THE PAVILIONS PHUKET EPL Prediction Competition 2018-2019 Kata Rocks
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REVIEW: Ghost Rider 2
Friday 24 February 2012, 02:44PM
95 minutes Rating: G Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciarán Hinds The first Ghost Rider film was considered by many, with good reason, to be the worst film of the decade. But if there is one thing that can be said conclusively about the sequel, Spirit of Vengeance, it’s that it makes the first one look good. The latest installment is almost completely devoid of story. There’s a kid, there’s the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) who wants to take over the kid’s body and fulfill some vague prophecy, Nicolas Cage turns into an angry flaming skeleton man, and Idris Elba likes wine. That’s about it. Cage does his best to inject energy into a script that couldn’t care any less about presenting anything of interest, but his incarnation of Johnny Blaze can only be described as schizophrenic, much like the film’s direction. With a list of screenwriters that includes Batman Begins and Dark Knight story man David S. Goyer, alongside TV writers Seth Hoffman (Prison Break, FlashForward) and Scott M. Gimple (The Walking Dead), one would expect Spirit of Vengeance to at least offer some quality action, compelling plot turns and a touch of engaging drama. Instead, what we get is one long chase sequence disguised as a story, punctuated by terrible dialogue and scene after scene where it feels like the actors are improvising everything rather than working from any kind of script. While the directing duo manage to create some impressive shots with their daredevil shooting style (which literally included getting towed behind motorbikes on roller skates), those individual shots do not translate into impressive sequences, and on the whole, a lot of the action in the film is dull. There are a few animated segments throughout the film that offer some nice Gothic artistry, but they are spliced rather awkwardly with the live action, and just don’t really fit in with the rest of the film. The movie offers almost no character development to speak of, and instead relishes in creating a handful of offbeat characters. Cage is almost to the point of self-parody with his oddball screen persona, Elba is resigned to stumbling around playing an overly happy drunken warrior, and Ciarán Hinds is wasted in his portrayal of The Devil. Spirit of Vengeance is also showing in 3D at Central in Phuket Town, and while there are some nice moments for the format, most of them involve ‘in your face’ antics. The rest of the time, the format – combined with the directors’ frenetic shooting style – is more headache than enhancement and not worth the hefty B240 price tag. This is the film that people are thinking about when they moan about superhero film culture and fanboy cinema.   1/2 star – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Safe House
Friday 17 February 2012, 10:16AM
117 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Daniel Espinosa Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson Taking the ‘thrill of the chase’ to a whole new level, Safe House is literally just a single extended chase scene, a loud and chaotic ride that packs a lot of bang at the expense of plot structure and character development. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, the film centres on rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who is forced to turn himself in after years on the run selling government secrets. When a safe house he’s remanded to in Cape Town is attacked, rookie operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is thrown in the deep end as the two are forced to escape together and stay alive. On the surface, Safe House should be firecracker entertainment, but it feels more like a makeshift production; a series of set pieces that overvalue the need for frenetic action as opposed to dialogue and story. From the beginning, we probably know too much about Frost’s intentions. By keeping some of the plot a secret, the writers could have accommodated a few extra surprises instead of the grossly predictable ones we are left with. The script, by relative newcomer David Guggenheim, instead stumbles through just about every spy movie cliche possible, without ever turning them on their heads or providing fresh insight into familiar themes. The Cape Town setting is a refreshing change of backdrop – but that’s all it is. Throughout the film, we encounter no South African characters for more than 30 seconds, making it feel like a wasted opportunity to inject some fresh material into an otherwise stale story. And so with a substandard script offering few thrills, it is up to the relentless action to keep the audience hooked. And it does work, to an extent. The various martial arts duels are shot a close-range but are still discernible, thanks to a reliance on quick-cut editing rather than the nauseating ‘shaky-cam’ shooting style. The various fist-fights, shootouts and chase scenes are visceral experiences, and achieve a certain level of realism in terms of how the characters react to injuries. The tone is dark and gritty, and overall very engaging. But perhaps ironically, the main flaw is that there is so much action that it simply becomes monotonous. Most of the excitement actually come from the moments of calm that briefly punctuate the relentless action and allow Washington and Reynolds time to show off their respective acting talents – moments that are sadly few and far between. 2 1/2 stars – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: Man on a Ledge
Thursday 9 February 2012, 02:20PM
102 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Asgar Leth Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris With a title about as subtle as 2006’s Snakes on a Plane, there are absolutely no prizes for guessing what this film is about. Unfortunately, while snakes and planes have some value as content for mindless thrillers, men and ledges simply do not. The film centres on escaped convict Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), who re-surfaces in an expensive Manhattan hotel and suddenly steps out onto the ledge outside his window, where he will remain for almost the entire movie. The concept may not sound scintillating on paper – and that’s because it’s not – but Nick is obviously up to a great deal more than threatening to jump off the ledge of a hotel and create a splattered mess on the pavement below. For it emerges, through a poorly conveyed flashback structure that abruptly and unsatisfactorily falls by the wayside, that Nick is a former cop who has broken out of prison after being convicted for, wait for it, ‘a crime he didn’t commit’. Man on a Ledge sits firmly in the B-movie category of single-setting thrillers, so riddled with plot holes and logical inconsistencies that the pulling of any one plot thread will quickly unravel the whole show. Director Asger Leth is able to inject plenty of action into each scene, which serves well to distract us – at least until it becomes apparent that scriptwriter Pablo F. Fenjves doesn’t have that many tricks up his sleeve. Every plot point is cliched and foreseeable, and the film ends up getting by on tension and suspense alone – that is to say you’ll probably see what’s coming, but watching it play out is still somewhat enjoyable. As events unfold though, the implausibility of the entire situation only increases, and by the time that Nick Cassidy’s fate is decided, the story has pretty much gone off the rails. Visually the film isn’t too bad. Some of the heist sequences manage to create some good tension, and the editing is smart enough to keep things moving at a good pace without letting the mind settle for too long – which is the only way this movie functions at all. Yet the real problem is Worthington’s lead performance. He fails to bring the intensity and charisma needed for the character to hold our attention. Instead, he’s flat and dull and leaves you wondering how much more gripping the film would be with someone else standing on that ledge. US critics have said that Man on a Ledge is a metaphor for how perilous the Australian actor’s career has become after Avatar. That’s maybe a little cruel, but even Worthington recently admitted that he’s happy to continue playing action movie roles. He’ll have to pick better scripts and deliver more intensity than he shows here though – or else find himself pushed from that ledge. – Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: What’s Your Number?
Friday 3 February 2012, 04:10PM
106 minutes Rating: 13+ Director: Mark Mylod Starring: Anna Faris,Chris Evans, Joel McHale,Martin Freeman   What’s Your Number is yet another regrettable entry in the ongoing Hollywood saga of ‘when bad movies happen to good people’. Pretty much everyone in this movie, from star and executive producer Anna Faris (Scary Movie, The Hot Chick, The House Bunny) right down to Andy Samberg (Hot Rod) who is one of many comedic stars to make a brief cameo, is infinitely better than the material on offer. The basic operating principle for the movie is that women have a magic number when it comes to love – 20 to be precise, and if you haven’t found ‘the one’ by the time you’ve slept with that many, you’re unlikely to. Ever. Ally Darling (Faris) has already reached 20, so decides to revisit her list of ex-lovers, hoping her true love is somewhere among them. As well as being stupid, this concept is also inherently condescending and antiquated. The script is attributed to two women, Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, and based on a novel by a third, Karyn Bosnak, so it’s a little unusual that it subscribes to the notion that a man with a history of promiscuity is ideal husband material, whereas a woman who has slept with 20 can expect to be regarded as a whore. But if you don’t take any of it too seriously, which, let’s face it, you’re not supposed to, then there are a few laughs in store. It’s definitely cheesy, but if anything, it’s like a fairly good Camembert. It lacks bite, and it’s fairly cheap, but still has it’s occasions where it’s highly enjoyable. Most of those moments though are through the enthusiasm and comic timing of Faris, and not through any divine intervention on the part of the scriptwriters. You can’t help but feel Faris is an incredibly talented comedic actress who’s just waiting for the right role to showcase her skills. This is not that role. But as likable as she is, and as charismatic Chris Evans (Captain America) can be, they really don’t make for a good romantic match. It’s hard to root for them to get together because although their characters seem perfectly nice, they don’t seem like they were ever meant to be more than friends. There are other issues as well. The filmmakers don’t seem to know what to do with all the time they’ve got, and they’ve got way too much of it. You really do feel like they’re checking off a list, working hard to get through all the exes even though we know from the outset what the conclusion is going to be. It’s tedious, and kind of pointless. Let’s just hope Faris doesn’t need to make 20 movies like this before she finds ‘the one’.– Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: Underworld: Awakening
Friday 27 January 2012, 10:12AM
88 minutes Rating: 15+ Director: Måns Mårlind,Björn Stein Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sandrine Holt, Theo James, Michael Ealy   The summer blockbuster season is now officially over, meaning it’s now time to pick up the dregs coming out of the Hollywood studios. And so all hail Underworld: Awakening, the fourth installment in the franchise – and a miserable one at that. This was admittedly my first entry into the film franchise, and having not seen any of the last three entries (which came out in 2003, 2006, and 2009), it was difficult to make any sense of what this film was even about, aside from senseless violence, mediocre special effects, and an oppressively dark tone. True to its title, Awakening finds vampire warrior Selene (latex-clad Kate Beckinsale) waking up 12 years after humanity’s discovery and “purging” of the vampire and Lycan (werewolf) hordes living in their midst. However, before she can even get her bearings, she is swept up in a rescue mission involving a young girl named Eve (India Eisley). And that’s about it. Awakening looks and feels like an extended TV episode, rather than a big-budget feature film. The film is nothing more than a string of action sequences and cheap set-pieces, often shot at wide angles that reveal the elementary fight choreography, not helped by the amateurish direction of Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, whose primary experience is in directing television shows, as it so happens. Cheap CGI effects make the blood spatter, superhuman feats and supernatural creatures look caricaturish, and they clash awkwardly with the dark, serious tone of the rest of the film. Apparently a variety of writers worked on the script – including the original Underworld director Len Wiseman and Thor writer J. Michael Straczynski – but it’s hard to see where that combined effort was spent. There is almost no development of character or narrative, no thematic arcs, and a lot of the plot contrivances are so pronounced that it’s hard to take the movie seriously, even as a vampire flick. There was a lot of room for Kate Beckinsale’s character to experience some real development throughout the course of the film. Unfortunately, Selene reacts to her new circumstances with such unflinching stoicism that it’s hard to become invested in anything that’s happening. If you’ve enjoyed the previous films for what they are, or just enjoy watching Kate Beckinsale run around in latex, then you’re probably the sort of person who will still get kicks out of this film. For anyone else, don’t waste the time or money on this broken down piece of sorry cinema making. – Dane Halpin 1 1/2 stars
REVIEW: 5 Days of War
Friday 20 January 2012, 09:41AM
120 minutes Rating: 18+ Director: Renny Harlin Starring: Andy Garcia,Val Kilmer, Rupert Friend The war correspondent is the unsung hero of modern warfare in 5 Days of War, a highly fictionalised drama set during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. An emphasis must be placed heavily on ‘fictionalised’ though, because Renny Harlin’s (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) latest film plays more like propaganda than any attempt to accurately portray the complexities of the South Ossetia War. It is unapologetically slanted and sentimental, which is likely to leave the uninformed moviegoer confused as to where the line between fact and fiction lies. The film stars Rupert Friend (Pride and Prejudice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as a talented but tormented war reporter who ships off to cover the brewing conflict; Emmanuelle Chriqui as his local love interest; an oddly cast but earnest Andy Garcia as the Georgian president; Val Kilmer as a seen-it-all veteran correspondent; and Dean Cain (yes, the guy from Lois and Clark), who has a few lines as a US press liaison. Heather Graham also has a cameo, but thankfully gets killed early enough into the fray that we don’t have to endure too much of her. But despite what can only be described as woeful miscasting and incredibly weak performances from the lead cast, 5 Days of War is ultimately sunk by the script, attributed to Mikko Alanne (who is also attached to Oliver Stone’s upcoming Vietnam War drama, Pinkville). Risibly simplistic in its notions of good and evil, and of what conduct constitutes heroism and what defines villainy, the film settles for easy irony instead of complex characterisation. It complains that CNN and other mainstream news channels unfairly present only one side of the story – and then proceeds to tell only the other side of the story, all the while claiming it as fact. Not at all surprising considering the film owes its initial funding to the Georgian government and lists a state minister as a producer. The combat, at least, looks good, with the military equipment reportedly provided by Georgia’s defence ministry. It makes good use of the hand held camera to evoke a more participatory response when watching it – there are moments when you really feel like you’re looking through the lens. But the rest of the film can’t convert this sense of engagement into delivering a tangible message; it is far more interested in its bland, underdeveloped fictional characters than in giving any sense of the scope of or motivations behind the war, which is shown from such a one-sided angle that it seems nonsensical – though Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would most likely disagree. – Dane Halpin 2 stars
REVIEW: The Darkest Hour
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:36PM
89 minutes   Rating: G Director: Chris Gorak Starring: Emile Hirsch,Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor When it comes to the creative design of its aliens, The Darkest Hour opts for a less-is-more approach. While this is often a recipe for success, unfortunately in this case, less is just plain less, as the space invaders of this surprisingly thrill-less Moscow-set thriller are invisible for much of the film. Even when you can see them, they resemble little more than floating Windows screensavers. Working from a story that is about as derivative and unimaginative as they come, director Chris Gorak sends two internet entrepreneurs (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) to Moscow to finish a business deal. When they learn that a Swedish opportunist (Joel Kinnaman) has stolen their idea, they head to a nightclub to lick their wounds and distract themselves with a couple of female tourists (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor). There the four – and the scheming Swede – will remain for the next few days as fireballs from outer space transform most of humanity into untidy piles of ash. But while we wait for the core cast to be reduced, we have time to ponder the pointlessness of the Moscow setting, seemingly chosen primarily to allow the filmmakers access to stock Russian stereotypes – like the crazy inventor and the band of armed-to-the-teeth resistance fighters. It’s almost like this apocalyptic fantasy expects dramatic shots of a depopulated Red Square to make up for a flatlining screenplay and the absence of even a single compelling character. It doesn’t. After his intriguing twist on biohazard drama in 2006’s Right at Your Door, director Gorak is slavishly obedient to genre expectations here, finding no way to enliven a by-the-numbers survival tale. And, really, it doesn’t get any more lazy than invisible aliens. If you’re going to tease the audience with nothing but flickers of light for three-quarters of the film, you need to have a supremely original and compelling reveal up your sleeve. But if all you have is the equivalent of exploding garden gnomes – which is what these aliens amount to – then your problems are greater than a disposable cast and a filming style as flat as the depressingly grey colour palette. As the film switches dramatically from survival horror to resistance fighting, you really should be rooting for the humans, but you might as well be rooting for the blobs. Most likely, though, you’ll just be rooting for the credits. 1/2 star – Dane Halpin
REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin
Monday 9 January 2012, 09:36AM
The Adventures of Tintin107 minutesRating: GDirector: Steven SpielbergStarring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig If Indiana Jones had smooth skin, a British accent, lifeless eyes and no sense of humour, he might come across something like the plucky reporter at the heart of The Adventures of Tintin. Of course, Indiana Jones had none of those things which is what made him so great, and while Tintin undoubtedly has its moments of greatness, it is let down primarily by the weakness of its central character. After its highly stylised opening credits roll, the Steven Spielberg-directed motion-capture animation starts off excruciatingly slow. While we’re thrust immediately into the story, the first half an hour of the film feels like little more than a very good radio play, with some vaguely interesting images coincidentally happening at the same time. The story is good, the voices great, but the visuals are just okay, and not particularly exciting. Then something happens – the story really kicks into gear, and Spielberg, having become familiar with the rules of the cinematic format, goes about systematically breaking them. The result is an hour and a bit of awesome animated action. As Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Capt Haddock (Andy Serkis) race all over the world to beat the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig) to the treasure, the laws of physics, animation and storytelling are bent to breaking point. Unfortunately, beyond these impressive visuals and genuine globetrotting thrills, Tintin remains a difficult film to truly enjoy. It does feel like a cartoon version of Indiana Jones – and that’s true in terms of style and tone – but where they differ is that Indy is a captivating main character, whereas the baby-faced Tintin simply is not. He has no interesting flaws or central character points, nor does he develop in any way throughout the story. Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Lord of the Rings) is undeniably the master of motion-capture performance, but even he is underutilised, little more than a nonstop comic relief device – one that despite being entertaining, gets a bit tiring over the run of the film. More effective are the comic hijinks of Shaun of the Dead duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who play bumbling twin inspectors Thomson and Thompson; their screen time is more tapered, keeping their humour fresher and funnier than Haddock’s. As for Sakharine: he’s largely forgettable, and you probably wouldn’t recognise Craig’s uninspired voice work if you didn’t see his name in the credits. Despite these shortcomings, Tintin remains an entertaining film. It is unlikely to go down in Spielberg’s list of all-time greatest works, but if nothing else, it is an interesting experiment in motion capture technology that provides enough thrills and spills to keep fans and newcomers to the franchise entertained. –Dane Halpin 3 stars
REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thursday 29 December 2011, 09:39AM
  129 minutes Rating: 13+ Director: Guy Ritchie Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams   First of all, a disclaimer: Ignore the title of this film. It bears little resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous works, nor does it do them any justice. But looked at as an independent entity, Guy Ritchie’s second incantation of Sherlock Holmes is a tremendously fun and entertaining action adventure that is bigger and better than the first. More than any other modern filmmaker, Ritchie has the ability to switch from slapstick silly to adrenaline pumping special effects action in a heartbeat, and in the Sherlock Holmes universe he’s created, he wilfully skips back and forth between the two with fantastically fun results. Game of Shadows is a direct sequel to Ritchie’s first Holmes instalment, and while it assumes you have seen that film, it is certainly not required viewing to be able to appreciate the latest offering. Diving straight back into the plot as Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) and Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) square off across Europe in an effort to prevent war between Germany and France, this is true edge of your seat stuff, full of explosions, chases and slow motion fight scenes (though the latter is unfortunately overused). The special effects silliness of Ritchie’s film is masterfully inhabited by Downey Jr and Jude Law, who continue their partnership as Holmes and Watson to wonderful effect. Within the first act of the film however, a shining beacon appears in the form of Harris as Moriarty, and all of the best scenes in the film are when he and Downey Jr are pitching against each other onscreen in a battle of wit and cunning. There is a sense of calm and concentration as the pair are simply indulging the audience in an acting master class, and it serves as a very welcome relief from the overblown nature of some of the other scenes. The torture scene especially is one of the more convincing sociopath displays that you will ever see on screen. Stephen Fry acts also as an element of more traditional comic relief as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, although at times he feels a little underused. Some of his scenes contain more gratuitous gags that don’t really do Fry’s brand of intelligent and subtle humour justice. In the end, it comes down to a fairly simple summary: If you liked the first film, you will love A Game of Shadows. If you didn’t, you won’t. In fact, the main issue really is that the latest film just doesn’t feel like it is doing anything that different, or that it’s in any way moved on from the first film. Still, the detective story at its heart is strong, and once the comedy elements have found a more even pace towards the latter part of the film, it’s eventually very funny. It’s a movie you almost want to hate simply because of the sheer creative licence it takes to some of the greatest crime fiction literature ever produced. But try as you might, it is almost impossible not to find Sherlock Holmes explosively entertaining. –Dane Halpin 3 ½ stars
REVIEW: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Friday 23 December 2011, 04:35PM
132 minutesRating: 13+Director: Brad BirdStarring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg Nearly 15 years after the original Mission: Impossible film debuted (and 45 years after the TV series began), we are once again presented with another franchise offering of what arguably should have been limited to a single installment. But, more than six years after the rock-solid mediocrity of Mission Impossible III, Brad Bird has succeeded in his mission to bring a fresh and stylish M:I installment to the big screen. While Ghost Protocol doesn’t hit the mark in every scene or character interaction, the majority of the film is an in-your-face action adventure with a number of enjoyable performances and exciting set pieces. Unlike previous entries, the story in Ghost Protocol is pretty straightforward, with a linear race against time to stop a nuclear war. Tom Cruise once again returns as series lead, Ethan Hunt, who is incarcerated in a Russian prison at the opening of the film. When Hunt is sprung from jail, it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught in a shadowy conspiracy – one that doesn’t just result in the destruction of the Kremlin, but also the dissolution of the entire Impossible Missions Force (aka IMF); that is, with the exception of Hunt and his newly-formed team, which includes Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton). While some franchise fans might wish for a few more twists and turns, Bird’s installment in the series works largely because it keeps the focus grounded in the moment on a number of eye-popping action set-pieces, as well as tense, and interesting, character interactions. But the trimmed-down plot in Ghost Protocol is by no means thin, and successfully provides a sharp and believable globe-trotting James Bond-like adventure, leaving room for plenty of Bird’s style and humour. Despite the high stakes, the film manages to find an enjoyable balance between  tongue-in-cheek absurdity in the onscreen hijinks, and a tense and relatively realistic tone. While Cruise has always carried the M:I movies, his performance this round is particularly in sync with Bird’s tone and style. Ethan Hunt’s personality, despite being an action hero stereotype on principle, has been somewhat amorphous from film to film. But in Ghost Protocol, the story humanises Hunt: we’re privy to moments of him struggling with loss, frustration, and even his sense of humour. Regardless of which director is at the helm, the M:I series has always been about action and spy/infiltration scenarios, and there’s no doubt Ghost Protocol delivers on those points. Bird takes the series up a notch with enjoyable performances and character dynamics (even if a few fall flat), as well as a straightforward but still intriguing story that keeps the action moving at a steady clip. 3 1/2 stars
REVIEW: Contagion
Friday 25 November 2011, 04:59PM
  106 minutes Rating: G   The most lavishly feel-bad movie of the year, Contagion is Steven Soderbergh’s well-researched, convincing, and courageously bleak drama about a lethal virus threatening to wipe out humanity. Contagion, though, is not an action film, nor is it a romance, a heroic tale, or even a zombie flick. It’s more of a dramatised documentary, a filmic portrayal of how a viral epidemic would sweep the world, and an examination of just how interconnected and vulnerable the human race is. The film opens on day two of the soon-to-be-crisis, as Gwyneth Paltrow, returning from a trip to China, exhibits signs of illness. We montage around the world to see others suffering similar symptoms. Paltrow arrives home, hugs her son, and minutes later, both are dead. What follows is half an hour of gripping exposition and glorious cinematic expression of the most terrifying real world threat imaginable. Unfortunately, in an effort to provide a fresh, realistic take, Soderbergh’s film never really finds a central character or hero. We instead follow eight, in a crammed, multi-protagonist storyline. In this sense, the scriptalmost imitates the virus that drives its plot forward. The film moves from character to character, dispatching certain people with cruel efficiency before moving on to new “hosts” for the story to follow. The characters combating the deadly virus are scientific minds trained to be as unflinching and efficient as their viral opponent, and so the actors playing them are cold and clinical (a stellar line-up that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne) even in the face of potential Armageddon. It’s all interesting intellectually, but hard to connect to any particular character on an emotional level. The result is two acts of buildup, but an aching absence of payoff. In sum, Contagion is a bleak yet realistic case study of a global pandemic, but its impact is lessened by having too many cast members and little attachment from the audience to their fate. Like a mundane flu, Contagion hits us like a hammer but it lacks a big finish, instead petering out with a sniffle. –Dane Halpin   3 ½ stars
REVIEW: Tower Heist
Friday 18 November 2011, 02:27PM
  104 minutes Rating: 13+ It may seem like a back-handed assessment, but maybe the best way to sum up Tower Heist is that it is not as terrible as you might expect. Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, manager of ‘The Tower’, one of Manhattan’s most luxurious addresses, and home to billionaire financier Arthur Shaw (played brilliantly by Alan Alda). Shaw is eventually busted on fraud charges, a situation made especially sticky since Kovacs trusted Shaw to invest the pensions of the entire Tower staff. When he’s informed by FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) that there is little chance of recovering the lost pensions, Kovacs decides he must take matters into his own hands by stealing back the money from Shaw's penthouse. There are no real surprises in how the plot pans out from here, but needless to say people seeking a rich and intelligent heist film should search elsewhere. In saying that, director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour trilogy) keeps the film moving at a nice steady pace, and scene to scene, the movie tends to keep the viewer engaged and entertained. It's kind of like a painting done by a toddler – it's not very good, but they're trying so hard to impress that you can't help but smile. Ratner also has a penchant for odd-couple casting, and while on paper, a cast that consists of Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alda, Leoni, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Precious star Gabourey Sidibe and Matthew Broderick would seem pretty strange, this eclectic group has great chemistry and keep things light and humorous. Nobody in the cast is wasted, and they in fact become the real strong suit of what would have otherwise been a very average film. Perhaps the highlight of Tower Heist though is the return of Eddie Murphy. After so many years lost in the vacuum of kids movies playing cheap, hammed-up stereotypes, he returns to the realm of adult comedy, showing glimpses of what made him such a prodigy so many years ago. On a less positive note, Tower Heist can’t overcome the sense that in aspiring to be a movie of so many different genres, it doesn’t really satisfy any one particularly well. As a straight comedy, it’s hardly laugh-out-loud. As a heist film, it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to maintain interest in the plot. Typically, a heist movie has to be somewhat believable in its execution of the actual heist, and offer a few surprises along the way. Upon close inspection, very little of what happens in Tower Heist’s third act can be construed as believable, the misdirection is pretty transparent, and the surprises will have you laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. But at the end of the day, Tower Heist is a carefree popcorn flick that succeeds in being fun, often funny, and is generally very enjoyable – so long as you don’t look too hard at the plot and all of the many, many, holes that riddle it. –Dane Halpin 3 stars
REVIEW: Killer Elite
Friday 11 November 2011, 10:43AM
    116 minutes Rating: 18+ Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro – it’s a formidable acting lineup that should translate into breakneck, head-cracking, fast-paced action. But if you’re expecting the standard Statham fare, you may be pleasantly surprised by what can only be described as a gentle change of formula. Unfortunately, the formula is missing a few ingredients. Killer Elite is branded as being ‘based on a true story’. That is probably a little misleading – it is very loosely based on the Ranulph Fiennes book The Feather Men, which in itself was rather controversial in its claim of being non-fiction (it was later released as fiction). Danny Bryce (Statham) is a mercenary, and the protege of veteran soldier-of-fortune Hunter (De Niro). After retiring, Bryce is pulled back into the game when Hunter is kidnapped by an Arabian sheik. His demand: that Bryce hunt down and kill the three former SAS soldiers that killed the Sheik’s sons. Accepting the assignment, Bryce ends up in the cross hairs of Spike (Clive Owen), a former SAS officer who’s now the point man for a secret organisation called ‘The Feather Men’, dedicated to protecting former SAS officers from violent retaliation. We can all pretty much picture how it pans out. But the film’s pacing is actually surprisingly slow and very deliberate, which is refreshing when mixed with the regular injections of explosive and well-choreographed action. At almost two hours though, it is probably a little too slow to win over the hardcore action fan, and the story feels like it drags about 40 minutes or so longer than it should considering how little substance there is to it. The film itself feels dark and gritty. It is set in the 1980s, and does a fair job of recreating the environment of the time, without overstating it. The plot though strays into some very murky moral territory, and one of the main problems with Killer Elite is the fact that there is no discernible person to root for. Both Statham and Owen’s characters are working against each other, and instead of having a hero to follow the entire story through, it’s easy to identify with both sides being in the right. Boasting three such enormous names in the action genre, it is also disappointing how little time DeNiro, Statham and Owen actually spend together on screen. Their three character arcs develop largely independently of each other, and we get only glimpses of what could have been. The surprising scene-stealer though is Dominic Purcell (of Prison Break fame) as one of Statham’s cronies; an Aussie hard-man sporting a glorious handlebar moustache (there is some fine moustachery in this film) and has a major axe to grind with the Special Air Service. In the end, this is a film that, with a little more care, could have pleased both lovers and haters of the standard Jason Statham violence-fest. In the end, it does little to win over either side, though remains a passable, if forgettable, action flick.   –Dane Halpin 2 ½ Stars    


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