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


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


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)


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