Dark Skies – Review

Sometimes, you get a perfectly good horror movie idea that's squandered by faulty execution. Case in point: Dark Skies, which marries the alien invasion concept to a Paranormal Activities-esque haunted house premise. The truth is out there, folksâ€
The bubbling cauldron of ideas in 'The Faith of Anna Waters' hides a fairly conventional supernatural horror film, the intriguing fragments failing to cohere into an engrossing whole.

Moana (2016) – Review

Splendid animation and a sincerity in putting Polynesian culture on the big screen offset Moana’s formulaic elements and somewhat forgettable songs.

Closed Circuit – Review

Closed Circuit comes with a respectable pedigree - at least, it tries to. Its publicity campaign proudly proclaims that it's from the same producers who gave us the classy, intelligent, powerful and genuinely thrilling Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Ironically, that perhaps raises the bar a little too high - frankly, despite the best efforts of its cast, Closed Circuit is none of those things.

The premise sounds potentially great: there's been a terrorist attack in London's bustling Borough Market, the sole surviving suspect a Turkish immigrant by the name of Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto). When his defense lawyer dies unexpectedly, Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is called in to take over the case - but only in open court. Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) is the lawyer appointed to represent Farroukh in private sessions, during which the government can reveal highly classified information in its case against him. Martin and Claudia are, strictly and legally speaking, forbidden to be in contact - a situation complicated by a romantic dalliance in their recent past.

 

There are a host of timely issues boiling away in the script: government conspiracies, privacy of information and the liberties taken in the name of national security are all packed into the plot. On paper, it's fascinating. It even starts off well enough, the horrible incident in question captured chillingly in frame after frame of security camera footage. The bare bones of the plot are recognisably realistic - it's possible to imagine something like this playing out in real life.

In practice, however, Closed Circuit is criminally bland and poorly-executed. The stakes are high, certainly, but it's hard to feel very much for the characters when they speak and behave in such preposterously predictable  ways. By the end, what should be a smart, intense exploration of extremely current issues devolves into a dumb chase flick. The ending is so ludicrous it makes much of the plodding first half of the film seem genius in comparison.

 

Credit is nevertheless due to the cast, who soldier dutifully on through the hardly subtle machinations of the script. Bana and Hall both muster up way more dedication and commitment to the script than it strictly warrants. Riz Ahmed, as Claudia's MI5 contact, is reliably good in one of the more intriguing - if undercooked - roles in the film. Jim Broadbent is a delight as the sinister Attorney-General, playing against his generally cheerful screen image to great effect.

Unfortunately, Closed Circuit doesn't really prove itself to be worthy of their efforts. When it should thrill, it frustrates. The questions it asks are vital and important but, in this film, they feel pointless and shrugged-aside. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sent its audiences home with questions, ideas and a sense of the dark, brutal tragedy of lives corrupted by secrets. Closed Circuit might make you wonder why you bothered to head into the cinema in the first place.

Summary: More like a short circuit.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Shawne Wang 

Film Review

Vamps – Review

When the movie industry stumbles upon the Next Big Thing, spoofs inevitably follow. These spoofs aren't always excellent movies: usually, they're slapdash productions packed with easy gags and silly throwaway humour, flung together quickly to cash in on whatever phenomenon is currently drawing audiences into cinemas. The better ones manage to draw genuine laughs despite (or perhaps because of) their cheesiness and generally poor production values. Vamps is somewhere in between: its concept - Twilight meets Sex And The City - is promising but it never quite realises its full potential. It's sporadically funny, but also downright weird, and doesn't quite succeed in sending up either vampire or romance movies. But the film does have its own bizarre, creaky charm, and it's not hard to imagine it becoming a bit of a cult favourite as time goes by.

Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) are just two gorgeous single gals living it up in New York City who also happen to be... vampires. They were both 'turned' by the savage, sanity-challenged vampire queen Ciccerus (Sigourney Weaver): Goody in the 1840s, and Stacy in the 1990s. Our unlikely heroines seem to leading blissfully charmed lives, subsisting on rat blood and working night jobs, until romance barges unceremoniously into their lives. Stacy meets the charming Joey (Dan Stevens), who is unfortunately the youngest scion of the vampire-hunting Von Helsing family, and Goody runs into Danny (Richard Lewis), a man she loved and lost in the 1960s.

 

There's much sublime, crazy comedy to be mined from such a wacky premise - but Vamps misses the mark at just about every turn. It's easy to see what writer-director Amy Heckerling (of Clueless fame) is going for whenever she sets up a joke or a narrative twist, but most of it doesn't land the way she clearly wants it to. Stacy and Goody's romantic relationships come off as offbeat and quirky (to say the least), but also feel faintly ridiculous in an unintentional way. The CGI and make-up are about as rickety as the plot - serviceable but not particularly good. Heaven help Lewis in particular, who's called upon to don a bad wig and about fifty layers of foundation to play his younger self from forty years ago.

Here's the thing, however, about Vamps: it's precisely these problems that make it such a perversely fun film to watch. The movie is quaintly charming for how not-great it is. Throughout the film's (mercifully brief) running time, you'll find yourself hugely amused at pretty much all of it - either because, in a rare moment or two, it is genuinely affecting; or more likely because it's just ludicrously bad. How did they convince Weaver to play this part in so gleefully hammy a fashion? Did villainous thesp Malcolm McDowell wander onto the wrong set and wind up filming an extended cameo for this film? Why does Stevens sound like he strolled right off the set of Downton Abbey, even though his parents - played by Wallace Shawn and Kristen Johnson - speak with properly American accents?

 

In short, no one who wants to be taken seriously is ever going to put Vamps on a list of good movies. It's cheesy and sometimes feels like it was assembled in the dark. It's not even secretly smart the way Clueless was, which updated Jane Austen's Emma as a modern high-school rom-com. But, underscored by a huge, geeky love for old movies and satirising vampire lore, it might well go on that secret list of guilty pleasure movies: the kind that will always pull you out of a funk, or which will serve as the perfect accompaniment to a night spent in with friends, popcorn, and a lot of laughs.

Summary: Lacks the bite to be a really effective spoof, but this cult movie has a weird, ramshackle charm that could live on forever.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Shawne Wang 

3096 Days – Review

If the premise of 3096 Days wasn't based on a real-life ordeal, we'd be tempted to read the film as a metaphor for the psychological, everyday violence that men impose on female bodies. As it stands, the movie is a disturbing docudrama about an 8-year-long kidnapping, in which Natascha, a 10-year-old girl, grows into womanhood while in captivity.
It’s really, really silly but you knew that going into it already.
If nothing else, Mel Gibson is savvy when it comes to picking his movie roles. One would almost suspect that he courted the whole anti-Semitic controversy so that he could get back to playing some down and dirty character roles. Case in point? How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Gibson's latest foray into disreputable action-dramas, which taps on the star's ambivalent popularity to sell its seedy protagonist.
There’s little profundity to be found in this tearjerker, though some will find its syrupy aw-shucks wholesomeness appealing. And, naturally, the dogs are really cute.
Audiences will likely eat up this flailing, tone-deaf, madcap comedy, reminding us that there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to Chinese New Year cash-grab releases.
It’s politicians and bureaucrats vs. a giant monster in this intelligent and thoughtfully-crafted but not particularly exciting or affecting Godzilla reboot.

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