Tag: brenton thwaites

The Signal

The Signal (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

On their way to California to drop off Haley (Olivia Cooke), Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are contacted by a hacker whose code name is Nomad. The two guys are able to track Nomad’s IP address in Nevada—which is a coincidence because they are just above hundred miles away. Soon, they come across a seemingly abandoned house and there is no sign of the man they wish to meet. While in the basement, Nic and Jonah hear Haley screaming from outside.

“The Signal,” written by Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio and William Eubank, is a science fiction film that shows promise but ultimately does not deliver. The first half is unusually strong because the screenplay capitalizes on the viewers’ curiosity; details are presented like jigsaw puzzle pieces and it is up to us to try to make sense of whatever may be going on. The final thirty minutes, however, is a bore. Despite the noises, special, and visual effects, the picture fails to provide answers that are worthy of the rising action.

Its carefully calibrated pacing is a perfect fit for its mystery. A morbid curiosity is created as Nic sits in a white room on a wheelchair as he is questioned by the creepy Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). There is talk about him being “extremely contagious” and yet he is never provided the details of the disease or, if it is a disease that is not fully understood, the symptoms one might expect. Nic finds numerical tattoos on his wrist. He is given exams like matching words with shapes. Nic is given surface information but not the details. This angers him and he wishes to break out of the research facility because there is a chance the whole thing could be a charade.

Director William Eubank knows how to frame faces, especially his lead. Because Nic does not trust anyone in the facility, Thwaites is required to communicate most of the time using his facial muscles. Thus, when the character is alone in a room, the camera tends to showcase the performer from the neck up. As a result, we wonder what might be going through Nic’s mind. How does he gain the upper hand knowing the fact that he is clearly valued? Is he plotting escape? Given that his body is compromised, how does he go on about rescuing Haley and Jonah?

Once the story begins to take place in a desert town, the picture loses curiosity and momentum. Although questions are still being raised—Why is everybody so strange? Why are the phone lines always down?—we get the feeling that it is about time we are provided answers… Not just any answers but ones that come across concrete. Alas, as expected, the answer is revealed in the final shot—which I found lazy and unimaginative.

Visually stylish, “The Signal” is likely to impress some. It is clear that some thought is actually put into it. But for those expecting that its potential will reach maximum capacity will be disappointed. Perhaps a rewrite or two might have turned this into a gem that may not be embraced by the mainstream but is valued by viewers seeking for something refreshing—even ten or twenty years from now.

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt (2016)
★ / ★★★★

“Gods of Egypt,” directed by Alex Proyas, demands the audience not only to turn our brain off but also everything else that separates us from a lump of coal—an important difference between silly, light popcorn entertainment and a dirge disguised as film.

Not one of the action sequences is especially thrilling, suspenseful, or creative. Credit goes to the overreliance on computer graphic imagery to create a semblance of excitement. Since the majority of what we are seeing looks and feels fake, the material fails to create a world, emotion, or experience we can connect with and hold onto. In addition, the fact that the action, especially the one-on-one duels, look too choreographed, the visuals come across more like a video game than a natural culmination or climax of an ambitious, epic story.

The story, if one were generous enough to call it as such, is also a disappointment. During the coronation of Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), son of Osiris (Bryan Brown), the sole brother of the current king, Set (Gerard Butler), disrupts the event because he believes it is his right to rule Egypt. Set murders Osiris, takes away Horus’ sight, and claims the crown. Meanwhile, mortals are forced into slavery in order to build an obelisk tower and amass wealth to quench their ruler’s unending obsession with riches and power.

In a world where gods and mortals walk together, despite a significant height difference, the picture lacks intrigue. Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a petty thief, is not at all an interesting protagonist because the writing by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless fails to go beyond the young man being madly in love for a girl. He is one-dimensional, transparent, and boring because his actions are solely driven by his romantic, sugary-sweet affections or what his partner wishes him to do. There is no inner turmoil. Not once do we hear him express that he wants to do what he knows is right for Egypt.

Horus, too, is very bland—but in a different way. There is a lack of transition between the changes that the character undergoes. Thus, we do not believe the changes that happens to him throughout his journey. The happy ending, although inevitable, feels too tacked on because we are never convinced that the mighty god has learned anything.

The film is an incredible misfire. From an action-adventure point of view, there is no sense of fun or creativity. The few lines that are meant to be jokes or sarcastic remarks are misplaced and obvious. One gets an increasingly sinking feeling that the piece of work being shown on screen is simply going through the motions. Revisit Stephen Sommers’ enjoyable, energetic, and creative “The Mummy” instead.

The Giver

The Giver (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

After an event only referred to as The Ruin, the Elders (the chief elder played by Meryl Streep) decided to erase all humanity’s memories of the past in order to create a new society defined by true equality. People’s ability to choose is also taken away and the Elders must be respected for never erring. Although people have lived in serenity since then, acts of evil remain—only the practices are more sleuth and hidden behind euphemisms like “release” and “Elsewhere.”

Directed by Phillip Noyce, “The Giver” brims with potential in terms of its capacity to entertain, to get us to be involved emotionally, and to dazzle us in such a way that very few dystopian films aimed at young adults have achieved. Instead, the final work comes across superficial, rushed, and laughable at times due to its glaring contradictions. The screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide does not provide an effective transition between novel and film so, in the end, there is only potential and mediocrity.

At least it offers some visual splendor. The first third of the picture is in black-and-white to denote a society that is devoid of diversity, flavor, and excitement. As our protagonist begins to learn more about the tyranny imposed upon his community, spots of color are more easily seen—by him as well as the audience.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assessed to have all four traits that could make an excellent receiver of memory: intelligence, courage, integrity, and the capacity to see beyond. He is required to visit The Giver (Jeff Bridges) on a daily basis in order for him to receive the memory of the past—good and bad. But the stark differences between the past and present inspire Jonas to challenge the current system. He feels that the memories should not be contained but be given to everybody.

Underwritten characters are abound. While Jonas can be relatively interesting at times because of Thwaites’ ability to convey innocence and determination, we do not completely get under the skin of the lead character’s inner thoughts and personal turmoil. Thus, he is not a believable savior, certainly not someone we can imagine making it through the challenges given by those in charge. Compared to well-written leads in recent dystopian pictures targeted toward teenagers, such as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” series and Thomas in “The Maze Runner” series, Jonas is too bland, without a modicum of urgency and innate fire.

I did not buy into the friendships whatsoever. Scenes involving Fiona (Odeya Rish) and Asher (Cameron Monghan) are a complete bore. We do not learn anything about their lives, let alone how they think or what it is about them that are drawn to one another. They are defined only by their actions toward the end to prove whether or not their friendship with Jonas is strong. The same critique can be applied to Jonas’ family. Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård) lack dimension so when they are required to do anything, there is no tension prior to their supposedly defining decisions.

The only moments with a glimmer of wonder involve Jonas and The Giver’s private sessions. As memories are being transferred, we get to see glimpses of them. The images are filled with color, energy, and vitality that they completely overshadow everything else, from the lackluster speeches made by Chief Elder to the romance between Jonas and Fiona.

Based on the book by Lois Lowry, “The Giver” will be begging to be remade ten to twenty years from now. I believe that the story can be translated exactly right to the screen. We have the technology for it. We just need screenwriters daring enough to take risks and make necessary changes in order to aid the transition. And because of the depth of the material, the running time will absolutely need to be longer than the current standard.


Maleficent (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Her wings taken away while she slept, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) a faerie who protects the Moors, vows to get vengeance from the human she thought she loved and loved her back. Since the betrayal, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a human, has been rewarded the crown, gotten married, and had a child.

It is the day of the the princess’ christening and Maleficent, uninvited, comes to visit. Her present: a curse that will take effect upon the newborn’s sixteenth birthday. Once she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, she will succumb to a very deep sleep and may never waken unless she receives a true love’s kiss.

Written by Linda Woolverton and directed by Robert Stromberg, “Maleficent” boasts splendid visuals and a confidence to offer an alternative perspective with respect to the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty. For the most part, it is enjoyable to watch. Its weakness, however, lies in some of the characterization of the main players from the original story, from the handsome prince (Brenton Thwaites) to the three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple) who raise the infant away from the castle.

Jolie does a wonderful job playing an iconic character. I was suspect whether she could pull off the sweeter moments required in order for the audience to sympathize with her character because she has a natural harsh look. Despite the dark and heavy makeup, she is able to control her face in such a way that the sharp cheekbones appear a little bit softer. However, the magic, as always, is in the eyes. She is able to deliver different and subtle expressions through them depending on the turn of events. Imagine someone else in the same role with only one look. It would have been a disaster because the character would likely have become a caricature.

Although the picture is teeming with visually striking computer graphic images, they do not always work. To me, a lot of the scenes in the Moors look superficial and fake. It is one thing to create various mythic creatures but it is another to overdo how the plants look. The grass and trees look like they come straight off a fantasy world. This is most unnecessary. The only part where CGI plants work is when giant, thorny vines surround the Moors in order to protect the place and its inhabitants from the invading humans.

Perhaps more unpleasant to look at is the three pixies. Whoever thought that it is a good idea to put the actors’ faces on animated bodies ought to have been asked to leave the planning room. I was at a loss as to why having ten-inch pixies were deemed necessary when they transform themselves to the height of humans eventually. Why not simply give Staunton, Manville, and Temple wings and had been allowed to fly once in a while?

The prince might just as well not have appeared in the movie. A part of me was very amused because he is required to do only three things: ride a horse, fall asleep, and kiss the princess. The character might as well have been mute because when he does speak, the content is fluff and easily forgotten. And yet a part of me felt that he should have had a more prominent role. In what way? Perhaps it might have been a good idea for the screenwriter to give him a trait that is absent from the original work. Here, it gives the impression that he is shown for the sake of making an appearance.

I was surprised because I found myself emotionally invested in Maleficent’s redemption. It is refreshing to see that there is no hero or heroine to show the “villain” the error of her ways. There is no grand speeches, only silences and observation. Though she has magical powers, she is as powerless as the humans when it comes to doing things out of anger that cannot be undone.


Oculus (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is deemed fit by his psychiatrist to be released from a mental hospital so his sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), comes to pick him up. Over lunch, Kaylie tells Tim that she has found it—the antique mirror that ruined their family eleven years ago—and the time has come for them to fulfill their promise.

Director Mike Flanagan has shaped one of the most effective and creative horror independent pictures in the past five years with “Absentia,” about two sisters and a tunnel with terrible secrets. In a way, “Oculus” follows a similar skeletal framework in that it is about a brother-sister pair and a mysterious, possibly sinister, object. The siblings in both films are separated by time and space. The latter, however, pales in comparison because its premise never moves beyond its structural conceit.

While it is always daring that a horror film is injected with dramatic elements through a parallel storytelling, the present and the past melting through one another like milky memories, much of the tension is sacrificed. A predictable pattern is created. An example is a would-be scary scene involves Kaylie seeing a supernatural figure and the camera quickly cutting to this entity in order to get a reaction from the audience. When the camera returns to the protagonist, we now see her younger self (Annalise Basso) which means we are transported to the past. There is screaming and hullabaloo around the house. About two minutes later, we are transported to the present. This gets exhausting after a while.

The mistake is placing more emphasis on the past. Obviously, the two children, although traumatized, made it through their terrible ordeal. Early in the picture we are told that their parents (Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane) are dead. Thus, it becomes a matter of simply waiting to see when the parents will die. We are even informed how they will die. With the exception of the strange mirror, there is very little mystery left. Why is the focus not on the present? More importantly, since the mirror is also a character, with the exception of Kaylie going over its owners’ track records throughout four centuries, why are we not provided more information about it?

Although the picture draws some inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” in terms of imagery, the father’s personal work space and how he sits in front of the computer all day, what Flanagan should have taken away from Kubrick’s work is how to establish an increasing sense of impending doom. The 1980 classic, also telling a supernatural story, consists of consistently high-risk and very calculated rising action. This one, however, barely gets off the ground. Because it gets stuck—or is willing to get stuck—in trickeries involving perspectives and memory, the dangers and repercussions rarely come off as tangible. I found it gimmicky and off-putting.

The supernatural figures look uninspired. Are ghosts with lights emanating from their eyes supposed to be scary? It certainly did not work for me. Instead, I thought about how similar images worked better in movies like Anton Leader’s “Children of the Damned” and John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned.”

It is clear that the director, who also helmed the screenplay with Jeff Howard, has not found a way to turn his inspirations into his own. What results is a mediocre film with some good ideas but is only decent during the first twenty minutes because a hypothesis is presented. Kaylie’s goal is to gather physical evidence that a supernatural entity is responsible for destroying her family. I would have liked to have seen that movie because it offers a classic template for good old-fashioned scares.