Film Review of the Week


Hypnotic (15)

Review: According to writer-director Robert Rodriguez’s disorienting thriller, co-written by Max Borenstein, hypnotics are people with the ability to control how we perceive the world and they can control our actions – sometimes with malicious intent – by warping what we believe to be our reality. It’s safe to say that Rodriguez isn’t a hypnotic because at no point during this 94-minute mindbender was I convinced my reality was sitting in a darkened theatre and savouring every hairpin twist of a piece of bold, original and audacious filmmaking. The writer-director began crafting the story for Hypnotic in 2002, several years before Christopher Nolan unleashed Inception to which this tumble down the rabbit hole clearly owes a sizeable, unpaid debt.

Contrary to the title, Rodriguez’s picture film doesn’t hold our attention in a vice-like grip, downshifting to a sluggish crawl for a finale that requires swathes of expository dialogue to clarify a plot within a plot and characters’ secret motivations. Nor does this search for a missing girl outstay its welcome with a lean running time and brisk pacing that encourages audiences to swallow the outlandishness that Rodriguez is serving without questioning its nutritional value. It’s pleasant fast-food genre fare: swiftly consumed and just as easily wiped from the memory.

Police detective Danny Rourke (Ben Affleck) is haunted by the one case that he can’t solve: the abduction of his seven-year-old daughter Minnie (Ionie Olivia Nieves) from a park in the centre of Austin on his parental watch. A prime suspect, Lyle Terry (Evan Vines), pleads not guilty due to mental incapacity, claiming to have no memory of the kidnapping or the girl’s whereabouts. Danny fears he will never see his pride and joy again but is determined to return to work to seek a resolution. “It’s the only thing keeping me sane,” he tells an occupational therapist.

During an elaborate bank heist, Danny discovers a Polaroid of his daughter, suggesting she may still be alive. Beneath the photograph is a handwritten instruction to find someone called Dell Rayne. Evidence leads Danny to a psychic called Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), who introduces the cop to the unseen world of hypnotics. She knows first-hand about Dell Rayne (William Fichtner) and his unmatched ability to controls minds and warp perceptions with murderous intent. Danny fixates on capturing Dell Rayne to finally solve his daughter’s abduction, endangering everyone around him including Diana and his police partner Nicks (JD Pardo).

Hypnotic relishes its own bewilderingly elaborate design by showing us how the magic trick is done as part of a lacklustre final act. Action sequences are solid and Affleck’s gruff demeanour makes sense in retrospect but doesn’t endear his tortured cop in the moment.

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The Little Mermaid (PG)

Review: In 1989, the release of The Little Mermaid directed by Ron Clements and John Musker awoke Walt Disney Animation Studios from a prolonged creative slumber, fashioning a robust template for crowd-pleasing fare that is affectionately referred to as the Disney Renaissance. Subsequent films from this golden age, distinguished by the infectious songbooks of composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman, Sir Tim Rice and Stephen Schwartz, have been granted live action or photorealistic animated makeovers in recent years including Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.

Disney’s 28th animated feature film, torn from the pages of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, now gets the razzle-dazzling treatment with Oscar-nominated Chicago director Rob Marshall at the helm. This Little Mermaid causes a big splash in expertly choreographed musical sequences including Daveed Diggs’ showstopping renditions of Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl as ebullient red crab Sebastian, Halle Bailey’s heart-tugging belt of Part Of Your World as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy’s deliciously vampy glide through Poor Unfortunate Souls as Ursula.

When Marshall allows a tsunami of digital effects to drown his human cast, his film threatens to capsize, most notably in a sloppy, water-logged finale that includes a close-up of Bailey in mermaid form that bears scant resemblance to the exquisite creature from earlier aquatic sequences. Thankfully, he deploys the emergency life raft of an unabashedly sentimental coda. Adapted for the screen by scriptwriter David Magee, the story remains faithful to the animated edition with headstrong mermaid Ariel (Bailey) obsessed with humankind, secretly collecting discarded “thingamabobs” in direct violation of orders from her father King Triton (Javier Bardem).

Wisecracking seagull Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), a self-proclaimed expert on these trinkets, advises Ariel on their practical uses above the waves. During a violent storm, a ship commanded by Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) runs aground and Ariel rescues him from a watery grave. Restored to full health to the relief of his mother Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni) and adviser Sir Grimsby (Art Malik), Eric vows to find his siren-songed savour. Meanwhile, scheming sea witch Ursula (McCarthy) offers to transform Ariel into human form for three days so she can secure true love’s kiss within the timeframe or return to the sea as the witch’s prized possession.

The Little Mermaid is buoyed by thingamabobs that made the original film so memorable including exuberant characters, a lip-smacking villainess and the irresistible Menken-Ashman songbook. Bailey is a sweetly sincere heroine and McCarthy deserves huge credit for swimming comfortably in the slipstream of Pat Carroll’s thunderous and spellbinding embodiment of a multi-tentacled menace. Three new ditties courtesy of composer Menken and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, For The First Time, Wild Uncharted Waters, and Scuttlebutt, were written especially for the remake and feel diluted next to the exuberance of original works. That sandbar was simply too high.

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Sisu (15)

Review: Taking its title from the Finnish word for a deep-rooted stoicism and rage, which manifest when all hope seems lost, Sisu is a gleefully overblown action adventure that pits one seemingly indestructible man against the might of the Nazi war machine. Writer-director Jalmari Helander previously spiked the festive spirit with his deliciously dark seasonal fable, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Here, he doesn’t stint on the wince-inducing gore by forcibly introducing characters’ heads and appendages to landmines, knives and the treads of a tank in squelchy close-up.

An innocent animal is one of the first casualties of the dizzying carnage, a clear indication that all creatures great and small are in Helander’s crosshairs and there is no room for compassion or sentimentality in the heat of conflict. Everyone is expendable, especially a gold prospector played with grizzled intensity by Jorma Tommila, who calls upon his military training to single-handedly unleash fury on a platoon of Nazis that has invaded his country. In a series of breathlessly orchestrated skirmishes on land and underwater, Tommila’s vengeful hero proves one man can make a difference, even when he is left dangling lifeless from a noose with steady blood loss that should render a final act obsolete. Helander firmly embraces the madness of his hyperviolent vision, paring back dialogue and exposition to deliver a lean, streamlined 88 minutes of adrenaline-pumping thrills.

In 1944 as the Second World War enters its final stretch, Finland attempts to remove invading German forces from its borders to honour the terms of a recent treaty with the Soviet Union. The Nazis retaliate with sickening scorched earth tactics, taking women hostage to brutalise while they burn everything in their path. Retired Finnish commando Aatami Korpi (Tommila) prospects for gold in the countryside, far removed from the mounting devastation, with only a horse and trusty mutt for company.

This solitude is a far cry from his past as an instrument of destruction dubbed “The Immortal” with more than 300 enemy kills to his name. En route to the nearest town to deposit a motherlode of freshly mined gold, Aatami silently passes sadistic German platoon leader Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie), who is murdering indiscriminately with his second-in-command Wolf (Jack Doolan). The Nazi commandant is instructed to ignore Aatami and evacuate but once he learns the old man is carrying a glistering fortune in his saddle bags, Helldorf foolishly engages the prospector in combat.

Neatly bookmarked into seven blood-saturated chapters with self-explanatory titles such as The Nazis, Minefield and Kill ’Em All, Sisu is a self-consciously ridiculous romp that refuses to shy away from outlandish excess. Tommila’s finely calibrated killing machine cuts a swathe through every stylised frame, repeatedly defying certain death like a Nordic John McClane. Thanks to Helander’s penchant for gratuitous viscera, you can be sure the Nazis die hardest.

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