Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Reaping

Year: 2007
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, Annasophia Robb, Stephen Rea

Horror films come in several different guises. The one Hollywood is most famous for, is the violent type, represented by films like Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, where gore and blood is common among them. Lately, the west have borrowed ideas from the east to make movies like The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water. This one however is reminiscent of the old horror flicks of the past such as The Omen and Carrie. And yet, it doesn't quite work.

First, let's get to the story. The Reaping is about Katherine Winters, a former Christian missionary who specialises in debunking religious phenomena. Which basically means that if you show her a statue that cries blood, she'll tell you it's not a miracle and why. Katherine has spend most of her time travelling the world with her assistant Ben, in investigating 'miracles' and finding out why they happen, and explaining them using science. Her motivation comes from her dark past, where she had lost her husband and daughter during a mission in Sudan. Apparently they had been murdered by the locals as a sacrifice.

Anyway, one day a man named Doug meets her and requests for her help in investigating strange occurences in his town of Haven, Louisiana. Apparently their river has turned blood red, ever since a boy was found dead on its banks, with his younger sister standing over him. Katherine and Ben begin looking into it, and learn that the girl, named Loren, comes from a family not liked or respected by the townsfolk. Everyone in Haven seems to believe that Loren is not only responsible for her brother's death, but that she is related to the devil and is bringing about the Ten Biblical Plagues. After the red river, the other plagues begin to appear: dead frogs, flies, dead cattle and lice. Despite everyone's insistence, and warnings from her former mentor Father Costigan, Katherine refuses to believe that a supernatural evil or that the girl is behind it all, until it's too late.

If anything, this film proves to be quite educational, if viewers ever wanted to know about the Biblical Plagues. Director Stephen Hopkins does a good job in demonstrating the plagues as they attack the town, one by one. I thought that the locust attack was impressive. But where the onscreen action succeeds, the characterisation fails. The girl who is the centre of the madness, acts just like every other child onscreen who is supposedly possessed. When will Hollywood writers create a different type of character, one that you can differentiate from the norm? Just because a child is possessed, doesn't mean she has to act like it. Hilary's character Katherine, also isn't unfamiliar. We've had heroes onscreen who have had nightmares from past mistakes, and uses the antagonism before them in the present as a reflection of their past. Hers is no different.

Swank does a decent job playing Katherine, but she is better off playing someone with more meat and drama to toss around the script. Morrissey disappoints as Doug, his southern accent is a complete disaster to listen to. Rea doesn't get much screen time as Father Costigan, which is sad. Annasophia Robb, who plays the gum chewing over competitive girl in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, does well in looking scary and scared, but not much else.

The film sinks itself further thanks to more unimaginative and unoriginal elements. Hopkins relies too much on cheap shocks and scares to terrify the audience. He even resorts to an overkill of special effects in the film's climax, which only succeeds in defying logic rather than heightening the thrills. Perhaps the only thing that saves this film is Swank's performance. She is the glue that holds it all together, and it's a nice change to see her in a horror film, if you want to call this a horror film.

The Reaping isn't a great film, but it's watchable enough if you want to learn a few things about the plagues. (3.5/5)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Hitcher

Year: 2007
Director: Dave Meyers
Cast: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neal McDonough

Back in 1986, there was a film called The Hitcher starring Rutger Hauer as a psychotic man who hitches a ride with a man, then terrorises him by stalking him and framing him for murder. This film here is a remake by director Dave Meyers.

The Hitcher starts with Grace Andrews (Bush) and Jim Halsey (Knighton), a young couple taking a road trip in a car during spring break. On their first night on the road, they almost run over a guy standing in their path in the rain. The guy apparently has car trouble but they decide not to help him. Later, they run into him again at a gas station. This time, he asks for a ride to the nearest motel, so Jim agrees.

However, on the way there, the stranger, who identifies himself as John Ryder (Bean), pulls a knife on them. Jim and Grace barely manage to throw him out of their car and escape, but it doesn't end there. Subsequently they run into him again, and realise he is not only violent, but relentless as well, as he targets other people on the highway. The two kids try to intervene, only to get themselves in trouble with the law. Before long, Jim and Grace find themselves playing a cat and mouse game with Ryder and the cops as well, as a determined lawman, Lt Esteridge (McDonough) is hot on their tail. And the body count rises.

So what we have here is a suspense thriller that takes one turn after another, in bloody fashion no less, as it gets to a climax that looks like an action movie. I am unable to make comparisons between this film and the original, since I didn't watch the latter. But this updated version, co-written by Eric Red who also wrote the original film's screenplay, isn't that bad. Some of the elements in this film may not be groundbreaking, but it is rather fun watching the four main characters play it out to the end. Director Dave Meyers, who makes his feature film debut, does a decent job too. Not bad for a music video director for artistes such as Missy Elliot, The Offspring and Britney Spears. He starts the film off interestingly enough with a statement of fact, followed by a rabbit becoming roadkill (no kidding), followed by the All American Rejects' Move Along as its soundtrack.

Bean does more than a decent job playing John Ryder, but one feels that he is a little miscast. Sure, Bean has a history of playing villains, but the silent, scary type of bad guy just isn't him. Bush and Knighton aren't too bad as the two unlucky kids stuck with the psychopath, while McDonough plays the cop almost the same way David Caruso plays Horatio Caine in CSI Miami. But in the place of the sunglasses is a 10 gallon hat.

For a 90 minute movie, it's rather watchable. But it does have its faults. The script calls for some illogical and cliched moments, like how Jim and Grace keep trying to get involved when they had plenty of chances to just run and not look back. The ending itself seems contrived, as Grace tries turning the tables on Ryder. You have to see it to know exactly what I mean. And you wouldn't believe how inept the police are in this story. You'd be left scratching your head as to why that is.

It's a good way to spend one hour and thirty minutes, but not if you want logic in your film. (3.5/5)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Year: 2007
Director: Kevin Munroe
Voice cast: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Patrick Stewart, Zhang Ziyi and featuring the voices of Mitchell Whitfield (Donatello), James Arnold Taylor (Leonardo), Mikey Kelley (Michaelangelo) and Nolan North (Raphael)

Anyone who watched cartoons back in the late 80s or early 90s would have heard of these amphibian heroes. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the four turtle heroes, as the defenders of New York City against their arch nemesis Shredder while saving their reporter friend April O'Neill and eating pizza by the dozens. Yeah, it was corny and juvenile, but it was so much fun. What I enjoyed most was the fact that it didn't take itself too seriously. It may be a classic tale of good versus evil, but the show is full of humour like this:

Donatello: If he's from ancient Japan, why is he speaking English?

Raphael: Because we can't afford subtitles.

Anyway, this movie, the fourth after 3 live films, is a 3D animated film that supposedly takes place after the first film ended. In this story, the turtles are not the team they used to be. Leonardo has left home, under orders from Master Splinter, to travel the world and learn on being a better leader. Michaelangelo becomes an entertainer at kids' parties. Donatello is now a tech support person for disgruntled PC users. Raphael on the other hand, is bitter over Leo leaving, and sleeps during the day and does vigilante work at night with the turtles' sidekick, Casey Jones.

A new evil threatens the city. A mysterious man named Max Winters has assembled a stone army and is using them to capture 13 monsters roaming the earth. Apparently, the monsters have come from another dimension, and Max needs them for a reason. His activities draw the turtles' attention, and so they have to return and save the day. But they don't come off to a good start, as the returning Leonardo causes Raphael to vent his frustration out on him, which puts the team's strength in jeopardy.

Basically this film is far removed from the cartoon. Casey Jones first of all, isn't the ultra serious insane character in the cartoon. In here he's a laidback character dating April on the side! Raphael is a serious, temperamental character, unlike the humorous, laugh a minute type in the cartoon. And it's just not the same without Shredder and his two goons. But the movie still works, thanks to the good script and animation. It's not perfect, but it manages to stand on its own.

The voice cast do well, especially the late Mako as Splinter. Zhang Ziyi however is disappointing as Foot leader Karai, her English is as phonetic as it was in Memoirs Of A Geisha. The four men who voice the four turtles give their respective characters the right emotions and life, fitting of an animated adventure. The animation may not be top notch, but it is quite impressive. Check out the scene where Leo & Raph fight each other in the rain.

But ultimately, TMNT will appeal more to people who haven't watched the cartoon series before. It's a nice try however in reviving the enthusiasm for the turtle heroes some of us grew up watching. (3.5/5)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Ned Beatty

I had some kind of instinct about this film before I decided to see it. And somehow thanks to certain circumstances, I finally made up my mind to give it a try. I should have known better.

Shooter revolves around Bob Lee Swagger, a marine sniper who retires from active duty after botching a mission in Ethiopia that caused his partner's death. Swagger now lives alone in the countryside, but as fate would have it, he gets called back in. A colonel, Isaac Johnson asks for his help to stop an assassination attempt on the President. Swagger is reluctant but finally agrees.

From this point, perhaps you can predict where this film would go. His employers aren't really patriots, and they waste no time setting Swagger up for an attempt on the President's life. And of course, he manages to flee, amid gunfire and car chases and explosions. Swagger then has to do whatever it takes to expose the men responsible. He only has two people on his side: Sarah Fenn, the wife of his deceased partner, and Nick Memphis, an inexperienced FBI agent who has a keen eye for detail and believes Swagger is innocent.

If any of you have watched the film Most Wanted, this plot is very familiar. In Most Wanted, Keenan Ivory Wayans plays a marine on death row coerced by a mysterious man (played by John Voight) to assassinate someone, only to be framed for the assassination of the First Lady. Wayans then has to hunt down Voight with the help of the only reliable witness, played by Jill Hennessy. I'd like to add that Most Wanted is actually the better film, despite it being a little less flashy. Plus, Wayans has a better sense of humour.

As far as action films go, Shooter offers nothing new in terms of plot and style. The action, from the gunfights to the car chases to the explosions have all been done before, and better elsewhere. Director Antoine Fuqua gave us great films like The Replacement Killers and Tears Of The Sun, but this film pales in comparison to the former two. In Killers, there is believable drama and stylised action. In Tears, we have moral issues and great acting to complement the action. But Shooter is rather dull and unoriginal. The overstretched ending didn't help matters either.

It also doesn't help that Fuqua does not have an A-list cast for his film. Wahlberg may be an Oscar nominee now, but his acting hasn't improved much. Mara is nice to look at as Sarah, but that's it. The bad guys are all stereotypes, from Glover to Koteas and the others not worth mentioning. Pena is the only one who deserves some credit as Nick Memphis, but playing second fiddle to Wahlberg doesn't do him justice.

What is good about Shooter however, is the sniper shots. The impact from a single bullet fired miles away from its target can be felt a lot stronger than all the other action you see on screen. The stuff that Swagger explains about shooting, the stuff to be considered before taking a shot, is interesting education for the viewers. However, what this film needs to do is entertain, and it comes up short on that.

I suggest you rent or buy those other Fuqua films I mentioned, and Most Wanted. It's better than spending 2 hours on this. (2.5/5)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Twelve Monkeys

Year: 1996
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer

Now here's a movie that's unique in style and substance. There have been many sci-fi thrillers featuring time travel, but this one stands out thanks to the talented cast and great storyline.

Twelve Monkeys begins in the near future, when 99% of humanity has been wiped out by a virus. The remaining humans live underground in a prison-like facility, run by people who occasionally send 'volunteers' to the surface to collect information. One such 'volunteer' is James Cole. On one of his trips topside, he collects enough information to please the keepers, who then decide to send him on a special mission: go back in time to gather information about the virus that wiped out humanity, and who's responsible.

So they send Cole back in time, but instead of landing in 1996, his intended time, he winds up in 1990. Cole ends up getting arrested and placed in an asylum, where he meets Dr Kathyrn Railly, a psychologist who sympathises with him, but doesn't believe his story about being from the future. He also meets Jeffrey Goines, a fellow patient who helps him escape the asylum. Cole later realises that Jeffrey may be connected somehow to the virus' release.

His bosses from the future eventually manage to send him to the right year, where Cole runs into Dr Railly again. He kidnaps her and forces her to help him find the answers he needs. Just like before, she doesn't believe him, until she comes across certain facts that validate his story. She tries to help him uncover the secret, which is connected to a group called The Army Of The Twelve Monkeys, which is also connected to Jeffrey. But can Cole find the answers and stop the catastrophe in time?

I have to give plenty of credit to Bruce Willis for an outstanding performance, especially since he was more well-known for his action roles at the time he made this film. His character James Cole comes off as a desperate man trying to accomplish the task given to him, as he struggles to keep his sanity in check each time he travels back in time. His anguish and pain is very believable, especially in the scene where he starts crying upon hearing music in 1996, since there's no music in his time. Brad Pitt also shines as the insane Jeffrey Goines, who provides most of the humour in the film. Pitt was nominated for an Oscar for this role, and rightfully so. He's just so crazy, you can't help but laugh out loud. Madeleine Stowe provides the necessary balance between sanity and insanity as Kathryn Railly, and puts in a strong performance.

Kudos must also go to Terry Gilliam for giving the film a dark and moody look throughout. All the sets and visuals in the film, from the future time to the present day, look very bleak and apocalyptic indeed. It fits the film's concept like a glove. Twelve Monkeys also received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, and Pitt won the Golden Globe for his role here.

With great direction, a strong cast and an impressive storyline, Twelve Monkeys is a masterpiece for anyone who loves a good story. (4.5/5)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdu, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones

This review is officially the first one I'm writing for a film that's not in English on this blog. Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish film by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, a fantasy film set in 1944 Spain.

In a time when Spain is plagued by civil war between its fascist government and the rebels, a ruthless and merciless army captain, Captain Vidal sends for his pregnant wife and his stepdaughter, Ofelia to come live with him in the mountains, where he and his troops plan their next move against the rebels. Ofelia, who hates the captain, but loves her mother dearly, only wishes for the safe birth of her stepbrother and getting away from the horrible place she's in.

When she arrives at the base however, she encounters several strange events, which eventually lead her to an abandoned labyrinth nearby. The captain's head servant, Mercedes tells Ofelia to think nothing of it, but the little girl explores further and meets a talking faun, who informs her that she is the long lost daughter of a king that once lived in the labyrinth. According to the faun, she has to perform three tasks. If she succeeds, she will be welcomed back to the kingdom.

Ofelia obliges, and proceeds to do the faun's bidding, risking her life and her mother's as well, as she evades the attention of the captain. Thankfully she is watched over by the kind-hearted Mercedes, who is secretly working with the rebels. Mercedes' efforts to help them gets harder as the captain intensifies his plans to crush the rebellion using vile methods.

What makes this film ultimately interesting is the storytelling and concept. Here we have two worlds: the dark and brutal reality of the civil war, and the fantasy that eminates from Ofelia's adventure with the labyrinth. They are like two sides of the same coin, both similar and contrasting. There are scary moments from the girl's journey as she tries to complete the tasks, and similarly terrifying violence from the captain's war against the rebels. Guillermo del Toro brilliantly contrasts the two worlds, and tells his story through two pairs of eyes: Ofelia's and Mercedes'. Ofelia is simply a girl who tries to escape the world that is scary and hellish, and finds another that is dark and mysterious. Mercedes is a woman who does what she does because she cares about the people around her, and is willing to risk her life for them, despite calling herself a coward at one point of the film.

And del Toro could probably not pick better actresses to play the two females than Baquero and Verdu. Baquero is only 12 years old, but she gives a heartfelt and outstanding performance as Ofelia. She is adorable without being too sweet, yet brave and determined. Verdu gives Mercedes a strong personality that is required of her, and at the same time does well playing the maternal role to Ofelia. Sergi Lopez is perfect as the cold and merciless Captain Vidal. This guy will be well remembered as a cinematic villain.

At the recent Academy Awards, Pan's Labyrinth was nominated for 6 Oscars, and won 3 for Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup. It is unfortunate that del Toro did not win for Original Screenplay or Foreign Film, for his film truly is a one of a kind masterpiece. You don't need to be a fan of Spanish films to enjoy this, the excellent storytelling will draw your attention without fail.

I recommend this for anyone who loves a good story. Just don't bring the kids when you see it, the dark and violent themes are definitely unsuitable for them. (4.5/5)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender

THIS IS SPARTA!!!! I must have watched Gerard Butler say this line in the trailer a dozen times at least before I finally got a chance to see this film. If there was a word that I can use to describe it, it would be 'beautiful'. The story, style, special effects and acting are all beautifully done.

300, based on comicbook writer/artist Frank MIller's graphic novel, which in turn is based on a film called The 300 Spartans, tells the story of the Battle Of Thermopylae that took place in 480 B.C. Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas, the brave and capable ruler of Sparta. The film begins by charting Leonidas' journey from childhood, as Dilios, one of the 300, narrates how Spartans, at childbirth, are tested and trained till they become the fearsome warriors they are destined to be when they reach adulthood.

One day, the Persian army, under the rule of the arrogant self-proclaimed god King Xerxes, arrive at Sparta. They send a messenger to ask for Leonidas' submission to Xerxes. Leonidas refuses and sends the messenger to his death at the bottom of a well. Despite the objection of the Oracle, who advises him to not start a war with Persia at an inauspicious time, Leonidas prepares a plan, knowing the Persians will strike back. He gathers 300 of his best warriors and set out to greet the enemy as they march towards Sparta.

The Persian army may be massive and number in the millions, but they aren't as well prepared as the Spartans, who waste no time decimating them with ease. And as the battle rages on, Leonidas' queen, Gorgo tries to convince the Senate to rally for more troops to assist the 300, facing off against the corrupt Spartan politician Theron. Theron wants nothing more than control over the Senate in the king's absence, and will do anything to seize power.

I had been looking forward to this film ever since I saw the trailer, and thankfully it lived up to my expectations. The action comes fast, brutal and unrelenting. Picture the violence you see in Gladiator, and multiply that 5 times. Limbs and heads fly as the Spartans chop, slash and maim the Persians in bloody glory. The slow motion effect during the battle scenes used by director Zack Snyder, works well indeed. It's violent without being too gory, or cartoonish like the Kill Bill films. It's balletic and stylish and kinetic. Wonderful.

300 also uses the same CGI technology used by Sin City and Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow, by utilising green screens to create the backgrounds instead of building real sets and using real locations. Snyder colours the film with mostly gold, yellow and red, just like Miller did for his novel, and it comes off looking like it was lifted straight out of a comicbook fantasy. Needless to say, it does wonders for the look of the film.

But credit must also be given to the cast. Butler is intense, strong and heartfelt as Leonidas, who continuously rallies his men to victory. Lena Headey is equally commendable as the loyal Queen Gorgo, while Rodrigo Santoro hypes it up as Xerxes. Santoro gives a truly memorable, over the top, yet fun portrayal of a man who really believes he is a god. Not to be forgotten is David Wenham, who narrates the film as Dilios. His voice is the heart of the movie.

Admittedly, some lines seem quite corny. Some of Leonidas' dialogue, and Xerxes' too, sound hilarious. It's the kind of dialogue that should stay in a comicbook. But don't let that throw you. This film truly is a classic, and many will remember it after watching it. In fact, 300 is already causing controversy around the world, as some viewers have expressed disappointment in the way the Persians were portrayed, claiming that the film is Western propaganda against the Middle East. But I ask you, as a movie viewer, to think of 300 as a literary translation, and not a historical reenactment. Keep in mind that this is based on a graphic novel, so have fun with it. I certainly did. The guys will love the action, and the girls will love the Spartan warriors engaging the action.

Prepare for glory! (4.5/5)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...