Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Brave One

Year: 2007
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen, Ene Oloja

If you're the kind of person who appreciates good and consistent acting, you can't go wrong with Jodie Foster. She surely isn't a two-time Oscar winner for nothing. Although initially typecast as the vulnerable female that finds strength within herself to fight back (Silence Of The Lambs, Panic Room, Flightplan), she broke the trend by starring in the Spike Lee thriller Inside Man as a ruthless problem solver. Now she's back as yet another vulnerable woman, though this time it's far more real than ever.

In The Brave One, Foster plays Erica Bain, a radio show host in New York City who records sounds of the city and talks about it on air. She is about to get married to her beloved fiancee David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews) and she couldn't be happier. But that is not to be, as she and David are attacked by three thugs while walking her dog at Central Park. Erica wakes up at the hospital three weeks later and learns that David is dead.

Devastated, Erica struggles to come to terms with her fiancee's demise, grieving and at the same time feeling unsafe. The police aren't very helpful with her situation, so she decides to buy a gun, illegally. One night, she encounters an armed man at the local convenience store and shoots him dead. Her initial reaction to this is of shock and maybe even shame, but it finally gives her the courage to live and a reason to go on.

Enter Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard), a cop who is frustrated at one of his cases that he is unable to close because his hands are bound by the law. He investigates the store shooting alongside his partner, Detective Vitale (Nicky Katt) and thinks that it is a work of a vigilante. Then Erica gets herself in two more situations and kills another three men. Mercer realises that it's all done by the same person thanks to ballistic reports. Before long, Mercer runs into Erica, and they form a friendship, a bond of sorts. Mercer sympathises with Erica's loss, and Erica in turn takes pity over Mercer's inability to close his case. But when Mercer starts putting all the clues together and learns of Erica's role in the vigilante killings, he realises that he has to do something about it quickly, as Erica closes in on the three men who attacked her......

Naturally, this is a revenge tale which isn't too different from The Punisher, except that the comicbook driven film focuses more on the action and violence. The Brave One zeroes in on the ethics of taking the law into your own hands, and what killing people in the name of justice does to your psyche. In this sense, Foster does splendidly as the tortured Erica, who at first struggles to survive within her own life after the attack. She realises that everything has changed and she has to change with it, and turns into a justice driven woman that has to break the rules to make things right, no matter the cost. Howard is equally impressive as the detective trying to keep everything together and get to the bottom of things as he battles his own demons. His bond with Erica is the heart of the film.

But as good as Howard is, this film is Foster's vehicle. It is Foster who leads the way from beginning to end. Neil Jordan successfully conveys every emotion from his cast for the audience to witness, and uses good camera tricks such as close-ups of Foster to express her pain. The object of the film isn't the violence, but more on the divide between right and wrong, and the line that Foster has to walk on between them, and Jordan does well in bringing the point across.

Something unexpected happens at the end of the film, which can be considered cool, as long as you suspend your disbelief for a moment. But this film is a real gem, and I think it's one of Jodie Foster's best work.

I'll end this review with a line quoted from Erica's neighbour Josai, played by Ene Oloja: "There are plenty of ways to die. But you have to figure out a way to live. Now, that's hard." (4/5)

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, Embeth Davidtz, Cliff Curtis

The tagline for this film is "If you look close enough, you'll find everyone has a weak spot." Well, it didn't take long for me to find the numerous weak spots this film has. But first, let's get to the story.

In Fracture, Anthony Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, an aviation millionaire who spends his free time playing with a contraption that carries marbles all around a metal rollercoaster of sorts. He discovers his wife, Jennifer (Davidtz) having an affair with a police officer, so one night when she reaches home, he shoots her in the head. When the cops arrive, led by Lt Robert Nunally (Burke), who happens to be the same man Ted's wife has been sleeping with, Ted confesses to the crime. Robert promptly arrests Ted when he realises that Jennifer is the victim.

Enter Willy Beachum (Gosling), a young lawyer working for the DA, Joe Labruto (Strathairn). Willy is about to leave the office and accept a lucrative post at a well known law firm. Ted's case falls on his lap, and though Willy is tempted to pass it over, he takes it anyway, thinking that it's an open shut case, since Ted has already confessed.

After encountering Ted at his arraignment and in the lockup, Willy is surprised to learn of Ted's strange decisions regarding his case. Firstly, Ted fires his lawyer and chooses to represent himself in court. Then he blatantly disregards all the evidence pointing at him. Willy thinks he has the old man right where he wants him, until they get to court and Ted pulls out his trump card. Ted reveals Lt Nunally's involvement in the case, thereby jeopardising the confession he made to the latter. That, added to the fact that the gun recovered by the police has never been fired, turns Willy's case on its head.

Willy now realises that Ted has planned the whole thing well, and is on the verge of getting away with the perfect murder. But that's not the only problem Willy faces. He also has to contend with the possibility of losing his new post at the new law firm if he doesn't win. Nikki Gardner (Pike), his new boss at the firm, warns him of the danger Willy is getting himself into if he continues to pursue this case instead of letting Labruto put someone else on it. However, Willy refuses to quit and tries to find a way to stop Ted from successfully manipulating the system.

Fracture is basically a cat and mouse game between two individuals, a familiar storyline we've seen in many films before. The plot is interesting enough, but the entire film falls flat. Director Gregory Hoblit, who gave us the impressive Denzel Washington thriller, Fallen, only manages to make this film half as good as that. Fracture moves at a slow pace, and Hoblit fails to get the best performances out of his cast, despite them being really good actors.

Hopkins is a great actor, no doubt about it. But he seems bored in a few scenes, and is brilliant in several others, which just makes him look inconsistent. Gosling on the other hand looks lost for most of the film. The middle third of the movie focuses on Willy trying to figure out the maze that he has to navigate out of, but Gosling couldn't pull enough weight to carry that part of the film convincingly. Pike is still as wooden as ever in front of the camera, I wonder why she still acts. The only good performances come from Strathairn and Curtis, who plays Detective Flores, the policeman assigned to Ted's case. But overall, the lethargic pace and performances make it a real tedious film to sit through and thoroughly enjoy. Kinda like watching a movie made for TV.

Verdict: A potentially good film that fails to get off the starting blocks. (2.5/5)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Ryo Ishibashi, Terry Chen

Nice poster, isn't it? Unfortunately, that's the only good thing I can say about this sorry action flick that pits two of the biggest action stars today against each other.

War begins with two cops, Jack Crawford (Statham) and Tom Lone (Chen), on the hunt for the elusive assassin known as Rogue (Li). Lone manages to shoot Rogue, who falls into the sea and is presumed dead. However, Rogue reappears later and attacks Lone and his family, killing them all and burning them in their own home. Crawford is devastated at the death of his partner and vows revenge.

Cut to three years later, where a war is brewing between the Yakuza and the Chinese triads. Crawford and his team learn that Rogue is back, and he's somehow involved with both sides. Crawford is determined to catch Rogue and make him pay for his crimes. The truth is, Rogue is pretending to be an assassin for both sides so that he can dispose of them one by one, though Crawford has no idea why he would do so. Rogue continues to maim soldiers from each side while maintaining a facade of loyalty to their leaders, until he gets to Shiro (Ishibashi), head of the Yakuza, where he finally reveals his motives......

This is the second time Jet Li and Jason Statham are starring in the same movie, after The One. I was rather disappointed with The One, because it's no fun watching Li fight himself. But War is no better, and for so many reasons. Firstly, the plot. After I was done, I can only tell you that this film is just full of violent killing sprees and very little else. That does not justify whatever plotline they had, which involves multiple doublecrossing and vengeance. There is no style or grace to the action, all of it seems so pedestrian and repetitive, which is rather surprising coming from Cory Yuen, who directed the action sequences. Where is the brilliance he showed in So Close?

What else? The acting. You'd think that having Li and Statham in an action film would be great, but no. Li looks extremely bored all the time. Now, his one dimensional acting may have worked in his previous Hollywood efforts, despite it being very generic and stereotyped. The only time he departed from that was in Unleashed. But this time, it's just tiresome, and totally wrong. He has so few lines in the film, you could probably write it all down in one page. Statham fares no better, looking way too calm for someone who is looking for retribution. He can at least act properly when his character is angry, but that doesn't happen often here. And the fight scenes the two of them are in, whether against other bad guys, or in the final showdown, are downright disappointing.

There is a twist to the story within the final twenty minutes, which is supposed to make the film better, but it was poorly executed. And after thinking about it for a while, it makes no sense either. I was kinda scratching my head when I thought about it, and so will you. The abrupt ending after that only made it worse. It's just too bad, especially when War had potential, but failed to live up to it.

If you want a good Jet Li film made in English, go watch Kiss Of The Dragon. If you want a good Jason Statham film, go watch The Transporter.

All together now: War, what is it good for, absolutely nothing......(2/5)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Love And Honor

Year: 2006
Director: Yoji Yamada
Cast: Takuya Kimura, Rei Dan, Takashi Sasano, Mitsugoro Bando

I had heard a lot of good things about this film when it opened in the international screens section of the local cinema, so I decided to give it a go. And true enough, it is a masterpiece to behold. Without further ado, let me begin.

Love And Honor is a samurai movie which focuses on a young samurai by the name of Shinnojo Mimura. He has a good life, with a nice home and a loyal wife, Kayo, by his side. However he grows tired of his duty at the palace, which is being the food taster for the samurai lord. Having that task means that Shinnojo tastes the food for poison before his master eats it. It is obviously not a dignified or meaningful job to have, as Shinnojo desires to leave it and open his own martial arts dojo someday.

However, one day his world comes crashing down when he falls seriously ill after eating a poisoned shellfish in service of his duty. As a result, he becomes blind, and is now unable to continue his duty. Feeling useless and not wanting to depend on others for the rest of his life, Shinnojo tries to kill himself, but is persuaded by his loving wife and loyal manservant, Tokuhei, not to.

Kayo, who is determined to help her husband, seeks outside help, but all she encounters are unsympathetic relatives. So she turns to the Chief Duty Officer of the samurai, Shimada, to put in a good word for her husband at the palace. He agrees, but it comes with a hefty price: her dignity and honor. When Shinnojo learns of this, he vows to defend Kayo's honor and prepares for a duel against the corrupt Shimada.....

This is probably my first ever Japanese film, and I can't even begin to tell you what a refreshing change this is from the stuff I have grown accustomed to seeing. What we have here is a simple story of what the title describes: love and honor. Director Yoji Yamada does wonders in bringing this basic and underrated story to life on screen. Every scene, motion and emotion isn't wasted at all. Not for even a second. Yamada manages to flesh out his characters beautifully and bring the right amount of drama, tension and even comedy to his work. Even the fight scene at the end is well executed, though it's more dramatic than stylish. This isn't The Last Samurai after all.

And what of the cast? Excellent indeed. Kimura is wonderful as the tormented Shinnojo, who displays a great range of emotions, from anger to sadness to frustration to happiness. Rei Dan is also equally brilliant as his wife Kayo. She does well in fleshing out the love and loyalty for her husband, as well as the guilt stemming from her actions. Not to be forgotten is Takashi Sasano as Tokuhei. The old man does a splendid job playing the loyal servant to the lead couple. In fact, I dare say this story would have been hollow without him in it.

This film is the third in a trilogy of samurai films by Yamada, the first two being Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade. Now I think I ought to find those two films at the video store. If you haven't seen this film yet, go find it. You won't regret it. (4.5/5)

Monday, September 03, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava
Voice cast: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Peter O'Toole, John Ratzenberger

Pixar somehow has a way of coming up with a winner every time. From toys to bugs to fish to superheroes and cars, they never fail to produce a winner of a movie. This time they take its viewers to the kitchen, and the sewers too.

Ratatouille has two protagonists in its story, the first one being a rat called Remy. Unlike most rats, who couldn't care less about what they eat, Remy prefers food of a better quality i.e. not from garbage. His dad and brother do not understand his motivation, other than noticing Remy's keener sense of smell. Anyway, Remy is inspired by his hero, the legendary chef Auguste Gusteau, who not only owns a restaurant in Paris, but also wrote the book Anyone Can Cook. It is that very phrase that drives Remy to seek the better and more creative way to enjoy culinary delights.

Unfortunately, that desire also proves to be disastrous. Remy, in his attempt to cook in an old lady's kitchen, winds up getting separated from his family during their escape. Through the sewers, he lands Paris! And right beneath Gusteau's restaurant no less. It is at this restaurant that Remy meets the second protagonist, Linguini, a kitchen boy who has absolutely no cooking skills whatsoever. Linguini struggles to keep up in Gusteau's kitchen, and when he is just about to potentially destroy a pot of soup, Remy sneaks in and uses his culinary genius to save the day. But his presence is discovered by the head chef Skinner, who orders Linguini to dispose of the rodent, since rats are an absolute no-no in a kitchen.

Just as Linguini is about to toss Remy in the river, he realises that the rat not only understands him, it also cooks splendidly. Thus begins, believe it or not, the most unique friendship on screen (if you don't count Stuart Little). The duo work out a system on how Remy should direct Linguini around the kitchen, while trying to avoid Skinner's constant watching and being noticed by Linguini's appointed mentor, Colette. The longer Linguini stays around the kitchen, the more uneasy Skinner feels. When he learns of a connection between Linguini and the late Gusteau that may jeopardise his plan to turn Gusteau's legacy into an instant fast food franchise, Skinner sets out to uncover the boy's culinary secrets, which he already suspects, involves a rat. Remy on the other hand, is reunited with his family, but his father's constant disapproval of his relationship with a human makes it hard for Remy to pursue his dream. The duo's relationship is put to the test when well-known food critic Anton Ego challenges the restaurant to astound him.....

As far as cartoons go, this is pretty damn good. You have two main characters, who are different in every respect, yet share a common trait of being an outcast among their own kind. This relationship, added to the many delightful factors in this film, from the culinary elements to hilarious situations and excellent animation, make Ratatouille a truly entertaining film. Kudos to Brad Bird for coming up with another winner yet again. I for one enjoyed the animation in this film. You'll be impressed watching Remy run from place to place, from counter to window to the floor to the road to the sewer to everywhere you'd imagine a rat go, and it's amazing how it all unfolds. The characters are also well written. Remy and Linguini are easy to root for, but I really liked Remy's brother Emile, who is well-meaning but quite ignorant when it comes to food, which makes him totally fun to watch.

My only gripe for this movie is a tad too many subplots. The parts on Linguini's connection to Gusteau and his budding romance with Colette could have been left out to make a tighter story. But hey, make no mistake about it. This movie is fun all the way, and it also spares some room for drama and action. Action, you ask? Check out the old lady who goes to extreme measures to exterminate rodents. Gives a whole new meaning to overkill. Hilarious.

Go watch this movie and have fun, you may even want to learn how to cook when you're done. (4.5/5)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Invasion

Year: 2007
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jeffrey Wright, Jackson Bond

The Invasion apparently is the fourth adaptation of the novel The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. I have not seen the previous incarnations of this story, so I will not be making any comparisons whatsoever to this version.

The Invasion begins with a space shuttle crash, and the shuttle brings along with it a mysterious virus that is alien in nature. One of the first to be infected with it is CDC officer Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam). The virus takes over its host body when the host is asleep, and changes their genetic structure, until the host has a total change in behaviour, acting almost sterile and unemotional.

One of the first to notice the presence of something sinister among the everyday people is Dr Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman). One of her patients tells her about her husband who is now acting like a total stranger to her. Then Carol discovers a strange substance during a Halloween trick-or-treat outing with her son Oliver (Jackson Bond). She takes it to her friend Dr Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), who along with his friend Dr Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) conclude that it is an alien substance unlike anything they've encountered. But before they can find out what's going on, it's already too late.

Kaufman, who is also Carol's ex-husband, kidnaps Oliver and infects Carol with the virus. Carol is forced to take extreme measures to save her son and keeping awake to prevent herself from succumbing to the virus. But it's easier said than done, as more and more people around her become one with the alien entity and start to hunt her and Oliver down. Along the way, she learns that Oliver is immune to the virus, and he may hold the key to stopping the crisis.

In my opinion, this is truly a good formula for a thriller. Imagine being in a world where everyone suddenly becomes someone else, and they hunt you down to assimilate you. It's like Star Trek where the Federation fights the Borg, only in this film, it's a much more realistic and potentially terrifying situation. That being said, this film has a lot of potential, especially with Kidman and Craig in the leads. Alas, the movie fails to achieve that potential.

Basically Kidman carries the majority of the weight of the film. She is in her element as the desperate mother who races against time to save her son and stay alive. Craig and the others don't have much to do, which is a pity, for Kidman, despite her talent, can't sustain the film by herself. The movie lacks suspense for the most part, though there is a well executed car chase scene towards the finish line. But it's a little too late to rescue the film from being dull and pedestrian. Apparently director Oliver Hirschbiegel was replaced by V For Vendetta director James McTeigue at the last moment, and the script was rewritten by the Wachowski brothers because the studio wasn't pleased with Hirschbiegel's cut. However, The Invasion still fails to excite on its final theatrical cut.

There is also a noteworthy argument presented in the film, where the aliens tell Kidman that by being assimilated as one, mankind's history of fighting one another to the death will end, and all they had to do was give up their individuality. And granted, though it is a good point, the strength of man's difference in individuality was not brought forward but ignored instead. Yet another failure on the filmmakers to inspire the audience's thinking.

Fans of Kidman might like The Invasion, but chances are you won't. (3.5/5)


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