Sunday, August 30, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Voice cast: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson

Pixar is probably the only movie making machine in the world that never misses its mark in delivering quality films. This animation studio makes film after film that scores in every aspect, be it storytelling, plot, pacing, direction, you name it. It's no wonder that it's the top animation studio in Hollywood right now.

So what's up with their latest project, Up? Well, like all their previous efforts, it's filled with a lot of heart, peppered with wild adventures and features characters you'll love and remember when it's over.

Up focuses on one Carl Fredricksen, an elderly man living in an old house on a plot of land being bought up by a big corporation. We are introduced to Carl in a unique way: we get to see how ever since he was a kid, he yearned for adventure. He longs to go to Paradise Falls, a beautiful place in South America, just like his childhood hero, explorer Charles Muntz did. Carl meets Ellie, a young girl in his neighborhood who loves adventure as well, and the two become close. We see how they get married, grow old together and still long for that adventure to Paradise Falls, but never quite achieve their dream when Ellie passes on.

Back to the present. Carl finally decides to get that adventure going, so what does this 78 year old balloon salesman do? He ties thousands of balloons to his house and literally floats away! Yes, only Pixar can make us believe in this stuff, but there you go.

The fun begins when Carl discovers a stowaway on his trip: a young Wilderness Explorer kid named Russell. Russell is a boy who insists on helping Carl in order to get that one last badge on his belt for a promotion in his group. Carl is reluctant, but obviously has no other choice but to let Russell join him on his trip. They eventually make it to South America, where they run into a talking dog, a rainbow colored bird and another adventurer who has very sinister plans.

Pete Docter, who previously directed Monsters Inc, teams up with writer Bob Peterson, who wrote Finding Nemo, and together they make a film that is truly heartwarming. Up is about achieving something, a dream, something you've always wanted to do, but never got around to accomplish, and the film says that you're never too old to do just that. It's also about friendship, love and sacrifice, and how two unlikely people can become the best of friends.

Carl is the unlikely hero here, the old man who seeks one last adventure, and makes a few new friends in the process. I particularly liked Russell, the little kid who brings out the caring side of Carl and also provides most of the humour here. These two make the perfect movie buddy team that many will remember for the ages.

And let's not forget the great effort by the technical team in making the animation close to flawless. It's an improvement from Ratatouille and The Incredibles, Pixar's previous efforts in presenting human characters. But my guess is, you will all be enthralled by a great story well delivered, and not mind too much about the animation itself.

Another winner from Pixar:) (4.5/5)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

Year: 2009
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood, David James, Louis Minnaar

Aliens in film have been generally portrayed in three ways: the violent kind (Alien, Predator, their sequels and the crossovers), the good kind (E.T., Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) and the invading kind (Independence Day, The Invasion). There are also those stupid Martians from Mars Attacks, but let's not get into that.

And now we have aliens as refugees. Refugees you say? Yes, that's what I said. In this new film produced by LOTR's Peter Jackson, aliens have arrived on earth, and they are refugees stranded with no way to get home.

District 9 is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, where for the past 20 years, aliens have arrived and made earth their new home. Through a series of interviews via documentary style, we learn that the aliens, commonly known as prawns (due to the resemblance), are stranded on earth and are now living in a huge slum area known as District 9. And like common slum inhabitants, they live in worn down shacks, feed on garbage and tussle with law enforcement regularly. Some people want them gone, others cry for their basic rights.

The aliens' welfare is being handled by Multi-National United (MNU), a huge corporation that plans to relocate the aliens to a new, larger area called District 10. MNU picks one of their trusted employees, Wikus van der Merwe, to lead MNU officials and security personnel in the relocation process. Wikus is a regular family man who is excited about his new responsibility and for the most part, seems well equipped to handle the task.

However, during the relocation process, something happens to Wikus, an incident that will forever change his fate and intertwines it with the fate of the aliens. This is where he, and the audience learn that MNU isn't all what it seems.

Neill Blomkamp is a first time director who hails from South Africa, and no doubt he used his experiences during the apartheid rule to show humanity at its worst. What he presents on film isn't too far fetched, even though this story of aliens being refugees on earth is ultimately science fiction. You will see how badly humans treat the aliens, and the levels they will sink to, to get what they want. It's a stark reminder of how we, as a supposedly advanced and evolved race, can still do the most evil things imaginable.

Sharlto Copley has no prior acting experience before being in this film, but damn he's good. Copley gives Wikus the perfect heartfelt performance as the man who is caught between his evil employers and the alien race he thought he understood. As the film progresses, things get really critical and life threatening for him, and you'd have to be a heartless person to not pity him.

On the surface, this film doesn't look like it was made on a large budget. In fact it was only made at a cost of $30 million. But even so, the action sequences and special effects are cool to watch. There is a good amount of violence here, so you may want to reconsider watching this if you're squeamish. But I seriously hope you don't, because there is a message behind this film, and that violence only magnifies the impact of that message rather than glorify onscreen mayhem.

District 9 is without a doubt the sleeper hit of the year. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

Year: 2009
Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Byung-hun Lee, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Said Taghmaoui, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce

You know what other cartoon was famous in the 80s and was based on a toyline besides Transformers? G.I. Joe. It spawned cartoon shows, more toys and comicbooks. And just like Transformers, it gets the Hollywood treatment.

The film begins with a man named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), a weapons designer who introduces a new weapon to NATO. It's a special warhead that contains nanomites, tiny robotic bugs that eat away at anything made of metal.

So McCullen arranges for the US military to transport the warheads from his facility to NATO. The military convoy, led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are ambushed by troops armed with super high tech gadgets. They are then promptly rescued by the top secret G.I. Joe team, who offer to help secure the warhead transport to its destination.

However, it is later revealed that McCullen planned the attack, and is planning to use his weapon on major cities across the globe. On McCullen's side are The Baroness (Sienna Miller), the mysterious Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Duke and Ripcord join the Joes, who are led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). The Joe key players are the lovely Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), mute ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), communications expert Breaker (Said Taghmaoui) and weapons man Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

What follows then are many edge of the seat action sequences, lots of explosions and destruction. But here's what makes this interesting: many of the lead characters have histories. Duke and The Baroness were romantically involved before this, and Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are mortal enemies. Director Stephen Sommers did the right thing by fleshing out his characters well. Through a handful of flashbacks, viewers will get to see the motivations and backstories of the lead players, thus we understand them and empathise with them better. Sommers deserves credit for balancing the action and drama perfectly.

And the action? Well, all I can say is it's mind blowing. It will remind you of Transformers, due to the amount of shit getting blown up. But I suppose watching humans fight is a tad easier than watching robots fight, so it'll be easier on the eyes and a bit more believable. Check out the car chase sequence in Paris, which is awesome to behold even though it's very obvious a lot of CGI was used.

The cast perform splendidly, I must say. Most of them have great chemistry on screen. Tatum still looks more like an action figure than an actor, but being the former is probably more important than the latter in this film. Nichols, Wayans and Miller also stand out, especially Wayans who gets to be the comic relief. Check out the cameo appearances of a few stars of Sommers' The Mummy in this film. I gotta admit, that was cool.

So what didn't work? Some of the lines were quite cheesy, especially the Doctor's lines. With the voice and the dialogue given, Gordon-Levitt sounded like a cartoon character, even more so than the Decepticons. And poor Quaid was underused, but then again his character wasn't really important.

My verdict: it's a great candidate for a summer action blockbuster. (4/5)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Taking Of Pelham 123

Year: 2009
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Luiz Guzman, Ramon Rodriguez

In the midst of alien robots, teenage wizards and animals from the ice age, there's still room for an old fashioned action movie. This year it's Tony Scott's turn to bring one to the fore, with two big Hollywood names leading the way.

The Taking Of Pelham 123 is actually a remake of a film with the same name produced in 1974. The film begins with a hijacking of a subway train in New York by four men. The leader, who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta) takes the train to a secluded part of the tunnel and waits.

Train dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) notices this and calls the train. Ryder answers and demands 10 million dollars in exchange for the train passengers, and the money needs to arrive in one hour or he starts killing them. Despite not being a trained hostage negotiator, Garber continues to communicate with Ryder, and he does it so well Ryder chooses to deal with him throughout the waiting period.

Some tense moments then follow when police lieutenant Camonetti (John Turturro) enters the picture, and when the Mayor (James Gandolfini) himself gets into the action, things get interesting. However it is ultimately Garber that needs to see things to the end, because Ryder says so.

This is the fourth time Tony Scott is working with Denzel, and it's easy to see why. Denzel is the kind of guy whom you'll always root for. Unlike in Scott's last three collaborations with Denzel where the latter plays the iconic action hero, this time he plays the everyman caught in a difficult situation where he's forced to adapt and use his wits in order to save lives. And as always, Denzel pulls it off with great ease. He makes you believe in him and care about his character. Travolta on the other hand simply makes a slight adjustment to his usual bad guy routine to play Ryder, but the beauty of it is it never really gets old. Travolta's villain is usually charming, smart, violent and confident all the way. It's always fun to see that, at least for me. However, what makes this film work is the chemistry between the two leads. Their conversations over the radio during the film is the best part, as they get to know each other and bring each other to a point they've never been to.

Turturro and Gandolfini lend in credible support as the cop and the Mayor respectively. Gandolfini in particular gets some of the best lines and scenes, as his Mayor character isn't a well liked person in his own city, which leads to some very hilarious moments.

The movie suffers a little with the lack of some worthy action sequences and the existence of a few plotholes here and there, but that's OK because Scott manages to keep the suspense in check throughout. He still uses his quick cut, screen distorting filming style to great effect here, and thankfully not overdone like in Man On Fire.

Verdict: A well made thriller that stays on track from start to finish. (4/5)


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