Sunday, November 28, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn

I gotta tell ya, the only thing Tony Scott loves more than trains is his leading man, Denzel Washington.

I mean, another train movie after The Taking Of Pelham 123? And Denzel again? Oh well, I guess it's true: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If working with Denzel brings in the goods, why change that?

Anyway, their new collaboration Unstoppable takes place in Pennsylvania, where Denzel's character Frank Barnes works as a train engineer. He meets Will Colson (Chris Pine), a rookie conductor who will join him today on his train. The two get off on the wrong foot initially, due to word spreading around that old guys like Frank are being let go in favor of younger guys like Will.

However, there's a bigger problem rearing its head today. A careless train conductor lets his train run off with no brakes and it's barreling down the tracks, destroying anything that comes in its way. Worst of all, it's carrying cars containing hazardous materials and it's headed for a highly populated area. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) tries her best to organize efforts to stop the train but fails. When her suggestion to derail the train falls on the deaf ears of the train's owner (Kevin Dunn), Frank and Will decide to do what they can to stop it instead.

This is officially Scott's fifth collaboration with Denzel, with the latter once again playing the everyman that eventually turns heroic. This time around, Scott sets his film in the blue collar society and how they can get underappreciated by the higher ups, until things like this happen. Although Unstoppable is supposedly based on true events, I doubt it was as dramatic or thrilling as the film makes it out to be. Nevertheless, exaggeration can sometimes be a good thing in the name of entertainment.

As for Scott, he successfully makes this film as kinetic as it can be. It's kinda like Speed on a train, and comparatively, the possibilities are much less interesting. But to his credit, Scott makes it believable, that situations like this are possible in the real world.

Denzel once again brings his indomitable screen presence to the fore. It's almost effortless for this guy to be a likable everyman that saves the day. Chris Pine balances it well as the rookie Will Colson, and manages to hold his own against Denzel. Rosario Dawson also gives good support as Connie, whose verbal sparring with the train owner and her own staff makes for good entertainment.

If there is a drawback to Unstoppable, is the fact that it doesn't have a real villain other than the runaway train, which makes it less thrilling than Scott's other films. But all in all, it's still rather entertaining that will have you cheering for the heroes when the climax comes.

An A- train thriller that is well driven by its cast, Unstoppable is worth its 100 minute screen time. (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Social Network

Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rashida Jones

I love Facebook. In fact, I'd like to believe that everyone who enjoys surfing the net and keeping in touch with their friends and family online love Facebook. It's probably the greatest invention for the Internet currently in use.

And now we have a film that follows the birth of Facebook and the drama that ensued between its creators as the battle for its ownership and rights take place in court.

It begins with a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg, who after breaking up with his girlfriend Erica, hacks into the university's webpages and steals pictures of the undergraduates to create a website for comparing girls. He subsequently gets punished by the board, but it's just the beginning.

A pair of twin brothers, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and their friend Divya Narendra, hear of this and hire Mark to create a website for them, which would be exclusive for Harvard students only. Mark on the other hand decides to take their idea, make the website and exclude them. He ropes in his best friend Eduardo Saverin, who pumps in some money to get the site started. And thus Facebook is born.

Before long, it becomes a big hit amongst the students. Mark and Eduardo become popular, much to the chagrin of the Winklevosses and Narendra, who contemplate on suing the duo. Then Sean Parker, the creator of Napster, hears about the new fad and arranges a meeting with Mark and Eduardo. Mark is keen on taking Sean's advice on how to get financial backing to expand the site, but Eduardo isn't. This is where things get ugly, after Sean inserts himself into the Facebook company and Eduardo becomes a victim.

Acclaimed director David Fincher successfully helms this interesting take on Facebook's history, but credit must also be given to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the book The Accidental Billionaires for his script. What we get is a fast paced and fascinating insight into the creators of Facebook, what they did, how they did it, the trials and tribulations they faced and the legal battle that followed. When I say fast paced, I'm referring to the bullet speed dialogue that the cast throw at each other throughout the film, and amazingly enough the dramatic impact isn't lost at all. And I feel that it's because Fincher has chosen a top notch cast for his film.

Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant as Mark Zuckerberg. Mark is viewed in this story as someone who believes he isn't wrong, and that he doesn't owe anyone anything because he's the smart guy that made it happen. Mark isn't really a bad guy, just perceived as such by the people around him. Andrew Garfield is also equally awesome as Eduardo Saverin, Mark's best friend who helped him along the way and gets screwed over. Eduardo basically is a nice guy who deserved a little more than what he got, and Garfield successfully gets our sympathy here. And what of Justin Timberlake? Well, I'll say that he did a good job playing an asshole in Sean Parker, but I'm not so convinced on him being an actor just yet. He needs more exposure.

To be fair, I'd say that The Social Network isn't one of Fincher's more accessible films, like Se7en or Panic Room. This one falls into the less accessible stuff like Zodiac. But overall I liked this film, the way it was handled, crafted and presented to the audience. The fact that the real Mark Zuckerberg claimed that this film is more fiction than fact makes you even more curious as to what really happened back then.

So go see this, even if you're not a Facebook fan. You won't regret it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to post this review on my Facebook wall. (4/5)

Friday, November 19, 2010


Year: 2010
Directors: The Brothers Strause
Cast: Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, David Zayas, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed

Cool poster huh? The trailer looked pretty neat too. Alien invasion films, if done right, can be immensely fun to watch. And this one kinda looked fun on the surface.

Skyline revolves around a group of friends spending the night at a penthouse of a large condominium who are awakened by a bright light outside their window. The bright light attracts people like moths to a flame, and before they know it, they'll be sucked right an alien spacecraft!

The friends, made up of Jarrod, his girlfriend Elaine, his best friend Terry, Terry's girlfriend Candice and his assistant Denise attempt to escape the building. But time and time again they are thwarted by the aliens, who come in different shapes and sizes. And the body count or body vanishing acts rise.

Colin and Greg Strause, who directed the abysmal Alien vs Predator: Requiem funded this film all by themselves. They even used Greg's apartment for filming most of the scenes. Now, as far as visual effects go, it is pretty impressive. The scale of the invasion is a lot like what you've seen in Independence Day i.e. huge ships, big explosions, big lights, the works. They also have giant aliens walking around, which reminds me of Godzilla (hmm lots of Roland Emmerich tributes here) and flying aliens with tentacles that look like The Matrix sentinels. Doesn't sound particularly original, but quite awesome anyway.

Unfortunately, Skyline is far from cool overall. I should have known actually, since it's the AVPR directors we're talking about. Their first mistake was giving us a bunch of characters not worth rooting for. The second was writing a really bad script for the actors to read, and the fact that they aren't very good actors to begin with only made things worse. And why would they restrict the story to just around the apartment building for the majority of the screentime? This caused the middle third of the film to stall and feel like they had run out of ideas to push the story forward.

And then there's the ending, which firstly, leads to an obvious sequel, but more importantly makes me go "you gotta be kidding me!" It's quite ridiculous, and really not necessary.

It certainly pales in comparison to Independence Day or War Of The Worlds, where in the former, despite it being a cheesy salute to patriotism, gave us plenty of funny moments and characters to cheer for; as for the latter, it focuses on a father's efforts to keep his family safe, even if he has to cross the line, which provides good drama. In Skyline, we have none of these, at least not in convincing fashion.

It's a great visual feast, but not much else. Which is unfortunate, because it certainly had potential. (2.5/5)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let Me In

Year: 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins

Let Me In was one of four films I have been looking forward to in this last quarter of 2010, the other three being Machete, Devil and The Town. One got banned, one got delayed and Devil was just so-so, if you've read my review on it. So now let's talk about Let Me In.

The film is set in 1983, where we are introduced to Owen, a 12 year old boy living with his mother in a small apartment building. He hardly connects with his mum as she is going through a bitter divorce with his dad. He gets bullied by the mean kid at school, which causes him to act out fantasies of retaliating against them when he's by himself.

Then he sees an old man and a young girl his age move in next door. The girl is Abby, whom Owen finds to be quite peculiar when they first meet. Even though they get off on the wrong foot at first, they eventually connect and become friends.

However, Abby has a secret: she's a vampire, and like all vampires we've known, she needs blood. The old man, presumably her father, has to find people in the neighborhood to kill and drain them of their blood to feed her. Things get out of hand when a policeman investigates the deaths and Owen eventually learns the truth about Abby.

Matt Reeves, the director of Cloverfield, adapts the original Swedish film Let The Right One In for his work here. And I have not seen the original, but as for this version, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and intriguing movie. The setting is a snowy little town, where most of the scenes takes place at night, creating an eerie and cold atmosphere which suits the subject matter perfectly. Reeves also succeeds in the photography department with a lot of nice shots of the goings on, especially in the scene of a car accident by putting the camera inside the car. Very ingenious.

The best part of Let Me In is the cast. Reeves is blessed to have two phenomenal child actors for his film. Kodi Smit-McPhee, last seen in The Road (I'm still looking for this film btw), is awesome as Owen, the troubled young boy who has no friends, and finally finds one in his mysterious neighbor. Owen sees in Abby a lot of similarities with himself, and in her he finds a kindred spirit that helps him forget and sometimes overcome his own problems. Chloe Grace Moretz, who was Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, matches Kodi well as Abby. Chloe is quite the opposite of Hit Girl here, but she is really effective. As Abby, she is so fascinating to observe, even when she says little or does not do much. It's like you can feel that there's something unusual about her. And when Abby turns to monster mode, Chloe can be equally intimidating. As a result, Owen and Abby's relationship is fleshed out tremendously well on screen, and it becomes the focus of the story.

Richard Jenkins makes good with his supporting role as Abby's guardian while Elias Koteas rounds up the cast as the detective, and is effective as well. I do have an issue about Owen's mother not in the focus at all throughout the movie, but it is a small one.

This film does suffer a little from its slow pace, so if you're watching this at a late hour, it can be taxing. However, don't let that deter you at all. Let Me In is a fine piece of work that features an unusual relationship between two young children, and it will warm your heart even as it is tragic and dark at times.

This is officially in the running for my top 10 of the year. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss

Red is an action comedy based on the graphic novel of the same name. The title is an acronym for 'Retired, extremely dangerous'.

The story begins with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who now leads a dull existence by himself in a suburban neighborhood. His only pastime is having phone conversations with Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), a pension handler at the CIA office whom Frank takes a liking to.

Then one night, six armed men come knocking on his door and try to kill him. Frank easily disposes of them and proceeds to find out who would want him dead. Knowing that Sarah's life is in danger too due to their connection, Frank kidnaps her and forces her to tag along. He meets up with his old CIA friends, Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Victoria (Helen Mirren) and former Russian agent Ivan (Brian Cox) and together, they follow up one lead after another to find the mastermind while being pursued by CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), who has orders to kill Frank.

Many movie reviewers have compared Red to The Expendables due to the similar storyline of ageing heroes going back in action. The difference is, Red doesn't take itself too seriously, which works well in its favour. Director Robert Schwentke keeps viewers interested by letting his A-list cast play their parts equally. The witty dialogue and banter between them helps lighten the proceedings when things threaten to slow down. The action sequences are also well executed. Willis is of course an old hand at stuff like this, so it's no surprise. What is fun to watch is Mirren wielding a machine gun or a sniper rifle taking out the bad guys. What is even more fun is watching Malkovich hamming it up as the slightly insane Marvin. He had me in stitches the whole time.

However, Freeman sadly doesn't have much to do, though his screen presence is still there. Parker is a mere distraction at times and lacks chemistry with Willis. Urban plays it straight here and is probably the only character that has no funny line to read. The legendary Ernest Borgnine makes a welcome cameo as the CIA records keeper.

So basically, other than Parker, the cast work well together and successfully make it look like they have been friends for years. I have to say it again: Malkovich is awesome. He's paranoid with a capital P, but he's smart, capable and hilarious here.

It's a good action film that manages to entertain despite not having The Expendables' level of budget. (3.5/5)


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