Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lady

Year: 2011
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis

Plot: The story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who fought for democracy in military ruled Burma.

Review: As a Malaysian, there is a sense of pride in watching fellow Malaysian Michelle Yeoh take on democracy icon Suu Kyi, who is known around the world for her peaceful resistance against the military junta that has ruled Burma with an iron fist for decades. This film is certainly an opportunity for her story to be heard by even more people, who may not be aware of it.

After watching it, I can say that a lot of effort went into the making of this film, as far as authenticity is concerned. Suu Kyi's house was apparently a near perfect replica of the original, for starters. The Burmese cast are mostly Thai, but they look and sound their parts very well. There is also a fair share of violence here as director Luc Besson depicts the atrocities committed by the junta and the steps they take to cut down support for Suu Kyi. So as far as a visual sense is concerned, the film is authentic enough.

But The Lady isn't just about Suu Kyi, it's also about her relationship with her family, particularly with her husband Michael Aris. This particular relationship takes a tumultuous road throughout the film as we see them getting separated and reunited over and over, until Michael is diagnosed with cancer and tragedy strikes. The emotional drama in this film is mostly from this relationship, and less from her struggle for her country. I know how this must be frustrating for some viewers, hoping to see more of Suu Kyi the freedom fighter, but rest assured we do get to see this in the film, just not as much as we'd like.

Michelle Yeoh, known around the world as an action star, fits the role of Suu Kyi well enough, having the advantage of looking a lot like the real icon. Yeoh had to lose weight to play her and it shows. But to be fair, Yeoh is much better at conveying emotion by her facial expressions than her words. When she cries and grieves, it's convincing, but not so when she speaks. Her command of the Burmese language is commendable, I must say. But I felt less of a connection when she is speaking to people around her, from her family to her supporters. David Thewlis looks very different from his days starring in Harry Potter films. Here he looks like a tired old man, but one that is wise and supportive, and a match for Yeoh. Their relationship grounds the film and holds it together.

As ambitious as The Lady might be, it is far from perfect. Besson isn't really skilled enough to handle a biopic as he is with action films. Here Besson moves the film from one historic scene to another, placing personal drama in between from time to time, doing so very quickly at times that he doesn't allow any potential drama to settle in the scenes. As such, the film feels like a long stretch of happenings instead of a story unfolding as it progresses. With the film running slightly over two hours, this style of storytelling would tire viewers quickly.

Overall, The Lady is a flawed but ambitious film about the great Aung San Suu Kyi. It achieves its objective of telling her story, but just barely. (3/5)  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Artist

Year: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman

Plot: George Valentin, a star of silent movies, watches his career fade into obscurity when the era of talking movies arrives.

Review: Everyone knows the accolades The Artist has received since its release. It has won multiple awards including Oscar honours for Best Picture and Best Actor. It is a tremendous achievement for a silent film that was made in the modern era.

I truly do not know how many people there are left in this world that remembers what it's like to watch a silent film in a theatre or anywhere for that matter. Silent films have a different way of telling a story, where they don't use lengthy dialogue or sound effects. All the audience experiences are moving pictures with typewritten lines inserted during moments when the filmmakers want to say something specific, and the only sound you hear is background orchestral music.

That being said, after watching The Artist, I find it rather fascinating to see a story unfold in this manner. It'll take some getting used to of course, but as the film moves along you'll get caught up in it. What makes The Artist even more relevant is the fact that it's a silent film about the arrival of talking films, which real cinema lovers will surely be able to relate to.

Director Michel Hazanavicius does a splendid job in creating a film that is really authentic to the era it is set in i.e. if you had screened this in the 1920s, it would fit right in with films being seen during that time. Most of the time while watching it, I forgot that it was made in this decade. Another added plus is the plot, which is basically about how some people resist change even when it's inevitable, something which all of us can relate to at some point in our lives.

Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin as a proud, stubborn but likable actor who refuses to adapt to the new era of talking movies, and slowly falls deeper and deeper into a rut. Dujardin certainly benefits from having movie star looks to be the character, and successfully wins the audience's attention as we watch him go. Berenice Bejo also does well as Peppy Miller, an up and coming actress who gets her big break thanks to George and subsequently becomes a star of the talking film era. Their turbulent friendship holds the film together where it matters. Credit must also be given to James Cromwell as George's loyal valet, Clifton. Even though he hardly gets any lines, Cromwell's facial expressions say so much. Special mention goes to Uggy the dog, George's loyal pet dog that does more than just being cute.

To sum it up, The Artist is a faithful creation of a film from the silent era, and a wonderfully made love letter to classic cinema. If you're someone who watches movies to experience the finer points of storytelling and have a genuine love for film, you must see this. Even if you're not that kind of film fan, you should see this once. (4/5)

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Year: 2012
Director: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Reggie Lee, Chris Sarandon

Plot: A young Chinese girl who is a math genius has a very important number in her memory, and is wanted by the Chinese triads, Russian mobsters and a group of corrupt cops. Her only hope is Luke Wright, an ex-cop and former MMA fighter who takes it upon himself to protect her.

Review: The trick in enjoying a Jason Statham film is to forget everything else and let the man kick ass. It's true, and you're gonna have to do that to enjoy Safe.

Writer/director Boaz Yakin sets his story in the seedier side of New York, where the Chinese and Russian mobs' presence are plain and obvious. This kinda reminded me of The Corruptor starring Chow Yun Fat and Mark Wahlberg, except that film was a lot bolder. Anyway, Yakin's story puts Statham right in the middle of a tense situation involving a Chinese girl named Mei, who has a number in her head. A number that will lead the mobs to a huge amount of money.

Statham's character Luke is painted by Yakin as a broken man, whose life was destroyed by the Russians when they killed his wife and threatened the lives of anyone he gets close to. As luck would have it, Luke runs into Mei and sees an opportunity to do right by her and get some payback on the bad guys, which also includes the corrupt cops he used to work with.

Statham once again plays a hero with a shady past, one that is more personal than his previous roles. He even sheds a tear at one point, but make no mistake: Statham is more of an action star than an actor, so I still didn't really buy into his ability to be dramatic. But watching him kick ass is always fun, so I have no complaints in that department. Catherine Chan, who is in her first full length film, does well as Mei and works surprisingly effective opposite Statham. Staple Chinese villain actors James Hong and Reggie Lee appear here as the triads, doing what is expected of them in a film like this. Fright Night actor Chris Sarandon fits nicely into the role of the corrupt Mayor.

As far as action films go, Safe is more towards being decent than awesome. It's nice to see Statham take five guys down with his limbs, always fun. But the problem is Yakin's storytelling methods, starting with the first 20 minutes or so when he explains the situation using multiple flashbacks involving Mei and Luke, which can get rather confusing if you're not paying attention. Then in the second half of the film, he chooses to put Statham in the centre of the plot and leave Mei out of it, which I found rather strange. The ending itself is anticlimactic, I was expecting more action instead of a showdown that doesn't quite happen.

Thankfully, the one thing I can take away from Safe is the violence. Statham punches, kicks, stabs and shoots his way through the bad guys in bloody fashion. And we all know that the more violent it is, the more fun and believable it feels. Like I said, forget the plot and enjoy the action.

Overall, it's slightly above average. Not one of Statham's best, but watchable nonetheless. (3/5)    

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dark Shadows

Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Jonny Lee Miller, Gulliver McGrath

Plot: After Barnabas Collins spurns the affection of a witch, Angelique Bouchard, she curses his family, turns him into a vampire and buries him in the woods. Two hundred years later, Barnabas awakens and finds himself in 1972. He discovers that his once great mansion is in ruins and inhabited by his descendants, who are dysfunctional to say the least. He attempts to rebuild his family's honor by restarting the family's fishing business, but Angelique, who is still alive after all these years, will not let bygones be bygones.

Review: Dark Shadows is based on a horror soap opera of the same name, which isn't too familiar to many, but is a favorite of director Tim Burton and his lead stars Depp and Pfeiffer. In Burton's hands, Dark Shadows is a comedy at its quirkiest, that combines the most unusual characters and putting them in a 70's setting. A brilliant move from Burton indeed, especially if you're into his kind of movies.

The unusual characters in question are Barnabas' family, made up of matriarch Elizabeth, her brother Roger, her rebellious daughter Carolyn and Roger's son David, who claims to be haunted by his late mother's spirit. There is also David's psychiatrist Dr Hoffman, the caretaker Willie and the newest addition to the family, Victoria Winters, David's governess, who resembles Barnabas' lover back in his time. Each of them has a different reaction to Barnabas' presence, which is part of the fun.

And then there is Angelique, who still craves for Barnabas' love, and is still as evil as ever. The two of them spend a lot of the film's runtime sparring verbally and physically, which flip flop from serious to hilarious at a moment's notice.

Burton has done wonders with the film's setting and design, as always. Colleen Atwood's costumes look lovely and the mansion's design is awesome. For music, he brings in Alice Cooper as himself and even throws in The Carpenters' Top Of The World. And then there's a hilarious scene between Barnabas and a group of hippies, which was well executed.

Most of the cast perform to expectations. Depp is his usual quirky self, speaking in 18th century style while everyone else speaks in modern fashion. It's funny half the time but it can have the tendency to wear you out after a while. Pfeiffer is also great as Elizabeth, being the most normal one despite being rather cynical. Moretz and Heathcote are fascinating to watch as Carolyn and Victoria respectively, while Eva Green is perfect as the evil Angelique. She is a lot like her character Morgan in the TV series Camelot, except here she is less serious. 

When Burton and Depp join forces, it's always great, but Dark Shadows isn't without its flaws. Some scenes could have been edited out as they are not really necessary, while some characters could have been better developed or given more time, like Roger and David for instance.

Judging by the way it ended, it's possible a sequel will be made. Hopefully we'll get one as this film seems promising enough. (3.5/5)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

Year: 2012
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker

Plot: Five friends take a vacation in a remote cabin in the woods. Once there, strange things happen and they have to fight to survive.

Review: That plot summary sounds pretty much like your average horror film, but I assure you it's not. This film, which has been delayed release for 2 years is writer Joss Whedon's idea of what horror films should be: gory, cynical and unpredictable.

Whedon teams up with writer/director Drew Goddard to create a horror film that has all the stock ingredients you've seen before: women in sexy outfits, guys who act brave or stupid, dark setting, remote area, ugly monsters, violent deaths, lots of blood, the works. The difference is how it all turns out, which is totally unlike what we are usually familiar with.

From the get go, we get a scene in some industrial facility, featuring a bunch of people that are funny but not really likable. (If I mention more about them, it'll be giving away too much) We are then introduced to our team of five college kids, all of whom are the usual kind we've seen in films like this. The buildup is short, and once the shit hits the fan, it's a fun ride all the way.

The actors playing the five kids all nail their roles, especially Fran Kranz who plays the stoner Marty. He not only gets the best lines in the film, but totally owns the role he's been given. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford do well in their roles too, though I can't really say what those roles are, sorry. A well known actress makes a cameo in the final act, I'll let you see who it is for yourself.

Whedon and Goddard have done a splendid job with this. They have successfully made a horror film that is scary, funny, gory and more importantly unique. In some ways I find it a bit silly as well, but that's probably Whedon's point all along. Recommended. (4/5)


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