and their guests’ daughter, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) have gone missing. Detective David Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the case but when he is unable to detain prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) whose alleged RV has been parked nearby the Birch residence on the same day, Anna’s father, Keller (Hugh Jackman), abducts Jones and uses all forms of torture to extract information on his child’s whereabouts. Unsuccessful, he confronts his aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo) and discovers a morbid connection to the unsolved juvenile murders and the current kidnapping.

Review
An intimate look at the human psyche and its detrimental effects to an obsession; all in the name of love. It does bring to mind some other notable classics such as ‘To Die For’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Misery’. While the intentions of these perpetrators were certainly more devious, would it justify the actions if the cause is nobler in nature? It is easy to pass judgment on psychotic rampages that are clearly out of line but what if the extremity inflicted is to root out an unforgivable deed?

It is an exploration of faith and hope in an abusive and lonely environment disguised as a mystery. Known for his previous Oscar nominated effort ‘Incendies’, Denis Villeneuve steadily builds his movie with a loving family out for a reunion dinner with close friends and the contrast of dining alone. The routine is livened up with a penchant for astronomy trivia. A comforting mood is short lived and quickly turns into a desperate attempt when the daughters of both families vanish without a trace.

From this point on, the events that unfold only set a bleaker and consistently solemn tone throughout the rest of the story. It is a difficult film to bear and even harder to stomach for the use of violence during Dover’s interrogation. For its longer running time, halfway through the investigation, it does drag a little but under the very capable hands of Villeneuve, the course remains on track and finishes off strong (surely worthy of debate with avid fans long after it is over).

Besides acting as a social commentary on abuse and its aftermath, it is a showcase for the ensemble cast to shine. In supporting roles, noteworthy to mention are Dano, Davis and Gyllenhaal who are faultless as suspect number one, grieving mother and relentless police officer respectively. Dano, especially is outstanding as the supposedly mastermind behind this heinous act. He comes across as creepy, innocent and sympathetic all rolled into one.

He is most affecting in an encounter with Jackman about his accomplishment after his release from custody (his sheepish remark to Dover is unabashedly smug while playing coy in the public eye). In return, Jackman mesmerises with his best performance to date. It is no easy feat when all of his fellow co-stars are abundantly talented, yet without his involvement, ‘Prisoners’ would most likely have spiraled into full-on melodrama minus the heart and soul to ground its sometimes preposterous scenarios.

The entire first and second acts are built squarely on Dover’s quest for justice and our Tony winner’s delivery to each minute of it is just superb. His stint in ‘Les Misérables’ must have tapped for a wider range of emotions and they are used to great effect to convey the anguish and desperation of seeking a loved one. The eponymous title may be a reference to the missing but dissect it further, what you will find is a profound look on fractured and lost minds trapped in a cage which begins from the bad to the really sadistic choices made in life.

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

Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout

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Action, Reviews

The Wolverine

The Wolverine

Copyright © 2013 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Set to events after X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine / Logan (Hugh Jackman) has left the X-Men team and is residing in Canada where he is constantly haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Because of the great loss, the emptiness he is feeling is taking a toll on him emotionally. During his time as a soldier in World War 2 when he was held captive in a Japanese POW camp near Nagasaki, he rescued an officer named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) and protected him from the atomic bomb blast that took place. Back to the present, he gets word from Yukio (Rila Fukushima) that Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is dying of cancer and wants Logan to follow her back to Japan upon Yashida’s request to repay his life debt. Upon arrival, he is embroiled with the Japanese mob, samurais and ninjas while still in conflict with his inner demons.

Review
After the lackluster direction of X-Men Origins, a lot has been riding on for its follow-up to turn the tide and restore movie goers’ confidence, casual and avid alike about our favourite clawed hero. It is a step towards the right direction when Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan) was approached to helm the sequel and Christopher McQuarrie, who had written the acclaimed ‘The Usual Suspects’ had been in charge with the script. It could very well turn out to be brooding and gritty, not unlike ‘Requiem for a Dream’ or ‘The Black Swan, but alas, the final product, while has been adjusted to James Mangold’s more mainstream sensibilities does not lose sight of its original vision. Even with a script re-write from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, the emotional turmoil and void that our protagonist is going through are very much present in the film.

While the essence of the movie is retained, has the world weary Logan stepped out of his cave and searches for inner peace in the Land of the Rising Sun enough to make ‘The Wolverine’ the comeback everyone is hoping it to be? It definitely is a resounding ‘yes’. It is without a doubt right now that Jackman owns the role. After his stint at Les Miserables last year that earned him his first Oscar nomination, Jackman continues with this winning streak and takes us on an emotional journey not seen in the past movies. It is through the exploration of having to live forever with no purpose as your loved ones are taken away one lifetime after another provides a vulnerable facet to Wolverine.

He is ably supported by a cast predominantly Asian with endearing performances from Fukushima and Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida. From their renditions, it does not seem that they are novices to the film industry. Although only meant to provide continuity from Last Stand, it is always welcoming to see a fellow X-Man (or Woman) thrown into the mix. Having Janssen back as Jean adds the necessary dimension needed for the audience to feel Logan’s pain, loss and detachment from the rest of the world. Her strategically placed scenes also act as a threat to Logan’s blossoming relationship with Mariko.

For some who may find this character driven piece a little too slow, it does make up for it with some well choreographed action. It is a prerequisite in all comic book adaptations these days. While Origins was bombarded with one loud action piece after another, ‘The Wolverine’ only unfolds its fights and chases after sufficient time has been spent on dramatic exposition. The highlights begin with the attempted kidnapping of Mariko at the funeral, which stretches to a fight between Wolverine and the Yakuza clan on top of a bullet train and a drawn out swordplay involving Yukio and Shingen
Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada) whilst Logan attempts to rid off a robotic parasite joined to his heart.

There have been criticisms about the third act faltering into typical comic book fare and revelations at the end were none too surprising but to the naysayers, this is the most personal and intimate tale in the franchise as it can ever be, thanks to efficient storytelling from Mangold. Whether the change of pacing, setting and direction can inspire bigger returns in the overall box office remains to be seen as a few key markets have yet to open ‘The Wolverine’. While Logan is not certain where he intends to go after all the kerfuffle in Japan, it is safe to say that our spiritual journey with him has been most satisfying and we can only hope for the film makers to keep pushing the envelope should there be a continuation to his adventures.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language

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Action, Reviews

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Wolverine

Copyright © 2009 by 20th Century Fox

Story
A spin-off from the X-Men film series, it chronicles the life of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), focusing on his violent past and his relationship with his half-brother Victor Creed / Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The plot also details Wolverine’s early encounters with Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), his time with Team X, and the bonding of Wolverine’s skeleton with the indestructible metal adamantium during the Weapon X programme.

Review
It was only a matter of time before our most beloved X-Men on screen was headlining his own movie. After getting a glimpse of his past in the first two X-Men films, Wolverine’s complicated background is fully revealed here. We learn that his real name is James Logan and his mutation was triggered when his adopted father was killed by his real father. In an act of rage, James kills him and flees with his half-brother, Victor. As it happened in 1845 and they have the gift of regeneration, they spend the next century as soldiers fighting in the American Civil War, both World Wars and the Vietnam War. It was fascinating to learn that they were such an integral part to world history and it would have been good if the film makers explored this facet of their lives a little longer.

Instead, what we get is just a snapshot of those events and how they supported each other through those harrowing times. It further cements their relationship when Victor kills a senior officer in 1975 and James jumps to his defense, prompting their execution by firing squad which they survive. They are then offered a place to join Team X by Stryker that consists of other mutants including Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), John Wraith (will.i.am), Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), and Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan). They join the team but James decides to leave the group when he does not see eye to eye with his team mates on their mistreatment for human life. After six years, he is seen working as a lumberjack in Canada and living with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). But a series of events concocted by Stryker lures James back to the colonel and agrees to undergo the painful operation of melding his bones with the unbreakable metal under the pretense that Stryker is helping him to exact revenge.

It is noble that James went through all that pain for love. Again, if the film delved more on James and Kayla’s relationship and their time together in Canada, it would have made a far stronger conviction once he decided that it was the only way for him to rid off all that anger. Understandably, the focus is all on Wolverine and Hugh Jackman does not disappoint. Having played him for the fourth time with a committed physical training regimen, he is every bit the Wolverine as envisioned in the long running comics. If the bar was not set so incredibly high by the works of Bryan Singer, this would have been a respectable effort as a standalone film. As it is not, the finished product, though polished is lacking in the grittiness that defined the first two in the series. The characters are layered with enough complexities to whet the audiences’ appetite for coming installments.

The same cannot really be said here. We are introduced to many interesting and colourful characters but they are just too supporting or blandly straightforward for us to care about them. It is unfortunate as there are many standout performances, most notably from Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch as Gambit, another fan favourite finally brought to life after numerous unsuccessful attempts prior to this. Although just a brief appearance, it is also worth mentioning that Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of Wade Wilson aka Deadpool is spot-on and captures the essence of this wisecracking mercenary with lethal swordsmanship skills. Still waiting for him to headline his own movie since negotiations began in 2003! He definitely gave the immortal brothers a run for their money during the final battle.

Whether it is a clash of creativity between the film makers and the personnel of Fox which could have altered the original vision of this project, to the purists who are hoping that this is the equivalent of DC’s Batman Begins, they may need to wait for another attempt to bring these established characters back to their glory days. Fret not, while it is not the redemption that we are hoping for after the last outing, it is still commendable for what has been presented on Wolverine’s early days. Now that it is already covered, let us hope for his next romp as the clawed one, it will be a return to form with his usual cool, rough and gruff demeanor, bub.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A-
Plot: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity

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Action, Reviews

X2

X2

Copyright © 2003 by 20th Century Fox

Story
The follow-up to X-Men, it continues with the struggles of mutants to blend in with the rest of mankind and be accepted as equals. Things take a turn for the worse when the President of the United States is almost assassinated by Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a mutant with teleporting abilities and sets off a series of investigations from William Stryker (Brian Cox) to find out more about Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Cerebro, the device used for locating mutants all over the world from Magneto (Ian McKellen), now locked up in a plastic prison. With the information obtained, the colonel storms into the X-Mansion and seizes Cerebro along with some of the mutant children. With the help from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is back from Alkali Lake to supervise the children after failing to learn about his past, a handful of the youngsters were able to escape from Stryker and his men. As the team regroup, they discover a more sinister plan is set in motion by Stryker to rid of mutant kind for good that and can only be carried out by a very powerful mutant.

Review
In a nutshell, X2 still remains as my favourite installment in the X-Men series. It is the Empire Strikes Back for comic-book adaptations. Due to the original’s success, it is evident that the budget has greatly expanded, allowing more screen time to showcase each mutant’s abilities. With an additional 30 minutes of running time from the original and you have the back stories for the main characters sufficiently covered previously, there is room for more cohesive story telling with bigger action sequences that not only enhance the strengths of these mutants but also to prove that the X-Men is indestructible when they are united against any threat thrown at them.

Highlights of such moments come during the intervention of two Air Force fighter jets on the X-Jet caused by a prior attack from Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and the rescue mission orchestrated by Magneto in Alkali Lake. The choreography definitely allowed Storm’s (Halle Berry) weather-controlling powers to be better realised here than in X-Men. The tornadoes that were ‘created’ to evade the fighter jets were especially impressive and memorable. Other noteworthy sequences worth mentioning would be the opening sequence where Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the President in the White House and the climax when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) sacrifices herself to save the team. They integrate so seamlessly with the drama that unfolds before that.

Relying on special effects alone does not a great movie make. What do Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter all have in common? Besides being among the most successful franchises in movie history, each movie was able to top itself with a great story and consistent story telling. Of course it helps that they were effects laden but ultimately what separates the best from the mediocre is always going to be the story that you have invested in and characters that you care about long after the movie has ended. You get that in X2 too. The plot again focuses on the difficulties of being different and to get by peacefully with one another despite the differences. By now we are already acquainted with the main members of the team and fittingly the supporting roles of Jean, Storm and Iceman’s (Shawn Ashmore) roles have been widely expanded for this installment.

As for the new mutants introduced into the mix, notable standouts come from Nightcrawler, Pyro (a mutant who can manipulate with fire) and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) who is the female equivalent of Wolverine. While it would have been nice to see more development in the latter especially Deathstrike, as she is relegated to merely a silent henchwoman, it at least makes up for a jaw dropping battle between herself and Wolverine. Too bad we will not see her again as I do think that her character still has a lot to offer. The same goes with Cyclops’ (James Marsden) importance in the sequel has diminished to being just another X-Men and not ‘The’ X-Man. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t Cyclops supposed to be the second in command and the field leader of the X-Men? He certainly should be getting equal screen time with Wolverine, Jean and Storm. The filmmakers could have pit him against Wolverine to lead the rescue mission and with Jean being the central attraction, causes a lot of friction between the two to decide objectively. It is briefly explored in the beginning and could have taken a tad further.

By doing so, his characterisation will have more depth and we will know what a great leader he is meant to be as he will ultimately leave his personal feelings aside and make the best decisions for his team and the mission. Since it was a collective decision, we can only hope that the script writers will do justice to his character in future projects. At least the main antagonist this time around is from a human point of view. By looking from his perspective, we realise what ‘normal’ is capable of afflicting in the name of self preservation. It continues to address that being fearful of the unknown will only lead to unnecessary complications and does not in anyway help us to transcend to a more progressive future. This hatred for mutant kind is brought to life by the ever versatile Brian Cox who has been carving a name for himself with other supporting roles ranging from Troy to the Ring.

While it is expected that another sequel is going to be commissioned, it made sense that our most popular mutant, Wolverine’s past is being revealed very gradually for us to savour in the next serving. Here is hoping to more revelations in Pyro’s decision to join Magneto and the resurrection of Jean who eventually merges herself with the entity known as the Phoenix. A rare example of a sequel being more superior to the original, we will wait with eager anticipation for its follow-up.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A-
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language

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