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


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)


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