Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Year: 2008
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith


Over 50 years ago, there was a film called The Day The Earth Stood Still, about an alien who arrived on earth to negotiate with the world leaders to stop fighting each other, or face annihilation. And now it has been remade.

Here's how it goes: after what seemed to be an ordinary day for astro-biologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), she gets whisked away by government agents, who take her to a military facility where she is informed of an imminent alien invasion. Not long after that, a giant glowing sphere descents from space and lands in Central Park in New York. A mysterious alien and a giant robot emerge from it, and before you can say 'Aliens!' the military capture the entity by force.

After Helen and other scientists study it, they realise that it is a human body inhabited by an alien, who calls himself Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu requests to meet up with the world's leaders but is denied by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates), who believes Klaatu is a threat. Helen, who senses that Klaatu means no harm, helps him escape, only to learn from him later that after some deliberation on his part, he will destroy mankind in order to save the planet. Helen now has to convince him to change his mind.

Thematically I think the 1951 version was better, because Klaatu was motivated by the idea that Earth's powers that be would eventually bring their ever expanding nuclear war beyond the planet. In this version, it's an environmental friendly message, which although is relevant in today's age, doesn't quite hold water when it relates to an alien's intentions. Like, why would it care about another planet's life or death? Anyway, director Scott Derrickson manages to keep things interesting by using lots of special effects and keeping the pace steady. I especially enjoyed watching Klaatu's robot GORT annihilate the military forces and facilities when it is attacked.

And then there's Keanu. Sigh. You know, this guy never really grasped the first rule of good acting, which is to be convincing. As far as looking like an alien goes, he's got that part down pat. But when he speaks, it's Keanu. As in the same Keanu that was Neo. Or Constantine. Or Jack Traven from Speed. So essentially we get an alien that talks like Keanu, instead of Keanu that talks like an alien. But he did try to be different, and to that extent he more or less succeeds. And I liked the part where he spoke Mandarin, that was funny. Connelly plays the part of the human that has to be Klaatu's out of this world buddy, and she pulls it off well, though it's not a very complex role. Jaden Smith succeeds also as Helen's stepson Jacob, who lets his naivety and grief over his father's death get the better of him. Other supporting actors like James Hong and John Cleese unexpectedly shine in the few minutes of screen time they have.

This is an ambitious film, no doubt. But it is let down by a very flat ending, a very Hollywood type finish. And many of the other things happening in the film, especially the relationship turmoil between the characters are resolved way too quickly, which inevitably make it very unconvincing. A little more time spent on substance instead of style could have gone a long way.

An okay effort in my book. Watch it for the effects, if nothing else. (3/5)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Body Of Lies

Year: 2008
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani


Hollywood somehow loves reality. They love taking a piece of it and making a film out of it, and now the trend is talking about terrorism. 9/11 really changed moviemaking ideas, as now after we've seen Rendition, The Siege and The Kingdom, we have yet another tale about the war on terror.

Body Of Lies focuses on the CIA's efforts to nab a terrorist in the Middle East named Al-Saleem. Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the man on the ground in Iraq, working hand in hand with his handler, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to gather information on Al-Saleem. Ferris grows more disillusioned with his job day by day, especially after his local partner gets killed in a mission to find a lead to Saleem. Hoffman however will have none of that and pushes Ferris to proceed. The two men are constantly at each other's throats because Hoffman seemingly operates on instinct without informing Ferris, and his actions directly jeopardises the mission and Ferris' life.

Ferris gets a lead that Saleem is in Jordan, so he heads there and teams up with the head of Jordanian intelligence, Hani (Mark Strong). Ferris and Hani strike a good friendship, but Hoffman doesn't trust Hani, and continuosly acts on his own accord which puts Ferris in a tough spot and threatens Hani's trust in him. Ferris then resorts to low yet effective tactics to lure Saleem out into the open. There's also a subplot where Ferris befriends a local nurse, Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani) and her life becomes a bargain when Saleem takes the bait and comes after Ferris.

I've lost count, but this has to be at least the fourth time Ridley Scott has teamed up with Russell Crowe, and I gotta say I can't blame him. Crowe is a fine actor, and when teamed with DiCaprio, makes it even better. The two actors have not been paired together since The Quick & The Dead (which by the way was so bad I never finished watching it), so it's been a long time. To their credit, DiCaprio and Crowe do well in their respective roles, the former as the CIA agent who grows sick of his duty as time passes, and seeks a normal life with Aisha, and the latter as the headstrong yet cold man who believes himself as a patriot and the things that he does are all for the greater good, no matter how many lives are lost in the process. Watch how Crowe, who put on weight for the role, goes about his daily business such as watching his kids' soccer game and taking care of his family and at the same time giving orders via cellphone to DiCaprio.

Strong and Farahani also bring memorable performances, him as the smart and sleek head spy who may or may not be on the right side, and her as the romantic interest to Ferris. The setting of the film, location and violence portrayed also bring enough realism, as any Ridley Scott film would need.

However the film weighs its success too much on its leads. Without a straightforward plot, and the lack of focus on the consequences of deception (particularly the negative aspects) in the war on terrorism makes the film seem rather cold and unflinching. Maybe that's what Scott wanted, but the somewhat simplistic ending is in contrast to that. The pace is also rather slow at times, but thankfully DiCaprio and Crowe make it almost worthwhile.

A valiant effort though, in telling the story about the battle against terrorism. (3.5/5)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Transporter 3

Year: 2008
Director: Olivier Megaton
Cast: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, Francois Berleand, Robert Knepper

I didn't think The Transporter was good enough to come up with yet another sequel. Don't get me wrong, I loved the first one. Good action sequences and some funny dialogue made it fun to watch. The second was all right, but a little over the top. And I had thought Jason Statham wouldn't want to play this role yet again, despite being so good at it. Like Jet Li, action roles are all Statham will be remembered for, but certainly he wouldn't want to be stuck doing Frank Martin again and again, or would he?

Anyway, the third Transporter film begins when a friend of Frank's crashes his car through Frank's house, nearly dead and a girl in the back seat. Apparently his friend screwed up a transport job Frank had turned down earlier, and now he has paid for it dearly. Suddenly Frank gets knocked out, and he wakes up with a metal bracelet cuffed to his wrist. It's a device that is programmed to explode if he moves more than 75 feet from his car.

A man named Johnson wants Frank to carry the girl across Europe in his car, or he dies. Frank reluctantly agrees and proceeds with the task at hand. The girl, Valentina is not cooperative in filling in the blanks, so Frank calls to his friend, Inspector Tarconi for help. We learn then that Valentina is the daughter of the Internal Minister of Ukraine, who is being blackmailed by Johnson to allow a corporation to dump toxic waste in his country, in exchange for his daughter's life.

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen return to write this sequel, with Olivier Megaton as director. Corey Yuen also returns as action director, and as a result we get some decent hand to hand combat sequences. Watch how Frank fights ten guys in a garage, using his appendages, clothes and garage tools. Cool stuff. Throw in a car chase, a bicycle stunt sequence and a car stunt atop a train, and we should have a good action flick. Right? Wrong.

The lead female character Valentina is one annoying bitch. I'm sure it's not Natalya Rudakova's fault, but the writers who made her seem cold one minute, then high the next, then petty and childish later on. Besson and Kamen try to make her a romantic foil for Frank, but it just doesn't work. Shu Qi wasn't a great damsel in the first film, but she's so much more watchable. Then there's the dialogue, which come off as boring and tiresome, leaving us itching for more of the action scenes instead. And the fact that Frank's three rules are suspended this time around takes the fun out of the film.

But at least Statham doesn't disappoint in the role that made him famous. Robert Knepper, whom you'll all know as the villain in TV series Prison Break, brings his slimy performance from TV to film well as Johnson. Francois Berleand once again comes onboard as Inspector Tarconi, and provides the humour for an otherwise dull affair.

It is just average entertainment this time around, and miles behind the first Transporter film. (3/5)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Twilight

Year: 2008
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Sarah Clarke


This is it. Time to find out what the big deal is behind one of the most talked about films this year.

I'm of course referring to Twilight, a film based on Stephenie Meyer's best-selling book. It focuses on Bella Swan, a teenage girl who decides to move in with her father in Forks, Washington instead of travelling with her mum and her new stepdad. Bella seems very detached from her dad, who is the sheriff of the town. But she manages, and despite getting too much attention from the other kids at school, she adapts.

Then she meets Edward Cullen, a handsome but strange looking boy. First they exchange curious glances, then he becomes her lab partner, which doesn't sit well with him at first. She finds him very intriguing, but the real shocker comes when he saves her from a car accident. With his bare hands to stop the oncoming car!

So now Bella wants to know what he's all about, but Edward refuses to reveal his secret, even resorting to being rude to her to drive her away. But the two can't seem to get enough of each other's attention, and they inevitably fall in love. She then finds out who he is: a vampire. Not just him, but his family too. But they are essentially good vampires, because they don't feed on humans, despite sometimes having the appetite for it. Bella and Edward begin an unlikely romance, which goes well until the presence of three other vampires who do feed on humans threatens their safety, and their respective families.

Twilight is getting a lot of attention, particularly because it's almost as famous as Harry Potter. Potter is for kids however, Twilight is for young girls. Prior to watching this, I have heard of all the praises younger viewers have been giving this film, and I can see why. Vampire mythology has always been an interesting exploration in filmdom, and this time it is neither the Dracula kind or the violent kind. (There is some violence here, but quite minimal) Then you have a young, good looking couple playing the leads. So it's no surprise why this is a hit. Director Catherine Hardwicke succeeds in making a well paced, well told film. It's rarely boring, even as it takes its time to show the heartfelt yet tense romance between Bella and Edward.

Kristen Stewart, whom I'll always remember for playing Jodie Foster's diabetic kid in Panic Room, acquits herself well as Bella, the awkward kid who although gets a lot of attention from the people around her, only wants attention from the one person who loves to lie low. Robert Pattinson, whom I'll always remember for playing the gay-looking Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire, isn't too shabby either as Edward, though he seems better at conveying his emotions from his face than his words. However, both Stewart and Pattinson don't really have much room to work with their characters, as they seem to have the same expressions throughout the film. But they do reasonably well with what they have, and that is enough.

Cam Gigandet is the lead villain vampire, and unfortunately he's a one-dimensional baddie, the kind that chooses thrill over brains. This is old school villainy. The supporting cast, who play Edward's vampire family in particular, are quite fun to watch. If only Hardwicke had given them more screen time, they would have been more memorable.

And now for the negative points. For all its well executed filmmaking, there are several scenes that turn out to be unintentionally funny. You know it's bad when you laugh at a film for the wrong reasons. Check out the scene when Bella walks into the school lab where Edward is. As she enters, the fan blows her hair....and then there's the slow-mo effect. The scene was meant to show Edward's reaction as she walks in, but it was just weird. Slow-mo? This isn't John Woo. Then there's the bad vampires walking slow-mo, like it was a Jerry Bruckheimer film. And the way the Cullen family are first introduced reminds me of the film Disturbing Behaviour. You know, perfect looks, outstanding dress style etc. And some of the dialogue is just too corny, like Edward calling Bella 'his own personal heroin', as in drug. Oh, and the vampires in Twilight don't have fangs (I can accept that), but they actually sparkle in sunlight too? Perhaps Hardwicke should leave that part out.

But you know what? I had a great time watching this. Really. Despite it being humorless for the most part, and a lot of time spent on courtship between the two leads, it's very engrossing. If you're a girl, you'll look at Edward and say "oh he's so handsome!" and if you're a guy, you'll look at Bella and think "hey I knew a girl like her once". And the music, despite being tailored for the teenage crowd, is very spot-on. I didn't think Muse's Supermassive Black Hole could fit in Twilight, until I saw the baseball scene. Then there's Linkin Park and Paramore rocking during the closing credits, making me not want to leave the cinema till the very end.

It's a good movie. Go watch it. And there will be a sequel, since Hardwicke left the ending wide open, and there are three more books to translate to celluloid. (4/5)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quarantine

Year: 2008
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez, Greg Germann, Columbus Short, Rade Serbedzija

Ah, another first person view horror flick. When The Blair Witch Project first came up with this idea, where a story is told from 'discovered footage', it was a damn cool idea. J.J. Abrams then followed up the trend with Cloverfield earlier this year. What's good about films like these is the realism, the feel that you yourself are running and experiencing the happenings live.

Quarantine is just that kind of film. An apartment building in LA was sealed off by the CDC (Centre Of Disease Control) after an outbreak of a deadly virus there. None of the residents made it out alive. What you see in this film is footage from a camera belonging to a news crew assigned to shadow the fire department during the night shift. The footage was all that's left in the building when it was over.

In it you will see Angela Vidal, the host of the show and her cameraman Scott Percival following two firemen into the building answering a distress call involving an old lady. The lady goes berserk and bites a policeman and one of the firemen. Before they can get help, the building is cordoned off by the authorities. Angela, Scott, a policeman, the other fireman and the residents are now trapped with no way out. Chaos starts to take full swing, first when the people inside have no idea what's going on, then when they discover a virus that infects them and turns them into bloodthirsty killers, it's pandemonium with a capital P.

Quarantine is a remake actually, of the Spanish film [REC]. I found the trailer to [REC] on Youtube, and it's uncanny how similar the two films are. Even the girl in [REC] is named Angela Vidal. As in Cloverfield, you can expect shaky camerawork and the absence of music, to create the realism required. And to a great extent, it succeeds. Added to the fact that you're in a small apartment building with very little lighting, and you get a dark, claustrophobic environment. With rabid humans right on your tail....oh yeah, it can get tense indeed. The last half hour of the film, when the last handful of the uninfected try their darndest to save themselves is truly blood-pumping. And I gotta give credit to the filmmakers for giving us a camera's point of view of a camera being used to bludgeon a person to death. That was awesome.

So what's not good about it? One: Jennifer Carpenter. When things go bad, she continuosly freaks out, and screams every freaking second. After a while, it can get pretty damn annoying. Two: The story takes a tad too long to get started. Naturally the footage has to start at the fire station before they get the call to go there. But they wasted a lot of time at the beginning having fun with the lead characters, so that slowed things down a bit.

Nevertheless, as a horror flick, it delivers enough scares in a space of 90 minutes. If you're afraid of the dark, you may not want to watch this alone. (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quantum Of Solace

Year: 2008
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright

I finally made the time to watch James Bond's latest outing yesterday. Quantum Of Solace is the direct sequel to Casino Royale, and like most Bond films, it begins with an action sequence, this time an adrenaline pumping car chase.

The story begins right where Royale left off, with Bond and M questioning Mr White, the man that Bond shot. A traitor in MI6 allows White to escape, so Bond & M trace the traitor's connections to Bolivia. Bond goes there and runs into Camille, a young lady with her own agenda. She in turn leads Bond to Dominic Greene, a man leading a secret organisation known as Quantum. Quantum is currently in talks with an overthrown Bolivian dictator who wants to reclaim his country, in exchange for a piece of land Quantum wants.

However, Bond's modus operandi always ends up with someone getting killed, and M is forced to bring him in. Bond meets up with some old allies to help him follow Greene, and joins forces with Camille who is using Greene to take revenge against the Bolivian dictator.

Quantum Of Solace is directed by Marc Forster, who isn't well known for making action films. But oddly enough, action is what you get in this film, and in spades too. You get a car chase, a boat chase, an aerial dogfight, a foot chase on rooftops ala Bourne and lots of brutal fistfights. Some critics say this film is taking lots of cues from the Bourne trilogy, and I can see why. What's good about this is that it keeps the audience entertained, even if the plot seems quite complicated at times.

Craig plays Bond the same way he did the last time; seriously constipated. He always looks so tense, and ready to kill in a blink of an eye. The film's writers are making Bond vengeful after the death of Vesper Lynd in the last film, so much that Bond has almost no charm in this one. Kurylenko lends strong support as Camille, and I think she's one of the best Bond girls ever. She's sexy, tough and plays off Bond emotionally quite well. Almaric is the weasel type villain Greene, but I do wish he had a better haircut. Giannini and Wright lend some good support as Bond's allies, and you can't forget Judi Dench as M, who is one of the best things about Bond films.

As far as Bond films go, this one is rather cool, and it has a pretty cool theme song performed by Alicia Keys and Jack White. But it loses a point for plot confusion. Watch it for the action. (4/5)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Year: 2008
Director: Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
Voice cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric The Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin

Three years ago, Dreamworks came up with a hilarious tale of four zoo animals from New York who end up in Madagascar through a series of unfortunate events. Now we have a sequel, where Alex the lion (Stiller), Marty the zebra (Rock), Melman the giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Smith), and the penguins who escaped with them, and the lemur King Julien (Cohen) and his assistant Maurice (Cedric), attempt to fly back to New York using an old rickety plane the penguins reengineered.

Problem is, the plane crashes in the African wilderness, and the four animals realise that they're back home, to their roots. Alex reunites with his parents, Melman becomes a witch doctor amongst his herd, Marty rejoins his fellow zebras, who happen to be exactly like him in every way, and Gloria meets a studly male hippo to possibly mate with.

But all is not well. Alex's father, Zuba (Bernie Mac, in his last voiceover role), king of the lions, faces threats from his rival Makunga (Baldwin). Makunga uses Alex to help him take the throne unfairly. Melman realises he's in love with Gloria and struggles to reveal his true feelings for her. Meanwhile, the old lady who beat Alex senseless in the first film is back, and inadvertently causes trouble for all the animals in the reserve.

As far as cartoons go, this one isn't half bad. Every cast member is back in their roles, there are a whole new assortment of characters, a new playground and a few villains to spice things up. In other words, business as usual. But I can't help but feel that the film suffers from having too much of some things, and not enough of some other things. It has too many subplots, and some were not fully explored or resolved too easily. And you know what they have too little of? The penguins. They are undoubtedly the funniest bunch in the film, and this time they play a lesser role, much to my chagrin. But they still bring out the laughs every time they're on screen.

And there are some other things that are over the top, like Alex getting into a fistfight with the old lady, or the idea of a giraffe liking a hippo (and he never had these feelings in the first film, but now says he always did), or a shark travelling on land. But I do like how all the subplots come together in the end for a nice finish.

Fun, but not as good as the first. Now sing with me: I like to move it move it.....(3.5/5)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Daredevil (Director's Cut)

Year: 2003
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clark Duncan, Colin Farrell

My review for Quantum Of Solace will be a little late, so in the meantime let's take a look back to a comicbook movie I had the opportunity to view a second time, in its proper form.

Why do I say 'proper form'? Because back in 2003 when the film was released, it was banned in my country, over the title which contains the word 'devil'. Yeah. Bummer. I had to watch a bootleg copy, and it was very low quality. But that was back then. This is now, when I finally have the director's cut DVD, so I get to see the whole nine yards, as the saying goes.

Daredevil takes place in New York City, Hell's Kitchen to be more specific. It focuses on Matt Murdock, a young boy raised by his boxer dad Jack. An accident with toxic materials robbed Matt of his sight, but it gave his other four senses superhuman sharpness, and his sense of sound acts like a radar, so he can technically 'see' even when blind. When his father refuses to throw a fight for the mob boss in the Kitchen, he gets killed. Matt swears to dedicate his life to upholding justice.

As an adult, Matt is one half of a law partnership with his best friend Foggy Nelson. By day, he defends the innocent in court. By night, he seeks justice as the vigilante Daredevil. One day, Matt meets Elektra Natchios, daughter of the wealthy Nikolas Natchios and they both fall in love. However, tragedy strikes when Wilson Fisk, the mob boss who has business dealings with Nikolas, has Nikolas killed. Elektra, like Matt, seeks revenge against the man responsible. She thinks that Daredevil did it, after spotting his presence at the scene, but in reality it was done by Fisk's assassin, Bullseye. Can Matt help find justice for Elektra and himself?

Daredevil is directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the same guy behind the other Marvel film Ghost Rider. So can we expect the same quality from this film as we got from GR? Unfortunately, yes. I don't know, it seems that Johnson has made a name for writing really corny lines and really over the top scenarios. For example, check out the scene where Bullseye walks through customs at the airport. It's bad enough he's dressed like a rock star, then they have cheesy music in the background, and he swaggers through like he's high on drugs. No matter how deadly he may be, it doesn't make sense for a villain to draw attention to himself like that. Then there's Fisk's dialogue, which really sounds like it was pulled right off the comicbook pages.

Oh, but it doesn't end there. Let's talk about the action sequences. Now, some of the stuff looks really cool, but you can tell they used a lot of wirework, especially for the scene where Daredevil fights Bullseye in the church on a giant pipe organ. All that flying around, plus seeing Daredevil jump from building to building makes this movie look like a Hong Kong kungfu flick.

Then there are the deviations from the comicbook, like Daredevil letting a perp get run over by a subway train, making this Daredevil look more like The Punisher. There's Karen Page (played by Ellen Pompeo) who only gets a minor role when she has a large place in Daredevil history. Then there's Fisk aka The Kingpin played by Duncan, who should be a white man, but is a black man here. But deviations are not unusual in comicbook films, so it's not surprising.

Performance wise, Affleck does an okay job playing the lead role. But I think that in this film, you'll realize that Affleck was never really a talented actor, he's much better behind the camera than he is in front of it. He won an Oscar for writing, and he directed Gone Baby Gone, and it all proves he is much better in that role. Garner is much better playing Elektra here than in her spin off film, since you get to see more of her vulnerable side here. (Note: I hated the playground fight scene between Matt and Elektra, it's so cartoonish) Farrell hams it up as Bullseye, and you gotta give him credit for getting the best scenes, like when he kills an old lady on an airplane with a peanut. And Duncan, well....got the worst lines, as I mentioned. Iron Man director Jon Favreau provided some nice comic relief as Foggy Nelson.

This director's cut includes an extra subplot about a perp linked to the Kingpin, played by Coolio. And I gotta say, it does make the film better, it has the Dark Knight type quality to it. But some of the other extra scenes, like the super long ending, the excessive top of the building poses and the extra narrative could have been done away with.

Perhaps Daredevil needs a reboot, just like The Incredible Hulk. If it does, I hope DD has that same billy club as his weapon. Man, that's probably the best thing about this film. That's the most fucking cool weapon I've ever seen! (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Year: 2008
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride

When I first saw Robert Downey Jr impersonating a black man in the trailer to this film, I thought it was hilarious. That's when I knew I had to see this.

Tropic Thunder, directed, co-written by and starring Ben Stiller, makes fun of the Hollywood movie-making machine. It focuses on a big-budget war movie being filmed on location in Vietnam, a movie that is plagued by budget problems and cooperation between the director and his cast.

The director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is having trouble controlling his pampered and whiny set of actors. They are Tugg Speedman (Stiller), a fading action star in desperate need of a hit film; Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr), an award winning Australian thespian who is an extreme method actor; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a fart type comedian with a heroin addiction; Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a rapper turned actor with a really familiar sounding name; and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a rookie actor. Since Cockburn can't get them to follow his direction, the film's writer Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) suggests that they drop the actors in the deep forests and film them guerilla style.

Cockburn agrees and the plan is put in motion, but once there, he suddenly gets killed after stepping on a landmine! Speedman thinks it's all an act just to get them to film the scenes right, even when they get fired upon by heroin dealers hiding in the woods. Speedman insists that they continue, despite objections from Lazarus and the others. Finally, the rest of them leave Speedman on his own when they get lost, and the latter ends up getting captured by the dealers. The four actors end up having to come up with a plan to save Speedman, who is forced by the dealers to reenact scenes from one of his flop films for their entertainment.

Did I already say that this film is funny? Yeah, OK. Now, Stiller's brand of comedy isn't exactly my favourite, because he either plays an earnest guy trying miserably to impress a girl, or a dude who fails to get anything done right despite his best efforts. But here, Stiller tones down that aspect and comes up with a story that succeeds in poking fun at showbusiness and everything it stands for. His Tugg Speedman is a guy who'll do anything to get his job done, thanks to his desperate situation, and he does it in pure Stiller fashion.

Black is severely underused here, but Downey Jr rocks as the Australian actor who stays in character all the time. You'd find yourself forgetting that it's Downey Jr playing a black man, and he does it very well indeed, from the voice right down to his mannerisms and some stereotype elements regarding African-American people. He deserves an Oscar nod for this. Watch out also for special appearances by Matthew McConaughey as Speedman's agent and Tom Cruise in a fat suit as the studio boss, Les Grossman. Cruise is particularly funny as the foul-mouthed studio head who dances to Flo-Rida & T-Pain's 'Low'. Priceless.

All in all, this is one super hilarious comedy worth watching more than once. I'm certain you'll love the mock Oscar ceremony at the end of the film, where you'll see some of Hollywood's finest in quick appearances. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Max Payne

Year: 2008
Director: John Moore
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Amaury Nolasco, Chris O'Donnell, Olga Kurylenko


It's been quite a long hiatus from updating this blog, and now I've got computer problems too. But still, I've got this review to write, so here we go.

Max Payne is based on the popular videogame of the same name, and it tells the story of a cop named Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg), who hasn't been the same after the murder of his wife and child. Although he's been assigned to the cold case department, he still continues to investigate his family's death on his own.

One of his leads brings him to a Russian girl, Natasha (current Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). Later, Natasha winds up dead and Max is the prime suspect. Max's former partner Alex Balder (Donal Logue) knows Max is innocent, and discovers a connection between Natasha's death and the men who killed Max's family. But before he can tell Max, he winds up dead too.

With two people dead, Max teams up with Natasha's sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) to find the men responsible. At the same time, Max's mentor BB Hensley (Beau Bridges) tries his best to keep Max out of trouble with the law, particularly Internal Affairs detective Jim Bravura (Ludacris).

If there's one thing that had me going for this film, it's the packaging. Director John Moore (Flight Of the Phoenix, Behind Enemy Lines) creates a comicbook like world where everything looks mostly bleak and grey, and the special effects used during the drug induced sequences are very cool. It also has an ass kicking soundtrack, and I also loved the innovative closing credit sequence, even though it makes the film look even more like a video game.

But unfortunately, the film fails elsewhere. Despite having a very capable cast, the script doesn't give them much to do or realistic things to say, except for Wahlberg, who's obviously the main star here. He fares only slightly better than in The Happening, giving yet another sterile performance. Bridges, whom I've not seen on film in a long time, does well in his mentor role. Kunis and Ludacris are wasted in this film, and it's sad, since I wanted to see more of Kunis in a darker role after watching her on That 70s Show, and Ludacris is a decent actor himself. Amaury Nolasco, who plays the villain Lupino, gets very little screen time as well.

Despite the film being 90 minutes long, it feels draggy, and the action sequences only start kicking in the last third of the film. And the ending doesn't quite feel complete either. Max Payne reminds me a lot of Hitman, another action film based on a videogame that also starred Olga Kurylenko. The similarities are apparent, though Hitman is a tad more daring in its execution. Here in Max Payne, there is a potential R-rated scene which was oddly altered, probably to qualify for the PG-13 rating to boost ticket sales.

It's not a bad film, but it's not very good either. It's too easy to forget you've watched it. (3.5/5)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eagle Eye

Year: 2008
Director: D.J. Caruso
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis


After watching a string of films rating between bad and average the past month, I was looking forward to this movie. I've been totally psyched up for it ever since catching the adrenaline-pumping trailer two months ago.

Eagle Eye begins with the U.S. Secretary Of Defense (Michael Chiklis) reluctantly authorising a missile attack on a suspected terrorist in the Middle East without having 100% confirmation on the target. We then cut to a young man named Jerry Shaw (Shia Labeouf), an underachiever who works at a copy shop, struggles to pay the rent and doesn't get along with his dad. One day, he gets word that his twin brother Ethan, who is a member of the USAF, had died in a car accident.

Soon after, he discovers an extra US$750,000 in his bank account and a whole lot of stuff in his apartment that would make him look like a terrorist. Jerry then gets a call from a mysterious woman telling him that he has to do as she says or he dies. The FBI bust through his door and arrest him right there and then.....

Jerry tries to tell FBI agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) that he's being set up, but Morgan refuses to believe him. And before you know it, the mysterious woman calls Jerry again and helps him escape police custody! How? Well, that's pretty amazing when you see it. Meanwhile, another unlucky individual, Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is also called up by the woman. Rachel happens to be a divorced mother who has just sent her son off on a school trip, and now she is being threatened to follow orders or her son dies. Jerry and Rachel end up together and are forced to do everything the voice tells them. Morgan teams up with USAF investigator Perez (Rosario Dawson) to find out what's going on. Perez suspects that all this is connected to Ethan's death, and her investigation leads back to the Secretary Of Defense.

Eagle Eye is based on an idea by Steven Spielberg who is also executive producer of the film. D.J. Caruso, who directed Shia in Disturbia, takes the helm. Caruso does well in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats by throwing one action sequence after another at them. There's nary a dull moment as we watch Jerry and Rachel outrun the Feds in a car chase, rob an armored truck and slide down airport conveyor belts, and more. It's quite interesting to see how this mysterious voice control everything around the protagonists, thereby enabling it to genuinely threaten their lives. The voice is able to follow their movements, track their whereabouts, listen in on their conversations, use electronic signboards to pass instructions, change traffic lights, control machinery...you name it. It's the unseeable villain with the electronic hand of God. Whoa.

LaBeouf and Monaghan do well in their respective roles, not only by having good chemistry together, but also successfully making their characters believable. Thornton lends great support as the FBI agent trying his best to make sense of what's happening, and has the best lines in the film.

This film in essence, was meant to show the viewers how technology can be turned against us, especially now since we're all so reliant on it. And Caruso manages to get that point across, but there are some moments in the movie where I felt that it was too implausible to believe. But still, Eagle Eye certainly succeeds in thrilling and scaring us from start to finish. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

Year: 2008
Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance, Jim Sturgess


I would have reviewed this film a lot sooner if I didn't fall sick last week. Anyways, now that I've watched this movie, the review may commence.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a film centering on the lives of two sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) during the time of King Henry VIII's (Eric Bana) rule. The King is distraught that his queen is unable to give him a male heir. Thus the scheming Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) goes to his brother in-law Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) to ask for one of his daughters to become a mistress for the King.

Thomas, who wants nothing more than favors from the King for such a task, sends Anne despite objections from his wife Elizabeth (Kristin Scott Thomas). Anne gladly takes on the job of pleasing the King, but she fails. Instead it is Mary who catches the King's eye eventually. King Henry sends for Mary to live in his court, despite the fact that she's married to someone else, and the Queen is still living in the palace. Mary's uncle and father push for her to give the King what he wants, and she relents. Eventually she becomes pregnant, but is confined to her bed for a long period. In an effort to ensure the King does not stray from her, the Duke of Norfolk and Thomas sends Anne, who has been sent to France for education on etiquette, to keep the King company and see to it that Mary stays in the King's thoughts.

However, Anne takes the opportunity to reach far beyond her grasp, as she feels betrayed by Mary for losing the King's interest before. Anne not only grabs the King's attention, but persuades him to make her Queen. This sets off a chain of events that tears the Boleyn family and the country apart.....

Firstly, I don't really like period English dramas. It's just not my kind of film. But this one has Portman and Johansson in it, two very promising actresses indeed. And to their credit, they make it worthwhile to a certain extent. Though quite honestly, I found the way things were back in the day to be truly fascinating. In this period, it's all right for the King to have a mistress, a married woman at that, and all under the Queen's nose. And even more interesting is the scheming amongst noble families to gain good standing. They even shamelessly plot and question every move the Boleyn sisters make. There's a scene where after Mary sleeps with the King, her father and uncle ask her if she had done it with him, and the number of times as well.

Performance wise, Portman is good but inconsistent here. The emotional scenes are well done, but when Portman tries to court the King to take interest in her, she tries too hard, as if this were a stage play. It's disappointing coming from someone I expect so much more from. Johansson on the other hand, gets the tough task of playing the boring goody two shoes Mary, but successfully gets the audience to root for her when it matters. Bana is reduced to playing an underappreciated supporting character, but is quite convincing in every scene he's in. It's just unfortunate that this story isn't about him.

Critics say that this film is historically inaccurate, but then again nobody really goes to the movies to learn history. Verdict: not bad for an English film starring three actors who aren't English. (3/5)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Babylon A.D.

Year: 2008
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Lambert Wilson, Mark Strong


Babylon A.D. is a sci-fi actioner based on the novel Babylon Babies. Set in the distant future, it centres around Thoorop (Vin Diesel), a mercenary for hire fighting for survival in eastern Europe. One day he's hired by Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to escort a girl named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her handler Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) to New York.

At first, Thoorop doesn't really care about who the girl is, or why she's so special that she needs his protection to go all the way to New York. But along the way he discovers uncanny things about her, like how she is able to predict danger before it happens, or how she knows things she has never experienced. To make matters worse, other men have been sent to kidnap her, some sent by her father, thought to be dead, and some men by a religious cult called the Neolites who have a hidden agenda.

Before going to watch this film, I have heard of numerous negative reviews regarding Babylon A.D., but decided to give it a try. And it isn't as bad as it seems. Director Mathieu Kassovitz (Gothika) succeeds in creating a scary yet realistic view of the future, where refugee camps are rampant, and people would kill each other for survival. It's similar to the world you see in Children Of Men. In fact, the storyline is quite similar as well, except that Babylon A.D. leans more towards being an action film.

Diesel does just fine as Thoorop, though sometimes you can see him channeling Riddick, his other famous character in his performance. Yeoh and Thierry hold themselves up well alongside Diesel, their chemistry quite intact as it should be. However, there are reasons why this movie bombed at the box office, and the main reason is the ending itself.

Not only is it anti-climactic, but it makes little sense. You'll be wondering where the rest of the story ended up when the theatre lights come on. And the answer is: the cutting room floor. Word has it that the film's distributors cut out 70 minutes of Kassovitz's work, probably to fulfil their idea of what audiences want to see. Naturally Kassovitz was disappointed, and so are we. It probably would have made more sense to leave the rest of the film intact, in order to get the point across accurately. Don't these guys know anything about filmmaking or trusting their director? Sigh. And another gripe I have is the action sequences, which are poorly shot. It's like Batman Begins where fight scenes are filmed up close, and you can't see what happens clearly.

So Babylon A.D. ends up as the film that almost was. It's a pity, considering the heavyweights attached to this film, it could be so much more. (3.5/5)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Don't Mess With The Zohan

Year: 2008
Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Ido Mosseri, Rob Schneider


Adam Sandler movies can be either really funny or really stupid. But what I do enjoy is Sandler's honest approach at comedy. He knows what he's good at and uses it to his advantage. But there are times when he goes overboard, and you need to keep yourself from cringing too much.

In You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Sandler plays, get this....an Israeli counter terrorist agent called Zohan. He's the best in his organisation; he kicks holes through walls, swims faster than a jetski and catches bullets with his nostrils, among other things. Yes, they made Sandler a superhero with all the powers of the Justice League. Anyway, Zohan has been given the task to apprehend his arch-nemesis, the terrorist from Palestin called The Phantom (John Turturro). However, Zohan is growing weary of all the fighting between his country and Palestin. All he wants now is to do something else, namely cutting and styling hair!

So what does he do? He fakes his death during a battle with The Phantom and flies to America. Once there, he wastes no time in trying to get a job as a hairstylist, but finds that no hair salon will take him seriously. He befriends a guy named Michael (Nick Swardson), who offers him a place to stay. Then he meets up with an Israelian living in New York, Oori (Ido Mosseri), who helps him get a job at a hair salon run by a Palestinian girl, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Dalia is sceptical of Zohan (who calls himself Scrappy Coco after arriving in NY) because he has no experience, but is truly impressed when Zohan does a great job in styling the hair of numerous middle aged women at the salon. All is fine and well until a Palestinian taxi driver (Rob Schneider) recognises Zohan and makes plans to capture him.

This is a unique film in the sense that it makes light of the Israel Palestin crisis, showing both sides being able to get along on the streets of New York, and making fun of the people from both countries in a stereotypical way. But it is by no means offensive, unless the viewer happens to be an extreme type, which I am not. Director Dennis Dugan, working on a script co-written by Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow (Knocked Up), throws the action and laughs hard and fast, sparing no effort in making the film as crude and outrageous as possible.

And actually, that's where the problem really lies. Less is more sometimes, and I do wish they hadn't tried so hard to bury the film with an array of sexual humour. In the film, Zohan 'bangs' his customers after he styles their hair, and honestly I don't see why this is necessary, and it's not very funny either. And the numerous references to Zohan's crotch and what it does (if you know what I mean) wasn't humorous too.

But the film does have several good moments, especially when Zohan shows off his superhuman skills. It's cartoonish sometimes, sure. But just go with the flow and keep in mind it's Sandler on screen, and you'll enjoy it. I'm also impressed with Sandler keeping his body well toned for this film. He's the last guy I'd expect to do that. Also look out for numerous cameos from Chris Rock (least funny one), John McEnroe, Kevin James, George Takei and Mariah Carey.

Overall, it's not the best Adam Sandler flick, but it's passable. (3/5)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Strangers

Year: 2008
Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman


Have you guys seen the trailer to this film? It's freaky, I tell you. I had posted the trailer on my other blog a few months ago, because I loved it. Today I finally watched the film, and sadly it wasn't as good as I hoped it would be.

The plot for The Strangers is pretty straightforward. A young couple, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt, return to the latter's summer house after a party late one night. Things haven't been smooth for them because apparently Kristen turned down James' marriage proposal just a few hours ago. However before the two can even get over their not so jolly mood, they are attacked by three masked strangers who break into their house. Kristen and James are forced to fight for their lives against people who are stealthy and dangerous.

And basically, that's it. That's the story. First time director Bryan Bertino wrote the script based on actual events, and manages to get a couple of competent actors in Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman to play his leads. I'll give him credit for successfully creating a spooky atmosphere by minimising use of music, other than a vinyl record player playing old songs in the film. Credit is also given for making the intruders wear masks and not revealing their faces to the audience to create a sense of mystery about them.

But other than that, the film fails elsewhere. The plot isn't much to speak of, so the film is forced to run at a slow pace in order for the story to move along. You'll see as the intruders take their own sweet time in terrorising their prey. Now, there's a difference between taking time to savour the thrill of the act, and taking time because there's not much else to do, and unfortunately it's the latter here. It's clear that the intruders are in complete control of the situation. They know where to hide, where to appear and how to stop the couple from seeking help or escaping. But they are so methodically slow, and it made me wonder if they're bored or something. There's a scene where Tyler is standing right in the middle of the dining room, and one of the intruders walks in. He didn't look in her direction, so he didn't see her, but he walks in the opposite direction of where she is instead. Then as she hides, he comes back and takes a seat at the dining table. And I'm thinking, why is he doing that? They can just easily capture their prey, yet they wait till the end to do so, and there are many other instances where they just watch the couple instead of just getting it over with. Plus throughout the film there are many loud sounds of doors getting knocked, things falling over and breaking; all to either scare the audience or make us believe the intruders are clumsy half the time and stealthy the other half of the time.

To sum it up, The Strangers is good for a few scares and terrors, but doesn't score in the logic department. It could have been better. (2.5/5)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

WALL-E

Year: 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Voice cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger


When it comes to Pixar, no one does animation better than they do. They never seem to fail in creating a product that excels in visual and storyline. It's little wonder that Pixar films are the yardstick for animated fanfare.

This year, Pixar tries their hand at creating an adventure that is quite different from what they had done before. It's not about bugs, toys, fish or cars that talk, nor about rats that cook or superheroes that bicker. This time, it's a robot that doesn't really talk.

WALL-E is set in the very distant future, where earth is now empty, with no living creature in sight, just a whole lot of trash. It is here where we meet a little robot called WALL-E, which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth class. WALL-E has spent the last 700 years cleaning up the planet. We see his daily routine i.e. charging his power cells, picking up trash, compacting it into little cubes and stacking them up as high as skyscrapers. However, WALL-E isn't just an ordinary robot with a directive to collect garbage. He actually has curiousity and emotion. WALL-E takes the time to examine some of the stuff he finds, and keeps some of them, such as a lighter, Rubik's cube, cutlery and whatever he finds fascinating. In his spare time he watches Hello Dolly on video. The only companion he has is a cockroach that follows him everywhere.

All is fine and dull for WALL-E until one day when a spaceship touches down from the sky and releases a robot probe named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). EVE is a highly advanced robot programmed to find signs of plant life on earth. WALL-E is curious about his new guest and takes a liking to her. He shows EVE around and the things he found, but when he gives her a little stalk plant he had just picked up a few days before, EVE takes it and goes into sleep mode.

WALL-E tries his best but is unable to wake EVE, and then her spaceship returns to pick her up. WALL-E hitches a ride on board the vessel, determined to follow EVE wherever she goes, and discovers a whole new adventure, as well as where all the humans have been all this time.

Director Andrew Stanton has done it again. The guy who brought us Finding Nemo gives us a character that is not only adorable, but charming as well. You'd think that a robot that sounds and moves like R2D2 couldn't possibly carry a whole film by itself, but Stanton somehow pulls it off. For the better part of the first half, WALL-E is seen going about his business on an empty planet of trash, and even by not talking, WALL-E makes his daily activity most entertaining. It's a lot like Will Smith in I Am Legend, except here there are no monsters.

In the second half, Stanton shows us what mankind has become: lazy, obese and unable to do anything themselves. Every activity is assisted by machines and computers, and it gives the audience a stark reminder of what the future would be like if we carried on being so complacent. But this isn't the focus of the film. The film is more on the love story between WALL-E and EVE, as they risk their own safety in order to save each other and do the right thing as well.

A big compliment goes out to sound designer Ben Burtt, who created the voice for WALL-E. Burtt also made the sounds for R2D2, and here he proves again why he is the best man for the job. Kudos also to Jeff Garlin and Sigourney Weaver for their contributions as ship captain and computer voice respectively, and of course the obligatory voice of John Ratzenberger is also here.

WALL-E is a great movie for people of all ages. It has everything you'd want in a film: love, action, adventure, comedy and drama too. And all this from a pair of robots? Amazing indeed. (4/5)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mirrors

Year: 2008
Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart, Jason Flemyng


Mirrors is yet another horror flick from director Alexandre Aja, who directed The Hills Have Eyes and produced P2. The former was brilliant but the latter utterly boring. This time Aja tries his hand at something more supernatural.

In Mirrors, Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack Bauer on hit TV show 24, stars as Ben Carson, a cop on suspension who's having problems with his marriage, and is an alcoholic to boot. While being separated from his wife and family, Ben stays over at his sister Angela's (Amy Smart) place.

In order to make ends meet, he takes up a job as a security guard at a burnt down department store. It is at this place where Ben starts to have weird experiences with mirrors. He sees reflections that shouldn't be there, and starts to believe that the mirrors are alive. However, no one believes his claims, not his sister or even his wife Amy (Paula Patton), who is still having problems reconciling with him. But when the evil behind the glass kills Angela, Ben starts to fear for his family's life, and sets out to find the truth about what happened in that building.

You know, when I had finished watching Mirrors, I humorously thought that this film is simply an exercise of putting Jack Bauer in an episode of Supernatural, and wondered if he should have called the Winchester brothers to help him. But jokes aside, this film isn't half bad. Aja and partner Gregory Levasseur, who wrote the screenplay together, keep the pacing tight and succeed in creating a sombre mood that suits the film nicely. Sutherland is the driving force here, playing Ben with great conviction. He's not much different from the Jack Bauer character (sorry for the excessive 24 references) but it works nonetheless. Patton isn't as effective playing Amy however, and Amy Smart is wasted in her role as Ben's sister. Her role was basically to play a victim, and that's it. Her death scene is truly a highlight of this film, if you're squeamish, you might want to turn away when it happens.

So what doesn't work for Mirrors? The scare techniques. Aja did The Hills Have Eyes very well, up to the point that even looking at the vast empty desert where the monsters lived was scary enough. In Mirrors, every scare technique you've seen in textbook horror flicks are used. The one where you turn away from a mirror and when you look back at it, there's something there? Check. The one where you're looking in the dark and an animal comes out of nowhere? Check. Aja also uses the same trick used by the Korean film that this story is based on, where the reflection in the mirror doesn't move when you do. He even borrows a few ideas from Dark Water and The Exorcist. It's all fine and dandy, but if I can see the scares coming, then it's not very scary, is it?

And there's also the stereotype character of the troubled lead with a dark past trying to pick up the pieces. Same ones you've seen in The Ring and Dark Water. It makes me wonder why evil things never look for happy people to torment. I guess this is the new school of horror, whereas in the past, the evil in Poltergeist preyed on a happy family.

But all in all, it's not a bad effort by Aja. It's better than P2, and certainly better than the last two films I watched before this. (3.5/5)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

Year: 2008
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, Anthony Wong


When I first heard about this sequel, I had a nagging feeling that it was going to be bad. And it's odd how I'm almost always right about these things.

For those of you who have never heard of The Mummy franchise, it revolves around the adventures of the brave and dashing Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) as he battles ancient evil entities the same way Indiana Jones rides through his adventures. The first two films were not bad, it was fun, campy and it rarely takes itself too seriously. Though I have to admit, the second film had an overkill of CGI at the end which made The Rock look so fake.

In the last film, Rick had settled down with his wife Evie and they had a son named Alex. This film continues on from there. But first, as the previous two films began with a flashback sequence, this third instalment does the same. In ancient China, the ruthless Emperor (Jet Li) led a brutal campaign to rule his nation. Then he sought to become immortal and rule forever. For this, he acquired the skills of a witch, Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh). She does so, but when the Emperor learns that she has fallen for his loyal general Ming Guo (Russell Wong), he kills the latter. Zi Yuan responds by putting a curse on the Emperor and his army, turning them into stone statues similar to the terracotta warriors.

Cut to England in 1946, where Rick is happily enjoying his retirement and Evie (Maria Bello) is enjoying life writing romance novels based on her mummy adventures. The happy couple are asked by the local museum to return an ancient artifact to China, and they agree since they haven't much to do in their boring lifestyle anyway. Once in Shanghai, they meet up with Evie's brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and their son Alex (Luke Ford), who just so happens to have unearthed the Emperor's tomb. A Chinese general (Anthony Wong) who wishes to bring order to China by resurrecting the Emperor, forces the O'Connells to hand over the artifact they brought with them and bring the Emperor back. Thus begins another adventure as the Emperor awakens, and the O'Connells team up with Zi Yuan and her daughter Lin (Isabella Leong), both immortal, to stop him.

Director Rob Cohen (The Fast & The Furious) takes over from Stephen Sommers, and he throws in plenty of action sequences like a speed chase through Shanghai, human versus dead army fights, hand-to-hand combat and even the Abominable Snowman. Yeah, crazy stuff. But unlike the previous two instalments, the effort falls flat. Sure, the one-liners and action are well delivered, but it all seems forced. And I don't think it's fair to fault the cast, since they're all accomplished actors. It's the script and dialogue. Most of it sounds way too corny, making the actors' performances very bland indeed.

But I must say I'm impressed with Anthony Wong, who gives a good performance despite being given a role which doesn't do him justice. At the very least, he speaks very good English, unlike Jet Li, who thankfully doesn't have to say anything in English in this film. The rest of the cast are just barely trying to make their efforts stand out. And by the way, Bello doesn't quite fit the role of Evie, originally played by Rachel Weisz. Bello isn't a bad actress, but playing a British lady who kicks ass isn't quite her style.

Cohen also makes the same mistake Sommers did in the last film by overusing CGI. In this film, there are sequences that will remind you of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Van Helsing. Familiar, bad and not really necessary. At the end of it, I think this film wasn't necessary, just like the fourth Indiana Jones wasn't necessary. Though Spielberg and Lucas did a better job with their work.

Give this one a miss, and go back to the first Mummy film. Or Just go watch Indy. (3/5)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

Year: 2008
Director: Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet, Xzibit, Mitch Pileggi


I remember back in my younger days when I would quickly finish my dinner so that I could put myself in front of the idiot box and catch the latest episode of The X-Files. I watched with great interest as the spooky and ready to believe guy Fox Mulder teamed up with the sceptical Dana Scully to solve the latest mysterious case thrown in front of them. And they did so with bravado and plenty of humour and drama as they faced demons, vampires, monsters, ghosts and the little green men the government are so bent on keeping secret.

And now after nine seasons and one feature film, Mulder and Scully are back. But in an age where TV is now ruled by cantankerous and horny doctors, prison breaking brothers, superpowered heroes and Jack Bauer, can the dynamic duo find their place in our world?

In this second film, we begin a long way from where the show ended. Mulder is now in hiding after having his work discredited by the FBI. Scully is now a surgeon in a hospital, trying to save a young boy who's gravely ill. The FBI approaches the duo for a consult when one of their agents goes missing. Their only lead lies with Father Joe, a psychic priest who has visions of the missing agent and her captors. The FBI want Mulder to test Father Joe's credibility as the latter is a convicted paedophile.

Mulder of course wastes no time in believing the man, especially since Father Joe's visions lead the Feds to vital clues regarding their missing agent. But Scully isn't convinced, and she would rather not be a part of this case, preferring to focus on saving her dying patient. And then another girl falls victim to the same man. Can Mulder persuade his partner to follow him once more?

As a fan, I must say that I expected just a little more quality out of this film. It's by no means bad, but it isn't great either. Chris Carter, creator of the show and director of this film, is nice enough to put the conspiracy theories and Area 51 crap behind him and give us a stand alone story for this one. In fact, I'd say he did so in order to focus on the real appeal of The X-Files: Mulder and Scully.

Duchovny and Anderson still have it in delivering their characters the believability and charm we loved so much in their heyday. But still, the effort seems forced at times. They aren't as young as they used to be, and it shows. However, they make up for it by giving enough chemistry when it matters. In this film, Mulder and Scully behave a lot like an odd married couple, arguing when their principles clash, then kiss and make up later. Billy Connolly lends good support as Father Joe, playing a type of character I don't think he's tried before.

The story itself isn't as paranormal as the things the former agents had faced in their past. The villains may be strange and dark, but not out of this world. The film serves more as a message to us, that is to never give up, regardless of what it is we're fighting for. It comes loud and clear, but I think it's the delivery of the message that could be improved.

A piece of nostalgia for X-Philes, but a lot of improvement can still be done. And that's coming from a fan. (3/5)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

Year: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Nestor Carbonell


It's finally time to see if the sequel to Batman Begins lives up to the hype that has followed it since the death of Heath Ledger earlier this year. Reviews have been positive all around and the buzz is that this is THE film of the year. So, is it?

And now, in the words of The Joker himself: and here....we....go!

The Dark Knight begins with a bank robbery, organised by the clown prince of crime himself. It's just the beginning of what will be an ingenius plan to bring Gotham City to its knees.

Speaking of Gotham, it has changed from the time Bruce Wayne returned to it in the first film. Thanks to Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon, the criminals in Gotham are running scared, and the presence of the Batman has inspired some wannabe vigilantes dressed up like bats. But now, the city receives two new players to the game.

First and foremost is District Attorney Harvey Dent, who along with Bruce's former girlfriend Rachel Dawes work hard to prosecute all the major crime bosses in the city. He is so successful that Gordon recommends to Batman to join forces with him. Together, the three men are triumphant in arresting a Chinese money launderer in cahoots with organised crime in Gotham, which is a big win for the right side of the law.

But then, here's where the second player steps in to change the rules. A man simply known as The Joker. He's strange, psychopathic and wears white makeup to intimidate, yet gain the attention of the criminals of Gotham. He offers them a chance to seize back control of the city, but what The Joker really wants is something more basic yet complex at the same time. Chaos.

The Joker strikes at the heart of the triumvirate of Gotham's protectors, which include personal attacks, citywide destruction and terrorising the public. His goal is to unhinge the moral reasoning amongst the people of Gotham. All this bring Gordon, Dent and Wayne to the edge as they scramble, struggle and fight to maintain order and bring The Joker in. In the end, one of the three men falls from grace and as the crisis gets uglier, sacrifices have to be made to end the madness.

It may seem like I'm not giving away much here, but it's only because you'll have to see this film for yourself to comprehend the goings-on. And the fact that The Dark Knight isn't an easy film to process. But it never stops being the masterpiece that it truly is. Christopher Nolan has truly outdone himself this time, by directing and co-writing (with his brother Jonathan) a film that surpasses Batman Begins on many levels, and presents something that no other Batman filmmaker could ever come close to giving movie audiences. Nolan gives everything character, from the players involved to the city of Gotham itself. Some characters may be more prominent than others, but each of them serves its purpose, so there is a tremendous amount of depth in every corner of this story.

But the million dollar question is of course: Was Heath Ledger any good? As Randy Jackson would say on American Idol, "A 100% yes." In fact, I'd give Ledger 150%. He is great, no doubt about it. This is The Joker as you've only imagined him to be if you read the comicbooks, and Ledger makes him even scarier than I thought. Some of you may recall Jack Nicholson's take on the character in Tim Burton's film, and I'll say this about Nicholson: he made The Joker clever, campy and anarchistic as the script wanted him to be. But just watch Ledger at work, and you'll be terrified, and truly convinced that this is a man that isn't just mad, but someone who sees the dark side of irony and laughs at the world going down in flames. It is unfortunate that The Joker is Ledger's last role. I think he deserves an Oscar nomination, not because he's gone, but simply because he's that damn good.

Not to be outdone is Christian Bale, who gives his character the bravado to be strong in his darkest hour. Ironically he spends more time being Batman than Bruce Wayne here, and he'll be remembered for that. Gary Oldman gets more screen time as Gordon, and he is the heart of the film. Gordon is the balance that Harvey Dent and Batman can't seem to achieve, and becomes the most vulnerable character here. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman lend able support as Bruce Wayne's trusted allies, providing some minor humorous moments here and there. Gyllenhaal fares better than Katie Holmes in playing Rachel Dawes, but doesn't get much to do. Also keep an eye out for cameo appearances from William Fichtner, Edison Chen and Cillian Murphy, reprising his role as The Scarecrow.

Lest I forget is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Now, I'm not a big fan of Eckhart, and I didn't even enjoy his scenes in the trailers for this film. But you know what, he ain't half bad at all. His Dent is ambitious and bold, and isn't afraid to do what is necessary to defeat The Joker. Some of you may already know that Dent will transform to his fated character of Two-Face in the film, and I must admit that I preferred Eckhart's performance as Dent over Two-Face. But he gets an A for effort from me.

With a film with this much hype, can anything go wrong? Perhaps, if you look close enough. It stretches at 152 minutes, and though I don't mind that, it somehow highlights the notion that Nolan is trying too hard to fit so much story into one film. He's the guy who can make a complicated story like The Prestige turn out to be an amazing work of art, but here in The Dark Knight he could have made it a little easier to digest. I'm thinking Nolan wasn't planning for a third film, which is good because then we'd have another bloated film like The Matrix Revolutions or Pirates Of The Carribean 3. But still, the feeling of overload is slightly present, as the quick editing in several scenes will attest. And in the end, you'll feel that this film is more about Harvey Dent than about the titular character, which in some ways may be right. But hardcore Bat-fans might ask for more of the caped crusader.

Nonetheless, this is a film you just can't miss. This is a superhero film that is furthest from the concept of a superhero film you'll ever see. It's as dark, brooding and filled with awe as you'll ever hope for it to be. You'll remember this one for the ages. (4.5/5)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Year: 2008
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Seth MacFarlane


This is the much anticipated sequel to the first Hellboy film also directed by Guillermo del Toro, and most of the original cast have returned as well. For those of you who aren't familiar with Hellboy, here's a quick lesson: he's a child from hell brought to our world by a Nazi follower back in 1944, and was looked after by Professor Broom (John Hurt), who leads the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). In the first film, an adult Hellboy was successful in killing the same man who brought him to Earth and protecting humanity from evil, but his surrogate father Professor Broom was killed.

In this sequel, we begin in 1955 when a young Hellboy listens to a story by his father about a war between man and the elves many centuries ago. The war came to a truce in the end, with man agreeing to live in the cities and the elves shall live in the forests. Cut to present day, where the elven Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) returns from exile to reclaim the earth that his father had given up in honor of the truce. He kills his father and attempts to acquire the three pieces of a special golden crown that will give him control over the indestructible Golden Army, which he plans to use to take over the planet.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his buddies from the BPRD, pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), aquatic empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and new member Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) who is made up of gas that enables him to control inanimate objects of any kind, are called in to stop Prince Nuada's dastardly plans. To do so, they have to protect his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who holds the final piece of the crown. Along the way, the team deals with all sorts of problems, including being outed by the press which doesn't go well with their handler, Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

Director del Toro once again delivers a film that gives equal measure in terms of action, drama, humour and visual excitement. This time he has brought a bigger set of monsters and creatures that would rival George Lucas' Star Wars universe. But unlike Lucas, del Toro is a better writer in terms of creativity and realism. He manages to inject more depth into his leads and give them more human credibility. You'll laugh as you watch Hellboy and Liz argue and blow up their room literally, or watching Hellboy and Abe get themselves drunk as they listen to Can't Smile Without You while pondering their ill-fated love stories. Classic indeed.

But not to be forgotten of course, is the action. There are many to behold as the BPRD battle fairies, monsters and gigantic plants to save the earth from destruction. del Toro and his production team have certainly outdone themselves in creating a surreal world that is both dark and intoxicating.

The cast perform up to expectations thankfully. This film faces the risk of the visual wow factors overwhelming the characters but luckily the cast stand out in making themselves memorable. Perlman plays the unlikely hero effortlessly, you'd think that he is like that in real life. Blair, Jones, Walton and Goss lend great support too. Goss in particular gets to do more this time around compared to del Toro's other film Blade II.

My only gripe however (yes there is one in fact) is the idea of what Nuada is fighting for. He tells Hellboy that the latter is more in common with him than humankind, and that he shouldn't be protecting them. Nuada fights to reclaim the earth from the greedy men of the earth who do nothing but suck it dry. True indeed, the people fear Hellboy and the BPRD, and the question of whose side they should be on is only skimmed on slightly. If only del Toro had given this argument more time, it would have made a considerable impact at the end of the film. The absence of this made the ending quite hollow.

But then again, perhaps making a fun summer movie is what del Toro and company were aiming for. And for that, they certainly delivered. (4/5)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wanted

Year: 2008
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp


More comic book films. More fantastic things unfolding onscreen. Hollywood just loves adapting these books. But don't get me wrong, I do love this kind of films. Being a comic book fan myself, I just love watching fantasy turn into reality on the big screen.

I didn't read the comic book of which the film Wanted is based on, but judging from the blood pumping trailer and the cast that's involved, (even if it includes Angelina Jolie who I'm sick of seeing in films like this) who could say no?

Wanted's main protagonist is Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), an accounts manager who basically is a loser in life. He gets verbally abused by his fat boss at work every day, and his girlfriend is so bored with him, she spends time sleeping with his best friend. Wesley even tries to google himself on the net and gets nothing. That's how much of a nobody he is. That is, until he meets a strange woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie) at the pharmacy one night.

Fox saves him from an assassin named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) and takes him to her hideout, where she introduces him to The Fraternity, a group of assassins led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Sloan tells Wesley that Wesley's father was one of them, a great assassin killed by Cross. He explains that The Fraternity were created by fate thousands of years ago to carry out hits in order to balance the chaos around the world. Sloan offers Wesley a chance to become one of them, to train with them and break free from his mundane, hopeless life, and eventually avenge his father's death.

Wesley of course turns them down, unable to believe that he's destined to be a killer. But eventually, he accepts their offer and learns slowly and albeit painfully, on how to be a hitman. He learns how to fight, shoot, take punishment and even bend bullets. Yup, you heard me, bend a bullet's path so that it curves around an obstacle to hit its target. Soon Wesley becomes a talented assassin and goes after Cross, but then learns that not everything is what it seems.

Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director who gave us the Russian films Nightwatch and Daywatch, makes his American film debut here. His unique filmmaking style is quite suitable for a film that focuses on bullet paths, flying cars and outrageous stunts. He uses plenty of slow motion to visualise the action closely and present it better for his audience, and it works to some extent.

McAvoy does well as Wesley, the loser who transforms himself into an action hero, but his American accent isn't quite convincing. I can still sense his strong Scottish accent in his speech. Jolie and Freeman acquit themselves well also, being old horses at roles like this, it is to be expected. Look out for Konstantin Khabensky, the lead actor from Nightwatch and Daywatch in a supporting role as a member of The Fraternity.

But is Wanted any good? Well, yes, if you can suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it. Remember how you felt when you watched The Matrix? How you said Wow when you saw them jump across buildings and dodge bullets? Well, you're gonna see the same kind of Holy Shit moments here too, like watching a car do a 360 degree turn above another car and land on its wheels, or bullets bending in a circular path, or a man being able to run so fast he can crash out of an office window and fly through the sky. Yeah, comic book stuff. It's supposed to be cool, and yet it still feels like it's too unreal. I mean, I'm still having trouble processing the idea of shooting bullets and making them curve as if you're flinging a baseball.

And when you get to the third act, there's a revelation that makes this story kinda like Star Wars, only in reverse. Hopefully that won't be a spoiler for you there. It's a nice surprise for those who didn't read the book, though it might leave some nagging questions. And the ending is somewhat overdone, I wished they had done away with the narration part.

Overall, it's a pretty good action flick, a good way to spend two hours. (3.5/5)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Happening

Year: 2008
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez


When I first heard about this film, I hated the tagline (cheap pop for the director's past work), I hated the title (not very inspiring) and I hated the idea of Mark Wahlberg being in it. But hey, it's M. Night Shyamalan's movie. That alone is reason enough to check it out.

The Happening begins in Central Park in New York, where all of a sudden, people start killing themselves. Then the phenomenon spreads. People start jumping off buildings and shooting themselves. People in nearby Philadelphia, who hear about all this on the news, start evacuating, thinking that it could be a virus or a terrorist attack that's causing all this.

Philly high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) quickly takes his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and joins his best friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) in leaving the city. As they travel alongside thousands of other people, they hear more distressing news about mass deaths occurring, and the mysterious attack continues to follow them wherever they go. So what exactly is happening?

Well, when you figure out the answer to that, you'd probably think the same thing I did. It's stupid. I mean, it's not like it's a completely far fetched idea. But the execution was very poor. The way it happens, the way it's explained, and the way the characters react to it. All poor. Where's the fear Shyamalan put in us when he showed us the dead in The Sixth Sense? Where's the fear we saw so evident on Haley Joel Osment's face on any of the characters here? With the exception of Leguizamo and Sanchez, everyone here either gets a bad script to read out of or their acting just plain sucks.

Wahlberg is an inconsistent actor, which is why I never liked him, and I hated the fact that he got an Oscar nod for The Departed. And here, he proves me right. Never once did he convince me that he's a high school teacher in this film, and he tries too hard in half of his scenes. Deschanel on the other hand looks so lost, she probably doesn't know which film she's in. Pretty to look at, but can't act to save herself here.

The good part is, it is quite scary to see people suddenly take their own lives for no reason at all. Some of the scenes will shock you, though the scenes where a guy feeds himself to the lions and another guy putting himself in the path of a moving lawnmower were overkill. These built up the story quite nicely, until we get to the third act of the film, when the leads meet a weird old lady who offers them shelter. I don't know what the heck she's doing in this film.

Basically, this film is about how Mother Nature reacts to humans in the wake of evolution and all the negative impacts, like pollution and global warming etc. But Shyamalan is simply out of his element here. Lady In The Water, which most critics hated, at least had quirky characters that helped move the story along. In The Happening, none of the characters are interesting enough to hold your attention, resulting in the 91 minute screen time feel so much longer than it should.

This film isn't happening (yeah I know most critics used this same line to shoot this film down, but I couldn't help using it too), another miss from M. Night. (2.5/5)

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