Wednesday, September 28, 2011


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


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 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


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)


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