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 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)


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