Sunday, December 14, 2008

Raging Bull [1980]

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Points: 100 out of 100
Comment: "Ranked amongst the foremost in cinema history, and I agree..."

The story of Jake LaMotta, a former middleweight boxer brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro. He's not nearly as well-known as Muhammad Ali, whose life story is much more captivating. But Jake LaMotta is a pretty interesting character himself due the fact that he is not just a boxer. This film tells it all. Well, almost everything. The film omitted the story about the early days and simply began with his boxing career and his later years.

The film was made in 1980 but director Martin Scorsese opted for the black-and-white style, just like how films prior to the 1960's were made. But it was tastefully done, complete with the aesthetics of films from that era. One such example is how blood spatter is exaggerated during the boxing scenes.

One thing you will notice as soon as the film begins is how fat Robert De Niro is. Indeed, he actually put on a lot of weight (from 66 to 97 kg) for the sake of doing the role justice. By today's standards, the feat may not seem that impressive as actors from today's era are also doing it. Actor Christian Bale is notorious for not only gaining considerable amounts of weight, but also for losing it. But bear in mind that De Niro is probably one of the earliest major film stars do begin this trend, hence making it an amazing feat until today.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Interesting plot
- Tasteful aesthetics
- Great performances from cast
- Story told beautifully

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points

Friday, December 12, 2008

2009 Film Highlights (Part I)

Film: Bunraku
Director: Guy Mosche
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Camui Gackt, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore
Release Date: To be announced
Trailer Link: (Not available)

Premise
A drifter (Josh Hartnett) and a samurai (Camui Gackt) arrived in a town terrorized by criminals. Despite having different missions, they join forces to take down the criminal masterminds.

Comment:
I am really excited about this film. From the looks and sound of it, it seems like it is going to be an art film as the director make heavy use of green screen. I'm thinking this is going to be something like Sin City [2005] or 300 [2007]. It's difficult to say how the film is going to appeal visually as no trailer had been released yet. But for me, the real drawing power of this film comes from Gackt!!! One of my all-time favourite artist! I guess you can say that I have a man-crush on him.

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Film: X-Men Origins Wolverine
Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
Release Date: May 1st
Trailer Link: YouTube (Low Quality)

Premise
The film explores Wolverine's violent past; his life before he went through the Mutant X program and how he ended up in it.

Comment:
The title pretty much says everything. This is a tale of Wolverine's origins. Why Wolverine? Well, why not? He's arguably the most famous X-Men character ever, may it be in the comics, animated series or the films. Some facts were already revealed in the X-Men films and this one will simply further explore them. I never really like the comic or the animated version, so I can't really say that I am an avid X-Men fan. But I do credit them for making me believe that freaks can be cool too.

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Film: Angels & Demons
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer
Release Date: May 15th
Trailer Link: YouTube

Premise
Robert Langdon was again forced to utilise his knowledge symbology to investigate the murders of religious figures. This time around his battle of wits is against an organisation known only as "Illuminati".

Comment:
You guessed it, it's another adaptation of another novel by Dan Brown. It struck to me as quite a surprise that director Ron Howard treats this film as a sequel to The Da Vinci Code [2005] even though in the book, the events of this film takes place before it. But I guess it can be a good thing to experiment, kind of like what Alfonso Cuaron did for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [2004]. Tom Hanks returned to fill in the shoes of Robert Langdon (the hair, however, did not) and this time he is joined by Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard.

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Film: Terminator Salvation
Director: McG
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: May 22nd
Trailer Link: YouTube

Premise
After the nuclear holocaust perpetrated by cyborgs, the human survivors now fight for their survival under the leadership of John Connor.

Comment:
Okay, the first film is about how the cyborgs drew first blood and it warned Sarah Connor of the terrible future. The second and third film is about preventing the war from taking place, but it happened anyway so this fourth film tells about it all. With that being said, I get the feeling that this will be a futuristic war film, something different from the previous films and I'm really excited. Playing John Connor this time is Christian Bale. Although I think he's a fantastic actor, personally I think he has become too recognisable to be playing this role. No doubt, he will be wonderful, but I question their choice as I think there other actors out there who could be much grittier.

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Film: Dragonball
Director: James Wong
Starring: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, James Marsters, Emmy Rossum
Release Date: April 8th
Trailer Link: YouTube

Premise
It's a race against time as Son Goku ventures to find the seven mystical orbs known as dragon balls before the evil Lord Piccolo does.

Comment:
I'm just going to come out and say it. This is NOT Dragon Ball that we all know and love. I know the title says "Dragonball" and features Son Goku, Master Roshi, Bulma and Piccolo, and they have to find seven dragon balls, but all of these are used in name only. From the looks of the trailer, I can speculate that it will be hated by many and will be dubbed as one of the biggest mistakes in films of 2009.

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Film: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Release Date: July 17th
Trailer Link: YouTube

Premise
The Dark Lord Voldemort is trying to strengthen his grip on power to rule the world and while The Boy Who Lived, Harry Potter gets to know his mortal enemy more by learning about Voldemort's past.

Comment:
Okay, any decent Harry Potter fan wasn't upset when they delayed the release of this film for a full one year? I sure was, but then looking back, a lot of great movies were also released at the time. And of course, by delaying it, the wait for the two final installments is also shortened. I like how the Harry Potter franchise gradually gets darker with each sequel. See the trailer for yourself.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

5 Must-See Action Films

#1
Film: Terminator II: Judgment Day [1991]
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick
Points: 100 out of 100
Comment: "A sequel has never been this good..."

For true action junkies, this film needs no introduction. Starring the man who is a staple and an icon for action films, Arnold Schwarzenegger played the character that sealed his place in movie history; the Terminator. This is probably one of the few sequel films that outranks it's predecessors, something you don't see or hear very often.

The story picks up approximately ten years after The Terminator [1984] left off. Despite the fact that Kyle Reese' rescued Sarah Connor from the first Terminator, that did not stop the war going on in the future and that spells opportunity for the army of terminators who seek to destroy mankind once and for all. They send yet another terminator to the past, a more advanced terminator with a different goal. This time the target is the future leader of mankind himself, the child of Sarah Connor; the then ten-year-old John Connor. The future John Connor retaliates by sending a re-programmed terminator to the past. From there, it is a race between the two terminators as to who will get to the young John Connor first.

Well, we all know what happened then, but that does not make it any less exciting and that's the beauty of it. Often we see a timeless drama, but very rare we see a timeless action film. Throughout the years, with the presence of online streaming video sites such as YouTube, you will be able to watch all of the scenes cut from the film. What struck my interest is that all these scenes are actually very good ones that further explores the terminator lore. It must have pained James Cameron to omit these scenes from the film. One such example is a scene where the Human Resistance in the future managed to overrun a terminator laboratory. It is from there we know how John Connor found out about the terminator's second attempt to change the past.

But looking back at it, these changes are probably needed as to give the film the appeal that it has today. This film moves really fast. Not just the action, but the total running time of the film is hardly felt due to the scenes being fused seamlessly together. Every scene is crucial in setting up the next, and throughout it all, are timeless stunts and action sequences paralelled by none.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Strong, solid plot
- Exhilarating action sequences
- Good direction
- Immensely unforgettable

The Bad [-0]
- (none)

100 - 0 = 100 points


-----------------------------

#2
Film: Predator [1987]
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator
Points: 100 out of 100
Comment: "Action and sci-fi fused seamlessly..."

Yeap, the second film starring Schwarzenegger as the lead made it to this list. Well, it has been said that the man is an action film icon that will remain unsurpassed for generations to come. This film is the first and the best film to portray the Predator. Indeed, several films had been made featuring the Predator. But despite the overabundance of technology today, none of those films are able to do the character justice. One film such example is the atrocious Alien vs Predator [2004] ineptly directed by Paul W. S Anderson. But that's a different story.

This predator film is about a group of elite commandos sent into a tropic jungle on a mission to rescue prisoners of war. Or so they thought. Not only the mission is a bogus one, they now find themselves caught in a hunting party perpetrated by an extra-terrestrial known only as the Predator. Literally, it is a battle for survival for the humans.

What earned it's place in this list is how well action and sci-fi are fused together. The Predator, despite being butt-ugly without it's mask, is definitely a character everyone will root for due to it's 'cool-factor'; he can be downright violent but can also be chivalrous. (I'm just assuming it's a he because of the pecs and abs)

This is probably the only film starring Schwarzenegger where he has to struggle for that appeal. Let's face it, the guy is not much of an actor; there isn't much you can do with that build and accent, and after donning that leather jacket, there's no going back (and saying "I'll be back" is not going to help either). But when it comes to action films, there's definitely no one who can do it better. In this film, however, the main appeal is the Predator itself. Clever design is definitely a trait of sci-fi.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Good plot
- Coolest villain ever
- A healthy dose of action and suspense

The Bad [-0]
- (none)

100 - 0 = 100 points

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#3
Film: Die Hard [1988]
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald Veljohnson
Points: 100 out of 100
Comment: "What I would consider the definitive action film..."

Nothing beats old-school action which are made up from pure stuntwork, CGI-free and visionary directors. Die Hard is hailed by critics as the action film that redefines the meaning of what makes an action film. On a personal note, I agree with them. To date, the film has spawned three sequels. However, nothing beats the original hence why I consider this particular Die Hard a classic.

Die Hard is the story of John McClane, a police with disregard for police ethical codes. What makes him so special from other police officers is that he often finds himself at the right place at the wrong time (if that make any sense). After travelling so many miles to celebrate Christmas with his family, he found himself caught in a hostage situation from which he managed to flee. From there, he has to battle both the terrorists and the egoistic California authorities who sees him as a nuisance.

Unlike Schwarzenegger or Stallone, action films starred by Bruce Willis are often better when it comes to being more than just an adrenaline-rush flick. This can be attributed to his wider range as an actor. Take this film for example, he is just an average joe not without flaws. Domestic issues and others are the things he has to worry about, other than the fact that there are people keen on killing him. And he is not the traditional action hero either where he would just stand toe-to-toe with the villains and go trigger-happy without having to worry about being shot or even bother about reloading his gun.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Strong plot
- Memorable action sequences
- Likeable characters
- Memorable dialogues
- More depth than just an action film

The Bad [-0]
- (none)

100 - 0 = 100 points

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#4
Film: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot
Points: 100 out of 100
Comment: "Archeologists have never been this cool..."

Who would have thought about making an action hero from an archeologist? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg sure did and did it well. If it were up to my personal opinion, the first two Indiana Jones films were indeed memorable, but mediocre at best. It is this third installment that really takes the cake. A fourth film was made, and it was also a blast. However, it suffers from ludicrous plot which does not really fit in any of it's previous predecessors.

Indiana Jones' last crusade is about his quest to find the Holy Grail. Well, it is actually his father's quest. Indiana Jones was simply taken along for a ride when he tried to rescue him. Set in the World War II era, the villains are Nazis (naturally) bent on taking control of the world by finding the Holy Grail. It is up to the Jones to stop them.

Out of all films in this list, this is definitely the most heartwarming one. Healthy dose of action interspersed with comedy and suspense. What gives this particular film the appeal absent from other Indiana Jones film is the relationship between Indiana Jones and his father. The moments between them are some of the best about it.

Points Calculations

The Good [100]
- Strong, solid plot
- Memorable scenes
- Artful
- Good stunts

The Bad [0]
- (none)

100 - 0 = 100 points

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#5
Film: Hard Boiled [1991]
Director: John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fatt, Tony Leung
Points: 75 out of 100
Comment: "Hardcore action, although the plot rests a little too heavily on it's action sequences..."

Action-junkies everywhere, if you have not seen this one, you should seize the opportunity to do so. Regarded by critics as the one of the few greatest action films of all time, this movie will keep you at the edge of your seat every time somebody with a gun comes on screen.

The plot is not that strong, and the acting will not leave much of an impact, but bear in mind that this is a pure adrenaline-charged action flick. Therefore, traditionally speaking, none of these factors are needed. Just some good action choreography, exhilarating direction and clever editing.

The story is about a police who is keen on taking down a triad, but unable to do so due to limited resources. Adding insult to injury, he even lost his partner on an operation that went wrong. Afterwards, he began to work with an undercover cop whose intentions are not clear.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Pure action
- Good editing

The Bad [-25]
- Mediocre plot

100 - 25 = 75 points
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