Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rush Hour 3

Year: 2007
Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Max Von Sydow, Yvan Attal, Noemie Lenoir

They're back again. In particular, Jackie Chan is back to the franchise that started his Hollywood success. His pairing with loudmouth Chris Tucker back in the first Rush Hour was a charm, and its sequel was equally good. So can this 3rd instalment live up to its predecessors?

This time around, Jackie's Inspector Lee is playing bodyguard to his superior, Ambassador Han. Han is addressing the World Criminal Court on the Chinese triads, when he is shot by an assassin. Lee gives chase, only to realise in horror that the assassin is his adopted brother, Kenji. Old buddy Carter, who is now a traffic cop, tries to intervene but fouls it up, allowing Kenji to escape.

Lee and Carter learn that the triads want Han dead because he possesses information on Shy Shen, a person who is very important to them (the triads). The duo trace a lead to Paris, where they must find a woman named Genevieve, and protect her before the triads get to her. However, it isn't as easy as it seems, with the French police captain giving them a hard time after they land, and the triads constantly trying to kill them. Thankfully, Lee and Carter get a little help from a French cabbie named George, who helps them on more than one occasion. Things get tricky when Kenji kidnaps Han's daughter, Soo Yung and forces the duo to exchange Genevieve with her.

It's been years since the first film was released, but the chemistry between Chan and Tucker is still intact. Their verbal banter is sure to bring many amusing moments. Check out the scene where they interrogate a triad member who only speaks French with the help of a French speaking nun. Hilarious. Chan of course, does most of the action scenes, and Tucker brings on the laughs, and they've both still got it. Yvan Attal however, steals the show as George the cabbie, who turns from disgusted driver to excited action hero. Unfortunately, Sanada, who did a great job in Sunshine, is quite one dimensional as the villain, Kenji.

You'll find this movie quite fun, but it suffers from lack of fresh ideas. Look closely and you'll see that this film borrows similar elements from the first two films' storylines. Even the action that Jackie does is limited this time around. I am not sure if this is due to him getting older, but it's just disappointing to see less of his trademark fights here. In fact, I'd say Tucker gets to do more in this instalment than Chan. Not that his antics are a bad thing, but I was hoping for a better balance of action and humour as in the first two films.

I had fun watching it, but I still prefer the first movie. But go see this anyway, you'll have a ball. And as usual, stay for the outtakes at the end. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

Year: 2007
Director: David Silverman
Voice cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer

The Simpsons......that familiar theme song starts to play and the most dysfunctional family in America comes on the telly to make you laugh with their antics. It's been nearly two decades since Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie first graced our TV screens, and now their big silver screen debut is here.

The Simpsons is well known for taking stabs at pop culture and making fun of staple and popular elements in their own way. In fact, for this film, it starts no sooner than the moment 20th Century Fox plays its familiar theme, as the whining kid Ralph hums the theme simultaneously. Then Homer starts to talk about us audiences being suckers for watching this film at the cinemas when we can just watch it at home for free. Haha. This is the genius of Matt Groening, of course.

OK, on to the story. Homer saves a pig from being slaughtered by a fast food restaurant, and totally falls in love with it. Yeah, no kidding. In fact, he loves it so much, it affects his relationship with Bart (like there ever was one anyway). Anyway, taking care of the pig leaves Homer with a lot of pig waste to dispose of, and despite Marge's warning to not throw it in the lake (especially after the environmentally conscious Lisa warns the people of Springfield about the lake's pollution), he does it anyway. The lake is damaged beyond repair, forcing the government, led by President Arnold Schwarzenegger no less, to seal Springfield inside an unbreakable glass dome.

The people soon find out that Homer was responsible for it and proceed to hunt him and his family down. But with a little help from Maggie, the family escape beyond the dome and move to Alaska. Springfield continues to try breaking out of the dome, which is when Presidential advisor Russ Cargill takes steps to destroy Springfield by blowing it up. When Marge learns of this, she tries to persuade Homer to help her. But when he refuses, she takes the kids and leaves him, forcing him to reevaluate his life and return to save the town that exiled him. Meanwhile Bart, in desperate need of a father figure, turns to his neighbour Ned Flanders for solace.

If there's one thing that I like about The Simpsons, it's the show's spontaneity. Matt Groening knows how to make a normal situation funny by turning it on its head, we've seen it dozens of times on the TV show. Here, he and director David Silverman succeed in coming up with a plot that can stand for 87 minutes of viewing. All the characters from the show make an appearance, though characters like Mr Burns, Smithers, Apu and Principal Skinner hardly have screen time. You can also expect some drama from Marge and even Bart, which may even make you cry. Oh, there are also some worthy cameos from Tom Hanks and Green Day to savour.

But after it's over, you will realize something. Familiarity. What you see isn't really new or groundbreaking. Sure, the story may be good, but it's not going to make you say or think that you haven't seen it before. If you're familiar with the show, what you will see in this movie will not impress you too much. Perhaps the producers waited too long before coming up with this movie, since the show is such a phenomenon in the present day. No doubt it's hilarious, but you'll feel as if you're at home watching those half hour episodes. Kinda reminds you about what Homer said at the start of the picture, doesn't it?

I'll give it a 'not bad' for a film, but I think the die hard fans will love it more. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Children Of Men

Year: 2006
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Pam Ferris

I know it's a little late, but I finally made the time to watch this film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who gave us Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and Y tu mama tambien, the latter which I have not viewed as yet.

Children Of Men, based on the book by P.D. James, is set in the year 2027. The world is not a peaceful place to be in. Humanity is threatened with extinction, as infertility reigns. There hasn't been a single birth in 18 years. War ravages the globe, and only Britain soldiers on. The government carries out massive operations to arrest illegal immigrants seeking refuge, and terrorism is rampant.

The protagonist of the story is Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist who finds himself back into the hell he was once a part of when his estranged wife, Julian (Julianne Moore) comes back to see him. Julian is the leader of an underground terrorist group called The Fishes, a faction fighting for refugee rights. Julian asks Theo to help obtain travel papers for a refugee girl named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) and take her to a mysterious group of scientists called the Human Project. Theo is reluctant at first, but finally agrees. After getting the papers, Theo travels with Julian, Kee and two members of The Fishes, Miriam (Pam Ferris) and Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), when they're viciously attacked by an angry mob. Julian is killed during the attack, and Luke takes them all to their safehouse.

It is at this safehouse, that Theo learns the reason Kee needs protection: she is pregnant. Kee decides to follow through with her plan on getting to the Human Project, which is thwarted by Luke. Theo learns that Luke had Julian killed so that he can assume command of The Fishes and use Kee's child as a political tool. Theo then takes Kee and Miriam on the run, protecting her along the way as both The Fishes and the police follow closely behind.

I have to give plenty of credit to Cuaron for creating a visual feast of an apocalyptic future. The production design is unmistakably awesome. The action sequences during Theo and Kee's escape through various obstacles were filmed extremely well, something I've only seen in films such as Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. Blood spatters and bullet impacts are so realistic, you can feel it as you see it. Kudos also to Emmanuel Lubezki for the great cinematography, you can feel as though you're a part of the action on screen.

I've always been a fan of Clive Owen's work, and once again he doesn't disappoint. He plays Theo as the reluctant hero thrust into a dangerous situation, motivated by the loss of his wife, as well as his son in the past. Credit also must be given to Michael Caine, who plays Jasper, Theo's friend who helps give him shelter and food for thought about the current situation of the country. Ferris, Ejiofor and Ashitey also give memorable performances in their respective roles.

This isn't an easy film to sit through, but it does deliver in spades. Recommended. (4/5)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Nimrod Antal
Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry

For the life of me, I can't recall any slasher type horror flicks I watched this year. Either I'm getting more absent-minded or there weren't any worth mentioning. I'm not exactly a big fan of these films, but if done right, they can be quite entertaining. To be honest, I'm not one of those people who watched the whole Scream trilogy or the I Know What You Did Last Summer films. But it's nice to be scared with these thrillers once in a while, isn't it?

Vacancy begins with an innovative opening credits sequence accompanied by the perfect music score, and then centres on David and Amy Fox, a couple driving home at night through the backroads instead of taking the interstate highway (yeah, you just know that's gonna be a bad idea). From the way David and Amy communicate with each other, it's obvious they're having problems, apparently caused by the death of their son.

Then their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, forcing them to take shelter at a nearby motel. Once in their room, they hear loud knocking on their room walls. The shady looking manager doesn't exactly do anything about it despite David's complaints. And then David plays some of the videotapes in their room, which feature people getting killed in brutal fashion, and realises that they were filmed in the same room he and Amy are in!

This is when the film takes its expected turn into full-on suspense mode, as the motel manager and his goons try to dispense with the couple. David and Amy on the other hand, have to put their differences aside and work together to stay alive.

The first thing I should tell you about Vacancy before you decide to see it (if you haven't yet), is to leave your logic at the door. It's probably the best way to enjoy it. I mean, I for one, would not spend an hour at this motel, let alone a night, after meeting a manager like that. He obviously looks like a scheming weasel, so you'd know something fishy is going on. The killers' overconfidence is also rather ludicrous, since they're stupid enough to leave evidence of their work in the motel room for David and Amy to discover, aside from taking their own sweet time to get the job done.

Performance wise, Wilson and Beckinsale give just the right amount of weight to their characters as the bickering couple who rediscover their need for each other when put in a life-or-death situation. It's nice to see Wilson in a serious movie after watching him in numerous comedies before. Director Nimrod Antal uses all the usual tricks to scare the audience, which works to some extent. But if you've seen other thrillers like Joyride and Breakdown, this one won't really impress you. The abrupt ending to its short 90 minute run doesn't help either. However, look at it as a straightforward thriller, and you just might enjoy it. At least it doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't.

A good way to spend one and a half hours, just remember to lower your expectations. (3.5/5)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Year: 2007
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Robbie Coltrane

Harry Potter is back. Out of all the sequels coming out this year, this has to be in the top three most anticipated ones. And it should be, considering the huge following J.K. Rowling's popular novel about the boy wizard has conjured over the last decade. And now the 5th film has come out. The first one was interesting fun for all, the second one darker and ominous, the third a cute thrill and the fourth an all-out adventure. So what's next?

Let's recap: In the last film, The Goblet Of Fire, Harry barely survives an encounter with his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldermort. During that encounter, his friend Cedric Diggory was killed. Order Of The Phoenix starts not long after that, with Harry facing more verbal abuse from his dastardly cousin Dudley. However they're interrupted by Dementors who appear out of nowhere. Harry is forced to use magic to ward them off, but that act comes to the attention of the Ministry Of Magic, led by the paranoid Cornelius Fudge. Fudge tries to dismiss Harry from Hogwarts, until Professor Dumbledore, the trusty headmaster steps in to defend Harry. The charges are dropped, and Harry goes back to school.

But things are far from good for Harry. His schoolmates shun him and presume him to be a liar, all except his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger of course. Oh, and also the new student, Luna Lovegood. The three of them, and Harry's godfather Sirius Black are all he has on his side as far as Voldermort's return is concerned. If that's not bad enough, the Ministry elects Professor Dolores Umbridge, a self-indulgent fascist dressed in pink all over to be Hogwarts' High Inquisitor, which puts her above Dumbledore. She also is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who isn't very helpful in teaching the students. Before long, her rules and regulations, that border on the extreme and ridiculous, puts the students through hell.

That's when Hermione and Ron persuade Harry to teach the students magic in secret, and form a secret group called Dumbledore's Army, to prepare themselves against Voldermort. However, Umbridge is on to them and tries to put an end to their activities. Dumbledore gets removed and as the students rebel against Umbridge, Voldermort's forces make their move.....

As far as characters go, save for Harry, Ron and Hermione, most of them get less screen time as the films get made. You will hardly see Hagrid, Professor McGonagall and Draco Malfoy in this instalment. David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson return in this film, but they hardly have enough lines between them. Alan Rickman suffers from the same fate, but he at least gets to make his presence felt somehow. Radcliffe does fine this time around, though he hasn't improved much. Ditto for Watson and Grint, though the trio's ongoing banter still exists. Helena Bonham Carter does well as Voldermort follower Bellatrix Lestrange, but she, like the others, doesn't register too prominently in the film. Gambon and Oldman acquit themselves well as Dumbledore and Sirius, and Fiennes is still menacing as ever playing Voldermort, though you'll have to wait till the end to see him in action. The best performances come from Staunton and Lynch. The former gives Umbridge just the right amount of ickyness for the audience to hate, and the latter's quirky performance as Luna Lovegood is truly charming.

However you'll notice that in this film, the wonder and magic usually associated with Harry Potter is lost. Gone are the truly fun moments, like in Chamber Of Secrets when Ron's mother sends him a screaming telegram, or in The Goblet Of Fire when Mad Eye Moody turns Draco Malfoy into a ferret. You won't see any humorous moments in Order Of The Phoenix. It's as if David Yates decided it's time for the kids to grow up. Perhaps they should, but it comes with a great price. He does however give us some other moments, like the kids flying on Thestrals and the Weasley twins giving Umbridge a well deserved payback. The battle between the Order Of The Phoenix and The Death Eaters was disappointing, but the showdown between Dumbledore & Voldermort was way cool. Now that's something Yates did right.

So to sum it up, I'll say that Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix isn't half bad at all. But I do hope Yates improves himself in the next film, The Half Blood Prince. (4/5)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rise: Blood Hunter

Year: 2007
Director: Sebastian Gutierrez
Cast: Lucy Liu, Michael Chiklis, James D'Arcy, Carla Gugino, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Mako

Vampire films. Hollywood never gets tired of making them. Their fascination for these bloodsuckers have produced some of the best films ever, such as Blade, Interview With The Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula and From Dusk Till Dawn. And now we have another, though this one is quite different, since they don't even use the word 'vampire' in the film.

Rise: Blood Hunter stars Lucy Liu as Sadie Blake, a reporter chasing a story about the punk goth mania among teenagers. One day, one of the girls she interviewed winds up dead, in horrific fashion. And before she can even figure out what's going on, a group of mysterious people kidnap her, then proceed to kill her and suck her blood dry.

Next thing she knows, she wakes up in the morgue drawer, and realising that she has no reflection. She discovers her craving for human blood, which fills her with shame and guilt, so she tries to take her own life, which of course doesn't work. A man named Arturo (Mechoso) saves her and tells her about the people who killed her, and offers to train her with the skills necessary to take revenge on them. Sadie sets out to hunt them down one by one, and runs into Detective Rawlins (Chiklis), the father of the murdered girl, who then becomes her partner in her mission.

If you're thinking this film says 'B-Grade' all over it, you've hit the nail right on the head. With a title like that, and the absence of A-list stars, it's absolutely obvious. Heck, the film doesn't even have special effects; and action scenes, which are usually present in most vengeance stories, are minimal. The closest thing I can find in this movie that counts as an action scene is Liu's fight with Mako, who makes his last live action film here before his death recently.

Liu is the star of this film, as most of the focus is on her character, which she does well enough. But I'm not a fan of Liu's, I'm more of a fan of Chiklis, who acquits himself very well indeed as Rawlins. Pity that he was severely underused in this film. D'Arcy plays the villain Bishop with a lot of British type charm, though he is annoying half the time when he talks too much. Gugino is wasted as Eve, Bishop's accomplice. There are a couple of cameos in here, watch out for Nick Lachey and Marilyn Manson in small roles.

The film's strength lies in the smart dialogue and the emotional drama conveyed by Sadie, as she is torn between killing people to drink their blood in order to survive, and sparing innocent lives. Rise also differs from other vampire flicks by not using the V word and their bloodsuckers not having fangs. However it fails to excite the audience. Gutierrez should have given us some more action scenes, stepped up the production value in terms of sets and lights design and explore more of the backgrounds of his supporting characters. Instead, he resorts to blood and sexual elements to carry the film throughout its short running time. It not only looks like a straight-to-video release, it feels like it too.

Only for fans of Liu, and hardcore fans of vampire films. (2.5/5)


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