[Movie Review] 13 Sins

13 Sins

Starring: Mark Webber, Rutina Wesley, Tom Bower, Devon Graye, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Ron Perlman, Richard Burgi

Director: Daniel Stamm

Genre: Horror

Cert: 15

Released: 2014

 

Opening with a scene where a respected elderly professor seems to lose his marbles by reciting crude limericks in front of a well-to-do audience before chopping a woman’s finger off when she tries to assist him, “13 Sins” is about seeing unlikely people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Enter Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber – “Snow Day”, “Weapons”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”). He is a nice guy. Real nice. And he’s got a lot going on.

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Elliot’s all like “What the hell?”

Creditors are filling up his voicemail, his bigoted old man (Tom Bower) is getting evicted and he’s just about to get married to his pregnant girlfriend, Shelby (Rutina Wesley – TV’s “True Blood”).

So it’s a bad time for him to lose his job – and the health insurance that ensures his mentally disabled brother Michael (Devon Graye – TV’s “Dexter”) is looked after – after his acerbic boss (Richard Burgi) runs him down as too pure and honest to be a good salesman.

Later that night he receives a call while at a stop light where a man tells him (in one of those over-egged 1980s gameshow voices) that he’s been selected to be part of a new game that can win him mucho wealth. He tells Elliot that swatting the fly buzzing around his car will net him $1000. Elliot complies and then complies with a second challenge of swallowing the fly which earns him even more. He checks his bank account and finds the money has been deposited.

So far, so good.

Even though Elliot is, presumably, uncomfortable with the fact that this person seems to have the ability to see him at all times, he still agrees to partake in the rest of the game. There are eleven more challenges with increasing rewards and all must be completed or he will lose everything he has won up to that point.

Of course the challenges become more difficult and nice guy Elliot soon finds himself the focus of Detective Chilcoat (Joy! Ron Perlman!! – TV’s “Beauty and the Beast”, “Hellboy”) as his actions become crimes and accumulate in number and severity.

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Great moments derived from seeing Ron Perlman and Pruitt Taylor Vince together

A remake of Thai horror “13 Beloved”, writer and director Daniel Stamm doesn’t hang around. The story is swift and hard-hitting with enough gore to keep genre fans happy. It’s not “Saw”-level, but that’s to its credit I have to say. The connection to “Saw” is appropriate as “13 Sins” is also a film where a person is ultimately cajoled in to doing unthinkable things just to survive.

Elliot’s conversion from gutless nobody to a guy who gets a thrill from outwitting the cops and driving through red lights is a little ham-fisted. But “13 Sins” avoids collapsing on itself with enough twists and turns to stay interesting and genuinely surprising.

Webber is the main character and does a good job in portraying an everyday man who becomes capable and paranoid enough to do what he sees as necessary.

A little uneven in parts but a strong final act makes “13 Sins” a genre hit.

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[Movie Review] Stepfather III

Starring: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle

Director: Guy Magar

Genre: Thriller/Horror

Cert: 18

Released: 1992

Terry O’Quinn received much acclaim for his performances in the first two “Stepfather” movies where he played a disturbed sociopath, dedicated to creating and being part of the perfect family unit.  While the first film was an outstanding cult chiller, the second one was more campy, notable only for O’Quinn’s turn.  The talented actor (who found international fame as John Locke in “Lost”) was – one would assume for either artistic or financial reasons – not involved in this direct-to-video second sequel in 1992.  So in steps Robert Wightman (briefly John-Boy Walton in The Waltons) as the maniacal titular character.

Changing the actor while not changing the character means that there needs to be some form of explanation as to why he looks different (unless it’s the Donna Reed/Barbara Bel Geddes switcheroo I suppose).  Director Guy Magar’s explanation, while being a reach, makes sense: The Stepfather (aka Henry Morrison, Jerry Blake, Bill Hodgkins, Gene Clifford) has escaped (again) from a maximum-security mental hospital.  Having been featured on every news broadcast around the country he decides to have plastic surgery so as to evade capture and continue his search for the perfect family.

The movie opens with a hooded man being operated on by a backstreet plastic surgeon who promises that’s he’s “the best there is” while he cuts and slices his patient without any anesthetic and with a bottle of whiskey nearby.  Some days later the bandages come off and The Stepfather is back … almost looking like a different person altogether.

We cut to a small Californian town where local gardener Keith Grant (Wightman) dresses as the Easter bunny and hands out eggs to the local community’s children at the urging of local priest Father Brennan (John Ingle – TV’s “General Hospital”, “Days of Our Lives”).  His unassuming charm interests single mother Christine Davis (Priscilla Barnes – TV’s “Three’s Company”, “Licence to Kill”, “Mallrats”, “The Devil’s Rejects”) and before long the two are involved in a whirlwind romance that leads to marriage in what seems about 4 days.

Her wheelchair-bound son Andy (David Tom – “Stay Tuned”, “Pleasantville”) is less impressed though, telling Father Brennan that there’s something not quite right about his new stepfather, who had no friends or family at the wedding and seems to change his back-story frequently.  No matter how hard Keith tries, he can’t make that connection with the crime-obsessed Andy who already suspects that Keith could be the escaped “step father” that he has seen on a TV news report.  The youngster uses his computer expertise (using the Internet and Photoshopping before they were common) to investigate Keith’s background.

Becoming disillusioned with his already-disintegrating relationship with his new family, Keith lines up Jennifer, a single mother who he has just rented his old cottage to.  But with Andy digging deeper and Father Brennan increasingly suspicious with Keith’s behaviour, time is running out for The Stepfather to make everything right.

“Stepfather III” came in for a bit of a battering at the time of release as one might expect.  Certainly when I first viewed it almost two decades ago I wasn’t that impressed.  But, on second viewing, the film – in the context of the franchise – has stood the test of time quite well.  I mean, come on, “The Stepfather”, quality film though it was, was a B-movie – shorn of gloss and rough around the edges.  And that’s what the third movie is – hampered slightly by a less-engaging lead man, admittedly.

In fairness to Robert Wightman he puts up a good fight in the role where O’Quinn set such a high watermark.  His syrupy, southern-accented, nice guy act is a little clunky but when required to go a bit mental, he pulls it off very well.  His facial mannerisms and general appearance is close enough to O’Quinn that you can almost buy in to the storyline that this is O’Quinn with a different face.

He’s in good company on set though.  David Tom does a convincing job as Andy and Priscilla Barnes was a good choice as The Stepfather’s lover (as were Shelley Hack and Meg Foster in the previous movies).

The violent scenes are not as hard-hitting as some of the ones we have seen previously and the entire film is undermined by the fact that we’ve seen it all before – and better.  But for a largely-disregarded, low budget thriller, “Stepfather III” is no embarrassment and worth a watch.

[Movie Review] Mirrors

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart

Director: Alexandre Aja

Genre: Horror

Cert: 15

Released: 2008

I don’t know the reason for Kiefer Sutherland’s fairly low-profile cinema career in the last decade.  Since “24” launched in 2001 only “Phone Booth” and “The Sentinel” have showed up on my radar and much of his earnings outside of his smash TV series seem to come from voice acting in the likes of “The Land Before Time X” (Ten? Really??), “The Wild” and “Dragonlance”.  Perhaps he is too busy to throw himself in to a major movie role but with “24” possibly finishing up this year we may see more frequent big screen appearances from Sutherland again.

This is my roundabout way of saying that it’s good to see him back on screen in “Mirrors”, a high-concept, psychological horror movie that’s loosely based on Korean horror, “Into the Mirror“.  “The Hills Have Eyes” director Alexandre Aja – who is behind the camera – largely re-wrote the original script for the Hollywood adaptation.

Ben Carson (Sutherland) is an NYPD cop, suspended for an unspecified incident in which he shot someone dead.  He’s hit hard times; estranged from his wife Amy (Patton) and kids, living with his sister Angela (Smart) and trying to stay sober.

To help him try to get his life back together he gets a new job as a security guard at a former department store, the Mayflower, that was burnt down years previous.  During his first few nights he experiences strange occurrences – hand prints on the mirrors, a cracking mirror that seems to repair itself after causing a laceration on his hand, visions of screaming, burning bodies, and a vivid hallucination where Ben himself has caught fire.

When he receives a package from the Mayflower’s former security guard – a man we’ve seen killed in the movie’s opening scenes and whose wallet Ben found – he begins to believe that there is more to the events than hallucination. Although his wife thinks that his prescribed drugs are causing the visions, Ben realises that the presence in the mirrors is following him and might even endanger his family’s lives.

Not having seen “The Hills Have Eyes” I can’t comment on director Alexandre Aja’s previous work but online forums and blogs hold him in high esteem.  I can see why on the basis of “Mirrors”, a visually impressive film which makes the most of its inventive concept.  The idea of the menace lurking in a reflection lends itself to some striking scenes none more so than the opening salvo and latter scenes involving Ben’s family.

Smart and Patton don’t have too much to get their teeth in to but that’s okay as the movie is really all about Sutherland.  He brings a vulnerable intensity to the role, portraying a man battling his own demons as well as encountering ones that he really has no business with.  Tension is built through a combination of Sutherland’s driven but demented character and Aja’s stylish techniques.

The movie is hampered by a lumbering plot line that seems to outstay its welcome during an over-long second act, a hangover that is then felt in the final part.  Ben’s investigation to uncover the source of the evil that inhabits the mirrors irks a little and so it’s with a feeling of near-exhaustion that you face the final act of the film.

In spite of this Aja has banked enough credit up till this point and has sufficient tricks up his sleeve to rescue the story.  This could become an interesting little franchise if the second movie does some business.

[Movie Review] In Bruges

In Bruges

Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Martin McDonagh

Genre: Thriller

Cert: 18

Released: 2008

 

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are two very different people.  They both kill people for a living – working for Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) – but have little else in common.  Ken is older, has been a killer for a long time but enjoys tranquillity and sight-seeing.  Ray is new to the game, is easily bored and has a habit of getting himself in to surreal scrapes.  

When a hit in a London church goes wrong they flee to Bruges in Belgium for a fortnight and are told to await a call from Harry.  While Ken enjoys the serenity of the city, Ray gets involved in ludicrous disagreements with American tourists and angsty midgets.  Things pick up for him when he meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy) on the set of a Dutch movie shoot.  With both men now happy to stay in Bruges, it seems their two weeks will pass satisfactorily.  But Harry has news for them and soon the peaceful city will become bullet-ridden and blood-stained.  

It takes a little while but when “In Bruges” finds its feet, it’s irrepressible.  The awkward opening – dominated by Farrell’s Irish brogue – soon gives way to some darkly comical scenes as Ray and Ken, along with the viewer, become acquainted with the city.  Much credit goes to writer-director Martin McDonagh who has created a gangster movie in the ilk of “Layer Cake” and “Sexy Beast” but yet one which feels fresh and original – his Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (and similar awards from BAFTA, Phoenix and the British Independent Film Awards) underlining this.

Gleeson and Farrell were both deservedly nominated for Golden Globes (with the latter winning).  Farrell bounces around the screen early on with what seems to be adult ADHD but before long the script allows him to expand his performance, shedding the quirkiness and introducing haunted and emotional sides.  Gleeson is as masterful as ever, one of those actors who always seem effortlessly on the money.  

Ralph Fiennes plays the violent but principled gangster who is not impressed with the behaviour of his hitmen.  I haven’t seen much of Fiennes since his “Schindler’s List”, “Quiz Show” and “Strange Days” run about 15 years ago (less said about “Red Dragon” the better) and he is almost unrecognisable with his thick cockney accent and cropped hairstyle.  His supporting role is played to perfection, balancing his violent ethics alongside some delicious dark humour.  

While you can probably call a few of the major plot turns they don’t by any means damage what is an incredible 100 minutes or so.  “In Bruges” is one of those special movies that doesn’t come along too often and simply can’t be missed.

4halfstar

[Movie Review] The Bank

The BankStarring: Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Sibylla Budd
Director: Robert Connolly
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

After seeing “The Bank” back in 2002 I thought the recent travails of the financial sector was an ideal time to revisit a movie that puts moral considerations head-to-head with financial ones.

Jim Doyle (David Wenham) is a top mathematician who has developed a complex program that predicts stock market movements and corrections. He hawks it around the banks and under-pressure bank executive Simon O’Reily (Anthony LaPaglia) takes a punt on him. For Jim it is a labour of love which he sees as an ideal “warning system” to help organisations protect their interests. For Simon it is a unique opportunity to put the bank in an advantageous situation and make obscene amounts of money.

Simon will have to convince “bleeding heart liberal” Jim that taking other people’s money is fair game in the trading world. Jim is countenanced by (really) sudden love-interest Michelle (Sibylla Budd) and the bank’s own numbers guru, Vincent (Greg Stone).

Meanwhile, in a separate story strand, we see the financially-stricken Davis family (Steve Rodgers and Mandy McElhinney) who are struck by personal tragedy, a tragedy for which they indirectly attribute blame to the bank (although initially ambiguous, we correctly assume that it is the bank Simon runs). A reluctant solicitor (Mitchell Butel) agrees to represent them in a court case that brings the two story strands together.

Can Jim perfect his program and, if he does, will he allow Simon to abuse it for financial gain? Will he have a choice?

An Australian production, I recalled enjoying “The Bank” immensely and the years in between have done it no harm at all. Written and directed by Robert Connolly, at 104 minutes it’s a well-paced and occasionally suspenseful film that is filled with simple layers of intrigue and a twist that feels just about right.

Anthony LaPaglia never fails to entertain and he is undoubtedly the star of the show here. He’s always comfortable on screen and convincingly pulls off lines like “I’m God, but with a better suit”, then later on shines in a Pacino-style rant when faced with a life-or-death situation.

Wenham has had his film success too albeit with smaller roles (“300”, “Van Helsing”, parts 2 and 3 of “Lord of the Rings”, “Moulin Rouge”) and he is absolutely fine here. His romance with the annoying Michelle is necessary for the story but it never really clicks.

In parts the movie lacks subtlety. The director casts the most ordinary actors in terms of talent and looks in order to portray the Davis family as “Everyman” as possible. It’s also pretty obvious that we’re to be repulsed by the dismissive regard that the bank has for the Davis’ court action and the tasteless jokes that Simon’s aides make about the family. But these are minor criticisms in what is a surprisingly winning thriller.

The tagline says it all: Public enemy number one – The Bank.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] Premonition

PremonitionStarring: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Marc Macaulay, Kate Nelligan
Director: Mennan Yapo
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2007

It’s been a long time since I first drooled over Sandra Bullock in “Love Potion No 9” and “Demolition Man”. She’s now managed to settle nicely in middle-age while still looking like the cute 30 year old she was all those years ago.

Since the heady days of “While You Were Sleeping” and “A Time to Kill”, she’s struggled with consistency. For every “Speed” or “Miss Congeniality” there was a, uh, “Speed 2” and “Miss Congeniality 2”. No, I’m not forgetting her career-best “Crash”.

None of this gets me to the point.

“Premonition” – it does what it says on the tin. Linda Hanson (Bullock) is going about her day when a local sheriff (Marc Macaulay) tells her that husband Jim (Julian McMahon) has been killed in a car accident. Devestated by the news, Linda asks her mother (Kate Nelligan) to stay overnight and help her and her two kids.

The next morning Linda wakes up to find that it was all a vivid dream – her husband is alive and well and eating breakfast. But she can’t shake the vividness of it all and she wakes up the following day to find that her days are alternating – and it’s the day of Jim’s funeral. Suspecting a hoax she forces the pallbearers to open the casket – it’s no hoax.

Soon she works out that the premonition is very real and time is running out to save her husband’s life. But with their relationship strained and a suspicion that he is having an affair with a colleague (Amber Valletta), Linda finds herself torn. Is letting someone die the same as killing them?

My hopes weren’t high for “Premonition” given that the backwards-forwards plot winding has been done exceptionally well already in “Memento”. But where edgy mysteries like this have fallen flat before (“Next”) or run out of steam (“The Forgotten”), a well-directed plotline (albeit probably with holes everywhere) and thoughtful narrative carry “Premonition” through.

Bullock and McMahon perform well – in fact most of the cast do (Peter Stormare makes a welcome appearance too). It’s interesting to see Bullock play a character who is essentially time travelling, piecing together clues and slowly realising what these clues might just mean.

Most of the credit should go to writer Bill Kelly and director Mennan Yapo who had no easy task in front of him. But he paces it well, unleashing subtle clues and plot twists that produce a layer of suspense throughout the film. It’s not gripping but it’s an intriguing 100 minutes or so.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] Disturbia

DisturbiaStarring: Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anee Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven
Director: D.J. Caruso
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2007

Who is Shia LaBeouf? Well, I thought he was a girl to be honest. Turns out he was in “Transformers”, “Constantine” and “I, Robot”. He seems to be a bit of a pin-up for the young girls and perhaps that’s why I’d never heard of him.

In “Disturbia” he plays the main protagonist, Kale, who, a year after losing his father in a tragic accident, gets in to a bit of trouble by punking out his goading Spanish teacher.

Because he’s under 18 a Judge puts him under house arrest, unable to leave the confines of his garden. Bored to tears, Kale spends his time eating junk food and playing video games until his mother, Julie (the MIA Carrie-Anne Moss), snips the TV power cord and cancels his internet game subscriptions. With time to pass Kale grabs his binoculars and takes up spying on his neighbours.

Maybe it’s Kale’s overactive imagination but one night he notices that neighbour Robert Turner (David Morse) drives a car that matches the description of a murder suspect’s car on a local news report. With suspicions aroused, he convinces his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and next-door neighbour Ashley (Sarah Roemer) that something is going on. Although they are dismissive at first, further events lead them deeper in to the mystery. But things are complicated for Kale who wakes up one morning to find Robert in his kitchen, happily chatting to Julie.

With Officer Gutierrez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) eager to settle a score for his Spanish-teaching cousin, Julie becoming more and more disillusioned with her son’s selfish behaviour and Robert shooting some uneasy glares in Kale’s direction is the troubled teen biting off more than he can chew?

“Disturbia” (directed by DJ Caruso who was also responsible for the five-star “Salton Sea”) can be firmly categorised as a teen thriller, carried by the emerging LaBeouf and Roemer and with a lightweight plot to boot. Think “Rear Window” with a lite-tech “Mission Impossible” edge and you’re almost there. The plot doesn’t really go for the twists and the few question marks there are can be quite easy to see through.

Having said that, it would be disingenuous of me to dismiss it out of hand. Caruso does his best with the material and directs effectively, certainly well enough for most 15-20 year olds to be entertained. They will also pull for the angsty LaBeouf and Roemer to get it on. For the older folk like me we can get a kick out of the always excellent David Morse (sporting a mini-mullet) and the beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss who seems way too young to play the mother of a 17 year old character.

Overall “Disturbia” is watchable fare but it will try the patience of those of us who think they are a bit old to relate to the teen romance storyline. Yeuck!

2star