Sunday, April 12, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson

I pity Nicolas Cage. He's a great actor and an Oscar winner. But somehow he hasn't been able to pick standout roles to be in for a long time. Thing is, it's not that he can't play those roles well, it's just that the premise for his films aren't interesting enough, or the execution of his films were below par. I seriously can't remember the last time I enjoyed a Nicolas Cage film. Maybe Face/Off was the last one. Everything after that ranged between okay and bad.

Anyway, he's in this new film Knowing, a disaster film with some sci-fi thrown in. Cage plays John Koestler, a lecturer at MIT who is a single father to his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). 50 years ago, a time capsule filled with drawings of students of Caleb's school was buried in the grounds, and now it is finally brought out for Caleb and his schoolmates to inherit them. Caleb gets one which isn't a drawing, but a series of numbers.

John takes a look at it, and notices something strange. He sees the date of 9/11 and the number of casualties of the WTC attacks. After checking the rest of the numbers and referencing them through the internet, he realizes that they're all dates and information of global disasters for the past 50 years. There are three more dates of tragedies at the end which haven't occured, prompting John to investigate the source of the numbers and find out how to stop them. To that end he seeks out Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), the woman whose mother wrote the numbers 50 years ago, and together they discover secrets about her mother's last days, while being watched over by mysterious men in the shadows.

Director Alex Proyas, who made visually stunning sci-fi films like Dark City and I, Robot, tries to make Knowing a mixture of sci-fi, drama and thrillers. In the thrill department, some spectacular destruction shown on screen will leave you in awe. Check out the awesome airplane crash, which is then followed by an even more awesome subway train crash.

While the subject of armageddon has always been fascinating, the attempt to marry this aspect with sci-fi (which I can't give away too much lest I spoil the story, all I can say is that it leans towards The Day The Earth Stood Still) doesn't quite work. The execution of this particular element wasn't logical, and it comes off as quite laughable when you get to the end. I can see how the plot makes it logical, but Proyas needs to root this in reality a bit more.

Cage plays his character as best he can, always being the hero against insurmountable odds. However this film just doesn't do justice to his talent. Cage needs better material to work with. Byrne does okay as Diana, but gets annoying towards the end. The child stars, Canterbury and Lara Robinson who plays the child version of Diana's mother Lucinda, and Diana's daughter Abby in present day, excel in their roles though.

To sum it up, Knowing falls below expectations. Go for it if you enjoy great visual effects and massive carnage, but don't expect any more than that. (3.5/5)

Monday, April 06, 2009

The International

Year: 2009
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen

I've always enjoyed watching Clive Owen and Naomi Watts on screen. Separately of course. And now they're both in the same film. I thought, this film would be great. Unfortunately, it's not.

The International, a thriller about an international bank that funds criminal activities and terrorism, is said to have come at a bad time, as we are in the midst of a financial crisis. However, the problem isn't the subject matter or the timing, but the execution.

The film begins with Owen's character Louis Salinger from Interpol witnessing the sudden death of his colleague from the Justice Department on the streets of Berlin. He suspects foul play but is unable to prove it. Salinger works hand in hand with DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) in investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) concerning suspicions over financing illegal activities around the globe. At the time of his colleague's death, he had just met with an IBBC employee who was willing to come forward with evidence to implicate his employers.

Salinger and Whitman follow one lead after another, but each person eventually winds up dead. Then Salinger meets Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), someone close to the IBBC head honcho Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen). Wexler convinces Salinger to go outside the system to uncover the IBBC's dealings.

At the helm of this thriller is Tom Tykwer, famous for the film Run Lola Run. If there's one thing he got right in this film, it's the cinematography. Filmed mostly in Europe, Tykwer takes advantage of the wonderful architecture on display by using wide shots and aerial shots to show us the buildings there. Great job on that.

Now for the story. The International is meant to be a thriller where the bad guys are the untouchable kind, the kind that can do whatever they want and get away with it because they have the means and the power to manipulate everything. However, the execution of this particular point falls flat. Skarssen is made to look like a regular businessman instead of a mastermind, so there isn't a moment where I was convinced he was in control of everything. The IBBC's power isn't well portrayed, all I see are sloppy displays of how they handle situations when Salinger gets too close, like having a dozen men run into a museum with guns blazing to silence someone. Whatever happened to subtlety?

Owen plays Salinger with intensity, but it's nothing to shout about. Owen always plays characters like this, it's a walk in the park for him. Personally I'd love to see him in a comedy. That'd be a true test of his talent. Watts doesn't have much to do here, which is disappointing. And Mueller-Stahl.....why does he always get roles like this? The old man who has information but won't talk, the man who knows more than he's letting on? He's the most typecast actor around, I tell you.

I love the plot, and the camerawork. But it could have been so much better. Too bad. (3.5/5)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

12 Rounds

Year: 2009
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: John Cena, Aidan Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris, Brian White, Gonzalo Menendez


That's how it sounds when John Cena, WWE wrestling's top superstar enters the ring. Like The Rock before him, he makes a transition from wrestling hero to action hero. His last film The Marine wasn't so great though. This time WWE Films tries putting Cena back in the movies again, with Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin in the driver's seat.

In 12 Rounds, Cena plays New Orleans policeman Danny Fisher, who successfully arrests wanted arms dealer Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen) while the latter was running from the clutches of the FBI. In the process, Miles' girlfriend dies after being run over by a car. Miles holds Danny responsible for it.

A year later, Danny gets a call from Miles, who apparently has escaped from prison and is seeking retribution. Miles forces Danny to play a game called 12 Rounds, where Danny has to survive 12 life threatening tests. Miles begins by blowing up Danny's house and kidnapping his girlfriend Molly (Ashley Scott). Thus the game is on as Danny races against time across New Orleans on foot, in cars, buses and even a fire truck to complete the tasks Miles sets him to do. Danny is aided by his partner Hank (Brian White) and FBI agent George Aiken (Steve Harris). Aiken has spent a large amount of his time hunting Miles and ignores Danny's priority in saving Molly's life, which put the two men at odds with each other.

It's Renny Harlin, the man who gave us great actioners like Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea and The Long Kiss Goodnight. But he is also the guy who made the flop Cutthroat Island. He hasn't had a hit in years, and judging by the reception 12 Rounds is getting in the States, he's still gonna have to wait. But in all honesty, 12 Rounds is actually a decent movie. I was entertained enough seeing Cena play the action hero, doing all the stunts, moving from one edge-of-your-seat scene to another. It wasn't boring at all, which proves that Harlin has still got some moves worthy of your attention.

However, if you have seen Die Hard With A Vengeance and Speed, you'll find this movie all too familiar. The plot, the villain, the execution, the characters.....all borrowed from those two action classics. So you won't find anything original to admire here.

As an action hero, Cena is believable enough. He's tough and made to look superhuman at times here, but it works to a certain extent. His acting hasn't improved much though. Gillen is quite effective as the genius villain, while Harris does yet another black supporting character for an action film. But at least Harris makes his character memorable this time around.

All in all, a decent action movie. Not great, but decent. (3.5/5)


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