Sunday, November 25, 2007

Balls Of Fury

Year: 2007
Director: Robert Ben Garant
Cast: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, Maggie Q, George Lopez, James Hong, Thomas Lennon

Have you ever heard of a sports film being made on table tennis or ping pong? Nope, I don't think you have. Hollywood usually makes films about basketball, baseball, football, soccer, car racing etc. But ping pong? Seriously. But hey, there's a first time for everything, so here now we have Balls Of Fury, a huge comedy with tiny balls, as the tagline reads.

The protagonist in this film is Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a former child prodigy in table tennis, who was humiliated at the 1988 Olympics by a German player, Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). It was at this same venue where Randy's father Pete (Robert Patrick in a cameo) gets killed by a gangster for losing a bet on the match.

Now, in present time, Randy works in Vegas, performing parlour tricks surrounding table tennis, when he gets a visit by FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez). Lopez tells Randy of an underground ping pong tournament being organised by Feng (Christopher Walken), the same gangster who killed Randy's father. The FBI need Randy to get himself invited for the tournament and infiltrate Feng's hideout. So Randy gets himself back into the game, but finds that he doesn't possess the magic that he once had.

Lopez then takes Randy to Master Wong (James Hong), a blind old man that once trained Feng, to learn the finer points of the game. It is through Master Wong, and sparring sessions with his beautiful niece Maggie (Maggie Q), that Randy finally gains the skill he needs to take part in Feng's tournament. Will Randy succeed in getting his revenge?

Oh well, if you've watched comedies such as this, you can answer that question easily. Let me start off by saying that this is one comedy you shouldn't take too seriously. It relies on slapstick humour a lot, and the jokes are the kind that would make 10 year olds laugh from start to finish. But hey, even adults can enjoy this, if they leave their logic at the door. Director Robert Ben Garant, who co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Lennon, keeps everything light, and even manages to pay tribute to 80s rock by having Def Leppard's music in the background.

Fogler plays the unlikely hero Randy the way we would root the underdog guy that doesn't look like a movie hero, and it works. But I do find it a little hard to accept Maggie Q as his romantic interest, since they look quite mismatched, and the story doesn't quite give them time to strike up the right chemistry to make it believable. Walken isn't at his funniest here, though he does look hilarious wearing old Chinese outfits as his costume. What I do like seeing is James Hong as the Yoda-like Master Wong. He gets the best lines and scenes in the film, hands down. There are also some worthy cameos in this film, such as Jason Scott Lee, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa and Heroes star Masi Oka.

If you want some light hearted material, Balls Of Fury will do just fine for a few laughs. (3.5/5)

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Xavier Gens
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Michael Offei, Ulrich Thomsen

It's been a while since I've watched a film based on a video game. Films like these tend to get scathing remarks by the critics, due to the absence of a good plot and the existence of mindless action that leads to nowhere. So does Hitman live up to being better than other video game adaptations such as Doom, Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter?

Hitman focuses on a mysterious man named Agent 47. 47 is an assassin trained by an equally mysterious company known as The Organisation. In the beginning, 47 narrates an explanation of how he and several other children were chosen at birth, trained in the art of killing since childhood and given a barcode tattoo on the back of their heads before being sent out to do their duty.

On his latest assignment, 47 is ordered to kill Mikhail Belicoff, the president of Russia. He succeeds, but suddenly realises that his employers now have him as a target. He escapes, and proceeds to kidnap Nika, a prostitute linked to Belicoff, who is now a target as well. At the same time, he has to evade the clutches of Interpol agent Michael Whittier, who has been chasing him for the past 3 years. Whittier tries his best to apprehend 47, but his efforts are hampered by the Russian secret police, led by Yuri Marklov. Meanwhile, 47 drags Nika along while pursuing the client who requested the hit on Belicoff.

To be honest, the plot is rather complicated, which is quite rare for a video game adaptation. But the plot is more of an excuse to move the action along, and in a few scenes, the action seems out of place or badly timed. There's an action sequence between 47 and 3 others just like him at a train station. The way the scene was set up is quite ridiculous, despite the fact that it was well done.

Xavier Gens, the director, keeps the pace tight, which is good. However, like most action films, the story doesn't make much sense, for example, too little is known about The Organisation, and their purpose is never explained. The reason for Nika becoming a target as well is also not elaborated.

Timothy Olyphant does a decent enough job playing 47, who isn't as cold hearted as a hitman should be. But then again, we've seen this kind of character many times before. Olyphant is better here than in Live Free Or Die Hard, but I prefer him as Seth Bullock in Deadwood. Dougray Scott tries a little too hard sometimes but is effective nevertheless as Michael Whittier. The rest of the cast are generally okay. Look out for Prison Break's Robert Knepper and Lost's Henry Ian Cusick playing Russian characters. It's quite weird, since I've seen them on TV playing non-Russian guys. Hmm.

It's a good action film, but it isn't very original. You'll notice similarities with The Transporter, The Bourne Identity and The Replacement Killers. I suggest you watch those other films instead. (3.5/5)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller

It's not often that you get a fairytale type movie that doesn't succumb to the usual cliches you'd find in a storybook. Well, actually to be honest, Stardust does have many of those familiar elements I'm talking about. But its execution is quite different.

Stardust is adapted from the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, which focuses on one Tristan Thorne, who lives in a village called Wall, so named because it is situated on one side of a wall that separates England from a mystical land named Stormhold. Tristan has a major crush on Victoria, a spoilt girl who doesn't care for him, but indulges in the attention he gives her. One night, the two witness a star fall from the sky, and Tristan promises to bring Victoria that star for her hand in marriage. She agrees, and off he goes over the wall to seek it.

But little does he know that the reason the star fell is because of the actions of the King of Stormhold, who sends a magic gem into the heavens, and tells his princes that the throne will go to the one who brings it back. The princes, who are notorious for killing each other to ascend the throne, waste no time in stabbing each other in the back as they race to retrieve the star.

The falling star is also witnessed by a trio of witches, led by Lamia, who wishes to use the star to restore their youth, and they will stop at nothing to do so. Lamia is perceived as a vain yet dangerous woman who possesses lethal magical powers. She sets out to get the star through any means necessary.

But all of them are in for an adventure, as Tristan gets to the star first, who turns out to be a beautiful girl named Yvaine. He drags her back to his village, since she isn't too excited about being a wedding gift. The trip is of course laden with one obstacle after another, as Septimus, the most ambitious of the princes, and Lamia close in on the two youths. Tristan and Yvaine get into all sorts of trouble, but they get a little help from a pirate of a flying ship called Captain Shakespeare, who helps escort them on part of their journey. Of course, along the way, Tristan and Yvaine learn more about each other, and the inevitable happens.....

Would you expect finding a dashing prince in this film? Nope, because all the greedy princes are not so dashing. But we do have Tristan, who matures from a naive lovesick boy at the beginning of the story to a handsome hero with courage. We have a wicked witch in Lamia, who rivals the wicked witch of the west, and then some. And then we have a pirate, who is not quite what he seems. All excellent ingredients for a good fairytale.

Danes manages to steal the show in many parts as the headstrong but understanding Yvaine, while Cox is perfect as the wide-eyed Tristan who becomes a true hero in the end. Pfeiffer seems to have fun in her role as Lamia, while DeNiro is hilarious as Captain Shakespeare. Who says DeNiro isn't funny? He'll have you in stitches for sure. Mark Strong rounds up the main cast as Septimus, also look out for cameos by Peter O'Toole as the King and Ricky Gervais as a trader.

Praise goes to Matthew Vaughn for doing wonders with this film, from the pacing to set design to action sequences. He gets it right from start to finish, and gives a movie that anyone can enjoy. Go ahead and see this if you want to have fun, with minimal violence. (4/5)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

30 Days Of Night

Year: 2007
Director: David Slade
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster

Out of all the mythical creatures that have terrorised movie audiences over the years, none have been as popular as the vampire. The bloodsucking nocturnal being has thrilled movie fans for the longest time, in many different incarnations. And here we have another vampire film, but not quite as familiar.

30 Days Of Night is set in a little town known as Barrow, Alaska. It is at the northernmost tip of the USA, thus it is cold all year, and for a month there, the sun does not rise. That month has come again, and a majority of Barrow's inhabitants leave town to escape the prolonged darkness. A small population of about 150 stay behind, including the town sheriff, Eben Oleson and his estranged wife Stella.

On the last day of sunshine, a mysterious stranger walks into town and wastes no time getting himself in trouble and winds up in the lock-up. This is when he tells Eben and Stella that death is coming. Then bad things start happening. The power gets cut off. All modes of transportation are disabled, including the sled dogs that wind up dead. People start dying, in violent fashion. Eben quickly finds that Barrow has been invaded by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires, who have come to kill and drain the blood of every human being they can find for the following month of darkness. The survivors band together and try desperately to last a month indoors, trapped by the vampires hunting them on the outside.

30 Days Of Night is based on the graphic novel of the same name by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith, and they have come up with a different kind of vampire altogether. These aren't the ones that wear middle age costumes and look like Tom Cruise. They don't wear skin-tight suits and kill werewolves. They don't carry swords and fight other vampires that look like WWE wrestler Triple H. No, these vampires are vile, mean killing machines with dark eyes and a full set of sharp teeth. Oh, and they don't speak English. Cool.

Director David Slade certainly has a great vision for this film. I admire his style, which includes occasional handheld camera work, dim lighting (to suit the darkness mood) and minimal music. But you ought to check out his music score during the climax, it's pretty cool. Slade also does not hold back on the gore, and rightfully so. After all, what's a vampire flick without the blood, right?

Out of all the actors on hand, it's Josh Hartnett that shines the brightest as Eben, displaying a mature sense of acting. He plays the sheriff that is scared, yet trying to be brave for his townsfolk, being protective and having to think constantly on how to stay ahead of the enemy. Melissa George, who plays Stella, does more emotional scenes than the rest of the cast, which is a pity. A tough exterior might have suited her character better. Danny Huston is truly menacing and terrifying as the vampire leader Marlow, while the underrated Ben Foster makes good of his limited screen time as the stranger.

However, as good as this film looks on the surface, it is flawed. The pace of the film is rather slow, from the time the first attack begins until the last 15 minutes of the film. Understandably, the entire movie is supposed to depict the 30 days in question, but the passing of time isn't smoothly done. The film jumps from the first day to day 7 to day 18 and so forth, yet it doesn't quite feel like time has moved that much, and trust me, it's not because the darkness is constant. A lot of the dialogue is also quite cliched and could have been improved, including the vampires' lines.

Overall, a slightly above average attempt at making a good vampire film. (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up

Year: 2007
Director: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci

If there ever was a film that really lives up to its name, it would be Shoot 'Em Up. I know it's not much of a title, but the film is downright fun, despite the story being less than stellar.

It begins at a bus stop, where a mysterious man who calls himself Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting there chewing on a carrot. A pregnant lady suddenly runs past him, fearing for her life. Then an armed man follows suit, hot on her heels. Smith decides to get involved, and saves the lady by killing the man with his carrot. No kidding.

Then all hell breaks loose, as a group of gunmen led by a man named Hertz (Paul Giamatti) arrive on the scene and start firing. Smith helps the lady deliver the baby, but she gets killed in the crossfire. He then runs off with the child, pursued by Hertz and his gang, with bullets flying and bodies falling by the wayside. Smith takes the child to a hooker he was involved with once, Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci). She initially refuses to help him watch over the child, until he saves her from Hertz later. Now Smith has to protect an extra person, with not much of a plan to start with.

You're probably wondering if there's a plot underneath all this. Well, there is. See, Hertz works for someone who wants the child dead. The child plays an important role for a certain US Senator running for president, and Hertz's employers do not want the senator to achieve his goal. The goal is....well you'll have to see the movie to find out more. But really, it doesn't matter. What matters is the action, and Shoot 'Em Up delivers in spades.

Director Michael Davis also wrote the screenplay, and he focuses on the action scenes most of the time, which isn't a bad thing. But hey, he even has time to fill in some classic one-liners for Owen and Giamatti to play off each other with. That being said, the action is well choreographed. You'll see Owen slide, jump, drive and dive all over the place with gun in one hand and baby in the other, gunning down the bad guys with ease. Sure, it's not entirely original, and some of the stuff that unfolds are downright ridiculous. But who cares? If you even try to make any sense out of what's happening, that's when the fun stops.

Owen once again does a great job playing the hero. He has just the right amount of charm and screen presence to pull it off. He sure does make a great action hero, and I hope we can expect more from him in the action genre in the future. Giamatti hams it up as the talkative but hilarious Hertz, who in the film, seems to get calls from his wife at the most inopportune times. He also gets the best lines in the film. Bellucci plays a damsel in distress well enough, and somehow that kinda fits with the way action films were made back then, so it's a tribute of sorts.

Shoot 'Em Up is like The Replacement Killers without the seriousness. Watch this film, but leave your logic behind when you do. It's really fun. (4/5)


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