Thursday, May 28, 2009

Night at the Musem: Battle of the Smithsonian [2009]

Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Robin Williams
Genre: Comedy/Adventure
Points: 70 out of 100
Rating: General
Comment: "Bigger, better..."

Very rarely you get to see a sequel that surpasses it's predecessor, and this film is certainly one of them. The first one was a light-hearted comedy with a pinch of adventure thrown in, while this sequel is the other way around. The title itself suggests of a more adventurous flick, and indeed, it is.

The story picks up a few years after the first one, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is now a successful businessman with a company dedicated to selling his inventions. A visit to the museum he once worked at revealed that they are renovating the place, shipping off nearly all of its inhabitants to Smithsonian. It is now up to Daley to rescue his museum buddies.

Even though it is a sequel, rest assured that you don't necessarily need to have seen the first one. You might miss out on a few jokes which made references to the first movie, but nothing that will harm your experience whatsoever.

Performances are fun to watch. Nothing phenomenal here, but actors like Amy Adams and Hank Azaria give life to the movie. Appearances by Robin Williams gives the movie credibility as a comedy, although his talents are somewhat underused.

The story is not that strong. Somehow it feels like the producers are doing this for another paycheck, at the expense of a good story. But there is really no harm in that for the first movie wasn't that great to begin with. So there is really nothing to be ruined here. This is one of those movies made solely to pass the time for casual movie-goers.

Just like the first one, what makes this movie so fun to watch is how the bring human history to life. Also how chaotic it would be if history comes to life under one roof. Of course, you need to be well-versed to some extent about the exhibitions to be amused. Those who hate history in real life *might* not find this movie that enjoyable; you won't hate it, but keeping a straight face throughout the duration of the movie would be an effortless task.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Fun to watch

The Bad [-30]
- Flimsy plot

100 - 30 = 70 points

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seven Pounds [2008]

Director: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper
Genre: Drama
Points: 85 out of 100
Rating: General
Comment: "Will Smith might have played his role too well, that's a good thing, really..."

The movie came out quite some time ago, but FPBM! never got around to watch it. Which is a shame really, for this could possibly one of the best movies you will ever see starring Will Smith.

The story is about an IRS agent who goes around looking for people he could help in any which way at all - seven people to be exact, without asking for anything in return. He meets a woman with a heart condition and a rare blood type, and he falls in love with her. However, he is carrying within himself a deep and painful secret.

Do not be fooled by the possibly deceptive plot outline. This is nothing like My Name is Earl. They may share similar themes, but Seven Pounds is very dark and gloomy. A "bummer", some might say. But FPBM! means that in a good way and regards it as a strength that gives life to the movie.

Hats off to Will Smith for he had done it again. Similar to I Am Legend [2007], Will Smith took another risk again by taking a role that required him to "be on his own". The only difference is that this film is much, much more dramatic (d'oh!). The role required him to be in pain at all times, as though every second he lives is a searing pain - and Will Smith did just that.

If there's anything that could be a downside to the movie, it could possibly be the length, or rather the pace at which the film moves at. Some people might not be able to stand sharing the protagonist's pain for two hours. With that being said, the movie might be a little too painful to watch for Will Smith played his role a little bit too well.

Other cast include Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson, who deserves a notable mention. His role was rather small, but very pivotal.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Strong plot
- Great performance by Will Smith

The Bad [-15]
- Pace

100 - 15 = 85 points

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

FPBM!'s Spotlight

FPBM! Spotlight is a new segment in the ever-growing FPBM! movie reviews blog *cough*. Basically what we do here is that we will put certain actors/actress in the spotlight (duh!). You probably know them already, but the actors featured here are some of FPBM!'s personal favourites, whose career have long been established and still going strong. That will be the criteria of those featured in this segment.

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#1 RUSSELL CROWE
Date of Birth : April 7th, 1964
Nationality : Australian

Although he earned quite a reputation as a person who is a little short on temper, he has no shortcomings whatsoever when it comes to his talent. His breakout role was in Ridley Scott's Gladiator [2000], a collaboration that proves to be fruitful. To date, they have been working together for a total of four films (If all goes well, they will work together again in the upcoming Robin Hood movie in 2010). Combine Ridley Scott's visionary direction with Russell Crowe's ability to immerse himself into any role, I'd like to think that they complement each other's talent. It is safe to say that neither of them has made any wrong move so far. Keep up the good work!

However, this is not to say that Russell Crowe is only good when he shares credit with Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe has proven time and time again that he is an actor for real, and he has shown us the range that he has as an actor. You can feel that rush of adrenaline when he played a warrior in Gladiator [2000], you can feel his pain and suffering of his character even though it was just a supporting role in The Quick and the Dead [1995], and how can one forget the uplifting performance he gave in Cinderella Man [2005]?

Russell Crowe will top my list of favourite actors at any given time. No doubt he may not be the best ever, but if it means anything, FPBM! considers him a Hall of Famer.

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#2 EDWARD NORTON
Date of Birth : August 18th, 1969
Nationality : American

It's rather difficult for me to explain the appeal of this particular actor. He has a lot of range, that is true. But so does a lot of other actors. But Edward Norton has the kind of appeal that I cannot resist. Maybe it is because he is one of those actors who does not acknowledge his celebrity status. That way, he gets to maintain a little bit of mystery to his personal life. Therefore, he can be believable in many different types of roles. An actor through and through.

Perhaps most famously known for his lead role in Fight Club [1999] alongside Brad Pitt, Edward Norton is just one of those quirky actors who takes very risky roles that includes virtually everything from a priest to a pro-Nazi to the Incredible Hulk. I must say, FPBM! has never been disappointed with him so far. Although I doubt that anyone ever will.

Future projects include Leaves of Grass [2009] and Motherless Brooklyn [2010]
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#3 CHRISTIAN BALE
Date of Birth : January 30th, 1974
Nationality : British

Christian Bale first caught my attention playing the lead role of Cleric John Preston in Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium [2002]. It was good. But like many other sci-fi flicks out there, one can't really see the range of those in the lead role. Then he played the Dark Knight for the first time in Batman Begins [2005]. His performance in Batman itself did not impress me by much, but he did caused quite a stir when I found out that he gained over a hundred pounds of muscle to play the Caped Crusader. It is that kind of dedication from an actor that intrigues me. That was when I began backtracking his career and saw his feature film debut in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun [1987].

His career began over two decades ago, and it is still going strong. His future projects include the soon-to-be-released Terminator Salvation [2009], Public Enemies [2009] alongside another great actor, Johnny Depp and also the Micky Ward biopic, The Fighter [2010].

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#4 SHIA LABEOUF
Date of Birth : June 11th, 1986
Nationality : American

Believe it or not, I actually grew up with this guy. Well, it's not like we know each other personally. What I meant is that I have been following his career since his starring role in the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. Similar to how I feel about Edward Norton, I can't name any particular reason why he is an actor you should look out for. I suppose it is that guy-next-door aura wrapped around him that makes him so believable in the roles he has taken so far.

One thing I must say, however, his talents are going to waste by starring in no-brainers such as the Transformers franchise since he has proven so much in flicks such as Disturbia [2007] and Eagle Eye [2008]. I'm not saying that it is a wrong career choice or anything because, well... it is fashionale for Hollywood stars to have his or her name attached to a big-name movie project. I am just hopeful that he will star in more dramatic roles in the future.

Upcoming projects include New York, I Love You [2010].

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#5 HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN
Date of Birth : April 19th, 1981
Nationality : Canadian

Not much can be said about Hayden Christensen for he is a serious actor as well. Famed for playing Darth Vader in two of the Star Wars saga, he actually caught attention since his performance in Life as a house [2001]. Since then, he went on to act in Hollywood playing lead roles in movies like the suspense thriller Awake [2007] and the sci-fi Jumper [2008], both of which were highly successful - at least financially.

Future films to look out for include New York, I Love You [2009] and the crime thriller Takers [2010].

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So there you have it. The first of the (hopefully) many to come of FPBM! Spotlight.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Resurrecting the Champ [2007]

Director: Rod Lurie
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda, Teri Hatcher
Genre: Drama/Sports (Boxing)
Points: 90 out of 100
Rating: General
Comment: "An intriguing tale of a true story that was based on a lie..."

More than any other sport, boxing seems to be on top of the list when it comes to stories that deal with courage, resilience and overcoming obstacles in life. Probably just coincidence, but boxing is the kind of sport where they have no one but themselves. Granted, technically they have their trainer and cutman in their team, but in the end it is them who have to get the job done. This idea is reflected throughout the movie.

Based on a true story, the plot revolves around a sports journalist, Erik Kernan Jr, who is in dire need for a big 'break'. He gets what he wished for, and his break comes in the form of a washed-out boxing contender whose prime was in the 1940's and the 1950's. However, after Kernan published an article about him, he finds out that this boxer is not who he claims to be.

While the big picture is indeed about boxing, this movie explores more on the concept of identity and father-and-son relationship. Possibly one of those tearjerker movies for men.

Performances given by the cast are strong, although the performance given by Samuel L. Jackson might take a bit of a getting used to. Not that there's anything wrong with it. It's just that, he is a bit too well-known as a "tough guy" actor. So watching him playing a wuss might be laughable at first, until the emotion gets through the physical side of the character.

This is definitely something for everyone because it is one of those movies that transcends above the genre from "just a boxing movie", to a human drama. Similar to what movies like The Champ [1931], Ali [2001], Cinderella Man [2005] and many others did for the genre.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Strong performances
- Deep
- Boxing!

The Bad [-10]
- A bit slow moving

100 - 10 = 90 points

Friday, May 8, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009]

Director: Gavin Hood
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Danny Huston, Liev Schreiber, Lynn Collins, Ryan Reynolds, Will.i.am, Dominic Monaghan
Genre: Action/Sci-fi
Points: 40 out of 100
Rating: Teen (violence, horrific images)
Comment: "This Wolverine movie is a great idea poorly executed..."

Ask any casual X-Men fan out there who is their favourite character from the movie versions of X-Men and chances are it would be the gritty, bad to the adamantium-reinforced bone Wolverine (it's either him or that nothing-but-blue-paint-Mystique). Plus, with the success of the previous three X-Men movies, where the main appeal had always come from Wolverine's antics, it only seems right for him to have a movie of his own. Sadly, what sounds really good on paper turned out to be mediocre at best on the silver screen.

Just like the title would suggest, this movie takes place prior to the events from the X-Men trilogy with sole focus on the development of the character Wolverine, or Logan. It tells the tale of how Wolverine first discovered his mutant powers up to the time when he loses his memory. I won't give away too much here, but it turns out that Wolverine is actually a battle-hardened soldier who fought in iconic battles in human history; from the American Civil War to World War I, World War II and finally the Vietnam War.

As I have mentioned earlier, a Wolverine movie is a good idea because people would want to know more about him because, well... After three movies of being unsure of Wolverine's past, now we get a definitive answer. Unfortunately, it appears that this might go down the same road as other atrocious superhero movies in the past such as Batman & Robin [1997]. It's not nearly there yet, but if they keep this up, it could very well be. It appears as though they are more concerned about merchandising opportunities rather than telling a good story.

Sure, it's an action movie and the special effects are nothing short of spectacular. But really, that is all there is to it; eye-candy... and a mediocre one at that too. While it is all very entertaining, they bring nothing new to the table either. We've seen it all before; hero walking away from an explosion, unconvincing plot twists, predictable one-liners, hero screaming "NOOO!!!" at the death of his *spoiler* (although it is easy to take a wild guess) and pretty much everything else made popular by action movies back in the 80's.

The only good thing about it is perhaps having Hugh Jackman in the lead role. After this one, I bet no one could imagine having anyone else to play Wolverine in his stead. Akin to how people will always think of Christopher Reeve as the "real" Superman. You really should see how Hugh Jackman beefed himself up and the amount of heart he put into the role.

It's not all bad. Just go ahead and see it, may it be on DVD or the silver screen. Either way, you will find that while it is indeed an entertaining movie, it is extremely forgettable.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Hugh Jackman
- Spectacular special effects

The Bad [-60]
- Weak plot
- Unconvincing plot twist
- Lacks "heart"
- Too many cliches

100 - 60 = 40 points

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Next Trend?

How long did it took you to realise that screenwriters aren't as busy as they used to be? First, they trade paper and pen for the typewriter. Then they switched from typewriters to computers. Then they forget about writing new one, they just pick up a novel and adapt that instead. Then they don't bother to read through every line of a novel, and just adapt movies from comic books. Convenient; the dialogues are there, and the storyboard is already provided.

Alright, that may have been an overstatement, but I'm just trying to make a point here. Nowadays, more and more producers opt to make movies out of novels instead of the good old traditional screenplay. Again, let FPBM! clarify that indeed we are aware that adaptations have been going on since the printing press was invented. We're just trying to strike a conversation here.

Reading Glasses vs 3D Glasses

H
ere in this country (Malaysia), the impact is not much felt because... well, we're not a reading society. But I dare say that half of the great movies out there are adapted from bestselling novels. The highly-successful Slumdog Millionaire [2008] is based on the the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup. The Da Vinci Code [2006] and the soon to be released follow-up movie, Angels and Demons [2009] are both adapted from the novels of the same name by Dan Brown. Need I mention the Harry Potter franchise? Of course not, you might have heard of it already.

Here at FPBM!, we are not against adaptations. Why should we argue if what they're doing is giving more exposure of a good story to a wider audience? In fact, some might find it more pleasureable to simply watch a story go down before their very eyes, instead of flipping through pages. To each his or her own, I always say.

Comics as Storyboard?

300 [2007] is not the first movie to be adapted from comic books (or graphic novels) and the so-called trend is nothing new. Come to think of it, movies such as Spider-man, Batman, Sin City, 30 Days of Night, Superman, The Crow (and others too numerous to mention) were all based on comic books. But 300 is one of the more successful ones and gained a lot of attention due to how faithful it is to the comic - it served as storyboard for the film.

This is where FPBM! takes a step back and think about whether or not that is a good thing. Granted, 300 is an entertaining (although shallow) testosterone-fuelled action flick. They did a good job translating what they see on the pages of the comic book to the silver screen. But was it really necessary? Adapting from novels is a different thing, there are only wordy descriptions of what is going on - it leaves a lot to the imagination. But with comics, everything is already there. What is there left for interpretation?

But it can't all be bad. On their defense, comic books do not reach as far here in South East Asia. So it would be a good idea to translate comic books into movies - much easier and perhaps cheaper for "transferring". And of course, it's a business opportunity.

Hollywood producers might have hit gold with the release of the dramatic superhero movie Watchmen [2009]. Akin to 300, this movie was also adapted from the comic book of the same name, frame by frame. But the greatness of the movie is only due Alan Moore's exceptional writing. However, kudos to the screenwriters and director Zack Snyder for Alan Moore once stated that Watchmen is "unfilmable". They did a spectacular job, and this proved that comic books - just like novels - carry enough credibility to be taken seriously as a form of media. That's a good thing, FPBM! would like to think so for I am a big supporter of everything artistic.

So far, all of these adaptations have yet to show that it is a bad idea. Well, I suppose we should have seen it coming. Video games have long been the victim of bad movie adaptations, let's hope that comic books (or graphic novels) will not share the same fate.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gran Torino [2008]

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
Genre: Drama
Points: 90 out of 100
Rating: General (gangsterism, bloodless violence)
Comment: "Even at 79, Clint Eastwood is still a badass..."

Veteran 'tough guy' actor Clint Eastwood is back after two years of working behind the camera. Despite the air given out by the promotion of the film, this is no Dirty Harry or even the Dollars Trilogy. Similar to other aging action stars, Clint Eastwood opted for a more dramatic role but at the same time retaining the same grittiness that made his tough guy roles so memorable.

The story goes like this; after the death of his wife, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) feels even more distanced from his own family - whom he perceives as "spoiled and self-absorbed". The bitter but not unlikeable Kowalski becomes unintentionally entangled to his Hmong neighbours and eventually begins to think of their family as his own.

Although Gran Torino here is a reference to Kowalski's prized vehicle, I'd like to think that it serves a higher purpose than merely aesthetics; it is a symbol of Kowalski himself - old, but still a powerful force that just won't go away without a fight.

A theme which I find touching is the theme of racism and it's foolishness. While it is not 100% relevant to our own situation, the point is made clear. Regardless of the colour of our skin, humans will always hurt each other, and it is also up to humans to protect and take care of each other. It is really the colour of our hearts that sets us apart - not our skin or facial features.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Old school "badassism"
- Meaningful themes

The Bad [-10]
- A bit slow moving

100 - 10 = 90 points
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