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13: Ensemble Thriller Lacks Consistency
A desperate and naive young man named Vince (Riley) unwittingly assumes another man's identity only to be sucked into an underground world full of violence and money. Unaware of the consequences, Vince is quickly involved in a gambling ring like no other that he unwillingly becomes a huge part of. The only way out alive is to participate in a series of deadly Russian roulette games.
The idea of betting your life on a game where a gun is aimed at the back of your head is quite intense to say the least. But when the whole story of the film rotates around this concept alone, it actually becomes quite tedious. This remake of French film 13 Tzameti (2005) wavers from the intense to the dull quite consistently.
The storytelling develops nicely though, as we are dragged along with Vince as he is wrongfully mistaken for the assumed character, who he only paraded to be for a chance of making a quick buck. As he gets deeper and deeper into the game, he can't back out or quit, as the consequences of revealing himself could be just as deadly.
Though Riley turned in an acclaimed performance as Joy Division’s front-man Ian Curtis in biopic Control (2007), he is still relatively unknown, but as the lead he does a fine job in pulling you into his intense predicament. The all-action Statham is passable as one of the gamblers, but it’s the first time in a while we haven’t seen him knocking heads together, and he has to fall back on his acting ability alone. Rourke and Winstone are both simultaneously charismatic and brutal as always, while 50 Cent’s performance is over the top to say the least.
Georgian filmmaker Géla Babluani actually wrote and directed the original and the fact that he himself directed the American remake should have been a good omen. Unfortunately, Babluani has consciously made several changes to avoid simply reshooting the same film. It’s a no win situation; adapted screenplays are often criticised for not staying true to their source materials, but at the same time, they can be distorted by an unflinching loyalty.
In conclusion, 13 is a passable thriller, which seems to have lost much of the character that made the original film so popular. Hollywood has often sought to recreate European and Asian films in order to recreate their success. Very few succeed and unfortunately 13 doesn’t join that elite selection; it just doesn't come together as the exciting ensemble piece it could have been.
The fourth and supposedly last film in Bryan Singer’s X-Men reboot trilogy has a decent mix of action and visual splendor enough to keep the fans happy; only the movie is not short of stretched out running time and lack of emotional gravity.
Set in the early eighties – almost a decade after the events in Washington D.C exposed mutants to the world at large - the story begins with Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) seemingly happy teaching at his school for the gifted where we get to meet several new faces, including Scott Summers’ Cyclops (Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Turner).
Meanwhile, Magneto is keeping a low-profile somewhere out in Poland whilst Mystique (Lawrence) is busy travelling around the world looking to free enslaved mutants, coming across a special young man known as Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee).
When the remains of En Sabah Nur – a.k.a. Apocalypse - (Isaac) are discovered in the deepest trenches of Egypt, the powerful mutant is soon awakened and he is not happy.
With plans to rule the world, he recruits The Four Horseman including, Psylocke (Munn), Storm (Shipp), Archangel (Hardy) and Magneto himself and it doesn’t take long before he begins his reign of terror upon the world, forcing the students – led by Mystique and Beast (Hoult) – to come together and learn to control their powers in order to fight the new evil.
While it does reach a certain level of superiority above its previous installments in terms of visual grandness and action set-pieces, X-Men: Apocalypse has failed to raise the stakes in its supposedly closing chapter– sure there is more death and devastation on display but the consequences are free from any emotional impact - with Singer struggling to find sentiment and meaning in his a little too serious world of mutants.
On the other hand, however, the movie delivers on the action front with a couple of sequences - including Quicksilver’s (Peters) dazzling showdown inside of a burning building and Magneto’s takedown of Auschwitz – while Apocalypse’s very own mythological beginning earns the movie points for creativity.
Performance wise, X-Men’s younger cast doesn’t exactly ooze confidence in their very first X-Men outing, however, they are all still very likable and watching them learn to embrace their powers is entertaining. Meanwhile, the turbulent relationship between Xavier and Magneto – both McAvoy and Fassbender reliable in their roles– takes a seat back with the duo sharing very little screen time this time around.
As for the major villain of the story, well, he is not as threating as the movie might want him to be and despite Isaac’s best intentions, he doesn’t really manage to resonate as anything but a one-note villain.
X-Men: Apocalypse may not be one of the series’ finest entries to date. Big, colorful and not as loud as it should have been, the movie offers more of the same; which, depends on how you look at it, is not exactly a bad thing.
Known for his unique voice and understated approach to telling a story, writer-director, Jeff Nichols – see Take Shelter, Mud – returns with yet another distinctive and beautifully crafted tale of parenthood and faith in the undeniably special, Midnight Special.
The film tells the story of Roy (the always present and the always game Mr. Michael Shannon) who - together with his childhood friend Lucas (Edgerton) - has kidnapped his biological son, Alton (Lieberher), from a creepy cult run by Alton’s ‘adoptive’ father Calvin Meyer (Shepherd).
Where they are going is seemingly unclear but, what we do learn is that Alton – who spends most of the time wearing blue swimming goggles – is no ordinary child and that he possesses certain supernatural abilities that has not only drawn the attention of Meyer’s cult – who believe that Alton is their saviour – but that of the government as well.
Out on the run from seemingly everyone, Roy – who soon reaches out to Alton’s mother Sarah (Dunst) for the much-needed support - is willing and ready to do just about anything to keep his boy from harm which, naturally, only ends up putting them all against a number of obstacles and a great deal of danger along the way.
To truly and fully experience Nichols’ latest film, is to try and go in knowing as little as possible about the plot; the less you know, the bigger the impact. Staying one step ahead of the audience, the mysteries surrounding the story are gradually revealed, with Nichols making sure that all of his secrets and relevant story threads are exposed in their own time, ultimately providing the film with a quietly intensifying and slow-burning energy which is hard to shake off.
Gorgeously photographed, the mood and the atmosphere – which are supported by David Wingo’s hauntingly beautiful John Carpenter-esque musical score – is almost palpable, while the story’s 80’s retro setting – reminiscent of movies like E.T and Deep Impact – is beautifully captured and made relevant to the audiences of today. On the downside, however, some of the story threads could have done with a bit more exploration and had they had a bit more onscreen involvement, they could have carried a slightly deeper effect.
Marking his fourth collaboration with the talented director, Michael Shannon – quite possibly one of the most compelling actors working today – gives yet another all-in performance of a troubled father. Meanwhile, Lieberher shows great versatility for such a young actor, whilst Edgerton and Dunst are both complex and rooted in their respective performances.
Captivating and emotional, Nichols’ Midnight Special is an easy recommendation; a thoughtfully executed and a powerfully told sci-fi tale which uses on its wonderfully created visuals and unspoken words to convey its story.