Red 2 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Though Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are attempting to live a life of normalcy by playing everything safe, both of them are not exactly happy with where their relationship is heading. Sarah wants a bit of adventure and Frank has not killed anybody in months. It is most opportune that Marvin (John Malkovich) appears at a Costco aisle and informs Frank that an international ruckus is about to occur. It involves Nightingale, a project they had been involved in back in ’79. Sarah is thrilled to join the elite CIA operatives but Frank would rather have her stay in a safe house.
Based on the screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber, “Red 2” accomplishes very little despite its characters gallivanting across the world while being hunted by assassins. While it retains some of the charm of the predecessor, the story needs to be cleaned up a bit. Perhaps it would have been better if one less city was visited or two supporting characters were written out. Make room for more or extended friendly banters or show more serious moments to suggest there is something more to the characters than being good at wielding weapons. Since it fails to go behind its skeletal framework, the twists and turns end up disorganized and unfocused rather than being genuinely surprising.
The revolving doors of several characters’ loyalties grate the nerves. Since it occurs too often, every time our protagonists are pushed to a corner, it becomes near impossible to feel like they are in any sort of real danger. While light entertainment is the film’s main purpose, changing the tone once in a while would have done it good—especially since it is a sequel and many of us already know what to expect. Its unwillingness to take a risk or try something new is a problem.
I still adored watching Helen Mirren fire guns and beat men into unconsciousness. She does it with so much verve and charisma. She commits to the character without being cartoonish. The right decision would have been to give her character, Victoria, and Ivan (Brian Cox) more substance. The older couple could have been an interesting contrast to Sarah and Frank—which feels too much like two teenagers falling in love or what they consider to be love. We get only a glimpse of the potential sounding board and it is played too cute.
The chases are visually stimulating but standard as a whole. On foot, guns are used too often but there is an entertaining sequence involving Frank being stuck in a file room. Though using a gun from an enemy becomes available eventually, he becomes resourceful in disarming those who wish to capture him.
“Red 2” is an unnecessary but harmless sequel. It offers nothing special but it is nice to see seasoned performers clearly enjoying themselves. Anthony Hopkins, playing a patient in a mental institution, stands out because he does not create a character around the lightness of the material. Bailey has his share of quirks but he is not defined by them.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
André Øvredal’s deliciously creepy horror picture “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” knows how to get under the skin of its audience. Unlike many modern films of the genre, it does not rely solely on jump scares and try to pass such evanescent shocking sensations as a genuine horror experience. Instead, it bears numerous similarities with old-fashioned horror movies in that it is interested in tension-building and then breaking it without warning. What results is a highly watchable and curious project, one best seen in a group with all the lights off.
The picture unfolds in a morgue where father and son, Tommy (Brian Box) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), receive a recently found corpse found in a bizarre crime scene. The woman has neither ID on her nor are her fingerprints on the police database and so, during the coroners’ autopsy, she is named Jane Doe. Immediately, during the first round of examination, the veteran notices something strange: despite Jane Doe’s eyes being cloudy, which is a sign that the body has been dead for a couple of days, the body looks fresh—rigor mortis has not even set in yet. This is but one of the many contradictions the Tildens are going to encounter throughout their increasingly frightening night underground.
The film is at its best when simply observing the characters work. The director is aware that the material is interesting and so he is confident in allowing the camera to capture the action without employing ostentatious tricks or gimmicks. (Like having the camera enter from the nose passages and exploring inside the body or something laughably silly like that.) Øvredal uses closeups at the right time and he knows how long to hold the frame in order to extract the greatest level of fascination. I admired that there is great control from behind the camera even though images involve cutting of the flesh, sawing of the bone, organs being taken out. Its clinal approach is most appropriate.
Notice its use of sound. When a drawer containing a corpse is pulled open, metals rubbing against one another make a flinch-inducing noise. The sound of footsteps are amplified when it is dark. Sudden changes of songs or announcements emanating from the radio grabs one’s attention. And never have I been more disturbed to hear the sound of bell tinkling from a distance. Decide to see the film and you’ll know why. And sometimes it’s extremely unnerving when no sound is heard for a couple of seconds.
Imaginative minds are likely to find “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” to be a fun playground full of possibilities. After each strange detail is presented, my hypothesis about who Jane Doe was or what happened to her changed. It demands that the audience think alongside the characters and to keep up. Fans of well-written, well-acted, old-school horror will walk away satiated.
★★ / ★★★★
A dead girl with twelve stab wounds is found at dawn and a suspect (Ben Crompton) is immediately apprehended. When brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham) search Jason’s place, they find the girl’s bangle as well as some photos that suggest that the man has been following her for some time. And yet despite these, there is not enough evidence to keep the man locked up and so he is released. Convinced that Jason is the killer, the brothers kidnap Jason and take him to an island where their father (Brian Cox), former chief of police, used to take suspects and beat them until they confess. By the end of the night, there is a second murder case.
Though I did not know much going into it, I had a sneaky suspicion that “Blood,” written by Bill Gallagher and directed by Nick Murphy, is based on a mini-series. The elements are present in order to tell a story with depth, intensity, and intelligence but one gets the feeling that what is ultimately put on screen is merely the surface. As a result, the picture feels like a good television show that is going through a mediocre episode that won’t end.
The acting keeps the material barely afloat. Bettany and Graham inject appropriate level of gravity to their characters as they increasingly deal with the pressure of keeping a secret under wraps. It is interesting that Bettany plays the sibling that one does not necessarily expect to have a certain darkness in him while Graham, the more brutish one, at least at first glance, turns out to be the more gentle of the duo. Despite solid performances, Joe and Chrissie’s relationship fails to take off. The characters are underwritten and we do not get a complete picture of them as brothers, detectives, and men wrestling with guilty consciences.
Instead, I caught my interest moving toward the man who has a gut feeling that the two might know something about the suspect’s disappearance. Mark Strong plays Robert, a fellow detective in the force, like an enigma. We learn that he has worked with the brothers’ father and their relationship was cold to nonexistent. Robert was afraid of Lenny. So it begs the question: Is Robert honing in on Lenny’s sons for purely professional reason—or is it personal? I believe the answer is both. However, again, the screenplay does not delve into the character deeply enough to make him truly compelling.
The film has a nasty habit of providing clear-cut answers. Crime movies, especially this kind, thrive on a bit of mystery—not necessarily when it comes what is being investigated but that of the characters’ psychology, what they might be thinking or going through when they have to deal with the demons of their fellow men.
Perhaps “Blood” might have been better left as a mini-series. While it does have some good performances, it does not have the required texture and pacing of a suffocating—but compelling—crime drama-procedural. When it hits a corner content-wise, it takes shortcuts by summoning convenient coincidences. Spoon-fed audiences are almost always not engaged and certainly not challenged.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Will (James Franco) was a brilliant scientist on the brink of discovering the cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The ALZ-112 drug, which boosted brain function, worked on apes, but it needed to be tested on humans before commercialization. When one of the apes broke out of its cage and destroyed everything in its path, the investors expressed disapproval in using humans as test subjects. As a result, Will’s boss (David Oyelowo) ordered all of the experimental apes’ extermination and single-handedly shut down Will’s research. However, Will, despite his initial reluctance, took home a baby ape from the lab and raised it like a child. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, was an exciting cautionary tale about ethics, or lack thereof, in terms of scientific advancements and humans’ relationship with our direct descendants. The first half was strong and unexpected. For a movie about an uprising of apes, I didn’t think it would focus on personal issues. It worked because it defined Will as more than a scientist. He was a father to Caesar (Andy Serkis), the young ape he hook home, and a son to his father (John Lithgow) who was inflicted with dementia. Later, when Caesar led his army of apes, strangely, I saw Will in his eyes, the strength, courage and determination within, a look similar in the way Will expressed concern toward his father when a specific symptom surfaced, a suggestion that his condition had turned for the worse. Unfortunately, the latter half wasn’t as strong. While it was necessary that Caesar eventually got to be with his own kind and began to care more about them than people, it got redundant. The workers in the wildlife rescue center, like John (Brian Cox) and Dodge (Tom Felton), were cruel and abusive. They pushed, kicked, and tasered the animals while deriving pleasure from it. Showing us the same act over and over again was counterproductive. I would rather have watched more scenes of the way Caesar dealt with abandonment. When the material turned inwards, whether it be Will or Caesar, what was at stake came into focus. The action scenes, like the chaos in the Golden Gate Bridge, was nicely handled by the director. There wasn’t much gore and no limb was torn apart, but the fear was palpable. The way the San Franciscans ran from one end of the bridge toward the other looked like they were running from Godzilla instead of a bunch of apes. However, there was one strand that felt out of place, almost underwritten. One of the scientists (Tyler Labine) was exposed to a chemical agent, a gaseous form of ALZ-112, which led to his death. That part of the story needed about two more scenes to explain its significance. Those who watched Franklin J. Schaffner’s “Planet of the Apes” could probably grasp at its implications but those who had not could end up confused. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” used special and visual effects to enhance the story and deliver good-looking action sequences, evidence that the two needn’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive to pull off a solid popcorn entertainment.
★★★★ / ★★★★
When Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a teleporter, was sent to kill the president for the sake of peace between humans and Mutants, William Stryker (Brian Cox) blamed Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the mutants he harbored in his School for Gifted Youngsters. Unbeknownst to the president, Stryker, a military scientist, had devoted his career in solving the “mutant problem” and wasn’t above genocide to reach his goals.”X2: X-Men United,” directed by Bryan Singer,” was a confident sequel which was reflected from its energetic opening scene. There was a certain flow in which the camera moved, the way it smoothly slithered across and between hallways, sometimes in elegant slow motion, as it followed Nightcrawler’s impressive disappearing acts. It was a stark contrast from its predecessor’s modest approach; it immediately gave us something new. Much of the film’s goal was to expand storylines it already introduced. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) learned more about his past and his adamantium claws, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) actually acted like a real couple, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) continued their struggle in not having a physical relationship, and Magneto (Ian McKellen), with the help of a very resourceful Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), finally escaped his plastic prison. But what impressed me most was in the way the filmmakers took opposing sides, Professor X and Magneto, and made them work together in such a way that didn’t feel forced. In fact, we relished them occupying the same space because of the awkward tension. How do you work with someone who tried to kill you or one of your friends just some time before? They didn’t have to necessarily like each other but without one another, they wouldn’t be able to achieve their goals. Various levels of symbiosis were explored which ranged from mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. I admired that the action sequences always had purpose but never afraid to go over-the-top. For instance, there was a gruesome scene in which Magneto sensed one of the guards having too much iron in his blood. I watched in wide-eyed anticipation (or horror) as Magneto extracted the metal from the man’s body. It looked painful and there was no way the guard would have survived the extreme experience. Some scenes served no purpose other than to show off the Mutants’ powers. Take Iceman and a couple of shots in which he froze a bottle of pop and a cup of coffee by simply touching or blowing on them. But the key was heart being always ahead of the cool factor. His visit to his home and the way he had to inform his family that he was a Mutant reflected a coming out experience. He wasn’t one of the lucky ones. “X2” met and exceeded its grand ambitions.
Trick ‘r Treat (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, “Trick ‘r Treat” is a whole lot of fun to watch and it’s a shame it didn’t get a proper (and well-deserved) theatrical release. The film was an anthology of four stories that featured what would happen if the traditions of Halloween were broken: a virgin (Anna Paquin) who gets teased by her sister and friends for being awkward with men and saving herself for that “special someone,” a high school principal (Dylan Baker) who poisons his candies and has an even darker secret inside of his home, a group of friends (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Isabelle Deluce, Britt McKillip, Alberto Ghisi) who pulls a prank on a lonely girl (Samm Todd), and a couple (Leslie Bibb, Tahmoh Penikett) whose first scene didn’t make much sense but became pretty important as the film started wrapping up everything. “Trick ‘r Treat” wasn’t particularly scary for me other than Sam, a child-looking sack-headed treat or treater with button eyes, but I thought it worked because all of the mini-stories had a commonality that was explored from beginning to end. However, don’t get me wrong because even though I didn’t think it was scary, it still had an element of darkness. For instance, the film was not scared to kill off children and even show the audiences their dead and sometimes mutilated bodies. This movie reminded me a lot of “Tales from the Crypt” because even though it explored morbid subject matter, there was always that element of humor and campiness which often remind us that it’s just a movie. I also liked that it referenced some of the other actors’ works through their characters outside of this project. For instance, Brian Cox’ independent film called “Red” and Anna Paquin’s popular television show “True Blood.” I admired that self-awareness because it didn’t get distracted from the storytelling, which is very difficult to be achieved, especially by Hollywood mainstream horror flicks. My only complaint about it is that maybe it could have used one more storyline for a slightly longer running time. I was so fascinated with what was going on so when the credits started rolling, I felt a bit sad that it was over. I will not be surprised at all if this eventually becomes a cult classic because it has a purpose, is smart and not afraid to be different. I wouldn’t mind adding this to my film collection.
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, “Red” was about a man’s (Brian Cox) quest to find justice for the meaningless murder of his dog by three teenagers (Noel Fisher, Kyle Gallner, Shiloh Fernandez), each with varying responsibilities regarding the crime. This little indie gem was a pleasure to watch because it was able to play around with characters who chose to do things that were sometimes morally gray. The question about where to draw the line after seeking justice but not getting it was constantly at the forefront. While I was immediately against the teenager who pulled the trigger and caused the death of the old dog, Cox’ (eventual) thirst for vengeance left me questioning whether he was still capable of logical thinking. I was interested to see what would happen next because the lead character was very multidimensional. He was the kind of character that I could empathize with right away but he was not the kind of character that I necessarily understood right off the bat because of the wall he put around himself. But when he finally opened up about how angry, sad, lonely and tormented he was regarding what happened to his family and the event that changed their lives forever, I felt where he was coming from: why he couldn’t let go of the dog’s death, why he wanted the boys (and their father) to own up to their responsibilities, and why the concept of justice was so important to him. The way he told the story of what really happened to his family left strong images in my head to the point where I felt like I was watching something incredibly horrific. I also liked the fact that there were a lot of unsaid and untackled issues but such things were simply implied. It made me want to read the novel because most adaptations to film do not really get the chance to paint the entire picture. I must commend Brian Cox for his excellent performance. The way he quickly juggled dealing with his character’s physical limitations and inner demons left me nothing short of impressed. “Red” is not your typical revenge film so if you’re expecting a “Kill Bill” sort of movie, this may not be for you. However, if you’re more into character studies, exploring the way the justice system (and humans in general) treats animals, and judging how much particular characters should be punished, this film should be quite enjoyable.