Saturday, May 29, 2010

Robin Hood

Year: 2010
Director: Robin Hood
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Danny Huston, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy, Scott Grimes, Kevin Durand, Alan Doyle, Oscar Isaac

There have been many incarnations of Robin Hood, the man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, in film, TV and even cartoons. Acclaimed director Ridley Scott and his favourite actor, Russell Crowe attempt to give us a different take on the folk legend.

This film takes place in the late 12th century. After the Third Crusade, King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston)is on his way home to England with his army. During a raid on a French castle, he is killed on the battlefield. Archer Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) decides to desert the army and find his way home. He brings along three men: Little John (Kevin Durand), Alan A'Dale (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes).

He stumbles upon men led by Godfrey (Mark Strong) attempting to steal the crown after learning of the King's death. Robin and his men thwart the attempt and bring the crown back home themselves. With the crown safe in England, Richard's brother Prince John (Oscar Isaac), a philandering and spoilt man, becomes the King.

Robin proceeds to Sir Robert Loxley's house, a man who died in his arms protecting the crown earlier. This is where Robin meets Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), Robert's widow and Robert's father Sir Walter (Max von Sydow). He assumes the role left by Robert at Walter's request, and tries to fill the void left by the former. He and Marion eventually fall in love. But there are bigger things to worry about, as Godfrey, now entrusted by King John to collect taxes from the people, double crosses the King by helping the French invade. One of the good lords, William Marshal (William Hurt) turns to Robin for help.

So first let me tell you what's different. Robin Hood and Maid Marion are both older than the people that had played them before. There are more brutal fight scenes than you would normally associate with this story. But most importantly, this film isn't about Robin Hood and his merry men robbing from the rich and giving it to the poor, but an origin story. Which makes this exactly like Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur.

That being said, Robin Hood here is definitely more serious than before. There is some humour here, but it is mostly overshadowed by the stuff you'd see in a Ridley Scott film, like brutality, tragedy, drama and theatrics. Despite many people saying that this film is a lot like Gladiator (and quite frankly I can't blame them), it actually works.There are many battle scenes to behold (even though the final battle was rather disappointing) and enough character development to drive the story. Scott takes his time to show us a different take on how the legend of Robin Hood came to be, and he succeeds to that end.

Crowe does predictably well enough as the title character, but with a bit less theatrics compared to Maximus. He is perfectly supported by Blanchett, who gives Marion a strong counterpart to Robin and not merely a damsel in distress (but he still has to save her later). Durand, Doyle and Grimes acquit themselves well as Robin's 'merry men' and Mark Addy also shines as Friar Tuck. Oscar Isaac and Mark Strong round up the cast splendidly as the baddies King John and Godfrey respectively. Note: it hasn't been a year yet and I've already seen Mark Strong play a villain three times.

Can I fault this film for anything? Well, if you were expecting a typical Robin Hood story where the good triumphs in the end and all evil men get their just desserts, this isn't quite it. The story sort of ends on a cliffhanger, so expect a follow up to this film. This is after all, an origin story, like Batman Begins. But I'd recommend this for anyone who loved Gladiator or King Arthur.

Verdict: Lengthy story, but interesting take on a legend. (4/5)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Crazies

Year: 2010
Director: Breck Eisner
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker

The Crazies is a remake of the 1973 film directed by George A. Romero, who gave us the Dead series. It's basically about a town infected by a virus that turns its inhabitants into mindless, violent psychos.

In this remake, we are introduced to the town of Ogden Marsh; not too small, filled with farms and a nice place where simple people live. One afternoon, during a baseball game at the field, a man walks onto the pitch with a rifle. Sheriff David Dutton tries to stop the man the nice way, but is eventually forced to shoot him. The man isn't mentally ill and isn't drunk as initially suspected, so it truly baffles the good sheriff.

Then one by one, more bad things happen. More people suddenly turn violent for no reason and the body count builds up. David finds out that a plane had crashed into a nearby river and its cargo may have poisoned the water supply and thus caused this epidemic. Things turn ugly when the whole town is infected, and it gets uglier when government soldiers show up to contain the situation.

Breck Eisner directs this horror thriller, and it's somewhat interesting that he also directed the underrated Matthew McConaughey adventure Sahara. The usual tricks that come with a horror flick, like loud sounds to jolt you out of your seat, nifty camera movements, bloody violence and use of certain objects to create terrifying sounds are all here. There's a scene where a psycho uses a pitchfork to kill his victims, and he drags it on the floor as he walks, thereby creating an uneasy sound that brings an impending feeling of doom, and it is very effective. Eisner succeeds in bringing the terror in spades, and at the same time not letting it overwhelm the plot. He paces it well and lets his cast play it out to the last frame.

Timothy Olyphant is commendable as the brave Sheriff David Dutton, while Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson provide good support as his wife and deputy respectively. Anderson in particular is fun to watch, as he is slightly quirky and quite the opposite of the sensible sheriff.

Now for the flaws. As entertaining as The Crazies is, it's essentially a B-grade horror flick. There is very little in this film that you haven't seen in other countless horror films. The ending is predictable, you'll know who survives and who doesn't before you get to the end, and you'll be able to guess when the next surprise is coming before it happens. The movie isn't about originality or giving its audience something cerebral (although the way the government handles the issue is a social commentary in a way), it's more about entertainment and fun by way of horror. I guess in that department, it scores.

A good pick if you like horror films, or if you need to waste 101 minutes. (3.5/5)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Iron Man 2

Year: 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell

Summer usually begins with a Marvel picture, and this year Iron Man returns with a bang.

Let's recap: in the first instalment, Tony Stark builds a device that not only keeps him alive but also powers a suit that allows him to become a hero. He unfortunately decides to reveal his identity to the public, which complicates matters.

Now in this film, Stark deals with the aftermath of that revelation. He becomes a celebrity, but as always, there is a price. The government demands that he hands over his technology to them, which he refuses to do. Then he discovers that the device that saved his life is slowly killing him unless he comes up with a solution soon.

And to top it all off, a man named Ivan Vanko makes an attempt on his life, using the same technology he has. Vanko has the same ingenuity as Stark because their fathers had worked together before. However their partnership ended badly and Vanko got the shorter end of the stick, so now he wants some payback. How will Stark handle all of this and stay alive in the process?

Jon Favreau returns in the director's chair, and once again he succeeds in bringing the excitement and action, heck even more this time. Although things slow down in the middle third of the film, there's plenty of action to behold, such as the awesome confrontation between Stark and Vanko on the Monaco racetrack. At the same time, the script by Justin Theroux includes a lot of witty banter between Stark and his associates, which helps to lighten things up whenever necessary.

Downey once again shines as the arrogant but brilliant Tony Stark, who has to dig deep down and do some soul searching in order to overcome all the obstacles in his path. Paltrow and Cheadle provide useful support as Stark's personal assistant Pepper Potts and best friend James Rhodes respectively, Cheadle sitting in for Terrence Howard who dropped out due to negotiations going south. Cheadle is the lucky guy who gets to put on the metal suit and become War Machine, something all Iron Man fans have been looking forward to.

Mickey Rourke makes a better villain as Ivan Vanko this time around, being a mean badass in comparison to Jeff Bridges in the first film. Scarlett Johansson is a welcome distraction as SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff while Sam Rockwell brings his enigmatic personality successfully as Justin Hammer, Stark's rival who assists Vanko.

Many have complained that this movie has way too many subplots going for it, but personally I think it works. It has a great cast, great action sequences and a smart script. Perhaps the final battle between Stark and Vanko was a bit anti-climactic, but it's something I can forgive overall.

Verdict: A great start to the summer movie season. By the way, wait till the end credits finish rolling. (4/5)

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

What's the reason behind certain special people becoming a superhero? Some become superheroes because they have an ability which allows them to do good, some want to use their gifts responsibly, while some others had a tragedy befall them which becomes the catalyst to them being a do-gooder.

But what if you wanted to be a superhero simply because you are a comicbook geek and you thought it was cool? That's the premise for the film I'm reviewing here, Kick-Ass.

Dave Lizewski is a normal, ordinary teenager who isn't popular or cool like most of his peers, he's more like the geek at school that girls shy away from and other guys just ignore, except for guys just like him. Dave had always wondered why people don't become the superheroes he reads about in comicbooks. He sees crime happening in his neighborhood and even becomes a victim occasionally, and wonders why there isn't anyone who steps up, in a costume and do something about it.

So one day, Dave decides to buy a green suit, wear a mask, arm himself with batons and fight crime. Just like that, with no training or powers, or a life affirming reason to do so. The result? He gets badly hurt and winds up in the hospital!

But it isn't nearly enough to stop him. He heals up and tries again, and this time he manages to save a guy from getting thrashed by 3 thugs. Some kids filmed it happening with their camera phones, and suddenly Kick-Ass (the name Dave gives himself) becomes a Youtube phenomenon.

However, Dave finds out quickly that he may have bitten off more than he can chew, after he crosses paths with a father-daughter duo of masked vigilantes: Big Daddy and Hit Girl. And unlike Dave, they both are well trained and play for keeps. Hit Girl, in particular is an 11 year old girl, but she is as good at killing as a professional assassin. These two have a beef with mob boss Frank D'Amico, and Kick-Ass gets caught in the crossfire....

Like most comic to film adaptations, Kick-Ass is inspired by a comicbook, and it presents an interesting satire on superheroes. But Kick-Ass isn't just a spoof on the genre, for a lot of the stuff that happens here is very real. The violence, sex and foul language are all evident without the sugar coating of the regular superhero films we have seen. It's a comedy, but also has plenty of serious kick-ass (pun intended) action sequences that manages to ground the film, but not too much so that we can still have fun with it.

Newcomer Aaron Johnson fits perfectly as the nerd turned hero Dave Lizewski, from image right down to mannerisms. However it's 13 year old Chloe Moretz who steals the show as Hit Girl. She has the moves and the foul mouth that you probably have never seen in any character her age. Nicolas Cage hams it up as Big Daddy, and he's a blast to watch. He's strange, and as father to Hit Girl, he can be considered demented for training her on how to take a bullet by shooting her in the chest. Mark Strong plays the villain Frank D'Amico effortlessly and Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a bit wasted as Frank's son Chris, but I think he'll have a bigger part in the guaranteed sequel.

For what it's worth, Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job with this film. However, I shudder to think of what the politically correct audience would think of this movie. An 11 year old girl killing and spewing cuss words? A guy becoming a masked superhero simply because he thinks he can? Not exactly a good influence on the younger generation. To be fair, the film is rated R in the U.S. and 18 here, so perhaps young adults won't be affected too much. But even I can see how odd it is to have Hit Girl call her dad the best dad in the world because he used slower velocity bullets when he shot her in the chest. I sense the comedy there, but it's still odd to me.

But in the end, I had fun, and that's what matters essentially. If you go see this, don't bring the kids. (4/5)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Max von Sydow

You'd be forgiven if you thought that Shutter Island is a horror film after seeing its trailer. It certainly looks like something similar to The Sixth Sense, but what it really is, is a well crafted thriller from the legendary Martin Scorsese.

Based on the novel by Denis Lehane, Shutter Island is set in 1954, where U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) make their way to the titular location. They are investigating the disappearance of a woman from their maximum security asylum there. The woman was admitted there after she had drowned her own children.

As soon as they arrive there, Teddy and Chuck are greeted by very cold elements, from the feel of the oncoming storm to the uncooperative staff on duty. Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley), chief psychiatrist in the asylum, tries his best to accommodate the Marshals and assist in their investigation, but Teddy constantly feels as if he is hiding something.

The truth is, Teddy has his own reasons for being there. He has a personal issue to confront in regards to the asylum on Shutter Island, and specifically asked for this assignment. But as he is constantly haunted by the death of his wife, how will he finish his investigation?

On the whole, I'm rather glad that Scorsese has made this film, because it is certainly a departure from his usual production of gangster and biography films. That being said, Scorsese is a pretty good storyteller. From the get go, we follow this story from DiCaprio's character's eyes, which means we learn everything the same time he does, which is exceptional indeed. By using this technique, Scorsese doesn't allow the audience to lose focus of the plot and get bored or confused halfway. He also employs some neat lighting effects and camera shifts throughout his film, which enhances the thrill factor. Some use of special effects for Teddy's nightmares were also well done.

Scorsese's favourite guy DiCaprio pulls off another winner of a role here. As Teddy Daniels, DiCaprio shows us his vulnerability and determination, as well as eventual confusion, frustration and emotional breakdown very effectively. This is DiCaprio at his best, his intensity more driven than ever. Ruffalo provides tremendous support as Chuck Aule, Teddy's smart and reliable partner. Kingsley and Max von Sydow provide an air of mystery as Dr Cawley and Dr Naehring respectively, the latter being the creepier doctor on the island.

As you'd expect in a thriller like this, there is a surprise twist in the third act. It is brilliant, however for audiences who have a great knack and appetite for twists, the execution of it by Scorsese here isn't all that grand. In some ways, you'll be wondering if all that was even possible in a real life situation. But I do believe in it somehow, as in all the loose ends were tied up sense.

If you have patience and have a great affection for mysteries, make some time for Shutter Island. (4/5)


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