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The Happening (2008)
The Pre-Release Negative Buzz was Deserved. Sorta.
I never understood why critics (and audiences) were so hard on M. Night Shyamalan. I honestly believe that Lady in the Water and The Village are his best films (sue me!). That's why I overlooked The Happening's negative buzz, and went to see it on its opening day. To my surprise, critics were right (for the most part), and Shyamalan has disappointed me for the first time.
The idea of an airborne toxic that causes people to unconsciously hurt themselves is genuinely original, creepy, and effective. Fittingly, Shyamalan comes up with the scariest death scenes in recent memory. My fiancée had to cover her eyes multiple times. Moreover, The Happening has a couple of excellent jump scares. Needless to say, Shyamalan is still excellent at composing his scenes. And as usual, James Newton Howard's score rocks. Unfortunately, that's were the good news ends.
The very first scene of The Happening puts you right in the middle of the action. But that's probably why the film runs out of steam so quickly. This should've been a 75-80 minute film. Basically, nothing happens in the second half. We're just introduced to a couple of freaky, freaky characters. Mrs. Jones in particular did get huge laughs at my showing. And BTW, I was perfectly fine with the explanation the film came up with. After all, this is a super-natural thriller.
Shyamalan was always able to get excellent performances out of his leads. I'd even say that's his trademark. However, Mark Wahlberg totally lets him down. He was terrible. He has same look on his face whether he's scared, joking, or thinking. The tone of his voice rarely changed as well. His turn single-handedly eliminates the emotional impact of a lot of scenes. Remember Lady in the Water's Healing scene? I cried like a baby when I saw that. The Happening has a similar "redemption" scene, but frankly, I couldn't care less. Deschanel was even worse. She was just standing there, reciting her lines. She got better near the end though.
La Môme (2007)
La Vie En Noir?
Musical biopics are a dime a dozen these days; Ray in 2004, Walk the Line in '05, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man in '06, and finally, La Vie En Rose in '07. However, La Vie En Rose, which chronicles the life of French singing legend Edith Piaf, is not your typical biography. Trying to put a spin on the genre, director Olivier Dahan decided to present Piaf's life via a broken chronology, leaping back and forth across time without apparent rhyme or reason. I felt that decision was both a gift and a curse. Yes, it did add some originality to the whole thing, but then again, it's hard to be invested in a storyline that jumps around so much. In addition, I thought half the actors were overacting (Raymond, Piaf's music instructor comes to mind). Rose is also too melodramatic, and extremely depressing. In fact, La Vie en Noir would've been a more fitting title. Nevertheless, I'd still recommend watching this flick. Academy award winner Cotillard, who completely transformed herself into Piaf, injects so much life, energy and passion into her character that she elevates the film to another level. Her performance literally sent shivers down my spine. The make-up was phenomenal as well, and the Oscar win is totally deserved.
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
A Magical, Clever Film
A long time ago, in a land far far away, films aimed at children used to be intelligent, used to have a heart. Now, we're stuck with likes of Daddy Day Camp, Shrek the Third and Are we Done Yet? Fortunately (and surprisingly), Bridge to Terabithia is a throwback to the films we fell in love with while we were growing up. The film tells the story of Jesse (Hutcherson) and Leslie (Robb), a couple of kids who invent a magical place called Terabithia where they dub themselves the King and Queen. Terabithia reminded me of why I love movies in the first place. It was a clever, magical, and visually stunning flick about the wonders of imagination and friendship. The film also has its heart in the right place. It's heartwarming, touching, and I'm sure there won't be a dry eye in the house by the time the credits roll. Hutcherson and (especially) Robb were both excellent, and the rest of the cast was pretty solid as well. However, the film isn't flawless. There was a subplot about school bullies that went nowhere, and I felt there were some slow spots but still, Terabithia was one of the best family films of recent memory.
Saw IV (2007)
Will Satisfy Your Horror Fix
Did anyone ask for a 4th Saw film? Well, not really. Saw III was a fantastic ending to a great trilogy. Did that fact stop Hollywood from moving forward with a new installment? Take one freaking guess. And while Saw IV was the worst entry in the series, it was still better than the hundred money-grabbing horror sequels we've been bombarded with this year (Hostel Part II and The Hills Have Eyes 2, I'm looking at you). Obviously, the originality is totally gone. The traps are becoming repetitive (but still as gruesome as ever), the plot twists are fairly predictable, and the new characters are boring. This movie is strictly for hardcore Saw fans. If you haven't seen the first 3 flicks, preferably in order, you'll feel completely lost in the second half. On the other hand, I think most fans will be pleased. The film, which sheds some light on Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) backstory, is bloody, brutal, and has some great suspenseful moments. In fact, the movie opens with one of the most shocking, disturbing, and explicit things I've ever seen. Saw IV won't be winning any Oscars, but it can come in handy if you want to satisfy your horror fix.
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
The Farrelly's Return to Form...Not!
After 3 watered-down, toothless flicks (Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, and Fever Pitch), The Heartbreak Kid was The Farrelly Brothers' return to raunchy comedy. Trying to recapture the greatness of their biggest hit, There's Something about Mary, they hired Ben Stiller and a Cameron Diaz look-alike. The end result is heartbreakingly mediocre. The film, which tells the story of a newlywed (Stiller), whose bride (Akerman) goes loco only a couple of hours after their wedding, just isn't funny. In fact, all the good jokes were in the trailer. The remaining jokes either missed the mark (anything that has to do with Monaghan's Miranda), or were removed altogether from the Egyptian theatrical version (apparently, there's a hilarious love sequence). In addition, due to sloppy writing, I found myself rooting for the bad "guy" (Akerman's Lila), and thought Stiller's Eddie was a jerk, as he cheated on his wife during their honeymoon. If that wasn't enough, the film is far too long (over 2 hours) and the last 30 minutes are so dark for a "comedy" that they're painful to watch. The film's only redeeming factor is Akerman, who gives a charming performance. But even Akerman's charm can't save this trainwreck.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
An Action Film that has a Heart and a Brain
I want you to name me the last great action flick. Die Hard 4.0? Nah, it lost all credibility when The Bruce single-handedly beat a jet. Casino Royal? Nope, too much talking for my liking. MI3? Anti-climactic. The Bourne Supremacy? Oh yes, that was a magnificent picture. So, I guess it's not really surprising that The Bourne Ultimatum, the sequel to Supremacy, is arguably the best film of the year so far. We went in with extremely high expectations, and I'm happy to say that those expectations were met, and then some.
When we last met Jason Bourne (Damon), his girlfriend had just been killed, so he was out for revenge. This time though, it's back to basics. Bourne is being hunted by CIA officials, led by Strathairn's Noah Vosen, as he's still searching for his unknown past. Also unlike the last film, Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Allen) and series regular Nicky Parsons (Stiles) are on Bourne's side.
I'm quite sure no other film this year will give you the Adrenaline rush Ultimatum gave us. To cut to the chase, I'll just quote US critic Todd McCarthy: "If they could bottle what gives The Bourne Ultimatum its rush, it would probably be illegal". Basically, the film is one massive action scene. The chases in London and in Tangier in particular took my breath away and had me on the edge of my seat. But if you think Ultimatum is just a loud & dumb action flick, well, think again. The film's got big a heart; Bourne is still the sympathetic spy who wants to atone for his previous sins. And even better, Ultimatum has a brain too. The story is complex and gripping and believe or not, but Ultimatum is probably the most anti-American film since Syriana, Damon's 2005 political thriller (I haven't seen Sicko yet)
After helming Supremacy, United 93, and Ultimatum in a row, I think Greengrass has firmly established himself as one of the best directors working today; the film has an excellent gritty look, innovative fight scenes, and an outstanding score. The English filmmaker still uses the shaky cam excessively, but because the editing is phenomenal, the shots hold long enough that you can actually tell what's going on. Greengrass got the best out of his cast as well. Damon excels as Bourne, Allen is amazing as usual (she should get an Oscar like, now!), Stiles finally gets to do something other than listening to her earpiece, and Strathairn is good, but somehow underused.
So, I'd definitely recommend seeing The Bourne Ultimatum. It's a fitting end to an amazing trilogy, and it's one of (if not) the best films of the year
The Critic and the Geek
Every film is made for a reason. Some films are made to entertain, others to educate. I'm sure Zack Snyder (the excellent Dawn of the Dead remake) had one thing on his mind when he was making 300; create the most faithful comic book movie yet. Sin City, another film based on a Frank Miller comic book that was shot using bluescreens, was criticized for being "style over substance". 300 takes that concept to the next level. In 300, the style is the substance. The film is a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book. In fact, some shots are lifted directly from the graphic novel (the scene where the Spartans push their enemies off a cliff comes to mind). Needless to say, the film, which tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae between 300 Spartans and (estimated) 1 million Persians, is extremely beautiful to look at. Imagine visiting Le Louvre and you're pretty close. Every single frame is like a painting.
Some people have been talking about how the action genre is dead. 300 proves them wrong. Basically, the second half is one massive fight, with limbs flying, heads spinning, and blood splattering across the frame. As you might expect, the film is pretty violent, so if you're a parent, you might want to leave the kids at home. Snyder shines in those action scenes. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Slow mos, fast forwarding, zooming, and rapid-fire cuts are all used to perfection. And hats off to whoever choreographed the fights. They were poetic.
With the visuals being at the top of the filmmakers' agenda, characterization had to take a back seat. All the characters are either black (evil) or white (good), with no shades of grey whatsoever (believe it or not, the most complex character is Ephialtes the hunchback, who has about 5 minutes of screen time). Take Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler, in a decent performance) and his army for instance. They spend their whole screen time kicking butts, delivering big speeches and uttering cool lines. OK, so they're fearless and heroic. What else do we know about them? Zip. None. We barely know them, so they don't earn our sympathy. Remember how you were emotionally invested in characters like William Wallace (Braveheart) and Maximus (Gladiator)? I'm fairly confident you won't feel the same way here. Also in some scenes, the film was way too weird for its own good. I mean, I doubt we'll be seeing a man-goat rocking out in any other film this year.
I really don't know how to grade 300. The geek in me, who has seen the film 3 times so far and has a giant 300 poster hanging down his wall, wants to give it a 10. On the other hand, the "critic", who rates films based on plot and characters and whatnot, wants to give it 4 or something. So, I guess my grade should be somewhere in between
Great Direction and Acting, Meh Everything Else
After Crash won the Best Picture Oscar in 2006, "important" films that deliver their messages through multiple, interconnected, stories became the "in" thing in Hollywood. Crash was the first film, Babel is another one, and even Tom Cruise has his own version, Lions for Lambs, which comes out later this year. So far, these films (of course, Babel included) have closely followed some rules:
1) Rely heavily on coincidences. 2) Have a story that will make you feel terrible about yourself, only to realize it's OK to commit sins, "because we're only human beings". 3) Have an A-lister (Brad Pitt) crying and/or cursing and/or shouting. 4) Apparently, they must have a scene that will cause huge, unintentional laughter (In Babel, it was Pitt making out with a near-dead Cate Blanchett who had just peed her pants).
Babel's intent was to show us the disastrous results of bad (or lack of) communication between people from different cultures. The different stories were set in Japan, Mexico, and Morocco. And that's where the film starts to falter. I felt only the Japan section served the story, the other two, not so much. The Mexico segment was unfocused and took too much time to get going (a good 15-20 minutes could've been easily trimmed), while the Moroccan one was unbelievable for the most part. Maybe that's why I only felt emotionally connected to the deaf-mute Japanese girl (played by Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi). I couldn't care less about the other characters.
Babel is the concluding chapter of director Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Death Trilogy", after Amores Perros and 21 Grams. Iñárritu has definitely improved as a director. Take the scenes in the Southern California desert for instance. They had an excellent raw and gritty feel to them. The Japan scenes, on the other hand, were suitably cold and depressing. Iñárritu was also able to get amazing performances from the majority of his big cast. But unfortunately, the story, structure, and pacing all failed him.
So, I wouldn't really recommend Babel, unless you're a movie buff who likes to watch all the films nominated for best picture. If you're just looking for an entertaining, or a really well made flick, I'm afraid you should look somewhere else.
The Queen (2006)
The Best and Most Entertaining History Lesson of the Year
"You met me at a very strange time in my life", The Narrator, from Fight Club (1999).
Just like The Narrator, we meet Elizabeth II, Queen of England, at a very strange time in her life. The film starts in May of 1997. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), leader of the Labour Party, had just won the general election, ending 18 years of government by the Conservative Party. 3 months later, Diana, Princess of Wales, died after a car crash in Paris. Initially, The Queen (Oscar winner Helen Mirren) wanted the funeral to be a private one, since Diana was no longer part of the royal family. She also thought there was no need to address the nation regarding this event. But slowly, The Queen starts to realize people from all over the world are accusing her of not showing enough grief over Diana's death. If that wasn't enough, she later finds out 25% of the British people want to get rid of the monarchy altogether. For the first time in her life, The Queen, who had always thought nobody knows the British citizens more than she does, feels she has completely lost touch with her people. Some radical changes had to be made.
Unlike what you might expect, The Queen is not a boring history lesson. In fact, I thought it was very entertaining. That was mainly due to Peter Morgan's (Last King of Scotland) great script, and the amazing directing done by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity).
The script is very witty, full of emotional moments, and often darkly funny. I guess nobody will ever know what really happened behind the scenes in the week following Diana's death, but I think Morgan tried to make the story as accurate as possible. Also, I liked the film's main theme, tradition vs. modernism, and thought it was quite relevant. Morgan even had the courage to take some stabs at Diana (apparently, how she was an attention-seeking drama queen).
Frears did a great job. He created a fascinating portrayal of the royal family after the tragedy. The only minor problem I had was with Prince Philip. I felt he was a little too cartoonish. The use of real-life footage and integrating characters from the film into them was a masterful decision. It made the film much more real. The film never drags, and is almost always beautiful to look at.
Now, we come to the million-dollar question. Did Helen Mirren deserve winning every single female acting award this year? Well, the answer is pretty simple, and is a big fat YES. She gave a controlled and multi-layered performance. What's even more impressive is that there were no "big" acting scenes, Mirren was much more subtle than your typical Oscar winner. I also have to note that Sheen was excellent as the young, enthusiastic, prime minister.
So, I'd definitely recommend seeing The Queen. It's an entertaining, well made, Oscar winning film. It's about one of the biggest tragedies of recent times, and it has some of the best performances of the past year. What more could you ask for?
I Was Cursed...
I already lost 2 hours of my life watching this film. So, I will go straight to the point and tell you what I didn't like about it (basically, everything)
1. The worst performance of Christina Ricci's career. Even Mya and Shannon Elizabeth were better, and that's saying something.
2. A very poor attempt at being a comedy. In one scene, a werewolf gives the middle finger to one of his victims. I admit it, I laughed. I laughed at how silly the whole thing was.
3. A ridiculous subplot about homosexuality. A gay student says to a werewolf "we both have the same problem". Yeah, right.
4. A PG-13 rating. So, whenever a werewolf is about to tear apart someone, the camera cuts and we hear a loud BOOM. So, the flick ended up being a horror film without a single scare.
5. I can't even describe how awful the dialog said. "Stop reading about werewolves, and go download a porno or something". No kidding.
6. Probably one of the worst twist endings of all time. And the film couldn't be more predictable.
7. Horrendous CGI.
So, why did I give Cursed a 2 instead of a 1? Like I said, the whole thing is so silly, it's amusing. And I think the story had some potential.
So, I definitely wouldn't recommend Cursed. If you're a fan of werewolf movies, you can watch An American Werewolf in London or Wolf instead. And if you're into Wes Craven, see Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street, and I'm sure you'll have a better time.
Superman Returns (2006)
Not as Good as Batman Begins, but Still, A Great Film
Just like what happened with Batman, making another Superman movie didn't sound like a good idea. In fact, I thought resurrecting Superman was even a worse idea because:
A) IMO Quest for Peace was worse than Batman and Robin (at least B&R was hilarious)
B) WB couldn't get this sequel off the ground for almost 15 years.
C) Unlike Christian Bale, the comic book fans weren't very happy about the casting of Brandon Routh as Superman.
And while SR isn't as good as Batman Begins (I never expected to be), it's good enough to restart the franchise.
The film takes place 5 years after the incidents of Superman II. Superman comes back to earth. Lois (Kate Bosworth) now has a kid (Tristan Leabu) and is engaged to fellow journalist Richard (James Marsden). Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey) is out of prison and as usual, he's got a new plan to destroy Superman and take over the world.
Obviously, Superman is nowhere as dark or edgy as Batman, Spiderman, or the X-Men, but that doesn't mean he's living in fairy tale world either. And I think that was the best thing about the script. The Man of Steel got a whole lot to deal with in this film. He's got no home; Krypton has become a "graveyard". He's got no love; Lois, the love of his life, is with another man and is mad at him (for leaving without saying goodbye). Luther is still determined to finish him off, and after all, Superman is still an "alien" trying to fit in this world. In addition, the script rightfully ignored the horrendous last 2 sequels, and tied nicely with Superman II.
But the script also had its fair share of flaws. Luther's plan is somehow silly; I didn't like the direction the story took in the last 30 minutes or so, and I think the kid subplot was pointless.
The film had some scenes among the best I've seen this year. Basically, every action sequence gave me huge goose bumps. Director Bryan Singer sure knows how to direct an action scene. The action was well executed, well edited, and had great FX. The love scenes between Supes and Lois were also handled very well. And of course, having John Williams' amazing score playing in the background doesn't hurt either.
I was surprised by Routh. I didn't expect much, but he was very good as Superman, emotionally and physically. Bosworth was decent, and Spacey was a blast. He was very funny without losing the character's edge. It must be something about working with Singer because I don't recall Spacey having this much fun since The Usual Suspects. .
So, I'd definitely recommend Superman Returns. It isn't flawless, but it's probably the best superhero film we're going to see this year.
Omaret yakobean (2006)
With a Better Adaptation, Yacoubian Could Have Been a Masterpiece
January 2002. Alaa el Aswani's first novel, Omaret Yacoubian, is published. Within a few months, it has taken the Egyptian book world by Storm. And it's easy to know why. The book is almost exclusively about the 3 taboos in the Arab literature; Politics, Sex (Hetero and Homo), and Religion.
Fast forward to June 2006. Unless you've been living on another planet for the past 2 years or so, you must've heard of the movie adaptation of the book. Seriously, it was nearly impossible to escape the following headlines "Yacoubian is the biggest Egyptian film of all-time", "De Niro says the film is a masterpiece", "Yacoubian gets huge raves at Cannes", etc... In my opinion, that was one of the film's biggest problems; the filmmakers set the bar too high for themselves. So, I walked in expecting to see a breakthrough in film-making. What I got was a great, although flawed, film. So, I was somewhat disappointed.
I didn't like Wahid Hamed's adaptation of the book. The spirit of the novel is there, and the film is much more humorous, but unfortunately, that was it. Maybe because Hamed had to fit the script, so that the bigger stars get the bigger parts, all the secondary characters (Soaad, Dawlat, Malaak, etc...) ended up with almost no screen time. Therefore, these characters came off as 2 dimensional and their actions didn't make a lot of sense. For example, in the book, Soaad is almost a beggar. She constantly asks her friends and relatives for money. In the film, she's a middle class secretary. That's why I never understood why she would agree to be separated from her own son, and marry an older man just for some cash. Another example would be how someone came out of nowhere to kill off one of the main characters.
Director Marawan Hamed did a great job. Yacoubian is his first full-length feature, but he helmed it like a veteran. His camera moved smoothly, his cuts were all in the right places, and he shined in the large-scale (protest, training, and shootout) scenes. I'm really looking forward to his next picture.
Adel Emam (Zaki el Dessouky) was amazing. His turn (his best in ages) was funny yet heartfelt. Khaled Saleh (Kamal el Fouli) and Khaled el Sawy (Hatem Rashid) were also great. In fact, I think Mohamed Emam (Taha el Shazly) was the only cast member who gave a so-so performance. Anyway, he's still a newbie (this is his first film), so he'll probably give better performances in the future.
Yacoubian is one of the most expensive Egyptian films of all-time, and fortunately, the money is on the screen. The costumes, make-up and sets are all top-notch. Khaled Hammad's score was good, but I felt it was overly dramatic in some places (a full Orchsetra playing while 2 people are merely talking?)
So, I'd definitely recommend watching The Yacoubian Building. It's the best Egyptian film in quite some time, and with a better adaptation, it could have been a masterpiece.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Welcome Back Mr. Hunt, You've Been Gone for Too Long.
The last couple of years weren't very kind to Mr. Cruise. He went crazy on talk shows, War of the Worlds had a lukewarm reception, and for almost 2 years, he couldn't get the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise off the ground. Fortunately, with MI3, he finally seems to be back on track.
IMF member Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is almost retired. He's engaged to beautiful nurse Julia (Michelle Monaghan). But when Hunt knows that international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is about to kill his protégé Lindsey (Keri Russell), Hunt has to reunite with his team to save Lindsey.
The first 2 films of the franchise couldn't be more different. Mission Impossible, directed by Brian De Palma, was an intelligent thriller, with a confusing plot, and it didn't have enough action. On the other hand, MI2, directed by John Woo, was an action-driven film, and its plot was silly. MI3 follows in the footsteps of MI2, but with better action, better acting, and a better story.
The action in the film is an action fan's wet dream. Almost every gimmick in the book is there; Shootouts, check. Car chases, check. Chopper chases, check. The bridge scene in particular made me drop my jaw in awe. It was better than any action scene since Return of the King. The Vatican operation, very reminiscent of the Prague operation in the first film, was also stunning. Director J.J Abrams (the man behind hit series Lost) did an amazing job. The action sequences are well orchestrated, well edited, and unlike many recent action films, you could always tell what's going on. And all the money is up on the screen. In fact, I'm surprised the film only cost 150 million to make.
While the story isn't as good as the first part, it's far better than the paper-thin story of the sequel. The best thing about it was the comeback of the IMF team, who were totally absent in the sequel. The domestic angle gave more humanity to the character of Ethan Hunt. And I was also glad that double-crossing was back in full force this time around.
Hoffman gave the best performance. There is a very thin line between being a great villain and being over the top. But because Hoffman knew exactly what he was doing, he never crossed it. Cruise was very good as Hunt, and Simon Pegg was great as the comic relief.
Of course, the film wasn't flawless. The last 20 minutes are very cheesy, the ending is somewhat anti-climactic, and Hoffman was criminally underused. But everything else was so good that it atones for all these sins.
So, I'd definitely recommend seeing MI3. Bring on part 4 .
Great Visuals, Decent Humor, and a Poor Story
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a movie with amazing visuals, good acting, decent humor, and a poor story.
Sky Captain tells the story of pilot Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Jude Law), who must team up with news reporter and former lover Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), to stop mad Scientist Dr.Totenkopf (the late Sir Laurence Olivier) before destroying the world.
Just like last year's Sin City, Sky Captain was entirely shot against blue screen. Everything except the main actors was computer generated. This technique helped Sin City become the most faithful comic book adaptation to date, so did it come in handy for director Kerry Conran?
I'd say definitely. The film is visually stunning, and a great homage to the films & cartoons of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. In addition, the approach helped Conran use every sci-fi gimmick in the book; Flying & fighting robots, check. Weird creatures, check. Giant lab, check. Of course, the blue screen let Conran down sometimes. I could barely see anything in the darker scenes, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the whole show. What's even better is that the film was made for only 70 million dollars. I'm sure the budget would have soared past the 100 million mark if the film was done the conventional way.
I'm sure the main aim here was to create a beautiful film, and not tell a good story, because frankly, the film's plot could be written on bubblegum wrapping paper. The filmmakers know it, they're totally comfortable with that, and that's why they never took themselves seriously. The dialog is campy (another homage to the 30's), the story is predictable, and humor is present throughout the film.
The actors did a good job, with Paltrow giving the best performance. I didn't hate a character like I hated Perkins in a long time. Angelina Jolie was very good too, and I'd like to see her in more supporting roles. Law was fine, but I think he could have been better.
So, I'd recommend seeing Sky Captain. It's unlike anything you've seen, and it will keep you entertained.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Beauty and Boredom
Pride and Prejudice isn't a bad film by any means. The thing is, I don't think it deserves all the praise it's been getting since its release in November.
Pride and Prejudice is based on Jane Austen's most famous novel, and is mainly about the love/hate relationship between poor girl Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and rich man Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden). The story is set in Georgian England. As far as I'm concerned, this is at least the 4th of 5th film based on the novel. There was even a Bollywood musical adaptation released in 2004. So, was director Joe Wright and co. able to bring something new to the table?
Overall, I'd say yes. First things first, the film is extremely beautiful to look at. Whether it's the fields, the small houses, or the large ballrooms, they all look amazing. Wright shined in the ball scenes. Despite the huge number of people, he handled it very well. His camera (or scanner, I must say) moved smoothly from one character to another, and he rarely cut. And not to mention, the dances were well choreographed. I also really liked the score; it was very heartwarming and very fitting.
The acting was very good too. Knightley gave a great performance, and her Oscar nomination was well-deserved. Just look at her eyes during Mr. Darcy's first proposal. You could really feel her pain and vulnerability. Macfayden was good, and Judi Dench was great as Catherine de Bourg, although I felt she was criminally underused (2 scenes in the whole film).
And unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. The film makers had to fit a 4-hour story into a 2-hour film, so a lot of stuff had to be chopped. As a result, all the secondary characters almost had no screen time. For example, Mr. Wickham gets only 2 scenes, and Mary Bennett gets about 10 lines. So, whenever Elizabeth and/or Darcy were not on screen, I was bored to death, because frankly, I couldn't care less about the other characters in the film. They were as bland as it gets.
Another thing I hated was all the "stalking" scenes. In several scenes of the film, we see Darcy in the background, quietly staring at Elizabeth. Yeah, I know his pride and shyness prevented him from talking to her, but for some reason, I felt these scenes belong to a horror movie or something. One scene in particular had me laughing (unintentionally of course); When Elizabeth bumps into someone (we couldn't see who he is), and then the camera moves up to show us Darcy's face, looking down on her, I thought he was going to grab a knife and cut her throat or something. That scene was during the "hate" part of their relationship, so it would have made sense, heh.
So, I'd recommend watching Pride and Prejudice, but I'd suggest lowering your expectations. Or even better, I'd suggest seeing other Working Title films like Love Actually, and Bridget Jones' Diary, and I think you'll have a better time. I know I did.
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
Make Yourself Lucky, and Go Watch Slevin
Lucky Number Slevin is witty, funny, entertaining, with amazing performances and excellent dialog.
Slevin Kelvara (Josh Hartnett) is not the luckiest guy in the world.He just lost his job, his apartment, and caught his girlfriend cheating. If that's not enough, two rival crime bosses, The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), both think Slevin is someone else and start looking for him. And when a world-class assassin, Mr. GoodKat (Bruce Willis), shows up in New York for the first time in two decades, a police detective (Stanley Tucci) starts to wonder what's going on.
We didn't have a mistaken identity thriller in quite some time, and fortunately, Slevin was a worthy addition to the genre. Jason Smilovic's script was witty, sharp, and full of twists and turns to keep the viewer interested. The dialog was very funny, and I loved the word playing between Slevin, The Boss, and The Rabbi. My only complaint with the story was that some key plot elements could be predicted way too early in the film. Anyway, that didn't stop me from enjoying the show.
Technically, the film is great. The sets, cinematography, costumes, and soundtrack are all top notch. Director Paul McGuigan, clearly influenced by Tarantino, was very good. He really knew how to switch smoothly between dark and funny scenes. He could use more editing though, as the "explanation" scenes near the end were longer than they should have even. But maybe he had to do that, because the story was somewhat complex.
I was very impressed by the acting in the film. Each actor was original in his own way. Freeman, finally playing against type (When was the last time he was a baddie?), was menacing. Willis, totally comfortable with taking a back seat this time, was funny and cool. Kingsley was able to overcome his recent duds and gave an amazing performance. His accent cracked me up several times. But the real surprise here is Harnett. After his, ummm, not so good performances in Pearl Harbor, Halloween H20, and 40 Days and 40 nights, he shines in Slevin. He was likable, without losing the character's edge. I really wish he works with McGuigan again in the near future.
So, I'd definitely recommend Slevin. It was the best thriller I've seen in quite some time.
The Descent (2005)
In caves, no one can hear you scream
While The Descent is not as original as 2004's Shaun of the Dead, it's still a breath of fresh air to the genre, and another reason for me to like the British horror even more.
The Descent tells the story of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), a mother who loses her her husband and daughter in a car accident. One year later, she goes with 5 other friends on a caving expedition that goes horribly wrong.
Surprisingly, the thing I liked most about The Descent was its story. The film only has six characters, and each one of those is essential to the story. They're not there just to be killed. We have the grieving mother, the supporting friend, the suspicious friend, the doctor, her older caring sister, and the adventurous newbie. Another great thing was the direction the story took in the second half of the film. In 99% of the horror films made these days, there's an inevitable teaming-up between the characters to escape the trouble they were sunk into. That's not the case with The Descent. In The Descent, the characters don't trust each other, deceive each other, and they even start hurting each near the end of the film.
The setting of the film is very creepy, and very reminiscent of horror classics Alien and Aliens. Director and writer Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) kept building and building the tension in the first half, and fortunately the second half really paid-off. When the chaos started, I could even hear my own heartbeat.
After seeing the film, I read a long debate on these boards regarding the film's end. It seems there are 2 endings for The Descent. The film's original ending, and a new "happy" Hollywood ending for the American version of the film. I've seen the original, and while I wouldn't exactly call it a feel-good ending, I still think it's a perfect one. It makes The Descent much more than a horror film. It makes it a redemption tale.
The Descent wasn't flawless. You could predict who's going to die 15 minutes into the film. You might even be able to predict the order of the deaths. Also, there were a lot of cheap jump scares we've a thousand times before. But, on the other hand, the acting, sets, and music were all very good.
So, bottom line, do yourself a favor, and go watch he Descent.
When style kills the substance
We've had films where the style was more important than the substance. We've had pictures where the style hurt the substance. In Domino, it was a whole new level. In Domino, the style single-handedly killed the substance.
Domino tells the story of Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), rich girl turned model, turned bounty hunter. Her bounty hunting mates are Ed (Mickey Rourke), and Choco (Edgar Ramirez).
First things first, I'm a huge Tony Scott fan. I think Enemy of the State, Top Gun, and The Last Boy Scout are some of the best action films ever made. I also wasn't bothered by the increasing insanity in Scott's directing & editing style, which was very evident in his recent films, especially Man on Fire. So, why didn't I enjoy Domino as much as I hoped? Well, unlike his other pictures, Scott didn't give Domino a chance to stop for one second and take a deep breath. From the very first frame, we're bombarded with extremely quick cuts, time jumps, split screens, slow-motion, and black & white scenes. Everything is happening so fast, you won't have a clue what's going on in many parts of the film. On the other hand, in Man on Fire, we had one hour of character introduction and development before hell was unleashed in the second half.
Of course, with a style this evident, story-telling had to take a back seat. And it didn't help that Richard (Donnie Darko) Kelly's script was sharp and funny, but far from great. Apart from Domino, we barely knew anything about any other character in the film. Take Choco for example. We only know he was in jail, and was the result of broken home (or in the words of Domino "saying Choco is the result of a broken home is wrong, because there was no home to begin with"). Another flaw would be the many unanswered questions left by the main robbery in the film.
But it wasn't all bad. The acting was great in the film. Knightley was astounding. I haven't seen Pride and Prejudice yet, but if Knightley's performance in it was as good as the one she gave in Domion, then she definitely deserved an Oscar nomination. Rourke was very good (and his comeback must be one of the best of all-time), and newcomer Ramirez was good, but like I said, he didn't have much to work with. I really liked the music, and despite the running time of 127 minutes, I was never bored.
So, I wouldn't exactly recommend Domino, unless you're a big fan of Knightely. If you are, then you should go see her tour de force. And let's hope Domino Harvey gets a better treatment in the near future, because her life story has so much potential, it could have made a great film.
Everyone's Looking for A Place to Call Home
I had many doubts when I knew Spielberg was making a movie about what happened in the 1972 Munich Olympics. The subject matter is controversial, the middle east conflict is not solved yet, and I felt the project was rushed, as Spielberg began shooting the picture only 6 months before it was released. Anyway, after seeing the film, I'm happy to say that Spielberg has proved me wrong.
Munich tells the story of a secret Israeli squad assigned to track down and kill 11 Palestinians suspected to have planned the Munich attack. The squad is lead by Avner (Eric Bana, in an amazing performance). At first, Avner is excited about the mission, because his bosses and his mother kept telling him he's doing a great thing for Israel. But slowly, he starts losing his sanity (spends his nights looking for bombs under his bed), his friends (3 of his teammates are killed during the mission), his home (he tells his wife to move to Brooklyn so he could see her more), and most importantly, his humanity (during the last assassination, he enjoyed humiliating the victim).
The last assassination in particular was a wake-up call for Avner. He's discovered that he's not only wandering away from the planned mission, as the last 2 people he killed had nothing to do with what happened in Munich, but he also realized that no matter how many Palestinians he kills, these people will be replaced, and in most cases, the replacements are even more violent than the predecessors.
That was one of the few problems I had with the film. I thought someone like Avner, so terrified during the first assassination, that one of his teammates had to pull the trigger instead of him, would start questioning what he's doing earlier than what happened in the picture. In the film, he started doubting his mission after the 8th assassination. Another flaw would be some cheesy scenes. For example, during one part in the movie, the Isreali squad have to share a room with some Jordanian bodyguards. They almost have a fight over what music to play; Arabian or Israeli, anyway, they agree on playing some American jazz, and everyone in the room starts laughing. I know this was supposed to be a metaphor, but I thought it was a bit silly.
These minor flaws aside, the film is fantastic. I really liked Spielberg's portrayal of the Palestinians. They're not the bearded, stupid guys maniacally shouting "Allah Akbar" we've seen in tens of movies before. No, Spielberg's Palestinians are lawyers, teachers, poets, and family men. The same can be said about Avner. He's a loving husband who cried when he spoke to his newborn on the phone. Yet, you will fully understand why these supposedly ordinary characters would start killing other people. They're all fighting for a justified reason; All the characters in Munich are looking for a place to call home. I also liked how the film didn't present a solution to the problem, and frankly, there's no solution for the middle east conflict right now. Unfortunately, this circle of violence will keep growing bigger and bigger.
Technically speaking, the film is very good. I thought it was one of the best films to portray the 70's. From the sets, to the costumes, to the haircuts, even to the grainy picture, everything is pitch perfect. The assassinations were well executed, shocking, and very violent (beware, this is a hard R). And although the film is 160 minutes, I was not bored for one second. John Williams' score is amazing, and I'm not surprised it was nominated for an academy award.
So, I'd recommend Munich. It's Spielberg's prayer for peace, and it's a well made one.
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
It was beauty that killed the film
I've been looking forward to Memoirs of a Geisha since the day it was announced. I'm very interested in the Japanese culture, the film has a great cast, it's Rob Marshall's follow-up to the Oscar winning Chicago, and it was co-produced by Steven Spielberg. So, I was quite disappointed after reading all the mediocre reviews. Anyway, I finally got the chance to see it, and while it's not the disaster the critics say it is, the film is definitely not as good as I hoped.
The film tells the story of Chiyo, a nine year old girl, who is sold to a Geisha House in the 20's of the last century. 9 years later, Chiyo, AKA Sayuri (played by Ziyi Zhang), becomes the most celebrated Geisha in Japan, falls in love with The Chairman (Ken Watanabe), while his best friend Nobu (Kôji Yakusho) is completely falling for her. In the meantime, Sayuri and her mentor Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) must face the rivalry of Hatsumomo (Gong Li).
Visually, Memoirs of a Geisha is terrific. It's probably the most beautiful film I've seen this year, and the Oscar nominations were well deserved. In every scene, you'll find something that will catch your eye whether it's the sets, the costumes, or the cinematography. John Williams' score was amazing too. I have to say that Rob Marshall definitely has an eye for beautiful shots. But I guess he paid too much attention to the beauty of the picture, he forgot to tell a good story.
Plot-wise, the film wasn't very good. I felt the central love story between Sayuri and The Chairman was ridiculous. I never bought a 9 year-old girl falling for a man (who is at least 20 years older than her), just because he bought her an ice cream. Oh, how I wish it was that easy in real life. I know he was the first person to be nice to her, but I thought the whole thing was quite unbelievable. And it didn't help that Watanebe was on-screen for about 30 minutes, so we barely saw them talking to each other. The other characters were either over the top (The Mother), or stereotypical (Hatsumomo).
The cast was solid, but frankly, nothing screamed Oscars to me. Yeoh was very good as the experienced Geisha. Li did her best, but you can't go far with a character as 2-dimensional as it gets like Hatsumomo. Zhang was decent and Watanabe was bland. I expected much more from him after his excellent turns in his recent films. And I wasn't bothered by the language issue the majority of the critics were concerned about.
So, I'd recommend watching Memoirs of a Geisha. It's a case of style over substance, but when the style is that good, who cares?
The Family Stone (2005)
A Mixed Stone
The Family Stone was a mixed bag. It had great acting, laugh out loud scenes, and heart breaking moments, but in the meantime, I felt it didn't know what it wants to be, some of the characters were stereotypes we've seen a hundred times before, and I thought some of things happening were totally unbelievable.
The film tells the story of uptight businesswoman Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) who meets the parents of her boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) for the first time during the Christmas celebrations. From the get go, The Stones don't like Meredith, so she calls her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come back her up.
The picture didn't know whether it wants to be a slapstick comedy, or a heartfelt drama. One minute we see pratfalls, the next we wee people crying and talking about the freedom of sexual orientation. These fast mood swings really hurt the movie, as it was at its best when it kept the same tone for more than 10 minutes; I was laughing out loud at the Chritmas morning scenes, and I was really touched by the scene between Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig. T Nelson) in the bed.
The movie had a lot of characters, but unfortunately, only half of these characters were interesting. The best character was Sybil, the loving and strong mother who keeps all the family together. I also liked Everett, the man who wasn't sure of the decision he's going to make. Anyway, there also some stereotypes like Meredith and Amy (Rachel McAdams), the annoying sister who was just there to hurt Meredith. I felt Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughter Elizabeth (Savannah Stehlin) were in the picture just to add a cute little girl to the mix. And I think the film could have used more time to give us a better idea of some characters like Julie and Ben (Luke Wison). But it's always a good sign when you wish a film was longer; Frankly, I was entertained throughout the film.
The Family Stone had a great cast, with some actors giving their best performances in a long time, and I'm surprised no one from the cast was nominated for an Academy award. Diane Keaton was terrific as the mother, and her first and last scenes in the movie are truly heartbreaking. And although I'm not a fan of Parker, I thought she pulled of her role quite well. In fact, I think Danes is the only cast member who gave a so-so performance.
So, I'd recommend The Family Stone, but with a cast like this, I can't help but think this film could have been much better.
Saw II (2005)
Saw - originality + (gore * 5) + some unneeded characters + better acting + better twist = Saw II
I guess nobody was surprised when Lions Gate announced they were making a sequel to Saw. The first part, despite being a Se7en rip-off, was the most original horror movie released in the last few years, and was a breath of fresh air to the genre. Fortunately, the second part is almost as good.
This time around, we have 8 people locked in a house. They must find a way out before inhaling too much of a lethal nerve gas and die. Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), is the father of one of the hostages, and he only has 2 hours to save his son.
The best thing about Saw was its originality. We spent the whole movie watching 2 people trying to get out of the bathroom they were locked in. Saw II tried to follow the same footsteps by having 8 people locked in a house, but obviously, the originality of the prequel is now gone. In addition, I felt there were too many characters in the house. Therefore, we didn't get to know these characters well, and so we didn't care for them. Also, I thought some of the characters in the house didn't have choices, while Saw was all about the choices we make.
But these flaws aside, Saw II was better on every other level. Remember how Cary Elwes gave overacting a whole new meaning in the first part? Well, the acting is far better this time. I especially liked the performances of Wahlberg and Tobin Bell (Jigsaw). The sequel was also more shocking. Two scenes in particular will make you cringe; when one of the characters is thrown into a needles pit, and the death-mask scene. Also, the twist ending, although a part of it was somehow predictable, made much more sense this time, and is a great set-up for a third part. And finally, the film had the best opening scene of the year, and featured a great homage the Saw.
So, I'd definitely recommend Saw II, it's not as good as Saw, but it will keep on the edge of your seat for the whole time.
King Kong (2005)
Thoughts of a disappointed moviegoer
- 18:58 -
So this is it. This is the moment I've been waiting for since 2004. In 2 minutes, I will get to see Peter Jackson remaking the movie that made him want to be a director. So far, the press have called it "A Masterpiece", "The New Titanic", and "Better Than the Original". You can't go wrong will these praises, can you?
- 19:58 -
WooHoo, they're reached The Skull Island. It was about time. The first act was somewhat underwhelming. Of course, Jackson succeeded in showing us America in the depression era, Naomi Watts and Jack Black were pitch perfect as Ann Darrow and Carl Denham, but frankly, I came here to see one thing: King Kong. In addition, I felt the movie gave too much time to secondary characters like Hayes, Jimmy, Englehorn, and Lumpy. But what do I know? They'll definitely have a lot to do in the second half. Oh wait, the special effects of the ship in the middle of the ocean look faker than anything in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Where did the 207 million budget go?
- 20:43 -
Kudos to WETA for their magnificent work. King Kong is an amazing achievement is CGI history. It puts Gollum to shame. The scenes between him and Darrow were amazing. I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the Kong and 3 dinos fight as much. It was too long, and got a bit repetitive near the end. I wish this fight was shortened, and more time was given to the scenes between Kong and Darrow. If I was the CEO of Universal Pictures, I would have fired the editor straight away.
- 21:43 -
Wow, those Kong and Darrow sequences on the ice were pure movie magic. They're probably the best thing I've seen this year. Too bad the rest of the movie isn't as good. And it seems I was wrong about the ship crew doing something important in the second half. They disappeared or were just killed by the time Kong was captured. I will never understand why Jackson cared so much about them.
- 21:58 -
So Kong is dead, but surprise surprise, I'm not crying. None of my friends is crying. Heck, nobody in the whole theater is crying. Where is the emotional impact we've reading about? Aha, here is Jack Driscol. What? why did Darrow jump into his arms the moment she saw him? And this definitely doesn't look like a "I want somebody's shoulder to cry on" kind of hug. This looks like "can someone get us a room?" type of hug. I know she had a crush on Jack since the beginning of the movie, but isn't she supposed to be crying over Kong? Hehehe, with that rate, she won't even remember Kong's name the very next day.
Into the Blue (2005)
Is it silly? Yes. Is it original? No. Can Paul Walker Act? Not at all. Is it very entertaining? YOU BET
Into the Blue was an entertaining movie, nothing more, nothing less. Just make sure to check your brain at the door and you'll have a good time.
Into the Blue tells the story of four divers, Jared (Paul Walker), Sam (Jessica Alba), Bryce (Scott Caan), and Amanda (Ashley Scott), who discover a shipwreck AND a plane containing 800 kilos of Cocaine at the bottom of the sea. I told you it was silly.
Despite the stupid plot, there was a lot to like about Into the Blue. The movie has really nice underwater shots, where you could see amazing looking fish. The cinematography was great too. And then there were some really cool Jet Ski stunts, and an entertaining car chase. The fights were nicely executed, and more violent than I expected. The movie had some funny scenes and one of the best soundtracks I've heard this year. Also, there's eye candy for all the boys and girls out there (the 4 leads in the tiniest swimsuits). I have to wonder why Sony decided to release ItB in the middle of the fall while it screams SUMMER FUN.
Enjoying the movie mainly depends on the viewer's ability to ignore its flaws. And frankly, there are some flaws here. There are plot holes (near the end of the movie, Jared jumps into the water handcuffed, and the next shot, the handcuffs are gone). The acting was awful too. I was one of the ten people on the planet who didn't jump on the "I hate Paul Walker" bandwagon, but I have to admit he was horrible here. He almost made me laugh in two of his "dramatic" scenes. Alba was almost as bad as Walker, but she wasn't given much to do in the first place. In fact, Scott Caan is the only cast member who gave a decent performance.
So, I'd recommend Into the Blue, but only if you're looking for 2 hours of entertainment. If you want to see a thought provoking movie, look somewhere else
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda will hit you harder than the majority of the movies you've seen
Hotel Rwanda was a touching, shocking, and very powerful film. I was surprised filmmakers waited a whole 10 years to make a movie about one of the biggest massacres of all time.
Hotel Rwanda tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle, in a career best performance), a hotel manager who is forced to turn his hotel into a refugee camp to save his family and the refugees from the massacre that took place in Rwanda in 1994.
The first question that will come across your mind while watching HR is "why have we become so cruel?", and no wonder one character asked the exact same question during the movie. You'll see roads covered with corpses, the males of the dominant tribe, The Hutus, raping females of the other tribe, The Tutsis, and Hutus slaughtering Tutsis on the streets. And then the United Nations, in one of their biggest failures of all time, decided to rescue only the Westerners (by making them leave the country) and leave the people of Rwanda to die alone. And Hotel Rwanda isn't afraid to show everything. I wonder how they could get away with a PG-13 rating.
After that, I think you'll feel ashamed. In the best scene of the movie, an American cameraman (Joaquin Phoenix, in a great cameo), had to leave the country after the infamous UN decision. When his Ruandan friend begs him to take her with him, he says with teary eyes "I've never felt so ashamed". And frankly, I was ashamed too. I didn't try to donate money, or protest, or do anything for that country, and that's why I felt I (along with millions of people around the world) was responsible for what happened. I even think your average Joe will never know this massacre happened in the first place. And that's another great thing about Hotel Rwanda: It reminded us of that horrible event.
And I have to disagree with the people that said the somewhat uplifting ending ruined the movie for them. In fact, I can't find a better ending for the movie. That ending happened in real life, and it shows that despite all the cruelness in the world, there's still some hope left.
So, I'd definitely recommend Hotel Rwanda. Being a true story, it will hit you harder and touch you more than the majority of the movies you've seen.