Saturday, January 31, 2009

Squirming Sequels

Sequels. I must say that I have a love-hate relationship with it. Personally, I am not a big fan of sequels, despite the fact that three of my all-time favourite flicks include Terminator II: Judgment Day [1991], the entire Star Wars franchise and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]. This begs the questions; what makes a good sequel? Why are some sequels better than others? Why do we need sequels?

One of the obvious answer is of course, financial gain. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Why would anyone continuously develop flops? If you can make some cash the clean way, go right ahead. But please, do the films justice by putting some heart into it. Some films are better off as it is.

Now, Sylvester Stallone is best known for his two roles as John Rambo in the Rambo series and also as Rocky Balboa in the Rocky series. I'm not taking anything away from the guy; he's an okay actor, a good screenwriter and a visionary director. But he has this bad habit of not knowing when to stop. Although, I wouldn't say that the fault is entirely his own, for aside from the two movie franchises, he has very little success when it comes to acting. As a result, he churned out sequels for the two movie franchises. To date, there are six Rocky movies and four Rambo movies (rumour has it that another one is in the works).
To be completely honest, only two Rocky movies are worth watching (the first and the last) and every Rambo movie after First Blood [1982] are laughable at best. Which is really too bad for Stallone's rise to fame is a legitimate one. He was at one point a broke-actor and even sold his soul to the devil by starring in a pornographic movie just to make ends meet. All that changed when he wrote and starred in the original Rocky [1976]. After that he gained some more star power when he starred in First Blood [1982], the first of the Rambo series.

Things went downhill from there. It wasn't until the release of Rocky Balboa [2006] that he redeemed himself as a film-maker. Rambo [2008] was a decent throwback to the action films of the 80's, but ordinary at best. Hopefully he would just let the two characters rest from now.

Movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter can get away with it because one film would not be enough. The same, however, cannot be said for others such as Pirates of the Carribean, Rush Hour and Transformers to name a few. People are going to hate me for saying this, but we really don't need more than one Pirates movie, and a single Transformers is atrocious enough.

I have nothing against Pirates. In fact, I enjoyed every installment of it. But I have to say, after the first one, the movie traded it's charm in favour of squeezing as much elements as they can into the next two sequels; akin to the Batman and Superman franchises prior to their recent 'reboot'. Although it is safe to say, the Pirates franchise can still get away without leaving a bad taste in our mouth.

Don't even get me started on Transformers. I got news that it is actually planned to be a trilogy. After the first one, how can you possibly get another one going? They don't even have a good story to begin with. "In search of some cube/artifact, they engaged on a battle across Earth while destroying everything in their path". There. I had just summarised of what happened in the last movie and what could possibly happen regardless of how many sequels they churn out.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans [2009]

Director: Patrick Tatopoulus
Starring: Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Michael Sheen
Points: 65 out of 100
Rating: Teen (violence, mild nudity)
Comment: "Strong performance by Bill Nighy, sadly there's little else..."

It's difficult to say whether or not this is the best out of the Underworld franchise for I have yet to see the first two. But the good news is that, you don't have to be an avid fan of the franchise to enjoy this film. Sure, you might miss out on some details, but nothing that will refrain you from enjoying this one. However, it could also be a double-edged sword, for this is nothing you haven't seen before.

Just like the title suggests, this is a prequel to the Underworld series. It tells the tale of how the war between the Vampires and the Lycans began. It all started with the birth of Lucian, the first of the Lycans and how Viktor, leader of the Vampire discovered him. Instead of killing the offspring of his mortal enemies, he decided to keep Lucian and raise as a slave to the Vampires.

What is a rather bland plot is saved by a strong performance from veteran actor, Bill Nighy, famed for playing off-beat characters such as Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, a human/zombie in Shaun of the Dead and now a vampire lord in the Underworld series; a role which I could not imagine being played by anyone else due to his gaunt facial feature and that stiff, awkward gait.

Movies such as this need a lot of special effects to be believable, and it certainly did not disappoint. Several technical errors can be spotted to the attentive eye, such as the day and night cycle, but errors such as these are hardly noticeable in one sitting.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Strong performance by Bill Nighy
- "Works" as a supernatural flick

The Bad [-35]
- Archetypal plot

100 - 10 = 65 points

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Outlander [2009]

Director: Howard McCain
Starring: James Caviezel, John Hurt, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman
Points: 85 out of 100
Rating: Teen (violence)
Comment: "A tasteful blend of sci-fi and epic adventure..."

I don't remember the last time I saw a movie on one of my favourite film genre, epic movies (Not to be confused with the spoof movie, Epic Movie [2007]). It caught me completely off-guard to see that there are sci-fi elements interspersed into this movie. But thankfully -and surprisingly-, it was tastefully done. This is just one of those movies that I have no prior knowledge or awareness about, I bought the ticket purely on impulse. Despite the advertising, this is no Lord of the Rings, but decent nonetheless and an entertaining movie in it's own right.

The plot centres around a humanoid-extra-terrestrial named Kainan whose spaceship crashed into feudal earth in the Viking territory. Along with him, came an alien predator and it went rampage across the land, tearing down a volatile relationship between two viking clans. It is up to Kainan to finish what he started and save the land.

As I have said earlier, it is no Lord of the Rings. But that's a good thing, actually. After LOTR, I think we have seen enough dwarves and elves to last the rest of this century. This film features Nordic Vikings. Although I have an interest in the Viking civilisation, I don't know enough about it to know whether or not their portrayal in the film is romanticised. Still, it's all exhilarating as there are lots of swords clashing and there are also heart-warming moments.

There is also a subtle hint of criticism towards human civilisation, told through the character of Kainan. You see, Kainan came from a civilisation much more advanced than ours; a civilisation that obviously mirror the insatiable greed of mankind. We came, we saw and we conquered while giving little back in return. It is only a matter of time before nature turn on us with full-force; this is probably reflected in the beastly nature of the alien predator.

If there is any complaint, it is probably the development of the characters. The blend of sci-fi and epic is fresh enough, too bad the same cannot be said of the character development as they are much too predictable; leaving us with no memorable character. The cinematography definitely help disguise that fact, for they certainly ascentuate the boldness of Viking warriors.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Tasteful blend of sci-fi & epic
- Swordfights!
- Beautiful cinematography

The Bad [-15]
- Character development

100 - 10 = 85 points

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Wrestler [2008]

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Points: 90 out of 100
Rating: Adult (violence, nudity)
Comment: "Beyond the mat and the pole, wrestlers and strippers are people too..."

When the movie was first announced, I did not give this film much of a thought. Probably because the subject matter is not something many people are able to take seriously. Indeed, the title itself may hint of an action-packed thrill ride. Especially with the casting of the archetypal-tough-guy-actor, Mickey Rourke. But in truth, there is more emotion in this film than the action.

The plot centres around a wrestler (duh!) who goes by the name Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestler from the 1980's. Twenty years after his prime, he still finds himself wrestling for various small-time wrestling promotions for extra money. It wasn't until he suffered a heart attack when he began to look beyond the ring and see what has become of his life.

Mickey Rourke gave an astounding performance, considering how much he swayed away from his typical choice of roles; tough guy roles. But this is the very reason why it was so effective. Just like professional wrestlers in real life, we often forget to look past their massive physique and chiselled face to realise that there is a beating heart in every human being.

The film's portrayal of wrestling is also an interesting note. Being a former fan of pro-wrestling myself, it's disheartening to see the lengths that the wrestlers go through for the sake of entertainment. It's a cruel business, indeed. But in the end, it is understandable why they do it. At least, why broken down souls like Rourke's character do it;

"The only place I can get hurt is out there. The world don't give a [expletive] about me..."

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Story
- Solid performances

The Bad [-10]
- The "incomplete" story might turn some people off

100 - 10 = 90 points

Friday, January 9, 2009

Malaysian Cinema: A Glance

"A glance at our local movie scene..."

2009
, like what I always say about any other year, is just another sequence of numbers. How long is not nearly as important as how much or how well you spend your time. To officially kick off this movie-themed blog, here's an article about the local movie scene.

Cinema of Malaysia can be traced back to the year 1933, with release of Laila Majnun; a tale of two ill-fated lovers.

I am hardly able to watch Malaysian films prior to P. Ramlee films and the ones after that, for any decent Malaysian would agree that the golden age of Malaysian cinema lived and died with the great Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Being somebody with an extensive literature background (pretentious? Ah ha...) and a keen interest in the film industry, I am very much insulted to see how mainstream local films often degrade their audience by not even trying to impress. More often than not, we see them recycling lines, plots and story arcs. What is worse, the films are often as pointless and useless as a blunt knife. Granted, virtually every other cinema of any other country are not necessarily better, but I have always looked up to my own country and had always wanted the best for her. And I am always disappointed to see how local producers are not even trying to live up to the former glory of Malaysian cinema with rubbish produced by the likes of Yusof Haslam and Razak Mohaideen; the two plagues of Malaysian cinema. It's very obvious that their primary concerns are box-office counts and not the quality of their releases.

To be honest, I possess no qualifications when it comes to the business of film-making, hence making my views regarding it appear devoid of credibility. But bear in mind that I have been an audience all my life, and my preferences are not limited to popularity or the "cool" factor. I take movies seriously as a form of art. So I am entitled for opinions as well, although some might say I am too harsh a critic. Maybe I am.

I don't think Hollywood is the nexus of great movies, but one would have to admit that with the amount competition going on over there, the standards are much, much higher. This is something we could learn from.

I am NOT against the local film industry, nor do I look down upon it. I love movies regardless of it's origins. What matters to me is a good story. What I think we need is something uniquely Malaysian. A need, which I am pleased to see, is now fulfilled by recent releases such as Yasmin Ahmad's Sepet [2004] and Afdlin Shauki's Baik Punya Cilok [2005] as well as Gol & Gincu [2005]. They may not be as popular or as financially-successful as Yusof Haslam's Sembilu II [1995] or Yusry KRU's Cicakman [2006], but there are more substance in 5 minutes of Sepet than all of Razak Mohaideen films combined (I will never acknowledge his title of "Professor"). I am not exaggerating, but I am unable to endure even a full five minutes of his movies because every second is an insult to my intelligence. Hence, making it hazardous to my health. I am pleased to say, I have been clean from them for years now.

Please do not throw any nationalistic sentiments at me, for I am just as patriotic, if not more patriotic than most of you. Why? Because I will not settle for mediocrity. It's like you are telling me to support local production regardless of it's quality. I don't know about you lot, but I don't like to be tantalised. I don't like it when Razak Mohaideen is likened to Steven Spielberg (I swear I'm going to stab the radio DJ who said that). Why are we so easily pleased? Why do we incorporate racial interests in our choices? Don't be such fools. I have heard it myself. I hear people saying, "Cerita ni biasa aje, tapi support la cerita orang melayu". Why should I? If it's bad, just say it's bad. For it is in fact, and in reality, bad. Why should there be genetic factors thrown in the equation? My advice, don't be foolish.

And you don't need big budgets to make great movies. Great film-makers such as Jackie Chan, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino and Shane Carruth has continually proven that. So budgetary concerns are no excuse.

So what other excuses do we have?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bedtime Stories [2008]

Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Courteney Cox
Points: 50 out of 100
Comment: "Exactly what the title suggests, nothing less, nothing more..."

This movie is something we have all seen before, but the title disguised the fact. It has that effect of throwing us off into thinking how there isn't any movie about bedtime stories. Although one might think that this is another film that pokes fun at it's own genre, it's nothing like Enchanted [2008].

Simply put, the story is about a hotel custodian who was entrusted by his sister to take care of her children while she's away. Having no idea of how to entertain them, he began making up bedtime stories of his own to put them to bed. But then funny things began to happen when the stories came true in real life.

While it's not a bore, it's not particularly impressive either. A major flaw to the film is that it is way too predictable. Granted, originality is hard to come by these days. But then again, I find myself being able to guess accurately the flow of the entire story barely five minutes into the movie. Perhaps I am being a bit too skeptical here, but all I'm saying is that this movie worth nothing more than a download than a RM10 ticket.

I caught myself thinking how much I miss my childhood, for this movie definitely brings it all back. How we like to imagine and dream and nothing is too crazy.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Fond memories of childhood
- Funny moments
- Keri Russell dressed as a mermaid

The Bad [-50]
- Predictability

100 - 50 = 50 points
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