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)


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