Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Next Three Days [2010]

Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Jason Beghe, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson (Cameo)
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Rating: General
Comment: "Not bad at all, although the movie does feel like it's three days long..."

Before I proceed with the review, note that Russell Crowe is ranked #1 on FPBM! Favourite Actors, earning the number one spot as far back as 2009 when the first (and so far the only) Spotlight segment. Therefore it would be suffice to say that even I would conclude that this movie would be forgettable had it not been for Russell Crowe being in the lead role.

It has been three years since the day when John Brennan and his family found their lives turned upside down, after a member was accused of murder; his wife, Lara. After he exhausted every means to prove her innocence, he finally realised that going according to the law does not always provide justice in the end. With that realisation, he decided to do the unthinkable. He decided to break her out of prison.

Now, I am not going to lie to you. The trailer might have given the impression that this is a fast-paced movie about a thrilling jailbreak. The truth is, it is anything but that. If anything, the movie moves at a crawl before springing into life in the final twenty minutes, give or take.

It's hard to take away point from it because of that, because I understand that the meticulous planning and dragging out certain scenes were meant to give the movie some context. Namely, to make us root for the protagonist after seeing his dedication to free his wife, and the kind of suffering he had to endure due to that. All the same, it was a bit of an overkill.

Now, the movie has no shortage of talent, with memorable performances by Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks. In fact, it wouldn't be too much to say that the movie rests a little too heavily on the two lead actors. Even though both of them are an absolute pleasure to watch, I can't say I feel the same way about the movie as a whole. Veteran actors like Brian Dennehy and Liam Neeson also made their appearances, although the script probably didn't allow them enough space to fully exercise their talents.

Despite not being a bad movie altogether, I'm afraid this is one of those movies that you will forget about as soon as you leave the cinema. It might get you all curious though; this movie is actually a remake of a French movie entitled Pour Elle [2008], I wonder if the Hollywood version did justice to it.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- A good idea to begin with
- Memorable performances
- Russell Crowe!

The Bad [-40]
- Excruciatingly slow
- Underused talents

100 - 40 = 60 points

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unstoppable [2010]

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Lew Temple
Genre: Action/Thriller
Rating: General
Comment: "Unstoppable action. Pun intended..."

A word of advice, don't be so quick on drawing comparisons between this film and the fourth collaboration between Tony Scott and Denzel Washington, The Taking of Pelham 123 [2009]. While they both involve trains and the same lead actor, that is where the similarities end. Also, you would be pleased to know that Unstoppable is based on true events and it is surprisingly accurate for a Hollywood movie.

Taking place in Pennsylvania, what begins as a routine for everyone in a fictional railroad company turns sour when a worker seriously dropped the ball by neglecting to take necessary measures to ensure the trains will run smoothly. As a result, the company now has a runaway train going at full speed. To make matters worse, some of the cargo includes hazardous material.

Let's separate the facts and fiction first, shall we? Kindly skip this paragraph if you prefer to remember the movie the way that it is. Now, the story is indeed based on real events, famously dubbed as The Crazy Eights Incident. Circumstances surrounding the runaway train are facts, and there were indeed two other train crew who went after it in an attempt to stop it. However, liberties were taken to heighten the tension and drama although in reality, there was no casualty reported.

You can always count on Denzel Washington to give any movie an air of old-school badassery. This time around he is paired with rising star Chris "New Captain Kirk" Pine, who himself walks around with a dash of rebelliousness that is a reminisce of James Dean.

Now, I know that I've said earlier that the movie is aptly named. As a whole it is indeed true, however the movie is a little bogged down with certain details that it can do without and this affects the pace. It was a clear attempt to breathe life into the characters, making us empathise with them. But there is something about the loud and screeching action juxtaposed with sentimental that didn't balance out too well.

But that is pretty much all that is lacking in the movie. Unstoppable is a taut, gripping action/thriller that will make you flinch, wince and you'll find yourself being at the edge of your seat.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Good thriller
- Quite accurate
- Chemistry between actors

The Bad [-10]
- Unconvincing character development

100 - 10 = 90 points

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Skyline [2010]

Director: Brothers Strause
Cast: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel
Genre: Science Fiction/Disaster/Thriller
Rating: Teen (horrific images)
Comment: "At this era, any sci-fi movie is a risk to make. Brothers Strause took that risk with Skyline, but failed miserably. An epic fail, if I may say so..."

The tagline says "Don't look up", but what it should really say is "Don't get your hopes up" or if you really want to be frank, "Look away". Trust me, there is no exaggeration here. Skyline attempts to be several things while keeping the sci-fi element intact, but it was just no good.

The story begins with a flashback that serves no purpose whatsoever, but anyway our protagonists found themselves in Los Angeles attending a birthday party in a high-rise condominium. But when the celebration was long over, somebody, or rather something, came to crash the party... and they are not from this world.

If that sounds promising, I'm telling you now to just forget the whole damn thing. This is exactly one of those movies where what you see is what you get, and there isn't much of that either. You can almost tell that the movie rests much too heavily on its special effects. No complaints there because they are actually kind of decent. Nothing too impressive, but an eye candy regardless.

Unfortunately it would be much too easy to overlook that particular aspect due to its other blaring flaws; Derivative plot, lousy direction and poor development of characters.

I have lost count on exactly how many disaster/thriller movies that had been released between Independence Day [1996] to this one. I know one thing, however, plenty of the rest at least attempted to bring something new to the table. Skyline didn't. In fact, thanks to its poor direction, you really couldn't understand what they're trying to sell. Seriously, what kind of story that they wanted to tell?

It's almost like somebody drew a CGI alien spaceship with blinding blue lights and fell in love with it. So much that they decided to write a story around it that involves subjects from the value of human life, to friendship, to love. The result? A disastrous disaster movie.

"Runnnn!!!!"

Of course, what comes with a disaster movie? A group of characters who can't seem to get it together, and not to mention most of them are only good at getting killed. Seriously, where do these people come from? But the one that really takes the cake this time around is the building concierge. Who could have known that a butler can suddenly become a beacon of hope for human survival.

But on a more serious note, it's true. Human characters were given most screen time, but they are so poorly developed you wouldn't be able to take them seriously. Heck, you might even root for the aliens to annihilate them all and spare us the trouble of ever having to see them again.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Special effects

The Bad [-80]
- Derivative plot
- Poor direction
- Characters are just not believable

100 - 80 = 20 points

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One [2010]

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Ralph Fiennes (Click here for full cast members)
Genre: Fantasy/Thriller
Rating: Teen (horrific images)
Comment: "One of the few franchises that tops its predecessors every time, and Deathly Hallows might just be the best of them all..."

There will be two kinds of reception to this final installment of the global phenomenon; there will be those who relish at the fact that the movie was split into two, while there may be others who laments it. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the series, as sad as I was to read the last page of the novel three years ago, I knew I had the movies to look forward to. Now it is all really coming to an end, but let's save the accolades and tears for the second half of the finale.

Emma Watson has grown into quite a beauty, hasn't she? :P

Taking off roughly where the last movie left off, Harry, Hermione and Ron continues on their quest to seek and destroy the rest of the Horcruxes; the secret to Lord Voldemort's immortality. Their quest forces them to drop out of Hogwarts and live on the run, simultaneously avoiding the Death Eaters while looking for the Horcruxes.

Now, you might complain that since the movie was split into two, that means it will all feel kind of "watered-down". Let me assure you, that is certainly not the case. Splitting the movie into two will better serve you as this allows for a more faithful adaptation, and quite faithful it is. Yes, the movie moves at a slower pace this time around. But that is a good thing, wouldn't you say? Considering that this is the finale, you really don't want to have the entire book crammed into a singular movie because that would do the franchise a gross injustice. Try to reminisce on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [2005] to know what I mean.


What else can I say? It's a Harry Potter movie. Mind that I am not using the term derogatorily, if it's a Harry Potter movie, that means it is all about total escapism. It continues to take you to the extremely volatile world of imagination. Now, starting from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [2004], the films had progressively took on a darker tone without compromising its trademark humour. Fortunately Deathly Hallows does not disappoint in that department either.

Impressive visuals and special effects is almost a prerequisite for movies with strong fantastical elements such as this, and there's definitely no shortage on those two elements. David Yates truly did the franchise justice, as he had demonstrated again and again since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [2007].

Can't wait for Part Two!!

Points Calculation

(Unavailable due to FPBM!'s bias-ness towards everything that has to do with the franchise)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mr. Nobody [2009]

Director: Jaco von Dormael
Cast: Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pahm, Toby Regbo, Juno Temple
Genre: Drama/Science fiction
Rating: Teen (horrific images, mild sexuality)
Comment: "An instant modern day classic. It should damn very well be..."

Modern day classics are very hard to come by, but when they do, it makes all the wait very satisfying. Mr. Nobody is a thinly-veiled story about choices and the possibilities they lead to, wrapped up gloriously as science fiction.

Nemo Nobody, the titular character is a 118-year-old, said in the movie to be the last mortal alive in the year 2092. On his deathbed, he reminisces his past to his psychiatrist and also to a reporter. But his past is literally unlike anything anyone has ever experienced - and not to mention it makes no damn sense to everyone around him.

Science fiction is something that is a bit of an acquired taste, and some are easily turned off by the very idea of it. But I assure you that this is one of those movies that transcends high above the genre and it makes for one very compelling movie about choices in life. Not to mention it can really cook up your noodle; one cannot be helped but ponder upon the age-old question about what is the meaning behind all the choices we made in life.

This was all told in a very spectacular fashion. Imagery, allusions, symbolism and metaphors made frequent appearances throughout the movie. For an example, there is one scene where a nine year old Nemo cannot seem to make up his mind on how to spend his money; there were chocolate eclairs and sponge roll cakes, and he opted not to buy either one. That tiny scene was a particularly nice touch, you can say that it is a small summary about life. You can spend life like how you can spend a coin; Spend it on whatever that you want, but you can only spend it once. The fact that he chose neither is an allusion to something else integral to the plot, but I'd rather save you from further spoilers. Have fun spotting them yourselves. There was so many of each literary devices, I guarantee not everybody can spot it all in just one seating.

The story is easy enough to understand, which is why I mentioned that this is not for the fans of the genre only. Simply imagine Sliding Doors [1998], but on a much more epic scale. We take for granted all the little choices we make everyday, without realising that they all amount to something in the long run. Every second of our life is a turning point, but regardless of it all, there is no such thing as a bad ending because they all mean something; it is up to us to figure out exactly what, that is why life is such a gift.

Living up to its heavy, intriguing theme and excellent storytelling, the film does not fall short in its cinematography and its editing either. To name an example, the director employed strong use of colours, each marking the significance of different choices made by Nemo. It all ended up to make one very surreal film, which worked wonders for a movie this deep.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Compelling plot
- Excellent storytelling
- Surrealism
- It's just so damn intriguing

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Disappearance of Alice Creed [2010]

Director: J. Blakeson
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan
Genre: Drama/Crime/Thriller
Rating: Teen (violent content, pervasive language, nudity)
Comment: "Its tight plot moves at the right pace, giving out an air of claustrophobia, an apt portrayal of a kidnapping..."

If you are a fan of claustrophobic crime thrillers like Misery [1990], Reservoir Dogs [1992] or the more recent Hard Candy [2005], you might find Alice Creed to be right up your alley. While the film is indeed notable for its small cast just like the aforementioned thrillers, Alice Creed brings something else to the table.

On the very basic, the movie is based entirely on the kidnapping of the titular character for ransom money. But what is seemingly simple turns ugly when things begin to get too personal between the three individuals involved, and the job spirals down into a tale of double-crossing, hate and deceit.

Just in case the movie poster threw you off, allow me to remind you that this is no Guy Ritchie movie. No bollocks here. The movie could have easily been a stage play due to the minimalist nature of the cinematography, limiting most of the duration inside a room to accentuate the claustrophobic nature of a kidnapping.

Gemma Arterton gave a more gripping performance this time around, almost a one-eighty degree change from her roles in movies such as Quantum of Solace [2008] or Prince of Persia [2010]. Complementing her talents are other actors who are not nearly as well-known, but gave strong performances themselves. Considering that the movie stars only the three of them, it will always be an amazing feat.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Tight and taut plot
- Strong performances

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Machete [2010]

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan
Genre: Action/Exploitation/Comedy
Rating: Adult (violence, nudity, mild sexual content)
Comment: "A long overdue feature for Danny Trejo, but it's now here and it is the best exploitation movie yet..."

From the guy who brought you El Mariachi [1992], Desperado [1995], Once Upon a Time in Mexico [2003] and more recently, Planet Terror [2007], comes another exploitation film that is very much in the spirit of the other half of the Grindhouse [2007] double feature film. With that being said, expect nothing less than over-the-top violence, gratuitous nudity and heaps of fun!

The titular character is a Mexican Federale turned renegade after being double-crossed in a rescue mission. After losing his wife and daughter, Machete now roams in Texas looking for odd jobs, until he was hired by a local businessman to assassinate a senator. He found himself double-crossed yet again, and he had had enough. Armed with his machete, he finds himself caught in one hell of a mess that forces him to confront both the past and present, and he intends to put an end to it all.

For an exploitation movie, the plot is rather intricate. You have conspiracy theories, hatchet jobs, false flag operations, an underground immigrant network and a whole lot more. It all requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, of course. But that is why this movie is a total joy to watch. It deals with very serious issues in a very clever way. Some issues might be culture-specific, but still you will find it to be relevant at a global level if you're observant and critical enough.
Apparently it is a trend nowadays to put on an impressive cast of actors, and Machete does not disappoint in that department as well. It's not a bad thing, really. In fact I kind of enjoy watching legendary actors like Robert De Niro and Don Johnson not taking a role too seriously for a change. Completing the roster are B-movie legend Steven Seagal, tough-girl actress Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba & Lindsay Lohan whose beauty match their talents. If I may add, even though Mayra Leal didn't make it through the first half movie, she was such an eye candy I can't help but gawk at her perfect self.

This year alone, we are served with a number of action movies that finally does the genre justice, and Machete alone is a strong contender for 2010's best. As mentioned earlier, being an exploitation movie means you have to prepare for some over-the-top violence and action that can be more funny than traumatising. One such example is the character Machete using a goon's intestines to rappel down a bulding. But other than that, Machete features a number of action sequences that is a reminisce of great action movies of the 80's; that means it is worth every second if its 105 minute running time.

Truth to be told, I did try to look for a flaw in the movie, but I can't find any that is really blaring. If anything, Rodriguez could have worked on this movie a bit earlier instead of churning out more Spy Kids movie. Machete could possibly be the start of yet another Mexico Trilogy, this time centered around Trejo. Truth to be told, I won't complain should that actually be the case. Trejo looked great even at 66, and I don't think his age will be a problem with all the technology we have nowadays.

Long live Machete!

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Intricate plot & sub-plots
- Impressive cast
- Eye candy for action movie fans

The Bad [-0]
- (None)

100 - 0 = 100 points

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Red [2010]

Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox
Genre: Action/Comedy
Rating: General
Comment: "Did not fully live up to its potential, but still a helluva lot better than most action movies nowadays..."

If there's one action star that truly dies hard (pun intended), it would definitely be Bruce Willis. Maybe this is just me being biased to one of my favourite actors, but I believe Bruce Willis can never be in too many action flicks even though he is fast approaching the big 6-0. However, what sets Red apart from a lot of the other action flicks in his resume is the fact that he is sharing screen time with a handful of very talented veteran actors. It may not seem like much for casual movie-goers, but one look at the cast made me cream in my pants.

Red begins rather slow, introducing us to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) who is a decorated CIA agent coping with retirement. Just when he is beginning to accept this transition, danger comes knocking on his door; the agency he once served is now trying to kill him. Now on the run, he begins to travel across the country in search of answers. Along the way he gets in touch with his fellow retirees, with hilarious results.

I went to see this movie with some idea of what to expect, but for the most part I was mostly curious how are they going to max out the talent meter, because this movie has lots and lots of them. One actor in particular is Dame Helen Mirren. I am not that well-versed in her career as an actress, but I believe this is the first movie where she played a trigger-happy, gun-totting ex-MI6 agent. Needless to say, the little fanboy in me was immensely delighted to see an actor of such calibre not taking herself too seriously this time around and just having fun.

Speaking of which, the same goes to Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, John Malkovich and Richard Dreyfuss (by the way, how on earth did they get Dreyfuss to sign up for this movie?! Huzzah!!)

In case you didn't know already, Red was said to be "loosely adapted" from the three-issue comic book of the same name. I don't have much to say on this aspect for this is one of those movies where it is easy to overlook the plot because it is just so entertaining.

However, that is not to say that it is not without flaw. Apparently having too much star power can also hurt the movie by not fully utilising their talents. One example in particular is Morgan Freeman, who was very much underused. I understand that this was meant to be one of those light-hearted action comedy flicks, therefore I am not taking any points away for this. It's just that, you can't help but feel like wanting more at the end of the movie. Perhaps a sequel is in order already? If it will continue to serve marvelous action sequences like the one below, I say bring on Red II!

Owh~♫ Hell yeah.

Points Calculation

The Good [+100]
- Great casting
- Malkovich is such a showstealer
- Refreshing action sequences
- Badass Helen Mirren

The Bad [-20]
- A bit derivative
- Plot is kinda unfocused

100 - 20 = 80 points
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