Monday, December 26, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov


Plot: The President disavows the IMF after a botched mission results in the destruction of the Kremlin. Ethan Hunt and his team have to find the man responsible and clear their organization's name.


Review: Who would have thought that Brad Bird, director of animated films like The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, could be capable of helming such an adrenalin pumping M:I instalment? Believe it or not, he does so with great skill.

Every M:I film always manages to trump the previous one in terms of elaborate stunts and action set pieces. For this film, Bird ups the ante with some extremely well choreographed action sequences. We have a chase sequence in a sandstorm, a prison break, a fight within a moving car park (my favorite one of all) and a breathtaking climb outside the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (which no doubt you have seen in the trailers).

But that's just the action sequences. Bird includes some more new nifty gadgets (which is the trademark of these films as you know) like a car with a computer map on its windshield, a contact lens that identifies faces and an invisible wall. I gotta tell ya, Bird spared no expense or effort for this instalment and it shows.

The cast perform splendidly, Cruise being his usual heroic daredevil self. Patton and Pegg provide good support, the former as the sex appeal and the latter as the comic relief. Jeremy Renner makes his presence felt as the analyst with a secret, and it is nice to know that it is he, and not Cruise, that is tasked with the personal baggage this time around. J.J. Abrams piled all of that on Cruise in the third film, and I always hated that. Another good thing is Cruise not making this film HIS show in its climax, which is what he usually did previously.

Michael Nyqvist plays the villain here, and he is rather low key compared to the previous films' villains, which actually works in his favour as it makes him more mysterious. Lost's Josh Holloway has a minor role, it's unfortunate that his screen time is very limited. I think he would have been great for this franchise.

My only complaint would be the fact that some characters seem impervious to injury, especially after being thrown around, falling from a high place or being in a car crash etc. I know it's Mission: Impossible, but some realism would be appreciated here.

In conclusion, Brad Bird has done the impossible (no pun intended) by cutting out the flab and making the franchise exciting again. Ghost Protocol might be running long at 133 minutes, but you don't feel it at all. It's nonstop action all the way here, and an excellent way to end 2011. (4.5/5)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Puss In Boots

Year: 2011
Director: Chris Miller
Voice cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis


Plot: Shrek's feline friend Puss in Boots finally gets his own adventure, where he teams up with female cat Kitty Soft Paws and former best friend Humpty Dumpty to steal the famed magic beans on a quest for the giant castle in the clouds.


Review: Puss In Boots is easily one of the best things about the Shrek movies. Whenever Shrek stopped being funny, Puss would steal the limelight. Antonio Banderas' low voice is just perfect, especially with his Spanish accent, giving the cat a sexy personality.

In this film, Puss runs into his former best pal Humpty Dumpty, who offers him a chance to redeem himself after their last encounter went south. With a potential love interest in Kitty Soft Paws, who is every bit as skilled as Puss is, they set off to find the magic beans (made famous by Jack from the Beanstalk tale) which is currently in the possession of Jack & Jill, a Bonnie and Clyde type of couple. From there, they head to the giant castle in the clouds, to find the goose that lays golden eggs.

Director Chris Miller wisely puts in a lot of action sequences to keep things moving briskly. Puss, Humpty and Kitty get themselves into a lot of trouble, which is usually followed by an escape sequence of sorts. The scene where they battle Jack & Jill while riding on dueling horse carriages is exhilarating, followed by an elaborate escape sequence from the giant castle. Kudos to the animation peeps for creating such marvelous scenes.

There's also some nice comedy and well written drama put in, with Puss revealing how his friendship with Humpty went bad, and you know this will come into play before the film is over. As Puss, Banderas is excellent, he evokes the right kind of emotion every time he's on screen. The same can't be said though for Humpty, as he starts to get on your nerves by the time the film hits the halfway mark. A talking egg can only get you so far, even if he is voiced by Zach Galifianakis.

Another thing I wasn't cool with is the number of dance sequences. The first one was awesome actually, especially with the way it was set up. But by the time they got to the last one at the film's closing, I had enough. I mean, it's just one too many, even if looks good.

It's nice family entertainment, even if you have never seen the Shrek films. Good to finally have a Puss film with no sign of the green ogre. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Muppets

Year: 2011
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Jack Black, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the entire Muppet gang


Plot: Three Muppet fans: Gary, his girlfriend Mary and his puppet brother Walter, enlist the help of Kermit the Frog to round up the entire Muppet gang to put on a show in order to raise money to save their beloved Muppet Theater from being demolished by an evil oil tycoon.


Review: I didn't quite grow up with The Muppets when I was little, but I did see Kermit and Miss Piggy on Sesame Street many times. That said, I was wary going in to see this, knowing that in order to enjoy this, I'd have to remember what it's like being a kid again.

Thankfully, director James Bobin and star Jason Segel make it very easy for the audience. Segel is a huge Muppet fan, as he pulls triple duty as star, co-writer and executive producer for this film. He and Nicholas Stoller do a great job in keeping things lively and entertaining throughout without a single dull moment, and know when to slow down when the dramatic moments come in.

Of course, this being Disney and all, you'll have to suspend your disbelief a bit, like how a man can have a puppet as his brother, but it's easy to forget this once the film gets rolling. The film is filled with song and dance sequences, and though I am not a fan of stuff like this, I didn't mind it too much. The Muppets do their best in keeping things light. Heck, a few times they even acknowledge that they're in a movie. It's hilarious.

Segel is great as Gary, you can see the wide eyed excitement on his face throughout the film. It may seem out of place had this been a role that he'd have to play it straight, but it's The Muppets, so it works. Amy Adams makes a great match for Segel. We all know she can sing and dance, and she proves it again here. But of course, the real stars of the film are the title characters. Kermit and Miss Piggy still make a great couple, through all their bickering and lovey-dovey moments. Other Muppets like Fozzie, Gonzo and Animal are fun to watch too. Then there's Jack Black, who does his best becoming the target of the Muppets' jokes. Watch out also for cameo appearances from Alan Arkin, Mickey Rooney, Selena Gomez, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris and get this...Dave Grohl. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him. Ha! Oh but wait, lest I forget, Chris Cooper hams it up as the villainous Tex Richman, who even gets to break into song at one point. Epic.

All I can say is I had a blast with The Muppets, and that surprised me a bit. If you love musicals and still remember what it feels like being a kid, go see this. (4/5)

P.S.: Look out for the Toy Story short before the film plays, it's awesome.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

50/50

Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Angelica Huston


Plot: A young man discovers he has a rare form of cancer. With the help of his best friend and a rookie therapist, he attempts to survive it and deal with the emotional baggage that comes with it.


Review: To most people, cancer is a bad word, and even a death sentence. Someone close to me has it, so I know very well how it feels to have that weighing over your head if you're suffering from it. That said, I didn't think it was possible to make a comedy out of it, and I initially wanted to stay away from this film.

But guess what, 50/50 turned out to be a pleasant surprise. What's surprising also is the fact that this film is directed by Jonathan Levine, the same guy who helmed All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, which I thought was horrible.

The film is written by Will Reiser, a friend of Seth Rogen who had cancer and survived it. As far as the story goes, it's pretty realistic. The fear of the disease, the emotional wreck that one becomes when they realise they have it, the reactions of the people around you, the stuff the patient goes through, all come off very authentically here. I have to give credit to Levine for pacing the film quite well and ensuring that every character on screen feels real and relatable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a good job of being the regular guy who wakes up one day and realises his life just changed for the worst. He also shows his fear and eventual courage to face the cancer. It'll be easy for the audience to sympathise with him and root for him too. Rogen is spot on as the best friend who although uses his friend's condition to score chicks and one night stands, isn't really as bad as some people make him out to be. Anna Kendrick once again brings her dorky charm she displayed in Up In The Air here as the therapist who helps Joseph deal with his disease. She is obviously inexperienced but is a very good listener who genuinely cares about her client. Kendrick comes off as very likeable here.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Joseph's girlfriend who can't quite deal with the situation, and I wished her character was written better, as the way her story plays out was a tad too simple. Howard is good, but her character needs more depth. Angelica Huston shines in the limited screentime she has here as Joseph's mother, who worries about him constantly. Special mention must be made for Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as two fellow patients who sit in the chemotherapy room with Joseph. They're funny and believable.

All I can say is that 50/50 is a great dramedy about a subject matter that most people would consider as taboo. Thanks to Gordon-Levitt and the hilarious Rogen, this film is a solid watch. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Breaking Dawn Part 1

Year: 2011
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed


Plot: The Twilight saga continues. Bella and Edward get married. However, her unexpected motherhood bring huge complications between the Cullens and Jacob's pack.


Review: I know a lot of people have buried the Twilight films over the years, for good reasons. Personally I thought it had its own potential to be entertaining, and even then I wished they had stopped adapting the novels after Eclipse. Eclipse had a perfect ending to a saga that has seen a lot of happenings.

But Hollywood won't turn away from an opportunity to make more money, so here we go with Breaking Dawn, the first of two parts. Storywise, Breaking Dawn is much weaker than its predecessors, since there is a lack of villains here, any good ones anyway. Bill Condon however deserves credit for making the film flow smoothly and not dwelling on the love factor too much, which has always been the worst thing about the Twilight films.

But the lack of villains means a lack of action, which this film sorely needs to be entertaining. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg thus has to resort to making the script entertaining and funny, which only works about half the time. The cheesy lines are still there, though like I mentioned earlier, thankfully kept to a minimum.

The cast perform just about average as always. Stewart is a lot less dramatic this time around thankfully, leaving the emotional moments to her two suitors, Pattinson and Lautner. Lautner especially has to do a lot of drama here, and to me he still needs a bit more work on his acting. Billy Burke shines again as Bella's dad, getting the best lines in the film.

Sadly, the local censors took out a lot from this film, probably to make sure it gets the PG13 rating the film needs to draw its teen fans over. (Isn't it sad that our PG13 rating is more strict than the US PG13?) Thus we Malaysians don't get to see the much talked about birth scene, which I hear has made people puke due to red and white lights flashing. What the heck?

To sum it up, Breaking Dawn Part 1 isn't necessary to adapt to celluloid because it is now bordering on ridiculousness. But who knows, Part 2 might make up for its shortcomings, especially with a very welcome epilogue featuring the Volturi. (3/5)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Seeking Justice

Year: 2011
Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Harold Perrineau, Xander Berkeley, Jennifer Carpenter


Plot: After Will Gerard's wife Laura is assaulted, a man named Simon approaches him, telling him that he represents a vigilante group and offers to take care of the problem. Will agrees, but after that he realizes too late that Simon's price for his services is too high.


Review: Roger Donaldson, who has made diverse films ranging from Cocktail to The Recruit, manages to craft a steady thriller out of Seeking Justice. It is by no means perfect though, as the film becomes quite predictable and lots of plot holes are visible throughout.

Donaldson makes up for it by keeping things moving fairly well. The first half is smooth, and then the plot slows down as Will tries to outrun Simon and his men while trying to get to the bottom of things. But the pace picks up at the climax, and though it can only end one way, the journey there is thrilling enough.

Cage as Will is one of his better roles in the past year. I know he gets a lot of crap for taking all sorts of roles and further driving his once great career down the toilet, but as Will, Cage goes back to playing what he does best, being the everyman. Jones is merely here to support Cage's character, but it's nice to see her doing some real acting for once. Guy Pearce is pretty good as the villainous Simon, and manages to lift the film above average.

There is talk during the film that New Orleans, the city where this takes place, is going to ruin, and I think Donaldson should have tried harder to depict that. All he manages to show the audience is a few graffiti stained walls, some crime reports and an unfinished mall. He can certainly do better than that if he wants to justify a vigilante group's existence.

A decent thriller overall, a watchable film for Cage fans. (3.5/5)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Immortals

Year: 2011
Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Mickey Rourke


Plot: King Hyperion seeks a mystical bow that can help him release the Titans from their prison. Zeus refuses to interfere in the affairs of men and chooses instead to rely on a peasant named Theseus, whose mother Hyperion killed, to stop him.


Review: From the trailer, this film indeed looks promising. A sword and sandal epic is guaranteed to be bloody and violent, which would be fun if done right.

However, much to my chagrin, the local censors removed many bits that were deemed too gory for our senses. I'm used to watching films that are censored, but whoever did the job for Immortals did so badly, as the cuts disrupted the flow of the final cut that I watched. Damn you.

But anyway, I shall try to tell you my opinion regardless. Tarsem seems to rely a lot on CGI blood and CGI sets, as the rock cliff home of Theseus seems too good to be real (I could be wrong though). He focused so much on sets that there are virtually no scenes of travelling from one location to another, which made no sense to me. It felt like one moment the characters were in a place, the next moment they were elsewhere. This sure as hell threw the plot into a big mess for me.

Acting wise, Henry Cavill is a pretty good hero as Theseus. He reminds me of Sam Worthington in Clash Of The Titans, only Worthington was better. Mickey Rourke uses his similar sleepy villain style as Hyperion, sometimes it works, sometimes it's just annoying. Stephen Dorff makes a good sidekick for Cavill, but I wished they had focused more on his friendship with Theseus. Luke Evans makes an outstanding Zeus, and Isabel Lucas is just gorgeous as Athena. Another thing I wished for was more time with the gods and less with the humans, alas we don't get that. Freida Pinto was boring to watch unfortunately, she has no chemistry with Cavill.

Overall, Immortals was only so-so for me. They gave a lot of running time for the film, but most of it was spent on Theseus' journey, and not enough on the gods or the supporting characters. If I had a chance to see the violence they removed, maybe I'll like this film more. But for now, it's below my expectations. (3/5)

Monday, November 07, 2011

In Time

Year: 2011
Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettyfer, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde


Plot: In a world where everyone has been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 and live for one more year, time has become the currency. Those who have years on their clock are the rich who live forever, while the poor live by scraping enough time to last the next day. Will Salas is a man from the ghetto who inherits a century from someone, and while being pursued by the authorities, attempts to make things right in the distribution of time.


Review: The moment I learned the plot from In Time and heard it was Andrew Niccol directing, it literally rang "Gattaca" in my head. The similarities are uncanny: it's set in the future, underprivileged man gets to live a life of privilege thanks to a kind man with the means, man falls for a girl from the upper class, someone suspects his ruse and investigates him. It's all there.

I have to admit though, In Time has an intriguing premise despite its familiarity. In this world, we don't carry cash, we carry time on our wrists. We can pass the time to another person as easily as passing money from hand to hand. The difference is, if you have no time, you're dead. From a logical standpoint, I still don't know how you pass time to another person by touch, but there you go.

Niccol's version of the future is kinda like Gattaca: it's sleek, inorganic and very formal. Kudos to Niccol and company for the great set design, as well as the stark change in transportation, where cars look like they run on electricity and even hum differently. Cars look very retro but at the same time, exude a futuristic image.

I like how the disparity between the two social classes are shown here, by using time zones that separate the wealthy from the poor. I also like the appearance of the Minutemen, thugs who steal other people's time by force, and the police force that are called Timekeepers. In a world like this, it's very relevant.

However, Niccol squanders a good opportunity to turn this into a good thriller by the time the film hits the halfway mark. At this point, Will and his love interest Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), who's wealthy, decide to become a Bonnie & Clyde pair and steal time from time banks, and then distribute them to the needy. This is where the story seemingly grinds to a halt, because Niccol stays on this plot to the end, and worst of all, doesn't even give it a satisfactory finale. In this part of the film, it feels as if he can't decide how to move the plot along or how to end it.

I've never been a fan of Timberlake's acting, and after this I'm not changing my mind. He's not awful, but inconsistent in his portrayal of Will. Amanda Seyfried isn't much better, she's basically following Timberlake's lead here. Definitely not one of her better roles. Cillian Murphy does what he can as the Timekeeper on Will's trail, but you get the feeling he's a tad miscast. Alex Pettyfer plays against type as the Minutemen's leader, but doesn't have a heck of a lot to do.

In the end, In Time is a a film with a lot of wasted potential. A real pity. Don't rush out to see this. (3/5)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Real Steel

Year: 2011
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie


Plot: In a future where robot boxing has replaced human boxing, a washed up fighter and his estranged son attempt to bring their underdog robot named Atom all the way to the World Robot Boxing championship.


Review: I remember seeing the trailer to this film many times in the last several months. The more I saw it, the more I thought it was gonna be a stinker. But the reviews were positive, and I love Hugh Jackman, so I gave it a shot.

To be honest, Real Steel isn't perfect, but these days when can you ever ask for perfection when it comes to movies? Real Steel, at its heart, is an underdog story, which is heavily inspired it seems, by Rocky, judging by the similarities.

Jackman is Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who tries his best to make ends meet by getting a robot that can help him win a fight. He is down on his luck, until his estranged son Max finds a sparring robot named Atom at the junkyard, and convinces his father to teach him some moves. Along the way, Charlie learns a thing or two about fatherhood and fighting for the people that you love. And of course, the underdog robot triumphs in his own way.

Director Shawn Levy successfully crafts a heartwarming story that will appeal to most people, even though it seems very familiar. It helps that Jackman and Dakota Goyo have great chemistry as father and son, and it holds the story together well enough. The real appeal however are the robot fights, that are very realistic indeed. You'd think that the effects would be choppy for a family film like this, but no! The robots look and sound real, every punch, swing and impact feel authentic, which make all the robot fights very exciting to behold.

My only gripe is that the film took a little too long to finish, but other than that, Real Steel is knockout entertainment. I'll admit, this isn't Jackman's best work, I still love seeing him as Wolverine. But if you love underdog stories and great action, Real Steel is a solid choice. (3.5/5)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Thing

Year: 2011
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen


Plot: A group of Norwegian and American scientists discover a spaceship and an alien life form encased in ice down in Antarctica, and soon find themselves being picked off one by one by the alien, that has the ability to replicate anyone it kills.


Review: I only have a few vague memories of John Carpenter's version back in 1982, thus I may have a slight advantage over everyone else who have made comparisons between the two versions. Even then, this version is supposedly a prequel and not a remake (premake?) of Carpenter's film, which itself is a remake.

The new Thing is directed by first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, who directed commercials back in his home country. As far as set design and visual effects go, he's got it mostly right. The vast snow and icy landscape of Antarctica look really gorgeous and scary at the same time here. The visual effects actually look pretty good too, even though I've heard critics complain about it being choppy. The transformation from human to Thing once its ruse has been discovered is awesome, and quite gross too, which really helps the film a lot.

However, that's just about all the good things I can say about this film. Overall, the film needs a lot more than that. The horror of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with an enemy hiding amongst people you know and likely trust, isn't present. There ought to be tension everytime you look at the person next to you, and as a viewer, I didn't sense any tension whatsoever. I can see that the cast is trying to create the tension on screen, but it just doesn't happen. The main reason for that is the predictability. It's easy to guess which human the alien has copied, I guessed all of them correctly. On top of that, the 'test' that they use here to separate the humans from the impostors is pretty lame and not to mention flawed, compared to the one in Carpenter's version. The dialogue is rather dull and uninspiring too, with an absence of good one-liners and no guy with funny lines to quip (though the film does open with a guy telling quite a funny joke).

I'm also not happy with the choice of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the lead heroine Kate Lloyd. Yes, she can act, but I have trouble buying her as someone capable of leading this story. I would have preferred a more seasoned actress to play this role. Winstead gets to be Ellen Ripley in the second half of the film, but seriously, who can be Ripley besides Sigourney Weaver? The focus on Winstead's character makes her mostly male supporting cast seem insignificant, including the talented Joel Edgerton as Carter the helicopter pilot. The actors playing the Norwegians seem interesting though, too bad they mostly end up being alien victims.

In essence, this is a gallant attempt at remaking a classic horror film, but it is severely flawed. if you've seen the original, you'd probably want to go back to it. If like me, you don't remember much of the original, or you haven't seen it at all, you'd want to find it instead. (3/5)

P.S.: A final scene during the closing credits leads straight into Carpenter's film opening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Three Musketeers

Year: 2011
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen


Plot: Young D'Artagnan (Lerman), who aspires to be a musketeer, travels to Paris and meets the famed Three Musketeers (Macfadyen, Evans & Stevenson). Together they attempt to stop Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz), the advisor to the naive King of France, from starting a war with England. Standing in their way are Richelieu's double agent Milady (Jovovich) and her 'other' employer, The Duke of Buckingham (Bloom).


Review: From the trailers, The Three Musketeers looks like fun. On paper, it might have worked. Some nice action sequences with swordfights, explosions and bullets flying everywhere would almost guarantee a fun time at the movies, even if the plot isn't much to behold. But sadly, the film doesn't quite live up to expectations.

Paul W.S. Anderson, who has made a career out of making the Resident Evil films with his wife Milla Jovovich, can definitely film action, no doubt about that. He's one of the few guys that can film close quarter combats without making it seem blurry, and use slow motion at just the right moments. So to his credit, all the swordfights in this film are well shot, especially the climactic duel between Lerman and Mads Mikkelsen (as Rochefort, the Cardinal's Captain of the guards). He also throws in some good action set pieces, like an airship battle (which is reminiscent of the ship battles in the Pirates films, except it's in the air here) and a creative raid on a stronghold in the film's opening sequence.

However, Anderson isn't strong on substance, which is where the film falters. The plot on how Richelieu plans to start a war between England and France is a tad juvenile and poorly executed. But what's even worse is the acting by a select few of the cast.

Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham is one of the worst examples of casting I've ever seen. Bloom has yet to mature as an actor obviously, as he hams up the role terribly and looks totally out of place. Some people can actually ham up a role and make it look good (Kevin Bacon in X-Men First Class for instance), but Bloom is a failure. He might as well stick to being a sidekick for his next few projects. Jovovich is unexpectedly annoying at times, and I say unexpected because she isn't a terrible actress. Anyone who has seen her in Joan of Arc can understand where I'm coming from. Here, her acting is inconsistent at best.

Macfadyen, Evans and Stevenson fare much better as Athos, Aramis and Porthos respectively, though it is Lerman who gets more screen time here. Lerman does okay as the impulsive D'Artagnan, and with a little more work, he just might become a leading man someday.

In the end, The Three Musketeers doesn't take itself seriously enough to make it enjoyable. While I enjoyed the humour that it handed out, it just needed a bit more meat to work. There was some potential for drama as Athos and Milady have a history with each other, but there wasn't enough drama everywhere else, and too much focus was on the immature King and his Queen, who are at the centre of Richelieu's plan.

Judging by the way it ended, a sequel is afoot. But Anderson has a lot of work to do to improve on this. (3/5)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Killer Elite

Year: 2011
Director: Gary McKendry
Cast: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young


Plot: In order to save his mentor, a retired hitman is forced to take one last job. The task: kill three SAS officers who are connected to the British war with Oman. His mission however puts him in the crosshairs of an ex SAS officer tasked with protecting his comrades.


Review: Jason Statham has proven that he is a bankable action star. He may not be much of an actor, but he can kick ass like no one else can. While Death Race and The Transporter films are pretty much straightforward action flicks, Killer Elite is a bit different. For one thing, Statham doesn't end up doing ridiculous car stunts or fight off ten guys at once. And the plot is slightly deeper than the average Statham vehicle. And he shares nearly equal screentime with Clive Owen.

Supposedly based on a true story, Statham plays Danny Bryce, a hitman who yearns for a normal life with his girlfriend (played by Yvonne Strahovski). However, he gets dragged back into the game when an oil tycoon from Oman holds Danny's mentor Hunter (De Niro) captive, and forces Danny to kill three men in exchange for his freedom. It isn't easy though, since not only are the three men SAS soldiers, they are being watched over by Spike (Owen), a disgruntled ex SAS soldier who doesn't like the idea of his superiors not telling him the truth about these men.

Eventually Danny and Spike cross paths, and bad things happen, and people wind up dead. What's interesting is that the true story behind this film is being denied by the British, after Ranulph Fiennes releases a book about his government's war with Oman. It gives director Gary McKendry ample room to work a good plot around the action, rather than let the action drive the film. That doesn't mean that Killer Elite is boring though. There are still plenty of action sequences to behold, mostly fistfights, shootouts and car chases that aren't too bombastic.

Statham is still Statham here, doing what he does best with a grin, but he's mostly serious this time around. Clive Owen is dead serious as always, and manages to keep up with Statham for the most part. Robert De Niro brings his usual screen presence to the fore and it's always welcome. Strahovski, who constantly kicks ass on TV's Chuck, unfortunately does not do that here and merely looks gorgeous. Prison Break's Dominic Purcell gets the best lines playing one of Danny's comrades.

In the end, Killer Elite isn't quite what you'd expect from Jason Statham, but as an action movie, it still works. (4/5)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fright Night

Year: 2011
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette


Plot: Charley Brewster discovers that his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire who's feeding off people in the neighborhood. He turns to magician cum vampire expert Peter Vincent for help.


Review: I vaguely remember the original Fright Night many years ago. I can only recall a bit of the vampire played by Chris Sarandon (who makes a cameo here) and Roddy McDowall as the vampire killer.

Director Craig Gillespie successfully merges horror and comedy in his remake by creating lots of light hearted moments courtesy of the smart dialogue and good comic timing. Admittedly, some of the lines seem a tad cheesy, but overall it works.

You can also expect a lot of blood spatter, as what is a horror flick without the blood and gore? Gillespie pulls no punches or claws as the blood flies everywhere everytime someone gets fangs sunk into them.

Anton Yelchin isn't quite ready to be leading man material, but he pulls off the former nerd turned cool kid well enough, and warms up to the Charley Brewster role by the time the film gets to its climax. Colin Farrell uses his always present dark charm to his advantage as Jerry the vampire, and becomes a somewhat intimidating, but not too scary monster. Some of his lines are pretty corny, but hey, it's a comedy. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is rather annoying as Charley's best friend Ed, while Imogen Poots is nice to look at as Charley's squeeze. David Tennant however scores major points as Peter Vincent, whom many have accurately described as a cross between Russell Brand and Criss Angel. He is a hoot to watch and steals nearly every scene he's in.

Personally, I'd prefer a horror film that takes itself seriously than one that doesn't, which is why Fright Night wouldn't be one of my favourites. But I gotta say I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, and it's a nice way to spend 2 hours.

Note: Hugo's version of Jay-Z's 99 Problems that plays during the end credits is a killer song. It's just perfect for this. (3.5/5)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Warrior

Year: 2011
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn


Plot: Two brothers; Brendan, a schoolteacher trying to make ends meet, and Tommy, a former Marine haunted by the war he left behind, participate in a mixed martial arts tournament with a $5 million prize at stake. In between them is their estranged father Paddy, a former alcoholic who is trying his best to reconcile with his two sons.


Review: I'm not a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA), but the good thing about Warrior is that you don't have to be a fan to enjoy it.

The MMA element is in fact a background to the bigger story at hand: an emotional drama about family. In Warrior, we have two brothers who are as different from each other as night and day, both driven by different reasons and even fight differently in the ring.

Younger brother Tommy is resentful of his father, but chooses him to help him train for the tournament, as long as they only talk about the training and nothing else. You can see the darkness in Tommy's eyes, like there's a rage in him, and it shows when he beats down his opponents in the ring brutally. And yet, Tommy isn't a bad person really, he does have some good in him, as you'll see in some of the poignant moments of the film.

Older brother Brendan on the other hand, is a family man whose house is about to be foreclosed by the bank unless he pays up. Despite objections from his wife Tess, who worries for his safety, Brendan signs up for the tournament and ends up becoming a big underdog. Unlike Tommy, Brendan is an affable man and very easy to like.

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are superb in their respective roles. Hardy put on several pounds of muscle to become an intimidating fighter, and the way he beats up his opponents swiftly and violently is just brutal yet fun to watch. But more than that, Hardy puts in a great performance as a man evading his dark past while trying to ignore the big family issues in front of him. Edgerton is also great as the likable Brendan, who loves his family and would do anything for them, even if it means getting hurt badly. You would probably have a hard time choosing which brother to root for.

But the show stealer has to be Nick Nolte as their father Paddy. Paddy had walked out on the family a long time ago, and now has turned over a new leaf. But he has a hard time convincing his boys that he's a changed man. In one scene, when he succumbs to his past addiction, Nolte is just unbelievably real in the character. He's just awesome to watch and deserves an Oscar nomination for this.

As for the fight scenes itself, it's quite cool to watch. However it's slightly marred by the close up shots that don't allow us to see who's kicking who or doing what at times. However, director Gavin O'Connor (who cameos as the tournament's promoter) and cameraman Masanobu Takayanagi make up for it by using different lighting to differentiate the two brothers' scenes. With Tommy, it's dark and grainy shades while Brendan's scenes are bright and colourful. Very ingenious.

Warrior is a great film that everyone should check out. I had been looking all year for a film that scores in nearly every aspect. Warrior may very well be that film. Highly recommended. (4.5/5)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Colombiana

Year: 2011
Director: Olivier Megaton
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis


Plot: A female assassin seeks revenge against the men who killed her parents.


Review: I wasn't initially keen on seeing Colombiana, mainly because I had trouble in buying the idea of Zoe Saldana being a woman that kicks ass. I didn't watch The Losers so really, I wouldn't know. And now that I've seen this film, I can say she is pretty decent in that department.

Colombiana is supposedly a follow up to La Femme Nikita for Luc Besson, who is producing this film and having Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton calling the action. It's the same premise more or less: sexy female that kills with ease. The fact that Saldana doesn't look like she's strong enough to be deadly actually works in her favour.

One of the best scenes in the film is when she infiltrates a police lockup just so that she can get close to her target. She eliminates him without the police even knowing she was in his cell. It's good, even though it seemed too perfect. Megaton and Besson repeatedly try to show how smooth she is by getting herself out of trouble without breaking a sweat, when the best part is actually the climax when she invades the villains' mansion for the final showdown.

The problem with Colombiana is the gaping plotholes, like how she does her job and escapes perfectly without a snag every time. I know she's good at what she does and plans for every contingency, but at the end of the day, she's still a human being, and she ought to screw up somewhere to make things interesting. The zero room for error that Besson presents here makes her look unstoppable, which isn't realistic. Then there's the relationship she has with Michael Vartan's artist character, which seems superbly underdeveloped, since he neglects to get to know her until after he sleeps with her a few times. Really? Come on. And the opening scene of the film just screams of overacting.

But to Saldana's credit, she successfully carries the film as best she can, doing a good job in the fight scenes and emoting when necessary (promo posters over here included a tagline saying she's a stone cold killer....no she's not. The T-1000 is a stone cold killer). Cliff Curtis provides some solid support as her uncle who trains her in her craft. Lennie James gets the lawman role here, but Michael Rooker did it better in The Replacement Killers, and that's not saying much.

All in all, a decent action film. But it could have been better. (3.5/5)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Contagion

Year: 2011
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow


Plot: A deadly virus that has no vaccine or cure starts killing people across the globe. The pandemic is seen from several angles: a man trying to protect his daughter from the disease, a CDC official and his doctors trying their best to handle the situation, a WHO official being kept captive by a desperate man and his village, and a blogger exploiting the situation and causing extreme panic.


Review: I can only think of two other films that touch on killer diseases, Carriers and Outbreak. The former focuses more on the aftermath of a pandemic, while the latter is an action thriller that pits Dustin Hoffman against his evil military superiors who plan on wiping out an infected town.

Contagion however is different. The multiple angle look is reminiscent of Syriana's take on the global oil industry. Steven Soderbergh presents a very real situation: what happens when a global pandemic starts killing people? What would you do? What would the authorities do? What would it be like when people start getting desperate to save themselves? Doubling as director of photography, Soderbergh effectively shows us the world under severe threat of a virus that multiplies quickly, kills quickly and can't be controlled. He knows when to zoom in on eventual victims as well as pull away to see either empty public places or looting and rioting happening at pharmacies and supermarkets. He also manages to hold the story together despite having many angles to deal with, and by keeping things at a brisk pace, Contagion is never boring at any point.

Having an all star cast certainly helps a lot too. Matt Damon stands out as the guy whose wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, suddenly dies and the doctors can't tell him why. It eventually leads to him learning some things he isn't ready to know, and then quickly goes to him attempting to keep his daughter safe from the outbreak. Damon is excellent here, no doubt about it. Laurence Fishburne gets the role of the unsung hero, the head of the CDC trying his best to cope with the problem and backing up his team to find a cure. Fishburne's cool acting style really suits him here and helps his role a lot. Jude Law, usually accustomed to playing the hero, plays against type here as the blogger who is self serving and couldn't care less about the panic that he is causing with the information that he is putting out, and he actually is good in this role.

Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet don't have a lot to do here unfortunately, but having them onboard certainly doesn't hurt. Cotillard in particular, could have been excluded from the film and the plot would have still worked. Other supporting actors stand out, like Jennifer Ehle as Fishburne's subordinate who works hard to find a vaccine for the disease. Special mention also for John Hawkes, who although only gets a minor role as a janitor at the CDC building, makes a real connection with his scenes with Fishburne. Hawkes always excels in whatever character he becomes, and hopefully he will get an Oscar someday.

Ultimately, Soderbergh's skilled direction is what makes Contagion a riveting watch. By pacing the film well (which includes using day numbers to track time) and covering all aspects to make it as authentic as it can be, he has successfully carved a real fear in his audience. At the end of it, you will realise that this is all very plausible, and you'll think twice the next time you touch someone or something in public.

A great watch, recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Cars 2

Year: 2011
Director: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
Voice cast: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer


Plot: Lightning McQueen is invited to participate in the World Grand Prix, where he will go head to head with the best racecars in the world, including the well known F1 car Francesco Bernoulli. Mater, who tags along for the ride, finds himself caught up in international espionage when two British spy cars mistake him for an American spy.


Review: I know most people do not rank Cars as their favourite Pixar film. It's by no means bad, but it simply does not compare to the Toy Story films, Up and Finding Nemo.

But Cars is good on its own, as John Lasseter presents Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood storyline in the form of animation, and it works. It may not have the amount of heart the Toy Story films have, but it's still fun to watch.

In Cars 2, Lasseter opts to up the ante on the action. His opinion: why stop at car racing when you can go around the world and do all sorts of action stuff? The result: a nonstop action animation film that takes many cues from James Bond.

What I loved about Cars 2 is the view of the world outside of Radiator Springs. Japan and Italy just look magnificent here. Lasseter is smart to humanise the cars world by making things such as Kabuki cars, sumo cars, toilets for cars etc. The race tracks look great too, especially in Italy, where the waterfront view from the tracks is just beautifully rendered. As far as animation goes, Lasseter has it well covered, even if it's mostly made up of talking cars.

However, Lasseter unwisely chooses to put Mater in the centre of the story this time, relegating Lightning McQueen to a supporting role. If Mater wasn't your favourite car back then, him being the lead car now isn't going to change your mind. Mater starts to get annoying after a while because of his ignorant attitude, though he wisens up at the film's climax, but it's not enough to endear him to the audience.

However, Michael Caine's Finn McMissile, the British spy car, is great. Like a real James Bond car, he has grappling hooks and machine guns to use, and he even becomes a submarine at one point. That's pretty cool. John Turturro is hilarious as McQueen's rival Bernoulli, and his banter with Owen Wilson is good for some laughs.

Other than Mater, the other thing that bugged me a bit was the further lack of a heartwarming story here. Lasseter puts in a lot of action sequences, but no heart and emotion to go with it. There's a subplot about McQueen and Mater's friendship being on the rocks, but it's just that, a subplot. In the first Cars, we at least watched how McQueen learned his lesson about winning a race not being the most important thing. But here, we get no such lesson, thereby making this sequel emotionally hollow.

But is Cars 2 bad? Nah. Not bad. It's rather fun actually. Funny in parts, and rarely boring. It's worth one watch at least. Even if you just want to see the Toy Story short film at the start, stay on for the film and you might enjoy it a bit. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Conan The Barbarian

Year: 2011
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan


Plot: As a young boy, Conan watched helplessly as a ruthless warlord named Khalar Zym killed his father and burned his entire village. Twenty years later, Conan seeks revenge as Zym plans to sacrifice a beautiful young woman to obtain godlike powers.


Review: I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's version of Conan The Barbarian once many years ago, and not much comes to mind. I did recall that it was quite dull. But Arnie always brings his indomitable screen presence to his films, so that's one thing that film had going for it.

As for this one, director Marcus Nispel keeps things going at a quick pace, and piles on the action and blood continuously. The battle scenes between Conan and the bad guys are all well shot and because of the furious bloodletting on screen, it's quite fun to watch.

However, the film doesn't quite manage to stand out when compared to other films that have come before it. What you see is what you get, you don't walk into this film and expect something brilliant the likes of Lord Of The Rings. No. What you will get is a bloody sword epic with all the prerequisite cheesy lines included.

Jason Momoa may not have the screen presence of Arnie (who does, anyway?), but he has enough charisma to fill the shoes of Conan here. Rachel Nichols does all right as the love interest while Stephen Lang snarls his way through the film as Khalar Zym. Rose McGowan plays Zym's cruel daughter Marique well, but again, like the entire film, none of these actors stand out in their respective roles. They're somewhere between average and momentarily cool.

But there are a few sparks here and there. Ron Perlman makes good with his role as Conan's father, and everything that happens on screen between the beginning and up to his character's death is rather interesting. It's also interesting to note that this film's plot is a lot closer to Conan The Destroyer than Conan The Barbarian, but with less bombastic monster effects.

In the end, this Conan is fun in parts, but rather bland overall. I'll give them points for trying though. (3/5)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Year: 2011
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Clancy Brown


Plot: Set in the Old West, a man wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of how he got there, his own name, or why there is a strange metal bracelet on his wrist. He makes it to the town of Absolution, where he gets arrested promptly. But before anything else happens, the town is invaded by alien spaceships and several people are abducted. The stranger has to team up with the townsfolk, including a ruthless cattle baron and a mysterious woman, to get them back.


Review: Most people think that sci-fi and westerns don't mix. After the disasters that were Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex, who could blame them? But thankfully Jon Favreau succeeds where those two have failed.

Favreau, to his credit, spares no effort in making his film look awesome. The CGI is great, the aliens look menacing enough and their spaceships look good too, even though one might think that they're just borrowed props from Star Wars. The battle scenes are also well shot, and the aliens are just brutal and scary at times, proving that they're more than a match for the cowboys, making the fights seem real and fun to watch at the same time. Visually, Favreau scores here.

Daniel Craig makes a great action hero, but coming from James Bond himself, why wouldn't he? The thing is, Craig can't seem to shake the silent, steely eyed hero he's well known for, therefore watching him here is like watching Bond in a hat. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping for some variety. Harrison Ford gets to play the anti hero here, though he's much more believable as a grumbling old warrior than a ruthless colonel. Case in point: when he is interrogating a man while torturing him at the beginning of the film, he doesn't sound intimidating one bit. A guy like Sam Shepard could do this, but Ford? Nah. Olivia Wilde looks good here as the mysterious Ella, and judging by the amount of work she's getting away from House, things are looking up for her.

I'm very impressed with the supporting cast that Favreau has managed to procure for this film. Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Nacho Libre's Ana de la Reguera, Windtalkers' Adam Beach, even Keith Carradine from Deadwood is here. Heck, the very charismatic Walton Goggins is here too. Awesome. The Last Airbender's Noah Ringer also has a role here, but he looks clueless most of the time. Other than Ringer, everyone fills their roles pretty good.

My main gripe is that this film only scratches the surface as far as being a western is concerned. It's not because of the sci-fi elements, it just feels a bit lean. You can call it a lite-western, ignoring the fact that it has aliens in it. But then again, they don't make westerns like they used to, so I'm cool with that. For one thing, Cowboys & Aliens is never boring throughout its two hour runtime, and it's more hit than miss for me.

I don't know why US audiences would rather watch The Smurfs than this. I say, leave The Smurfs for the kids. If you're an adult who wants to have fun at the movies, this film will do the trick. (4/5)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Warrior's Way

Year: 2010
Director: Lee Sng Moo
Cast: Jang Dong Gun, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston, Tony Cox, Ti Lung


Plot: After refusing his master's orders to kill an infant girl, he flees with the girl to the west, where he starts a new life with a group of carnies in a dusty western town. However, he's forced to pick up his sword again when a ruthless colonel comes to terrorise the town.


Review: Before watching Cowboys & Aliens, I thought about watching this, it's also a merger of two genres, but cowboys and ninjas instead of, you know. Despite the overwhelming negative reviews on it, the concept intrigued me.

Director Lee Sng Moo certainly has a flair for visual style. You'll notice a lot of green screen was used here to create the backgrounds, from desert nights to snowy whites to beautiful red sunsets, which makes the film have a comic book feel to it. The action is also stylish, done in a quick cut, slow mo and spinning camera style. It's almost like Zack Snyder's 300, but not as detailed. And there is where the problem lies.

Lee decides to film his action sequences in a comic style way, instead of an in your face, blow for blow, Donnie Yen style. As a result, most of the swordfights lack substance. You'll see Jang Dong Gun run through his opponents, sword in hand, and cut them all down before they even do anything, which takes all the fun out. There's a lot of blood spatter, but what we really want is some exchange of moves, not just blood.

As for acting, Jang is passable as the assassin with a few words, but I just wish there was more to his character than just that. Kate Bosworth tries too hard to inject some excitement into her character as the knife thrower with a grudge on the Colonel, but comes off as annoying most of the time. To make matters worse, she has no chemistry with Jang at all, so the romantic subplot between them should have been canned. Geoffrey Rush is all right as the town drunk who is good with a rifle, and should have been given more to do. Danny Huston is quite memorable as the cruel Colonel, while the legendary Ti Lung, who's looking like he's past 70, doesn't have much to do here as Jang's master. Someone told me his lines were dubbed, if so that is a real pity. He deserves better.

Overall, the film just gets an okay grade from me. I like the style, but in the hands of a more skilled director, and a better fight choreographer, The Warrior's Way would have been a lot more fun. (3/5)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis, David Hewlett


Plot: This film is an origin story to the Planet Of The Apes franchise, which focuses on Caesar, a chimpanzee raised by Will Rodman, a scientist experimenting on apes to find a cure for Alzheimer's. Caesar's superior intelligence eventually enables him to become the leader of an uprising of the apes against their human oppressors.


Review: I don't know why most people hated Tim Burton's remake of Planet Of The Apes, I thought it was cool. Sure, the social commentary of Burton's version is weaker compared to the 1968 original, but the cast did well, especially Tim Roth, who is still very unrecognizable under General Thade's chimp makeup.

Rupert Wyatt's film though, is a prequel of sorts. We don't start in the future, but in the present, as we see Will Rodman desperately try to find a cure for Alzheimer's in order to save his father, whose condition is deteriorating rapidly. This premise is a lot similar to Deep Blue Sea, except in that film, instead of apes, we have sharks, and that film was an action thriller whereas Rise is a sci-fi drama.

But sci-fi films normally gets dull unless you throw in some excitement, and this comes in the form of apes engaging humans in some fisticuffs. We've always viewed apes as animals, and because of that, they can be seen as unpredictable and dangerous, and Wyatt does a splendid job presenting that. The apes here, despite being mostly CGI motion capture by human actors, are very realistic, fascinating and scary at the same time. You could almost feel like they can snap at any given moment and beat the crap out of you. All the shit finally hits the fan in the film's climax when Caesar leads an army of apes against the police. The sequence on the Golden Gate bridge is awesomely shot and executed, in particular.

James Franco gets the role of Will Rodman, but any hope of him recapturing the same brilliance he showed in 127 Hours here is slim. Franco's performance is inconsistent at best, but then again his role is pretty much by the numbers, you can predict how his character will play out to the end. Freida Pinto is severely wasted here, and serves to be nothing more than Will's love interest. John Lithgow however is impressive as Will's Alzheimer's stricken father, and really succeeds in gaining the audience's sympathy for him. Tom Felton plays a primate facility guard who's even meaner than Draco Malfoy, and even gets to say the classic Charlton Heston line, but the line wasn't even necessary, and overall I don't think he brought anything outstanding to the role. Then again, it's not his fault, the villains in this story are rather two dimensional.

The real star of the film is Andy Serkis, who does the motion capture acting for Caesar, and as a result, Caesar looks very impressive on screen. You'll love him and be afraid of him at the same time, and eventually you'll be rooting for him towards the end of the film. Thumbs up to Serkis for a job well done.

Overall, Rise is a valiant attempt to make its own stand amongst the Planet Of The Apes films, but it still pales in comparison to the original. I do hope they will make more instalments after this one, judging by the post credits scene. (3.5/5)

P.S.: See how many nods to the original you can spot throughout the film.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci


Plot: This is the origin story of Steve Rogers, a frail young man who is deemed unfit to join the military during WW2, but gets his chance when he is chosen to participate in a top secret project that turns him into the super soldier known as Captain America.


Review: After two Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk and Thor, this film is the last piece of the puzzle before The Avengers assemble on screen next summer. That being said, Captain America has the biggest burden of being a success story, especially if Marvel wants The Avengers to work. And thankfully, it delivers.

I am happy to report that Captain America isn't just a filler film so that we'll know who Chris Evans is playing once The Avengers rolls in. No, this is one very entertaining and fun-filled movie, from beginning to end.

Director Joe Johnston, who is inconsistent throughout his career, manages to deliver a well made film that covers almost everything there is to know about the Sentinel of Liberty, from his origins as a weakling with big dreams and a courage to match, to becoming a soldier that would readily risk his life to save as many of his comrades as he can. To that end, Johnston creates a WW2 era that is very authentic, from set design to costume and the overall feel of it. Even the soundtrack, led by a 40s type number The Star Spangled Man, is retro, and it doesn't feel out of place in our time. At the same time, there are developments in technology here which wouldn't make sense had this been a real story, but since it's a comicbook film, it really fits and there isn't anything on display that defies logic. You'd really feel that it was all plausible when you see it.

Chris Evans does a wonderful job as Steve Rogers. I had my doubts about him, because he's the same guy that became the irresponsible Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films. But here, Evans shows a lot of maturity as the unlikely hero that steps up to become the man he was meant to be. I always knew Evans had potential, if you've seen him in Sunshine, you'll know what I mean. Hayley Atwell is also great as Peggy Carter, Rogers' love interest who holds her own in combat. Atwell is not only good looking, she looks like she was born in that era, making her a perfect fit. Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci provide some good and humorous support as Col. Phillips, Rogers' skeptical commander and Dr Erskine, creator of the super soldier program, respectively. Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull, Captain America's nemesis with evil glee, but his German accent isn't very convincing though.

There are also other interesting supporting characters like Dum Dum Dugan, Bucky Barnes (Cap's sidekick) and Dr Arnim Zola, but they do not get much screen time, which is a pity. I have a gut feeling though, that Bucky will reappear in the future, but that's just me.

I also particularly liked how the film begins and ends, the latter part being related to the aforementioned Avengers. It was well written and executed, just the way I hoped it would be. It's safe to say that Captain America is a perfect prelude to what is to come, and if you've been waiting for it, you shouldn't miss this. (4/5)

P.S.: Look out for the customary Stan Lee cameo, and wait till the credits end, you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hanna

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams


Plot: After being raised as a ruthless assassin by her father, a former CIA operative, 16 year old Hanna is sent on a mission to kill her father's former handler Marissa Weigler, before Weigler finds them first.


Review: I hadn't watched any of Joe Wright's films before, I wasn't a fan of his period dramas Pride And Prejudice or Atonement. But the prospect of seeing Saoirse Ronan in an action role was too good to pass up.

The film is part drama, part adventure and part Jason Bourne type action cinema, minus the car chases. Hanna may be a teenage girl cum assassin, but she's still a girl. She has a lot to learn about the world after being kept from it by her father Erik, so much that when she ventures out, she finds it peculiar to see things we take for granted now, like electricity, music or television. Then when the bad guys come calling, she dispatches them with deadly precision.

All this is possible thanks to Saoirse Ronan, who is just amazing as Hanna. Ronan has that exotic quality that reflects off her pretty face, a quality that showcases her innocence and at the same time something dangerous lurking underneath. Best of all, Ronan does her own fighting here, which makes it even more outstanding. She is ably supported by Eric Bana, who plays her father. Bana grounds the story and as the story progresses, you'll realise that he has as much to hide from Hanna as the villain does. The villain is Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett. Initially I hated the idea of Cate playing a villain because the last time she did that, it didn't work. But here, she's much better, displaying no emotion as she goes out of her way tying up all loose ends that might come back to haunt her. Tom Hollander adds some colour to the proceedings as Marissa's flamboyant hired hand.

Joe Wright may not have much experience in action films, but he does quite all right here. The fight scenes are well filmed and the camerawork is pretty good too. There is a scene where Bana arrives at the bus station and walks to the subway where he is surrounded by four agents. The camera follows him from the station to the subway in one long continuous shot. It might sound simple, but it's little things like that that make this film stand out.

However, Hanna does suffer from having to end with some questions unanswered. I don't know if there's a sequel planned, but if there isn't, then you may have to live with some things not fully explained. But this, and a few pacing issues, are just minor flaws.

If you're looking for something different amidst all the summer blockbusters out there, Hanna is a good choice. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Year: 2011
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis, Maggie Smith


Plot: Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of Hogwarts' students and teachers make their final stand against Voldemort and his army.


Review: After 10 years, 7 books, 8 films and over six billion dollars, it's finally time to say goodbye to the boy wizard. My anticipation had been high leading up to this last film, but the result is a bit underwhelming. I'll get to that in a bit.

First, I'll say that a few supporting characters finally get the spotlight they deserve, starting with Neville Longbottom. Matthew Lewis has always played him as a bumbling student, but here he finally gets to show what Neville is really made of, as he becomes a hero more than once in the final fight. I liked how his character turned out overall.

Then there's Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, who had been sidelined in the last few films, finally getting some screentime, and she does wonderfully here. Over the years, McGonagall was usually the nice and fair teacher, but here she gets to become a general, so to speak. And Smith pulls it off splendidly.

But the real star supporting actor would have to be Alan Rickman, who brings Professor Snape full circle in this instalment. Now you'll find out the motivation to his character in the last ten years of Harry Potter, why he did what he did, and the reasons behind his disdain for Potter. Rickman brings the perfect amount of emotion and believability to his role, and you really couldn't ask for a better actor to do this.

As for the leads, I'll say that Daniel Radcliffe is the one who truly owns this film. The entire franchise has always been about him, I know. But it's in this film where it's most obvious. Kudos to Radcliffe for capably leading this film to where it ought to be. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson also shine in their roles, though this time around they take a backseat more than usual to Radcliffe. This being the final film, Ralph Fiennes gets the most screentime than he's ever had as Voldemort, and he is still great as the maniacal Dark Lord.

Now for the underwhelming part. I didn't like the epilogue Yates included in the end. It wasn't convincing to me, especially since his attempt to show the amount of time that had passed was poor. I felt that the film would end better without it. Yates also isn't very good at filming battle scenes, as the battle for Hogwarts was badly executed. We get minor glimpses of people and monsters fighting, then we cut back and forth to scenes of Harry, which distorts the flow overall. A bit more time spent on one-on-one duels would be nice too. I thought that Molly Weasley's duel with Bellatrix Lestrange was shorter than it ought to be, there's a good chance some of it was edited out. That's a shame indeed. And then there's a plot turn concerning Harry that wasn't explained after it happened (I can't mention it without giving it away), which makes it either confusing or silly. I guess if I read the book, I'd understand why, but as an audience member I'd prefer it being explained to me.

But in the end, I had a good time with this final picture. Not being a Potter fan, the emotional effect on me is much lower than people who are fans. But I will miss Harry a bit. My fondest memories of him will be mostly from the first film and not this one though. All in all, it's been an awesome decade. Goodbye Mr Potter. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

Year: 2011
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich


Plot: When the Autobots learn that the Apollo 11 moon mission was to investigate a crashed Cybertronian spaceship, they race there to retrieve its cargo before the Decepticons do.


Review: Just about everyone remembers how bad Revenge Of the Fallen was, though personally I thought it was cool, save for a handful of very annoying characters and scenes. Michael Bay remembers it too, which is why he sought to make this Transformers instalment better than the last one. To some extent he succeeds.

Firstly, he dispenses with Sam Witwicky's annoying friend as well as the two Autobots Mudflap and Skids. Then he reduces the screentime for Sam's overbearing parents. Then he gets the screenwriter to pen a better plot, which has a couple of neat twists thrown in. All this, added to some really awesome battle scenes, make Dark Of The Moon quite watchable.

But Bay loses one of his best assets: Megan Fox. Admit it, if you're a straight male, you'd want her back, and thanks to Spielberg, we won't get to see her here. In her place is newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who does a decent job as Sam's new girl Carly. Granted, she doesn't get to do much other than run and scream, but her performance here will do just fine.

LaBeouf, Duhamel and Gibson all do their respective roles as good as they did before, though LaBeouf still has to maintain his sometimes super intense, sometimes manic personality, which can be really grating after a while. Patrick Dempsey acquits himself well here as Carly's boss, and plays an important role when the third act kicks in. John Turturro plays Simmons a little more low key this time thankfully, and shares some good rapport with Frances McDormand, who steps into the role of the unsympathetic government officer.

However, Dark Of The Moon still has its fair share of stupid human comedy, and it comes in the form of John Malkovich and Ken Jeong. The former wasn't too annoying, but Jeong.....will someone please tell him to go screw someone else's franchise? Last but not least, Alan Tudyk gets some nice humour in as Simmons' assistant.

Actionwise, this film has plenty. It takes a while before you actually feel the film shifting into a higher gear, and it's when the plot turns in the last third, but it's well worth the wait. The final scene takes place in Chicago, which pretty much looks like a warzone at the end. You've got huge robots going at it, from old ones like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Megatron to new ones like Sentinel Prime and Shockwave. In the last 45 minutes, it's just slam bang action nonstop which, as many critics have said, is easier to discern compared to Revenge Of The Fallen.

I had a great time with Dark Of The Moon, as I have with the last two Transformers films. I certainly hope the rumours of Jason Statham taking over future instalments aren't true, I'd hate that. (4/5)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Attack The Block

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Leeon Jones, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost


Plot: A group of South London teenagers team up with a nurse they just mugged to defend their apartment block from invading aliens.


Review: Amongst all the loud slam bang summer blockbusters coming in your face this year, in slips this low key comedy thriller about aliens invading your backyard.

Attack The Block can be considered low key due to its minimal use of special effects and a cast made up of mostly unknown actors. Thankfully, director and screenwriter Joe Cornish makes it work well. The premise is reminiscent of Aliens but it's actually a lot closer to Guillermo del Toro's Mimic, with plenty of light-hearted moments.

Probably to achieve some realism, Cornish gets these kids to speak a South London accent, from the sounds of it, they really are from there (if I'm wrong about this, please correct me). It's quite fascinating and funny at the same time to listen to it, which can be somewhat confusing sometimes, yet hilarious anyway.

All five of the kids are very believable as the teenage gang of muggers thinking they're really tough, until they face an enemy they're not prepared for. But to their credit, they manage to step up when needed to, and show they're not to be messed with. John Boyega makes a good leader of the gang in Moses, showing his mettle in the face of danger, and is really the bravest of the lot. He shares some good rapport with Jodie Whittaker, who plays Sam, the nurse he and his gang mugged just before the aliens land. Sam is forced to team up with him and his friends when things get out of hand, and makes herself useful in a scene or two. The other kids lend some great support as well, especially Alex Esmail, who plays Pest, the one with the best lines of the lot. Not to be forgotten are Luke Treadaway as a drug addict who was unlucky enough to be in the block, and Nick Frost as the drug dealer he was buying weed from. The two of them also put in some pretty funny moments here.

Because of its low budget, the CGI for the aliens isn't very convincing, they look like black cotton swabs with flourescent teeth. Plus some suspension of disbelief is needed to really enjoy it, as some lapses of logic do occur from time to time. But if you are looking for an alien invasion film that doesn't take itself too seriously, then Attack The Block is for you.

Overall, it's worth checking out if you're looking for something different in the alien genre. (3.5/5)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Super 8

Year: 2011
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich


Plot: In 1979, in the small fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, a group of teenage friends attempting to make a zombie film witness a horrifying train crash. A deadly creature escapes from one of the cars and sets the kids on an adventure they'll never forget.


Review: Honestly, I thought I wasn't going to like Super 8 as much as I thought before going in to the cinema, but I was proven wrong. Super 8 is super, and a fine way to spend time at the movies.

J.J. Abrams teams up with Steven Spielberg to make a movie that is reminiscent of previous 80s kids adventures like The Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T. If you must know, this was the reason I thought I wouldn't like this film, because I felt that those aforementioned films were a bit too old fashioned. I certainly thought I had outgrown them.

But in the end, Super 8 truly delivers. With a handful of fine young actors, a good plot and a bit of CGI, Abrams weaves his magic and gives us a film we can connect with and have fun at the same time. The most memorable moment had to be the train crash itself, which is astounding and mind blowing to see. This, along with other heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking moments make Super 8 very enjoyable.

Out of the kid actors, two of them stand out: Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, who are the main protagonists of the story. Courtney and Fanning play Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard respectively, two friends who share a good deal of admiration for one another, but are restrained by their respective fathers, who in contrast hate each other due to Joe's mother's death, an incident Joe's father blames Alice's father for causing. Courtney and Fanning successfully reel the audience in with their superb performances, making us believe and even feel the pain they experience, and the occasional funny moments they encounter as well. I think these two kids will be great as their acting career progresses.

Not to be outdone are Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as Joe and Alice's fathers respectively, Chandler as the town's deputy sheriff who is trapped between trying and failing to understand his son, and dealing with the aftermath of the crash; Eldard as the alcoholic who is emotionally abusive to his daughter. Like Kung Fu Panda 2, this is yet another film that could be a Father's Day entry.

But there's more to Super 8 than just drama. A creature comes forth from the train, and its needs are simple, but it will do whatever it takes to achieve them. Its connection to the military that shows up to contain the crash eventually presents itself, and the battle that ensues is well played out. This is where elements of Cloverfield, Abrams' well known produced film start to show, and Abrams is wise to not show us the creature's appearance till the final third of the film.

Summing it up, I had tons of fun with Super 8, as we see it from the point of view of a bunch of kids who are aspiring filmmakers witnessing a very real adventure unfold before them. Stay tuned during the closing credits to see their finished zombie film, which kinda reminds us why we love the movies so much. (4/5)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Green Lantern

Year: 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins


Plot: Based on the DC comicbook, Green Lantern focuses on Hal Jordan, a rebellious test pilot who is bequeathed a power ring by a dying alien and subsequently recruited into an intergalactic peacekeeping force called the Green Lantern Corps. His first test is protecting earth from Parallax, an alien entity that feeds on fear and has infected a scientist, Hector Hammond, giving him telekinetic powers.


Review: So I read a lot of reviews on this film and most of them were less than stellar. That added to the corny trailer certainly didn't help boost my confidence going in to the cinema for this. But I've read the books, so I had to know for myself if this movie hit the mark or not.

As it turns out, Green Lantern does not suck, not by a long shot. Granted, it's no Dark Knight, but it is rather entertaining. Since this premise involves extraterrestrial adventures, a Star Wars type universe has to be presented, and Martin Campbell does a great job showing it. A lot of CGI was needed to present the Lanterns' training planet Oa as well as their creators, the Guardians of the universe, and other aliens in different shapes and sizes as Lanterns. I'm glad that it all looked very convincing on screen. Also impressive is the CGI used to create the Green Lantern's ring powers, where anything they conjure from their imagination is created by the ring. For GL fans, watching all this is certainly a treat.

Like many heroes, they must endure some self doubt before embracing their destiny, and for this, Ryan Reynolds pulls it off well as Hal Jordan. Hal is basically an irresponsible guy still scarred from a traumatic event in his past, now having a great responsibility thrust upon him, and must overcome his fear to accept it. Reynolds is the right guy indeed for the role, I guess you can say that he was born to play a costumed hero. Blake Lively is a good match for him as Carol Ferris, Hal's love interest. They share great chemistry together, as evidenced in their many hilarious and sometimes poignant conversations.

Peter Sarsgaard is wonderful as Hector Hammond, whose daddy issues become a catalyst for his villainous actions. The role of Hal's mentor Sinestro falls to Mark Strong, and I felt he was perfect to a tee. Sinestro plays a huge role in the history of Hal Jordan, and not only does Strong look the part, he is very much like him in essence. Unfortunately he doesn't get much screentime here, but I do hope he gets more if they make a sequel.

As entertaining as Green Lantern is, the film still suffers from some corniness, like in the scenes you've caught from the trailer, which they could have left out in the final cut. The Lantern's oath especially was the most corny, I wish they didn't include it despite the fact that it is part and parcel of the character. And even when the film only ran for 105 minutes, it actually felt longer than that due to its slow middle third portion. Thankfully the action picks up in the final third of the film.

That being said, why did so many people dislike it? Perhaps Green Lantern is a hard sell compared to his more illustrious brethren like Batman and Superman, and his story a tad more complicated. But I think you ought to give this film a try, as it is quite fun for a summer flick.

Note: Stay during the closing credits for one last scene. GL fans will love it the most, as it sets the tone for the sequel, if it happens. (3.5/5)

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