Sam Mercer

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The BFG Review

Very Good

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison, with whom he made E.T. nearly 35 years ago. Another story of an unlikely friendship, this film is even more wondrous and earnest, and also much more reliant on effects. But it's also hugely involving, with a terrific cast and of course a delightful story with a wry sense of humour.

 

It's set in a timeless London, where Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) lives in an orphanage. One night she spots a stealthy giant (Mark Rylance) prowling the city streets, so he grabs her and takes her back to Giant Country so she can't reveal his secret existence. As she gets to know him, Sophie discovers that he's an outcast in his own community, half the size of the nine giants (including Jemane Clement and Bill Hader) who live around him and bully him mercilessly because he doesn't eat human beans. This has earned him the nickname Big Friendly Giant, which Sophie shortens to BFG as she accompanies him into a colourful parallel world in his job collecting dreams and nightmares. Then when the bullies' threats grow stronger, Sophie comes up with a plan to get help from the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her staff (Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall).

Continue reading: The BFG Review

Snow White And The Huntsman Review


Weak
There's an oddly over-serious tone to this fairy tale, as if the filmmakers thought they were making a massive action epic on par with The Lord of the Rings. But the plot has all the complexity of, well, a bedtime story. And a little more camp attitude would have helped.

After the gorgeous Ravenna (Theron) marries and then murders a benevolent widower king, she locks his beautiful daughter Snow White (Stewart) in a tower.

All the better to continue draining the youth from the entire kingdom. But just as she prepares to take the now of-age Snow's heart, Snow escapes into the woods, and Ravenna hires huntsman Eric (Hemsworth) to find her. Of course, Eric switches sides when he finds her, joining with Snow's childhood sweetheart William (Claflin) and a gang of dwarves to end the evil queen's reign.

Continue reading: Snow White And The Huntsman Review

Lady In The Water Review


Good
Is it possible for a film to be cheesy and interesting all at once? That's the question posed by M. Night Shyamalan's latest effort, Lady in the Water, a film that manages to throw in enough twists and turns to keep you engaged until the last schmaltzy drop.The film begins, appropriately enough, with a fable. A cave-painting style animation lays the groundwork for the fairy tale that's about to play out in a sleepy apartment complex called The Cove. After this ultimately unnecessary introduction, we meet Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), caretaker of the complex, and a gaggle of eccentric residents. One night Cleveland spies someone in the residential pool who isn't supposed to be there. Slipping and falling in, he's saved from drowning by the mysterious stranger, a young woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard). Like its heart, the film wears its post-modernism on its sleeve.Through a legend meted out in fits and starts by an elderly, vaguely stereotypical Chinese woman and her daughter, Cleveland learns that this woman is, in fact, a narf, which is not, as one might suspect, some kind of undercover DEA pixie, but is instead a water nymph meant to bring great change and awakening and yadda, yadda, yadda. But before you can say "ancient Chinese secret," Cleveland finds out that there are monsters in this legend, as well, and must spend the rest of the film trying to negotiate safe passage home for Story by enlisting help from the motley tenants.Finding out who these helpers are and just how they will help is part of the fun and frustration of the film. Although Shyamalan manages to find neat and clever ways to fit them into his puzzle, the puzzle itself seems to be manufactured as the film progresses. Every ten or fifteen minutes, the plot stops so that the woman and her daughter can, in often clumsy exposition, reveal another part of the myth that they inexplicably left out before. A game like this is much less fun if it seems like the rules are just being made up as you go along.At the same time, the elements that make for any good Shyamalan film are here. There are very few directors (Spielberg and Scorsese among them) who virtually shot for shot find the most interesting place to put the camera, and Shyamalan is one. He also knows how to cast a film, and Giamatti's performance here ranks easily with Willis' in The Sixth Sense or Gibson's in Signs. In what should be one of the film's most saccharine moments, he delivers a nearly tear-worthy speech.Which brings us, inevitably, to the cheese. Being a fairy tale, Lady in the Water is susceptible to moments of artifice, and with lines like "The great Elon is coming," it can be hard not to chuckle. On the other hand, writers like Joss Whedon manage to bring the fanciful into the modern without taking the viewer out of the moment (and it would be very interesting to see him write and Shyamalan direct a project like this).There is maybe half of a great film here. In many ways, this is Shyamalan's Close Encounters, in which in an ordinary man discovers he's living in an extraordinary world. And many of the themes of faith, purpose, and self-discovery explored in Signs and The Sixth Sense are all touched upon here, but are posited in a far less convincing way. Lady in the Water is not without its magical moments, but you really have to want them.Let's narf tonight!

The Village Review


Very Good
The Village comes to us with more manufactured hype than should be allowed by law. First the Sci-Fi Channel produces a "documentary" about its director, M. Night Shyamalan, called The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, purporting to reveal all sorts of juicy dirt about the director. The week that The Village is set to open, Sci-Fi confesses it's all a hoax. Details of the plot have been minimal. No one will do press. No one will talk about the movie at all. Come screening week, security is tight at advance previews: Online press are strictly disallowed at the advances; instead we're shooed into a late Thursday-night showing, giving us mere hours to whip up a review just in time for the Friday crush of traffic. So here I sit, pushing midnight, ready to give you my thoughts on The Village.

Why all the misdirection from Shyamalan? Well, here's the truth: The Village isn't a really a traditional suspense flick at all. The first full hour is largely comprised of a romance - or various romances - between its stars. Joaquin Phoenix is a quiet lad named Lucius living in an 1897 village formed in a clearing in the woods in Pennsylvania, where some 30 or so folks reside. Bryce Dallas Howard (the girl who looks like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) plays his eventual girlfriend, Ivy, the blind daughter of the town's leader of sorts, Edward (William Hurt). Lucius and Ivy take a long while to fall in love - meanwhile we slowly learn about the village. Here, they grow their own vegetables, they do a mean square dance, and then there's the matter of the monsters in the woods.

Continue reading: The Village Review

Unbreakable Review


Good
With the long-awaited release of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, the moviegoing world has one question on its mind: will it be unexpectedly great like his last film The Sixth Sense, or will it unexpectedly suck eggs like his first film Wide Awake?

Sadly, the answer is neither, though an overexcited populace spoon-fed on a year's worth of hype is likely to lean toward the latter owing to severe disappointment. It's hard to blame them.

Continue reading: Unbreakable Review

Van Helsing Review


Weak
Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker receive zero writing credit for Stephen Sommers' lopsided Van Helsing, and you can hear the immortal authors breathing a sigh of relief from beyond the grave. The novelists' legendary creatures may receive prominent placement in Universal Studio's big-budget rollercoaster ride, but the half-baked ideas propping up the mediocre monster mash belong solely to writer/director Sommers - for better or for worse.

Van Helsing ends up as a high-concept adrenaline rush that never stops generating lesser concepts over its elongated 145-minute run time. Wheels start turning when Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) funds the creation of the Frankenstein monster (Shuler Hensley) to power a machine that will allow the vampire's offspring to live. The prince of darkness is trying to please his voracious brides, while the final descendent of a line of Transylvanian vampire hunters (Kate Beckinsale) is trying in vain to stake the brute before he ends her life. The wild card in this mix is Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a hired gun with a guilty conscience working for the Catholic Church to vanquish various evil beings.

Continue reading: Van Helsing Review

Signs Review


Excellent
Crop circles: real or hoax? M. Night Shyamalan (of the masterful The Sixth Sense and the iffy Unbreakable) stabs at answering that question in the quite good Signs, inspired by patterns found in the cornfields of Pennsylvania. (And yes, it turns out they really do grow a lot of corn up there.)

While you might be expecting a cool-headed mystery about the origins of crop circles, Signs is actually a bizarre mix of V, Independence Day, and Panic Room. Even stranger, it's actually watchable, though at times I was ready to slap Mel Gibson for his stilted performance, which frequently drags down the movie as he pontificates.

Continue reading: Signs Review

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Sam Mercer Movies

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Snow White and the Huntsman Movie Review

Snow White and the Huntsman Movie Review

There's an oddly over-serious tone to this fairy tale, as if the filmmakers thought they...

Lady in the Water Movie Review

Lady in the Water Movie Review

Is it possible for a film to be cheesy and interesting all at once? That's...

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The Village Movie Review

The Village Movie Review

The Village comes to us with more manufactured hype than should be allowed by law....

Unbreakable Movie Review

Unbreakable Movie Review

With the long-awaited release of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, the moviegoing world has one question...

Van Helsing Movie Review

Van Helsing Movie Review

Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker receive zero writing credit for Stephen Sommers' lopsided Van Helsing,...

Signs Movie Review

Signs Movie Review

Crop circles: real or hoax? M. Night Shyamalan (of the masterful The Sixth Sense...

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