Friday, September 28, 2012

This one is the law

My rating:

Confession time: I actually enjoyed the 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starring Judge Dredd at the time. Stallone was a pretty good choice to play Dredd, Diane Lane was at the peak of her hawtness, and even Rob Schneider was still somewhat fresh and funny. Only the direction and the action scenes were somewhat lacklustre, but overall it was a fun time at the movies (for an excitable teenage TMBF who wasn't too discerning about what he paid to watch). And not being a huge fan of the comics, it didn't bother me that Dredd took off his helmet. But 17 years later, it's a franchise ripe for a reboot, one that's more faithful to the source material. And with Alex Garland - frequent collaborator with Danny Boyle - on writing and producing duties and a British production company and crew (the 2000 AD comic where Judge Dredd was introduced is based in the U.K.), it looked like the franchise is in good hands.

It's certainly entirely different from the first film, and it comes with strengths as well as weaknesses.

In the future, America is an irradiated wasteland, and the survivors live in Mega-City One - a vast dystopian metropolis that houses 800 million inhabitants. Law and order is upheld by the Judges of the Hall of Justice, who are authorised to act as judge, jury and executioner, and the most feared among them is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). Dredd is partnered with and tasked with evaluating rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is inexperienced but possesses unique psychic powers; their first assignment is to investigate a murder case at the Peach Trees tower block. The 200-story slum tower is controlled by the psychotic gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who also controls the production and distribution of a new drug called Slo-Mo. When Dredd and Anderson arrest Kay (Wood Harris), one of Ma-Ma's lieutenants, she orders the entire block sealed in order to trap the two Judges inside - and for her men to hunt them down and kill them.

The main thing this adaptation gets right is the tone. This is grim, moody, stylish and ultraviolent action, just as the comic was. Ma-Ma's drug is called Slo-Mo because it makes the brain feel as if time is moving at a crawl, which is an excuse for director Pete Travis to employ extreme slow-motion in shots that look pretty awesome - especially when it is also used during hard-R-rated action scenes. I'm not one for cinematic gore, but Dredd actually makes a bullet ripping through a guy's jaw - in Slo-Mo - look beautiful, and that is some feat. There's some gorgeous visuals here, married to a unique approach to action scenes that's reminiscent of John Carpenter's Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13; a slow and deliberate doling out of violence rather than the usual frenzied, rapid-fire pyrotechnics. It's almost not even an action movie, closer to a thriller.

Which had the unfortunate effect of leaving me somewhat cold. I can respect the creative decision to be different, but I rarely found this movie to be thrilling or suspenseful. Maybe because I'd just watched The Raid: Redemption (a severely marred version that is totally not worth watching, that is), which has a near-identical premise of cops trapped in an apartment building full of murderous criminals, but the film never really gripped me the way a good action thriller should. I feel like in its commitment to avoid all the usual action film clichés, it also left out a lot of the genre's tropes that make it fun; intricate and creative action sequences, cheesy witty one-liners, even opportunities for the titular character to display some awesome badassery. And Judge Dredd is a character who absolutely needs to be awesomely badass. It relies too much on Karl Urban's performance to deliver the awesome and the badass.

But Urban delivers. He is clearly aware that he is playing an iconic character and does a deliberately mannered performance, in his body language and the lower half of his face not obscured by Dredd's trademark helmet. As befits the comicbook character, Dredd seems like he's always in complete control of the situation, yet it does not undercut the sense of danger inherent in the plot. And Ma-Ma makes for a pretty dangerous situation; a none-too-physically-imposing woman like her is a unique villain, and Lena Headey gives her an unhinged viciousness that makes her effectively threatening. But personally, I thought Olivia Thirlby's Judge Anderson stole the show. Her psychic powers were cool, and though Thirlby looks tiny and vulnerable next to Ma-Ma's psychotic goons, she keeps her nerves under control and her wits about her enough to kick plenty of ass.

So a great cast, some terrific visuals, a unique (albeit a little too low-key) tone and a much greater respect for the source material; all these are enough to make Dredd a better movie than 1995's Judge Dredd. Unfortunately, it falls short in one respect, and that's in the realization of the dystopian future of Mega-City One. This is a low-budget British/South African co-production, and it shows - in the cars on the highways during the opening car chase scene (especially the van that Dredd chases, that looks like a 1979 Mitsubishi Delica), in the design of the Judges' Lawmaster motorbike, and in how Mega-City One looks just like the modern-day slums of Johannesburg where it was filmed. Judge Dredd had flying cars and stuff, and even the comics played up the bizarre futurism of its setting. Its lack of a big budget is probably why they chose the premise of being trapped in a single building, but during the scenes outside of it, it shows.

But I can respect Travis wanting to give it a more real, gritty look. I can respect them doing away with the giant eagle epaulettes on the Judges' uniforms in favour of a more utilitarian body-armour look. I can respect them designing a Lawmaster that is actually road-worthy, instead of Judge Dredd's bike that can't actually steer. And I can totally respect a faithful adaptation of 2000 AD that gets the cynicism, the fatalism, the stylishness and the graphic violence right. I'd be down for a sequel that would get a bigger budget to play with and give us more Dredd and Anderson - but it looks like that's not going to happen, seeing as the movie was a major flop and didn't make much money even in the U.K. That's sad. I could've liked it better, but it deserved better than what it's getting.

(By the way, I just got done watching a few clips of Judge Dredd on YouTube. Man, TMBF circa 1995 had terrible taste.)

NEXT REVIEW: Untuk Tiga Hari
Expectations: hanya kerana anda, Afdlin Shauki 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Do not watch The Raid: Redemption in cinemas

'Cos it's been dubbed into English.

And the dub was most likely done in India, because everyone speaks like machas. For us Malaysians, it's unintentionally funny - actually no, it's not funny, it's fucking annoying. It's a huge fucking distraction from the suspense and seriousness of the movie.

Pardon my French, but I was really looking forward to this one, and hearing that first line of English dialogue was incredibly disappointing. I just couldn't enjoy the film properly anymore, and I don't think I want to review it (yet). And just because it's a balls-out action film doesn't mean the dubbed dialogue doesn't spoil the experience. There are still actors who are acting, and the vocal delivery of their lines is part and parcel of their performance. There is also a script with dialogue; a poor translation - and it is a poor translation, in which the BM subtitles are often completely different from what's being said - will lose all the nuance and subtleties that the screenwriter intended to put in. There's as much talent and effort put into these elements as the fight scenes, and dubbing the voices - right down to the grunts and moans during the action scenes! - just takes a huge shit all over it.

So no, don't watch it in cinemas. Show a big middle finger to Nusantara Edaran, the distributors, for their dumbass decision to bring in the English dub version instead of the original Indonesian dialogue version with subtitles. Seriously, what the fuck were you guys thinking??

(I may eventually review it off a DVD, but not for a while. Let me get this bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth first.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Young and far from dangerous

Kepong Gangster
My rating:

I did not know that the screening of this movie that I went to featured the appearances of a few cast and crew members. I thought for a second that I'd stumbled into a special promo screening, but I think they were just doing the rounds of dropping by cinemas around Klang Valley. I didn't know who they were at first, but after watching the movie - and visiting their Facebook page and website - I now recognize Billy Ng, Rayz Lim, Lenny Ooi, director Teng Bee, I think one of them was Jovi Theng, and apologies to the sixth guy 'cos I don't remember who you are. They said all the nice things: thank you for watching their movie, thank you for supporting home-grown Chinese films, we worked really hard on it, hope you enjoy it, hope you ask all your friends and parents and siblings and cousins and uncles and aunties and whatnots to watch it too. They were polite and humble and oh-so-earnest that I can't help but wish them the best of luck.

'Cos I think they're gonna need it.

Five Kepong boys - Zhong (Henley Hii), Hoi (Melvin Sia), Teo Chew Boy (Hero Tai), Billy (Billy Ng) and Bing (Rayz Lim) - join the 390 triad under the custodianship of Thong (Jovi Theng) and the leadership of Fo San (Lenny Ooi). They are righteous and badass and unafraid to get their hands dirty, and so they rise rapidly through the triad ranks. Life is good; Billy gets a main squeeze in Cindy (Agnes Lim) and Zhong falls for the sweet and innocent Tong Tong (Tracy Cheong). But rival triad captain Hak Loong (Wilson Tin) has a grudge against them, and their own weaknesses threaten to be their undoing: Teo Chew Boy's greed; Billy's recklessness; Zhong's obliviousness; Hoi's lust for power and for the gang Madam (Linda Liao), Fo San's mistress; and the big flashing sign floating above Bing's head that says "死定*".

I'll say this: this movie started off somewhat impressively to me. It covers the five boys' backstories during their school days and their motivation for joining a triad (because they're sick of being bullied by gang-affiliated schoolmates) within the first two minutes, followed by their early careers as low-level triad footsoldiers in the next three, before the story starts in earnest when they start making a name for themselves in their gang. This is what's known as economical storytelling, and it's a rare and good thing. Unfortunately, five minutes is about all I was impressed with. The one best word to describe Kepong Gangster is amateurish. What I thought was economical storytelling was more a symptom of its complete lack of attention to detail.

Let's start with the acting. No wait - first, the casting. Henley Hii is that babyfaced fella on the left of the poster up there, and no matter how hard he scowls he just can't play a convincing gangster. He looks more like a boyband member, and indeed, he's a musical artiste in his day job; Googling him reveals even more hilariously un-gangster-like photos. Hii and the rest of the cast are either terribly wooden (the younger ones) or wildly over-the-top (the older dudes - especially Wilson Tin, whose Hak Loong is so sleazy and nasty I can't believe anyone would even want to be near him) with no middle ground whatsoever. Though it's not like the screenplay, co-written by Teng Bee and Eddie Tiger, give them anything to work with.

There's nothing in the plot that you haven't already seen in Hong Kong gangster flicks such as Young and Dangerous, which is the film series it most wants to be - though it can still be good if it's done with style and wit. But Kepong Gangster has neither. It wants to have a scene in which one of our five heroes' girlfriends gets raped, so she shows up at a triad dinner looking for her boyfriend, and when she can't find him she just stands around like an idiot. And then one gang boss gets in his head that this innocent-looking total stranger is who he wants to bed tonight. The way this bit plays out is nothing short of laughably contrived. Every scene and every character is one-note; f'rinstance Bing, whose total nerdiness makes him look stupid rather than the comic relief Teng clearly wants him to be. We know he's supposed to be the one guy completely unsuited to being a gangster; the way this movie does it, he is neither funny nor endearing, just annoying.

The whole thing looks like a cheapie TV serial rather than a theatrical release. Many Hong Kong crime drama films I've seen also have bad writing and acting, but at least they have the budget for effective action scenes and an eye for good cinematography. Again, Kepong Gangster has neither; whoever the cinematographer is, his skills are apparently limited to making sure the shot is in focus. As for action scenes, there's really only one, the usual clichéd brawl between rival stick- and parang-wielding gangsters; the only thing notable about it is how people who get slashed by parangs don't bleed at all. In fact, it's frustratingly coy about sex and violence, which you can't avoid in a gangster film and which are in your story anyway; the sex scene between Hoi and Madam cuts away so quickly I'd've thought the parents of the kids in the audience edited this. And yes, there were kids in the audience. Were they who this movie is made for?

And then there's that hugely annoying extended Kaspersky product placement sequence, in which Bing's grandmother (played by Lai Meng) mistakes the antivirus software for medicine that her grandson needs. Note to Mr. Teng Bee: people laughed at this scene out of derision, not mirth. But when all is said and done, I can't hate on this movie too much. There's a scrappy can-do spirit to it that one can at least sympathise with, if not quite be charmed by. It's like a school play put on by a bunch of cluelessly overambitious kids - albeit polite, humble and earnest kids. I probably would've rated this 2 stars if they hadn't showed up at my cinema asking the audience so nicely for their support. And for their sake, I hope they get some. But the kindest thing a viewer is going to think as he walks out is, "well, that was a good try." It certainly tried - but it definitely ain't good.

(Oh, and as a resident of Kepong, I did admittedly get a kick out of its real-life references to my neighbourhood. Yes, there is a Goldhill Club here, and yes, it did move here from its former location in Jalan Ipoh. But I sure didn't know there was so much drama in the lives of its owners.)

NEXT REVIEW: The Raid: Redemption
Expectations: ooohhh yeeaaahhh 

* "Dead meat".

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Budi the leap year idiot baby

29 Februari
My rating:

It isn't too often that I review a Malay film in English. This is because - and here's a glimpse behind the scenes here at TMBF - I get my highest number of hits whenever I do a local film review in BM. (Which really behooves me to do them more often, but with shit like Salam Cinta and Halim Munan in cinemas, I just can't be arsed.) But when I do write an English review of a Malay movie, it's for a variety of reasons; one of which is because I need the language I am most fluent in to express my extremely strong opinions of that movie. Or maybe I'm just feeling a little too lazy to take the extra effort to write in BM.

And in this case, it's because I have no idea how to say "twee" and "precious" in BM.

Budi (Remy Ishak) was born on the 29th of February in 1896, which gives him the magical ability to age only one year for every four years. In 1941, he is orphaned when the Japanese invade Malaya, and becomes a resident of an orphanage where he becomes best friends with Razak (Izzue Islam), who is blind. In 1957, just after the Merdeka declaration, he meets and falls for a Chinese girl named Lily (Jojo Goh) - but her father's (Chew Kin Wah) objections to their interracial relationship forces them apart. Though he spends the next decades searching for her, Budi will not see her again - until 2012, when he is living in Penang and runs a florist shop with two employees, Johan (Fizz Fairuz) and Arif (Muniff Isa).

It's right there on the poster - the first 3D Malaysian-made movie. Which... why? There's nothing about this film that seems to need 3D. It's not an action movie, nor does it have spectacular visuals or special effects. It doesn't even have shots of things flying at the screen, which is far from the best use of 3D but would at least justify having it. I saw it in good ol' 2D and didn't think it ever needed any 3D at all. (Which, to be fair, is how I feel about almost every 3D film anyway.) And I think this is symptomatic of what's wrong with 29 Februari - namely, it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be.

It's clearly reminiscent of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump (there's even a scene where Remy Ishak is digitally inserted into footage of Tun Dr. Mahathir from 1985), although the premise is different enough to stand on its own. The thing is, both those films were made for adults. Both were rated PG-13, both dealt with adult subject matter, and both had an adult sensibility. 29 Februari is not and does not, on all counts. The characters, the dialogue, the humour, are all juvenile and shallow and one-dimensional. Characters like Razak and Lily's sister (whose actress' name I can't find) are positively annoying; the former does nothing but whine and complain about his blindness, the latter is downright evil in how she keeps sabotaging her sister's and Budi's relationship. Even that central romance does nothing to make us root for them. This is a couple whose conversations involve such deeply insightful topics as, "Kalau Budi jadi kelip-kelip, ke mana Budi nak terbang?"

And for a film that traverses 116 years, there's nothing epic about it; it hardly ever truly examines this grand sweep of Malaysian history. We see Budi's parents killed when the Japanese invade, but we don't know how he actually lived during the occupation; we see him at Stadium Merdeka during Tunku Abdul Rahman's declaration, but after that he never seems to care that he is now a citizen of an independent nation. There's also a scene that takes place during the May 13 riots in 1969, but again, it's more interested in talking about his lost love Lily than in what's happening to the country at the time. But what really sinks this story is the fact that Budi can live over a hundred years, yet still be so dumb.

Seriously, does he mentally age 4 times as slow as other people too? In 1941, physically he is 11 and he looks as such. But he's also been alive for 45 years, and he sure doesn't act like a 45-year-old. And in 1957 when he meets Lily, he is 61 years old but he should look 15 (which makes it a boo-boo that Remy plays him at this point), and yet he behaves just like a lovesick teenage boy. Worst of all is when he encounters Lily again in 2012, yet appears shocked that she is now an old woman. Dude! You did not know that you age slower than everyone else?? It took you 116 years to find that out?? This is a guy who should have accumulated over a century's worth of experience, maturity and wisdom - qualities that, incidentally, this very movie lacks utterly.

Oh, and it's also a musical. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but is 6 song sequences - and only 4 songs, since one is repeated twice - a little, well, little for a musical film? I'm not too fond of musicals, and this movie is just the reason why: because musicals always have this artificiality about it, hence why people tend to break out into song and dance. 29 Februari has that artificial, contrived feel in spades; it tries so hard to be sweet and romantic and epic but just turns out far too twee and precious. Like it thinks a pretty tune set to some grand orchestral arrangement is all it takes to evoke soaring emotion. Oh, did I say song and dance? No - there are song sequences but no song-and-dance sequences. There is no dancing in this musical film. See what I mean about not knowing what kind of movie it wants to be?

I'll give it credit for being ambitious. I'll give KRU Studios credit just for attempting a magical-realist-fantasy-historical-drama-musical-romance. I'll give Remy props for an effective, impressively nuanced performance, and Jojo Goh for a charming presence; I'll even admit they both had some nice chemistry despite their dumb-as-rocks dialogue. (Although I'm sick of seeing Chew Kin Wah as the Designated Chinese Villain in Malay Movies.) But I don't think Edry Abdul Halim, who directed Magika, is a good director yet - nor Amir Hafizi, who wrote Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a good writer. Aside from Remy and Goh, everything good about this movie is in what it tried to be. Maybe Edry's and Amir's problem isn't that they don't know what kind of movie they're trying to make. Maybe their problem is that they're just not good enough to make it.

NEXT REVIEW: Kepong Gangster
Expectations: ohhh boy - no idea how this one's gonna turn out

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hurry hurry biker come to me

Premium Rush
My rating:

This movie owes a lot to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and I mean a lot. It was filmed two years ago and had its release delayed (due to a copyright infringement lawsuit), and may not have even gotten into theatres if its lead actor hadn't broken out in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises since then. Gordon-Levitt is also responsible for this review you're reading right now, because he's the only reason I decided to watch this. I no longer review a new release every week, and this movie looked insignificant enough that I could skip it. Although I might've made an exception for David Koepp, who's on writing and directing duty. As one of Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriters, anything Koepp does in which he actually gets to hold the reins should be interesting; case in point, 1999's Stir of Echoes, a pretty good supernatural thriller unfairly overshadowed by The Sixth Sense.

Turns out this is much more a David Koepp movie - and possibly a Michael Shannon one - than a Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is New York City's best bike messenger, and probably also its most reckless - which puts a strain on his relationship with fellow messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) and gives an opening to his romantic rival Manny (Wolé Parks). One day, his dispatcher Raj (Aasif Mandvi) assigns him to a package from Vanessa's roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) - but then he is accosted by police detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) who tries to take it from him. The package is actually a ticket worth a great deal of money, that Nima intends to use to bring her son to the States from China, but Monday needs it to pay off his gambling debts. So begins a massive chase across the city between Monday and Wilee that will also involve Vanessa, Manny, one hapless bicycle cop (Christopher Place), and the entire NYC bike courier industry.

TMBF is not the kind of movie buff that follows actors. What I look for in a film is story more than anything else, and that's why screenwriters and directors come first in my list of People Whose Films I Choose to Look Out For (Or Alternatively, to Avoid). So when I say that the fact that Gordon-Levitt is in this movie is the only reason I decided to watch it, it isn't because I love watching him so much that I gotta catch everything he's in - although of course, his performances are always good if not great. It's because in the past few years, he's shown that rare ability to pick projects that always turn out to be good films; yes, even G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. And it's rare because it's pretty damn hard to tell how good a movie will turn out when all you have is a screenplay and a director giving you the spiel about how good it'll turn out.

But if that director is David Koepp, then you're at least guaranteed that the screenplay will be a solid piece of genre writing. His filmography as writer includes some very big blockbusters, none of which are truly representative of his writing; the bigger the movie, the bigger the names attached to it (i.e. director and star), the more the script will be altered and revised - with or without the writer's involvement. So I tend to look out for movies by writers-turned-directors, because they will invariably be as gleeful as a kid in a candy store to finally have full creative control. (Well, sort of, there's still the studio to please, but if it's willing to greenlight a project directed by a screenwriter, then it's most likely willing to be hands-off on a movie that they also don't expect to be a big hit anyway.) And Koepp's glee is pretty darn evident in Premium Rush.

Okay, okay, let's get to the movie finally. It's an action thriller that's a lot more light-hearted and fun than most movies that fall under that genre. AV Club's Scott Tobias describes it as a live-action cartoon in which our hero Wilee is more the Roadrunner, and everyone who tries to apprehend or catch up to him, the coyote. This is not at all an inaccurate depiction of the movie, in fact it's probably the best frame of reference to have while watching it. Koepp is having a grand old time with twists, turns, reversals, all the tricks of the thriller trade to keep you on the edge of your seat. He even toys with chronology, with a non-linear timeline that starts somewhere around 5.30pm (and the ticket needs to reach its destination by 7pm) but has a tendency to rewind to earlier in the day and fill in a little backstory - e.g. exactly what kind of trouble Monday got himself into to need so much money so desperately.

And there are also bits where Wilee makes split-second decisions on which way to weave around traffic, and we see the disastrous outcomes of the wrong decisions; go left and he crashes into a baby carriage, go right and a guy gets run over by a truck with a hilarious Wilhelm scream. The movie's playful tone is also accentuated by a gloriously over-the-top performance by Michael Shannon, playing a villain who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and knows it damn well. Shannon actually outshines Gordon-Levitt here, whose role doesn't challenge him beyond providing a solidly charismatic and likeable hero for the audience to root for. Unfortunately, the cast has a weak link in Jamie Chung, who can only frown prettily for almost the entire movie. And in the Chinatown scenes when the dialogue switches to Mandarin, her lack of proficiency in the language is apparent.

But as good as it is, it appears to be a confirmed box-office flop. Sigh... I guess "biker action thriller" doesn't pull in the crowds, even with Gordon-Levitt's name attached. However, I think it's destined to be one of those films that only finds an audience on DVD and screenings on HBO, prompting people to ask "why have I never heard of this movie?" and "why did nobody watch it when it was released in theatres?" I haven't even mentioned the chase scenes, of which there are plenty and are plenty exciting - or the minor antagonist in the nameless bike cop who also tries to apprehend Wilee and fails as spectacularly as Monday. Seriously, this movie is just a heap o' fun. Watch it if you can - when it shows up on HBO.

NEXT REVIEW: 29 Februari
Expectations: hmm, premis yang menarik

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All brawn, still not much fun

The Expendables 2
My rating:

I wasn't too keen on The Expendables two years ago. There were four ensemble action movies that year, and I felt that one was clearly the weakest of them all; the least clever, the least fun, and the least funny (also the most in need of a sense of humour). And for a movie predicated on putting together a supergroup of '80s action movie icons, it cheated big time with never-beens like (MMA champion) Randy Couture and (NFL player and deodorant spokesman) Terry Crews. Yet it's the only one that gets a sequel, so shows how much I know. I guess the nostalgia value of seeing old-school action heroes from the '80s really does sell tickets worldwide, though its charms were somewhat lost on me.

And they're still not working.

The mercenary team led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and comprising Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and new member Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) are forced into a new mission by CIA operative Church (Bruce Willis). The job involves retrieving an item from a safe in a crashed plane in Eastern Europe - and also comes with another new member Maggie Chan (Yu Nan) as the safecracker. But after obtaining the Macguffin, they are ambushed by Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who leads his own private army called the Sangs. Vilain takes the item - which turns out to be blueprints of an abandoned mine in which is hidden five tons of weapons-grade plutonium - and kills one of the team. Swearing revenge, Ross and the Expendables must now track down Vilain and stop him - and along the way, they'll get a little help from fellow veteran mercenaries Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Booker (Chuck Norris).

In certain ways, this sequel is an improvement on it predecessor. Instead of having Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in a mere cameo, this time they're in a proper action scene - and throws in Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to boot. It's more aware of its cheesy appeal; there are references to "I'll be back" and "Yippee-ki-yay", and Norris recites a Chuck Norris Fact. (Also, "Vilain".) Crews and Couture have more presence this time, making it feel like a proper ensemble instead of a Sylvester Stallone-Jason Statham buddy movie like the first one was. Simon West is a more competent director of action movies than Stallone (or most likely his 2nd-unit director), and the action scenes are better composed and edited. There are even a couple of funny lines of dialogue. But none of this made much of an impression on me, nor persuaded me to give it a higher rating.

See, maybe I just don't get the whole '80s action thing. I actually missed out on a lot of those movies, particularly those with Norris and Van Damme, who were always more low-rent than Schwarzenegger and Stallone. (And I don't think I've even watched Rambo III all the way. Have it on DVD, tried it once, fell asleep.) So pulling them out of retirement and putting them all together doesn't really do anything for me; in fact, all it does is highlight how little appeal they have besides kicking ass on camera. They're dull. The titular team, supposedly a tightly-knit band of fighting men, have little chemistry with each other. Every time they're not in an action scene, they all just seem really awkward. And in the case of the 72-year-old Norris, we're meant to believe he's an awesome badass when he barely even throws a punch.

Perhaps it's not that they don't have any real screen presence - because they certainly don't in this movie - but that they would if the movie found ways to play up their natural personalities. Or maybe if the screenplay gave them some. Dolph Lundgren gets to be the comic relief - a role for which, unfortunately, he is eminently unsuited - and that's the kind of thing that suffices to distinguish one macho lunkhead from another in this movie. These guys just aren't much fun to be around, even when they're kicking ass and mowing down hundreds of faceless bad guys. I mentioned Red, another movie with a similar senior-citizen-action-heroes premise, and that one was so much more fun - because John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss are much better actors who can liven up even a cheesy action movie that should be beneath their talents.

And so the problems with the original remain - namely, not knowing how to be as much fun as it should be. It doesn't know whether to be a straight-faced throwback to ultraviolent '80s action flicks (no it shouldn't) or a more winking, deliberately cheesy homage-cum-parody of same (yes, that's more like it). Stallone - 'cos it's clearly him driving this franchise, even if he isn't directing this time - seems like he's leaning more towards the former, whereas the humourous self-referential elements seem more like afterthoughts. At times, this film asks to be taken seriously, such as the aforementioned death of a member of the team and the funeral scene that follows. Which is clearly meant to be all sad and tragic, but is more likely to evoke boredom at best, derisive laughter at worst. We didn't come to this movie for pathos, Stallone - we came to cheer and whoop and laugh, and if you can't make us laugh with you then we'll laugh at you.

Still, it's as well-made as an action film can be. The action sequences have a bit more creativity to them than in the last one, and there is a thrill in watching Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis side by side going all God Mode on a bunch of goons. But watching Chuck Norris walk out of smoke in slo-mo to a steel guitar soundtrack does nothing for me. A climactic Stallone-Van Damme fight scene... meh. (The Statham-Scott Adkins fight was more fun.) Lundgren making cracks about his real-life academic credentials... could've been fun, but it's Lundgren making them, and he's just no comedian. And though I doubt more of his presence would've made much difference, Jet Li is summarily and inexplicably written out of the movie after the opening action scene. Maybe he realised, like I did, that all this series has going for it is its premise, but it never really does anything with it.

NEXT REVIEW: Premium Rush
Expectations: yay Joseph Gordon-Levitt... and yay David Koepp?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mari kita twist sekali lagi

My rating:

Sempat juga TMBF menonton filem ini. Ia mula tayang hampir 3 minggu yang lalu, dan saya pula dah tak larat nak mengulas setiap filem tempatan yang keluar di panggung. (Saya pasti hidup saya tidak berkurangan kerana tidak menonton Seram Sejuk.) Banyak pula filem Hollywood yang belum saya tonton lagi. Tetapi filem SAM ini menarik minat saya, kerana genre psychological thriller ini jarang saya nampak dalam filem tempatan... malah, tak pernah saya menonton sebuah cerita ngeri psikologi buatan tempatan. Jadi nasib baiklah ia masih sedang ditayang sehingga minggu ketiga - walaupun menurut berita, kutipannya tidak begitu memberangsangkan.

Tapi ia sepatutnya lebih berjaya, kerana ia filem yang bagus.

Sam (Shaheizy Sam) adalah seorang pengurus tahap pertengahan di sebuah syarikat, yang ghairah bercinta dengan rakan sekerjanya Lisa (Lisa Surihani). Tetapi percintaan mereka menimbulkan rasa cemburu dikalangan pekerja-pekerja lain; ini termasuk pekerja baru Jeff (Syamsul Yusof) yang dulu menjadi teman lelaki Lisa, tapi yang lebih mengerikan ialah Haikal (Azad Jasmin) yang tidak stabil mentalnya dan sering mengganggu Lisa secara creepy stalker tahap dewa. Pada malam dimana Sam berniat untuk melamar Lisa, mereka berdua diculik dan dikurung didalam sebuah kilang lama serta diseksa dengan kejam... tetapi oleh siapa, dan untuk matlamat apa?

Poster sudah tertera ayat "dari pengarah termuda Malaysia", kerana Syafiq Yusof - anak kepada Yusof Haslam dan adik kepada Syamsul - berumur 18 tahun semasa membikinnya. Tak kira tua atau muda, yang jelas ialah filem ini merupakan sebuah debiu yang sungguh mengasyikkan. Separuh kedua cerita ini kuat dengan saspens Sam diburu dan didera oleh penculik misterinya, diolah dengan sudut kamera yang handal dan berkesan. Yang paling mengesankan ialah penggunaan elat kamera yang bermain-main dengan realiti, termasuk sebuah syot time-slice ala The Matrix yang cukup mengkagumkan. Ini sesuatu yang belum pernah saya lihat dalam filem tempatan, malah saya rasa belum pernah dicuba dalam filem tempatan. Keberanian Syafiq mencuba teknik-teknik ini patut dipuji, lebih-lebih lagi sedangkan beliau masih berusia remaja. Biar pembikin-pembikin filem lain yang lebih dua kali ganda usianya rasa malu sikit.

Namun demikian, kelemahan paling utama dalam filem tempatan ialah dalam penceritaan, dan filem ini tidak terlepas. Separuh keduanya bagus, tetapi separuh pertamanya menguji kesabaran. Satu adegan montaj berlagu yang menunjukkan percintaan Sam dan Lisa sudah mencukupi, tapi kita disajikan dengan dua. Dua-duanya pun cukup menimbulkan rasa geli dan mual, apatah lagi yang pertama berlaku dalam ofis. Tak hairanlah ramai rakan sekerja selalu mengumpat tentang mereka berdua; macam mana nak tumpukan perhatian pada kerja kalau mamat dan minah ni asyik berfoya-foya ditetengah pejabat? Tak profesional langsung! Tak sampai rasa simpati saya terhadap Sam dan Lisa jika begini kelakuan mereka. Apatah lagi kita dipaksa tunggu lama sebelum mereka diculik, dimana saat itulah cerita ini benar-benar bermula.

Plot twist-nya pula saya sudah boleh ramal, kerana ia kerap digunakan dalam filem genre ini. Namun saya terus menonton kerana saya ingin lihat bagaimana Syafiq, serta penulis skripnya Salleh Mokhti, mengolahnya. Malangnya, saya rasa sedikit hampa ketika ia disingkapkan. Ia tiada kena mengena dengan apa-apa yang diceritakan semasa awal filem; tambahan pula, ia memerlukan babak flashback panjang-panjang untuk menjelaskannya. (Disini dapat dilihat Shafimie Saedon sekali lagi melakonkan watak Shaheizy Sam semasa kecil. Macam dua-dua pelakon ni ada package deal.) Ada sebab mengapa teknik flashback ni tidak digalakkan dalam filem: kerana ia menoleh ke masa silam, sedangkan sebuah filem perlu sentiasa bergerak ke hadapan. Terutama filem thriller yang hidup mati atas momentum plotnya. Bagi SAM, momentum itu lesap ketika saat yang sepatutnya paling genting.

Tetapi rating 3-½ bintang sudah saya beri, bermaksud saya rasa filem ini cukup bagus. (TMBF kritik kerana sayang, dowh.) Persembahan Shaheizy Sam mantap dan cukup mencabar bakatnya (tak seperti dalam 8 Jam); beliau tahu bila perlu over-the-top dan bila perlu berlakon secara lebih halus. Chemistry antara beliau dan Lisa Surihani juga cukup menyerlah. Azad Jasmin juga memberi kesan dalam watak sampingannya, dan begitu juga Fimie Don walaupun hanya dalam babak flashback. Sebaliknya, Neelofa yang memainkan peranan Zura rakan serumah Lisa, lakonannya terlalu gedik sampai menjengkelkan. Syamsul Yusof pula... dia ada dalam filem ini.

Oleh kerana plot twist yang tidak wajar dipecah rahsia oleh pengulas filem yang berwibawa, saya akan bincangkannya di bebenang komen catatan ini. Saya sedia memberi pujian kepada filem tempatan yang berani mencuba benda yang baru, dan saya sedia memberi kritikan membina kepada filem dan pembikin filem yang saya hormati. Saudara Syafiq Yusof berhak diberi kehormatan, dek hasil kerja sulungnya yang sudah jauh melangkau filem-filem abangnya. Mungkin abangnyalah - yang juga tak segan mencuba benda baru - yang memberi iktibar. Diharap kedua-dua adik-beradik ini akan menunjuk ajar sesama mereka (dari apa yang saya lihat, adik patut lebih mengajar abang) dan menghasilkan lebih lagi filem-filem yang segar dan baru - apatah lagi filem-filem yang benar-benar hebat.

NEXT REVIEW: The Expendables 2
Expectations: doesn't look much better than the first