Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life as We Know It [2010]

Director: Greg Berlanti
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rating: General
Comment: "Everything as we know it, nothing less and nothing more..."

It is a safe bet that nobody is going into the screening hall expecting Life as We Know It to tell a comedy-romance story any differently. Sure, it is a promise that the movie provides plenty of laughs and heartwarming moments, but it doesn't bring anything new to the table either.

The movie begins with the two main characters, Holly and Messer meeting up for a blind date, but it was apparent from the first few seconds that they do not get along very well. Even though they hate each other, they cannot help but to be in the same room every now and then since their best friends marry each other. The story really picks up when tragedy strikes; Holly and Messer now find themselves in the care of their best friends' one-year-old baby daughter.

The result? I could name five movies on top of my head with similar themes and the same fish-out-of-water element that could top this movie hands down. But there are certain things about the movie that grants it more than the usual cheap laughs. The movie balances well between subtle jokes about marriage and parenthood, as well as physical comedy. In fact, there is one scene that is reminisce of the Farrelly brothers type of humour (Kingpin [1996], There's Something About Mary [1998], Me, Myself & Irene [2000], Shallow Hal [2001]). However, bear in mind that I am drawing that comparison very, very loosely.

On the bright side, as formulaic as it all gets, the film deserves credit for trying not to be your run-of-the-mill comedy-romance as made popular by the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Katherine Heigl herself. It may have resulted in the movie being dragged out a tad longer than necessary, but I for one appreciate surprises, so I would consider this as a strength.

The plot may be a bit bland, but it definitely makes up for it in the casting department. Katherine Heigl was just doing her typical career woman character, but what really brought colour to the movie is its male lead, Josh Duhamel. It's not about his looks, really. He simply captured the laid-back attitude so well. Kind of like a surfer dude without the board and the waves. The kind of persona women simply love, and men try haplessly to embody.

With all that being said, I am in no way trying to drive you away from watching the movie. As long as you don't expect anything groundbreaking or memorable, Life as We Know It provides a leisurely entertainment for casual movie-goers who just want to pass the time with your loved ones.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Chemistry between lead actors
- The baby is just too cute
- Occasional pleasant surprises

The Bad [-50]
- Formulaic plot
- Does not stand out in any way

100 - 50 = 50 points

Saturday, October 23, 2010

4 Irritating Mistakes Movie Characters Always Make

#4 Not Closing the Door Behind Them
Some might argue that this is not necessarily a mistake, but when you put it in the proper context, it does become one. This is a very irritating mistake movie characters always make when it comes to movies where there is a 'race' element involved.

The Scenario: We have the good guys on the run for some sort of a relic/treasure, or maybe they just have to save the world. Not only they are pressed for time, they also have the villains to worry about who are after the same thing.

The Mistake: The good guys finally made it to the finishing line, after figuring out how to enter the building/cave/dungeon they simply let themselves in and leave the door open.

The Consequence: The bad guys simply follow their trail and wait for the good guys to claim the treasure. Then they would dramatically make an appearance while saying something along the lines of "Not so fast!" or "Thank you, (insert hero/heroine name), if it weren't for you we wouldn't be able to find this place..."

Notable offenders: National Treasure franchise, Indiana Jones series, The Mummy franchise, Race to Witch Mountain [2009]


#3 Being a Typical Villain
Yeah yeah, I get it. Villains have to be villains in order for them to actually be villains. But seriously, why does being a villain often make them some sort of a genius, yet they always make the dumbest of mistakes? For the most part, the idiocy of villains are revealed at the very moment when they almost win.

The Scenario: They are literally one step away from total victory. This victory may come in form of having the hero at gunpoint, or they are one button away from taking over the world.

The Mistake: The speech. Please villains, can't you save the speech when you do actually have something to brag about? But nooo! They have to make a speech about "how feeble the hero is compared to him or her, and how the world will soon be theirs" (Frozone, 2004). Sometimes more retardedly, villains will just do that maniacal laugh to the hero's face.

The Consequence: Heroes like to do everything on the eleventh hour, and the reason they are heroes is because they have superhuman determination to save something (Like jumping off a plane to rescue someone while plummeting towards earth at 200km/h). With that being said, the amount of time you provided them by making that speech means you can kiss your taking-over-the-world dream goodbye.

Notable offenders: Return of the Jedi [1983], Parodied in Last Action Hero [1993] and The Incredibles [2004]


#2 Being a Typical Good Guy
On the opposite side of the coin, we have heroes who always make the mistake of being a typical good guy. Again, it is understandable that good guys will be good guys. But please, make good use of your brain as well, will you?

The Scenario: The hero almost win by almost getting the villain killed or foiling his/her plans.

The Mistake: Sometimes the villain will start begging for his/her life. But even if they don't, the hero will suddenly lose his/her nerve anyway and let the "universe/nature decide the fate" of the villain.

The Consequence: They're villains, what do you expect? The frailty they exhibited was just an act to get the element of surprise on their side. As soon as the hero turns his back, the villain will attack him before getting killed anyway. But the point is, the hero is putting themselves at an unnecessary risk by not finishing the job. Heck, the hero is going to kill the villain anyway, might as well do it the first time around.

Notable offenders: Revenge of the Sith [2005], Return of the Jedi [1983]


#1 "All in the Name of Science!"
Everybody appreciates a good work ethic and commitment towards one's work. But there's no commitment quite as irritating as scientists in superhero comics or movies.

The Scenario: Despite the dangerous and volatile nature of science, comic book scientists often work for the most unreasonable employers ever. These scientists often have to use themselves as guinea pigs for the experimental drugs just because the people funding their research couldn't wait for one more day.

The Mistake: Using themselves as guinea pigs.

The Consequence: Doing so will guarantee physical transformation and development of villainous traits. Ironically, there are superheroes who are originally scientists as well, but these people gain their powers through accidents. If you have to intentionally inject yourself with something, or enter some sort of a chamber, know that nothing good will come out of it.

Notable offenders: Spider-man franchise, The Incredible Hulk [2008]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trainspotting [1996]

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremer, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald
Rating: Adult (explicit drug use, strong sexual content)
Comment: "A dark comedy-drama that doesn't hold back on so many levels ..."

Widely credited as actor Ewan McGregor's breakout role, Trainspotting should really be notable for being a spectacular film in its own right. The horrific take on the subject matter might be off-putting for a lot of people, but if there's ever a more apt anti-drug movie, Trainspotting would be it.

The story takes place in Scotland, some time in late 80's involving a group of heroin addicts. Narrated by the main character, Renton, who is basically sick of the drug scene attempts to clean up his act and move on with his life. But his past is hard to shake off and he is often tempted into relapse.

From the beginning, the film keeps you at the state of discomfort and holds nothing back to keep you there. The strong visuals and explicit content does most of the job, a good example would be the toilet scene, scenes involving intravenous drug use, and as to not spoil it for those who haven't seen the film, just take my word for it that it doesn't stop there. But don't get me wrong, there's nothing more satisfying than a really engaging movie.

Another thing that I like is the anarchy subtext. Drug addicts in the movie - if only they are not so dependent and messed up all the time - have one admirable trait, their non-conformist ways of looking at things. Being a student of individualist anarchism myself, it only make sense to me that there should be more than one way to live your life. The conventional belief, well said by Renton himself, goes like this;
"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television... Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons..."
Really makes you think, huh? I had long believed that 99% of the people in this world have an extremely narrow-sighted view on what life is all about. Truth is, there is no one definitive answer.

I guess what I am really trying to say here, is that you should not dismiss Trainspotting as a "just a drug movie". After all, it didn't end up at number ten of BFI's Top 100 British Films of All Time for being anything less than impressive.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Originality
- No-holds-barred
- Strong visuals
- Explicit content
- Deep, engaging themes

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lebanon [2009]

Director: Samuel Maoz
Cast: Oshri Cohen, Zohar Shtrauss, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran, Yoav Donat, Dudu Tassa
War Drama
Rating: Teen (violence, brief nudity)
Comment: "A claustrophobic take on war..."

Based on the director-writer's own experiences as a war conscript, this film is a dramatisation of the events in the 1982 Lebanon Wars between Israel and Southern Lebanon. Unlike any other war films, Lebanon takes place almost entirely inside a tank, focusing on the drama between its four tank crew.

What began as a seemingly simple mission of "clearing up" a town after an air raid, the four members of a tank crew learned the hard way that in war, even the simplest of missions can be chaotic.

An interesting take on this particular war film, almost its entirety involves shots from within the tank. One might be inclined to think that being in a tank means there would be less drama as they are relatively well-protected from shots, blasts and debris. I believe the production team achieved what they intended to bring forth; showing that an implosion can be just as damaging as an explosion. For someone who is a bit of a claustrophobic myself, I found the movie to be even more gripping.

According to reports, Lebanon has yet to receive worldwide release yet the film has accumulated a fair amount of controversy, even in its country of origin in Israel. Generally received as an anti-war film, the movie might put off critics on both sides of the fence. Plenty of Muslims might see it as a feeble attempt to "humanise" Jews, while Jews criticise it for deterring Israeli youths from joining the army.

Nobody in the movie screamed jingoism like any war epics to come out of Hollywood. There was no attempt to justify all the acts of terror. Nobody screamed "Freedom!!" while heroically charging into enemy lines. Instead, there was a lot of confusion, miscommunications and trauma. Just like an actual war.

Truth is it's high time for people to realise that war is hell, for civillians and soldiers alike. In the end, it's the people at the bottom who suffers while those at the top pretentiously thinks that they are doing the world a favour.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Originality
- Gritty
- Very realistic
- Credible anti-war flick

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points
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