Friday, December 31, 2010

Gulliver's Travels

Year: 2010
Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Billy Connolly, Chris O'Dowd

Remember the story Gulliver's Travels about an adventurer who winds up on an island filled with tiny people? Hollywood finally decided to make a movie out of it.

Jack Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a laidback mail room clerk who has a major crush on Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), who writes for a travel column. In an attempt to impress her, Gulliver takes up an assignment to write about his extensive travelling experience, even when he actually does not have any.

So he plagiarises other travel columns to write a nice article for her, and Darcy is so impressed that she sends him on an assignment to the Bermuda Triangle. Gulliver goes there by boat on his own, when he is suddenly sucked up into a waterspout. When he awakens, he finds himself being taken prisoner by an army of little people no taller than six inches!

Soon he learns he is on the island of Lilliput, and is now regarded as a beast because of his size. He befriends fellow inmate Horatio (Jason Segel), who is imprisoned because of attempting to court Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). One day, Gulliver succeeds in preventing a kidnapping attempt on the princess by invading forces and is subsequently declared a hero by her father King Theodore (Billy Connolly). Gulliver, who now enjoys accolades he had never received in his life before, makes up a bunch of stories about his identity in order to impress the Lilliputians.

However, the head of the Lilliputian army, General Edward (Chris O'Dowd) is furious over being replaced by Gulliver as the island's hero, and hatches a plan to eliminate him.

The one thing that impressed me first about Gulliver's Travels is the special effects. They successfully made it look like Jack Black is communicating with little people, physically manhandling them or being manhandled in return etc. And since it's Jack Black we're talking about, you know what kind of comedy to expect. The crass, occasionally low brow and mostly spontaneous humour. Black still manages to pull it off here, even though he's been way better in previous films.

However, despite all that, the film comes off as very mediocre. Black is fun to watch, but he doesn't have the best material to work with here. The script makes the film look more suited for children, leaving very little for adults to have fun with. Perhaps that's what director Rob Letterman was aiming for, to entertain the young ones. But it would have been nice if the older audience members have something to laugh at here.

On a brighter note, Emily Blunt does a good job hamming things up as Princess Mary, while Billy Connolly is a tad underused as King Theodore. Chris O'Dowd makes a good villain as General Edward, and Jason Segel is spot on as Gulliver's sidekick Horatio.

An average Jack Black vehicle to end the year with. I should have watched Tron Legacy already. (By the way, you might want to leave the hall when Jack Black starts to sing Edwin Starr's War at the end, it was really cheesy.) (3/5)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Due Date

Year: 2010
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx

There was an old comedy called Planes, Trains & Automobiles where Steve Martin and John Candy played two mismatched guys stuck with each other as they made their way home. I never saw that film, but Due Date is said to be a lot like that.

In this film, Robert Downey Jr plays Peter Highman, a father-to-be on his way home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to make it for his child's birth. At the airport, he bumps into Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor, and they subsequently get their luggage mixed up. Things get worse when on the plane, Ethan inadvertently gets himself and Peter thrown out because of a misunderstanding with the air marshal.

Now being put on the No Fly List, Peter has no other way home, except to hitch a ride with Ethan in a rented car. With Ethan being a weed smoker, carrying a bulldog and add Ethan's annoying attitude, Peter is gonna have one long trip ahead of him, and one full of mishaps too.

Director Todd Phillips was at the helm of The Hangover, last year's hit comedy which also starred Galifianakis. I plan on seeing that on cable soon. Here in Due Date, the usual jokes come forth: slapstick, low brow and a lot of accidental injuries. Most of them only made me snigger, and not because they were badly executed, but because it's nothing new. There were a few good ones, like the one where Peter punches a kid in the gut for yanking on his tie, which I know would be rather controversial as to whether it's funny or outrageous, but I think Downey pulled that one off well without making it look bad.

Speaking of Downey, he does a good job here as Peter. He sounds a lot like Tony Stark, except he's not very nice. In fact, Peter is a very unlikable guy who is prone to losing his temper and insulting people without flinching, which kinda makes it tough for us to sympathise with him. But at the very least, Downey manages to show Peter's caring side when the scene calls for it. He is balanced off perfectly by Galifianakis, who gives Ethan a certain air of lovable quality, even though he isn't the smartest of people. The best way to describe Ethan is to picture that guy you sit next to on a bus or train, and he goes on and on about himself, being very earnest but not knowing if we want to hear him talk that much. THAT'S the guy Ethan is. The duo's budding friendship as the story progresses, through every painful and embarrassing situation is the driving force of the picture.

Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis make short appearances as Peter's best friend and a drug dealer respectively, and they're not too shabby. But I didn't like the inclusion of Danny McBride as the disgruntled Western Union employee that beats Peter up. That attempt at humour is rather overused in films like these, it just didn't work for me.

Overall, it's a decent attempt at comedy about a mismatched duo, just don't expect much else. (3.5/5)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Next Three Days

Year: 2010
Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson

If you've seen the hit TV show Prison Break, then you'll get an idea of what The Next Three Days is essentially about, though it is not nearly as complicated.

The Next Three Days is about John Brennan, a university lecturer who is also a loving husband and father. His perfect world comes crashing down one day when the police barge into his home and arrest his wife Lara for murder.

Naturally John believes she is innocent, but the evidence says she isn't, and she goes to jail. As time passes, the couple's young son grows distant from her, and she loses appeal after appeal in court. When Lara attempts suicide and fails, John realizes that he has only one choice to save his family: break Lara out of prison.

Paul Haggis, who directed the Oscar winning Crash, brings to us a very interesting conundrum, and succeeds in making us relate to the protagonist's situation. Unlike Prison Break, where you'd have to suspend disbelief many times to enjoy it fully, The Next Three Days feels very real. A majority of the film is spent on John's efforts in learning how to break someone out of prison, which he starts by consulting a man who has written books on escaping prisons, played by Liam Neeson. From there, John begins planning, knowing what to do and when, how to get the necessary resources, how fast he must go from point to point, the dos and don'ts etc. All this contributes to the realism of the story at hand. And yes, it is not without flaws of its own, there were times when some things didn't seem plausible, but it is all right to ignore them.

Russell Crowe once again excels in becoming the driving force of this film. As John, he gets our sympathy as a desperate man who would do whatever it takes to save his wife, knowing the consequences if he fails. Unlike Wentworth Miller in Prison Break, John is a regular guy, a teacher, who has to learn from scratch on doing the seemingly impossible, and muster the courage to see it through to the end. Crowe is very convincing in delivering that side of John.

Elizabeth Banks isn't as convincing as Crowe here, but she does shine in some of her scenes as Lara. Although only getting one scene, Neeson puts in a great performance as Damon Pennington, the expert on prison breaking. Special mention must also be made for Brian Dennehy as John's father. His age is definitely showing, but his presence is very welcome here, as he shows plenty of emotion even when he says nothing. Home Alone's Daniel Stern also gets a nice turn as John's lawyer, something you'd never expect from him.

It's a well made thriller with a lot of good drama thrown in. Based on the support its getting, I think it's seriously underrated, and if any of you are reading this, you should go see it. (4/5)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Year: 2010
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis

The Harry Potter films stopped being fun the day Cedric Diggory died.

But it's not because Cedric was such a well loved character. His death simply meant that things were going to get ugly, and it was not going to stop until either Harry or Voldermort dies. Cedric unfortunately was merely the first in a long line of characters in the adventures of Harry Potter that will bite the dust.

In my opinion, only real Potter fans, that is, those who read the books, would really feel anything when these characters meet their demise. For people like me, the regular movie fan, and many others who love it for the epicness, we just wonder when it will end, and how. So when I sat down to watch The Deathly Hallows, the only thing I felt was a small measure of relief that it would soon end at last. Not that it hasn't been fun. It has. It's just that I want to take something significant away from these films besides seeing everyone either grow up or die.

So Deathly Hallows begins with Harry and his two friends, Ron and Hermione, prepare for the hard days to come. Voldermort and his forces grow stronger now that Prof. Dumbledore is dead, thanks to Prof. Snape. Harry, Ron and Hermione attempt to locate Voldermort's horcruxes, objects which contain pieces of his soul. If they can find all of them and destroy them, they can defeat him.

Through their journey and a subsequent meeting with Luna Lovegood's father Xenophilius, the trio learn of the Deathly Hallows; three magical things that would make its owner the master of death. They also learn that Voldermort is after the same things.

David Yates takes the helm again after doing the last two instalments, and once again the mood is dark and grey. And like before, Yates is very thorough in his approach. I assume this is to please the fans so that all the important points in the book are covered, which is why there are two parts to this final chapter, the second one scheduled for next year.

However, I must question Yates' decision to film certain scenes that I thought wasn't crucial. In the middle third of the film, the story drags as Harry, Ron and Hermione teleport from place to place, camping and doing nothing much other than sulking over their fate. Harry and Hermione even have time to engage in a dance sequence, which I know was an attempt to ease the tension between them. But all this did not serve the story and should have been edited out.

The other thing I hate relates to something I should point at J.K. Rowling to address. Why would she kill off good guys only? She kills Cedric, then Sirius Black, then Dumbledore, and two more here. But bad guys? Nuh uh! The Malfoys live, the annoying Bellatrix Lestrange still hangs around, and if any bad guys got killed in this film, they weren't important enough to put in here anyway. So Ms Rowling, why would you write like that? Gosh. I guess that's my flaw for not being a fan of the books.

But what is good about the film is the fact that the kids are all grown up. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have now comfortably fit into their roles and do a splendid job indeed. In this film, they go through grief, anger and sadness, and they all deliver. Two particular scenes stand out: the first is something Hermione does at the start of the film, and the second at the end when Harry cries over a friend's death. Ron also gets some emotional drama midway and Grint does not disappoint.

Bill Nighy gets a small role here as the Minister of Magic but still manages to make his presence felt. Rhys Ifans is a perfect fit as the quirky Xenophilius Lovegood, much like Evanna Lynch who plays his daughter Luna. The other supporting cast only get a few scenes, and Prof. McGonagall is missing altogether, though I hear she'll be in part 2.

With a bit of tightening on the runtime, this would have been better. But I must say, I do want to see how this entire series comes to a close next summer when part 2 is released. Let's hope it ends with a bang. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Year: 2010
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Cast: Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba, Robert DeNiro, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson

So I finally managed to get a copy of Machete, which is banned here due to its over-the-top violence and sexual content. For those of you who don't know, Machete was originally a fake trailer for Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse film, and it became so popular Rodriguez decided to make a full length film out of it.

The story begins with Machete (Danny Trejo), a Federale carrying out a rescue mission involving a girl, only to get double crossed by his superiors. His arch nemesis Torrez (Steven Seagal), who masterminded the double cross subsequently kills Machete's wife and daughter, and leaves him for dead.

Three years later, Machete is doing odd jobs near the border when he is approached by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a businessman who offers him $150,000 to kill Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro). The senator is a staunch supporter of preventing illegal immigrants from crossing the border, and Booth wants him silenced so that the flow of cheap labour will continue to bring him profits. Machete agrees, but when he attempts to shoot the man, he gets double crossed by Booth and is now a wanted man. It turns out that Booth works for McLaughlin, and the attempt was meant to swing support for the senator's campaign.

Machete is now on the run, but he gets assistance from Mexican vigilante Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), his brother turned priest Padre (Cheech Marin) and ICE agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba). He eventually learns that Booth is in cahoots with Torrez, therefore an opportunity to get even emerges.

Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, who has helped edit Rodriguez's films in the past, share directing credits here. Like Planet Terror, Machete has the old 70s feel to it, from the way it was shot, to the action choreography and the music as well.There is rarely a dull moment as Rodriguez piles on the action, gore and some funny moments too. Some of the lines here are downright corny, like it was a B-grade action flick, but it doesn't make you cringe, in fact it kinda suits the mood of the film and would easily make you chuckle.

The cast perform splendidly for the most part. Trejo gets a chance at last to be the lead hero, and though his age is showing, he has great screen presence here. Alba and Michelle Rodriguez make for good eye candy, while Seagal and Fahey are convincing as the slimy villains, especially the latter. DeNiro is also fun to watch as the slightly weasel-like senator. Cheech Marin is quite underused here but makes his short screen time memorable. Don Johnson is good as a menacing border vigilante, while Lindsay Lohan gets a thankless role as Booth's daughter, and she gets topless in a couple of scenes too.

What works against Machete however is the fact that there are too many characters to follow here. It does make things a tad complicated in the middle third of the film. Perhaps Rodriguez ought to condense his film a little bit, not in the running time aspect but in the plot and characters aspect.

Overall, it's quite fun to watch Machete. It doesn't make me want to look forward to the upcoming sequel Machete Kills though. (3.5/5)


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