Genre: Horror, Romance, Comedy

Director: Alexander Aja

Writer: Keith Bunin, based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, Heather Graham, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, James Remar

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Horns is a supernatural thriller driven by fantasy, mystery and romance. The film follows Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), the number one suspect for the violent rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). Hungover from a night of hard drinking, Ig awakens one morning to find horns starting to grow from his own head and soon realizes their power drives people to confess their sins and give in to their most selfish and unspeakable impulses – an effective tool in his quest to discover the true circumstances of his late girlfriend’s tragedy and for exacting revenge on her killer.

Review: It was probably a mistake from the get-go to adapt Horns into a film – I have not had the opportunity to read the novel by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), but if all the elements in the movie were found in the source novel, it should definitely be classified under the “unfilmable” category. Horns simply fails to work as a movie – it is overstuffed with clashing elements and can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark comedy, a horror, a whodunit or a romance, and tries to be everything all at once. The end result is unsurprisingly a muddled mess that even Harry Potter can’t save, and a film that swings so wildly in tone and pace that it feels like it was helmed by an amateur.

And to be honest, Daniel Radcliffe is actually part of the problem. One can definitely understand the need to divorce himself from an iconic role like Harry Potter, but whilst Radcliffe has appeared in a good number of indie films in the process, his performance in Horns is too much. Radcliffe has to realize that his dial need not be set at 11 the entire film, and just because it’s a forceful performance doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Radcliffe’s portrayal of Ig is so forced that all subtlety is lost, and although he does prove that he can work with a broad range of emotions, and there are moments of brilliance amidst all the overacting.

Although it seems that Horns has aspirations to be a genre bender, it does not do so very successfully. The coming of age flashbacks are pretty decent, but the romance, the mystery and the horror are all subpar. We’re never fully convinced of the supposedly deep love between Ig and Merrin, and the mystery has a laughably obvious reveal, done in by screenwriter Keith Bunin’s script which telegraphs every twist way in advance. The horror just comes across at best as being darkly comic (not exactly a bad thing, but the film doesn’t go far enough with this aspect either), and at worst it’s farcical and underscored by awful CG effects (some of the worst I’ve seen in a long while).

The final reel of Horns is really what takes the cake – it feels as though the writers were making up the ending as they went along, and the result is a lazy, inexplicable, genuinely ridiculous denouement that threatens to unravel the entire movie. The film ends with a whimper instead of a bang, and that it took a good two hours to get to the unsatisfying finale is just rubbing salt in the wound. Although there were a number of enjoyable moments in the film, Horns is simply too inconsistent to earn  a solid recommendation.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)


Gone Girl

Genre: Drama

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Gillian Flynn, based on her novel of the same name

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Sela A. Ward

Running Length: 149 minutes

Synopsis: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nicks portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Review: I have long been an ardent fan of David Fincher’s work, and it comes as no surprise (to me at least) that his latest, Gone Girl, is yet another excellent cinematic achievement. Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s bestselling 2012 novel of the same name, Gone Girl is flawlessly directed, capably supported by Fincher’s regular crew, and features a number of brilliant performances, none more so than Rosamund Pike’s career-defining turn as Amy Dunne. Gone Girl is an impossibly deft mix of a police procedural, a whodunit, a domestic drama, and a darkly comic exploration of the state of media culture in present times. It runs a long 149 minutes, but is deeply absorbing from the get-go, and qualifies easily as one of the must-watch films this year.

It is best to enter a viewing of Gone Girl with little to no foreknowledge of the plot, and thankfully the trailers released for the film has not managed to give anything away (kudos to 20th Century Fox for showing enough restraint and respect for the film). As is my practice, this review will not contain any obvious spoilers, but readers who are averse to spoilers of any magnitude may want to avoid proceeding any further till after watching the movie.

It’s really quite impossible to take the story of Gone Girl seriously, and it goes far, far down the rabbit hole in terms of implausibility. But therein lies the beauty of pairing the source material with Fincher – even though I knew it made no sense whatsoever, it did not detract from the viewing experience at all because the film was so well made. All the Fincher regulars are involved – the film is shot beautifully by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, edited flawlessly by Kirk Baxter (the dual timeline narrative structure could not have been easy to edit coherently), and the pulsing, electronica-infused classical score is perfectly suited to the film’s unsettling nature.

What truly makes the movie stand out, however, is the quality of performances from all the actors involved. Every speaking role leaves a strong impression, particularly Kim Dickens whose hard-as-nails police investigator effortlessly steals the limelight every time she makes an appearance. Then there are the twin performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike – Affleck has proven his solid acting skills in previous outings, but here he is an inspired choice as the cocky writer who gradually loses his dignity and pride. The constantly shifting perspective means you can never be too sure of Nick’s intents and motives, and Affleck manages to convince in an understated, restrained yet nuanced performance.

And then there’s Rosamund Pike. Pike has done solid work in supporting roles over the years, but here she is a revelation as Amy. The role requires a truly broad emotional scope, and she manages to nail all of them, from wide-eyed ingénue to demure enchantress to being cold and calculative. Charismatic yet chilling, her performance consistently demands the attention of the audience, and feels like it’s multiple roles compressed into one.  That she manages to fully embody this complex character is a triumph – this is a star-making role for Pike and one I feel that’s deserving of an Oscar nomination, if not a win. (A side anecdote – her performance in a scene was so impressive that some audience members in the normal screening I attended began to applaud spontaneously.)

That the story and its internal logic starts to unravel in Gone Girl’s final reels isn’t all too material to the enjoyment of the film – by then, Fincher and team have managed to weave such an engrossing, deliciously macabre tale that the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination rings true. Anyone with a penchant for the twisted will definitely relish this dark, stylish and sexy movie.

Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)


Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

Genre: Action

Director: Keishi Ohtomo

Writers: Kiyomi Fujii, Keishi Ohtomo, based on the original comic “Rurouni Kenshin” by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Emi Takei, Yusuke Iseya, Munetaka Aoki, Yu Aoi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tao Tsuchiya, Min Tanaka, Masaharu Fukuyama

Running Length: 135 minutes

Synopsis: To stop Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who aims to conquer Japan, Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) arrives in Kyoto and tries to face off against Shishio’s troops. However, his enemy has begun its course to start invading Tokyo with the steel-reinforced battleship. To save captured Kaoru (Emi Takei) who is thrown into the sea by Shishio’s men, Kenshin also dives in after her but is washed ashore alone, unconscious. Kenshin recovers with the help of Seijuro Hiko (Masaharu Fukuyama), the master of Kenshin who happens to find him on the shore. He realises he is no match for Shishio unless he learns the ultimate technique of his sword style, and begs the master to teach him. In the meantime, Shishio finds that Kenshin is still alive, and puts pressure on the government to find Kenshin and execute him in public for his sins during his days as the “Battosai the Killer”. As Kenshin faces his biggest challenge, can Kenshin really defeat his fiercest enemy Shishio, and be reunited with Kaoru?

Review: Unlike most sequels, the wait for The Legend Ends has been pretty short, with less than two months separating the release of Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends. The three-movie arc concludes with this film, and fortunately most of the loose ends from the previous movies are tied up here. The film is an unabashed “fan service” film, but works less successfully if one is not acquainted with the franchise and its characters. A major caveat: this is not a movie to watch on its own – at the very least, audiences are expected to have watched Kyoto Inferno, otherwise it would be near impossible to make head or tail of the proceedings.

Strangely, although The Legend Ends picks up where Kyoto Inferno left off, the starting reels are very slow going, and narratively the film comes to an almost complete standstill while Kenshin trains with his master. Such a structure only makes sense if the films are watched back to back, and this is indeed one of the biggest failings of The Legend Ends when seen on its own in the cinema.

Fortunately, the action picks up in the second half of the movie, with some of the best close-quarters swordfights I have seen in a long while, all done with little or no CG work involved. The amount of action in the second half more than makes up for the unenergetic first half, and once things get in gear the movie becomes much easier to get into. The plot remains somewhat muddled, with the supposed political intrigue failing to make much of an impression apart from being a plot device to move the film to its eventual conclusion.

The films are filled with familiar characters from the manga and anime (another indication of the extent of fan service accorded in the films), but the end result is that many of them get relatively short shrift. The most egregious of this is the Ten Swords, introduced in Kyoto Inferno and supposedly would prove to be challenges to Kenshin, but instead are mostly nothing more than fleeting cameos. Even Shishio is missing for a large part of the movie, again something that really only makes sense if the movies are viewed at one go. Once again, the romance between Kenshin and Kaoru remain unconvincing, and their eventual reunion feels anti-climactic despite a valiant attempt at buildup.

With The Legend Ends, it is clear that this Rurouni Kenshin two-parter should never have been structured in this manner. While it is satisfying to see the full story arc resolve, there is once again so much narrative excess in The Legend Ends that the two films ought to have been re-edited into a single, less rambling film. The success of The Legend Ends is assured, since anyone who watched Kyoto Inferno would definitely want to see how the story concludes, and there is enough in the film to warrant a visit to the cinema, but the viewing experience would have been much improved if the choice was made to combine the films.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)