‘Brick Mansions’ Review

Dir: Camille Delamarre

Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Gouchy Boy, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa, Robert Maillet and Carlo Rota

Synopsis: An undercover Detroit cop navigates a dangerous neighborhood that’s surrounded by a containment wall with the help of an ex-con in order to bring down a crime lord and his plot to devastate the entire city.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Mega producer and action director Luc Besson brings one of his popular French movies and of course “Americanize” it. Based on the 2004 French movie Banlieue 13 aka District B13, Besson brings back original star David Belle to play essentially the same character. Instead of a French ghetto, the movie is set in 2018 in Detroit. Brick Mansions is a section of the city where the lower class of people live and is run by drug kingpin Tremaine (RZA). When he gets hold of a bomb, the Mayor of Detroit sends in one of his best undercover cops, Damien (Walker) and teams him up with a Brick Mansions native, Lino (Belle). Once inside, Damien and Lino have their own intention of getting Tremaine.

 

Damien wants revenge for his dead father and Lino wants Tremaine gone from his neighborhood and to save his ex-girlfriend (as opposed to his sister in the original) Lola (Denis). Along with that, they have to avoid getting killed by Tremaine’s gang and his main henchmen K2 (Gouchy Boy) and Rayzah (Issa).

 

Luc Besson, who produced and wrote the first one, comes back and does the same thing here. But it’s director Camille Delamarre (who is a Besson protégé) who adds his own flare to the movie. Unfortunately, Delamarre’s decisions are wonky. There are random moments of slow motion for really no reason and random moments of special effects that almost tarnish the originality and low-level of special effects in the original. I’m not saying Banlieue 13 was a perfect movie and I hate comparing remakes to the originals in reviews, but I feel like it has to be mentioned here because there are things –like the CGI– that compared to the original, make the remake a little uninspiring.

 

The cast itself is a mixed bag. Like I mentioned, original star David Belle comes back and shows off his Parkour skills that also made the original stand out. I will admit, it was interesting to hear him pull an American accent. Belle definitely has a presence on screen and teaming up with Walker was cool to see.

 

Of course, the other leading man is the late Paul Walker (this was his last movie he completed filming before he passed away). Walker’s Damien is fueled only by revenge against Tremaine for killing his father which makes his decision to go into Brick Mansions easier. Walker brings his usual charm to the role, although at times it feels forced and unnatural which is a shame. The team up between Belle and Walker has its strong moments but comes and goes which makes it a bit frustrating.

 

RZA’s Tremaine isn’t even that interesting of a villain. There are scenes that try to make him menacing but they don’t come off that way and most of the stuff he does has been done before in more effective ways. Gouchy Boy’s K2 comes off more of a goof than menacing like the character was in the original. Ayisha Issa’s Rayzah seems more like the real villain, who has an interesting wardrobe, and spends most the time taunting Lola. Robert Maillet’s Yeti is given more to do than his original character but still goes through the motions of being another bad buy with nothing to do.

 

All in all, Brick Mansions has its moments and although the team up of Belle and Walker is nice to see, the movie doesn’t live up the original that much. If you want an action movie to fill up some time and can’t watch the original then this could be passable.

 

Brick Mansions

3 out of 5

‘Transcendence’ Review

Dir: Wally Pfister

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: As Dr. Will Caster works toward his goal of creating an omniscient, sentient machine, a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent him from establishing a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

First time director and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy) tells the story that follows Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, an artificial intelligence researcher who calls what many refer to as the Singularity (the moment when a machine becomes self-aware) Transcendence. Caster’s wife Evelyn (Hall) is a vocal advocate for the good that sentient machines can do in the world; while their close colleague and friend Max Waters (Bettany) has strong reservations about unrestrained technology and the wisdom of endowing a computer with its own consciousness, but supports them nonetheless.

 

When anti-tech extremists known as R.I.F.T, lead by Bree (Mara) shoot Will in a coordinated attack, Evelyn and Max upload his mind into a pre-existing A.I. system in an attempt to preserve a version of his life. Max finds it hard to believe but Evelyn sees this as a second chance and does what a woman who just lost her husband would probably do, run away with him – or it. Will eventually starts to act unnerving to Evelyn and to everyone else that starts to notice Will goes a little out of control.

 

Transcendence is an ambitious film; both visually and thematically. It seeks to address one of the fundamental issues/questions of our time – the potential cost of explosive technological advances – with a human story as the backdrop. Mistakes are made by those fighting both for and against the change in this story. Some are motivated by fear, others by love, but all are blinded by their own desires, perspectives, and human frailty.

 

I had a hard time deciding if I was going to review this film because there are some things I would like to talk about but some are elements that you should go in blind and make your own interpretation or opinion.

 

Depp and Hall give strong performances and there is an effective love story at the core. Though Depp has ten minutes of actual screen time before he becomes the A.I. for the rest of the film. Depp is actually more human here than we’ve seen over the last several years. Though, some of the all-powerful computer dialogue gets a bit hoakie in moments. Hall is always reliable and really brings the feel of being stuck with an A.I. that was her then-husband. Morgan Freeman plays Joe, a co-worker and friend of Will and Evelyn that works with the agent put on the case played by Cillian Murphy. Paul Bettany’s Max is almost the voice of reason in the movie and is probably want most people would say and think when it comes to what Evelyn and Will have done. Kate Mara’s Bree has some strong lines but other than that they could have gotten anyone else to do it.

 

All in all, Wally Pfister’s directorial debut has a great idea but not the best execution. It does make you think about what would happen if we put a human mind into a computer and what would happen if it went a little out of control. But, also, would it help us?

 

 

Transcendence

3.5 out of 5

‘Oculus’ Review

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Dir: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan and Katee Sackhoff

Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Oculus is a feature length adaptation based off director Mike Flanagan’s short film. The movie blends elements of a psychological thriller with horror tropes lightly thrown in. It follows adult siblings Kaylie (Gillan) and Tim Russell (Thwaites) whose lives were shattered when their parents were brutally murdered ten years prior.

 

After spending his adolescence in a mental facility, Tim has come to grips with what he feels was a tragically dysfunctional family. He is – at least to some degree – at peace with his parents’ violent deaths, as he believes that it was their bad choices that caused them. Kaylie, however, has spent those years plotting her revenge against what she believes is the true responsible party: a supernatural and malevolent force that resides within an antique mirror known as The Lasser Glass.

 

Determined to prove that her family is innocent, Kaylie secures the mirror and brings it back to their childhood home, where everything happened. After setting up an elaborate recording system to “catch” the entity and prove its existence, Kaylie convinces her brother to join her attempt to fulfill their childhood promise to one another: destroying it.

 

The cast of Gillan and Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane as Tim and Kaylie’s parents, and Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as their younger Kaylie and Tim do a great job in their roles. Arguably, it is the younger actors in Basso and Ryan that give the performances that carry the movie, especially Basso as the younger Kaylie. They elevate the movie with that performance that intensifies the emotional weight of this story and makes you afraid for them in the present. The mirror is a character init to itself, where it even has a menacing look. Although it not an actual person it is a major threat to our characters that it can control everything around it.

 

Although the promotion material is marketing Oculus as a straight up horror film, it is a lot more than that. Director Mike Flanagan adds great layers to the story, in where you don’t feel like you’re watching a horror movie at all sometimes. The way he crafts the movie is something that I can’t really remember seeing. He leaves the events, especially the ending, to our own imagination. Oculus is more creepy thriller than horror movie, but the movie does have some great horror movie moments that are effective.

 

The movie cuts between the past and the present in clever ways, that it makes it seem like everything is actually happening all over again, which makes the mirror even more terrifying. As the movie progresses, the cuts in between time becomes more blurry and dangerous. But, with that said, the movie is also about people dealing with traumatic events and finding ways to cope. Kaylie is obsessed with revealing the truth but Tim tries desperately to convince her, their family wasn’t perfect.

 

All in all, Oculus has strong moments and takes the risk of challenging the audience to questions that don’t necessarily have answers or chooses not to answer. While most movies that follow this formula, tend to fail or get murky, Oculus strives on it and it’s this element that makes the movie work. I know people are talking about the ending (which I obviously won’t spoil) but I think once people really soak the movie in and see everything, the ending will make more sense.

 

Oculus

4 out of 5

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review

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Dir: Anthony and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Maximilano Hernandez, and Robert Redford

Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review. Also, (of course being a Marvel movie) stay for the credits, both of them.*

 

 

Loosely based on the Ed Brubaker arc The Winter Soldier, Marvel raises the bar and scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Russo Brothers-directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie follows super soldier Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) working for/with Nick Fury when they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. may be compromised. Unsure of whom, if anyone, to trust, they must uncover a hidden threat before everything they know it torn apart.

 

The movie is one of, if not the strongest individual installments to date. Besides being a superhero/comic book adventure the movie is also, in many ways, a character journey with elements of a spy action thriller. The Winter Soldier hits all of the right notes and gives us the best of what comic book movies have to offer. The scale of the film alone is a huge and ambitious take for Marvel. Not only is it a great sequel but it also feels like a sequel to The Avengers in some way too. However, the ambitious take of this is the fact the movie has some major repercussions will change the Cinematic Universe and should be interesting how they manage that in the future movies.

 

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed everything close to perfection. The movie moves at great pace and never once does it seem like the time is wasted. Car chases, hardcore hand-to-hand combat, aerial dogfights and intense gun battles are interwoven that combines elements of at least three genres. But, another thing they do great is the humor. The movie even starts with a joke and though the plot is filled with serious themes and plenty of drama, it never forgets to make us laugh.  They’re not ironic laughs or defensive ones.  They’re just good-hearted, clever jokes, and they’re yet another example of why the movie is successful.
Not only does the film potentially shake-up the structure of their entire cinematic universe, but the creators understand the political thriller enough to get that if they’re going to do one, and do it well, then they’re going to have to introduce a strong point-of-view about something that is relevant to our world – and that they do. The Winter Soldier offers a strong perspective about a current political hot button issue – the cost and meaning of freedom. The execution isn’t hitting us over the head but is gone in a graceful way. There are ideas to think about, if you are into that, but at its core, the movie remains a fast paced piece of entertainment.

 

All that being said, usually character development gets lost when trying to expand the plot but with The Winter Soldier, character isn’t sacrificed. The big and small moments are equally filled with tension and there is some powerful development in this film. Of course the big one is Steve Rogers, the man out of time. There is a sequence early on in the film that hits the nail with the hammer, and is a bit sad to see but really shows the vulnerability of Rogers in this film. But, even with that said, early on and throughout the movie, we see him Rogers as a real badass. The shield is even utilized more as an offensive as much as a defensive one.

 

If Chris Evans didn’t prove himself to anybody that he is Steve Rogers or Captain America, then this will surely prove it. Evans brings a depth to the character that has not been seen yet. But, it’s Cap’s partner Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow that also has an arc here as well. Scarlett Johansson has played the character as many times as Evans and it isn’t until now that we get to know more about her. She is given a ton more to do than just be eye candy. Evans and Johansson have tremendous chemistry, and their witty banter or confrontations only adds to that.

 

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury also gets more time to shine this time around. He plays a major role in the events of the movie but also brings in more humor and emotion than any of his other appearances.

 

New addition to the cast is Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson aka Falcon. A former solider himself, he now works at the VA helping soldiers who come back from war. Mackie brings in a good sense of charisma as Cap’s sidekick but has a great, possibly scene-stealing action sequence. Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13 will make some comic book fans happy, and give them a possible hint of things to come even though she doesn’t really do too much in the movie.

 

Then there is the odd one out of the bunch, Robert Redford who plays Alexander Pierce. Of course Redford has his share of spy-thrillers but in a way it also brings the spy thriller of this movie out in front. He brings the weight of his cinematic legacy with him, which also helps us to immediately buy into his character’s power and authority.

 

Finally, there is the man himself, The Winter Soldier. It’s arguable that Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is – other than Loki – Marvel’s most successful, and terrifying, villain to date. Of course, if you are an avid comic reader than you know who and what The Winter Soldier is. His background is given in the movie as his history through time until now. Stan plays him in a heartbreaking and legitimately chilling way. He is relentless, feels unstoppable, and will do anything to complete his mission. Whenever he shows up, you are genuinely worried for anybody standing in his way.

 

All in all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a game changer in every sense of the word. It’s funny, thrilling, action packed and above all, it’s entertaining as hell.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

5 out of 5