Sunday, March 31, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Year: 2013
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo

Plot: When North Korean terrorists attack the White House and take the President hostage, it's up to disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning to stop them.

Review: Olympus Has Fallen is reminiscent of Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One, or the seventh season of 24 where Jack Bauer had to rescue the President from terrorists. It's not an original idea, but still a novel one, and has tons of potential to be entertaining if executed properly. To director Antoine Fuqua's credit, he succeeds pretty much, even though it's not without flaws.

For an action film like this, the audience needs realism and violence to enjoy it, and Fuqua brings them both in spades. Within the first half hour, pandemonium already breaks loose and a high body count starts piling up. Then from this point, Fuqua balances the story between agent Banning's attempt to stop the terrorists and Speaker of the House Trumbull, who is now acting President, attempting to negotiate with Kang, the leader of the bad guys. This part of the film will feel familiar if you've seen Die Hard or Sudden Death, but it's still fun to watch.

Gerard Butler is finally back to what he does best after failing miserably at trying to be funny. He fits the lead role of Banning to a tee, a man who had failed to save the First Lady at the film's beginning, and now carries some unwanted baggage with him. Butler is truly custom made for action flicks, and it shows in the fight sequences. Aaron Eckhart is quite solid as the President, but he doesn't get to be Harrison Ford here though, it is Butler that does all the ass-kicking. Morgan Freeman plays the Speaker with the same calmness that is expected of him, though I can't help but feel that he could have done this in his sleep, and this role in this kind of film is slightly below his paygrade. Rick Yune makes a nasty villain as Kang (though I've seen nastier), and is at his worst when he beats poor Melissa Leo (as Secretary of Defense McMillan) in front of her boss. Leo deserves applause for selling that scene well.

As mentioned, the film has its flaws, as in unexplained loopholes. How did the terrorists get their hands on the heavy artillery they used to get through the front door? How did they know the White House's countermeasures? How did they know about the security systems in place pertaining to the nuclear defenses which they wanted to use against the U.S? None of these were explained. I also think Fuqua could have explored Banning's relationship with the President a bit more. He did so at the beginning, but kinda left it at that once the plot moved on. This would have given the story more weight.

The question now is, will this film be better than Roland Emmerich's White House Down which will open in June? Hard to say, but if you like 90s action flicks, you'd enjoy this for sure. (3.5/5)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Django Unchained

Year: 2012
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, Kerry Washington

Plot: A recently freed slave teams up with a bounty hunter to save the former's wife from a ruthless plantation owner.

Review: Quentin Tarantino. There's no other director like him. There are probably aspiring directors out there who try aping guys like Spielberg, McTiernan and Nolan, but no one makes movies like Quentin. He's just unique in his own way. I've always believed Tarantino makes movies the way a movie fanboy would, and it still shows.

Tarantino's latest feature, Django Unchained is part western, part pre-Civil War story about vengeance and the all familiar battle between good men and disgusting villains. Tarantino's villains are especially evil from the way he writes them and presents them on screen, and is probably so just so that we can hate them easily and cheer when they meet their end, in true Tarantino-esque brutal style. In this case, we have the deliciously cruel Calvin Candie, a plantation owner who has vile ways of punishing his slaves, as well as Stephen, his senior house slave who is loyal to him.

But Tarantino's films aren't just about bad guys and violence, it's also about other things, in this case the friendship between the protagonists. Django the slave and Dr King Schultz, the bounty hunter who freed him are on a mission, both men driven by different reasons and thus different approaches, but they never lose sight of what they must do. Their bond  with each other is also a strong element of the film.

I had my doubts on whether Jamie Foxx could play a black cowboy but he owns the role indeed. He has the right amount of intensity required to play Django. Christoph Waltz approaches the role of Schultz the same way he did with Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, but it is still effective as it makes him extremely likable. Leonardo DiCaprio does a splendid job as Calvin Candie, it was truly impressive as I didn't think he was capable of being so despicable. Samuel L Jackson goes over the top quite a bit as Stephen, and even puts on some makeup to complete the look, but is effective nonetheless.

Now, the fact that it's a Tarantino film means there will be long drawn out sequences, excessive dialogue and over the top violence. They're all here and mostly done well. But I felt that some of it was just too much. Having loads of blood fly all over the place every time a bullet connects with flesh was laughable, though I can see that that's the point Tarantino is trying to make about film violence. But the film could have been shortened by about 15 to 20 minutes if they edited the last sequence, which I thought was just an excuse to show more violence. Don't get me wrong, I love on screen violence, I just feel that it ought to be there for good reasons, not flimsy ones.

But there's no denying that this is one awesome western, and an awesome Tarantino film. Recommended. (4/5)

P.S.: The soundtrack is awesome by the way.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Year: 2013
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney

Plot: When India Stoker's father dies, she and her mother Evelyn meet her estranged uncle Charlie, a mysterious member of the family who takes a great interest in India.

Review: It's hard to believe that Prison Break's Wentworth Miller wrote the screenplay to Stoker, and I mean that in a good way. I've always considered him to be an average actor at best, and to realise that he's capable of writing something this unique is impressive.

That script, combined with the direction of Park Chan-Wook makes Stoker an interesting, if not perfect film. Now, I haven't seen Park's Oldboy, but seeing his style on's wow. The guy has some rare techniques in his presentation. I love how he moves from one scene to the next by blending the backgrounds together, and Stoker also benefits from some really nice camera shots, either close up ones or the ones taken from unique angles. It's dazzling.

This film is a mixture of a character study and a psychological thriller, though to be honest, it doesn't quite excel in both genres. It does try brilliantly to merge the two together, but after seeing it, I felt like it can improve itself just a bit more. For instance, certain characters' motivations aren't made clear, and some scenes are there for no particular reason. Some other scenes also don't seem to connect well together, which may confuse viewers. The film also moves rather slowly, so patience is needed if you want to enjoy this.

Alice In Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska is an excellent choice as India, and this role shows how much she has grown since Alice. As India, she is externally different, in the way she dresses and communicates to people. It's clear that her late father was the only person who connected with her, as she doesn't speak to her mother much, and she has no friends in school. Her fashion sense is also very retro. But deep down she is intelligent, and it is often hard to tell what she is thinking. Mia pulls off this complex role very well. Matthew Goode is also solid as her uncle Charlie, who is as mysterious as they come. Goode has striking eyes, which enables him to look like a sinister character, yet come off as a handsome gentleman. It doesn't take long for the viewer to see that Charlie is a dangerous man, and seeing how it plays out is what keeps the story going. Nicole Kidman plays second fiddle this time as India's mother, and she does well in portraying a parent who is struggling to get along with her daughter while hiding the fact that things aren't okay.

I think Stoker is a brilliantly conceived film which could have been exceptional if its execution was just a bit smoother. With a bit more emotion and better editing, I would have enjoyed this more. But I'll give credit where it's due, it's something worth checking out. (3.5/5)

Oz The Great And Powerful

Year: 2013
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis

Plot: Oscar Diggs is a carnival magician and a skilled conman hoping to make it big someday. A tornado sends him far away into the land of Oz, where he is mistaken to be a great wizard prophesied to defeat the wicked witch and bring peace to the land.

Review: This film is basically a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz, where Dorothy and her three friends go on an adventure to meet the great wizard himself. Here we discover how Oz, or Oscar became the wizard, or at least one that fools everyone into thinking he's an actual wizard.

From a visual standpoint, Sam Raimi hits most of the right notes. When Oscar arrives at Oz, the film moves from its initial black and white presentation to an astoundingly vibrant and colourful view that would most certainly look awesome in 3D. While it looks fantastic, there were many times when it was obvious they were using a green screen, and some of the shots looked so high def I thought I was looking at a screensaver. But I gotta say I'm impressed.

However, the film isn't strong on substance and the performances are mostly weak. The story on a whole feels right at home for a kid (even though there was a restless kid in my cinema hall whose parents had to take outside), but for adults there really isn't much, aside for some well timed comedy, and even then it caters mostly to the younger generation. Raimi wasted some really good chances to expand on some drama between the leads (I'd give details but I don't want to spoil it) or explore some backgrounds, but maybe he's saving it for the sequel. Personally I think he should have done it right here.

The lead actors perform mostly at average level, it's obvious they've done better elsewhere. James Franco is alright as the conman Oscar, but isn't very good at making himself a likable hero. At times he tries too hard to sound like he means what he says, and it shows. Mila Kunis looks good as always, but isn't given much to do overall, and actually looks awkward as Theodora in the first half. Rachel Weisz is the same as Evanora: awkward. She's supposed to be wicked but isn't very convincing. Michelle Williams succeeds the most in making the best out of her character as Glinda the Good, but even she looks like she doesn't have faith in her lines at times. I felt like the script was so corny that the four of them were trying not to burst out laughing acting them out. Strangely it's the animated sidekicks that leave a lasting impression. The flying monkey Finley and the porcelain China Girl are awesome whenever they appear. The animation for China Girl is impressive, her facial expressions are so real.

But that's not to say Oz The Great And Powerful is a bad movie. It's generally fun and very family friendly. I just wish there was more to it than that. (3/5)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jack The Giant Slayer

Year: 2013
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci

Plot: Jack grew up on the story of the giants who lived up in the clouds. He discovers that the legend is true, after he comes into possession of some magic beans, which grows into a huge beanstalk that leads to the giants' world. He must now embark on an adventure to save a princess from the giants' clutches.

Review: Yet another film based on a fairytale arrives, this time on the well known Jack And The Beanstalk. Bryan Singer doesn't deviate too far from the original story and adds some other touches of his own to make it interesting.

For starters, there's more than one giant here, an army in fact. The giants don't have much character development as the story goes, which is okay since Singer chose to focus on the human characters instead, and it is the humans that are easier to relate to. Jack and Princess Isabelle are somewhat similar, being misunderstood young adults who both have something to prove. 

Nicholas Hoult is decent enough as Jack, playing him as a simple guy whom most people wouldn't look up to as a hero, but has enough heart and cunning to save the day. Eleanor Tomlinson is also good as Isabelle and has solid chemistry with Hoult, though I must say their romance is rather cliched. Ewan McGregor sheds much of his usual seriousness to play Elmont, the King's trusted commander. I say so because his character isn't always the heroic or dependable one when the time demands it, and comes off occasionally silly at times. Stanley Tucci gets the villain role of Roderick, who has plans to take over the kingdom, but he gets less screen time than the giants, who are the real baddies here.

Speaking of the giants, Singer made sure that they look as ugly as possible, and deserves credit for successfully doing so. They look like cavemen complete with disgusting habits and barbaric attitudes. So it's not a problem for the audience to root against them.

As steady as Singer's direction is, the film isn't without flaws. The story doesn't really pick up until it gets to the third act. Singer spends the first two thirds of the film setting up the plot and then continuously peppers it with humour, which is hit or miss, at least it was for me. The laughs generated here would be funny for teens and kids, but not for me. Then there's the ending, which felt kinda strange, because I thought it didn't gel with the rest of the film and seemed awkward. But at the very least, the climax of the film, where  a huge battle takes place between the humans and the giants is awesome to behold. 

Overall Jack And The Giant Slayer is decent entertainment at best. It's probably worth checking out once, but not more. (3/5)

Saturday, March 09, 2013


Year: 2013
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Michael K. Williams, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt

Plot: When his son is caught and sentenced to 10 years in prison for simply opening a package filled with drugs, John Matthews attempts to save him by becoming an informant for the DA in a plan to nab a wanted drug kingpin.

Review: If you walk into Snitch expecting an action film, you'd be disappointed. It stars action man Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and has an action movie type poster, but this isn't an action film, not till the last 20 minutes anyway.

Director Ric Roman Waugh's film is basically a story about fathers and what they would do for their kids, except this isn't the kind you'd see on the Hallmark Channel. Snitch highlights the law in existence as far as the war on drugs in concerned, which isn't lenient at all, even to first time offenders. In this case, the protagonist's son was set up by his friend who cut a deal with the DEA in order to get a lighter sentence. The problem is, this kid isn't a drug dealer, just a boy who made a dumb move on the wrong day of the week.

Facing the thought of seeing his son get beat up by his fellow inmates behind bars, John Matthews attempts to get the DA the real big fish: by pretending to be someone who can provide transportation for the dealers. That means putting his life on the line doing something he isn't used to.

In this role, Johnson puts in a low key yet effective performance as John. Normally he would be kicking ass and taking names, but here he plays a regular Joe who just wants to help his son get out of jail. It's a surprising turn from Johnson, but he does it very well, as you'll be rooting for him all the way. Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead is also great as John's employee Daniel, whose past criminal background allows him to give his boss an introduction to the dealers. Bernthal's Daniel is also a father, one who is trying to get his life back on track, and is very convincing in his reluctance to help John. Barry Pepper puts on a goatee to play a sympathetic DEA agent and nails the role, with Susan Sarandon being effectively cold as the unsympathetic DA. Benjamin Bratt also gets a nice turn as the drug kingpin, but he is underused here.

On a whole, Waugh paces the film well enough despite not having much action in it (not that it's about action anyway), but the film does suffer from having a few things being too convenient, like how John gets the cartel's trust so easily. The ending also feels a tad Hollywood-ish, but the solid drama throughout the film makes up for that.

Snitch is a nice change of pace for The Rock, showing that he can be a serious actor if given a chance. If you like a film with solid acting, give this a try. (3.5/5)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


Year: 2012
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo

Plot: Airline pilot Whip Whitaker suffers from severe alcohol addiction. It doesn't become a problem for him, until the day he spectacularly lands a plane during a mechanical failure and his addiction comes to light during the investigation on the crash by the authorities.

Review: Flight is Robert Zemeckis' first live action film in 12 years, finally returning to it after making a handful of uninspiring animated films. Although this film is clearly better than those animated ones, credit should be given mostly to Zemeckis' leading man Denzel Washington, as he carries the film for the most part.

As Whip Whitaker, Washington gives his character plenty of vulnerability and flaws, which is something rare from him. His character is basically someone who has an addiction problem, but doesn't consider it a hindrance because he doesn't really allow it to take control of him or allow others to notice it or even admit it's a problem to begin with, at least until it comes out into the open and the level of his problem escalates. Then things slowly take a downward spiral and he has to come to terms with it. Washington does all this very convincingly throughout the film, and because of that, Flight is a solid piece on the effects of alcohol addiction.

The supporting cast also provide some good moments alongside Washington. Kelly Reilly is solid as Nicole, a fellow drug addict who befriends Whip after the crash. Don Cheadle is also great as the union lawyer representing Whip for his case. John Goodman provides the comedic parts as Whip's drug supplying friend, who has some of the best lines in the movie. Special mention goes out to James Badge Dale as a cancer patient who talks to Whip at the hospital. It's just one scene but Dale makes it count.

Though Washington gets a lot of credit from me, Zemeckis needs to take some too, especially for staging the plane crash. It's not as bombastic as Cast Away, but it looks pretty good on screen. The problem is the other parts of the film, which kinda drags every now and then. As a result, Flight ends up being 138 minutes long, which doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, just that it feels a lot longer than that.

Overall, Flight is almost a nice return to form for Zemeckis, though he hasn't quite achieved Back To The Future or Cast Away level greatness yet. But Denzel fans ought to watch this. (3.5/5)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Cloud Atlas

Year: 2012
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D'Arcy, Ben Whishaw

Plot: Six stories set during six different time periods are connected with each other, every one of them a story about hope, freedom and love.

Review: On the surface, Cloud Atlas isn't an easy film to comprehend. For me, withstanding the first half hour of the complex epic was tough as heck, but once I settled in, it became more and more fascinating, and I just couldn't turn away till I saw it to the end.

The film is essentially six stories being told at the same time: in 1849, a young lawyer attempts to free a slave who stowed away on the ship he is sailing in; in 1936, a bisexual amanuensis composes a masterpiece while working for a well known composer; in 1973, a journalist finds herself in danger when she tries to uncover a nuclear corporation's dark secrets; in 2012, a publisher tries to break out of a retirement home where he is held against his will; in 2144, a female clone manufactured and trained as a waitress fights to reveal the truth about her existence; and in 2321, a goatherd from the valley strikes a friendship with a woman from a more advanced society. Each story, from the first to the next one and so forth, is connected by something, just like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's film Babel.

It is to the Wachowskis and Tykwer's credit that the stories are properly told without losing their way amongst each other, though some people may find it a tad complicated. To keep the stories close to one another, the cast play different characters in each story, thereby maintaining familiarity. Best of all, each story is of a different genre. The first is an adventure drama, the second a love tragedy, the third a Bourne film type thriller, the fourth a comedy, the fifth a sci-fi action film with political undertones and the last one a fantasy. 

The cast overall are pretty impressive. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry were both excellent in each of their roles (I thought Hanks was awesome as an English ruffian) and share good chemistry on screen. Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw are pretty good too, but special mention goes out to Doona Bae as Sonmi 451, the protagonist in the 2144 story.  Her part of the film happens to be my favorite as it is the most compelling tale out of the six. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving play various antagonists for all six stories and I must say they're both awesome.

The only drawback to this film is its length, which is a whopping 172 minutes. I figured the length was necessary to tell all the stories properly, but maybe a bit of editing wouldn't have hurt it too much. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Cloud Atlas very much, as it felt like one big adventure that didn't want to end.

It's an amazing film, very ambitious, filmed well in detail, filled with great stories and actors, and felt truly epic from start to finish. I recommend it. (4/5)


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