Army of Thieves

If you remember the name Ludwig Dieter, then good for you, because it may make all the difference when you watch Army of Thieves, the loosely connected pre-zombie prequel to Zack Snyder’s money-making mess of a movie, Army of the Dead.

Living a dud life in Potsdam, Germany, Ludwig (Matthias Schweighöfer, also the director and producer with Snyder) who goes by his real name Sebastian Schlencht-Wöhnert, is a bored bank teller and locksmith with a God-given gift for cracking historic — neigh legendary — vaults…in theory.

With no practical experience in actually cracking vaults, he’s magically scouted as a participant in an underground safe-cracking competition — don’t ask how — and then recruited by a relatively gun-free band of robbers.

The crew consists of the usual: a testosterone pumped-up action man (Stuart Martin) inspired by the long-haired Nicolas Cage from Con Air when he was beat up as a nerdy kid, a nerdy hacker (Ruby O. Fee) who broke into Disney’s servers and pirated the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie during its post-production phase, an angry-eyed mopey-faced driver of their getaway vans (British comedian Guz Khan, sans any comedic lines) and the British-accented mastermind hottie (Nathalie Emmanuelle) who makes Sebastian’s heart go woo-woo, and who can kick the teeth in of heavily armed security guards.

Army of Thieves could have been good stuff in theory, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is comic book-ish nonsense in movie form, while Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin is not half-bad for a seventh film in a series

Even Sebastian, the bumbling nerd who rounds off the team, is aware of the cliché of their line-up. He even says it out loud in dialogue.

The crew plunders three of the four fabled bank vaults in Paris, Prague and St. Mortiz, with each heist levelling up in difficulty like a videogame (the last vault is in Las Vegas, and is the main plot point of Army of Dead). Also, as the cliché goes, a blundering, screaming, Interpol agent (Jonathan Cohen) is hot on their tail.

It’s a cocktail of seen-it-all-before heist stuff without the excitement, character build-up, likeability etc.

Think of this as a bland version of celebrated author Monkey Punch’s Lupin the 3rd. The parallel is unmistakable: colourful characters, well-timed jokes, fast-paced action set-pieces and globe-trotting adventures…except, without the effectiveness and originality of the aforesaid aspects that make them click.

Army of Thieves is inspired by greatness, but is far-removed from its vicinity.

Army of Thieves has the mental acumen of a preschooler but is rated suitable for ages 16+. The movie streams now on Netflix in the top-10 spot

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Speaking of movies that are hits, and yet superficially painted to be colourful, we have Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Basically, it’s as big a downer as the first one, yet profitable, since the world can’t get enough of superheroes (it has the 8th spot in the highest grossing movies of 2021).

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who used to be a TV reporter, now writes for a newspaper while wrestling with his inner demon, the alien symbiote Venom (also Hardy) who wrecks his apartment as if it’s a daily house-chore.

Their love-hate relationship steers the movie through an incorrigible plot about a notorious serial killer named Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson; under-utilised) and his “mutant” love interest Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), who can scream down walls and rupture human arteries.

Kasady gets infected by Venom’s far more powerful offspring Carnage and liberates Frances, better known as Shriek in comics, from Ravencroft, a heavily-fortified supervillain mental institute.

Fans of comics will cheer at the references (Mutants are finally introduced in this new Marvel universe), including the mid-end credits scene with Tom Holland and J.K. Simmons’ that officially wedges Venom into the main Marvel/ Spider-Man continuity.

Audiences who pay for the ticket will cackle from the chemistry Brock has with Venom (Hardy is a great actor, with quite a bit of range). However, those who may want something other than the mundane — the movie itself is quite atrocious — will wonder why this script was greenlit by Sony, or why Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, and directed Mowgli and Breathe, chose to direct with the flair of an early-2000 era superhero movie — an era almost everyone wants to forget because of its general ineptitude of handling grounded superhero stories.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, carefully made to fall under its PG-13 rating, is playing in Pakistani cinemas

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

By the seventh movie in any given movie series, you can’t expect originality and, furthermore, blaming studio Paramount and producer Blumhouse’s use of a brand they own to further prop up the Paramount+ streaming service, is hardly a contestable argument.

So, what does one do but give up, and perhaps switch the channel — or in this case, choose not to view the movie?

But wait, given the products you get to see, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin isn’t half-bad — especially as an in-name-only standalone sequel.

Screenwriter Christopher Landon, who directed both Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, sets off with a bumpy first-half by making the story feel like it was screen-written as a typical movie, and not a found-footage event. This shatters the pseudo-farce of the franchise, and gives director William Eubank (The Signal, Underwater) leeway to break away from genre tropes.

Suddenly, the footage is pristine, as if shot from a camera kit that costs hundreds of thousands, and not just thousands. The frames and angles change from amateurish to high-end work as well.

The story gives itself a reason for the obvious change in quality and tone early on: the lead-girl Margot (Emily Bader, fitting the character like a glove), an orphan who never knew her real family, has been contacted by a young man from an Amish family, claiming to be a relative.

Margot’s friends tag along filming her meeting as a documentary (ergo the film-like quality of the production). The group travels to a faraway farm where cell phone signals don’t reach, eerie sounds go bump in the night, and demons go peekaboo in mirror reflections.

Next of Kin takes a while to really rev up its engines, but when it does, the cliché, at least, feels entertaining. It could very well lead to part eight of the movie series. Just don’t expect to be scared by anything, though.

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, rated R for scenes that could be labelled as scary, is streaming on Paramount +

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 21st, 2021

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