Tag Archives: 2008 movies

Saw V (2008) Review

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Saw 5

Time: 92 minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Torture & Sadistic Violence
Cast:
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Costas Mandylor as Detective Mark Hoffman
Scott Patterson as Agent Peter Strahm
Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck
Julie Benz as Brit
Meagan Good as Luba Gibbs
Mark Rolston as Agent Dan Erickson
Carlo Rota as Charles
Director: David Hackl

Although Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) are dead, the game still lures five unassuming victims. In the guise of a survival of the fittest routine, the contestants begin their journey towards a deadly end.

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After Saw IV, it seems like the Saw series just seems to be going down this path of every instalment being subsequently worse. However, for some odd reason I’m interested to actually watch all of them, even if most of them aren’t exactly good. I was hoping that Saw V would improve from the last instalment, especially with how messy that one was. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, in fact I’d actually say it’s a bit worse. Not the step down that III was from II or IV was from III, but I’m less favourable towards V, even if I enjoy parts of it.

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Saw IV was quite complicated with its storylines. This time it’s a little less complicated with Saw V, consisting with a new game with the new victims, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as the new Jigsaw, and FBI Agent Strahm’s (Scott Patterson) investigation into Hoffman. With that said, the plot is also rather forgettable and dull, the most forgettable of the movies so far. Something that you’ll be able to tell early on is that this movie is first and foremost dedicated to lore, the plot is secondary, and there’s a lot of focus on backstory with a lot of exposition. John Kramer/Jigsaw does make some appearances in flashbacks given that he’s dead, but unlike Saw IV there isn’t a whole storyline dedicated to him alone. On one hand, the idea of less Jigsaw in this movie wasn’t exactly exciting, as Tobin Bell (actor for Jigsaw) and Charlie Clouser’s scores are really the only consistently good things across all of these movies. At this point though, the series has to try something else and not be held back by him, so I do respect it trying to move on, while giving a bit of Jigsaw. Of the main storylines, I’ll start with the one focusing on the group of people stuck in the traps, probably because there’s not much to really say about that one. The theme of the traps involves people having to work together to survive, I do like that idea and it’s quite an interesting one for this series to have. There’s also social commentary on real estate people, and there’s decent enough conflict with the victims fighting for survival, including fighting themselves. Unfortunately, the execution is quite weak compared to Jigsaw’s other games, from the mediocre and unlikable characters, to how its not even the main focus of the movie. By the end of the movie, the trap plot becomes something of a subplot. As I said, Saw V is more about the lore and backstory than the plot, and the former is more what the other two storylines are about.

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The cliffhanger of Saw IV revealed Hoffman as the secret Jigsaw apprentice teased throughout that movie. Now that John Kramer is dead, this leaves Hoffman as his successor, and his storyline is about that. A large portion of the scenes consist flashbacks, where it goes back to times of the past Saw movies and shows how Hoffman was involved in some past iconic moments and traps. Saw III showed Amanda and how she was involved with some of the events of the past Saw movies, but at least those were shown in a few scenes or brief montages. With Hoffman in Saw V however, there are extensive scenes showing them. These are the only moments where it can get convoluted, when it goes back to the past Saw movies and especially with the interconnectivity. Some of it can get tedious, but I did like the connections. The third storyline is that of Strahm from the last movie, as he’s investigating Hoffman as he suspects him as being an accomplice to Jigsaw. There is a problem however that takes away from what could’ve been an interesting storyline, we already know the truth of Hoffman’s link to Jigsaw. Now Strahm isn’t dumb, he is smart for figuring out everything all by himself. However you do wonder what the point of it is when we mostly know everything already, and it’s not really gripping. It’s also particularly dull, Strahm looks at pieces of information and speaks exposition out loud for the audience. Ultimately you realise at a certain point that the Strahm storyline with him figuring out Hoffman is just to serve the latter’s backstory, as we learn about him. I think ultimately how well this movie works for you depends on how interested you are in Hoffman as a character. As it was, I found him okay, but he really doesn’t do enough in this movie to make me particularly engaged in him or interested with the idea of him being the new Jigsaw. There are plenty of twists as to be expected, but they aren’t great or unexpected like a lot of the other movies. The ending has one of those big Saw endings with the music and the reveals, it’s enjoyable as always but is a bit goofy and doesn’t hit as hard as much as the first three. Saw V is about 90 minutes long and while it wasn’t tough to get through, it was a bit of a slog, especially in contrast with the other movies, even the fourth.

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The acting from the main cast is good, the rest is a mixed bag. I guess one could call the main character Peter Strahm, played by Scott Patterson. On one hand there’s parts of the character I like. He is one of the smarter main characters of the Saw series, in one of his earliest scenes he escapes a trap that was meant to kill him. Not only that, but he manages to figure out Hoffman and Jigsaw all by himself. With that said, him being smart does make some of his later dumb decisions frustrating. Additionally, Strahm doesn’t do much beyond move from place to place to deliver exposition, we don’t actually get to learn much about him, and he’s not developed as a character. Costas Mandylor plays Mark Hoffman, the secret apprentice to Jigsaw. He does appear broody and menacing and I guess he plays his part. Again though, Hoffman hasn’t done much to make himself interesting enough as a character. As I said earlier, Tobin Bell still gets to play some role here in flashbacks as Jigsaw, mainly to do with Hoffman. As usual he’s great and his screen presence is strong as always, even in the numerous scenes where they are just showing behind the scenes of past traps, Bell still does very well in his part. There’s an extensive scene where these two major characters meet for the first time, and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie. The characters outside of those three are typical horror movie characters, they weren’t interesting, they are hard to like, and their acting aren’t good. It’s worse when none of them are really a main character in this story. Even with Saw II, the game had at least the son of the main character and Amanda. None of the characters in the traps of Saw V has an impact on the rest of the overall plot, it didn’t feel like it mattered if they lived or died.

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After three Saw sequels with Darren Lynn Bousman, there’s a new director for this 5th instalment. This new director is David Hackl, who served as on production design in the Saw sequels. It was an opportunity to add a fresh directing voice to the Saw series. The direction is solid enough, but isn’t special or anything. Oddly enough, a great aspect in the movie is the editing. Gone are the quick firing and flashy cuts from the Darren movies, it’s a lot more refined and clean. At the same time, its got the right amount of intensity. As to be expected from Saw movies, there are traps and gore. Unfortunately the traps aren’t that special. The opening pendulum, the water cube, and the ending trap are the only memorable ones really, even the traps from Saw IV generally stood out to me more. One of the most surprising parts of Saw V is that for the most part there are less actual gore, especially compared to III and IV. It doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, just an interesting thing to see. Charlie Clouser’s score as usual fits perfectly with the movies, especially with the tense moments and reveals.

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Saw V is yet another mixed bag of a movie from this series. Now I still do like this movie, in the same way I liked IV despite everything about it. I only think it’s slightly worse than IV because it actually feels dull in parts and less memorable, it’s the least memorable of the 5 movies so far. This is probably the first point in the series where we have a Saw movie that really didn’t need to exist. Just watch Saw V if you watched IV and were still willing to watch more. I do feel like that’s the general feeling for the whole series, if you haven’t been alienated or given up by this point, watch the next movie. There’s 3 movies left in the series to get through, and at the moment the only one of them I’m at least hopefully for is VI.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) Review

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Hellboy 2 The Golden Army

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Fantasy Violence
Cast:
Ron Perlman as Hellboy
Selma Blair as Liz Sherman
Doug Jones as Abe Sapien
John Alexander and James Dodd as Johann Krauss
Seth MacFarlane as Johann Krauss (voice)
Luke Goss as Prince Nuada Silverlance
Anna Walton as Princess Nuala
Jeffrey Tambor as Tom Manning
John Hurt as Trevor Bruttenholm
Director: Guillermo del Toro

The evil Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is hell-bent on bringing the Golden Army to life, which will help him to conquer the world. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his team join forces to defeat the callous ruler.

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The first Hellboy movie released back in 2004 was quite good, it was a unique and weirder comic book movie for the time, was really entertaining, and worked really well, largely working because of Guillermo del Toro’s direction and of course Ron Perlman as the titular character. It’s hard to imagine it but Hellboy 2 manages to be on another level over the first movie. It improves in just about every level from the characters, the story, the direction, everything.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (aka Hellboy 2)

Ⓒ Universal

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army much like the first movie is another large scale epic world ending story, however you really notice some stark differences. First of all, whereas the first movie was supernatural and gothic, The Golden Army leans into being more fantasy. Additionally, as much as I liked the first Hellboy, there were parts of it that felt like del Toro was a little constrained, despite some of the unique aspects that he added. An example is the human character of Myers (played by Ruper Evans), who was positioned as the main character, central protagonist, and audience surrogate for the movie. He really did feel like a studio-mandated addition rather than anything anyone in the film cared about, and pretty much everyone agrees that film could’ve done without him. It seems that del Toro is one of those people who agreed, since Myers written out of the sequel, with a couple of lines explaining about how he was moved to Antarctica. With this moment, you can really tell that del Toro is having a lot more freedom with this movie, and was really making a pure del Toro movie rather than a movie that’s just mostly del Toro. The first Hellboy felt quite dense and expositional with its story, even if I enjoyed watching it. The sequel however has a far more free moving story that feels attached to the compelling plot and is well structured, but manages to effortlessly add themes as well as intimate and character moments in between it all that. The movie has a thematical and emotional core and you actually feel for the human sides of these characters. Hellboy 2 also has way more personality and charm than its predecessor. It takes itself a lot more seriously than the first Hellboy, but also has its fair share of jokes and humour, especially with sharp and witty dialogue. Hellboy 1 had humour but it’s more noticeable here and in a good way, it’s actually partly key to the film’s success. It’s often times character-based humour and makes them more endearing, rather than just going for an easy laugh. With an astounding balance of tone and an engaging story, Hellboy 2 just gets it all right.

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The cast and characters are all great. Ron Perlman is once again perfect as Hellboy, his work in the first film was already solid but he really makes the character his own in The Golden Army. His character is more interesting, whereas he could’ve disappeared under all the prosthetics and makeup, his performance here feels even more honest and confident. The rest of the cast and characters are where you notice the greatest improvements however. With the supporting characters, the first movie didn’t give them much room to grow (and was also saddled with an incredibly generic and forgettable audience surrogate). They changed that here and allowed their characters to be explored a little more. Selma Blair as Liz Sherman was decent in the first movie but felt rather underdeveloped, and it felt like they didn’t really know what to do with her character. Here she’s a lot more well realised and was great. One of the best characters in the first Hellboy was Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, unfortunately he’s not in that movie much and didn’t have that much involvement with the story, not beyond the first half anyways. Here, he’s one of the main characters, that was definitely welcome, and the script really gave Doug Jones a lot to do. Interestingly in the first movie, Jones only performed the physical part, while David Hyde Pierce provided the voice. In Hellboy 2 though, Jones gets to play vocal duties as well and gives such a great performance, among his best work. Jones also played a couple of other characters that had prosthetics, and as to be expected, he plays those roles very well too. The new additions of actors and characters were good too. The character Johann Krauss was a surprisingly solid and unique addition to the cast. He’s an interesting character, whose values and overall personality directly challenge and differ with Hellboy’s, leading to a lot of conflict between the two. Krauss overall is also quite a unique character for both the Hellboy movies and other comic book movies, I particularly like the moments when the film takes advantage of his powers. Seth MacFarlane voiced Krauss and I think this is actually his best work to date. Despite playing him with a hammy German accent, he plays the role surprisingly straight faced (or rather straight voiced) and was more reserved than you’d expect from him. One of the weakest parts of the first Hellboy was the villains, specifically the lead villain Rasputin. This time in Hellboy 2, Luke Goss plays the villain, and he’s a much more interesting villain this time around, he was actually somewhat memorable and fitted the story quite well.

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Guillermo del Toro directed Hellboy 2, and you really notice a step up 4 years between the two movies. He was key to the success of the first movie, without him, audiences would not have gotten such an original and iconic on this character. Don’t forget that del Toro got more freedom and a higher budget this time round, and he thankfully took great advantage of this. The film boasts some gorgeous cinematography and production designs. The Golden Army is definitely a more fantastical story instead of a fantastical one, and the aesthetic really benefits from that too. There’s also some amazing digital and practical effects, that mostly hold up quite well today. The designs of characters, monsters and creatures are also fantastic. Right after making Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro went all in with the creative designs of creatures and monsters. From the design of the elves to the Golden Army themselves, to even some of the slightly altered designs of Hellboy and Abe, they look incredible. There’s particularly a segment that takes place in a Troll Market, which mixes digital and practical effects and feels like a showcase of all the amazing effects that it had to offer. The action is fast paced, well filmed and very entertaining. The score by Danny Elfman was quite good as well, and fits the rest movie well.

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Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is an incredibly entertaining and well-made comic book movie, taking what made the first Hellboy so good and improving on both its strong and weaker points. It has an entertaining fantastical story, a greater grasp of the characters, as well as Guillermo Del Toro’s direction with noticeably more freedom. They all come together to form one of del Toro’s strongest works. One of the biggest cinematic disappointments is that del Toro never got to make Hellboy 3, he clearly had such a great handle on the characters and would’ve been wonderful to have seen that happen.

RockNRolla (2008) Review

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RocknRolla

Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, Offensive Language & Drug Use
Cast:
Gerard Butler as One-Two
Mark Strong as Archy
Tom Wilkinson as Lenny Cole
Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid
Tom Hardy as Handsome Bob
Idris Elba as Mumbles
Thandie Newton as Stella
Jeremy Piven as Roman
Ludacris as Mickey
Director: Guy Ritchie

Small-time crooks One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) decide to legitimately invest in some prime real estate and find themselves out of their depth and in debt to old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Cole himself is in the middle of a business deal with a Russian gangster, but when his accountant tips off One Two and Mumbles to the details of an upcoming big-money business transaction, the two scallywags swoop in and steal the cash.

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Guy Ritchie established himself as a filmmaker to pay attention to with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, both British crime comedies. RocknRolla, which was released in 2008, marked his next main gangster movie in roughly a decade, and it was quite good. It’s not as quite as good as the gangster movies that made him well known, but Ritchie is in his element here, and it’s quite entertaining for what it was.

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With the story, characters and tropes, you can definitely tell it was directed by Guy Ritchie. It’s very well written, and has some interesting characters and plenty of plot twists. It’s also quite funny, very witty, and contains plenty of hilarious dialogue. Like Snatch there are so many characters and plotlines. The story branches out then effectively ties together at the climax, which I thought was done well. With that said, the story itself was a bit weak and is definitely overcomplicated, even if I like how some of the storylines and characters tie together. The storyline involving Tom Wilkinson’s character and the Russians I particularly found a bit hard to follow. It does suffer from slow pacing and being a bit predictable at points, even if I enjoyed watching all of it. It’s not a massive criticism but a disappointment is that it really does fall into the familiar tropes that Ritchie has already fallen into with his past movies. It’s more or less the same type of films with intertwined plots and characters of all different sites, all tied together by one little thing. However, those other two movies didn’t feel messy or convoluted like it does here. RockNRolla is still funny and there’s lots of gags, though it does seem to be missing something. The ending also does feel a bit rushed. One point in difference between RockNRolla and Ritchie’s first two movies that’s not better or worse is that it’s a little darker and more grounded and realistic, certainly not as offbeat as say Snatch. Everything here is sour and shady. It’s not devoid of fun, and a lot of the dialogue is hilarious, it’s just one way it differs from those other movies.

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One consistently great thing in this movie is the great acting, there is a large cast and they all do well in their parts. Much of the cast includes Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Toby Kebbell and Tom Wilkinson, they all do a great job. In terms of standouts, for me it’s Gerard Butler, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong.

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Guy Ritchie takes the style that he had with Lock Stock and Snatch and combined it with his more modern filmmaking and it really paid off. The editing is always great and intertwines with the camerawork fluently. Visually, it’s surprisingly not quite as super stylised as Ritchie’s other films have been. There are some characteristic and signature camera tricks of his, especially towards the end of the movie. However for the most part, it plays more like an ordinary gangster action film. Nonetheless it works. The soundtrack is great too and is utilised perfectly.

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RockNRolla wasn’t quite a return to form for Guy Ritchie even with it being within the genre that he’s known for, but it’s still a very enjoyable British crime flick. The characters are interesting, the acting is great from everyone, it’s funny, and it’s very stylish and generally entertaining. If you liked Snatch, or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, or really any other British gangster comedy thrillers, then it’s worth checking out for sure. RockNRolla had a sequel-bait ending and for all of my issues with the movie, I actually did wish that Ritchie made a follow up, because there was really a lot of potential there.

Martyrs (2008) Review

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Martyrs 2008

Time:  99 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Torture & sadistic violence
Cast:
Mylène Jampanoï as Lucie Jurin
Morjana Alaoui as Anna Assaoui
Director:Pascal Laugier

Two young women (Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi) who were both victims of abuse as children embark on a bloody quest for revenge only to find themselves plunged into a living hell of depravity.

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I had always known of Martyrs as being one of those movies on those lists that about ‘the most extreme/violent/disturbing movies ever’. In fact, this movie was known as being part of the New French Extremity movement, in which starting from the early 2000s there was an increase of French films featuring some more extreme content. Martyrs managed to be an interesting case among those, in that it was especially extreme even among those movies in that category. After hearing about how messed up it was, I eventually decided to watch it (with great caution), and I can confirm that the reactions were warranted. It’s an overwhelming experience, yet despite it being hard to sit through, I think it’s a fantastic movie.

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A lot of reviews talk about how extreme the content is, and I was hoping to talk more about what the movie actually is than just that. With that being said that’s a bit difficult because it’s hard to talk about the violence briefly, and it’s also hard to talk about the movie without spoiling it. If you can’t handle a lot of disturbing content and violence in movies, then Martyrs is definitely one to stay away from. While I’m not some expert on extreme cinema or anything, I generally can handle high levels of violence in movies pretty well. Martyrs however is one of the rare movies that was hard for me to sit through. If you start the movie and think that at some point it will ease up a little bit, it won’t, it’ll only get worse. The last act in particular contains the worst of it, which is saying a lot considering the amount of stuff that was put in the previous two acts. It’s not just that there is graphic violence however, its also accompanying a story which is also disturbing and dark, yet depressing and sad, which is really what gave the extra emotional punch to multiple moments. I was genuinely invested in what was happening with the story and the main two characters, so as hard as many of the scenes were to watch, I could not look away. While some could easily put up the last act as being torture porn, I do think it’s something more than just that. Though I will say that in this section I wasn’t as engaged in watching if only because it was hard to watch, it has a great and ambiguous ending though. While I don’t like saying it, Martyrs is yet another one of those movies that is best going into blind. I can say that it is deeper than you’d initially expect it to be.

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The acting is phenomenal, and while everyone does a great job on their parts, it’s really the two leads in Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi who stand out. Both of them have to portray such raw emotions over the course of the film and all the things their characters are going through. Truly heartwrenching performances that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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This is the first film I’ve seen from Pascal Laugier, and his direction of this movie is nothing short of outstanding. It’s shot incredibly well, and was very well edited. The violence on screen as I previously said is absolutely brutal, and it feels really grimly real too. On that note, the makeup is truly fantastic. The horror parts of the movie works too, it’s more disturbing and depressing than scary though. With that said, there was a particular standout moment in the first third of the movie before the title screen finally appears, it was pure nightmare fuel and felt like a nightmare that a lot of people could have.

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Saying that Martyrs is not for everyone is a massive understatement, it’s currently up there with Irreversible when it comes to disturbing movies that really left an impact on me. Like with that movie, I can’t recommend Martyrs in good conscience, I don’t want to watch it again and I don’t see it happening for me. However I do think it’s a great and really impactful movie. The acting, directing and story were top notch and ever since I’ve first watched this film, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. If you think you might be able to handle it, then check it out for yourself.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008) Review

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The Midnight Meat Train

Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Bradley Cooper as Leon Kaufman
Leslie Bibb as Maya Jones
Brooke Shields as Susan Hoff
Roger Bart as Jurgis
Ted Raimi as Randle Cooper
Vinnie Jones as Mahogany
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

One night, a struggling photographer (Bradley Cooper) saves a woman from some thugs in the subway. When she disappears, he tries find out what happened to her. His obsession soon leads him down the path of horror.

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I heard about The Midnight Meat Train for a while, it’s known as a bit of a horror cult classic, and certainly has one of the most memorable film titles ever. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect outside of a lot of blood. While it does have its issues for sure, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and in fact was a lot better than I thought it would be.

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I did watch the director’s cut of the movie, and if you’re looking for the fully bloody horror experience, I highly recommend seeking out that version. The Midnight Meat Train is based on a short story by Clive Barker which I haven’t read, but the premise is pretty intriguing, with a decent mystery. Unfortunately, the script is a bit mid-range and isn’t as great as it could’ve been, it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. There are some subplots that aren’t quite as interesting towards the middle portion. Plotwise, the last act also has some issues when it comes to the revelations and explanations at the ending. With that being said, I was reasonably invested throughout, and it’s saved by the rest of the elements of the movie.

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Bradley Cooper is quite good here in one of his earlier roles as a photographer who wants to uncover the mystery of disappearances/murders on a train. The character of Leon becomes obsessed with this, and Cooper portrays that obsession excellently. Leslie Bibb, who plays his girlfriend, is also really good and deserves a lot of praise for her performance. Unfortunately, she’s not given much to work with outside of being ‘the girlfriend’, but Bibb does actually add a lot to the role and sells it so well, her performance is equally as strong as Cooper’s. Vinnie Jones plays the killer of the movie known only as Mahogany, in one of his best performances. He doesn’t say a single word, but is really imposing and scary. Jones is already a pretty intimidating person, but his movements and reactions in this movie make him particularly unnerving, even in scenes when he’s not attacking or killing anybody.

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Much of the film is elevated (and kept afloat) by the direction by Ryuhei Kitamura, who has done some excellent work here. It’s given such a sleek and stunning look throughout that it was even great to watch. The Midnight Meat Train is known as one of the bloodiest and most violent horror movies, and I can definitely see why. Now I did watch the unrated director’s cut and I can confirm that it’s extremely brutal and gory. I can’t say I was disturbed but then again, I have a high threshold, easily squeamish people aren’t going to enjoy either version though. While I had some issues with the plot in the last act, the movie is elevated significantly by how it is directed, given such an unrelenting energy. Because of that I kind of loved that section even just for how well it was filmed. The fight scenes in particularly are outstanding. The one thing that doesn’t work on a technical level is some of the CGI, and indeed even considering that it’s a 2008 movie, a lot of that really hasn’t held up well. However the practical effects especially with regards to the violence and gore are top notch.

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If you’re a big horror fan and you aren’t too squeamish, The Midnight Meat Train is well worth the watch. Admittedly despite an intriguing premise, the script was underdeveloped and could’ve been a lot better and fleshed out. What makes up for that are the performances by Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb and Vinnie Jones, and particularly the sleek, unflinching direction from Ryuhei Kitamura, elevating this to a solid and bloody horror flick.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) Review

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Time: 166 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains offensive language & sexual references
Cast:
Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button (adult)
Cate Blanchett as Daisy Fuller (adult)
Taraji P. Henson as Queenie
Julia Ormond as Caroline Fuller (adult)
Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button
Elias Koteas as Monsieur Gateau
Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott
Mahershala Ali as Tizzy Weathers
Jared Harris as Captain Mike Clark
Director: David Fincher

Born under unusual circumstances, Benjamin Button springs into being as an elderly man in a New Orleans nursing home and ages in reverse. Twelve years after his birth, he meets Daisy, a child who flickers in and out of his life as she grows up to be a dancer. Though he has all sorts of unusual adventures over the course of his life, it is his relationship, and the hope that they will come together at the right time, that drives Benjamin forward.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was the last of David Fincher’s films I had yet to see. People usually don’t talk so positively about it when it compares to the rest of his filmography, it’s known as one of his ‘weaker’ movies, and it did seem like the only one of his movies that seemed just a little awards baity. I put off my viewing of this partially because I heard some mixed things from other people about it. I was actually surprised by how much I liked the movie, I actually think it’s rather great.

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Most of David Fincher’s films are regarded as being rather ‘cold’ (and I can kind of see why), but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is definitely his most emotional film. It’s pretty much just following this man in his extraordinary (and fictional) life. Some have called it an awards bait movie, and some moments felt like that at certain points. However with the memorably and lively characters, warmth and genuine emotion, I got quite invested in the movie. It’s a long movie at around 2 hours and 45 minutes long. While I did still like the movie throughout, it probably didn’t need to be that long. It does start off a little rocky, quite slow. But as it progresses, it really picks up, and by the time the first act was finished I was into it.

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The cast all work together. The titular character of Benjamin Button is played by Brad Pitt, and he’s great here, he believably portrays him in every stage of his life and his development is played very well. He’s the centre of the movie through and through, and Pitt plays him wonderfully. Cate Blanchett is also great as the adult version of Benjamin’s childhood friend, the two of them share some believable on-screen chemistry. The supporting cast with the likes of Tarji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, and others are also great in their respective roles, and do their parts to stand out quite a bit.

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David Fincher’s direction is fantastic as usual. Once again it’s a movie that you don’t expect him to really take on, but he goes all in on with this movie, and on a technical level it’s great. It’s a great looking movie, the cinematography from Claudio Miranda is really good. Fincher usually applies CGI to enhance the look of scenes, mainly in the background (and done in such a way that you don’t even notice it). While that’s probably the case here, here he also uses it for the aging effects on Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button, and over a decade later it still generally holds up. The score by Alexandre Desplat is also quite beautiful and fit the tone of the movie.

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David Fincher has made better movies for sure, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not to be overlooked, I’d actually consider it to be great. The cast are top notch, Fincher’s direction is outstanding as to be expected from him, and the story itself is quite emotional and beautiful. It may be one of his ‘weaker’ movies (it’s definitely not among his best), but it’s still worth watching for sure, and nowadays I don’t think people give it enough credit.

Street Kings (2008) Review

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Street Kings

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence & Offensive Language
Cast:
Keanu Reeves as Detective 2nd Grade Tom Ludlow
Hugh Laurie as Captain James Biggs
Chris Evans as Detective Paul “Disco” Diskant
Forest Whitaker as Captain Jack Wander
Naomie Harris as Linda Washington
John Corbett as Detective Dante Demille
Cedric the Entertainer as Winston AKA “Scribble”
Jay Mohr as Sergeant Michael “Mike” Clady
Terry Crews as Detective 2nd Grade Terrence Washington
Common as “Coates”
The Game as Grill
Director: David Ayer

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), a veteran member of the LAPD, is still mourning the loss of his wife and trying to navigate through a world that does not make much sense anymore. When evidence implicates him in the death of a fellow officer, Ludlow begins to question the loyalties of everyone around him.

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I went into Street Kings not really knowing what to expect, despite the cast and the director. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that David Ayer is a hit or miss filmmaker given there’s only one movie of his I don’t really like, but only a couple of his movies I would consider great. Street Kings is by no means a great movie and it’s not really that great, but I had fun with it, and it was better than I expected it to be.

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Street Kings is a standard crime thriller movie featuring dirty cops and police corruption, you’ve seen many of these types of movies, and many that have been done much better for sure (like L.A. Confidential or the David Ayer written Training Day). The writing is not the best, some of the characters are rather 2 dimensional, the first act was messy, some of the dialogue is just rather silly, and while I wouldn’t call the plot predictable, it was quite familiar. To be fair on Ayer’s part however, he didn’t actually write the script to this movie. With all that being said, Street Kings is reasonably entertaining for what it is, and doesn’t really have a dull moment (aside from the aforementioned first act). The plot wasn’t entirely riveting, but it was engaging enough for me to pay attention to everything that was happening right to the very end. It was around an hour and 50 minutes, and that was just about the right length for the movie.

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This movie actually has a pretty good cast all around. Keanu Reeves is in one of his more grittier and darker roles as the protagonist, and he performs pretty well. His character is yet another antihero alcoholic police detective who is a loose cannon who does his job his own way, and he doesn’t play by the rules, so nothing really new especially when it comes to crime thrillers. But Reeves does his part, and as to be expected, he excels in the action scenes. The supporting cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans (who especially shares some good on screen chemistry with Keanu), and Naomie Harris all play their parts well. Hugh Laurie is also good in his scenes as the Captain of Internal Affairs but he’s barely in the movie, he doesn’t really do much by the end of the story, so his inclusion felt rather pointless.

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You can definitely tell that it’s a David Ayer movie from beginning to end, and overall it was directed pretty well. When it comes to gritty crime stories, Ayer is pretty good at representing that side in movies, and Street Kings is no exception. This is an action movie, and the action is filmed really well and stylish, with some entertaining set pieces. So at the very least, it’s worth watching just as an action movie.

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Street Kings is nothing special or memorable and it does have a number of issues for sure, but it was rather entertaining and much better than I thought it would be (at least compared to some of the reactions to it that I saw). It is elevated by David Ayer’s direction, some solid performances from the talented cast and featured some really good action. So it might be worth a watch if you’re interested in it.

 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Review

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Time: 122 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Medium Level Violence
Cast:
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko
Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood
Ray Winstone as George “Mac” McHale
John Hurt as Harold “Ox” Oxley
Jim Broadbent as Dean Charles Stanforth
Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams
Director: Steven Spielberg

In 1957, archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) is called back into action and becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls.

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Despite the original trilogy being received very well, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got a lot of hate when it was released, especially from audiences. I always remembered liking it across the few times I had watched it, but I hadn’t seen it all that much, and it was just under a decade since I last saw it. With my recent rewatches of the other movies, I knew I needed to get back to the fourth one, and I’m glad to say that I still like it quite a lot, despite its very present issues.

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Storywise, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn’t as strong as Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade but I was still interested in the adventure and was entertained from beginning to end. To a degree it plays things rather safe, it doesn’t do too much differently and it could’ve tried to stand out more among the other films. With that being said, it is the only Indiana Jones movie to features aliens. Some people don’t like the movie ultimately being about aliens, as you quickly find out. While I can certainly understand why plenty of people aren’t so that into that, thinking about it, I don’t really have that much of a problem with it. I do like the new setting, it’s a couple of decades later after the last movie, and so it’s during the Cold War, with Russians being the main source of conflict. With this being an Indiana Jones movie, it does have its silly moments as to be expected. Although there is the scene where Shia LaBeouf is swinging on vines with monkeys, the biggest one where Indiana Jones survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge. This scene is beyond infamous, even many long time Indiana Jones fans hate on it. Honestly though, I found it absolutely hilarious and kind of enjoyed it. Considering this is the same series where Indiana Jones and two others flew off a plane in a inflatable raft onto a mountain, sliding off it and falling onto rapids without sustaining any injury, I think this isn’t that unexpected. With that said there are some parts that they could’ve toned down, as in some scenes (especially towards the end) there were certain things I would’ve preferred them not showing.

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Harrison Ford reprises his role from the last time since 1989. Some say that he wasn’t up at the level that he was in the other movies, mainly that he was too old for the role, but I thought that added to his performance quite well. At the same time, in his performance here I still saw an older Indiana Jones and not just older Harrison Ford (especially after seeing the other movies more recently). The line delivery, the comedy, the energy, all of it was here. Some people really didn’t like Shia LaBeouf in his role of Mutt Williams here, but I actually thought he was pretty good on his part. Considering what his role sounded like on paper, it could’ve been way worse. I do have a feeling that much of the dislike of the character might’ve come from the fact that it was LaBeouf playing him at that time. Karen Allen returns to reprise her role of Marion Ravenwood, and while she and Ford don’t have quite as strong of a dynamic as they did back in Raiders of the Lost Ark, they still had some great chemistry and it was still nice seeing them back on screen together. Ray Winstone and John Hurt also worked quite well in supporting roles. Cate Blanchett is the villain, and is actually probably the most memorable of the Indiana Jones villians, albeit being a bit cartoonish. However she works because of the dedicated and reliable performance from Blanchett, campy and entertaining, yet threatening enough as an antagonist.

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Steven Spielberg returns to directs this, and I still think he did a pretty good job. On a technical side it all works, it’s a great looking movie too. The action is pretty good on the whole, with some entertaining sequences that aren’t quite as memorable as the action in the rest of the series. There was a fight scene with Indiana Jones and a Russian later on which was sort of weak, but most of it is fine. The use of CGI has been criticised quite a lot, honestly most of it isn’t so bad, the biggest problem is the overuse of it (you can really feel George Lucas’s hand on that part). Even a gopher is created using CGI early in the movie for some random reason. Some of the action scenes do have this weird CGI feel to it, as if some parts of the background had digital effects thrown in for some reason. The third act without spoiling anything has some CGI which doesn’t look the best and in fact looks very goofy. I do agree that they should’ve had more practical effects, generally the use of CGI was unnecessary. With that said, when it came to the practical effects and production design it was all handled very well. The score by John Williams is good, there aren’t many distinct or memorable themes compared with the other movies, but the score as it is was worked. It’s always satisfying hearing these iconic themes in a movie again.

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As a return to the series almost 2 decades after the last film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is just a little bit disappointing. Nonetheless, on its own, I can’t deny that enjoyed it a lot. It has plenty of silly moments, it used a lot of CGI unnecessarily, and did play things a bit safe. However it was entertaining from beginning to end, the cast was great, and I enjoyed being on the adventure. I’m glad that it exists and I have problem placing it alongside the original Indiana Jones trilogy.

Max Payne (2008) Review

Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains violence & offensive language
Cast:
Mark Wahlberg as Detective Max Payne
Beau Bridges as B.B. Hensley
Ludacris as Lieutenant Jim Bravura
Mila Kunis as Mona Sax
Chris O’Donnell as Jason Colvin
Nelly Furtado as Christa Balder
Kate Burton as Nicole Horne
Donal Logue as Alex Balder
Amaury Nolasco as Jack Lupino
Olga Kurylenko as Natasha Sax
Director: John Moore

After the murders of his family and his partner, maverick cop Max (Mark Wahlberg) becomes hell-bent on revenge. Teamed with beautiful and deadly Russian mobster Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), Max journeys into a dark underworld to find the truth, but forces — both worldly and supernatural — align against him, determined to silence Max forever.

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I remember hearing about Max Payne when it came out, it was based on some video games and it looked like it had potential, the trailer was actually good (much better than the movie). However apparently it wasn’t very good. In terms of accuracy to the games, I’ve only played the third instalment of the game series (which I liked). As the movie is based off of the first two games I can’t say how it adapted the story, but whatever the case it’s still not a good movie. Max Payne is a pretty dull, poorly made movie, that won’t be enjoyed by people unfamiliar with the games, and I can imagine it only comes across worse for those who are.

As far as video games go, Max Payne is actually not that bad of an idea as a movie. The premise of a main character’s family being killed and him out for revenge is a simple enough story, and that could be easily adapted into a movie. Although I played the 3rd Max Payne game, I heard that this movie is based on the previous 2, so I can’t comment on how they handled the adaptation overall. Whatever the case though, whatever they were going for didn’t work as a movie on its all at all (and I heard that it really doesn’t do the games justice at all). The plot is rather dull and generic, like a run of the mill action flick. It’s just so uninteresting and you don’t care what’s going on, not with the characters, not with the story. Maybe on paper the plot isn’t terrible but they don’t make it engaging at all.

Most of the acting really wasn’t anything that good but it doesn’t help that every character is one dimensional. Mark Wahlberg can be good in some movies and on paper he didn’t even sound like a terrible casting choice for the title role but he feels kind of miscast here. You don’t really buy him in this role as someone who’s family is murdered and he’s out for revenge. It feels like the most boring version of Crime/Revenge Mark Wahlberg (if you’ve watched a lot of his movies I think you can tell what I’m meaning). It’s like ‘family murdered’ is the only characteristic given to Payne here, and Wahlberg doesn’t really feel believable in the role at all. Mila Kunis can be good in some movies but I really don’t buy her in her action role here, doesn’t really have much to do here. The rest of the acting is nothing impressive either, with actually the more stand out characters/actors being killed off pretty early on.

One thing that I knew going into this movie is that the director of Max Payne, John Moore, also directed A Good Day to Die Hard, and so I really wasn’t really looking forward to watching Max Payne because of that. One of the things I actually do like about Max Payne is that some of the environments are very noir-ish and snowy, I really like the aesthetic and it is by far the best part of the movie. Max Payne is a video game and so you’d can expect a lot of action – except the action actually happens an hour into the movie. While one could say that maybe they traded out the over the top action with a good mystery, the mystery wasn’t even that good. It’s a shame that much of the action when it’s on screen at times is rather incomprehensible with a lot of quick edits, and when you can tell what’s going on, it’s rather boring and like a generic and mediocre action movie . One of the highlights of the Max Payne games are the bullet time moments, where Max can slow down time to shoot enemies. The movie oddly doesn’t really take advantage of the bullet time and the one time that it does, it’s this really boring extreme slow-motion moment where he jumps backwards to shoot some guy behind him with a shotgun, bizarre moment to have that one bullet time moment. It really was a wasted opportunity. This movie is PG-13 and I didn’t really understand why. It’s a movie about a guy’s family getting murdered and the games were sort of R rated, so I don’t understand why they didn’t go all out with the violence. Apparently there is an R rated cut but it was originally planned to be PG-13 in the first place.

Max Payne isn’t even good enough as a basic action movie, it’s uninteresting, not that entertaining and all around not a good movie. Really the best part of this movie is that this it has a pretty great snowy aesthetic when it shows it. There’s actually some potential, especially with the video games its based on but its not on display here. A ton of people absolutely despise this movie but I’m not hating it. It’s a bad movie for sure, but it’s just rather dull and mediocre more than anything.

The Brothers Bloom (2008) Review

Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Mark Ruffalo as Stephen Bloom
Rachel Weisz as Penelope Stamp
Adrien Brody as Bloom Bloom
Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang
Maximilian Schell as Diamond Dog
Robbie Coltrane as Maximillen “The Curator” Melvile
Director: Rian Johnson

Twenty-five years of swindling people are too much for Bloom (Adrien Brody) and he wants out of the business. His brother, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), convinces him to work on one final hustle, targeting an eccentric East Coast heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). The con game fails to play out as planned when Bloom falls in love with the irresistible woman.

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The thing that got me most interested in The Brothers Bloom was the fact that it’s directed by Rian Johnson. Then I heard the likes of Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz were in the cast, and that interested me even more. I actually knew very little about what the movie was even about before going in, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even though it’s not at the level of Johnson’s other movies, I still enjoyed The Brothers Bloom considerably.

Movies about conmen have been done before, but The Brothers Bloom is a lighthearted and quirky comedy for the most part, and it’s rather original and entertaining. The movie does have a lot of twists, and I think most of them worked well. Looking back at the plot itself, it seems to be going all over the place at times, there were some periods where I wasn’t quite following along with the story. There were also a few scenes where nothing much seemed to be happening. At times it stopped feeling that fresh and reverted back to scenes typically seen in most conman/heist movies. However, even then I still had a good time watching these characters, they’re generally what makes this movie work so well. The Brothers Bloom mostly has a whimsical tone throughout, and at times some of the more emotional side of the characters and story isn’t shown quite as much as I think it should’ve, even though they do display that in the first two acts. The movie only really starts to get serious towards the end and it’s a rather sudden and dramatic turn in tone. I feel like if the movie had a tone that was a blend of the lighter and serious tones throughout, I think it would’ve been worked a little better. With that said, Rian does deliver on the emotional side in the third act, and the endings for each character were very fitting, without spoiling anything.

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo are great as two brothers who are conmen who are distinctly different from each other, they share some great chemistry. The two of them are in a con group with Rinko Kikuchi, who also gets some hilarious moments of her own despite not really having any lines of dialogue in the movie. However, it’s Rachel Weisz who’s really the standout of the cast, really lighting up the movie whenever she’s on screen. Even Robbie Coltrane gets to shine in his brief scenes.

Rian Johnson directs this movie very well, it’s a distinctly different movie from Brick, and that definitely extends to the direction and look of everything. You can really tell that he gained a considerably higher budget and has progressed a lot since his debut movie. The Brothers Bloom is very stylistic and visually (especially with the colour pallet) at times resembled a Wes Anderson movie, and I do mean that in a good way.

The Brothers Bloom is probably the weakest movie from Rian Johnson but it’s still quite good for what it is, and it’s not bad having this as your worst movie. It’s quite colourful and entertaining, mostly smartly written, and the cast and memorable characters are great, with Rachel Weisz being a particular stand out. Definitely worth a watch.