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‘Rush’ review

By on Sep 23, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

I love biodramas, especially when they carry the pedigree of the team that was put together for Rush. Directed by Ron Howard – with previous hits such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Cinderella Man – and screenplay by Peter Morgan – with the experience of screenwriting for Frost / Nixon, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Last King of Scotland, and The Queen under his belt – Rush tells the story of the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. There possibly couldn’t be a better team than these two for attempting to tell the story. I am not particularly fond of or follow Formula 1, despite having attended two F1 races in person. Yet even for someone who absolutely has no idea of the backstory or an interest in motorsport racing, the film has enough going in the drama aspect to keep the most disinterested viewer engaged. This is partly helped by the colourful character that Hunt was, a sort-of playboy who stumbled onto race driving when not sleeping around with anything with a pair of legs and boobs. I can’t think of anyone other than Chris Hemsworth to play the part. The counterbalance to Hunt’s character in that of Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl, couldn’t be starker in contrast. A fastidiously disciplined driver who didn’t believe in showing off like Hunt did, nor enjoying the popular support among his peers for his personality, it’s apparent that Lauda was a character at once to be admired and respected without being likeable. Lauda suffered one of the most horrific car crashes in Formula 1 history which left him in a searing inferno, with much of his face burned off. You can’t help but admire his resolve as he fights for his life in the hospital and makes it back onto the track in time to defend his world championship position. It’s fascinating how Hunt and Lauda start with despising each other, and then eventually learning to respect each other in how they both drove the other to accomplish what neither thought they could motivate themselves to do. As always for a Ron Howard film, the cinematography is spectacular. He works magic in being able to take filming cars going around on a racetrack – never an easy task during live races due to production constraints – and breathes life into it. Fast cars, gorgeous women, larger-than-life characters – Rush has it all. Rating: 4 /...

‘Kick-Ass 2’ review

By on Sep 23, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

Hushed whispers of “Is Chloe Moretz of-age yet? No? Shoot.” filled the cinema as viewers ushered themselves in for the screening of Kick-Ass 2. I wasn’t surprised. The target audience for Kick-Ass 2 is exactly the kind of person who engages in a masturbathon while sobbing about the lack of being in a relationship that would drive him to wearing a superhero costume and pretending to be “kick-ass” to boost his self-esteem. I foolishly hoped that this sequel would live up to the pedigree of its predecessor, Kick-Ass. While the first film was written and directed by Matthew Vaughn – well-known for his work on classics such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Layer Cake – was a smartly-written, acerbic comedy-thriller, the sequel is written and directed by Jeff Wadlow – “best-known” for his terrible, terrible screenplays for Cry Wolf and Prey; two excruciatingly terrible “thrillers”. Kick-Ass made Nicholas Cage look good: that’s how good it was. Let that sink in for a minute. Needless to say, Kick-Ass 2 was hopelessly derivative. Much of the plot made no sense and the pacing was all over the place. There isn’t any overarching theme holding the film together, and when it does try pontificating serious issues it falls flat on its face because of forced the dialogue seems. Perhaps the only redeemable feature is the aplomb with which Christopher Mintz-Plasse dives into his character of Chris “the Motherfucker” D’Amico – a caricature of what a villain should be. Who said overacting doesn’t make a film better, at times? Another area where Kick-Ass excelled and Kick-Ass 2 fails is the soundtrack; instead of the carefully-chosen songs that complemented the action in the first film, the score in the second is bland muzak that will probably be sold for pennies as elevator music by the end of the year. There’s a scene in the film where the protagonist Dave is shown wearing a t-shirt that reads “I Hate Reboots”. If there was ever a chance for the filmmakers to make a clever joke, it would be this scene – just make the t-shirt read “I Hate Sequels”. Yet this is precisely the kind of risk taking that would not happen in the circlejerk nature of Hollywood sequels which do nothing more than slap lipstick on a pig and then sink millions of dollars into marketing in the hope that enough moviegoers in foreign territories will buy tickets to recoup production costs....

Zombie book double-bill: ‘World War Z’ and ‘Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders’

By on Sep 22, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is perhaps the best book I have read in the zombie genre; not that I have read many books in that genre beyond Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend. I tend to stay away from the zombie genre in books because while films in genre can be visceral, I have never considered it to be a style that translates well into the written form. World War Z is somewhat different from in that it’s written from the serious perspective of an unpublished United Nations report on a wide scale zombie epidemic that overruns the whole world. The treatment given to the zombie outbreak is much like what you’d expect from a story on a global virus outbreak, similar to the film Contagion. From the very onset it’s quite clear that Brooks has thoroughly researched the cultural zeitgeist of various locales that make up the settings for the book’s chapters; it lends a weight to the story that goes beyond the mere “let’s hit the rural areas!” trap many zombie books / films tend to stray into. What the book does an excellent job of doing is pointing out the hubris of the modern military and government machine at tackling large-scale, rapidly-changing scenarios. All the military force a country has crumbles quickly when faced with an enemy that literally cannot be killed because it’s already dead, and then delves into how that can psychologically affect the combat effectiveness of armed forces – and how that can spread into mass hysteria. By breaking the mould of following a single set of survivors, and instead tracking the action on a global scale, Brooks is able to highlight the psychological impact that a disaster of such proportions can have on humankind. The eventual victory is equally grim: months and years of dogged fighting to slowly make tracts of land inhabitable again. A chilling, gripping read. What prompted me to read the book was how impressed I was with World War Z, the film. And while, at the time, I was impressed by the stunning visuals in the film and the concept of telling the story of a global zombie outbreak. In those aspects, the film clearly works. But in relation to the book, the film shares absolutely nothing in common expect for “zombies” (as summed up by this Oatmeal comic). The climax of the film is particularly mind-numbingly stupid. I understand why such a decision was made, because the book’s ending is a lot more grim and in terms of box office performance making a more “authentic” film would have been a riskier bet. As Damon Lindelof, star Hollywood blockbuster script doctor says, “Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world.” Yet, I wonder what a truly trendsetting a film it could have been if it went down the other path. *** I have been a fan of David Wong, pseudonym for comedy writer Jason Pargin, ever since I read his first book John Dies At The End and followed him on the Internet comedy sinkhole Cracked.com. In style that can only be summarised with a Braveheart-style battle-cry of “Wong!”, he’s back with a sequel to his first novel, this one titled Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders. The sequel picks up after the events of John Dies At The End, with David Wong and his friend John coping with their life as people who will have to put up with the only ones to be able to see the weird shit that goes on in their town of [Undisclosed]. Unlike the previous book which was dark and was based around demonology, this one is centred around another beloved geek genre: zombies. In typical David Wong style, the book is peppered with black comedy; admittedly a hard feat for the grim topic of zombies. Yet, the book delights at every page-turn with characteristic Wong-isms, such as: John and I have made this stuff our hobby, in the way an especially attractive prisoner makes a hobby out of not getting raped. Wait, did I just give away a spoiler that John doesn’t, in fact, die at the end of the last book? Soz! But as you can figure out from the quote, the novel doesn’t shy away from jokes that other comedians might not consider kosher. And this is precisely what sets Wong’s writing apart: that it’s unabashedly, unapologetically funny. For a book which is written by a comedy writer, there are quite a few moments in the plot that dive into existential questions of how mass media is controlled, time travel, love, and much more. Similar to World War Z, it explores how mass hysteria can spread through a population in the face of a “disease” that is supernatural in origin and can go undetected. There are parts of the book that are genuinely terrifying. Yet, it doesn’t shy away from mocking the culture of zombie-killing worship that is perpetuated by popular video games in the genre either; that killing zombies in real life would pretty much be like mashing buttons to kill them on a screen. The ending to Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders is somewhat tamer – almost as if written for a Hollywood screenplay – than John Dies At The End, but the book overall is a...

‘The Baader-Meinhof Complex’, ‘The Wave’, and ‘The Mist’ film reviews

By on May 5, 2013 in Reviews | 2 comments

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (originally Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) explores the growth and downfall of a radical leftist group in 60s / 70s Germany called the Red Army Faction (RAF) that engaged in terrorist acts as a form of political protest. It is named after its two main leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Unless you are German, it’s unlikely that you will be familiar with the events depicted in the film – based on real-life events – which makes the film an interesting lesson in modern history. In tone, it reminded me of Munich due to the similar subject matter – the attack on the Munich Olympics is acknowledged in this film too – except in this case the film focuses on the terrorists. The Baader-Meinhof Complex does a good job of explaining the motivations of the terrorists without glorifying them. Recommended watch for any history buff. Rating: 3.5 / 5 *** The Wave (originally Die Welle) is yet another German film that does not shy away, does not tread lightly. The setup for the film is an anti-establishment teacher in a high school who decides to offer a class on autocracy as a way of showing how fascism could have taken hold in Hitler’s Germany in a supposedly-democratic country, and things escalate quickly when the students let the power go to their head. While not quite as disturbing as the Stanford prison experiment (and films based on it), it is nevertheless considered a classic in Germany for depicting how national socialism can take root even in the modern-day world. The film just feels a tad contrived to be a rated as a “good” film. Rating: 2.5 / 5 *** The Mist – based on the novel of the same name – is perhaps the worst Stephen King film adaptation that I’ve watched. Not having read the novel, I’m not quite sure whether the fault lies in the source material or the adapted screenplay failing to capture the essence of it. A freak storm unleashes a species of bloodthirsty creatures on a small town, where a small band of citizens hole up in a supermarket and fight for their lives. The synopsis of the film sounds so C-grade movie that the only reason why I gave it a shot is because of the Stephen King pedigree. The monsters are silly, the suspense is lacking, and the special effects are bad without reaching hilarity-ensuing levels of Birdemic. The only saving grace is the crazy religious nut, who added an element of drama to the film. Rating: 2 /...

‘The Raid: Redemption’ review

By on Apr 4, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

The Raid: Redemption (original title Serbuan Maut) is an Indonesian martial arts film from Welsh director Gareth Evans about a drug dealing stronghold of a building tower that is raided by a police SWAT team tasked with capturing or taking him out. The film’s cast would be practically unknown to a Western viewer, as many of them are newcomers even in the Indonesian film scene. Nevertheless, they do hold their own especially Iko Uwais in his role as the lead protagonist Rama, a member of the SWAT team; Tama Riyadi, the ruthless drug kingpin; and Donny Alamsyah as Andi, a hitman who prefers bare hands as a method of dispatching his victims. The action is visceral as the fight scenes are based on a traditional Indonesian martial art called pencak silat that incorporates many types of weapons in mêlée combat such as a wide variety of knives, swords, and sticks in addition to limbs. Setting it within the confines of a building also adds a measure of claustrophobia which make the action scenes that much more palpably exciting. Viewers of the English-subtitled foreign market release have an additional treat for them in form of the soundtrack in this version, which was scored by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. In typical Shinoda style, the brooding soundtrack with its techno beats is an adrenaline-pumping accompaniment to the action on-screen. (It’s no secret that I’m a massive Mike Shinoda fan. My favourite out of The Raid‘s OST is a track called RAZORS.OUT.) There isn’t much character development to write home about, but Gareth Evans does succeed in making a brutally bloodthirsty action flick that stays real without the viewer feeling like they are watching video game footage. Rating: 4 /...