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Just good enough

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 7 February 2016 03:48 (A review of The Visit)

"Mom, there's something wrong with Nana and Pop Pop."

The Visit may be an imperfect thriller which never quite engages or frightens like the best genre movies, but it is a reassuring step in the right direction for director M. Night Shyamalan, whose misplaced confidence led to such indefensible disasters as The Last Airbender and After Earth. Disposing of large budgets and blockbuster thrills, Shyamalan seeks to return to his roots with The Visit, exploiting a primal fear to serve as the basis for a low-budget found footage chiller. Luckily, it works more than perhaps it had a right to, serving up scares and laughs in equal measure. It's not a genuine return to form for Shyamalan, but it nevertheless packs a punch.

Fifteen-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents, because their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had a bitter falling out with them. However, the kids are curious to meet their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), and decide to travel to rural Pennsylvania to spend a week with them while their mother treats herself to a romantic cruise with her new beau. Becca is a budding filmmaker, and seeks to use the trip as a chance to make a documentary about the pair that she hopes will mend fences. Nana and Pop Pop initially appear to be more than welcoming towards the kids, with Becca making the most of her documentary film opportunity. However, the pair soon discover that their grandparents have disturbing behavioural issues after the lights go out, and there's the lingering sense that something is not quite right.

Found footage is normally reserved for inexperienced, cash-strapped young filmmakers seeking to make their mark through limited resources, but The Visit is a different matter. Shyamalan is a seasoned director hoping to reinvigorate his creative impulses in search of a hit, keeping costs low in order to retain creative control without studio interference. Admittedly, the limitations of the found footage subgenre do prevent The Visit from being wholly satisfying, and one must wonder what the movie might have been like if it was told through conventional means. After all, found footage cancels out the filmmaking aspects that Shyamalan actually excels at: precise framing, deliberate editing, and even use of music. It's a more successful endeavour than, say, Renny Harlin's The Dyatlov Pass Incident, but it's nevertheless paint-by-numbers. Shyamalan adores twist endings, and The Visit sees the writer-director revisiting this characteristic to an extent, though the "twist" is not exactly mind-blowing or revolutionary, and isn't difficult to predict.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Visit was co-produced and distributed by Blumhouse Productions, who specialise in micro-budget horror pictures of this ilk. To Shyamalan's credit, there are a few particularly spooky sequences once the kids settle into their accommodation, including an unnerving scene set under the house. It is worth noting that the flick is not at all supernatural, with scares being derived from the mental conditions and general peculiarities of the two old people, thus the effectiveness of the horror will depend on your unease about folks of advanced age. The narrative of The Visit builds commendably, and though it's a slow-burner, pacing is often taut. Shyamalan does a superlative job of maintaining tension during the third act, able to make us just as edgy and nervous as Becca and Tyler. But the horror is not served straight-up, with Shyamalan mixing in comical scenes and amusing dialogue, and it mostly works; the film is unexpectedly funny. However, there's an ill-advised detour into gross-out humour involving shit being shoved into somebody's face that only really serves as a visual representation of what Shyamalan has done to his audience for his past few movies.

DeJonge and Oxenbould are two of The Visit's biggest assets. DeJonge carves out a believable teenage girl character, made even more interesting by her passion for moviemaking (with a hint of pretentiousness), and she's an instantly disarming presence. Even better is Oxenbould, a comedic highlight as the goofy, shameless younger brother who's full of spirit. As opposed to dumb horror movie protagonists, these two are smart and resourceful, making it easy to care about them. Meanwhile, as Nana and Pop Pop, Dunagan and McRobbie are mightily effective, alternating between warm and disquieting.

The Visit is worth watching, but it does fall short of the narrative brilliance of the likes of The Sixth Sense or Signs. And although it does contain unnerving moments and a few surprising jump-scales, the movie is not exactly terrifying enough to truly satiate horror junkies seeking a good scare. Still, in comparison to Shyamalan's recent output, The Visit is just good enough. Let's just hope that the filmmaker's next effort will be the real comeback we've been waiting for.


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A new low for the series

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 6 February 2016 06:22 (A review of The Transporter Refueled)

"It's like the Count said to his Musketeers, I don't cling to life sufficiently to fear death."

The Transporter Refueled is at once wholly unrelated to the Jason Statham Transporter trilogy, and an attempt to continue the franchise as if nothing has changed. Indeed, this is a soft reboot of the Transporter series (without Statham) to whore out the brand name for all the money that it's worth, yet it isn't bold enough to try anything new, bringing back the same car, the same smart suit, the same lead character and the same type of visual style, except it's all executed on a slashed budget, and it's not even half as fun as its predecessors. (Hell, even Transporter 3 had its moments.) Suffering from a complete lack of logic and dismal acting, Refueled is a terrible new low for the series, and its technical presentation is about on the same level as a below-par straight-to-video endeavour. Trust me, it's bad.

In 1995, ruthless criminal Arkady (Radivoje Bukvic) takes over crime operations at the French Riviera, seeking to make a lot of money by exploiting women as high-price hookers. Fifteen years later, Anna (Loan Chabanol) looks to exact revenge on Arkady, teaming up with three of Arkady's former prostitutes to steal his fortune and rob his associates. Needing a driver, Anna calls upon Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) for the job, but although she initially agrees to his list of rules, she instantly changes the contract and forces Frank's involvement by kidnapping his father, Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson).

For absolutely no good reason, The Transporter Refueled apparently takes place in 2010, with the story opening in 1995 before flashing forward fifteen years, according to an on-screen caption. But this doesn't make much sense, since the characters drive 2015 model vehicles and use iPhone 5's, leaving us to assume that either the prop department didn't get the memo, or the screenwriters were unable to handle basic math. Or nobody gave a shit. Worse, Refueled actually rips off scenes from the previous films, with Frank confronting a group of thugs in a car park who want to steal his ride, before proceeding to beat the snot out of them. And bringing in Frank's father only serves to rip off Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with Frank Sr. calling his son "Junior." Dialogue is mostly awful, without any degree of wit, and the flick helps itself to piles of action movie clichés. But an even more pertinent issue is that Refueled is flat-out boring. It clocks in at a rather slender 96 minutes, yet it feels twice as long, with wonky pacing and humdrum action scenes that are spoiled by jarring editing.

Refueled was directed by Camille Delamarre, who has a history with Luc Besson's EuropaCorp production company; he directed Brick Mansions and edited both Transporter 3 and Taken 2. But none of these pictures are especially good, leaving us to wonder why he was the obvious choice for this outing. Surely Besson could have recruited a proper action director? It's almost as if he's sabotaging his own movies. Even though Refueled thankfully doesn't rely so much on shaky-cam, editing is a blur, ruining the car chases and fisticuffs, with Delamarre struggling to find a proper rhythm amid all the harsh, frenetic cuts. Admittedly, things do improve to an extent in the third act, finding a few inspired moments of over-the-top lunacy, including Frank using filing cabinet draws during a brawl, and a jump from an airport tarmac into the boarding gate. The Transporter series is predicated on this type of tongue-in-cheek insanity, but there's so little of it here, and Delamarre has no clue how to properly execute coherent, enjoyable set-pieces.

Skrein may not be Jason Statham, but he certainly wants to be. An Englishman much like his predecessor, Skrein espouses his best Statham growl impersonation (but it's still pretty bad), ostensibly even trying to mimic his walk at times, but it's all for naught. Whereas Statham exudes charisma and authority, Skrein is perhaps the least intimidating action hero wannabe of recent memory. The only real saving grace in the acting department is Stevenson, with the former Punisher showing that he still has what it takes. Honestly, this should have been Stevenson's show, since he's a far more agreeable movie badass. Hilariously, Stevenson is actually only three years older than Statham, and there's a mere nineteen-year age gap between Stevenson and Skrein. The rest of the actors aren't really worth mentioning, with forgettable foreign actors speaking broken English, and with no names ever sticking.

At the end of the day, The Transporter Refueled is a pointless reboot that nobody wanted or asked for, and it's so creatively bankrupt and unengaging that you will instantly forget it before the end credits have even expired. Hell, it's possible to forget the movie whilst watching it, as my mind certainly wandered, pondering more interesting things. With the Transporter TV series seemingly over, and with this pile of crap racking up an unimpressive figure at the worldwide box office, hopefully this is the end of the franchise.


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Charming, quintessential TV staple

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 28 January 2016 01:48 (A review of Columbo)

"There is just one more thing..."

A bona fide classic in the annals of television history, Columbo needs no introduction. Starring the late, great Peter Falk as the titular Italian homicide detective who's a lieutenant in the LAPD, it's a long-running formula crime show which has developed into a TV mainstay. (It happens to be Ricky Gervais's favourite show, as well.) If you tune into free-to-air television or cable right now, it's all but guaranteed that there will be an episode of Columbo being screened. And even more prestigious is the fact that the final episode aired over three decades after the show's commencement, with Falk having played the character for thirty-five years. If you are not familiar with Columbo - and if that is the case, why the hell not? - then there's no time like the present to become acquainted with this effortlessly charming, quintessential television staple.

The brainchild of Richard Levinson and William Link, who worked on several shows together, Columbo actually started out as a television movie called "Prescription: Murder" in 1968, which itself was a filmed version of a Broadway play. "Prescription: Murder" set the stage for what was to come by establishing the unique formula, and was followed up by a second pilot ("Ransom for a Dead Man") before Columbo began airing in full seasons as a TV show on NBC. With less than ten episodes a season, Levinson and Link had the time to focus on quality over quantity, with each episode being treated as a movie, overseen by a rotating roster of directors and writers. Columbo ran for seven consecutive seasons on NBC before laying dormant for over a decade, eventually being revived for a few additional seasons and the occasional special on ABC from 1989 until the final episode in 2003.

Whereas most murder mystery shows like Law & Order and CSI run for forty-five minutes per episode and are predominantly whodunits, Columbo is a different beast. Each episode is rather beefy, running between seventy and ninety-five minutes, essentially a feature-length film, and the "hook" is that we see the murder taking place and we know who the killer is; the fun is watching to find out how Columbo will nail the perpetrator. Each antagonist firmly believes they have staged the perfect murder, and put on an act around the police (some are better than others in this aspect), but there's always something that the beloved Lieutenant manages to sniff out. Naturally, not every episode is entirely successful in this respect, and in a number of cases, the major piece of evidence would likely be too slight to secure a conviction in real-life. In other episodes, Columbo concocts elaborate traps to coax confessions, but such situations do not always sit right. Still, the appeal of the show is watching the detective work, realism be damned. Admirably, Columbo is not afraid to shake up aspects of the formula - some episodes do have unexpected surprises, particularly the Season 5 episode "Forgotten Lady."

Lavish budgets were never at the show's disposal, and as a result, Columbo is small-scale - it's driven by dialogue set in low-key locales, with no action or anything pulse-pounding beyond the thrill of the procedural. Visually, the show is very basic, with minimal special effects and an almost workmanlike presentation, especially in the earlier seasons. Later seasons, though, are treated a bit more like theatrical features, exhibiting additional panache. The final episode, "Columbo Likes the Nightlife," is quite slick, with modernised, flashy visuals and techno music to bring the show into the 21st Century without losing sight of what made it so appealing. But that was to be the first and only contemporary Columbo, for better or for worse. Due to the show's style, it's hard to judge what any individual's reaction to the series may be in 2016. Some may find the telemovies leaden, boring or slow-paced, while others may have trouble accepting the unique way that Columbo operates. It certainly took me a few episodes to get in-tune with the show, but once I got there, it was well worth it.

On top of the show's format being unconventional, Falk's enormously enjoyable title character is unconventional to the extreme. Columbo is a policeman who favours unusual methods of solving each mystery, and he's not the typical television cop. Indeed, rather than a dashing man of action, Columbo is a scruffy detective, always looking tatty and smoking a cigar. Columbo likes to lull suspects into thinking that he's dumb (his appearance is merely a front), when in fact he's always one step ahead of them. He's very intelligent, picking up little things that others miss, often able to poke holes in the official line after five minutes at the crime scene, and it's great fun to watch him drive suspects up the wall by hanging around them so much. A lot of the pleasure derives from Columbo's interactions with the perpetrators - there's almost always a moment when he drives the murderer to full-on hate him, and that particular moment is always gold. He also struggles to get along with other members of the general public; a housekeeper in the Season 2 episode "Double Shock" cannot stand the detective or his dishevelled demeanour, and their exchanges are a common source of amusement. Humour is omnipresent in a number of telemovies, which is a huge part of the show's appeal. Columbo even has a dog that appears intermittently, leading to many amusing and adorable moments.

Also unique about Columbo is that some episodes take place in different cultures and even countries, with the Lieutenant solving murders in England and Mexico. The terrific Season 4 episode "By Dawn's Early Light" is set at a military academy, and it's priceless to see Columbo mingling with disciplined army personnel. A few episodes revolve around magicians, too, and Columbo is frequently coming into contact with actors and other celebrities. Another classic episode is the Season 7 telemovie "Murder Under Glass," which sees Columbo befriending a whole network of Italians, including chefs who cannot stop feeding the detective anything that he wishes. It's pure dynamite watching Columbo interact with other persons of his nationality who hold him in high regard.

It's hard to imagine anybody other than Falk as Columbo (Mark Ruffalo would be a good choice for any contemporary reboot, mind you). Put quite simply, Falk plays the role to perfection, emanating limitless charm, and he makes Columbo seem like a real person. It takes a few episodes for Falk to get his Columbo act down-pat ("Prescription: Murder" actually shows a more civilised Columbo), but once he settles into his groove, he's a joy to watch. He's one of the all-time great TV detectives. Another enjoyable aspect of the character is his wife. Never seen on-screen, but mentioned in most episodes, Mrs. Columbo is one of the best unseen television characters in history. Whenever Columbo works a case involving an actor or someone high-profile, he immediately tells the individual that his wife is their biggest fan. NBC actually commissioned a series called Mrs. Columbo in 1979, but it never caught on. Most problematic was the fact that the title role was played by Kate Mulgrew, who was only twenty-four years old when the show first aired, far too young to be a believable companion for the aging Falk. Eventually, Mulgrew's role was renamed from Kate Columbo to Kate Callaghan, with all Columbo references being dropped.

There are other fun little touches to the title character which bear pointing out - for instance, his first name is never "officially" revealed, with the creators insisting it's simply "Lieutenant," a gag that is actually used in a couple of episodes. (Some accept the theory that his name is Frank, but this has been denied by the producers.) And who else finds it odd that Columbo remains a lieutenant for over three decades, without ever receiving a promotion?

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Columbo is the host of distinguished directors responsible for its creation, and the guest stars who appear. The first episode of Season 1, "Murder by the Book," was helmed by none other than Mr. Steven Spielberg, with the telemovie airing mere months before Duel was released in 1971. Falk himself even tried his hand at directing the superb Season 1 episode "Blueprint for Murder," while other filmmakers like Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2), James Frawley (The Muppet Movie) and Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) have all made their mark. The roster of guest stars is equally impressive - the list includes Leslie Nielsen, John Cassavetes, Honor Blackman, Martin Landau, Martin Sheen, Vincent Price, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Johnny Cash, Dick Van Dyke, Roddy McDowall, William Shatner, and Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. Some actors appear more than once; Patrick McGoohan and Robert Culp play four different characters each. (Falk's actress-wife Shera Danese appears in six episodes, too.) Admirably, not all of the murderers are depicted as outright evil, with Columbo displaying sympathy towards some of the criminals that he's compelled to arrest. Columbo is extremely good at his job, but sometimes he almost feels bad slotting the last piece of evidence into place. It's this type of dynamic which elevates Columbo above the ordinary, along with the fact that some of the murderers are thoroughly charismatic. However, in other telemovies, it's incredibly satisfying to see the more arrogant killers getting their just desserts.

As to be expected from a long-running show, not all of the sixty-nine episodes are home runs. There are some real duds - the experimental "Last Salute to the Commodore" from Season 5 is a genuine chore to sit through, with shonky dialogue, skewwhiff pacing, and performances that are stilted, awkward and unsure. By a similar token, "Identity Crisis" (also from Season 5) is a bit too convoluted to be fun, "Undercover" is almost unwatchable, and it's hard to defend the below-par "No Time to Die," which doesn't even involve a murder and contains very little of what we love about the show! Most Columbo fans seem to concur that the greatest episodes are those from the original seven-season run on NBC, but the ABC years did lead to some standout telemovies; "Murder, Smoke and Shadows" from Season 8 is especially brilliant, with its Universal Studios setting and a spot-on, highly-charismatic Fisher Stevens as the killer. However, the majority the revival episodes are simply middle-of-the-road, lacking that spark of classic Columbo charm. It must also be said that Columbo doesn't do much in the way of detective work in the show's final years, leading to a few underwhelming endings ("Murder with Too Many Notes" squanders Billy Connolly's appearance with a dud finale), but the aforementioned "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" is thankfully grittier, observing the Lieutenant working hard to get his man.

In an age of high-tech detective programs, it's nice to kick back and observe a much simpler time, when the smallest piece of seemingly inconsequential evidence can nail a suspect. Columbo is easy to watch, and even provides an intriguing journey through time, with the fashions, technology, and general household décor differing from decade to decade, though our favourite Lieutenant's clothing never changes - he always wears that rumpled raincoat. (Also, who remembers being able to openly smoke inside houses, restaurants and other establishments?) Although some may find it unsatisfying that Columbo never received a more definitive finale to send him off, perhaps it's more fitting that the final episode simply ends like all the others, with Columbo departing the scene after placing a suspect in handcuffs. In this way, he can live on in our imaginations. Furthermore, even though this show is named for the legendary character, it's never actually about Columbo - his personal life is irrelevant. Sixty-nine telemovies may seem excessive, but in my opinion, it's not enough. Columbo is extraordinary television, and its accolades and awards across the years speak for themselves.


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Witty, insightful Australian dramedy

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 26 January 2016 06:42 (A review of Ruben Guthrie)

"Ruben Guthrie. Ad guy. Jumped off the roof pissed. Hot girlfriend left!"

Just as 1971's Wake in Fright explored Australia's alcoholic culture, 2015's Ruben Guthrie is a contemporary feature film concerned with the national fondness for booze, poignantly examining the ill effects of binge drinking in Aussie culture. Written and directed by Australian actor Brendan Cowell (Last Cab to Darwin, Beneath Hill 60), this is a witty, insightful observation of the human condition, and a relevant coming-of-age dramedy.

The titular Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammall) is a high-flying Sydney advertising executive with a lavish beachfront residence and a beautiful Czech fiancée named Zoya (Abbey Lee). But Ruben's predilection for hard partying threatens his wellbeing, with a drunken leap off the roof resulting in a broken arm, but he's blissfully ignorant of his precarious situation. However, Ruben is forced to re-assess his life when Zoya chooses to leave Australia, delivering an ultimatum: If he can give up booze for one year, she will give him another chance. Compelled to admit that he's an addict, Ruben goes cold turkey and signs up for AA, determined to win back his fiancée. The task is not as easy as he imagines, though - all of his best advertising work was done whilst on drugs, his old mate Damian (Alex Dimitriades) returns to his life wanting to party, and his parents (Robyn Nevin, Jack Thompson) are dedicated wine drinkers trying to convince their son to indulge.

Originally a stage play published in 2008, this is a semi-autobiographical tale for Cowell, who wrote the play after a dark time in his life during which he fell victim to alcoholism. It's a bold story to tell, as it shows just how difficult it is to go cold turkey in Australia, where drinking is considered a vital part of national culture. The easily offended may be repelled by the movie's content, though, as Ruben Guthrie is full of profanity and crude dialogue, and Cowell's views on Australia's destructive drinking culture are not exactly savoury. To the writer-director's credit, he does an efficient job of establishing Ruben's character, opening the movie with a hard partying scene reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the storytelling is sure-footed for a first-time feature filmmaker. Sarah Blasko's original music also works really well, and the flick doesn't outstay its welcome at 93 minutes in length. Less successful, however, is the portrayal of Ruben's new love interest Virginia (Harriet Dyer), who does come across as a bit of a cliché in the long run.

Ruben Guthrie does wear its theatre origins on its sleeve, with the majority of the picture taking place in low-key locales - houses, bars and AA meetings - but Cowell does take advantage of the cinematic medium, collaborating with cinematographer Simon Harding to create a stylish, European-looking flick, recognising the value of close-ups to effectively capture performances. Since Cowell is an actor himself, he has the good sense to let the actors do their thing without intrusive visual gimmicks. The picture's aesthetics are undoubtedly bolstered by the gorgeous Sydney scenery, with sweeping shots of the harbour and picturesque views, and the sun rarely shines brightly, making for a dim colour palette that suits the tone of the story. It's buoyed by an ensemble of fine thespians as well, led by Brammall who immerses himself into the titular role with remarkable conviction, while Thompson and Nevin are enormously believable as Ruben's self-absorbed parents. And as Ruben's beloved Zoya, Abbey Lee (last seen as one of Immortan Joe's wives in Mad Max: Fury Road) makes a positive impression, espousing a Czech accent that's wholly believable.

Much like the underrated Manny Lewis, perhaps Ruben Guthrie might have been more warmly received if it wasn't an Australian flick, as aspects of the production are unique to Aussie culture and may alienate foreign viewers. But the messages and morals of the narrative are universal, and the malleable premise could even be re-jigged for remakes. Even though Cowell's directorial eye may not be perfect, this is a strong theatrical debut for the actor, with worthwhile humour and involving drama. And best of all, it's not preachy or pretentious, though it can be heavy and depressing. In final analysis, Ruben Guthrie is worth checking out.


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A loving ode to the Rocky franchise

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 18 January 2016 02:26 (A review of Creed)

"Time takes everybody out; time's undefeated."

Creed is precisely the type of involving, crowd-pleasing independent motion picture that Rocky was back in 1976. Five sequels followed the Oscar-winning Rocky, with the most recent follow-up, 2006's Rocky Balboa, retiring Sylvester Stallone's iconic titular role in a respectful manner. It's understandable, then, that a degree of trepidation surrounded 2015's Creed, which threatened to spoil the perfect franchise conclusion concocted by Stallone nearly a decade ago. But under the care of co-writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), who was given Sly's blessing and support, Creed is far better than anybody could have reasonably expected, showing once again that Coogler truly is a cinematic talent to be reckoned with. For all intents and purposes, this can be considered a fan film, with Coogler crafting a reverent, affectionate valentine to the iconic franchise. Against all odds, though, Creed is an exhilarating extension of the series, a modern film delivered with true passion that harkens back to a previous era in all the right ways.

The illegitimate son of iconic former boxing champion Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) spends his childhood in foster care and juvenile hall, before finally being adopted by Apollo's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Although Mary Anne tries to raise Adonis on the straight and narrow, he's still his father's son, choosing to leave his secure white-collar job to pursue a career in the ring. Departing Los Angeles, Adonis travels to Philadelphia, where he tracks down Rocky Balboa (Stallone), who's still running a restaurant named for his beloved late wife Adrian. Despite Rocky's initial disinterest, Adonis convinces the aging boxer to train him, with the two ultimately forming a tender friendship based on mutual trust and respect. In addition, Adonis finds love in Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician with progressive hearing loss who enraptures the wannabe fighter. Adonis seeks to make a name for himself without using the name "Creed," but word soon gets out about his heritage, and before long he's challenged by hothead English boxing champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew).

It's clear that Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington did their homework before embarking on Creed, and the result is an organic continuation with a fundamental understanding of Balboa as a character. Rocky's every line of dialogue feels real, with ideal Rocky-isms and tender humour as Coogler takes the champ to the next logical place in his life without coming off as contrived. And although Adonis is the focus of the story, Coogler finds time to peer into Rocky's personal life, with a poignant visit to the cemetery that will no doubt bring tears to the eyes of many. The idea of Rocky as a coach may have been explored in Rocky V, but that dismal follow-up was brought down by a naff, surface-level script - by comparison, Creed feels thoroughly authentic. There are echoes of the original Rocky in terms of narrative structure, and some may even call it a remake, but the execution is close to perfect, emerging as a distinct new entry in the franchise. And although the romance between Adonis and Bianca does seem almost obligatory, it's a vital part of the plot, with the coupling proving to be wholly endearing.

Creed is teeming with references to the Rocky movies, but such aspects are meaningful and nuanced without ever coming off as cheap fan service. The story returns to Mickey's old gym where it all began, for instance, and in one scene Adonis shadowboxes against Apollo who's projected on a wall via a YouTube video of his initial match with Balboa. Commendably, Creed does not play out like some victory lap which rides on the legacy of the Rocky franchise. Rather, it is a very heavy drama at times, reminiscent of the original Rocky more than the cheesy fun of Rocky IV. There are some dramatic developments which may not sit right with long-time fans at first, but the material is tastefully-handled and makes sense in the context of the narrative. But as powerful and affecting as the picture may be, it's not an insufferably dour drama, as Coogler incorporates the same brand of humour glimpsed in the Rocky movies without going over-the-top.

Recapturing the gritty cinematic aesthetic of its predecessors, the look of Creed is spot-on, with Coogler always maintaining firm control of his movie. The intensity of the ring is also perfectly captured, with one amazing boxing match lensed in an unbroken extended take, immediately setting it apart from similar endeavours. And the grand finale, portrayed in prototypical Rocky style, is raw and visceral, easily drawing you in and encouraging you to cheer for Adonis in the same way that we have cheered for Balboa in previous instalments. The fight choreography is especially stunning; punches look authentic and blood is shed, but Coogler also recognises that our investment in the fights derives from proper characterisation, with Adonis an effortlessly likeable lead. Also beneficial is Ludwig Göransson's incredible score, which is reminiscent of Bill Conti's memorable musical contributions to the Rocky saga whilst still establishing its own distinctive identity. The movie even makes tasteful use of the iconic Rocky theme, which makes for one of the most goosebump-inducing moments in cinema of 2015.

Many will come to Creed to see Stallone as Rocky Balboa once again, yet Jordan manages to hold his own against the heavyweight, atoning for Fantastic Four in style. Adonis is tough, yet the movie also reveals a more vulnerable side, with Jordan carving out a believable, fallible character. But while his performance is damn good, most people will no doubt walk away from Creed with a renewed love for Mr. Stallone. This is precisely the movie that Stallone needed to bring him back down to earth, as the actor's ego has undoubtedly gotten the best of him lately. Sly slips back into his iconic role as if no time has passed, submitting his most beautifully-nuanced work since, well, 2006's Rocky Balboa. Rocky has changed since his first appearance in 1976, becoming older and wiser, but he still has a big heart. The script gives Stallone the chance to show off his acting chops that many may have forgotten he even possesses, and he nails it. It's a very real performance, and one particular moment at a hospital features perhaps the best instance of acting in Stallone's career. It is heartfelt work from the veteran and his Golden Globe win was well-deserved. Meanwhile, Thompson is a smart pick for the warm-hearted Bianca, and Rashad makes a positive impression as Mary Anne. However, as Conlan, Tony Bellew is an out-and-out cartoon, creating a typical villain role for us to actively root against, and that almost betrays the realistic tone that Coogler strives for.

As with the majority of the Rocky movies, there are real-life allegories to be drawn from Creed; just as Adonis passionately strives to carve out his own legacy and escape his father's shadow, the movie itself is trying to create its own legacy and escape the shadow of the Rocky franchise. The only real drawback is that it's not Rocky, and by boldly including Balboa, setting the story in Philly, and adhering to a Rocky-esque narrative, it does invite comparisons. And yet, Coogler infuses the movie with its own voice, and the result quite simply works. It pulls on the heartstrings without shame, leading to a final scene that's impossible to watch with dry eyes, especially if you're a long-time fan of the Rocky franchise. It's a tried-and-true formula movie in some respects, but the skill of the execution elevates Creed; it's one of the best movies of 2015.


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Fun, raucous horror-comedy romp

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 15 January 2016 04:41 (A review of Deathgasm)

"Wouldn't it be crazy if the music had something to do with demons?"

2015's Deathgasm is very much a throwback horror picture, with New Zealand writer-director Jason Lei Howden creating an excessively gory splatter flick clearly inspired by the likes of Evil Dead, Bad Taste and Braindead, among others, with a dash of heavy metal music for good measure. A gleefully off-the-hook horror-comedy, it's the helming debut for Howden, a visual effects artist who worked on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, among many other big-budget productions. The joys of Deathgasm are hard to deny, as it's teeming with humour and tongue-in-cheek gore, while the story is also enhanced by the nuances of life as a young metalhead. It's a total gas for those who enjoy these kinds of low-budget indie horrors, easily exceeding many of the more generously-budgeted scare-fests of 2015.

When his drug-addicted mother is put into a mental hospital, teenager Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is sent to a nowhere town to live with his conservative Uncle Albert (Colin Moy) and bullying cousin David (Nick Hoskins-Smith). Brodie immediately struggles to fit in, but he soon bonds with aspiring musician Zakk (James Blake), who has a comparable interest in death metal. The pair soon decide to form a metal band called "Deathgasm," also recruiting fellow outcasts Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), who love to play "Dungeons & Dragons." Brodie also befriends the beautiful Medina (Kimberly Crossman), who usually dates arrogant jocks. Stealing a mysterious music sheet from aging rocker Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure), Brodie and his friends perform the song therein, but in the process accidentally unleash demonic forces upon the town.

Visual language is used to get across the characterisations and the light-hearted tone in no time, with Brodie and Zakk's love for metal influencing their looks, and there's even some brief animation resembling notebook doodlings. Howden has stated that there is an autobiographical slant to the story, imbuing Deathgasm with a specific interest in, and affection for, death metal. Brodie is based on Howden's experiences as a metalhead teen, lending a certain believability to the portrayal of the teenagers which makes them feel real, and it helps that Howden has a talent for writing amusing dialogue and sly gags (including a creative Rick Roll joke). There are some amateurish performances here from the supporting players in particular, but Cawthorne (whose filmography also includes Power Rangers R.P.M.) is a smart choice for the role of Brodie, even if he does look more like a twenty-something than a teenager. Another huge asset is Kimberly Crossman (another former Power Ranger) playing the token love interest; she's disarming, and it's believable that all the boys in school lust after her.

In its opening act, Deathgasm is all about youth problems and heavy metal, but once the cursed sheet music is performed by the titular band, demons are unleashed and the movie becomes a gleefully over-the-top splatterfest, taking palpable inspiration from the Evil Dead series as well as Peter Jackson's early cinematic efforts. Once the main characters recognise the threat, they take up makeshift weaponry, including chainsaws, a grass trimmer, axes, and even sex toys, sustaining an atmosphere of cheeky mischief as possessed townspeople are disembodied in inspired acts of exaggerated ultra-violence, brought to life through old-school practical special effects. Howden may be a digital VFX artist, but he recognised the importance of practical effects in a production of this ilk, even hiring the New Zealand-based special effects company who worked on both the Evil Dead remake and the Ash vs. Evil Dead TV show. The tone for Deathgasm is spot-on - it's neither a jokey farce nor an uncomfortable gore-fest, with Howden achieving the right tongue-in-cheek approach while still treating the material with sincerity. Also beneficial is Simon Raby's smooth cinematography which effectively captures all the bloody mayhem without resorting to shaky-cam, while heavy metal songs dominate the soundtrack.

For the most part, Deathgasm succeeds as a fun, raucous romp, remaining juvenile and madcap as the craziness unfolds, but the movie begins running out of steam into its third act, with a few unnecessarily dramatic story developments threatening to hinder the fun vibe. It should be an easy sprint to the finish line, but momentum is halted at the wrong time, and the lag is felt. Plus, although the climax is excessively splattery, it's not quite as adept as the rest of the picture, with Howden struggling to maintain authority over the material. Still, some of these shortcomings are understandable given the low budget and the restricted shooting schedule. For what it is, Deathgasm is an agreeable, funny, entertaining throwback horror-comedy. And be sure to stick around until the end of the credits for an additional scene.


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Undeniably endearing retro spy caper

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 14 January 2016 08:14 (A review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

"For a special agent, you're not having a very special day, are you?"

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the latest attempt to transform a bygone television show into a new cinematic franchise, following in the shadow of Mission: Impossible, The Equalizer, Get Smart, and too many more to list. A retro, old-fashioned spy caper, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on the TV show of the same name from the 1960s, and thankfully it's a strong enough movie to stand alone as its own entity - it still works even if you aren't familiar with the show. Sleekly directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Snatch), the movie is admittedly light on substance, but the execution is truly something to behold, with Ritchie working overtime to turn the humdrum narrative into a genuinely exciting blockbuster. It's a ridiculously entertaining and often droll espionage globe-trotter, bolstered by the jazzy music, stylish photography, spot-on period detail, sumptuous locales and taut editing, and the end result is undeniably endearing, as hollow as it may be.

Set in 1963 as the Cold War is heating up, stylish C.I.A. agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is assigned to retrieve a car mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander) from East Berlin. Gaby is the daughter of a top nuclear scientist who's tied to a powerful weapon with the potential to end the world, and the United States government hopes that Gaby can help find her missing father to thwart the plot. Despite the tensions between America and the Soviet Union, the warring governments recognise the gravity of the situation, putting aside their differences to work together. Thus, Solo is paired with KGB Agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), though the two are incredibly reluctant to trust one another. With the threat of doomsday looming, Solo and Kuryakin are sent to Rome with Gaby, instructed to infiltrate the inner circle of those suspected of possessing the world-ending nuclear warhead.

It's the period setting which sets The Man from U.N.C.L.E. apart from contemporary spy flicks. Other television adaptations like Mission: Impossible were updated to take place in the here and now, but Ritchie's flick stays true to the source. The script recaptures the political climate and the paranoia of the 1960s, using Cold War touches to establish a logical divide between Solo and Kuryakin, who have serious trust issues and even have nicknames for one another. (Solo is "Cowboy" and Kuryakin is "Red Peril.") On top of this, U.N.C.L.E. is one of the most visually distinctive actioners of recent memory due to its retro touches, with period authenticity in terms of fashion and production design, while Daniel Pemberton provides a high-energy original score that's full of memorable themes. Other tunes from the era are also called upon - for instance, the Italian ballad "Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera?" by Peppino Gagliardi dominates one particularly fun, tongue-in-cheek set-piece. Indeed, Ritchie's unique cinematic sensibilities are on full display here, and it's marvellous.

Written by Ritchie and frequent collaborator Lionel Wigram, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. moves at an involving pace, with tight storytelling, and the script is teeming with amusing bantering and comedy which makes for a constant source of joy. Ritchie even manages to infuse the necessary exposition with his trademark visual energy, and the enormously engaging action sequences actually make sense in the context of the narrative, rather than coming across as an excuse for bombastic theatrics. Momentum does noticeably lag, however, during a prolonged torture sequence that runs beyond its logical closure point, but Ritchie compensates for this with a borderline flawless finale which manages to be smart as well as exciting. U.N.C.L.E. greatly benefits from its visual scheme, with superlative photography courtesy of veteran cinematographer John Mathieson (X-Men: First Class, Gladiator), and though the movie was lensed digitally, it does carry the look of celluloid, with a slightly washed-out colour palette to resemble spy films from the 1960s. Ritchie employs split-screens to provide an extra visual spark, and even finds time for some creative sight gags, including an inventively-staged speedboat chase.

Cavill is a great fit for the role of Solo, with the British thespian swallowing his native accent to espouse an effectively exaggerated American drawl. He's an enormously charismatic presence, handling the humorous dialogue effectively and coming off as effortlessly cool. Equally solid is Hammer, who just cannot catch a box office break, it seems. Still, it's difficult to fault the actor here, who's an irresistible Illya Kuryakin, decked out with a convincing enough Russian accent. Hammer is mostly called upon to be deadpan, but manages to be likeable, and he's quite funny at times. Rounding out the main players is Vikander - last seen in the exceptional Ex Machina - who's just fine as Gaby. Other actors pop up in the supporting cast, too, with the likes of Hugh Grant and Jared Harris making their mark, while Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani are great villains.

It is difficult to become genuinely invested in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but it is undeniably entertaining, with Ritchie using every tool in his cinematic arsenal to keep the movie buoyant and eye-catching, even if it's hard to recall too much of it a few weeks after viewing. And since this is intended to be the first in a new franchise, the conclusion is open-ended to set up a possible sequel, which would be an enticing prospect. However, with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. bringing in mediocre box office returns, it's doubtful we'll see any follow-ups, which is a damn shame. 


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Watchable, in spite of its flaws

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 13 January 2016 03:51 (A review of Tremors 5: Bloodlines)

"That's right. Fly right into my crosshairs, you fire-farting son of a bitch."

2015's Tremors 5: Bloodlines should be a lot worse than it is. The fifth instalment in a franchise that also spawned a short-lived television show in 2003, this is also a straight-to-video effort, overseen by veteran B-movie director Don Michael Paul (Jarhead 2, Sniper 5, Lake Placid 4, Who's Your Caddy?). Perhaps owing to low expectations, Tremors 5 is an entertaining enough sequel, sporting decent production values and even bringing back franchise mainstay Michael Gross. It's not all good news, however - despite a polished presentation, Paul's movie is unable to escape its low-budget origins, with a slipshod screenplay and dull plotting, not to mention occasionally risible dialogue.

Now a minor celebrity with his own survivalist television show, Burt Gummer (Gross) has carved out a career based on his Graboid-hunting skills, even releasing his own line of food and drink products. Out of the blue, he's approached by Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy), who wants to join Burt's team and help the old man fulfil his potential. Negotiating a mutually beneficial deal, Burt and Travis travel to South Africa, where Graboids have started attacking the locals. Erich Van Wyck (Daniel Janks) seeks to enlist Burt's assistance to capture an "Ass-Blaster" variation of the Graboid, but, as to be expected, things do not exactly go to plan, leaving the veteran hunter to clean up the infestation.

With a screenplay credited to four writers, Tremors 5 falls victim to a common pitfall of direct-to-video creature features: overcomplicating a simple narrative. This should be a story of Burt simply kicking butt in South Africa with help from Travis, but forgettable, generic ancillary characters are thrown in as well (no names ever stick), and other pointless subplots are added, including a futile detour involving Burt being locked in a cage that only leads to a lion urinating on him. A minor human antagonist is introduced as well, whose sole purpose is to get eaten. No real imagination is presented in Tremors 5, which is also highly derivative, liberally borrowing from Aliens and Jurassic Park, while the script also takes inspiration from 2013's Pacific Rim. The original Tremors was a very funny tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy, but unfortunately this fifth entry is not nearly as successful on the humour front. The actors try to mine laughs, but it only leads to a handful of awful improvised lines from Kennedy, and other horrendous attempts at comedy, including the aforementioned scene of a caged Burt. Dialogue is expectedly standard-order, in need of a spark of wit to liven up the enterprise. Also, it's borderline embarrassing to see Kennedy's stunt double doing BMX stunts during the opening credits.

Tremors 5 does contribute to the mythology of the franchise to an extent, even opening with a segment from Gummer's TV show which discusses the Graboids and Ass-Blasters at length for anybody who isn't familiar with the franchise. And upon arriving in South Africa, Burt finds that the monsters have evolved somewhat differently, which allows the movie to shake things up a little bit. The location switch to Africa was likely done for budgetary reasons, but it does add new scenery to the series, even though the cinematography is exceedingly workmanlike. On a more positive note, Tremors 5 does boast reasonably convincing special effects for a direct-to-video effort, and director Don Michael Paul doesn't make the mistake of keeping the digital beasts front and centre for the entire movie. Rather, glimpses of the creatures are fleeting, relying more on sound design and practically-achieved sprays of dirt to establish the presence of the Graboids. However, there is a particularly woeful attempt to mimic the raptors in the kitchen scene of Jurassic Park that only serves to underline how much Paul pales in comparison to Steven Spielberg.

The only actor to appear in all the Tremors movies as well as the TV show, Gross continues to have a lot of fun in his iconic role, emerging as the best thing in the entire movie. When Tremors 5: Bloodlines observes Gross battling the Graboids, it's solid fun, even if the rest of the movie is not nearly as successful. Kennedy, who was so amusing as the film buff in the Scream series, mugs the camera too often, while the rest of the cast members fail to make an impact. Still, for what it is, Tremors 5 provides a certain degree of entertainment in spite of its shortcomings, and the fact that it's not irredeemably awful is a big deal.


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A quintessential special effects picture

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 11 January 2016 06:10 (A review of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad)

"When the big that is small shall again become tall, into fiery rock to rise you must fall."

Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen was responsible for a number of esteemed classics, but 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad remains one of his best-remembered efforts. The first feature film involving stop-motion animation to be shot entirely in colour, this is a breezy, entertaining action-adventure, and it's easy to see why children were so besotted with it back in the day, and why it inspired so many budding filmmakers and special effects artists. The production has dated in some respects, yet this is not enough to diminish the movie's limitless charms, and it remains a quintessential special effects picture that film buffs simply need to see.

While sailing through the Persian Gulf, Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his crew happen upon the island of Colossa, where they find ample supplies to feed the starving men. However, a giant Cyclops does not take kindly to the crew's intrusion, forcing them to set sail and leave. In the scuffle, magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) loses a precious lamp containing a boy genie (Richard Eyer). Sokurah pleads with Sinbad to return to Colossa to retrieve the lamp, but the mission is deemed too risky. Back in Baghdad, the desperate Sokurah secretly shrinks Sinbad's beloved Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant). Sokurah tells Sinbad that he can reverse the curse, but claims that an essential ingredient for the required magic potion can only be found on the island of Colossa. Left with no options, Sinbad embarks on a perilous voyage, with Sokurah joining his crew.

Running at a scant 88 minutes, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is concise and to the point, remaining involving and entertaining for the majority of its runtime. Interesting to note, this is one Ray Harryhausen film for which the animator was heavily involved in the pre-production process. Harryhausen hatched the idea of a special effects-laden Sinbad movie, drawing up sketches of the creatures, and doing work on the movie long before director Nathan Juran or screenwriter Ken Kolb were recruited. Thus, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is designed for maximum action scenes and creatures, but the story nevertheless does its job well enough, stilted though it may sometimes be. Indeed, the material set in Baghdad is hit-and-miss, but the picture really hits its stride once Sinbad and his men arrive on Colossa. The actors are mostly effective, with Mathews a bit wooden as Sinbad, but as Harryhausen himself has pointed out, he does do a convincing job playing opposite creatures and actors who were not present on-set. The only real standout is Thatcher, who's a memorable antagonist.

To be sure, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has dated a fair amount, even by Harryhausen standards. Produced five years before 1963's still-impressive Jason and the Argonauts, the animation does lack refinement, and some of the creatures look too much like clay toys. As to be expected, too, the rest of the special effects work does look rough around the edges, but this adds to the movie's old-world charm. Indeed, it's still easy to enjoy and admire Harryhausen's special effects work, and it's easy to see why kids were so enraptured with this film back when it was first released. Harryhausen did such a good job, in fact, that his effects technique earned its own label: "dynamation," a portmanteau of "dynamic animation."

There are a number of notable set-pieces through The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Harryhausen also wonderfully pays homage to the beloved 1933 incarnation of King Kong, with a late battle between the infamous Cyclops and a dragon looking delightfully reminiscent of the sequence of Kong taking down a long-necked dinosaur. Another memorable aspect of the movie is Bernard Herrmann's score. This was Herrmann's first time composing a score for a Harryhausen picture, and he does a fine job. The central theme is insanely memorable, while the music throughout effortlessly amplifies the sense of adventure and excitement.

It's hard to predict any individual's reaction to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in the 21st Century. If old-fashioned action-adventure pics are your jam, you will probably enjoy it and appreciate the artistry on-screen. But if you have a low tolerance for "old" movies, there's no talking to you. For my money, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has its drawbacks, but it's nevertheless a fun action-adventure.


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Not a total bust, but still disposable

Posted : 1 year, 8 months ago on 10 January 2016 03:28 (A review of Hitman: Agent 47)

"We determine who we are by what we do."

Almost a decade has elapsed since 2007's Hitman entered multiplexes, with Fox having sought to launch another cinematic franchise based on a popular video game property, and perhaps ape the success of the still-running Resident Evil series. The box office returns were nothing to brag about, however, and now Fox is trying again, with 2015's Hitman: Agent 47 serving as a reboot of the earlier movie, hoping that this second incarnation of the titular assassin will click more successfully with viewers. Although tagged as a reboot, it can almost be considered a sequel to the 2007 film if you really desire, since Hitman: Agent 47 doesn't contradict its predecessor and the video games were never intrinsically tied to one another. Helmed by first-time feature-film director Aleksander Bach, the movie is fairly disposable on the whole, but it's not a total bust thanks to its often attractive visual design and a number of enjoyable action sequences.

A genetically engineered professional killer, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) was created as part of an experiment carried out by a secret society looking to breed the world's most effective assassins, imbued with heightened senses and strength, acute intelligence, and a lack of emotion. Hired for what seems like just another assignment, 47 is sent to track down Katia (Hannah Ware), the lost daughter of Dr. Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds), who led the now-defunct Agent program and escaped with the manufacturing plans. Both the Syndicate and the International Contracts Agency seek to track down Litvenko in order to restart the program, with Katia perceived as the golden key to finding the scientist.

Unfortunately, Hitman: Agent 47 suffers from uneven pacing and dull plotting, with the script unwisely overthinking 47, making the story needlessly personal and foolishly trying to inject humanity into the cold-blooded assassin. Consequently, it undermines the character and betrays his videogame origins, not to mention it turns 47 into a generic action protagonist rather than the dark anti-hero of the games. Bafflingly, this Hitman was co-scripted by Skip Woods, who was also responsible for the 2007 movie, and whose filmography does not exactly suggest he's a stickler for quality - he also penned The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and A Good Day to Die Hard. Woods and co-writer Michael Finch actually take their cues from 1984's The Terminator in the flick's earlier stages, establishing 47 as the villain which would have been an interesting twist, but this Hitman eventually transforms into a more generic no-brainer action effort. What a shame.

Even with its glaring script issues, however, the flick is mostly satisfying when locked in action mode, with acrobatic, John Wick-style shootouts allowing 47 to show off his impressive firearm skills. Equipped with a highly appreciated R rating from the MPAA, blood sprays with wild abandon and kills are allowed to be brutal, giving the shootouts more impact. It's little surprise that director Bach cut his teeth with commercials and music videos, as Hitman: Agent 47 is a glossy movie, with designer clothing, stylish automobiles and shiny weapons. Bach delivers in terms of eye candy, with a slick presentation that keeps the movie watchable, even if the helmer has much to learn about pacing. However, the movie does lean too heavily on shonky digital effects, with noticeable CGI that often takes you out of the movie, not to mention the fights are undermined by shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing. It's doubtful Fox were too enthusiastic about the project, thus costs were kept low, with the reported budget coming in at a mere $35 million, which is most likely to blame for the poor VFX work.

The role of 47 was originally intended for Paul Walker in the early stages of production, but his sudden and unfortunate death prompted a hasty re-cast. In his place, Friend acquits himself well enough, looking believable as a man of action while also coming across as intelligent. With the bald head, Friend bears a sufficient likeness to his video game counterpart, which should please fans. Speaking of the games, the movie does contain a few Easter Eggs that eagle-eyed viewers may notice, but Hitman: Agent 47 is still entirely suitable for the uninitiated who are unfamiliar with the source. It is clear, though, that the movie is more geared towards the Resident Evil audience, with the script even allowing a female character to kick some butt. Performances across the board are merely adequate, with Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto barely registering, while Thomas Kretschmann plays the generic bad guy role with absolutely no undue effort.

Hitman: Agent 47 plays out with the same lustre and logic of a straight-to-video endeavour, but has the benefit of a slightly larger budget, even if the end result suffers from cheap-looking special effects. Still, the flick is watchable thanks to the frequent action scenes that are fast and coherent more often than not. Unfortunately, since this is wannabe franchise, Hitman: Agent 47 is not given a proper ending, closing on something of a cliffhanger to set up a possible second movie. Frankly, the open-ended conclusion is rather puzzling, especially given that the 2007 movie failed to spawn a sequel. Follow-ups would be interesting to see, but only if Fox can recruit better writers.


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