Saturday, July 31, 2010

Despicable Me

Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Voice cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher

After How To Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3, we have yet another animated film to hit the big screen.

Despicable Me centres on Gru, a supervillain who lives in a large old house with a huge underground base filled with his loyal minions, little yellow men shaped like pills. His pride is wounded one day when someone steals the pyramids of Giza, and he vows to do better, by stealing the moon.

To do so, he requires a shrink ray, which he successfully steals but the ray is taken from him by his rival Vector, the one who stole the pyramids. When Gru is unable to get into Vector's fortress to take the ray back, he hatches a plan to use three orphan girls; Margo, Edith and Agnes to break into Vector's place and help him get it instead.

Upon adopting the three girls however, Gru slowly becomes less of the supervillain he was before.

To the writers and directors' credit, Despicable Me is highly entertaining. Gru is presented as a bad guy, but a very funny one at that. He, as one reviewer puts it, looks like a cross between The Penguin and Uncle Fester. Steve Carell gives Gru an Eastern European accent, and the result is truly hilarious. Jason Segel does a decent job voicing Vector, the villain who comes up with occasionally silly weapons like the squid gun while Russell Brand and Julie Andrews are memorably different as Dr Nefario, Gru's sidekick inventor and Gru's mother, respectively. Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher voice the three girls and successfully make them sound childish, loving and sweet at the same time. But the real stars of the film are the minions, who are quite adorable and fun to watch.

The part about Gru not really being a bad guy is quite predictable considering that he's the protagonist here, but the film is no less fun. There is nary a dull moment as directors Coffin and Renaud throw lots of fast paced action and slapstick comedy to keep you entertained. It also has plenty of heartwarming moments in the third act, which wouldn't rival a Toy Story film, but nevertheless enough to make you go awww.

If you have 95 minutes to spare, go check this out. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine

You know, if Christopher Nolan wasn't such a great filmmaker, I'd hate the guy for being so consistently meticulous.

That being said, his latest project, Inception is a thriller unlike anything you've ever seen. Perhaps The Matrix is the closest comparison I can make to this, but even The Matrix was more accessible to audiences thanks to the far out action sequences it had.

Inception takes place in a world where corporate espionage is possible by someone entering someone else's dreams and stealing their secrets. One such person is Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man who is known for being the best mind thief there is out there.

After Cobb fails to extract information from his target, Saito (Ken Watanabe), Saito offers him a job. A unique job that isn't about extracting information, but planting an idea in a target. Cobb initially refuses to take it, but Saito offers him a chance to return to the U.S., where he is a wanted man, to reunite with his kids again and all charges against him dropped. Cobb accepts, and learns that the job involves putting an idea in the mind of Saito's business rival's son, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). The idea: to dissolve his dying father's business.

To perform the job, called 'inception', Cobb and his associate Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recruit a team of individuals: Ariadne (Ellen Page) as the architect to design the dream, Eames (Tom Hardy) as the forger to assume identities in the dream, and Yusuff (Dileep Rao) as the chemist to provide the required substances to put Fischer in the deep sleep necessary for it to work. The job is very complex and risky, and Arthur and Ariadne make their concerns obvious, but Cobb is driven to make it work. Ariadne in particular, knows that Cobb has issues in his past in relation to his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) and tries to help him along the way.

And as expected in a heist film, even one as unique as this, things go wrong and the fun begins.

Was all that too much information for you? Oh don't worry, you can know all of this and still enjoy it, trust me. I was very annoyed by statements made by movie fans prior to the film's release saying that they didn't want to know anything about the film for fear of ruining their enjoyment. Even some movie reviews steered clear from plot details. Well I say, screw that! You know what ruins movie enjoyment? HYPE! If you go in anticipating a classic, you risk yourself getting less than what you expected and that's when disappointment really sets in. That's not to say I did the opposite and tried to gather as much information as I could, but I certainly didn't drool over Inception and got so worked up about it.

Anyway, with all that said, Inception really is good. It's tricky, clever, complex and fascinating indeed. Plenty of credit goes out to Nolan for writing and directing such an intelligent piece of work. It's like The Italian Job meets The Matrix, with a lot more cerebral elements involved. I particularly loved the special effects used to create the dreamworlds, like the city 'folding' onto itself and buildings getting destroyed when the dream collapses. There's a scene where Arthur fights someone in a hotel corridor in zero gravity in a dream, and it is pretty neat to watch. Kudos also goes out to Nolan's favourite cameraman, Wally Pfister who does an excellent job shooting the film.

Almost everyone gives their best performance on screen here. Cotillard is a bit wasted with her one note performance, probably due to the way her character was written, but everyone else is splendid in their roles. DiCaprio leads the way as Cobb, a flawed and vulnerable man, yet brilliant enough to pull off what seems impossible. He is very believable as the man driven to do whatever it takes to return home to his kids. Gordon-Levitt and Page also stand out as Arthur and Ariadne respectively. Gordon-Levitt is funny, steadfast and reliable as Arthur while as Ariadne, Page becomes the heart of the team.

So are there any flaws? Well, when I think about it, Inception isn't nearly as accessible to audiences as I'd hope it would be. Sure, the film made a nice box office triumph in its opening week and film critics are still singing praises about it. But will it cater to everyone who sees it? All that mumbo jumbo about how a dream works and how to step inside it and be in control may confuse many people. Inception will no doubt be a hit amongst sci-fi fans, but for a person that goes to see this simply by word of mouth, he/she may end up being let down if they expected something easier to fathom.

But I am impressed with this film nonetheless. It may not be as amazing as The Prestige or Nolan's Batman films, but it is a fine piece of quality cinema. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: David Slade
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Xavier Samuel, Dakota Fanning

The amount of attention, both good and bad, that the Twilight saga has received over the years really amuses me. At the recent MTV Movie Awards, New Moon swept pretty much all the awards it was nominated for. When Anna Kendrick won Best Newcomer for Up In The Air, most pundits claimed that the fans who voted for her never saw that film, they just voted because she was in Twilight. Haha. And ultimately, the awards show became the Twilight show.

The fact is, the story of Twilight really isn't all bad. It's just that serious moviegoers i.e. people who prefer intellectually challenging films that win Oscars over summer popcorn flicks, love scoffing at the supposedly shallow love story between a lovesick teenage girl and a sparkling vampire. Fortunately I'm the kind of guy that can sit on the fence long enough to give it a fair trial. But to be honest, Twilight was way better than the emotionally bloated New Moon.

Anyways, let me recap. In New Moon, we learn that Jacob Black, Bella Swan's best friend is a werewolf who is in love with her. But she loves Edward the vampire, and she wants to be turned into a bloodsucker like him. Edward won't have it, but thanks to the Volturi, the royal vampire rulers who now know about Bella and her knowledge of their kind, the decision of changing her or not looms closer.

Now in Eclipse, the love triangle between Bella and her two suitors continues. Jacob desperately wants Bella to be with him instead so that she won't have to be a vampire. Edward himself doesn't want her to do it either, but she is insistent.

And then there's Victoria, the vampire who is still vengeful over her lover James' death at the hands of Edward and his family. She attacks and turns Riley, a young man into a vampire and uses him to turn others into vampires, thereby creating an army of newborns, all to assist her in taking revenge. The Cullens now have to team up with Jacob's pack to fight back and protect Bella at all costs.

David Slade, the man who gave us the dark and violent vampire flick 30 Days Of Night, directs this instalment. Since this is the Twilight films we're talking about, you can't expect him to put lots of gore here, but at the very least he gives us some nice action sequences that were sorely missing in New Moon. We get to see the Cullens train with each other in preparation for the newborns, which is fun to watch. The battle between the newborns and the Cullens and wolves at the end was also well shot, though in my opinion the fight was quite one-sided. I particularly liked the opening scene of the movie, which made it look like you were watching a horror film. Nicely done.

But still, we have to put up with the emotional drivel from the love triangle since it is the essence of the entire story, and that's when it gets dull. Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner have to bounce all that sappy love hate lines that make you cringe yet again, but thankfully it isn't as much as the last film. Pattinson actually finally gets to stretch his acting a bit in the scene where he confronts Victoria, even for just a moment. Other than that he's always brooding and moody. Stewart is still Stewart while Lautner gets to show some more of his emotional range, which I know a lot of people still can't appreciate.

The supporting cast again manages to lift the film more than the leads. Billy Burke gets to put in some humorous touches as Bella's dad, while Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed manage to get some sympathy for their characters as they explain how Jasper and Rosalie became vampires in the first place. Rathbone in particular gets more screen time as he trains the Cullens and wolves on how to handle the newborns. Unfortunately Bryce Dallas Howard isn't quite the right choice to step into Victoria's shoes. Unlike Rachel Lefevre from the first two films, Howard is a bit too polished and neat to play the wild eyed Victoria. Dakota Fanning returns as the Volturi member Jane, and manages to make her five minute screen time memorable.

On the whole, this instalment is better than the previous one. It's got some fascinating elements in the story this time, like a history lesson on Jacob's ancestors' first encounter with vampires, Edward and Jacob facing off, the aforementioned Jasper and Rosalie backstory and a poignant scene between Bella and her mother, which I think is a hundred times better than any of the Bella and Edward scenes in the film.

Not as good as Twilight, but better than New Moon. (4/5)

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Nimrod Antal
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne

"If it bleeds, we can kill it."

That line is one of my all time favourites from the movie Predator, spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played a soldier that encounters a deadly alien warrior in the jungles of Guatemala. The alien killed and made trophies out of Arnie's men before he finally defeated it. It is still one of the best sci-fi action films ever.

Now enter Robert Rodriguez, the director best known for the Grindhouse films, Spy Kids and From Dusk Till Dawn. He had been working on a screenplay for a sequel to Predator in the early 90s, but was never able to make it into a film. Now he finally gets his chance, but he's in the producer's chair this time around, letting Nimrod Antal take the helm.

In this sequel, a group of men and one woman are abducted from Earth and literally dropped onto another planet. They find themselves in a never ending jungle that they don't recognize. We have Royce, a mercenary; Isabelle, a sniper for the Israel Defence Force; Stans, a Death Row convict; Nikolai, from Russian Special Forces; Mombasa, RUF death squad member from Sierra Leone; Chuchillo, enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel; Hanzo, a Yakuza assassin and Edwin, who claims to be a doctor but is really hiding something.

Due to the fact that they are dangerous individuals, they have a hard time agreeing with one another, much less decide what to do next. Eventually, they learn to survive together once the Predators and their hunting dogs start attacking them. Then they meet Noland, a man who has survived on this planet for a long time after being a prey just like them.

And like in the first film, the fun is in watching who gets killed next and who is left standing in the end.

Rodriguez and Antal have basically done a great job here with Predators. In keeping to the true spirit of the original, the two of them have made plenty of homages to the first film, and I mean plenty. The jungle setting, the music score, even the song that plays in the closing credits is taken from the first film. There are also a few scenes in Predators that are inspired from Arnie's original. Rather than looking like a total ripoff, Rodriguez and Antal successfully fuse these elements with their own ideas to make a truly violent and interesting sci-fi film of their own.

The casting is also spot on. Adrien Brody, who would probably never be caught dead in a film like this, buffs up and makes for a convincing action hero. As Royce, Brody makes him a self serving man at first, but does the right thing in the end. Alice Braga and Topher Grace also shine as Isabelle and Edwin respectively. Isabelle is no damsel here, but even a tough girl like her shows fear towards the Predators, and Braga does it well. Grace is also memorable as the supposedly normal guy that no one would give a second look, until his true colours shine through in the climax. Walton Goggins from TV's The Shield provides some much needed humour as the Death Row convict Stans. He's the one that gets the best lines.

But as good as this sequel is, it still doesn't quite match up to the original. It is better than the messy Predator 2 though. The one thing working against Predators is the fact that it's a sequel, thus the originality of a mysterious, invisible terror picking off a bunch of tough men is no longer there. Arnie's Predator will always be the benchmark for its successors to live up to. Predators makes a good sequel, and a memorable one at that, but it doesn't quite outshine the original. Also, Laurence Fishburne is a bit wasted here. His role, though limited, will be quite memorable thanks to Fishburne's performance, but he deserves better.

In conclusion, I'll say that this film lived up to my expectations. It's bloody, kick-ass and fun. What more can a guy ask for? (4/5)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Knight And Day

Year: 2010
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano

You know, the marketing campaign for this film is very disappointing. There isn't a single decent poster available, one that spells out 'Must See Movie'. The filmmakers were probably thinking that having Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz's names on the poster would be enough. And it would be, if the film can live up to its star billing. But does it?

In Knight And Day, Diaz plays June Havens, a woman with a knack of repairing cars, who's on the way to her sister's wedding when she bumps into a handsome stranger, Roy Miller (Cruise). She is denied permission to board a plane back home but Roy makes it. Then later, the airline allows her on board, and June discovers that the plane is mostly empty. Odd, right?

In mid air, June and Roy hit it off, then she goes to powder her nose, and then THIS is where we find out that Roy isn't just an ordinary stranger. He's a spy, and the plane is a trap set for him! Roy kills everyone else on board, including the pilots, and subsequently reveals his identity to June. And now the chaos starts.

Despite Roy's efforts to keep June out of trouble, by drugging her, tipping her off on what to do when bad guys turn up etc, she somehow ends up in the middle of it with him every time. It turns out that Roy is wanted by the government for something that he may or may not have done. And like it or not, June has to go along for the ride.

Director James Mangold, who helmed memorable films like Girl, Interrupted, Walk The Line and Identity, does a decent enough job with the action sequences. Of course, seeing Cruise in this role isn't difficult, it's not new to us. It's interesting that at 48 years old, he can still kick ass. Diaz is the necessary romantic interest/comedic distraction, and just like Cruise, this role is very familiar to her too.

But the question is, does it work? Well, yes and no. Cruise and Diaz work well together, but not consistently. Sometimes the chemistry is there, and sometimes it isn't. The two of them are supposed to be romantically involved, but the script doesn't give them any room to let their relationship blossom. I felt like the only reason Roy keeps saving June is because he's the good guy who always has to save the day, and not because he cares about her. Whatever spark that occurs between them fizzles out before it even becomes anything.

To make matters worse, the supporting cast is mostly wasted. Peter Sarsgaard looks bored half the time and Paul Dano is underused as a genius kid whom Roy must protect. Also, the subplot on Roy's past is only skimmed over instead of being explored as it should be. It would have given his character more depth.

But for what it's worth, it is enjoyable if you don't think too much and just go with the flow. I'm just disappointed because both Cruise and Diaz have been better in similar roles before. And Mangold has certainly done better than this. (3.5/5)


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