Deliver Us From Evil Review – Bumps in the Night


Director: Scott Derrickson 

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay), Ralph Sarchie (book)

Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale

deliver-us-evil-poster


 Release date: July 2nd, 2014

Distributor: Screen Gems

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Which two genres draw in major crowds no matter what? Give up? Ok, I’ll give you a hint – they both rely on cliches, dumb characters, and opening weekend grosses. Ok, fine! The two genres are horror and romantic-comedy. Opening on the July 4th weekend, Deliver Us From Evil is Hollywood’s latest horror/smash-and-crash extravaganza. Yes, the title is as predictable as the ending to a slasher remake (spoiler: the nicest hottie lives!). However, this one belongs to a particular sub-genre currently making the rounds. Deliver Us From Evil, drawing comparisons to the director’s previous work and recent horror flicks of its type, is an exorcism-thriller trying and failing to become a whole other monster in itself.

Eric Bana.

Abusing Hollywood tropes and audience attendance patterns like a child in Freddy Kruger’s rape dungeon, Deliver Us From Evil comes off like a pitiful effort dumped into an unforgiving release date. In fact, the premise will cause plot-hole critics everywhere to prick up their ears and tap on their keyboards with an unholy amount of glee. However, for those of us willing to suspend pure and unadulterated disbelief, this horror-thriller makes for a quaint outing with mates. Teaming up with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and noisy viewers yelling: “Don’t go in there!”, this B-movie delivers, at most, an enjoyably goofy cinema experience. The story, such as it is, is as tried, tested, and true as an Apple product. Of course, with the Devil being the biggest villain of all, the movie first touches on his/her origins. The plot kicks off in 2010 Iraq, with three soldiers murdering several Taliban soldiers before discovering the story’s most intriguing and terrifying device. Cut to 2013 New York, and grizzled street cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is upset with his chaotic profession’s darker shades. After watching a baby die in his arms, Sarchie’s goodwill unravels within one night. With his partner Butler (Joel McHale) pushing him through, Sarchie’s latest case may alter his understanding of good and evil. Teamed up with roguish priest Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Sarchie may be forced to find his faith before taking down Santino (Sean Harris).

Edgar Ramirez.

From the opening frame, Deliver Us From Evil, despite labelling itself as being “based on actual events”, shuffles through and picks out every horror, familial drama, and cop-thriller trope in the book. In fact, this derivative horror flick comes just short of pulling out a cursed book and reading from it. This bizarre crime-thriller, the latest sceptics-and-believers tale from polarising writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), is nowhere near as interesting as his more profound features. Working from his own derivative and ethically unsound screenplay, co-written by frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman, Derrickson’s work harks back to a much more meaningful time in horror cinema. As the autistic lovechild of The Exorcist and Seven, Deliver Us From Evil checks off everything said features had already given us. Derrickson, presenting this an inventive and potent genre mash-up, proves that a writer/director can grow too close to their own material. Like the possessed characters running through this concoction, Derrickson has been taken over and manipulated by artistic integrity’s greatest threats – studio executives and teenagers. Catering to certain demands, his latest is a significant step down from the creepy and thought-provoking Sinister. However, it’s still better than his biggest adventure, thus far (the Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Recently hired for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strangelove, this auteur may further succumb to this particular affliction.

“I’ve seen some horrible things, nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.” (Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil).

Newcomer Sean Harris.

Without examining the fact vs. faith argument, Derrickson and co. assume we know everything about this issue before going in. With Sarchie’s “radar” referred to as a spiritual gift, the movie’s flawed logic and stereotypical  overtones keeps us at arm’s length throughout. However, Derrickson’s atmospheric direction salvages an otherwise forgettable exorcism-thriller. With horror tropes plastered across each frame, the jump-scares come thick and fast. In addition, his unique camerawork and sound design ticks amp-up the movie’s overbearing intensity levels. Pumping The Doors at opportune moments, certain musical interludes breath life into several nail-biting sequences. Aptly, Derrickson saves his best directorial flourishes for the final third’s extended exorcism set-piece. Bizarrely, with an unnatural reliance on animals, tattooed villains, toys, crucifixes, and flickering lights, the movie’s bump-in-the-night moments are punctuated with near-laughable jaunts. With McHale’s inclusion, I was half-expecting a satirical jab against cats in scary situations. However, despite his bet efforts, the comedic moments jar with the story’s dour, omnipresent tone. It’s not his fault. In fact, for the most part, he draws  convincing turns out of his cast. Bana and Ramirez elevate their polar-opposite roles with innate charisma. Meanwhile, Harris, McHale, and Olivia Munn keep up with their pseudo-valuable supporting characters.

With the Paranormal Activity series and The Last Exorcism dominating cinematic horror of late, this mega-successful genre has all but used up its share of exorcism/crisis-of-faith concepts. With these debates raging on, this particular sub-genre puts everything the most simplistic of terms. Deliver Us From Evil, despite Derrickson’s commendable intentions, can’t help but communicate tried-and-tested information. Obliterating its fine performances and alluring direction, this exorcism-thriller becomes little more than an extended episode of Supernatural. The power of Hollywood compels you? eh, not this time.

Verdict: A mindless yet efficient mish-mash. 

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review – Broken Parts


Director: Michael Bay 

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz


Release Date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

 

 

1/5

Best part: The CGI-fuelled slo-mo shots.

Worst part: The egregious run-time.

Throughout Hollywood’s latest bowel movement, Transformers: Age of Extinction, we are subjected to idiotic characters who know more about pop-culture and filmmaking than anyone involved with the production itself. At one point, a senile retiree complains about Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels and remakes. At another point, the comic relief pokes fun at this franchise’s infamous foibles. Afterwards, another character defines a ‘flaw’ as a “serious failure”.

Mark Wahlberg.

Obviously, this would mean something if this series had been placed in the right hands. Unfortunately, all we can do now is sit back and watch the collapse of blockbuster cinema under the terrifying reign of multi-billionaire hack Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). Marking itself as the defining point of ‘big-budget schlock fatigue’, Transformers: Age of Extinction relies on shrieking families and hormonal teenagers. Beating his audiences to a pulp, Bay knows that a single person conveys significantly more intelligence than a large group of people. Rushing into the cinema, said crowds have made this instalment the year’s most profitable movie. I used to defend this franchise for being “fun” and “exhilarating”. Nowadays, I look back on my younger self and laugh at his overwhelming stupidity. Of course, for my loyal readers, I should at least make an effort to describe this instalment’s underwritten and overcooked story. I know, words like ‘narrative’ and ‘subtext’ don’t belong anywhere near this series. However, to launch into my searing hatred of Bay’s latest cinematic slip-up, I should point out just how dumb everything is about it. First off, I’ll delve into the ‘human’ aspects of this horrific mess. On the modest side of this disastrous flop, we have farmer/roboticist/man-child Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Living by his stupid name, his immature antics threaten he and his daughter Tessa(Nicola Peltz)’s livelihoods. With eviction and embarrassment looming over them, Yeager’s aspirations clash with major obstacles.

Stanley Tucci.

In a better world, this story-thread would’ve fit perfectly into this monstrous action flick. Sadly, with Bay at the helm, this sequel’s narrative sluggishly transitions from bad to worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love blockbusters of all shapes and sizes. I regularly review Summer tentpoles to gain an informed perspective on pop-culture and modern entertainment. However, I can’t possibly defend anything as hackneyed, pointless, and dumbfounding as Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, with my laundry list of criticisms in tow, it’s difficult pinpointing anything even remotely worthwhile here! From the opening frame, Ehren Kruger’s wafer-thin script becomes lost in a barrage of questionable concepts, trite character arcs, and hokey emotional beats. Within the first third, the familial drama turns this gargantuan extravaganza into a cheesy and stupefying miscalculation. In addition, along with the Marky Mark’s family woes, the movie throws several more plot-lines into this bloated and inconsistent concoction. An elite task force called Cemetery Wind – headed up by alien bounty hunter Lockdown, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), and spec-ops ‘badass’ James Savoy (Titus Welliver) – has been assigned to kill the remaining Autobots and Decepticons. In addition, egomaniacal tech-head Joshua Joynes(Stanley Tucci)’s has developed a new element labelled, you guessed it, Transformium. Like the preceding Transformers sequels, these narrative threads are cumbersomely and nonsensically thrown together.

“I think we just found a Transformer!” (Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers: Age of Extinction).

Optimus Prime doin’ his thing!

Used specifically to jump from one action sequence to another, this instalment’s bloated plot delivers more plot-holes and irritating moments than two M. Night Shyamalan disasters and Prometheus combined. Why are Tessa and her boyfriend bound by Romeo & Juliet laws? Why do Yeager and co. tag along with the Autobots? Why are US Government forces killing some robots whilst creating more powerful ones? Seriously, this review could just consist entirely of these questions! However, pathetically, people turn out see gigantic CG-driven creations smash into one another for interminable periods. At a whopping 165 minutes, the question must be asked – does a Transformers flick really need that much time to gestate? No, of course it doesn’t! Protecting our annoying lead characters, the Transformers themselves are given short shift. Pushed literally and figuratively into the background, our Autobot buddies are defined by phoney speeches, heavy-duty weapons, and dated stereotypes. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (both poorly represented here), the movie throws in a cigar-chomping truck (John Goodman), a Samurai/helicopter (Ken Watanabe), and a trench-coat/wing-donning Aussie-bot. Beyond the glaring flaws, including the hit-and-miss CGI, Bay still delivers a few inspired shots and set-pieces. Infatuated  with explosions and product placement, the coked-up buffoon is let off the leash in the final third. The China set-piece, set up specifically to attract an asian demographic, provides some relief for this otherwise damaging experience. Bafflingly so, however, the marketing-drenched Dinobots show up late to the party – given only 15-20 minutes of screen-time.

Can you believe $210 million went into this irritating and exhaustive schlock?! Nope? Well, neither do I. Sadly, beyond our control, the studios are throwing, and will continue to throw, money at Bay and his ongoing ‘vision’. Bay, with all his bigger-is-better gusto, has delivered the ultimate example of overcompensation. Destroying his already damaged reputation, Bay’s latest effort proves his worth as little more than an Independence Day fireworks show technician.

Verdict: Bay’s catastrophic descent into director hell. 

Snowpiercer Review – Do the Locomotion!


Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jaques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel)

Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton

snowpiercer-poster


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC 

Countries: South Korea, USA

Running time:  126 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The alluring visuals.

Worst part: The heavy-handed final minute.

More often than not, Hollywood refuses to make the right choice. The big-name studios, pushing us into theatre, hire major players to stand in front of, and behind, the camera. However, forced to follow a formula, these studios end up bullying these people beyond belief. Unfortunately, foreign directors suffer the worst of this atrocious behaviour. Despite the critical acclaim, Korean directors including Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon had to fight to keep their big-budget efforts alive.

Chris Evans & Jamie Bell.

Gracefully, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, one Korean export took it upon himself to make this year’s best action extravaganza. Bong Joon-ho (The Host) is yet another three-name filmmaker currently working under Tinseltown’s bright lights. His first Hollywood feature, Snowpiercer, looks like a tiresome and cliche-driven post-apocalyptic actioner. However, after entering the theatre, you’re taken on a revelatory journey unlike any other. This year, we’ve seen several blockbusters rise and fall quicker than expected. As Snowpiercer illustrates, the smallest projects are pulling people back into Hollywood’s firing line. Guided by stark visuals and touching moments, the narrative transitions instantly from obvious to transcendent. The premise, despite anchoring this enjoyable action-thriller, highlights its glaring agenda to an extraneous extent. Based on a French graphic novel, the story examines a desecrated Earth on the brink of oblivion. To combat global warming, the world’s governments banded together to release a specific chemical into the atmosphere. Sadly, because these forces ignored the signs, the chemical caused a destructive ice age. The world’s last-surviving citizens now live on a globetrotting train called, you guessed it, Snowpiercer. Developed by mysterious benefactor Wilfred (Ed Harris), the train divides its inhabitants to conserve the status quo.

Song Kang-ho & Go Ah-sung.

Ambitiously, Snowpiercer has several points to prove. With its angry side ever-so-slowly taking over, this daring and resonant sci-fi actioner utilises everything to its full potential. The narrative centres around a revolt, driven by the lower-class folks subjected to the train’s tail end. Covered in dirt and dour memories, leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), second-in-command Edgar (Jamie Bell), and age-old prophet Gilliam (John Hurt) empower their fellow “Freeloaders” with dignity and respect. The narrative, like the train itself, runs on the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. Following a hearty formula, Joon-ho’s most expansive effort yet is far more exhilarating and prescient than expected. Despite Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s controversial cuts, the movie flows naturally from one revelation and set-piece to another. Pointing at global warming, race relations, and social issues, Snowpiercer bolsters its agenda with profound motivations and charming surprises. Cleverly, its points are summed up by a witty speech about shoes and hats. As our crew shuffles through the train, the narrative conquers its momentous twists and turns before reaching the heartbreaking finale. From the opening frame, without derailing Joon-ho’s immaculate execution, the movie throws in clever intricacies designed to raise the stakes. Bullied by middle-class guards and arrogant socialites (led by Margaret Thatcher-esque ruler Mason (Tilda Swinton)), our lower-class warriors come off as empathetic more so than reckless. In fact, unlike most summer tentpoles, “F*ck yeah!” moments and emotional pay-offs come thick and fast throughout.

“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” (Curtis (Chris Evans), Snowpiercer).

Tilda Swinton.

Given free reign over everything, Joon-ho has taken several chances with this meaningful and touching post-apocalyptic bloodbath. Paying homage to his favourite directors and dystopian features, this foreign director delivers seminal references without catering to anyone else’s desires. Further more, this story swerves around several blockbuster cliches. Avoiding a massive scope, over-long set-pieces, and manipulative beats, Joon-ho’s style is of an entirely different species of filmmaking. Like the train’s never-fail, perpetual-motion engine, this auteur is a well-oiled machine keeping everything together. In particular, his visuals speak to critics, Korean film fans, and blockbuster nutcrackers. Within the first third, the grimy tail-end becomes a rage-fuelled character in itself. With small beds, tin cans, and gelatinous blobs coveting the screen, the opening scenes construct the vacuous hell-hole our heroes call home. Indelibly, it’s in the first act – after drug-addled engineer Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his psychic daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) are recruited – that our characters discover the first-class passengers’ dastardly schemes. Righteously, our talented performers take control of this intensifying narrative. Handing the physical and dramatic aspects, Evans displays his polished skill-set throughout. In addition, Octavia Spencer, Bell, Harris, and Swinton anchor the film’s more impressionistic tangents in well-crafted roles.

Unsurprisingly, this project was met with questions from every studio executive it came across. The premise, attacking the first world’s obsession with celebrity and order, is as repulsive as the second act’s blood-stained axe-fights. However, resting on its writer/director’s strength and intelligence, the final product is more satisfying than most action flicks of its type. It  might even cause a revolt against the Transformers-hocking big-wigs in their ivory towers. Maybe. Hopefully.

Verdict: A sumptuous and potent post-apocalyptic thrill-ride.