Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Book Of Eli

Year: 2010
Directors: The Hughes Brothers
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Tom Waits

Post apocalyptic films are the norm these days. Terminator Salvation. 28 Days Later. Zombieland. I Am Legend. The Road. Each of these films in its own way follows man's will to survive the odds, whether it's against killer machines, zombies or other people who would kill to preserve themselves.

And now you can add The Book Of Eli to that list.

It begins with one man, a mysterious man named Eli (who incidentally doesn't reveal his name till towards the end) who is on a journey westbound. It's a ravaged world around him, destroyed by war. Everything is in ashes and the sun is way too bright in the day. And almost everyone he runs into are dangerous.

Eli may seem like an ordinary man who wanders on foot like a nomad, but he is in fact on a mission. He's carrying a very important book, The Bible to be exact. And he has the skills needed to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. The reason why this bible is so important will be revealed as the story runs along.

Eli then meets Carnegie, a vicious man who runs a small town he passes through. Carnegie happens to be looking for a particular book, and eventually learns that Eli has exactly what he's looking for. When Eli refuses to hand it over, the chase begins.

It sounds like a very straightforward plot, or one that is familiar. But thanks to the Hughes brothers, the film takes off well. The directors, as well as writer Gary Whitta successfully create a believable world that has been destroyed, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day, and this world has been like this for so long, there are some characters who never learned how to read or even know what a TV is. I also have to give props to the cinematography and set design here. The vast empty desert surrounding the roads, the bright white sky that never seems to fade, the run down buildings left behind....all perfectly depicted.

Washington is an actor who probably never gave a bad performance, even if the film sucked. And here he doesn't disappoint. I am well aware that Denzel isn't a young man anymore, but he can still kick ass. He performs all his own fight sequences here, and it is quite impressive. Denzel also brings that familiar calmness of his to the character of Eli, as well as the look of tiredness that Eli has been through after his long journey and overcoming the obstacles in his path.

Gary Oldman is great as the villain Carnegie, who is fun to watch whether he is smiling or snarling angrily. He may seem like an educated man but you'll see underneath that he's no different from a gangster, and Oldman pulls it off. That 70's Show's Mila Kunis provides support as Solara, a young girl who helps Eli while trying to learn about his book, while Ray Stevenson does a decent job as Redridge, Carnegie's right hand man. Personally I feel sorry for Stevenson, for he is a talented actor who doesn't get good roles, and he deserves better than being a villain's lackey.

On the bright side, it's nice to see Jennifer Beals again. Beals plays Solara's blind mother who is at Carnegie's mercy. There are also minor appearances from Tom Waits and Michael Gambon, the second Dumbledore.

If there is any flaw to The Book Of Eli, it would be little things, like the cliched reason on why the world is in hell, or how some subplots are not explored or resolved too quickly etc. But overall I enjoyed watching this, and I think Washington is the driving force behind it. He's the guy that makes it work splendidly.

Another winner from Denzel and the newest member of the 'end of the world' genre. (4/5)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Wolfman

Year: 2010
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving

The legend of the werewolf has been around for a long time, much like the vampire mythology. Though not as famous as its bloodsucking cousin, it has been adapted into film and TV in many incarnations. This film though is an adaptation of the 1941 classic film.

The Wolfman is set in 1891 England, where a series of gruesome murders have taken place. Lawrence Talbot is our protagonist, a man who had spent a majority of his adult life in America but now is visiting his homeland England as part of his theatre company. He gets a letter from his brother's fiancee, Gwen Conliffe, informing him that his brother is missing.

Lawrence returns to his home, only to learn from his estranged father John that his brother was found dead a day earlier. His body looked like it had been ravaged by a wild animal.

Lawrence promises Gwen that he will find out the truth behind his brother's death. Following the rumour mill going around town, he visits the gypsy camp nearby and subsequently gets attacked by a wolf like creature. And as you'd expect, he now has the werewolf curse and is doomed to become a lycan when the moon is full.

Hunted by the law, Lawrence tries desperately to keep himself from harming anyone, especially Gwen whom he has now fallen for. But a dark secret revealed by his father will change everything.

For the record, I dislike period films, because they tend to be dull most of the time. But thankfully, The Wolfman isn't about being a period film, it's about the legendary creature set in a period type film. That being said, I always admired the authenticity the filmmakers are able to create for their work. England does have many historical areas that have lasted for decades, so it is an advantage to film there, I guess. But credit still goes out to Joe Johnston for making the look overall seem perfect. He sets the tone mostly in dull grey to reflect the darkness that is to come.

There is more to mention. The special effects and makeup to visualise the wolfman and his transformation is pretty impressive. I also liked the fact that Johnston didn't hold back in depicting the gore and violence here. After all, what's a werewolf film without the blood?

Benicio Del Toro has that special quality to play the leading man here. Maybe it's his face that holds the key, he just has that look that reflects a man who has many skeletons in his closet, yet does everything he can to hold his demons back and be a good person. His Lawrence Talbot is wonderfully contrasted by Anthony Hopkins, who plays his father John. Hopkins is of course no stranger to playing mysterious characters with evil overtones, and he does so here with much charm. Emily Blunt does good as the damsel in distress Gwen Conliffe, just managing to be more than eye candy for the guys. Finally Hugo Weaving does a slight variation of Agent Smith in becoming Inspector Abberline, the detective assigned to hunt the beast.

If The Wolfman has a flaw, it would be how it plays out. With a story like this, you ought to know already how it ends. But then again, this film isn't about surprises (unless you mean the sudden scares to jerk you out of your chair), it's about having fun for two hours. And I had fun indeed.

Verdict: Go see it. And enjoy it. (4/5)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Scott Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Adrianne Palicki, Tyrese Gibson, Kate Walsh, Charles S. Dutton, Willa Holland

This film has one kick-ass trailer, and the concept was too hard to resist. For a guy who has a great interest in comicbook stories and otherworldly tales, I just couldn't pass this up, even though I had to admit, deep down I knew something about this film wasn't going to stick even before I watched it.

Legion talks about the end of the world, by the hand of God, who has grown tired of mankind spending their entire existence killing each other. So He sends angels down to finish the job.

Angels. Yeah. Hard to swallow at first, but this is how it is.

Michael, the general of God's army, still has faith in man however, and chooses to side for them. He comes down to earth, cuts off his wings and proceeds to a lonely diner out in the desert. This is where a young waitress named Charlie is pregnant with a child who will someday grow up to be a messiah. This is God's target, and this diner will be the final battleground.

Michael is a little late however, as God's angels, who come in many scary forms, have already come for Charlie. Thankfully, Charlie is among friends: her boss Bob, his son Jeep who harbours feelings for her, Bob's partner Percy, and a handful of customers made up of a dysfunctional family of three and Kyle Williams, an African American man on his way to divorce court. Michael now has to lead this motley crew to protect Charlie from his father's wrath.

Legion is director Scott Stewart's first film, and visually it does no wrong. If you liked Constantine, you'd love what you see here. There are lots of action, violence and gore being served, and the horror element was well done too. Stewart, working on a script he co-wrote, also makes time for character development, explaining how these characters came about, what drives them and what their flaws are, from the diner peeps to Michael himself.

The cast perform to expectations, particularly Paul Bettany, who as Michael, shows steadfast thinking and near emotionless actions to protect Charlie, much like the T-800 was in protecting John Connor in Terminator 2. Quaid, Dutton, Gibson and Walsh lend credible support as Bob, Percy, Kyle and Sandra, matriarch of the family, respectively.

Alas, the film has many flaws that are hard to ignore. For me, being a guy who has watched Supernatural on TV religiously, seeing some of the stuff that goes on in Legion doesn't make much sense. For example, why would God go through so much hassle to exterminate man? Why do these angels look more like demons? If you are a fan of Supernatural, you'll know what I mean. In one scene, one of the good guys ends up a victim and is tied to a cross upside down. If the angels are sent from God, why would they do something like that which is an obvious insult to Him? And to top it all off, some of the characters get killed off too easily.

I guess the trick here is to not try and make sense of Legion and just enjoy the ride. Forget about logic and watch God and his creations kill each other in the worst way possible.

My verdict: There's plenty of room for improvement. Compared to Constantine, this is way too messy. (3.5/5)


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