Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio
Release date: September 29th, 2016
Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 133 minutes
Best part: The starry cast.
Worst part: Sarsgaard’s wacky villain.
The buddy/team-up flick typically goes one of two ways – disgustingly enjoyable for embarrassingly terrible. The better ones give audiences a grand ol’ time. 2016 has delivered several inconsequential team-up flicks (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, Now You See Me 2). The latestMagnificent Seven remake breaks that string of flops and never looks back.
The Magnificent Seven is as cool, calm and collected as everyone in front of and behind the camera. The John Sturges-directed/Yul Brynner-starring 1960 original is, of course, a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune classic Seven Samurai. The story centres on law-enforcement helper/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Vengeance-seeker Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tasks Chisolm with destroying her husband(Matt Bomer)’s killer, mining giant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Chisolm recruits six badasses – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to save Rose Creek from Bogue’s evil regime.
This badasses-banding-together premise is as tried and true as Hollywood itself. Seven Samurai‘s legacy influenced westerns, actioners and A Bug’s Life. Also, 1950s westerns pitted good-goodies (whitehats) and bad-baddies (blackhats) against one another. Similarly, this remake is smart in its simplicity. The aforementioned premise takes over the first half. Given 133 minutes, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective seasons 1 and 2) and Richard Wenk linger on Chisolm’s audition process. The introductions, on their own, aren’t particularly interesting. Horne’s opening scene is a highlight, showcasing a rare glimpse of old-era violence. The script provides vague glimpses at their backstories (Chisolm and Robicheaux’s, in particular). However, it explores the ensemble more than any particular member. The drama and comedy rely on blissful character interactions. Steadily, our titular crew assists the town and take on the snivelling bad guys. If it aint broke, I guess.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) takes the Washington-actioner reigns from the late Tony Scott. Fuqua’s slick style and pulsating action hit with brute force. Of course, our leads dodge bullets and hit their targets every time. However, its pacing, practical effects, and score amp up the thrills. The climax delivers an extended miasma of bullet holes and explosions. Like his other popcorn-chomping distractions (Olympus Has Fallen, The Shooter), it delivers slight twists on convention. Most importantly, it’s an advertisement for multiculturalism and gender equality. Overcoming limited dialogue, the Asian, American-indian, and Mexican characters give their African-American and caucasian counterparts a run for their money. Bennett delivers a scintillating, eye-opening introduction to wider audiences.
This newer, fresher Magnificent Seven is cinematic macaroni and cheese – clichéd but insatiably enjoyable. Despite the flaws (broad characters, twists etc. galore!), the cast and crew are worth the admission cost. Thankfully, I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. Sadly, the epilogue does not work!
Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
Release date: September 15th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The dragon.
Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.
Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragonis the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.
Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.
Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.
The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.
Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.
Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.
Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.
The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.
Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.
Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: February 12th, 2014
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The exhilarating action sequences.
Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.
Despite his on-set temper and direction’s occasional clunkiness, Paul Verhoeven, in the late 1980s and early 90s, was one of Hollywood’s most versatile and entertaining directors. From sex-fuelled thrillers (Basic Instinct), to satirical action flicks (Starship Troopers), to warped sci-fi extravaganzas (Total Recall), Verhoeven’s style injected flair, punchiness, and wit into intriguing premises. Shaping contemporary audiences to fit new styles and sub-genres, his kitschiness pushed modern moviemaking into overdrive. Sadly, since then, his prized works have been beaten beyond recognition. After Len Wiseman’s lacklustre Total Recall remake bombed miserably, the oncoming RoboCop remake lost credibility and viewer interest.
Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy/RoboCop.
In addition, crippling production issues threatened to throw this remake’s ambitions into disrepute. Hollywood, delivering several big-budget movies with major production quarrels last year, inexplicably illuminates its own embarrassing missteps. Beyond this obvious “blockbusters kill cinema!” agenda, major studios contain enough resources to overcome minor issues whilst delivering engaging final products. Unfortunately, controversy strengthens the link between major studios and the media. My ‘perfect world’ aspirations, unsubtly, connect with RoboCop‘s distorted universe. Despite the obvious agenda, I must commend this remake for immediately hitting its stride whilst developing original ideas. Despite the over-the-top reboot/remake/reimagining PR debacle, I became inexplicably entranced by this explosive action flick. RoboCop, despite its overwhelming flaws, becomes an engaging and exhilarating thrill-ride unafraid of negative hype. Despite exploring the original’s veracious intricacies, this is an ambitious, dour, and inferior remake. Here, the plot delves head-on into its overwhelming thematic aspects. Set in the not-too-distant future, the remake becomes a visceral and slick buddy cop flick. Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) scours his city for criminals and corruption. Murphy and police partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are tasked with tracking down vicious mobster Anton Vallon (Patrick Gallow). Convinced that several co-workers are tied to Vallon’s organisation, Murphy’s pragmatic style lands Lewis in hospital. After a horrific car explosion, Murphy’s physical, emotional, and mental structures are destroyed. Meanwhile, technology conglomerate OmniCorp looks down on America’s liberal ideals. Pushing for robotic lawmen to patrol American cities, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) strives for a revelatory creation. Against Chief Scientist Dr. Dennett Norton(Gary Oldman)’s valued opinion, Sellars develops a half-man-half-machine invention. From this point forward, the movie transitions into a thought-provoking and intense sci-fi actioner. After turning Murphy into a cyborg warrior, Norton and Sellars’ conflict reaches breaking point.
Gary Oldman & Michael Keaton.
Their feud, sparked by ethical and moral differences, drives the narrative. Bravely, this remake takes the methodical and heavy-handed route. Here, sci-fi tropes are examined and deconstructed to develop this laboured story. Despite its positive elements, the original vastly exceeds its tech-savvy remake. The 1987 original’s ridiculousness, style, satirical edge, glorious violence, and humour elevates Verhoeven’s feature above predictability and tedium. Despite towering over the Total Recall remake, unexplored ideas and generic modern-blockbuster tropes savagely infect RoboCop. With frustrating studio methodologies rejecting original ideas and effective storytelling motifs, this remake becomes another po-faced and forgettable action flick. The narrative, borrowing from the original and other influential sci-fi flicks, takes several uninspired twists and turns throughout its exhaustive run-time. Courageously elevating this repetitive story, director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) effectively re-creates the original’s most note-worthy sequences. Changing specific scenes’ most iconic aspects, Padilha’s affection for 80s sci-fi cinema becomes a vital asset. Here, Murphy’s attempted murder, avoiding the original’s pulsating gore, is a quick and costly event. However, Padilha awkwardly handles several major references. Including the original’s most famous line (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”), the movie debilitatingly stalls during these ineffectual moments. In addition, the movie mishandles its brash political agenda. Sitting atop the Bald Eagle’s right wing, this crowd-pleaser impulsively projects jingoistic and overblown messages. Mistaking thematic relevance for satire, Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s creation jarringly shifts from punishingly serious to heartily enjoyable and vice versa. Commenting on gun control, military power, totalitarianism, foreign policy, government practices, corruption, and ethically questionable medical tests, the movie leaves no stone unturned. Breaking the fourth wall, Samuel L. Jackson’s aura salvages the movie’s blunt attempt at satire. The Novak Element, featuring Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly/Glenn Beck-type character Patrick Novak, deliberates on the movie’s outrageously fascist ideologies.
“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” (Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Joel Kinnaman), RoboCop).
Samuel L. Jackson.
Despite RoboCop‘s outlandish agenda and cliched narrative, Padilha’s direction bolsters this listless remake. Known for relentless action sequences and startling grittiness, his style lends this remake a punchy and electrifying identity. Unfortunately, the original’s sprawling violence and unflinching practical effects aren’t included. This bloodless and brainless remake sorely lacks emotional weight and creativity. This blatant studio decision, attracting a family-wide audience, lacks the original’s more memorable and significant aspects. Thankfully, the remake’s action sequences, ignoring the original’s clunky shootouts, are the movie’s most valuable assets. Borrowing from John Woo and Neill Blomkamp, Padilha’s clever and kinetic action-direction immerses us into emphatically dangerous situations. Despite its family-friendly violence, Padilha’s style throws surprises and “f#ck yeah!” moments into each set-piece. Despite its prominence in the trailer, the abandoned warehouse sequence is an energetic and adrenaline fuelled segment. Here, Murphy/RoboCop becomes an intelligent and enthralling symbol for justice and heroism. The movie’s kick-ass moments, including its explosive prologue and pulsating climax, elevate RoboCop above similar sci-fi action remakes. Unfortunately, Padilha’s direction doesn’t elevate the movie’s inconsistent performances. Kinnaman, known for TV series The Killing, excels as the family man/robotic crime-fighter. With his unique physical presence and gruff tone, Kinnaman pushes through several of the movie’s worst lines. Meanwhile, collecting hefty paycheques, Oldman and Keaton deliver enjoyable performances in valuable supporting roles. Known for separate Batman franchises, their monumental talent and instant chemistry elevates the mediocre material. Unfortunately, Jackson, sporting Mitt Romney’s hairdo, delivers his loudest performance since his controversial Bet 365 commercials. Despite his inherent charm, his character is a useless and ineffectual obstacle.
Brushing past preconceptions and negative hype, the RoboCop remake is an enjoyable action flick. However, Zetumer’s screenplay delivers concentrated doses of right-wing paranoia and sci-fi blockbuster cliches. Thankfully, Padilha’s electrifying direction rescues an otherwise forgettable remake. Hopefully, if given greater control, Padilha can create more memorable and relevant action flicks in the not-too-distant future.
Writer: Steve Conrad (screenplay), James Thurber (short story)
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn
Release date: December 26th, 2013
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: The charming performances.
Worst part: The awkward comedic hijinks.
For short periods of time, daydreams detach us from our conscious selves to provide joy, exhilaration, and knowledge. In these intimate moments, the boundaries separating reality and fantasy are blurred. Escaping from mundane situations, people zone out to temporarily experience something else entirely. This broad description illuminates similarities between this particular humanistic action and cinema’s overall purpose. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty director/star Ben Stiller invites us to follow in his larger-than-life footsteps. However, this fantasy-adventure flick becomes as tepid and unexacting as the situations we subconsciously escape from. The movie, though peppered with exciting sequences, may be drowned out by more influential holiday releases. Also, this superficial yet exhilarating comedy-adventure won’t attract newcomers to Stiller’s zippy filmography.
With its ingenious premise, Stiller had the perfect opportunity to make a profoundly engaging and heartening remake. However, as a perfect example of 2½-star entertainment,Walter Mitty is only a utilitarian and concise comedy-adventure.Walter Mitty, despite its commendable intentions and engaging performances, is crushed by Stiller’s immense hubris. In lesser hands, this movie would get a free pass. However, with Stiller’s immense success in front of and behind the camera, the movie never cements his noteworthy talents and courageous oeuvre. Unfortunately, this disappointing yet enlightening adventure hurts more than expected. With an intriguing premise and immaculate big-budget-film-making tools at his disposal, Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s short story becomes a saccharine and uninspired 2-hour Hallmark moment. Being the second big-screen remake after the 1947 Danny-Kaye-starring version, this version proves quality deservedly overshadows quantity. The plot, diverting from Thurber’s influential material, borrows from several genres, movements, and generic action-adventure conventions. This version kicks into gear when office drone and lonely schlub Walter Mitty (Stiller) walks into New York’s LIFE Magazine headquarters. Sadly, with the magazine transitioning from print to online, the majority of employees face the chopping block. Facing constant complaints from transition manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), Mitty has little time to impress cute co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).
Unable to efficiently operate his E-Harmony dating profile, Mitty faces loneliness, unemployment, and a debilitatingly miserable existence. However, his fortunes change thanks to one photonegative. With negative no. 25 missing from photojournalist Sean O. Connell(Sean Penn)’s final LIFE Magazine reel, Mitty takes it upon himself to track down the all-important image. At the behest of mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), Mitty – normally escaping to (dreaming up) fantastical worlds and dangerous situations – embarks on a spiritually transformative journey across the world. As a family-friendly farce, the movie becomes an uninspired and inoffensive Frank Capra-esque trip down memory lane (in multiple ways). However, this version contains several outstanding moments and concepts. Stiller’s creative side occasionally rises above the conventional and manipulative material. With daydreaming a commonplace practice, the first few scenes are, despite the CGI set-pieces and outlandish scenarios, startlingly relatable. His fantasies – ranging from jumping through windows, to saving dogs from explosions, to being a seductive mountaineer crashing into LIFE Magazine headquarters – are suitably charming. However, this movie doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. These dream sequences, though enthralling, add little to the movie’s enlightening narrative. Despite the glorious imagery and sweet touches, the movie’s all-important intricacies are wholly separated from one another. Unfortunately, Walter Mitty is significantly less enthralling than Stiller thinks it is.
Underneath its alluring sheen, the story hits familiar beats and dull patches. Sadly, the movie sticks to every Stiller-comedy-movie trope. With underwhelming twists and turns, kooky characters, and unexplored subplots, the movie never reaches its full potential. Sporting major logic leaps and contrivances, the stakes are limited despite Mitty’s stupefying journey. Tonally shifting between specific plot-strands and influences, the movie is also overwhelmed by its self-consciousness and contrarian messages. Throughout this roller-coaster ride, Stiller’s perspective hurriedly switches between each overcooked and excessive idea. Its living-the-dream overtones are overtly and repeatedly touched upon. In addition, this clichéd theme clashes with Stiller’s commentary on the working class hero. Beyond this, it ignorantly dives into the modernity vs. tradition debate. Switching from underdog story to hypocritical Hollywood farce, Walter Mitty is as shaky and bizarre as the titular character’s imagination. Despite the significant flaws, Walter Mitty, dramatically and visually, alludes to several distinctive comedies and influential dramas. As a Boxing Day family-friendly smash, the movie is comparable to Life of Pi. In addition, the movie’s ambitiousness and scope are reminiscent of Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the latter awkwardly referenced here). However, the most relevant influence is Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. This whimsical yet forgettable drama marks Stiller’s most earnest directorial effort yet. With Zoolander and Tropic Thunder being quotable and energetic big-budget comedies, Stiller has proven himself a note-worthy and engaging director.
“I just live by the ABCs: Adventurous, Brave, Creative.” (Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).
His style normally highlights each project’s most unique and outrageous aspects. However, Walter Mitty‘s visual flourishes and directorial ticks become steadily irritating. Influenced by Michel Gondry, Woody Allen, Danny Boyle, and Robert Zemeckis, Stiller develops a pale concoction of the aforementioned filmmakers’ styles. Unable to deliver the comedic timing, zany visuals, and kinetic pacing of his previous efforts, his style lacks edginess, heart, or creativity. Each trick, awkwardly plastered across the screen for convenience’ sake, decreases the movie’s overall emotional impact. Stiller – pasting words across settings, adding montages at opportune moments, and flooding sunlight into every frame – applies conventionality to his extraordinary narrative. However, Stuart Dryburgh’s immaculate cinematography delivers vertigo-inducing thrills. Iceland, Greenland, New York and, the Himalayas are gorgeous and exhilarating locations. Also, the skateboarding and mountaineering sequences elevate the second half. However, the distracting product placement damages Mitty’s comically charged adventure. Shout-outs to E-Harmony, Papa Johns, American Airlines, and LIFE Magazine contradict the story’s over-arching messages. Despite Stiller’s comedic chops, the hit-and-miss gags provide false notes. Only a handful of clever lines save this otherwise dour dramedy. Despite the cookie-cutter characters, the enlightening performances are refreshing. Stiller, though preoccupied, delivers a gleeful and multi-dimensional performance. Playing a familiar average Joe type, his earnestness fits this intriguing role. Wiig is an engaging presence as Mitty’s quick-witted love interest. Scott ably portrays yet another over-the-top antagonist. Thankfully, Penn and Patton Oswalt bring tenderness and heart to the movie’s final third.
With insurance-advertisement-level depth and Kodak-moment-level visual stimulus, Walter Mitty is an advantageous yet misguided vanity project. With self-affirming shots of Stiller’s face, CGI overload, conventional screenwriting, and engaging performances, Stiller’s latest directorial effort becomes a confusing, pandering, yet engaging fantasy-adventure aiming specifically at common audiences.
Verdict: An awe-inspiring yet underwhelming comedy-adventure.
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld
Release date: November 22nd, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 104 minutes
Best part: The fun performances.
Worst part: The repetitive gags.
I let out an audible groan after I first heard about Delivery Man‘s existence. As a remake of the 2011 French-Canadian comedy Starbuck, the premise seemed entirely conventional and cynical. Soon after, I became more disdainful when comedic actor Vince Vaughn attached himself to the project. Somehow, by the powers of Grayskull and tinsel-town, this blatant re-tread turned out to be…genuinely watchable. Delivery Man is a generic yet enjoyably silly and heart-warming dramedy. In addition, Vaughn, though straining, wholeheartedly elevates the final product.
Despite the inconsistencies and awkward moments, Delivery Man embraces every second of its appropriate run-time. Unlike most Hollywood comedies, the movie contains enough laughs to keep audiences engaged. As seen in the trailers, the plot contains several twists, turns, and bumps. Good-for-nothing slacker David Wosniak (Vaughn) ambitiously strives to obtain a more fulfilling existence. Constantly letting people down, David’s reserve is tested by his frustrated family and friends. If that wasn’t enough, his ‘hydroponic endeavours’ have landed him in an $80 000 debt with local gangsters. On top of that, David’s world is sent spinning when his estranged girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) reveals she is pregnant. With an oncoming child, David admits he is unprepared and outgunned for his life’s next step. Unfortunately, his past comes back to haunt him. Thanks to a whopping 693 sperm donations given during his student years, his samples have created a baffling 533 biological children. Burdened by the strange news, David becomes a wishful saviour for several of the identified children.
Vaughn & Chris Pratt.
With 124 of David’s offspring joining a class action lawsuit against the sperm bank and the persona known only as “Starbuck”, David’s dilemma becomes increasingly stressful. With the help of lawyer and life-long buddy Brett (Chris Pratt), David, known to make poor decisions in high-pressure situations, crusades against the sperm bank. Before this, however, the movie leans too much on predictability and emotional manipulation. Hurriedly laying down every plot-thread, the movie constantly deliberates on David’s ever-expanding problems. Within the first few minutes, this dramedy beats is lead character to a pulp. Thankfully, in trouble with all manner of good and bad citizens, David’s journey contains potential, heart, and relevance. Writer/director Ken Scott gives his original feature a big-budget face-lift. Starbuck, being a sleeper-hit across the globe, highlights suburbia and the first world order’s most iconic aspects. Here, family businesses, parenthood, and the American dream are treated with affection and an attention to detail. Sporting a democratic agenda, Scott’s direction present’s David’s pressing situation as a series of mild inconveniences. Certain story-lines are picked up and dropped without warning. Unfortunately, these sub-plots contain dramatic and comedic potential. The mobster plot-strand is a contrived and unnecessary distraction. However, this optimistic dramedy contains several vital messages. Scott’s perspective, discussing parenthood and responsibility, provides a ray of glorious and gleeful sunshine. Despite the pros and cons of children, relationships, and hard work, Scott still delivers a well-crafted and thoughtful farce. In multiple ways, Delivery Man borrows from other beloved big-budget dramedies. Despite its French-Canadian roots, this ode to Knocked Up and About a Boy becomes a light-hearted and impactful narrative.
“This could be the most be the beautiful thing that could ever happened to me. These kids ned someone to look out for them. They need a guardian angel.” (David Wosniak (Vince Vaughn), The Delivery Man).
Vaughn & the kids.
Here, unlike the aforementioned dramedies, the lead character starts out as a likeable and engaging presence. Unfortunately, his journey becomes increasingly ridiculous and bombastic up until its sweet denouement. David’s questionable antics turn him from a humanistic man-child to a well-meaning stalker. With each baffling twist and turn, the movie steadily loses its dry wit and quaint tone. Despite the overt cheesiness, the dramatic moments elevate this otherwise forgettable remake. Despite the bizarre situation, David’s motivations make for Delivery Man‘s most touching sequences. David, taking care of a young Down syndrome sufferer, becomes a good samaritan. These wordless scenes lend heart and intelligence to this wacky dramedy. Despite its charming sheen, the hit-and-miss humour restrains it. Vaughn’s sarcastic veneer elevates the derivative one-liners and ludicrous slapstick gags. His situation, illustrated by Vaughn’s zany facial expressions and enthusiasm, is made whole by Scott’s kinetic and enlightening comedic timing. As an improv vs. staged gag Hollywood comedy (like most nowadays), the pithy dialogue far outweighs the repetitive physical hijinks. Vaughn is, yet again, playing himself. Despite his overt charisma and rat-tat-tat delivery, he’s embodying yet another spoiled and down-trodden man-child. Learning important life lessons whilst maturing into a responsible individual, Vaughn can play this role in his sleep. Thankfully, the supporting characters save certain scenes. Pratt excels as David’s goofy and unprofessional lawyer. His magnetic screen presence, made whole via Parks and Recreation, boosts this sympathetic and engaging foil. Smulders, known for How I Met your Mother and The Avengers, provides an enjoyable performance as David’s better half.
Despite the obvious issues, Delivery Man is a well-intentioned and charming holiday hit. Vaughn – despite his poor run of comedies including The Dilemma, The Watch, and The Internship – elevates the conventional material. This remake, though unnecessary, becomes a refreshing and comforting flick out-matching most modern Hollywood comedies.
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas
Release date: April 5th, 2013
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Running time: 95 minutes
Best part: The ultra-effective gore.
Worst part: The uninteresting characters.
As of late, the world has become obsessed with director Sam Raimi. Geek girls and boys look up to this man due to his startling talent. Last year, The Amazing Spider-man adhered too closely to Raimi’s original Spider-man film. His most recent directorial effort, Oz the Great and Powerful, proved that he can handle popular material. Now, a remake of his 1981 masterpiece, The Evil Dead, is hitting our screens.
Evil Deadmay be inferior to Raimi’s horror-comedy classic, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s a sprawling, excessive, and occasionally cloying horror flick. However, if you’ve seen the original, you won’t be surprised by this remake. Mia (Jane Levy) is an angsty young woman struggling to kick a nasty drug addiction. She also feels abandoned and angry after her mother’s death and brother’s self-exile. Her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) calls for an intervention at the family cabin. Three of their friends, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), decide to help. However, this spooky pseudo-rehab clinic soon turns into the perfect setting for the ultimate nightmare. A discovery by Eric awakens something foul in the surrounding woods.
Back in ‘81, Raimi changed horror cinema with a couple of inventive camera movements and some make up kits. I have to admit, I’m not the biggest horror movie fan. Having seen last year’s stand out horror flick The Cabin in the Woods, I find it difficult to take them seriously. Much like 2011’s The Thing, Evil Dead is a re-imagining that tries too hard to top the original. This version may have its positives, but it spends too much time digging its own grave. I’m still clueless as to whether it’s trying to be its own thing or an homage to the original. There are major story and character elements that have changed, yet it still takes the time to reference the original’s chainsaw, cars, tree rape incidents, and kooky dialogue. Despite my gripes with this version, I had a hell of a time watching it! (to be fair, it may have do with the audience I saw it with). It gripped me from the prologue. It’s a tight, tense, and gruelling first few minutes that also add to this series’ already stellar mythology. This sequence contains the remake’s best ideas. However, the film hurriedly slows down when it switches to the five lead characters. Sub-plots are introduced and dropped without warning and the back-stories are clichéd and forgettable. So why did I like this film as much as I did?
It has to do with the film’s technical elements. Director Fede Alvarez is obviously passionate about both the Evil Dead trilogy and horror genre logistics. Raimi’s version is a visceral and comedic ‘bottle’ film. Whilst lacking Raimi’s imaginative touch, Alvarez’s work here is highly commendable. After the evil book(Naturom Demonto)’s introduction, the tension and violence drastically increases. He makes a great decision in using practical effects instead of CGI. CGI-based horror never works (2011’s The Thing is a prime example). Here, CGI is used only to touch up vital sequences. Startlingly original and inventive; the gore creates a disturbing and sensory experience. Sharp objects, including Stanley knives, syringes, and machetes, all have their destructive and disgusting purposes. Every stab, amputation, gun shot, and slice will leave a lasting impression on you. Blood squirts and splatters cover the screen at nearly every turn. The stand out moments include tongues being sliced in half and arms being severed with electric carving knifes. Somehow, the practical effects make these gratuitous and gruesome events seem tangible. Alvarez emulates Raimi’s inventive cinematography and production design. Here, the camera barely stops moving. It ducks and weaves through every crevasse of the decaying cabin. The stylistic flourishes ascend in quality and quantity; building to the gruelling and wince-inducing final third. The sound design is also top notch. Whilst never becoming over the top, the sound effects elevate many of the film’s best jump scares.
I just don’t want to become the Devil’s bitch.” (Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Evil Dead).
The demons at bay.
Raimi’s original trilogy has one powerful ingredient that elevates it above other influential horror franchises – Bruce Campbell. The expressive and charismatic actor, along with Raimi’s dark sense of humour, brought life to a low-budget trilogy containing simple stories and visceral thrills. This straight-faced remake lacks the original trilogy’s charismatic characters. The five lead characters here lack chemistry and quickly become unlikeable. None of them are anywhere near as intriguing or beguiling as Campbell’s character Ash. Once the blood-curdling theatrics begin, the character development stops. The acting is also hit and miss. Levy gives it her all as the psychologically-damaged lead character. Alvarez makes another compelling choice in telling this story from the drug addict’s perspective. Mia is forced into some uncomfortable and slimy situations; depicting the darkest sides of her physical and mental trauma. Playing both a sweet girl and a writhing demon, Levy’s immense talent shines through in every scene. Pucci also stands out, becoming both a charming comic relief and human knife block. Fernandez is as wooden as the notorious cabin. It doesn’t help that his character makes some painfully stupid decisions.
Despite its flaws, Evil Dead is a fun and exhilarating experience. The gore is startlingly effective and the atmosphere is gripping up until the film’s final frame. Raimi’s original Evil Dead films are difficult to emulate, let alone top. Alvarez smartly focuses on many of the original’s most creative and alluring elements.
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki
Release date: September 27th, 2012
Running time: 93 minutes
Best part: Chris Hemsworth.
Worst part: Cinema’s worst product placement.
Following the end of the Cold War, many Americans became enthralled by the exploitative yet paranoia inducing thrills of the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn. Many kids dreamed of one day facing a global threat with their buddies in their very own backyard. This imaginative idea has been brought to life yet again, in the form of a fresh faced remake quickly forced into hibernation by distribution company Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Red Dawn however doesn’t even belong on anyone’s list of guilty pleasures, sadly becoming yet another typical and unnecessary Hollywood remake.
After a six year tour of duty in Iraq, Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is an all around nice guy returning to his home in Spokane, Washington. He quickly attracts the attention of the locals, his feisty brother Matt (Josh Peck), his father Tom (Brett Cullen) and attractive childhood friend Toni (Adrianne Palicki). Barely can he settle back into his father’s couch when the threat of war comes back to haunt him, this time in the form of invading North Korean/Russian forces. Attaining a rag-tag group of high-schoolers of all divisions, the Eckerts must soon find a way out of their new situation with the help of Jed’s military training. Having lost their homes, lives and loved ones, the young renegade force known as the ‘Wolverines’ must stop this ominous foreign threat from spreading across the United States of America.
Isabel Lucas & Adrianne Palicki.
This jingoistic and forgettable remake of the hauntingly relevant original falters despite its somewhat promising start. Following a harrowing montage of news footage linking the 2008 Global Financial Crisis to the onset of nuclear war, Red Dawn’s fantastical account of an invasion of US democracy stretches any sense of credibility beyond a simplistic Call of Duty-like scenario. What made the original such a patriotic yet vital action flick was the link to Cold War paranoia surrounding its initial release. Upon this realisation, creating a North Korean (formerly Chinese) enemy worthy of the Soviet Union stretches plausibility. What is left is just a forgettable action flick bordering on xenophobia. This remake was finished in 2008, put on hold after MGM was hit by the recession. It’s easy to see why it was left to a release date four years later, becoming a film without a sense of place in our current political climate. The North Korean threat is a largely over-the-top band of thugs, little more than target practice for the Wolverines.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Director Dan Bradley has worked as stunt coordinator and/or second unit director on big budget action films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Swordfish and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. His penchant for expansive action set-pieces pays off in the film’s many shoot-outs and chases, yet fails to create a sense of either atmosphere or brutality for this dull narrative. Despite the tight pacing and high level of explosions, Bradley’s work on Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films has led to many tense scenes ruined by shaking cameras and quick cuts. This ultra-modern remake fails to learn from the original’s noticeable flaws. This contrived and silly story creates an emotionally manipulative yet undercooked survival tale of US citizens fighting oppression. The story is set to one training and battle montage after another, creating a breezy yet unrefined documentation of this peculiar invasion. Trying unrelentingly to achieve impact, Red Dawn‘s inappropriate score its only one step away from being as emotionally manipulative as the world’s biggest onion. The characters are awkwardly placed into certain types. High school and military politics are depicted as comparable in this film, conveniently comprising the jocks, rebels, nerds and hotties as the pecking order of this unit. Pretty predictable stuff here.
“Marines don’t die, they go to hell and regroup.” (Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), Red Dawn).
Hemsworth, Josh Peck & Josh Hutcherson.
Australia’s 2010 Red Dawn-like action flick Tomorrow, When the War Began is a far greater re-iteration this implausible situation. Any chance at developing character or resonance falls flat with every cheesy one liner and underwhelming speech, creating an inexplicably cloying experience to endure. This earnest retelling provides a humourless and bland romp, with comedic moments falling flat and ridiculous product placement achieving only unintentional laughs. Despite becoming little more than uninteresting enemies for the North Korean troops, the underused cast is full of recognisable faces. The original’s fun vibe was created partly through its charismatic young cast including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey. The chemistry between the original cast is lost in the remake, as the new group fails to create a believable or likeable fighting force. Chris Hemsworth (achieving major success with Thor and The Avengers) is a charismatic screen presence as the hapless leader. Josh Peck however becomes a bumbling and irritating soldier playing by his own rules. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) is easily replaceable, as is the rest of this underwhelming group of small soldiers.
Despite Bradley and the cast’s enthusiasm, their Red Dawn remake has been through hell and back itself. Given the resources on offer, this action-adventure could have been something for new generations to cling onto. Unfortunately, it has arrived several years too late.
Verdict: Yet another in the line of lacklustre remakes.
Writers: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback (screenplay), Phillip K. Dick (short story)
Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston
Release date: August 3rd, 2012
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The generic plot.
The problem with both 2012’s Total Recall and many remakes of its type, is that they ask the audience to endure a completely useless and unoriginal experience. Straight from the Hollywood cash machine, this interpretation of Phillip K. Dick’s short story ‘We can Remember it For You Wholesale’ is ironically forgettable and lifeless despite its interesting and relevant premise.
Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.
Borrowing straight from the original 1990 film at every turn, Total Recall presents a familiar story with shallower ideas. factory worker and loving husband Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is sick of being the average workaholic struggling to move around a cluttered, favela-like environment. Working for the upper class in one of two remaining districts on Earth at the end of the 21st century, his trip to a memory recall clinic reveals more to his life story. A spy in hiding now brought back to the surface, His deadly conflict with wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and ongoing war with Cohaagen (the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston) over both cities will reveal Quaid’s importance in the crumbling remains of 21st century living.
This action packed yet dull and humourless interpretation loses both the campy fun and thought provoking subtext of the Paul Verhoeven satirical version. Total Recallis a strange broth of other Phillip K. Dick adaptations, CGI effects, action set pieces and wacky mise-en-scene, none of which congeal to create a worthy sci-fi entry. The film represents the problem with most sci-fi flicks in modern Hollywood; it loses the grit, violence and ambiguity of its 80s and 90s predecessors. without the witty humour, brutality and mutant-filled weirdness of the revered original, the film creates a lurid feeling with every multi-layered green screen sequence. While the lack of emotional depth throughout this chase story leads to a confused and bland final third. The settings of Blade Runner, chases of Minority Report and The Fifth Element, and plot twists of I, Robot create nothing but this prime example of derivative and uninspired blockbuster filmmaking. Len Wiseman (Underworld, Die Hard 4.0) directs with eyes set on visual flair but sorely forgets brains, brawn or heart. The ambiguity behind Schwarzenegger’s character “gettin’ his ass to Mars” created a puzzling and entertaining sci-fi actioner once before.
“Trust me, baby, you’re gonna wish you had three hands.” (Three-breasted woman (Kaitlyn Leeb), Total Recall).
Wiseman, however, loses this tone, explaining everything to you in its simplest, spoon-fed form. Quaid is a character simplistically lost in existential crisis, struggling to create emotional resonance between every thrilling car chase and gun fight. Awkwardly proposing Inception-like questions separating reality from fantasy, this version loses every chance at tension and grit with Quaid’s gruelling search for identity. Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho try their best with the tiny character development given to their bland, small roles. While Farrell, suitably intense in dramatic roles from films such as Tigerland and In Bruges, struggles here to maintain any charisma, attained comfortably by Arnie in the original. This noisy and explosion-friendly version also loses the thematic subtlety significant to the sci-fi genre. The two districts themselves create visual metaphor as obvious as a man’s attraction to a three-breasted woman. Featuring a war for living space between an over-populated and decaying society known as ‘The Colony’ (‘cleverly’ representing Australia) and the United Federation of Britain, Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen is nowhere near the only over-the-top, underused and stupid aspect of this unnecessary and simplistic questioning of reality itself.
Sadly, despite the exorbitant budget and A-list performers thrown at this production, the Total Recall remake is a bland, cumbersome creation. With Len Wiseman’s hack direction sinking this space craft, adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner now look a helluva lot better!
Verdict: Yet another spineless sci-fi remake. Yawn.
Writer: Steve Zaillian (screenplay), Steig Larsson (novels)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard
Release date: December 20th, 2011
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Country: USA, Sweden
Running time: 158 minutes
Best part: The atmospheric direction.
Worst part: The twists.
Having only been two years since the release of the acclaimed Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) has used his gritty, low grade visual style and themes describing decaying humanity, to create an even more affecting and alluring version than the original.
In a case of journalistic integrity gone awry, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has been shamed, charged and fined after losing a libel case to a corrupt businessman. Trying desperately to clear his name while ignoring his recent downfall, he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, to investigate the missing persons case of Vanger’s niece Harriet, who disappeared almost 40 years ago. With Henrik convinced that one of his extended family is responsible and with the possibility of incest and ritualistic murder, Blomkvist must use everything at his disposal to solve this case. Hot on his tail is the gothic yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), hired to run detailed background check on Blomkvist. After discovering her intrusive behaviour, and unbeatable investigative and computer hacking abilities, he hires her to help solve the case and cases of other women murdered in the area. Tensions are raised between the two of them as both the investigation and their emotions reach boiling point.
In this quick-fire American remake of the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Fincher injects his themes and visual style into this story of graphic depictions and emotional explorations. His decayed look at murder from a psychological perspective and the world of investigative journalism is reminiscent of his earlier work; in making the viewer both disgusted and intrigued at the same time. The sparse lighting, bleak colour pallet; featuring a particular use of green, and the grungy opening credit sequence accompanied by Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song make this recently adapted story a strong statement of Fincher’s creativity. Fincher directs the violence and rape scenes with a greater intensity than in the original. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoodelves deeper into the method behind the madness as we see the depths of the human psyche and its sometimes severe descent into hell. Fincher’s focus on the reactions of these atrocities delivers a greater emotional impact. The rape scene involving Salander and her handler is both thought provoking and disgusting based on its constant documentation of the emotions displayed. During the ordeal, the camera focuses to certain extent on Salander’s face, showing her as both a deeply scarred and tough personality. Despite some of the plot-twists becoming slightly anti-climactic towards the end, Fincher’s adaptation benefits from strong pacing, a gritty, creepy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored Fincher’s The Social Network), the beautiful cinematography capturing the cold, inhumane conditions of both the murders and the snow covered Swedish setting, and an extraordinary level of character depth.
“Hold still. I’ve never done this before, and there will be blood.” (Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Unlike the original, in which both lead characters were interesting but still could have been defined to a greater extent, Fincher delves deeper into the state of affairs surrounding Blomkvist and his struggle to fit into present society after the trial, and Salander’s disturbed personality and anti hero status. Daniel Craig delivers another great performance, adding a lot of emotion through his facial expressions as well as his convincing delivery. While Rooney Mara delivers an oscar calibre performance that will be remembered as both a symbol of female empowerment and an individual going against the system in almost every way. Her frail physical structure covered in changing hair styles, bleached eyebrows, piercings, tattoos and black eye liner creates a distressing, alien look for Salander, adding to her lack of both normality and socially acceptable attributes more so than Noomi Rapace’s portrayal in the original. Her scene of physical torture upon her cantankerous handler is the focal point, showing a vengeance and lack of humanity reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Her revenge-fuelled fantasies and feminine charms, highlighted at the end of film, deliver a very damaged yet human portrayal. Her physicality and experimentation with sexual desires defining her inner angst makes Mara’s performance an absolute stand out.
Fincher having his chance to adapt this bleak and brutal material has worked. Despite copying many scenes from the original, he has still created an impressive work of art that rivals his other films. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the blackened world of conspiracy and malice has seen his characters conform to their own set of rules through their frightening actions.
Verdict: A visceral and enthralling american remake.