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Movie Review: Splice (2010) July 24, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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Splice opens in cinemas across Australia on 12 August 2010

I’ve always had an unheathy fascination with monsters, mutants and freaks of nature.  There’s just something about them that intrigues and yet unsettles me.  Unfortunately, the track record of such films have — let’s face it — not been great.

And so it was with some reserved excitement that I went to see a media preview screening of Splice (with an unprecedented full house), the latest sci-fi horror offering from director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali (the guy who brought us the excellent and innovative Cube) and executive producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy).  I thought, if anyone could pull off a worthy sci-fi horror about genetic experimentation gone wrong, it’s these two dudes.

So?  Well, I think they came very very close.

Splice tells the story of a hip scientist couple, Clive and Elsa (played by a pre-buffed, pre-Predators Adrien Brody and an older, post-hot Sarah Polley, you know, the blonde girl from Go and Dawn of the Dead), who have become rockstars of the scientific community for their breakthroughs in splicing DNA of different animals to create weird mutant hybrids.  The next step is to splice animal and human DNA, but of course their corporate sponsors don’t approve.  Just to prove they could do it, Clive and Elsa take their experiments underground…

As usual, the less known about the plot the better, but it’s not hard to guess what happens next.  Splice follows a familiar trajectory (a bit of Frankenstein with a touch of Species 2), but it doesn’t mean it’s still not a genuinely creepy, unsettling, and at times utterly bizarre film well worth your time.  Especially if you are into (extremely well-designed) freaks!

The film is anchored by the strong performance of Adrien Brody (having now seen him in back-to-back movies in completely different roles and physically transformed, I can only say I am impressed with this guy).  Sarah Polley picks her up her acting towards the end, but there was something about her dialogue in the first half of the film that didn’t ring true.  I’m not sure if it’s her or the script.  The other standout is their ‘creation’, Dren, played by newcomer Delphine Chaneac and spliced with terrific special effects.  She’s creepy.

Splice is not without its flaws.  It was difficult to connect with the protagonists who are supposed to be intelligent people but they keep doing incredibly stupid, unlikable and non-sensical things.  There were a couple of grossly over-the-top moments that generated more laughter than horrified gasps from the crowd, though that may have been intentional.  The ‘twists’ were also a little too telegraphed and obvious for my liking.

But these are relatively minor complaints because Splice doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.  I’m glad Natali made it a straight horror/psychological thriller as opposed to some sort of deep philosophical contemplation about the slippery slope of genetic engineering, because that would have totally ruined it.

Splice is no masterpiece, but it’s rare to see a sci-fi horror these days that is actually scary, entertaining, well-acted and doesn’t completely fall apart by the end.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: I can’t think of many good sci-fi horrors depicting experimental freaks of nature off the top of my head.  I mentioned Frankenstein and Species 2, but I’m sure there are others.  I thought  Frankenstein (the one with Robert De Niro) was pretty good, but let’s be honest — we all know why people flocked to see Species.

PPS: Oh, forgot about the underrated The Island of Dr Moreau.

Movie Review: Predators (2010) July 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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After several years of the disappointing Alien vs Predator efforts, it’s good to finally see one of the franchises returning to its roots.  If you ignore all the films with Aliens in them, then Predators is essentially the third film of the franchise.

Excellent.  Enough of the Aliens crap.  I want to see Predators hunting and frightening the life out of humans again.

Well, Predators gives the audience exactly what they have been asking for since 1987 (the 1990 sequel was too brutal for my liking).  The premise is simple but effective — throw all the most lethal humans on the planet into a jungle and watch the Predators hunt them down.  It’s man versus the unstoppable hi-tech creature in hardcore terrain that harks back to the original when Arnie took on and defeated the first Predator.

However, gone is the bulky mass of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In his place — Oscar winner Adrien Brody!

Most people, when they first hear about this new action hero, would have had the same WTF reaction as I did.  Adrien Brody?  The Pianist?

Yes, him.  As Brody said it himself in an interview — go look at the elite soldiers of today.  They all look like him.  Thin and sinewy (though few have his ridiculous nose).  None of them look like body builders.

Fair enough, but physically Arnie at least made us believe there was half a chance of survival.  Maybe the gamble with Brody paid off, maybe it didn’t.  I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one because he is a brilliant actor and brought out so much more from his character than anyone would have thought imaginable.  But he’s still Adrien Brody (albeit a visibly more buffed one).

Anyway, Brody is not the only one.  There’s also Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), whose wimpiness makes Brody convincing (if only for a second) as a super tough, super deadly mercenary.  There’s Alice Braga (I Am Legend) as an Israeli sniper (and token female), Danny Trejo (Con Air) as a Mexican cartel enforcer (and token Latino), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as an African RUF officer (and token black guy), Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill) as a Russian soldier, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza enforcer (and token Asian) and Walter Goggins as a deathrow inmate.  Plus there is an extended cameo from another big name who seems to have put on a bit of weight lately.  It’s a mixed bag, and you can be sure that not all of them are going to make it to the end.

Director Nimrod Antal (who directed the 2007 Vacancy) clearly tried to channel the raw power, excitement and fear of the original into Predators.  It’s essentially an update of the first film with new characters, more dangers and a couple of twists (one of which is a complete dud).  It’s not without merit as there are a number of tense, action packed scenes, but the fear simply wasn’t there.  There was a feeling of inevitability about all the deaths and when they would happen, and there wasn’t even anything particularly original about any of them.

I really wanted to like Predators, but it didn’t come close to the classic original.  Still the second best Predator film though.

3 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT — the worst part of the whole film was when the Yakuza dude took on one of the Predators with his Samurai sword.  I expected the guy to be some master swordsman and to see some rapid sparks flying everywhere.  Instead we got to see the lamest sword fight in history.]

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