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Movie Review: Priest (3D) (2011) September 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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In the space of a few months, Priest went from one of my most anticipated movies of the year to just another film at the cinema.  Happens when the film’s release is delayed by three and a half months in Australia and the reviews are ‘unkind’ at best.

Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind about this film loosely based on a Korean comic of the same name, about an alternate world where priests are kick-ass vampire killers in an eternal human-vampire holy war.  The initial teaser trailers I saw over a year ago looked extremely promising — pure horror action, a stylish visual feast and one of my favourite actors, Paul Bettany.

But unfortunately, the critics that saw the film before me were right.  Priest just didn’t have it.  Nice to look at, sure, but it’s the perfect example of a failed comic book adaptation.  A great premise bogged down by a contrived plot, boring characters, poor dialogue and an unnecessary seriousness.  At just 87 minutes, Priest felt overlong, but at the same time strangely incomplete.  The result is an aesthetically pleasing, slick, occasionally frightening/exciting film that is ultimately forgettable and never comes close to living up to its potential.

Bettany did the best he could here, and is clearly the bright spot in an otherwise weak line up.  Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet were all merely serviceable co-stars and uninteresting characters.

If there is something the film did do right, it’s the freakish vampires, who looked more like the mutated beasts from Resident Evil than Edward Cullen.  Not surprising, considering director Scott Stewart started his career in visual effects and previously directed Bettany in another supernatural action/horror, Legion, which involved angels and demons and has a similar feel.  The creatures in that film were pretty scary too.  Sadly, neither film was particularly good.  On the whole, Priest is probably better than Legion, but I personally thought the best parts of Legion were far better than the best parts of Priest.

I’d say Priest deserves some consideration as a DVD rental, especially when put up against straight-to-DVD films on the shelves, but in all honesty it could have and should have been so much more.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, Priest has been released exclusively on 3D over here (at least from what I can gather).  Needless to say, as a post-production conversion, it was no more than another pointless money grabbing exercise.

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part II January 12, 2011

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As Frank Costanza once said: ‘You want it?  You got it!’  Four more movie reviews to continue my Start of Year DVD Blitz.  I predict there will probably be one more after this.  Maybe two.  Or three.

Beautiful Kate (2009)

If Animal Kingdom was 2010’s best Aussie film, then Beautiful Kate was most probably the cream of the 2009 crop of Australian cinema.

In many ways, this was a typical Aussie film — low budget, set in the outback, sad and depressing.  But for some reason I was really affected by the emotions of this splendid movie directed by Rachel Ward.

It’s based on an American story by Newton Thornburg but adapted to Australian conditions, and tells the story of Ned (Ben Mendelsohn), a writer to returns home with his young girlfriend (Maeve Dermody) to his dying father (Bryan Brown) and younger sister (Rachel Griffiths).  Ned’s past his replayed through various flashbacks, most of which revolve around his twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe) and their tragic youth.

This was the type of film that, perhaps as recent as two or three years ago, I might have scoffed at as another boring old Aussie flick.  But I was never bored with Beautiful Kate.  Because it deals with taboo subjects and has a lot of powerful scenes, I found myself engrossed.  A few sequences towards the end may have overstepped the mark, but this was still a small triumph.

4.25 stars out of 5

Creation (2009)

Paul Bettany is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, and Creation, in which he plays Charles Darwin, may be his best performance to date.

I’ve always been fascinated with the struggle between science and religion, and Creation is at the very heart of this battle, telling the story of how Darwin came about to write On the Origin of Species, one of the most important works ever written (for those who don’t know, it is considered the foundation of the theory of evolution).

I thought a film about writing a book would be rather dull, but boy was I wrong.

Little did I know, Darwin (a fellow Cambridge student — I remember walking past the house where he once lived) was once quite religious, and his wife and first cousin, Emma (played by Bettany’s real life wife Jennifer Connelly) was a deeply devout Christian.  And so it was actually a gargantuan struggle for Darwin to write what he did.

Bettany’s marvellous performance drives this film from start to finish, and I was amazed how moved I was by his story and his relationship with his eldest daughter Annie.  The narrative jumps around back and forth in time quite a bit, which was distracting at first (because I could only gauge the time through how much Bettany’s hairline had receded), but once I ot used to it I was completely captivated by this fascinating film.  The final scene was perhaps a little contrived but it didn’t dampen the experience for me.

I know a lot of people were underwhelmed by this film, but not me.  I loved it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Despicable Me (2010)

Universal’s first foray into CGI animated features was a success.  I can’t believe I had almost zero interest in this film before, which utilises the vocal talents of Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Will Arnett.  Perhaps it was the lack of promotion, but Despicable Me was every bit as good as, if not better than, Megamind, that other animated feature about a villain with a heart.

Despicable Me has a pretty familiar core — a bad guy who wants to be worse, but through a bunch of little orphans, becomes good.  However, I loved the humour, which uses a combination of clever references to real life, slap stick and outrageous jokes.  The kids are also very cute.  Not much to dislike here, though I grant you that this will unlikely go down as one of the more memorable animated features.

Nonetheless, I had a great time with it.  Not sure if it can challenge the other nominees in the best animated film category this year at the Golden Globes (Tangled, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist) but it will sure give them a run for their money.  Or at least it should, anyway.

4 stars out of 5

Notorious (2009)

I was desperate to see this one (even though I’m not a huge fan of hard core rap) because I had always been fascinated by the Notorious BIG and that whole East Coast-West Coast feud thing with Tupac, which probably led to both their deaths.  I finally got a chance to watch Notorious the other day and it was just okay — a biopic where the subject and story were absolutely fascinating but the film’s execution was somewhat lacking.

The life of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious BIG, aka Biggie Smalls, is one of rags to riches that was ultimately cut short at the age of 24.  The man was built like a barrel, but he was a rapping genius and had a way with the ladies.  I got to see all of that, but I still didn’t really feel like I got the essence of the man.  I’m not sure if it was the script or the performance of Jamal Woolard, but BIG never shone through, even though he narrated the freaking film.  Perhaps it’s because he was portrayed as not a particularly likeable guy — a bit of a sleeze, a serial cheater and prone to outbursts of violence, especially towards women.

Interestingly, I thought the two most sympathetic characters in the whole film were Puff Daddy (played by Derek Luke) and BIG’s mother Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett) — and as it turned out, they were both producers of the film.

For a biopic, 123 minutes is not especially long, but Notorious felt long.  I did enjoy it because I was interested in the subject and his life, but this was a film that could have been so much better.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Tourist (2010) January 9, 2011

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Two of the biggest and sexiest stars in the world (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) teaming up with the director that brought us the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others — sounded like a winning formula to me.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, The Tourist turned out to be a somewhat stale and poorly paced action thriller that wasted all the incredible talent involved.

As the title suggests, Depp is Frank, a tourist who by chance meets a woman named Elise (Jolie), who turns out to be a secret agent that turns his life upside down.  There are gangsters and British government officials (led by criminally underused Paul Bettany), and there’s the usual chase scenes, mixed in with a touch of romance and a couple of twists, but it all felt strangely flat and uneventful (despite the beautiful backdrop of Venice).

Both Depp and Jolie produced sub-par performances by their usually lofty standards, but perhaps the biggest problem was their lack of chemistry.  I really don’t know why, but they had such little spark that the romance, which drives the narrative, never felt believable.

At the end of the day, The Tourist was an average film (at most) that should have been much much better.  Just shows you can’t toss up a couple of stars and a hot director and expect brilliant results.

2.5 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III December 29, 2010

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Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!

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