Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Hills Have Eyes 2

Year: 2007
Director: Martin Weisz
Cast: Michael McMillian, Jessica Stroup, Daniella Alonso, Jacob Vargas

I still remember watching The Hills Have Eyes last year. It's a remake of the original film directed by Wes Craven 30 years ago. Alexander Aja made a great film which successfully delivered fear and violence while giving weight to the victims as we rooted them on. In case you aren't familiar with this story, let me fill you in. It's about a suburban American family who take a wrong turn during a trip into the New Mexico desert and get slaughtered by a group of cannibalistic freaks, who seem to have survived nuclear testing done by the government many years ago in that area.

In this sequel, viewers are taken back to the same area, through the eyes of a young group of National Guard trainees sent to deliver equipment to a group of military scientists stationed there. This latest task apparently is a form of punishment for the trainees who fouled up during their training course. Poor them. But poor us to have to watch what happens next.

Anyway, they get there to find the place deserted. They notice a reflection signal in the hills and decide to check it out. And this is where the shit hits the fan, as the freaks come out of hiding and start the carnage. One by one the trainees fall, despite their gallant attempts to stay alive. The ones that do survive towards the end of the story realise that they have to turn up the heat in order to win.

I had a bad feeling about this film when I got wind of it. I thought it would be an unnecessary sequel, and indeed it is. What made the first film commendable is the execution of the plot and great acting by its cast. This sequel however is everything the first film is not. It doesn't even feel related to the first film, despite having the same look and concept. What it does have is more violence and gore, most of which is meaningless, other than to show how low filmmakers can go to make their audience sick in their stomach. The disgusting birth sequence during the opening credits is just the beginning.

And the plot? These trainees, despite having skills in armed combat (little but existent nonetheless) are real stupid. Yes, stupid for lack of a better term. They walk in right where they know they shouldn't go, they bicker and argue amongst themselves when they know they should be watching their own backs instead and they find it impossible to work together even when the odds are against them. Who the heck came up with such characters that the audience would have no reason to care for? Blame it on Wes Craven and his son Jonathan for writing the script. It's odd that he would do so badly on a story he made a hit with back then.

What about the cast? That's another disaster. It's a collection of bad actors you've never heard of. None of them are even half as good as the first film's cast. The only one among them that I know of is Jacob Vargas, who was in Flight Of The Phoenix. It's unfortunate that he got to play the character that talks and cusses the most. What a waste. The others are not worth remembering, especially Flex Alexander, who plays the hopelessly idiotic sergeant of the group. The freaks are a lot like the ones before, and they also get killed in gruesome fashion. But all the violence seems unjustified, as if the filmmakers did so to push the envelope beyond the first film's reach. For example, if a freak doesn't die after you stab him violently, does it make sense to find another weapon and aim for his head, and do it again and again, each effort more violent than the last? Glorified gore, but not well executed or justified. It's just absolutely pointless. The tagline says "The lucky ones die fast". It should have said "The stupid ones die fast".

I seriously recommend the first film by Alexander Aja. Stay away from this one. Please. (1.5/5)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Year: 2007
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Bryce Dallas Howard, Topher Grace, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons

Summer is here! Well, for the westerners anyway. The movie blockbuster onslaught begins with Spider-Man 3, the long awaited third instalment of the successful franchise featuring the heroic wallcrawler. Tobey Maguire returns once again to play the troubled Peter Parker, as he balances his life with Mary Jane and his life as the arachnid hero.

In the previous films, he faced an uphill task doing just that, but this time it seems he has it all under control. Mary Jane loves him, the city loves Spider-Man, so everything is perfect. But comicbook heroes don't have happy endings half the time, so trouble comes to him, in spades. Harry Osborn, Peter's former best friend who blames him for his father's death, assumes his late father's guise as the new Green Goblin and tries to kill him. A rival photographer, Eddie Brock, competes with Peter for a permanent job at the Daily Bugle. Then Peter learns of a man named Flint Marko who apparently is the actual killer of his beloved Uncle Ben. Marko, in an attempt to run from the police, falls into a radioactive plant that results in him gaining the ability to turn his every molecule into sand. And there's a black alien symbiote that attaches itself to Peter's costume, and turns him into an arrogant, selfish jerk. And on top of all this, a new girl enters his life: Gwen Stacy, which affects his relationship with MJ.

Was that too much for you to handle? No? Good, because I'm not done. Peter soon realises (after some really ridiculous sequences courtesy of Sam Raimi) that the black alien thingo is bad, and promptly removes the symbiote from himself, only for it to latch on to another person, someone who doesn't mind being evil....

First of all, let me tell you what I liked about it. The action of course, is top notch. You'll see Spidey battle all sorts of villains, from the flying kind to the morphing kind in tremendous fashion. Great special effects no doubt, every move, punch, kick and blow can be felt. I particularly liked the Sandman's CGI effects. Speaking of the Sandman, Church stands out as Flint Marko, who manages to inject enough drama into his character. Kudos to him and Raimi for humanising Sandman instead of making him a one-dimensional villain. I also liked the cameos by Bruce Campbell and Spidey creator Stan Lee. J.K. Simmons' portrayal of J Jonah Jameson is relegated to merely a comedic role, but it is effective.

OK, so what's wrong with it now? A lot, as in over the top. Raimi tried really hard to top his previous work on the Spidey franchise with this one, and it shows. But he could have really done away with a few things. At the top of my list is the silly dance sequence Peter does after merging with the symbiote. Imagine Maguire walking down the street, no, strutting and having the ladies look at him as if he's lost it. I think most of the audience had that look too. Oh, that's not all. Try imagining Maguire in a dance sequence with Howard at a nightclub. Argh. And I don't know about you, but I am so sick and tired of seeing Maguire having to do tearful emotional scenes in all the films. Enough is enough. I understand the need for drama, but please, let's not overdo it. It's bad enough to have Dunst do all this too. I do like Howard's performance as Gwen Stacy, but she doesn't get enough screen time. Pity, she is quite a charmer. Grace plays a mean villain as Brock and subsequently Venom, but the latter's arrival in the film is a little too late, which diminishes the impact eventually made. And there's also the unnatural singing voice the filmmakers chose to use for Dunst's stage performance in the film. They probably chose a 38 year old woman to sing it! Sigh.

It's a great movie, and for the wow factor it brings, I'm kind enough to give it a 4 star rating. But in all honesty, when all 3 Spidey films are available on DVD someday, you wouldn't pick this one to bring home. (4/5)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Wild Hogs

Year: 2007
Director: Walt Becker
Cast: John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, Ray Liotta, Marisa Tomei

What happens when four middle aged men try to reclaim their youth by becoming wannabe bikers and going on a road trip? Chaos, especially if somewhere along the way they run into the wrong crowd.

Wild Hogs centres on 4 friends. Woody (Travolta) is a businessman going through a divorce with his supermodel wife and facing bankruptcy. Doug (Allen) is a dentist getting tired of eating fat free food due to his health problems, and not being regarded as cool by his son. Bobby (Lawrence) is a plumber struggling to be a writer, continuously henpecked by his career driven wife. Dudley (Macy) is the only single guy among them, who's a complete nerd in everything he does.

Basically life isn't going so well for them, all seeking something more. So Woody suggests a road trip on their bikes to anywhere the road takes them. Calling themselves the Wild Hogs, they hop on their cycles and head out. Before long, they arrive at a biker's bar frequented by a real biker gang called the Del Fuegos, led by the fierce Jack (Liotta). Jack and his buddies waste no time in bullying the Hogs and taking Dudley's bike. Woody refuses to let this one pass and hatches a plan to take his pal's bike back, only to cause a major incident that angers the Del Fuegos even more. The Hogs flee to a nearby town called Madrid to hide, where Dudley meets the beautiful Maggie (Tomei) and hits it off with her. However, the Del Fuegos show up soon enough, and with the local sheriff not brave enough to enforce the law against them, can the Hogs face the music and survive the odds?

I don't usually watch comedies, due to being unable to find a good one. But this one lives up to being funny most of the time. All four leads do well in their roles, especially Macy, who plays a nerd hilariously. Check out the scene where he shows off his Apple tattoo, or the scene when he shows his plastic bag of faeces to the others. Macy is probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, as proven here. Liotta plays the villain just like all the other villains he's played onscreen. It's like a second skin to him, too easy I guess. But no less effective of course.

Director Walt Becker and writer Brad Copeland do a good job in creating a film that although isn't perfect, brings on the laughs in good measure. Granted, some of the elements in this film may seem contrived, but the cast do well in making it believable, and getting the audience to root for them. By the way, look out for a cameo appearance by a famous actor towards the film's end.

If you want a comedy that doesn't require much thinking, this one does just fine. (3.5/5)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Troy Garity, Benedict Wong

Sunshine follows in the footsteps of many sci-fi space thrillers before it, films such as Alien, Supernova and Armageddon, though some may consider the last one to be a disaster flick. And after having many stories where man takes on extraterrestrial beings, we now turn to one where the sun is the main focus.

Sunshine takes place 50 years from now, when the earth is dying thanks to the sun slowly burning out. A mission is planned, to send 8 men and women to the sun with a bomb the size of Manhattan, in order to reignite the dying star. The vessel that carries the bomb, known as Icarus II, is the second ship sent after the first Icarus failed (must be the unlucky name that caused its demise).

The crew, led by Captain Kaneda (Sanada) consists of pilot Cassie (Byrne), engineer Mace (Evans), biologist Corazon (Yeoh), navigator Trey (Wong), communications officer Harvey (Garity), psychologist Searle (Curtis) and the most important member of the crew, Capa (Murphy), who is in charge of the bomb they're carrying. Everything goes according to plan on their mission, despite a few minor spats among the crew, until Harvey picks up a signal as they approach Mercury. It turns out to be Icarus I, though no one knows if the crew is alive or not. Searle suggests they try boarding it, and salvage the bomb it still carries, thereby increasing their chances of succeeding in their mission. And as expected, this is where Murphy's Law comes into play, and one mishap after another slowly eliminates the crew one by one.

First off, I'll have to give credit where it's due to Danny Boyle. He brings out the best in his cast, and his direction is well-paced. The set design and effects, and cinematography, as in depicting the sun's look as they approach it, is truly impressive. The entire cast perform splendidly, especially Byrne, Murphy, Evans and Curtis. I'm impressed with Evans in particular, for giving an intense and mature performance as the headstrong Mace. It's a very different character from the irresponsible Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, and he pulls it off well. The others, some who get killed off halfway, use their screen time, however insignificant to their best advantage.

However, if I had a bone to pick with Sunshine, it's the plot. Everything's ok for the most part, until the film nears its climax. Screenwriter Alex Garland chooses to turn the film into a space horror flick similar to Event Horizon at the end, and it kind of spoils the momentum it had. The execution of the ending also wasn't satisfying. Up to that point, Boyle did a good job of making a sci-fi movie with tremendous psychological issues. Then it turns over its head completely and becomes a mess. But the film still is watchable, thanks to the cast's performance.

A good sci-fi film, but only almost on par with the best. (4/5)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...