Sunday, November 30, 2008


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, 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)


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