Saturday, January 17, 2009


Year: 2007
Directors: Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge Serrano, Pablo Rosso

Some of you might remember reading my review on the horror flick Quarantine not too long ago. I was fortunate enough to catch the original film that Quarantine was based on, [REC]. And yet, at the same time, it was also unfortunate that I watched this, but more on that later.

So I'll run the story by you again: this film is supposedly discovered footage of a TV crew filming the night shift of a fire station crew. The TV crew, made up of reporter Angela Vidal and cameraman Pablo, follow two firemen who answer a distress call concerning an old lady at a downtown apartment complex. When they arrive there, they attempt to help the lady to the hospital, only to be horrifyingly attacked by the lady that goes berserk all of a sudden. One fireman and a policeman are seriously injured, and before they can get backup, the building is suddenly sealed off by the authorities.

Angela, Pablo, the other fireman, another policeman and the building occupants start to panic fast, not knowing what exactly is happening. Soon they learn that a virus is causing all of them to turn violent, and they slowly fall victim one by one. The uninfected have to fight for their lives, with no way to escape.

Again, let me clarify that this film is the original, and Quarantine is the remake. And I had already watched the latter previously, and now I realise to my disappointment that the makers of Quarantine pretty much copied 95% of [REC]. The way it starts, runs and ends is uncannily identical. It's not exactly the same shot for shot, because John Erick Dowdle, who made Quarantine added a few more things in his version, and I can't say specifically without ruining your enjoyment of his film. Nevertheless, the fact that they copied so much of the original meant that watching the original now leaves no room for surprise. I was able to see where all the scares would come from, and that killed the thrill for me. No doubt that the atmosphere of the film and the scary elements are still enough to give me chills, but the excitement is depleted due to the familiarity.

However, does that mean that [REC] is a bad movie? No. Far from it. This IS the original take on the story, so it should be good too. For one thing, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza used more lighting than Dowdle did, and it makes it easier to see what's happening on screen. The editing is also better, at least we are spared a boring and lengthy intro. Dowdle must have used up ten minutes of film for the fire station scene in Quarantine, [REC] only spent half the time for that. [REC] also includes a nifty trick that Quarantine ignored; there are moments when the sound gets cut or disrupted due to the camera being 'shaken' or getting bumped, which adds realism to the footage. And most importantly, Manuela Velasco, who plays Angela Vidal is much prettier than Jennifer Carpenter, and a better actress too.

I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys horror, and if you haven't seen Quarantine yet, you have an even better reason to see this. (3.5/5)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Spirit

Year: 2008
Director: Frank Miller
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendes, Dan Lauria, Louis Lombardi

Have you guys read all the horrible reviews this film has been getting? I have, and despite that I still went to see this, for two reasons. One, I had a free ticket to spare. Two, I was curious. I wanted to know how this film could go wrong.

But first, the story. The Spirit is based on a comic book written by Will Eisner, who is a pioneer in the comic book industry. It's set in the fictitious Central City, about a rookie cop named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), who after being killed in the line of duty, comes back from the dead as The Spirit, a midnight masked hero who can't be mortally wounded.

For every hero, there is a villain, and it is in the form of The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson), a self obsessed super villain who wants to live forever. The Octopus wants something that is in the possession of a jewel thief named Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), who also happens to be The Spirit's old flame. So The Spirit has to stop The Octopus while wooing all the gorgeous women that he meets along the way, especially Dr Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), whom Denny was once close to.

Director Frank Miller, who wrote 300 and Sin City, happens to be a big fan of Eisner's work, which explains why he took this project. So the trademark green screen type filming used in the film adaptations of Miller's two books is also used here, to great effect. The entire film is in three colours: black, white and red. And it's quite gorgeous to look at, kinda like watching a comic book spring to life.

Unfortunately, Miller fails at everything else, especially in direction. This is a noir type film, so plenty of those noir type dialogue is present here, and it's way too corny to listen to. Do you remember watching Whose Line Is It Anyway, where there's a segment called Film Noir, and in this segment Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie do funny narrations in between noir dialogue? THAT was funny. THIS is not. I mean, listening to The Spirit talk on and on about his city, and his lovers, and The Octopus to himself is not cool. It's not even funny. In the first few minutes it actually worked, but then it slowly got excruciating to put up with.

And then there's Samuel L Jackson, a talented actor who's a personal favourite of mine, doing an oh so over the top performance here. What's with the costume changes throughout the film? One second he's a samurai, the next he's a Nazi. That added to the silly lines he had to say, made me wonder what the heck Miller is trying to pull off here. And poor Scarlett Johansson, playing The Octopus' sidekick, has to follow suit with the OTT acting as well. And there's also the annoying hench clones played by Louis Lombardi, and Paz Vega ......I wish I could express my disgust over her moronic appearance in so many words.

The problem is Miller, who is trying waaaaayyyyyy too hard to make this exactly like a comic book. It's not good enough for him that it looks like one through the CGI, now he wants to make it feel like one too. You know how comic books always have dramatic dialogue and narration inserted into the frames? Miller tries to do that here too, and saying that it's excessive is an understatement. Miller needs to know his limits, and inject some realism into his work.

But it's not all bad. I know most critics were put off by all the bad stuff so much that they had nothing good to say about it. But for me, I'll give credit to the visual effects that gave the comic book look to it, to some good characters like Commissioner Dolan played by Dan Lauria, and to certain scenes that were genuinely funny in a good way. So it wasn't a total waste of time, it's just hard to stomach if you were expecting something more.

My suggestion? Don't watch this unless you have a free ticket and some spare time, like me. But you don't have to avoid it totally. (3/5)

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Year: 2008
Director: Byron Howard & Chris Williams
Voice cast: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton

I wasn't originally planning on watching this, but I had some free time yesterday evening, so I went to check out Disney's latest animated offering.

Bolt is the story of a canine named Bolt, the loyal and lovable pet of a girl named Penny. He's a super dog, who has super speed, heat vision and a super bark that destroys anything in its path. His duty is to protect Penny from the evil clutches of The Green Eyed Man, who holds Penny's father captive.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, that's because what I've just told you is a Hollywood script. Penny is just a girl on a TV show whose dog Bolt is the star, and on the show he is a super dog that constantly saves her from danger. What's even more interesting is the fact that Bolt thinks it's all real. He truly believes he's a super dog with powers, and that Penny is always in danger and he needs to dedicate himself to saving her life. And he believes it because the producers want him to be the ultimate dog actor.

But what happens when you take Bolt out of that fantasy? That's when the story kicks into high gear. An episode ends in a cliffhanger for the first time, and Bolt thinks Penny is in mortal danger when she really isn't. So he rushes out of the set to save her, and gets transported by accident across the country as a result. Bolt must now try to make it back home, thinking he has to rescue Penny, with the help of Mittens, a street smart stray cat, and Rhino, an overweight yet lovable hamster in a plastic ball, who just so happens to be Bolt's biggest fan, and thus truly believes he's a super dog.

Disney once again try their hand at animation without Pixar's help, and after the uninteresting Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons, they finally hit the mark here. This story is rather familiar, kinda like Toy Story, where there's a character who has the wrong idea about his existence, and must find his way home. Nevertheless, it's a great tale and well executed. Kudos to directors Byron Howard and Chris Williams for creating a great film with likeable characters. I especially liked Rhino, who gets the lion's share of the laughs, and the pigeons Bolt meets along the way. You'll notice how stereotyped they are, from the Mafia speaking type to the wannabe scriptwriters type. It sounds weird, but when you see a bunch of birds playing characters like that, how would you not laugh?

John Travolta isn't well known for making voice contributions, unless you're talking about singing back in the 70s, but he gives enough depth to the heroic yet misguided Bolt. Miley Cyrus has a very identifiable voice, which is perfect for the role of Penny. Susie Essman and Mark Walton give able support as Mittens and Rhino respectively.

I'll have to admit that this film will appeal more to the younger audience, but as an adult, I had fun too. It's a nice feelgood film about friendship, loyalty and heroism. It's the kind of stuff Disney is well known for, so it's expected. I enjoyed it anyway. Catch it if you can. (4/5)


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