Monday, December 25, 2006

Deja Vu

Year: 2006
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, Jim Caviezel

Wikipedia defines Deja Vu as "the experience of feeling that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously". Kinda like a feeling of familiarity of an experience you have, and usually you can't explain how or why. In this film, it supposedly means that and something more.

This film, set in New Orleans begins with an explosion onboard a ferry, claiming over 500 people's lives. ATF (that's Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) agent Doug Carlin is sent in to investigate. Among the dead he finds a body of a woman named Claire Kuchever, whom he discovers did not die when the ferry blew up, but before it did. After revealing his investigation to FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra, the latter is so impressed with his discovery that he lets Carlin in on a secret government project that enables them to go back in time via computer technology and satellite imagery to witness events of the past. They want Carlin to use his keen eye to help them see into the past and find the man responsible for the tragedy. Carlin decides to focus on Claire's activities before the tragedy, which are somehow related to the bomber. In the process, Carlin falls in love with her, then discovers that the time jumping technology in use is more than just a window to the past, it's also a door.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott, who have worked together before several times on films like Crimson Tide and Enemy Of The State, do not disappoint here. Although the pace is slower than most Bruckheimer films, it's good enough to keep your interest sustained. Denzel of course does well here. He's the kind of actor that gives a 110% in his performance. Newcomer Paula Patton also impresses as Claire, and Jim Caviezel is good as the villain, though it won't be the first time he's played one.

The film itself is a deja vu experience, as watching the technology at work is reminiscent of Enemy Of The State, and the time travel concept has been used in numerous films before it. But thankfully the movie does not suffer from familiarity and manages to stand on its own as a bonafide thriller. The ending may seem confusing to some, but those who are knowledgeable on time travel will understand well enough.

Go see it if you like Bruckheimer, Scott, Washington or if you like good thrillers. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Year: 2006
Director: Stefan Fangmeier
Cast: Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou, John Malkovich

Familiar. That's the first word that comes to mind after watching this film. Familiar, and not very elaborate. The problem is trying to look at this film without thinking of Lord Of The Rings, because this film has many similarities to Peter Jackson's spectacle, and even to Star Wars. But let me tell you what it's about first.

Eragon, based on the book by Christopher Paolini (who was 15 when he wrote it), is a fantasy tale set in the land of Alagaesia. Long ago, Alagaesia was a peaceful place, watched over by dragons and their dragon riders. However, one of them betrayed his comrades and slaughtered them all, then took control of the land. His name is Galbatorix, and he rules with an iron fist, assisted by his dark sorcerer Durza.

There is no hope left, unless someone rises to lead the people to victory over the evil king. A dragon egg stolen by the pretty elf Arya, from the hands of Galbatorix, falls unexpectedly into the hands of a farm boy named Eragon, who realises his destiny when the egg hatches and a female dragon called Saphira comes forth. With the help of a former dragon rider named Brom, Eragon and Saphira set out to lead The Varden, the last rebel force in the land against the King.

OK, so what's familiar? Let's look at them one by one:
1. Eragon is a young boy who realises he has a bigger destiny awaiting him. Similar to Luke Skywalker who was just an ordinary boy on Tatooine until he finds R2D2 in Star Wars. Or Frodo Baggins and the One Ring in Fellowship Of The Ring.
2. KIng Galbatorix was a dragon rider who slayed his comrades so that he could gain more power and rule. Similar to Darth Vader in Star Wars.
3. Brom is a former dragon rider who trains Eragon to fulfil his destiny. Similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi who trains Luke in Star Wars.
4. There is a scene where Eragon disobeys Brom's advice to save Arya. Similar to Luke disobeying Yoda to save his friends from Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.
5. Arya, played by Sienna Guillory is reminiscent of Arwen in LOTR.
6. The character Murtagh, an archer is similar to Legolas in LOTR.
7. Durza's appearance is so similar to Grima Wormtongue in LOTR, you'd think they are related. There is even a scene where Durza addresses a large army of troops, which is a lot like Saruman addressing the Uruk-Hai army in The Two Towers.
8. Galbatorix's army, the Urgals and the Ra'zac are also familiar, like the Orcs and Uruk-Hai in LOTR.

So basically this film looks a lot like LOTR with a much lower budget. But is it bad? No, not really. For the sake of entertainment it is enjoyable. And the special effects are impressive, especially the dragon scenes. Acting wise, Speleers does a good job playing the lead character, though he won't win an award for his performance. But as far as supporting characters go, only Brom and Durza get reasonable screen time and development. The other actors just make do with what they have for their characters. Irons does fine as Brom, though his character deserves better development as the mentor to Eragon. Carlyle is mean enough as Durza, and credit goes to the makeup department for making him look scarier in the second half of the movie. Malkovich doesn't get much screen time, and he plays Galbatorix as if he was playing Cyrus 'The Virus' Grissom in Con Air. Rachel Weisz who supplies the voice of Saphira however, does not disappoint.

This is just the first part of a trilogy, so we can expect more in future. I pray they get a better director than Stefan Fangmeier, who before this was just a visual effects director. It's alright for his directorial debut, but if you want a good fantasy adventure, go watch Lord Of The Rings. (3/5)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Casino Royale

Year: 2006
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench

I never really was a James Bond fan. I find it quite ridiculous that a super spy who is as good with the ladies as he is with guns never seems to die or fall into serious danger. And after so many films being made, the concept never seems to change. High tech cars, high tech gadgets, sexy women, bombastic villains, cheesy opening credit sequence accompanied by an equally cheesy theme song, the 3 word name introduction and of course, he always gets the girl in the end. Same old same old.

So what's different about this one? A lot actually. Different actor, for starters. We have a blond actor named Daniel Craig to play 007. We don't have fancy gadgets or a car with custom made gadgets and weapons (though his car in this film is cool nonetheless). Oh, and apparently this time Bond doesn't care how he wants his martini.

Anyway, in Casino Royale, we go back to square one, so to speak. This was the time when Bond first receives his 00 status i.e. the licence to kill. His superior, M hands it to him with great reluctance as he is reckless and egoistic. But he earned it, and with it a great responsiblity as he tackles his next mission: playing poker. Bond is up against Le Chiffre, a banker who finances terrorists. MI6 needs Bond to play against him and win, to bankrupt Le Chiffre thus shutting down his operation.

MI6 assigns Vesper Lynd, an accountant to monitor and watch over the money Bond will be using in the high stakes poker game. Being a pretty girl, Bond falls for her of course. His relationship with her surprisingly is the key element to this story, and not the mission he initially undertakes, as you will see towards the end.

Martin Campbell, who directed Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan's first Bond film, does a great job here with the pacing and characters. The action sequences are also well done. Watch out for the chase sequence between Bond and a bomber through a construction site that is truly breathtaking. As for acting, Craig does fine, but he uses the same expression for about 80% of the film. Which is fine when he wants to play hero, but not when he needs to emote. Personally I loved his interaction with Judi Dench, their dialogue will be remembered as classic moments.

Eva Green is magnetic both emotionally and physically as Vesper Lynd, while Mads Mikkelsen looks mean enough as the villain. As for the theme song, it's not half bad. Performed by Audioslave's lead singer Chris Cornell, it accompanies yet another cheesy opening sequence. But I guess I can overlook that one this time.

A good way to spend 2 hours and some money for a cinema ticket, unless action isn't your cup of tea. (4/5)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Year: 2005
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy, Christopher Lee

Tim Burton is well known in Hollywood for his unique style of filmmaking. There's a sense of darkness and quirkiness in his work, which connects really well with the retro settings usually seen in his movies. Everything from Batman to Edward Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow to Mars Attacks! to Big Fish shares that same inimitable style of his. More often than not, that is the strength of his films. And of course, having Johnny Depp star in some of his big successes wouldn't hurt either.

In this film, based on the classic by Roald Dahl, Burton tells the tale of a young boy named Charlie Bucket who is blessed with a loving family. But he is dirt poor. His house is tilted to one side and all four of his grandparents share the same bed. His dad works in a toothpaste company putting the caps on the tubes. They barely have enough to eat every day, but they manage.

Charlie always had a fascination for the mysterious chocolate factory in town, owned by the eccentric Willy Wonka. Heck, he even built a model of the factory out of toothpaste tube caps! Little did he know that soemthing incredible was about to happen to him. One day, Willy Wonka makes an announcement: he will invite 5 young children and a guardian each to visit his factory for a day. At the end of that visit, one of the children will receive a prize. How does a child get invited? Buy a Wonka chocolate bar with a golden ticket inside. With only 5 tickets available, the odds are surely staggering.

So children all over the world start scampering for the chocolate bars. A fat boy from Germany (who can't stop eating chocolate), a spoilt girl from England, an obsessively competitive girl and a smart but arrogant boy from the States (neither of them like chocolate) win the first 4 tickets. And as expected, through sheer good luck, Charlie Bucket wins the last one.

So all 5 children and their respective guardians walk into the factory guided by Willy Wonka, and they (as well as the audience) discover a whole new world inside. Chocolate of all kinds, shapes and sizes are being made by Wonka's workers, the Oompa Loompas, tiny yet diligent midgets. And they all look alike! Wonka lets them look and try everything, but warns them of certain things they should not do, and when the bad kids disobey, they are quickly disposed of till there is one worthy child to be declared the winner. No prizes for guessing who wins.

Depp is brilliant as the funny and eccentric Wonka. His skin was made to look as pale as porcelain, and Depp wears this plastic smile and childish grin to complete the look. The most hilarious scenes are when Wonka has to resort to reading cue cards to communicate with his guests. Somebody give Depp an Oscar already, he's just too good. Not to be outdone is Freddie Highmore who does a splendid job as Charlie. He does well portraying a really good kid who loves his family more than anything. Kids like Charlie probably don't exist in the real world, or maybe there are some but very scarce in number, which makes it hard to believe there are kids like that in reality. But Freddie makes you believe in him somehow.

Deep Roy, who plays all of the Oompa Loompas does marvelously too. The song and dance routine featuring the Oompa Loompas are creative and fun indeed to watch. But all this is possible thanks to Tim Burton who hits all the right notes in bringing this story to life.

A fun filled film for the family, guaranteed. (4.5/5)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Flushed Away

Year: 2006
Directors: David Bowers and Sam Fell
Voice cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy

Now here's an animated movie that's rather different from the others. We have talking animals again, sure. But no adventures into the wild to rescue fellow animals in distress this time. And the jokes are not too childish either, which is good.

Flushed Away takes place in jolly ol' England, in Kensington to be exact. Roddy is a pet rat who lives the high life in his owner's lavish home. When they are away, Roddy plays around like he's Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Things are going well for him, until he gets an unexpected visit from a sewer rat named Sid.

He tries to flush Sid down the toilet bowl, but ends up getting flushed by Sid instead. Roddy ends up in Ratropolis, a city of rats in the sewer. In an attempt to get back home, he enlists the help of a female rat called Rita, who owns a ship that can take him home. But Roddy's clumsy actions land the both of them in trouble with Toad, a mafia type frog that hates all rats in the sewers. Roddy and Rita manage to escape, taking something with them that is of great value to Toad. So Toad despatches his hitman cousin, Le Frog to get it back. In the meantime, Roddy agrees to pay Rita if she agrees to help him get home. Will he succeed?

I have to admit, this film didn't quite appeal to me when I first saw the trailer. But after seeing it, I'd say it's worth your time. You'd love the many funny moments that it has to offer. Ian McKellen does a splendid over-the-top performance as Toad, and Jean Reno is hilarious as Le Frog. Imagine a frog with a French accent that does karate, and you'll get the picture. Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy also shine as Spike and Whitey respectively, the hired rat goons of the Toad. Hugh Jackman's voice isn't immediately recognisable as Roddy, though you'd recognise Kate Winslet's voice as Rita easily enough.

This film has it all: drama, laughs and music. Ah, but not just any music. Slugs who sing background music! If you don't get what I mean, it. The singing slugs were quite creative, though at certain points of the film I got rather irritated somewhat. I guess sometimes it was just too much.

If you want an animated film with a difference, this is it. Bring the whole family, including those who love soccer. There's something in it for them too haha. (4/5)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Departed

Year: 2006
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen

I watched this yesterday, and it was frankly one of the hardest films I've ever had to sit through. Not that it's bad, it just had a lot of everything. A lot of violence, a lot of cussing and a lot of censorship cuts. Tough. But I persevered luckily.

The Departed is adapted from the critically acclaimed Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs, about the battle between the police and the mafia using moles within each other's organisations. I had not watched the original in its entirety, and I intend to once I get the opportunity. Many people who have watched both films have made comparisons. I hope I can stray from that in this review.

The Hollywood version takes place in South Boston, where the street crime is run by Frank Costello, a smart, vicious and always-in-control kingpin. To nail him, police captain Queenan and sergeant Dignam pick a new recruit from the force, Billy Costigan to go deep undercover and infiltrate Costello's gang. They pick Costigan because he comes from a family that has criminal history, plus Costello knew his late father.

Costello on the other hand also has a spy within the police force. Colin Sullivan, whom Costello watched over and supported since he was a boy, is now a member of the Boston police force. Sullivan acts as an informant, keeping Costello updated on the police's operations. Trouble begins when both sides discover the existence of a mole within their midst. Costigan and Sullivan are forced to race against each other to find out who it is, risking their covers being blown.

Scorsese chooses to film this as realistically as he sees fit. And unfortunately that involves showing violence and profanity in huge spades. When people get shot, it's usually in the head, with lots of blood spattered. Every other sentence spoken by the leads has a foul word in it, usually the one that begins with 'F'. Mark Wahlberg must have said that word at least 50 times throughout the film. And he's actually the worst thing about The Departed, because other than being foul-mouthed and having an appearance in the final scene, his character Dignam has no real importance here.

DiCaprio however is very convincing as Costigan. He hates the job given to him, and he struggles trying to make sense of it. The intensity on his face says it all. His character is afraid of the possibility of being discovered and eventually killed, and Leo pulls off that performance well. Damon is also quite good as Sullivan, but his character's motives are somewhat confusing. There are moments where Damon tries to humanise Sullivan, but in the end the character comes off somewhat selfish and unrepentant, unlike the original film. Perhaps we can pin the blame on Scorsese or screenplay adapter William Monahan for that mistake.

Nicholson does a great job playing Costello, and you can see him having fun with the role. However there are several times during the film where he seems to be enjoying it too much. Too many scenes, some either too long or unnecessary, featuring him in it, could have been edited out. Then maybe the 152 minute film would have been easier to watch. At least that's what i think. And the ending of the film feels rushed. A lot of violence takes place at the end, and this not only ruins the pacing but also makes it look like Scorsese wanted a typical Hollywood ending.

I am definitely going to look for the original film Infernal Affairs on DVD, I hear it's so much better. But to Scorsese's credit, it's watchable. However, if you're not a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio or you hate violence and really foul language, stay away from this. (3.5/5)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Year: 1999
Director: George Lucas
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd

Who hasn't seen or heard of Star Wars? Everyone knows Star Wars. It holds such an important role in pop culture today. Even if you've never seen the movies, you must surely be familiar with its story of good versus evil taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This was the film franchise that spawned arguably the most well known villain in the history of Hollywood: Darth Vader.

The original trilogy of episodes four to six were made in the 70s and 80s. The new trilogy of episodes one to three were filmed within the last eight years. This movie, the first one, was screened in 1999. Basically The Phantom Menace traces the beginning of the life of a young boy who would eventually become Darth Vader.

Episode I begins at the planet Naboo, where the greedy Trade Federation has formed a blockade in orbit. They plan on forcing Naboo's ruler, Queen Amidala to sign a treaty with them. With a massive army of armed droids at their command, they seem likely to succeed. But they are thwarted by two Jedis who arrive to escort the Queen safely to Coruscant, where she can plead her case to the Galactic Senate.

Due to damages sustained by their spacecraft during their escape, the Queen and the two Jedis: Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, are forced to land on a desert planet called Tatooine, where they hope to repair their ship and continue their journey. This is the place where they meet a mysterious young boy named Anakin Skywalker, who offers to help them. Qui-Gon senses that the boy is special and is destined to become a great Jedi. But there are bigger problems at hand when the Trade Federation's ally in the Senate, the mysterious Darth Sidious, sends his apprentice Darth Maul to stop them...

If you're not a fan of Star Wars, you'd probably have stopped reading at this point. But if you are a fan, then all this would be already too familiar to you. So what can I say? Well, if you've always been intrigued by sci-fi and you love action and adventure, then this film would do nicely. It has everything from speedy pod races, space dogfights, laser shootouts, lightsaber duels etc.

However, if you're looking for good acting, you won't find much here. Neeson, McGregor and Portman do just fine. They are after all good actors. It's just that some of their lines seem corny, and that affects their performance a little. Lloyd is hardly impressive with his acting, looking lost and wooden half the time. Pernilla August however is quite good as Anakin's mother.

The final half hour of the movie is my favourite part, where four different battles take place. The Gungans, residents of Naboo who live underwater, fight the droid army; Naboo's starfighters including Anakin attack the Trade Federation vessel in orbit; Queen Amidala leads her guards to capture the Viceroy of the Federation; and the two Jedis battle Darth Maul in a breathtaking lightsaber duel.

Most Star Wars fans love Episode III the most out of the new trilogy, but I love this one best. Jar Jar Binks isn't as annoying as most people think, it has great action sequences, and thanks to the absence of the lovestruck adult Anakin played by Hayden Christensen in the later films, the dialogue is actually a whole lot better.

Being a Star Wars fan, I'd give it 4 out of 5. 3.5 for non-fans reading this. (4/5)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Open Season

Year: 2006
Directors: Roger Allen & Jill Culton
Voice cast: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise, Debra Messing

This year we've seen a lot of animation films, from Ice Age 2 to Cars to Over The Hedge. And there are more coming up: Barnyard, Flushed Away and Happy Feet. And then there's this one, Open Season.

In this animated movie that takes place in the small town of Timberline, there's a story of a 900 pound domesticated bear named Boog, looked after by his owner, Beth the park ranger. One day, he crosses paths with a fast talking mule deer named Elliot. Elliot had been captured by the obsessed hunter Shaw, so Boog frees him. In return, Elliot takes Boog out of his comfortable home (Beth's garage to be exact) and shows him what he's missing. Unfortunately this gets the big bear in a lot of trouble, and Beth is forced to set him loose into the wild where he belongs. But does he really belong there, being domesticated all his life and knowing nothing about surviving in the woods? That's where Elliot comes in, with all the other quirky animals, who unfortunately make life harder for Boog. But there's more. Open hunting season begins, and Boog and Elliot have to work together with the other animals to drive the hunters away from their home.

So after Ice Age, Madagascar, The Wild and Finding Nemo, here's yet another animated film featuring talking animals. The common theme of friendship between odd characters is of course present. And with Lawrence and Kutcher voicing a bear and a deer respectively, it should be good, right? Well, not quite.

Unlike Finding Nemo, there aren't many laugh out loud jokes here. Kutcher is inconsistent in his performance, being hilarious sometimes and annoying at other times. The supporting characters are not much fun either. There's a grumpy squirrel, a beaver, an adorable porcupine, two skunks, a couple of tense looking ducks and a very vain deer, but none of them really stand out. However, listening to serious actor Gary Sinise (CSI NY) voice a crazy hunter like Shaw is fun. It's quite hard to believe that he actually did it, and that's a revelation.

It's a fun movie, but it's quite forgettable. I'd recommend Ice Age instead. (2.5/5)

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Prestige

Year: 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson

Have you ever watched Memento? It's also directed by Nolan, a story of a man played by Guy Pearce, who suffers from short-term memory loss, trying to find the man who killed his wife. The film moves backwards, from the end to the beginning. This film is a masterpiece, because the way Nolan tells his story, revealing layer after layer, piece by piece until the very end is mind-bending, yet so alluring. The man is a genius. I pray I'll get to watch that film again someday.

But for now, let's focus on this one, Nolan's latest treasure. The Prestige takes place in London, at the turn of the century. Two friends, who are aspiring magicians, engage themselves in a battle that is both personal and professional. Each of them is obsessed in becoming the better magician.

The movie begins with a murder trial, where one of the magicians in question, Alfred Borden, is accused of killing the other magician, Robert Angier. From there, the story moves back and forth through time. We see flashbacks from both protagonists, going back to how both Robert and Alfred learned their trade from the magic mentor of sorts, John Cutter. A particular magic trick involving Robert's wife ends in tragedy, and Robert blames Alfred for it. That tragedy is the catalyst that starts the rivalry between them.

Robert sabotages one of Alfred's shows. Alfred retaliates in kind, then comes up with a trick called the Transported Man, a trick that Robert can't figure out. With Cutter's help, Robert copies the act, but Alfred sabotages his show. This makes Robert even more determined to discover Alfred's secret, and he resorts to underhanded tactics to get them. His quest leads him to America searching for a scientist named Tesla, who may be able to help him construct a machine that will allow him to perfect the trick.

If you think I've given away too much, guess again. There is still a lot to discover from this point on. But I'll say this much: Nolan did great. He flips the story back and forth effortlessly between the past and present, from both Robert and Alfred's point of view. If you were not paying attention, you'd probably be lost. But stay with the plot and you're assured of a thrill of a ride.

Performance wise, Jackman is believable as the obsessed Robert, but I feel that the character gets darker towards the end, and he could have done a little better with that. Or maybe I'm just too used to seeing him as Wolverine in the X-Men films, so it's hard to see him in a different light. Bale on the other hand is intense as Alfred. Bale plays him with a real dark like quality to him. You never know what he really is about, until you get to the end. And what can I say about Michael Caine that hasn't already been said? He's not a two-time Oscar winner for nothing. He plays Cutter magnificently, being enigmatic, wise and fair all at once. Scarlett Johansson however is not so effective as Olivia, the assistant to both magicians. Her role isn't large enough to satisfy the plot.

If you like being challenged, go see this. There's a surprise waiting at the end. The cast had said in interviews that the story is built to look like one big magic trick, and it's true. Just remember the tagline: are you watching closely? (4.5/5)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

World Trade Center

Year: 2006
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello

Oliver Stone is well known for making controversial films, such as Alexander and JFK. Unfortunately for me, I haven't seen most of his films. I've only seen Alexander, and that isn't a good representation of the man's talent. I'd love to watch JFK, Any Given Sunday, Natural Born Killers and the Oscar winning Platoon. For now, I'll start with this one.

World Trade Center is all about that fateful day in New York on September 11 2001. The day terrorists flew two passenger airplanes into the twin towers, killing 2749 people. This story is told through the eyes of four people: John and Donna McLoughlin and Will and Alison Jimeno.

Cage and Pena play John and Will respectively; two Port Authority police officers sent to the towers after the attack, and were subsequently pinned underneath the rubble with their colleagues when the towers came down. Bello and Gyllenhaal play their respective wives, who anxiously wait at home for news of their husbands' fate.

The collapse of the towers, visualised from the inside was done realistically. And you got to give credit to Stone for visualising the situation under the rubble from John and Will's perspective. It's dark, claustrophobic and downright terrifying. Imagine being trapped under tons of rock and steel, being unable to move at all, trying to stay awake in order to survive. It is scary indeed. And to their credit, Cage and Pena play the two men well enough, as they try to keep each other alive throughout the ordeal, not being able to see each other, only hearing each other's voices, as they talk about their families, hopes and the future. Bello and Gyllenhaal are also commendable as the distraught spouses, trying to hold themselves and their families together as the news breaks.

A critic over here expressed his disappointment due to the lack of controversial angles Stone could have used. And considering the subject matter at hand, I can understand his feelings. But in my opinion, this film isn't about terrorism. It's not about why it happened or what happened afterwards. It's about that day, 9/11. It's about what went on in New York City on that day, and how two people survived the tragedy. That's it. It's a human story. It's the movie's strength, and also its weakness.

Strength, because it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a human story. Weakness, because the human drama from the four protagonists is all you'll get to see. No creative drama portrayed by other people such as victims in the towers before it happened. No views from other people around the city at the time. Perhaps Stone didn't want to lose the focus. But we do get some perspectives from the rescuers as well as one particular former US marine who drove all the way to the scene to help, and eventually finds John And Will there. Perhaps the simplicity of the film is its Achilles heel.

If you like human stories of courage, or you're interested in the 9/11 incident, this will do just fine. But don't expect anything groundbreaking. (3/5)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Skeleton Key

Year: 2005
Director: Iain Softley
Cast: Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt

Creepy poster, isn't it? They're marketing this film as a horror movie, but it really isn't scary though. Spooky, with a handful of cheap shocks here and there, but not ultimately scary. But the biggest shock comes at the end of the film.

Let's get to the story first. Kate Hudson plays Caroline Ellis, a hospice worker from New Orleans who gets tired of caring for the elderly at the hospital, simply because no one there seems to care about their patients once they pass away. Caroline yearns for more, not just waiting for the next death. So she takes up a job to care for Ben Devereaux, an elderly man who's paralysed completely and unable to speak down in Terrebone Parrish. Ben's wife, Violet initially rejects Caroline, but the family lawyer, Luke Marshall helps her seal the deal.

Violet comes off as a cold, fussy individual who makes odd rules. For example: no mirrors to be put up on the walls. Caroline manages eventually despite her suspicions of Violet's attitude, until she discovers a secret room in the attic that holds strange objects related to the art of hoodoo, which is black magic practised in the old South. When Ben tries to tell Caroline through eye contact or other means that he needs her help, she suspects that Violet may be more than just a cranky old woman. The more Caroline delves into the mystery surrounding the house, the black arts and how it relates to each other, the darker and more dangerous it gets. She comes to the conclusion that Violet had something to do with Ben's condition. She's determined to save Ben from it, but can she?

I'm not a fan of Kate Hudson. I watched this because it had an intriguing plot, and the subject matter is no doubt fascinating. But to Hudson's credit, she plays Caroline well. Caroline comes off as a determined individual, who now wants to do the right thing after being unable to help her own father when he died many years ago. Rowlands is excellent as the cold, mysterious Violet. Hurt is also commendable playing the paralysed Ben. He doesn't have many lines, but the look of fear and suffering on his face is very convincing.

I did say that there is a shock at the end of the film. A twist that you wouldn't see coming. And it is brilliant, in that sense. Overall, the film isn't that great due to the shortage of scary moments. But the ending saves the film from being mediocre. If you like surprises, this one may just be your cup of tea. (3.5/5)

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Patriot

Year: 2000
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson

This is a Roland Emmerich film. The same Roland Emmerich that gave us the mind-blowing sci-fi flick Independence Day and the critically panned Godzilla. But here is where he scores.

Set in America in 1776, specifically South Carolina, The Patriot tells the story of former war hero Benjamin Martin, who is now content with being a farmer and raising his seven children without their mother who has passed on. Content, because he wants to leave the horrors of his past behind. He had been part of brutal savegery during the French Indian war, and now hopes to leave his sins behind.

However, when the British threaten the entire country and bring the war to his doorstep, Benjamin has to make a choice: to stand up and fight or sit the war out. He chooses the latter, in contrary to his eldest son Gabriel who signs up to join the revolution. Finally he's forced to join the battle when his second son Thomas is killed by the brutal British commander, Colonel Tavington. Benjamin and Gabriel form a militia with unlikely volunteers and take the fight to the British.

I gotta say, the script is exceptionally good. This story covers all the important aspects: love, war, brotherhood, revenge, family and of course, patriotism. Gibson and Ledger shine as Benjamin and Gabriel respectively. Gibson of course, is good at what he does. His expressions and words jump out to you on screen. Ledger almost matches him as well.

But also take note of the great supporting cast. Joely Richardson does well as Benjamin's sister in-law. Jason Isaacs is excellent as the evil Tavington. Isaacs finally gets a role he can excel in and make his own, unlike his other forgettable supporting roles in Armageddon, The Tuxedo, Soldier and Event Horizon. Chris Cooper is good as Col. Burwell, Benjamin's partner in arms, Tcheky Karyo is funny as French officer Jean Villeneuve and Tom Wilkinson also does a good job playing the proud British leader Lord Cornwallis. Watch out for Rene Auberjonois as a fighting reverend (he plays Odo in Star Trek Deep Space Nine).

What else is good about it? Oh, the battle scenes. Emmerich pulls out all the stops in recreating the violence and horror of war. Blood flies, limbs fall off, heads get thrown off or shot through.....but don't get me wrong. This isn't a gore fest. If war has to be shown on screen, it should look real. The dialogue and drama was also well written. Particularly there is a subplot involving two men, one white and one black. The black man is offered freedom from slavery if he joins the fight, but the white man asks him, what will he do with freedom if he had it? In the end, the two men learn to respect each other and bond as they fight alongside each other.

But the film suffers from its lengthy running time, clocking in at over 2 and a half hours. And I do understand that some may say that this film appeals more to Americans and their pride and gung-ho-ism for their country. But I don't completely agree. I always say, watch a film for what it is, and not for what you see it represents, either directly or indirectly. And what The Patriot is, is good entertainment. (4/5)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Event Horizon

Year: 1997
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson

I remembered watching this with my sister the first time it came out. She was so freaked out after that haha. But then, she doesn't like horror flicks. And I thought it wasn't really that scary. But it is entertaining somewhat.

Set in the future, Event Horizon is about a search and rescue team sent into space, particularly Neptune, to recover the space vessel with that very name. The ship had been missing for years, until now. Apparently, the ship has technology that enables it to jump from one point of space to another through a self made black hole. The ship was designed by a brilliant scientist, Dr William Weir, who is still haunted by memories of his dead wife.

Dr Weir joins the rescue team led by Capt Miller onboard the ship called Lewis and Clark (named after the famed explorers) and heads to Neptune to investigate where the ship has been and look for survivors. Of course, it's never that simple. Once they arrive, they discover that the ship has a life of its own, and it starts picking off the rescue team one by one, in gory fashion.

If there is one thing that impressed me with this movie, it's the set design. Event Horizon (the vessel, not the film) looks real unusual. The architecture of it, both outside and inside is unlike anything I've seen in other space films. The walls, doors, corridors.....all have a dark gothic look. Something you wouldn't normally see in a spaceship. It's like a haunted mansion in deep space.

Character development isn't much, but Fishburne does well enough as the determined Capt Miller, who tries desperately to save each of his crew from the chaos. Neill is equally good as the troubled scientist whose demons finally consume him. So what's the problem then? I guess the actual problem with the film is not being scary enough. Sure, it has its moments but the scare tactics used aren't original. You've probably seen it before in Alien and The Shining. But where it lacks in spooks, it makes up for in gore and violence. Well, I'll let you see it for yourself.

Not a bad film, but if you want something scary, go watch The Ring. (3/5)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby

Year: 2006
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sascha Baron Cohen

It's a weird title for a movie, but Will Ferrell isn't exactly a regular comedian either. So the title kinda suits a movie with him in it. And I'm not exactly a Will Ferrell fan either. I tried watching Elf and couldn't quite sustain interest after 30 minutes. But Talladega Nights was actually something else.

In this film, Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a race car driver who ever since he was little, wanted to go fast. When he grows up, he gets his big break when the driver of the car whose team he's a pit crewman for, refuses to finish the race halfway, and Ricky takes the wheel. He manages to win 3rd place, and ever since then he drives for the team. And he does it so well he always wins. A little help from his best friend Cal Naughton Jr on the track, doesn't hurt either.

But his success in NASCAR takes a downward spiral when a French F1 driver Jean Girard walks into the picture. They challenge each other on the track, and Ricky crashes. He loses everything he took for granted and hits rock bottom. So what happens next? Leave it to his good-for-nothing dad to return and help him conquer his fear and win back his pride and glory.

As far as comedies go, this is as American as it can get. Which is quite disconcerting when it depicts children being rude to their elders and cussing left and right. But perhaps the real America isn't like that. I'm just saying this because when Ricky faces off with Girard, he speaks like a proud American. And most of the humour is very American, as in it wouldn't work if filmmakers from other countries used it in their movies.

Speaking of humour, there's lots of it here, though not all of them hit the mark. Scenes of Ferrell running around the track in his underwear thinking he's on fire is downright funny. Also funny are the product endorsements Ricky does as a driver. Haha. I'd say the 2nd half of the film fares better than the first. Cohen (or Ali G to some of you) is hilarious as Girard with his over-the-top French accent. I would have enjoyed it better if not for the censors working hard to remove certain unpleasant scenes. And some of the jokes are kinda lame, at least for me.

Overall, it's not a bad film, but it's not that good either. Watch it, but leave your brain at the door before you do. (3 /5)


Hello everyone. I'm Aaron, and if you don't already know it, I'm a movie buff. I think watching movies is a great way to spend your time. It can be fun and educational at the same time. Just placing yourself in front of a screen, be it in a theatre, television or your own computer, and enjoying what's an excellent way to immerse yourself in fantasy. It's mind blowing, nerve wrecking, tear/laugh-inducing....but enjoyable nonetheless.

This place is where I will give my opinion on whatever films I have watched recently. If you wish, you can tell me what you think too. I do hope to update this blog as often as I can. Thank you for coming;)


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