Sunday, August 26, 2012

Premium Rush

Year: 2012
Director: David Koepp
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung

Plot: A bike messenger is pursued by a corrupt New York City cop who is interested in one of his packages.

Review: Premium Rush takes viewers into the world of a bike messenger, where envelopes or packages have to be delivered at a certain deadline, which drives the said messenger to ride like crazy to get to their destination. That means lots of speeding and dangerous moves that could get people hurt.

In that sense, writer and director David Koepp gets it right. Koepp, through his film, lets us ride with Wilee, the best bike messenger in NY, who rides with no brakes or gears (because he doesn't intend to stop). Wilee is really good at what he does, dodging obstacles like cars, people and the like at breakneck speed, and he loves it.

Things get sticky for Wilee however when a dirty cop named Monday wants a certain envelope he's carrying, and is willing to chase him all over the city just to get his hands on it. There's gambling debts, human trafficking and lots of money involved, but all Wilee wants to do is deliver the envelope.

For the first two thirds of Premium Rush, the film actually works. Wilee rides like crazy as he tries desperately to outrun Monday while having to deal with other things like a rival biker, a NY traffic cop on a bike and his ex-girlfriend, also a bike messenger. Koepp gives Wilee the ability to see his options in avoiding an accident by freezing time and showing the end result of those options before Wilee makes the right choice, kinda like Nicolas Cage in Next. There's also the 3D map showing the destination and how far it is from Wilee's current location popping up from time to time, which is also cool in its own way.

However, in the last third of the film, the pace starts to slow down. There's still a lot of riding involved, but by then the story is running out of steam, and at that point, all I could think of was when Wilee was going to arrive at his destination. For a film that is so fast paced, it certainly deserves a fitting climax, but we don't quite get that here.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a more than decent job as Wilee, but Koepp should have given the character more depth, as his motivation on being an exceptionally good bike messenger is not explored in detail. Sure, he's good and he likes being fast, but exactly why that is, is not properly explained. Michael Shannon hams it up big time as Monday, and gives some unintentionally funny emotional outbursts, though some of them actually look good.

Premium Rush is decent entertainment if you're looking for something light to kill 90 minutes, but not if you want something more compelling or memorable. (3/5)

Monday, August 20, 2012


Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Voice cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jodelle Ferland, Bernard Hill

Plot: Norman is an awkward boy who has the ability to speak to the dead. This gift unfortunately alienates him from everyone at school, and even his family doesn't understand him. However he has to put his skills to use when an ancient curse cast by a witch executed 300 years ago threatens to destroy his little town.

Review: ParaNorman is the brainchild of the same people behind Coraline, though these guys take on bigger responsibilities here, whereas previously they were just storyboard supervisors and animators. 

As far as the stop motion animation goes, it's just delightful to behold. There's something about stop motion that is so appealing compared to digital 3D animation. The slower movements and sometimes jerky flow give it a retro feel that adds to its quality overall.

The lead character Norman is reminiscent of Coraline, they are both outcasts and misunderstood by their own parents. Norman is kinda like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, except Norman is quite comfortable with his ability to see the dead. The problem is, no one believes him when he tries to warn them of the imminent doom approaching thanks to a curse cast by a witch on the town three centuries ago.

The only friend Norman has is a fat kid named Neil, who is the best friend we all wish we had. Along with school bully Alvin, Norman's sister Courtney and Neil's jock brother Mitch, Norman races against time to put a stop to the curse before it's too late.

ParaNorman works pretty good for the first half of its runtime as the story builds up with great promise. It's when it crosses the half mark that things start to go downhill. At this point, the level of urgency has gone up but the excitement factor strangely stalls. The filmmakers try their best to get the story going to where they want it to, but they take a slightly complicated road. To be fair, if this had been a live action film, it would have worked. But it's an animated film, and this method just drags the story down.

However I have to give credit where it's due. Chris Butler and Sam Fell do an above average job developing all the characters, especially Norman. There are also quite a handful of laughs once the zombies come into play, but after that the comedy is quite hit and miss till the end.

Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee is a perfect choice for the voice of Norman, as his character in Let Me In is quite similar to this one. Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck and John Goodman are also memorable in their roles. Special mention goes to Tucker Albrizzi as Neil, Norman's best friend.

Despite the waste in potential as far as story goes, ParaNorman is still a worthy watch for its top notch animation. It isn't as good as Coraline, but it's a fine attempt nonetheless. (3/5)  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Expendables 2

Year: 2012
Director: Simon West
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Yu Nan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Scott Adkins

Plot: Barney Ross and company are hired by Mr Church yet again for a seemingly simple mission. However things go wrong and one of them ends up dead. The team plan their revenge against the man responsible, Jean Vilain, who has plans to steal 5 tons of weapons grade plutonium.

Review: The Expendables is the older, more grounded, more reality based version of The Avengers. And more violent too. I had much higher hopes for this film after being slightly disappointed with the last one, and thankfully this sequel improves on a few things.

Having Simon West on board as director is a step in the right direction as he has a keener eye than Stallone. With him in charge, the cinematography is better. The fight scenes are now clearer and the lighting has improved as well. Stallone does throw in the CGI blood technique he used in the last Rambo flick, so expect this to be bloody as heck, I sure didn't mind though.

Stallone continues to be the main man here, since it's his baby after all. Statham carries on the bickering bro-mance with Stallone like in the previous film, which provides some of the humour here. But what is surprising is seeing Dolph Lundgren becoming the funny guy here, with his character occasionally talking about his knowledge in chemistry and how he got a degree before joining the team. Van Damme, after years of being the hero, gets to be the bad guy this time and delivers well, though I still prefer seeing him as the former. As Vilain, Van Damme puts on the typical action flick bad guy character, corny lines and all, and throws down with Stallone at the film's climax, which is a highlight of the movie. Statham himself gets a fight scene with Scott Adkins (Weapon XI from Wolverine), which is brief but nicely done.

And then there's Arnie, Willis and the legendary Chuck Norris. The former two have a bit more to do this time around, though they only have time to pick up a gun and shoot the bad guys like they were cannon fodder. But seeing them trade one liners with each other is a hoot. Norris, who is pushing 72, has a couple of cool entrances before gunning down some more bad guys. I won't lie, despite seeing him do so little here, he's still the man.

The film however makes very little time for Jet Li, who only appears in the opening action scene before he disappears. So if you're a fan of his, get ready to be disappointed. Couture and Crews lend some solid support just like last time, getting some of the more physical fights in the film. Liam Hemsworth is the new member, Billy The Kid. He's good in it, but there's nothing original about his role, which I've seen in countless action flicks in the past. Lastly Chinese actress Yu Nan joins the team as Maggie, who provides some of the quieter, more serious moments in the film, when she's not kicking ass of course.

Overall, this sequel is a step up from the last one, though it could use some polishing as far as dialogue is concerned. It's not perfect, but it sure is fun to watch all the way through. (4/5)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

Year: 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, Oscar Isaac

Plot: Thanks to Jason Bourne, the CIA are scrambling to shut down all their secret operations involving genetically enhanced agents. The head of project Outcome, Eric Byer gives the order to terminate all the men under his program. Aaron Cross, one of those men, escapes his pursuers and seeks out Dr Marta Shearing, a scientist with the program whose life is now in danger, to help him survive.

Review: As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon has given audiences a critically acclaimed trilogy of action films. Now without him, screenwriter Tony Gilroy proceeds to bring a new hero in the same vein of Jason Bourne and let him run with it. As far as starting points go, The Bourne Legacy is on the mark.

Gilroy brings the same sense of realism in the original films to this film, as we find ourselves completely invested in the character of Aaron Cross and his path to survival, as well as his efforts to protect Marta Shearing from being killed by her employers. Unlike Bourne, Cross is someone who doesn't have amnesia. While Bourne is trying to figure out who he is and stay off the radar, Cross just wants to live another day while figuring out a way to wean himself off the medication the program has been feeding him, which is where Marta comes in.

The action sequences are well choreographed and shot, thanks to superb work by stunt coordinator Dan Bradley. We get quick fist fights, shootouts and a nerve wrecking chase sequence in Manila on foot and then on motorcycle. It certainly doesn't hurt that they shot on location in Manila as the busy city is the perfect backdrop for the sequence.

Of the cast, Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz make a splendid team on screen. Renner excels in the action department as well as the acting department, giving his Aaron Cross a balance of vulnerability and humour, thereby making him very likable. Weisz, who looked like she hasn't aged a day, is very believable as Marta, coming off as confused and ultimately fearful of her life when bullets start whizzing in her direction. Her chemistry with Renner is one of the best things about this film. Edward Norton is also perfect in the role of Eric Byer, whose character is similar to David Strathairn in the original. Norton doesn't play him as an evil person, but as someone who believes he's doing the right thing for the sake of his country. Oscar Isaac makes a brief but memorable appearance as a fellow Outcome agent who meets Cross in the first third of the film.

The film though doesn't really get going until Cross arrives to rescue Marta from being killed, which is close to the half mark of the story. The film tends to slow down every now and then when Byer and his team attempt to locate Cross. And I also have to mention the rather abrupt ending which is a bummer since at that point, you'd wish for a proper finale. But it's very likely that this is to make way for future instalments, and for that I wouldn't complain too much.

Other than a few minor blemishes, The Bourne Legacy is a solid addition to the series. Hopefully the rumours of Damon making an appearance in the future are true, though Renner is pretty darn good on his own. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Total Recall

Year: 2012
Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy

Plot: It is the year 2084, and Earth is divided into two continents: United Federation of Britain where the rich reside, and The Colony, home of the poor and underprivileged. Doug Quaid is a factory worker from The Colony who has recurring nightmares. When he visits Rekall, a place that implants fantasies into their customers' minds, a sequence of events occur and Quaid finds himself on the run from people who want him dead.

Review: In case you're too young to know or remember, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall was made back in 1990 by Paul Verhoeven, based on Philip K Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Underworld director Len Wiseman has updated that film for the present generation. The question is, is this remake necessary?

I certainly didn't think so. I wasn't a big fan of the original, but I thought it was solid enough to entertain audiences of any year. As I sat down to watch this, I felt like not enough time had passed since Arnie's version came out, even though 22 years is a long time.

I'll start with what's good about it first. Len Wiseman knows how to direct action very well. There are a chockful of action sequences here to behold. Wiseman doesn't take his foot off the pedal as he throws his cast into one action scene after another, running, jumping, shooting and brawling every time you blink. The production design is also worth crediting, as the view of the poorer Colony is well contrasted with the richer UFB, and The Fall, the train tube that ferries people through the earth's core is impressive, especially when it becomes a background to shoot an action sequence in zero gravity.

However, as much fun as I had with this film, it just feels like a near photocopy of the original. Almost everything is the same, except the original takes place between Earth and Mars. The characters have the same names, a lot of similar elements from the original are used here with little variation, even some of the lines are similar. As a person directing a remake, Wiseman ought to work harder in distinguishing his version from Verhoeven's.

Out of the cast, Colin Farrell deserves the most credit for convincingly portraying a confused Quaid trying to piece his identity back together. Kate Beckinsale is pretty good as his wife Lori, whom you'll know to be a secret agent out to kill him. But playing bad just isn't her forte, even though she really tries hard. Jessica Biel gets Rachel Ticotin's role from the original here, and does poorly. She holds one expression for 90% of the film (and people say Kristen Stewart can't act.). Bryan Cranston is okay as top villain Cohaagen, and gets a couple of fight scenes with Farrell, which was quite impressive actually.

The music score is one thing this film didn't borrow from the original, and as expected, isn't as memorable in comparison. Even now, I can still remember the original's iconic drumbeats, but I can't recall the remake's as I type this.

To be fair, this update is visually striking and a lot of fun. But it lacks meat on its script and doesn't quite hold up to the original. My guess is, if you haven't seen the 1990 version, you'll enjoy this version very much. (3/5)  


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