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.


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