Saturday, February 23, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Year: 2008
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Dillon Freasier

Somehow I felt privileged being able to watch this film in a cinema. I didn't think I would be that lucky, to be honest, especially with the kind of films that our country gets to screen these days. There Will Be Blood is up for 8 Academy Awards this year, and after what I saw today, it's guaranteed for one win at least.

So here's the film's synopsis for ya: it's the turn of the century, 1898. We see a man mining silver out of a hole, who then moves to mining oil four years later. He makes good money out of it, and is always on the lookout for oil prospects and making more profits. This man is our lead character, Daniel Plainview. Daniel runs his own mining team with his son, H.W.

One day, he meets a young man who tells him of a place in Little Boston where there is oil. He goes up there and meets the family who owns the land, the Sunday family, and buys it from them. Then he brings his entire mining team over, sets up his business and promises the surrounding community the benefits from his oiling business. However, his determination in seeking profits earns him an enemy, in the form of the second son of the Sunday family, Eli. Eli is a self proclaimed religious prophet who seeks money from Daniel in order to build his church for his followers.

Daniel also has to contend with other threats: other oil businessmen, a long lost relative, accidents at the mine and his strained relationship with his young son, caused by the latter's deafness from a mining incident.

And that's basically the story. It's about one man's quest for oil which is soaked in many different elements: greed, vengeance, hate, religion and the worst parts of the human psyche. This isn't about oil drilling, even though it may look like it. Paul Thomas Anderson, the director, focuses almost the entire film on Daniel Plainview, and how he becomes the powerful yet deceitful and brilliantly evil person as the story progresses.

As for casting, you can't possibly find a better actor to do this than Daniel Day-Lewis. This is probably the only guy who can make a film every few years and make it memorable. I mean, Daniel IS the film. He is so charming and brutal and believable in his role, that for the majority of the movie, you'll forget that it's Daniel Day-Lewis under the hat of Daniel Plainview. This year's Best Actor Oscar should be his for the taking. But I also have to commend Paul Dano for his portrayal of Eli Sunday. Last year, Dano was the silent brother of Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine, but this year he definitely makes a bigger impact than that film. Eli is a pathetic man trying to screw Plainview and the people he preaches to using religion, and Dano pulls off the role very well indeed. Day-Lewis' confrontation with Dano in the final scene of the film is my favourite. Both actors were excellent.

Anderson does a brilliant job in most aspects of his film, from dialogue to camerawork to set design. My only complaint perhaps, is the length. It feels long, as Anderson takes his time to flesh out his story and characters. But I think the payoff at the end is worth the time.

There Will Be Blood isn't an easy film to watch, but it's worth it, even if you're not a fan of Mr Day-Lewis. (4/5)

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Year: 2008
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Jamie Bell, Samuel L Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Diane Lane, Michael Rooker

You know, I had originally planned to watch Elizabeth: The Golden Age today, but changed my mind and decided to go for Jumper. I think maybe I shouldn't have. The former would have been a better choice.

Jumper revolves around David Rice, a young man who at age 15, discovers he can teleport himself anywhere he wants. So what does he do when he learns of his new gift? He robs the bank. He gathers lots and lots of cash, travels all around the world and lives the life his father could never give him.

One day however, his envious lifestyle is threatened by the presence of Roland, a man who is bent on hunting people like David, nicknamed 'jumpers'. Roland, armed with a baton that emits electrical volts, gives David a good beating before the kid barely escapes with his life. Soon, he realises that everything he holds dear, from his life to his childhood girlfriend Millie, is in dire straits. David learns more about Roland and his gang, the Paladins, from another jumper called Griffin. Griffin, a more experienced jumper, has been at war with Paladins for years, and though he agrees to help David, isn't very sympathetic with his plight.

Directed by Doug Liman, who gave us the thrilling The Bourne Identity and the overrated Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper is a potentially interesting sci-fi film, but fails to live up to it. Pity, since it was written by writing heavyweights David S Goyer (Blade), Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and Simon Kinberg (X-Men 3). The film boasts great special effects, making the fight scenes between the jumpers and the Paladins very fast paced and thrilling. However, the plot and dialogue is a major letdown.

For example, when David asks Roland why he is hunting him, Roland replies "Only God should have this power." Of course, it's a very basic attempt to show humans' hatred for people who are different, but that line sounds like it came from the 1500s! And the lines they feed poor Christensen has only slightly improved from the ones George Lucas gave him in Star Wars, thereby making his acting once again less convincing. Jackson has no problems making his presence felt as Roland, but it is Jamie Bell that steals the show as the smart mouthed Griffin.

The filmmakers should have given us more insight into the history between the jumpers and the Paladins, as the stuff they reveal here barely scratch the surface. No explanation is given as to how jumpers got their powers, or how the Paladins came about, or what else motivates them in hunting jumpers. There is also a subplot involving David's mother, played by Diane Lane, but it's also not thoroughly explored. That's why the film lasted only 90 minutes, a waste of screentime for sure.

If all this film wants to do is leave us wanting more so that it warrants a sequel, then they're off to a bad start. Jumper is fun in parts, but not good enough as a whole. (3/5)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Year: 2007
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen

I'm not a big fan of musicals. I remembered how excruciating it was sitting through Dreamgirls last year, watching them break into song every five minutes. I mean, just how much overdramatic singing from Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson can one stomach?

But hey, this time it's Tim Burton. Back with his favourite actor, Johnny Depp. And when those two join forces, you can't go wrong. Yeah, it's still a typical musical with songs coming in after every breath. But thankfully, I found it quite charming.

Sweeney Todd is based on the hit Broadway musical about the demon barber of Fleet Street, who would slit the throats of his customers and send them down to his fellow tenant Mrs Lovett, so she can make pies with them. Sweeney Todd is a man of vengeance, though he wasn't a long time ago. 15 years ago, he was a happy man called Benjamin Barker who had a beautiful wife and daughter, until the evil Judge Turpin, who wanted Barker's wife for himself, convicted him for a crime he didn't commit and sent him away.

And now, Barker's back, with a new name and a thirst for payback. He finds his old friend, Mrs Lovett still running her pie shop under his old premises. She helps him set up his place and plan his revenge against Turpin. Through a young boy named Anthony, Todd learns that his daughter is alive and being held captive by Turpin, so he and Mrs Lovett scheme to get Turpin over to his barber shop....

Burton is well known for making his movies dark and gothic, and stylish in look and mood. He achieves that yet again, from the opening credit sequence, reminiscent of his other film Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, all the way to the end. By giving London a very grim outlook, and most of the people in it unkempt, he successfully captures the right tone for the film. I'd say his dark style has never been more fitting than this.

Johnny Depp once again gives a splendid performance as the lead character. Imagine if you will, Jack Sparrow minus the charm and cocky smirk he keeps flashing, and you will find one very dark character indeed. But more than that, Depp manages to give Todd a sense of tragicness, as you will find yourself feeling sorry for his plight, and the need for him to seek revenge. Helena Bonham Carter is almost equally charming as Mrs Lovett. She is a perfect foil to Depp, though her corpse-like image throughout the film was distracting. Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall lend able support as Turpin and Turpin's right hand man, Beadle Bamford respectively. A special mention goes out to Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays a rival barber. It's reminiscent of his character in Talladega Nights, quite hilarious I must say.

But this film being a musical, can the cast sing? Oh yes, they can! What do you know, Depp can sing. Well, okay, honestly Depp wasn't born to sing, he can carry a tune, but just enough for this film. His screen presence makes it possible for him to play Todd so well. Carter isn't that good a singer, but it works nonetheless. It was surprising for me to see Rickman, Spall and Cohen sing too. I don't think you'll ever see them do that on film again.

All in all, Sweeney Todd is an enjoyable musical. But it is quite a violent one though. Not for the kids, I assure you. (4/5)

Friday, February 08, 2008


Year: 2007
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Wes Bentley, Rachel Nichols

The title P2 refers to the parking lot level where the film takes place. It's certainly a unique name for a film, and one that is straight to the point.

It's Christmas Eve, and businesswoman Angela Bridges is itching to get home to attend a Christmas dinner with her family. Work obligations keep her at the office till late at night, but she finally makes it out the door.

She gets to her car in parking level (you guessed it) P2, and won't start. This can't be happening, she says. She tries to get help, but there isn't anyone, save for the parking attendant called Tom. Tom tries to help get her car started, but fails. Then he asks her to join him for a dinner he planned in his office, but she declines and calls for a cab.

And then well, things go bad for poor Angela. She can't find a way out of the building. She gets trapped in the parking lot, the lights go out, and before you can say "hey don't leave me here!", she gets knocked out. She awakens to find herself a prisoner in Tom's office, and he forces her to spend the rest of the night as his guest. Fearful at first, Angela slowly gathers the courage to escape, but how can she do it when no one else is around to help, and her captor knows the parking lot better than she does?

P2 is written by director Franck Khalfoun, Alexander Aja and Gregory Levasseur, as they explore the idea of being trapped alone in an underground parking lot. It's a decent effort actually. I say decent, because it has plenty of room for improvement. For a thriller, it takes too long to unfold. You'll have to wait a good 30 minutes or so before the suspense really kicks in. The pace is also quite uneven, and there are a few unnecessarily long drawn out sequences.

Rachel Nichols, previously seen on TV show Alias, is good as the frightened yet feisty Angela. Wes Bentley on the other hand is only semi-believable as Tom. It probably has something to do with the filmmakers' decision to give him a lot of dialogue to digest. In my opinion, that wasn't wise, as it only made his character more pathetic than creepy. Pity, since Tom comes off as quite scary at first, but turns into a wuss towards the end. What a waste. The ending is also quite familiar especially for those of you who have seen the victims turn on their tormentors in other films. Jonathan Mostow's Breakdown comes to mind, and I preferred that film. Here, it's just too little too late, and all the suspense has evaporated by then.

It's a decent effort, like I said. But I wouldn't pay to see this again. (3/5)

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Odette Yustman, Mike Vogel

There was so much hype surrounding this film after the trailer with no title made its way into US cinemas last year. They said it was like The Blair Witch Project, the cult classic which was filmed using handheld cameras and starred unknown actors. Well, the film does impress, thankfully. Otherwise it would have been a waste of time for us viewers, despite it being only 90 minutes long.

Cloverfield begins as a supposed tape recording owned by the US government about an alien attack in New York City. The footage begins with a man named Rob taping his friend Beth as they spend some time together. It then cuts to a farewell party for Rob organised by his brother Jason and Jason's girlfriend Lily. Rob's best friend Hud is the cameraman who goes around the party attendees getting goodbye messages for Rob. Then Beth shows up at the party, some things don't go smoothly for Rob, Beth leaves with another guy and then bang! Chaos.

Pretty sudden, right? Well, that's how authentic the film attempts to be, by not focusing on plot and just making it run with whatever you see happening. Anyway, an explosion rocks the city, the lights go out, fireballs start raining down on the city, and the head of the Statue Of Liberty comes flying down the street right in front of the party peeps.

People start running and scattering like cockroaches in the kitchen when the lights go on. Screams. Loud sounds. Explosions. Growling and roaring sounds. Rob, Jason, Lily, Hud and Lily's friend Marlena try to get off the island, which is made difficult by the thousands of others trying to do the same thing. Then, another disaster strikes, and things get worse. The group of friends discover that some alien creature the size of Godzilla is attacking the city, and the military can't seem to contain it. The friends then attempt to do the unthinkable by going back to the city to save Beth. And we're watching all of this unfold from Hud's camera's point of view.

Not much of a plot, like I said. But thankfully the film doesn't need it, because it doesn't rely on plot. It relies on realism, which is achieved by using handheld cameras and well executed visual effects. The use of unknown actors also helps, had they used people we know, it would have been a distraction. Director Matt Reeves successfully puts us right in the middle of the destruction and chaos with all these techniques, and you feel every blow, every sound, every emotion. The fear and terror is so real, you'll find yourself at the edge of your seat many times.

If you remember The Blair Witch Project, you'll know what I'm talking about. In that film, the same techniques used gave us the genuine fear of the dark and the unseen. It's quite amazing, I must say. However, the shaky camerawork may get on the nerves of some people who get dizzy watching stuff like this. That, and a couple of cheesy moments in the film will spoil your enjoyment. Cloverfield is definitely a film with an acquired taste. You'll either love it or hate it.

I recommend it for people who want a horror film of a different kind. But a warning: it may not be everyone's cup of tea. (4/5)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Eastern Promises

Year: 2007
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Prior to this I had not watched any of David Cronenberg's films. I had wanted to watch A History Of Violence, but it didn't make it here. And after hearing about the amount of things in this film that wouldn't get past the censors, I had thought Eastern Promises would suffer the same fate. Miraculously, it made it. With a price, but more on that later.

Eastern Promises takes place in London, where a pregnant 14 year old girl is brought into the hospital after collapsing at the pharmacy. The midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts) fails to save her, but manages to save the baby, a girl. Anna finds only a diary amongst the girl's belongings, and through it, learns that her name is Tatiana. A business card of a Russian restaurant in the diary leads Anna to its manager, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Anna tries to persuade Semyon to translate Tatiana's diary (which is written in Russian), so that she may find a way to send the child to Tatiana's next-of-kin.

Anna's mother and Russian uncle warn her of the dangers in doing so, when they realize that Tatiana may have been in trouble with Russian gangsters, after the uncle reads the diary. But Anna pushes on, trying to find justice for the dead girl. Later, she meets Semyon's troublemaking son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and his driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). The former doesn't take too kindly to Anna's inquiries, while the latter tries to help her and not get her in trouble with his employers.

Unfortunately, it's too late as Anna finds herself knee deep in the mud after discovering Semyon's connection to the girl. As Nikolai tries to keep her alive, he finds himself at odds with Kirill over an execution of a man that had done the latter wrong. It all comes down to a brutal confrontation, which our local censors were more than happy to cut up!

Sigh. I had to go to imdb just to find out how the violence went down in a certain scene, as the censors butchered a majority of the whole thing. And they did a bad job with the profanity cuts as well. Disruption to the movie flow is baaaad. Just bad. Ruined my enjoyment of the film.

But let's see what I can say about it. I'll give points to Viggo Mortensen for his very convincing portrayal of a Russian mobster. Mannerisms, accent, language.....all very authentic. Though after seeing how Russians speak to each other, I wonder if they always talk so slowly. But that's ok. Cassel just does another one of his wild, rebellious characters in here, with good effect. Watts grounds the film well as the emotional core. Cronenberg delivers in making the film as bleak and shady as it should be.

However, the film lacks a proper climax. When it was over, I found myself feeling like I had sat through a movie made for TV. Sigh. It needs just a little more tension and suspense. And since it was lacking in that, it relied on Mortensen's screen presence to carry it. It's just not enough. Mortensen though deserves the Oscar nomination he got for it.

I'm gonna look for the DVD and watch this again, maybe I'll enjoy it more then. (3.5/5)


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