Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Inferno Review: Hanks for nothing


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Tom Hanks.

Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.

Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.

Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Inferno could be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.

Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C.  Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).

Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).

Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.

Verdict: A franchise killer.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

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Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe

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Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


2/5

Best part: The old cast.

Worst part: The new cast.

Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!

The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity  has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).

Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.

This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.

Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.