Sunday, May 24, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Hounsou, Camilla Belle

When I first heard about Push, my first thought was Jumper. Or TV's Heroes. Stuff about special people with abilities being hunted down by shady government people. I also heard mostly bad reviews for this film, but I was intrigued nevertheless.

Push focuses on individuals with special powers, and how they have been experimented on by secret government organisations called Division since World War II. Our story takes place in Hong Kong, where a young man named Nick Gant (Chris Evans) struggles to make a living by street hustling and gambling. Nick is a mover, a telekinetic who can move objects with his mind.

One day, he meets Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a watcher i.e. someone who can draw the future. She tells him that they need to find a girl who has escaped from Division's headquarters, a pusher. Pushers are people who can manipulate others' minds, and this particular girl, Kira (Camilla Belle) is the only survivor of Division's latest experiments. Division is doing everything they can to get her back, especially since she has something that belongs to them.

But finding Kira before Division will be hard, since the Hong Kong triads, made up of a watcher girl and two male bleeders (they emit a high pitch scream that shatters everything in earshot, including eardrums) are looking for her too. Eventually Nick and Cassie succeed in locating her, and this is where Nick realises that Kira was his ex-girlfriend. The duo seek help from a handful of other special people to protect Kira from Division's hunters, led by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a powerful pusher himself. Do they succeed?

The one thing that separates Push from Jumper is its driving force. Jumper relies on fast paced action while Push is character driven. Director Paul McGuigan successfully makes his characters matter in most of the scenes, even the supporting ones. He also made an odd choice of choosing Hong Kong as the setting for his movie, but I must say that it was a wise decision. I mean, isn't it tiring to see Hollywood set their films in the States? Putting this story in Asia will do wonders for marketing good filming locations to other directors, not to mention increasing audiences' interest in someplace else besides cities like LA or New York.

Chris Evans is slowly embracing his action hero persona. He already has the looks and the charm. Being Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four is one thing, but being the cool guy like Nick who slowly learns to care for others besides himself is just fun to watch. I hope to see him in meatier roles somewhere down the line. Dakota Fanning on the other hand is impressive as Cassie. This girl has surely grown up now. Her image in this film is wilder than we've seen her in. She sports coloured hair and wild child fashion sense, and it adds to her performance. Djimon Hounsou is effective as the cold villain Carver, but Camilla Belle still hasn't quite gotten past her wooden acting skills yet. It doesn't quite endear her character to the audience.

Push has great potential, but unfortunately the plot becomes way too convoluted in the second half. There are more twists and turns taking place than there are slopes on the Swiss Alps, and by the time you get to the end, you'll probably start wondering what's the point of the movie again. McGuigan keeps you guessing indeed, but the weight of the plot is too much and it collapses the movie and spoils the fun. The ending isn't too satisfactory either.

But I'll give credit where credit is due. It sure is better than Jumper. My advice is to watch this and ignore the plot. Enjoy the action unfolding, particularly when Nick takes on a fellow mover. Awesome stuff. (3.5/5)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels & Demons

Year: 2009
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Remember The Da Vinci Code? That very controversial book made into a film about some distorted truths about Christ? The film wasn't all great, but it generated enough buzz to earn a healthy profit for itself. So Ron Howard decides to make another film based on Dan Brown's work.

Although Angels & Demons is a prequel book to The Da Vinci Code, the film adaptation is made a sequel of the Da Vinci film. Again the story revolves around Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who has to use his symbology knowledge to solve a puzzle.

The story begins with the death of The Pope. As the cardinals in The Vatican mourn and prepare the conclave to select a new Pope, a dangerous canister of anti-matter energy is stolen from a research facility in Switzerland. Then the preferiti, the four favoured cardinals to be in the running to become The Pope are abducted. A message is left behind, supposedly by The Illuminati, a group of science believers thought to be destroyed by the Catholic church, which says that they will kill the cardinals, one every hour between 8 p.m. and midnight on the day of the conclave, then blow up Vatican City using the canister.

The Vatican sends for Langdon to help decipher clues left behind and find the missing cardinals and retrieve the canister before it's too late. Langdon is aided by Dr Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), the scientist who researched the anti-matter being used by The Illuminati. Navigating their way through the tight security and bureaucracy at The Vatican isn't easy though, especially when Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), head of the Swiss Guard that protects the church, doesn't like Langdon's presence. Thankfully the duo are aided by Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) who was close to the former Pope. Can Langdon and Vittoria save everyone in time?

What makes this film differ from The Da Vinci Code is the pace and style. In Da Vinci, it's all about clues and mysteries, but in Angels, it shifts to a higher gear, where the leads race against time to solve a puzzle and save lives. Howard successfully directs a film filled with some nice action sequences that will keep you on edge while fascinating you with interesting knowledge on places, landmarks and statues in Vatican City. All this running, chasing and watching things getting destroyed leaves almost no room for character development, but since we're in a film where time is of the essence, it's understandable.

Hanks and Zurer work well together to give a convincing partnership on screen. Their combined knowledge and courage to save lives shows up convincingly indeed. McGregor and Skarsgard lend some needed support, although the former doesn't have much to do until the film gets into the third act.

However, at the end of the day, this film is about figuring out who the culprit is. And it was really easy for me. I guessed it early on when the film began, and confirmed it right as the final fifteen minutes rolled in. Predictable? Maybe. But I'll say this: it is more entertaining than The Da Vinci Code, and surely qualifies as a summer blockbuster.

Verdict: It won't beat Star Trek, but it is fun to watch. (4/5)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek

Year: 2009
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg

"Space, the final frontier. These are the voyagers of the starship Enterprise. It's continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before..."

I would hear these words being spoken by Patrick Stewart every time I tuned in to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation on TV. Although Capt Jean-Luc Picard and his crew were a hit on TV, most people know Star Trek as the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and Spock, played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

Star Trek has been a cult favourite for years. Gene Roddenberry's creation perfectly marries social and political issues with sci-fi and adventure. But after 10 films and numerous TV series, the franchise was slowly dying. It was in need of a shot in the arm, and along comes Alias creator J.J. Abrams to revitalise it for the new generation. And this is Star Trek at its best.

Abrams' reboot begins with the USS Kelvin encountering a Romulan vessel in space. The Romulan captain, Nero wastes no time in destroying the Starfleet ship, but not before acting captain George Kirk holds the Romulans at bay long enough to save his crew, which includes his wife and their newborn son, James.

James Kirk grows up to be a rebellious young man who can't stay out of trouble. This is in contrast to another young man, Spock who is half Vulcan and half human. Spock can't seem to find the right balance between his logical Vulcan side and his emotional human side. Soon, these two men end up joining Starfleet and wind up on the USS Enterprise. When an attack by the same Romulan vessel is made on Vulcan, the Enterprise crew have to work together to stop the Romulans.

However, this is easier said than done, as the crew is mostly inexperienced, and with their captain captured by the enemy, Kirk and Spock have to put aside their differences and work together before the Romulans destroy Earth.

I must say that Abrams has done a splendid job here. In order to pull more viewers who aren't familiar with Star Trek, Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman update their film with more action sequences and less technical babble. They throw in an attractive young cast who aren't A-listers, but are able to play their roles well. Insert many comedic moments, put in some drama and voila, a masterpiece of a film. You can say that this Star Trek looks more like Star Wars, except the dialogue isn't cheesy and there are no lightsabers.

Chris Pine, whom most people would recognize starring in Just My Luck opposite Lindsay Lohan, succeeds in giving James Kirk the right amount of heroism, stubbornness and devil may care attitude, the same way Han Solo is painted in Star Wars. Heroes' Zachary Quinto balances off Pine's performance by portraying Spock as a calm and brilliant officer, who struggles to keep his emotions in check. The rest of the cast who play key crew members of the Enterprise crew lend very credible support, especially Karl Urban, who steals the show as the sarcastically funny Dr Bones McCoy. Eric Bana also gives a memorable performance as the menacing Nero. Look out for Leonard Nimoy in a guest appearance as future Spock.

This is truly a great reboot to a franchise in need of a return to greatness. Star Trek is never boring, well almost. I thought that tender scene between Spock and communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) was unnecessary. But otherwise, this is one heck of an adventure. Go see it. (4/5)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Year: 2009
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Will.I.Am, Taylor Kitsch, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds

Sorry for the long hiatus. I actually had stuff to watch and review, but it just didn't work out. Anyways, I'm back to kick start the summer movie season, with none other than my favourite comicbook character's first solo adventure. I'm sure you guys have heard about this film being leaked online a few weeks before its intended release. I'm not quite sure how that will affect ticket sales as time goes by, though.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is basically a prequel of the X-Men trilogy, focusing on the franchise's most popular hero. Long before the X-Men, long before the day Wolverine and Rogue crossed paths with Professor X and his students, there was a young boy called James. He witnesses his father's death, learns the truth about his parents and his own uncanny ability all on the same night. It is this night that he and his half brother Victor run away from home and stick together, through the wars spanning a hundred years before they finally meet William Stryker.

Stryker is a military man who handles a team made up of special individuals like Victor and James, who now calls himself Logan. Together they carry out numerous covert operations, until one day Logan decides he's had enough of killing people and walks away. He spends the next six years in Canada being a lumberjack while living with his lover, Kayla. Stryker shows up one day and warns Logan that someone is out to kill his former teammates and he could be next. Logan ignores it, until Kayla winds up dead the next day, apparently at the hands of Victor.

Stryker offers to help Logan get his revenge, and the latter agrees. This is where Logan gets his adamantium skeleton courtesy of an experiment Stryker carries out. However, Logan soon learns the truth about Stryker's real intentions and plans on some payback.

I walked into the theatre with some high expectations, considering that this is my literary hero's major adventure on the big screen. And I got some of those expectations fulfilled. Gavin Hood, who directed Rendition, scores in giving the audience a thrill ride through Logan's past. You'll see plenty of action sequences, some of which may look way too cool to believe, but these guys are mutants so suspend your disbelief for a while and enjoy yourselves.

Hugh Jackman had impressed me since the first time he took on the Wolverine character in X-Men, and he hasn't let me down yet. Jackman gives Logan the ruggedness, anger and brute animal instinct he requires, and it is a joy to watch. Liev Schreiber is excellent as Victor, who appears intimidating for the most part, but has enough villainous charm to not get dull at all. It's good to see Schreiber lighten up for once. Danny Huston fits the role of Stryker perfectly, a man with ulterior motives.

However, Will.I.Am. and Lynn Collins fail to deliver in their roles as teammate John Wraith and Logan's girlfriend Kayla respectively. Their acting comes off very wooden, especially Will. He ought to just stick to singing. Ryan Reynolds and Dominic Monaghan, who play teammates Wade Wilson and Bradley respectively, are wasted with limited screen time. And yes, Gambit fans. You finally get to see this guy on screen. Whoopee. You know, I still don't get why this guy is so popular. So popular that when he didn't appear in X3, Marvel had to consider putting him in this film. So how did Taylor Kitsch do? Not bad actually. The French Cajun accent is inconsistent, but at least he looks the part, and Hood made him look cool enough in the action scenes. If anyone thinks he got too little time here, well then, you're just a Gambit lover, and you've forgotten whose film this is.

Speaking of which, this is a Wolverine story after all, so why are there other characters not closely associated with Logan in this film? Who you say? I won't name them, don't wanna ruin it for you. But that's not the only thing wrong. Personally I thought that Hood rushed this thing a little bit. The action comes hard and fast, there's almost no time for contemplation or elaboration. Everything moves real quick, and though they are super awesome to watch, it dents the impact of the story. If they spent an extra 15 minutes on the runtime, Wolverine might be just as good as Iron Man. But it just came close to that. A real pity, because I'd pick a Wolverine comicbook over an Iron Man comicbook any day.

Overall, it's a fun ride that doesn't quite equal some of Marvel's other more memorable films, but it's a perfect way to start the season. Now, bring on Star Trek. (4/5)

P.S.: Stay till the end credits finish rolling.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...