Monday, 30 April 2012

Zombieland (Movie Review)

I absolutely love zombie movies. I've seen everything from the good (Dawn of the Dead, 2004), to the bad (Day of the Dead, 2008), to the downright horrific (The Evil Dead, 1981). So you can understand my curiosity and immediate need to experience Zombieland when it opened to high praises and rave reviews in 2009.

In a post-apocalyptic United States plagued by a virus outbreak, a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) journeys east in search of both parents. The main obstacle to his goal, aside from the complete breakdown of society, is the ever-present danger of being eaten alive by the infected.

To help him better survive this zombie apocalypse, he comes up with a list of rules. This includes things as trivial as avoiding bathrooms and travelling light. It is this list though, coupled with his reclusive nature, that has kept him alive thus far. But he soon finds out that some rules are made to be broken.

His journey brings him in contact with an interesting cast of characters: Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a hard-as-nails zombie killing machine with a soft spot for Twinkies, and the sweet but conniving sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Together, they embark on a road trip to what might be the only safe haven left in the country, an amusement park.

I went into Zombieland fully prepared to hate its guts. This was not only due to the fact that it was infringing on the territory of one of the funniest movies I've ever seen (Shaun of the Dead), but because it had successfully dethroned my favorite zombie movie (Dawn of the Dead, 2004) as the highest grossing zombie movie of all time. I soon realized however that I was just being silly.

Zombieland excels for a number of reasons. It is funny, action-packed and its characters show a surprising level of depth. What it lacks though is true scares. It quickly becomes apparent that while the movie might be graphic and violent, it is closer to an action-comedy than a horror-comedy.

All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Zombieland and would highly recommend it to anyone, like me, with a love of all things undead.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Young Adult (Movie Review)

High school never ends. At least not in the way we all hoped it would. We leave the nest, get jobs, get married and start a family. But no one truly ever grows up as evidenced by Jason Reitman's dark comedy, Young Adult.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a 37-year-old ghostwriter for a (former) bestselling series of young-adult novels. She is also a divorcee, one who is clearly unsatisfied with her present bachelorette lifestyle. She is on a deadline to turn in the pages of the last book in the series to her editor (J.K. Simmons), but struggles to meet it due to a general lack of inspiration. That was until she'd received an e-mail from her former high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who is now happily married, announcing the arrival of his newborn daughter.

Mavis experiences an epiphany and comes to the conclusion that she must journey back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, in a bid to win back the affection of her ex-boyfriend and reclaim the life that should be rightfully hers. Getting there, she forges an unlikely friendship with a man named Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate that was almost completely crippled during a beating back in high school. She divulges her plans to him and he takes on the role of reluctant sidekick. And as she slowly executes her plan, she quickly discovers the inspiration her writing needed.

After attaining back-to-back success with both Juno and Up in the Air, it was somewhat surprising to see Jason Reitman take on a movie like this one. It is not only darker than both movies, but also has a main character that is almost impossible to empathize with. But what Young Adult lacks in terms of overall charm it more than makes up for with dry humor.

Friday, 27 April 2012

X-Men: First Class (Movie Review)

After the shoddy X-Men: The Last Stand brought a disappointing end to the previous series, I was more than pleased when it was announced that a reboot of sorts was in the works. With the new series, they planned on focusing on the individual characters' orgins. Thus X-Men Origins: Wolverine was born, with Magneto's origins next in line for a similar treatment. But after being largely panned by critics, it seemed all hopes of a sequel were dead in the water. Until X-Men: First Class crawled out of the woodwork.

X-Men: First Class opens with the very same scene from Bryan Singer's original X-Men movie, where a young Magneto manages to bend a metal gate after being separated from his parents in a WWII concentration camp. He is later forced to perform a similar feat by a German scientist named Schimdt (Kevin Bacon). He tries but fails, and his mother is killed before he finally shows the scientist the extent of his powers, which were apparently triggered by emotions.

The movie then jumps to a scene where a young Charles Xavier meets a young Mystique, and the two go on to be best of friends right up to college. Meanwhile, an adult Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is actively seeking to exact his revenge on Schidmt and the other German soldiers responsible for the death of his parents.

Schidmt on the other hand becomes a businessman named Sebastian Shaw, and is revealed to be a mutant as well. He believes in the superiority of all mutants and thus sets into motion a number of events that would eventually lead to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, with the hope that regular humans would end up destroying themselves. Now Magneto must set aside his quest for revenge and join forces with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his First Class of mutants if they plan on stopping him.

My first concern upon seeing First Class was how were they going to do an X-Men movie without Wolverine in it. Those initial doubts were put to rest the moment I discovered James McAvoy's take on the character of Charles Xavier. Apparently, Professor X was a real swinger, and a bit of a playboy, back in the 60s. He was the spark that would eventually set the movie on fire, and was helped along the way by an equally competent ensemble.

It's anybody's guess why they didn't call this movie X-Men Origins: Magneto as originally planned. But after what happened with the previous movie, I think I understand why they'd want to distance this one from it. The good news though is there is another Wolverine movie in the pipeline, slated for a 2013 release, and supposedly set in Japan. Hopefully, this would give Wolverine the origin story he truly deserves.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Watchmen (Movie Review)

The Hurt Locker, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up and of course the present all-time box office champion, Avatar: what do these movies all have in common? Well, they are not only some of my favorites, but they each saw wide release in the year 2009 as well. The one movie I would always remember 2009 for though is Watchmen, mainly because it cemented Zack Snyder's position as one of my favorite directors.

After making his directorial debut with his incredible 2004 remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and bringing his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 to the big screen, Zack Snyder decided to prove to the world that his success was no fluke with yet another graphic novel adaptation. This time around it was another one of Alan Moore's creations.

Watchmen gives an account of an alternate history, one in which costumed heroes had risen to fame in the 1940s. In this timeline, Americans had managed to win the Vietnam War, largely due to the involvement of a superhero known as Dr. Manhattan, a nuclear physicist named Jon who through an accident is reborn with the ability to bend matter to his will. This victory has allowed Richard Nixon to run for and secure a third term as the U.S. president. It has also increased the threat of nuclear war with the Russians exponentially.

The year is 1985, and the narrative begins with the murder of a costumed hero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who was at the time of the murder working as a government agent. This prompts an investigation by one of his fellow Watchmen, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a man labelled a masked avenger/vigilante after all costumed heroes were outlawed 7 years before. He breaks the news to the remaining Watchmen, Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Silk Spectre (Malin Åkerman) and Ozymandias (Mathew Goode), and warns them of his theory that someone must be picking them off one by one. Now, they must all get to the bottom of the mystery, while dealing with the possibility of an imminent nuclear holocaust.

If I had the chance to be any costumed hero I wanted to be, then the choice would be an easy one. I would be Rorschach. Not because of his marked dislike of baths, but because he is easily one of the coolest badasses there is, right up there with the likes of Spawn and Wolverine. And a more perfect actor couldn't have been cast for the role. Jackie Earle Haley very much deserved an Oscar nod for his portrayal of a man dealing out street justice in a city teeming with crime and corruption. Pity he had to go and ruin that image by starring as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

Zack Snyder has gotten a rather lukewarm reception for two of his previous efforts, his 2010 children's book adaptation, The Legend of the Guardians, and his 2011 action-filled mind bender, Sucker Punch. Now he is returning to comic book material with his reboot of the Superman franchise, entitled Man of Steel, scheduled for release next year. Can't wait to see how well his signature stylized action scenes blend with telling the story of the greatest superhero of all.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V for Vendetta (Movie Review)

Every once in a while, a movie is released that you really want to see, but then you fail to see it at that key moment before it slips under the radar, and it gets blanketed by newer releases. This is precisely what happened with V for Vendetta, a movie that I finally saw some 5 years after it was released. But whether or not I had seen it in 2005, or even 5 years from now, I don't think I would have come out of it feeling any different. I would still feel just as blown away.

In the 2030s, the world as we know it has been torn apart by war, and once again, only the United Kingdom maintains any level of order. This is achieved through a totalitarian government (Norsefire) ruled by a High Chancellor called Adam Sutler (John Hurt). And just like any totalitarian government, they have their own secret police (fingermen) and detention centers where those opposed to their ideologies are dealt with. Their propaganda is also constantly fed to its people through the media, in this case a channel known as the British Television Network (BTN).

The fascist regime becomes threatened when a Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing freedom fighter called V (Hugo Weaving) destroys the Old Bailey on November the 5th, and promises to destroy the Houses of Parliament on the same date in the following year. He is aided by a woman named Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an employee of the BTN, who he had previously rescued from being raped by fingermen. She had reciprocated by saving his life after he'd broken into the BTN to broadcast his plans.

The government quickly labels V a terrorist, and the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, Eric Finch (Stephen Rea), is put in charge of hunting him down. He sees a pattern when V starts murdering members of the group responsible for running a former detention center that was burned to the ground. But during his investigation, he starts to see that the government might be even more corrupt and inhumane than he had earlier thought. Now he is torn between stopping V, or allowing him carry out his plans to unite the people of the United Kingdom against the tyranny of their government.

V for Vendetta is a movie that I love on so many different levels. But it's the character of V himself that steals the show. He is not only charismatic, but very much a daredevil too, insisting on executing his plans and victims alike with as much theatrical flair as he can muster. And Hugo Weaving does a fantastic job of bringing that character to life, in arguably his most iconic role since playing Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy. I especially loved all his lines, and so I'll leave you with my favorite one:

"Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof."

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Unbreakable (Movie Review)

I have never really considered myself a comic book nerd. But then again, what comic book nerd does? What I would admit though is my love of superheroes. Over the years, we've had movies like Spider-man and The Dark Knight set benchmarks that now define our expectations for what a superhero movie should be. But M. Night Shymalan's Unbreakable still stands as a fine example of how to tell a superhero origin story.

Following the derailment of a train, the media is left in awe of its lone survivor, David Dunn (Bruce Willis). He not only managed to survive an accident that left 131 others dead, but he did so without sustaining any injuries. This catches the attention of a comic book collector named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man suffering from a very rare genetic disorder which makes his bones susceptible to breaking.

After the two men make contact, Elijah informs David of his conviction that David must be a superhero. Elijah's theory is that if someone with his type of disorder can exist, a condition that has prompted him to take on the nickname "Glass," then there must surely be another man on the opposite end of the spectrum. A man who is virtually unbreakable.

True enough, David learns that he has never been sick one day in his life, and what follows is a journey of self discovery as he struggles to deal with a crumbling marriage, and at the same time tries to step into the shoes of the chosen one.

The first thing that sets Unbreakable apart from its superhero movie peers is its focus on drama rather than action. Instead of high-flying stunts and massive explosions, what we have here is a movie full of quiet introspection. Then it also has Shymalan's signature character-driven narrative, with a surprise ending that leaves both characters and viewers alike in a state of mild confusion.

M. Night Shyamalan is a brilliant filmmaker who has somehow managed to give us more misses than hits in recent years. But with Unbreakable, he not only created a worthy successor to The Sixth Sense, but he also left us with one of the best superhero origin stories till date.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Thing (Movie Review)

1982 was a significant year for science fiction movies. It was the year that gave us such classics like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Steven Spielberg's E.T, two of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. But under their shadow, a different kind of classic lurked. That movie was John Carpenter's The Thing, a cult classic in every sense of the word.

The Thing opens with a scene depicting a dog being hunted down across the winter wastelands of Antarctica. It is chased to an American research facility, but following a string of mishaps, its hunters are killed, while the dog manages to escape into the custody of the American scientists. It is soon discovered that the hunters had been members of a Norwegian research facility, and a trip to their camp (to report the accident) reveals the place to be in ruins, following what appeared to be an explosion. Apparently, there are no survivors.

Later that night, the dog is placed in a kennel, only for it to mutate and consume the other dogs being kept there. It is quickly incinerated, and after an autopsy, confirmed to be an alien capable of absorbing other life forms, after which it takes on their physical appearance, effectively becoming indistinguishable from its victim. The problem is it can just as easily take on the likeness of another human being, and might have done that already.

And therein lies the appeal of this movie: that fear of your fellow man. That knowledge that you can trust no one but yourself. Throughout the movie, there is that sense of paranoia, as each subsequent iteration of "the thing" is revealed to be the least likely candidate. The movie also boasts some truly memorable scares and the right kind of special effects to enhance those moments.

Even though I had been really looking forward to the 2011 prequel, I was not particularly pleased with its execution. While that movie did what it could to flesh out the background of this 1982 movie, it didn't do enough to stand on its own. But I guess that's a further testament to the lasting appeal of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Shutter Island (Movie Review)

Martin Scorsese is possibly one of the most accomplished directors of our time. Over the years, he has given us several critically-acclaimed films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and most recently, the incredible 3D masterpiece, Hugo. But of all his films till date, one of the most haunting was the 2010 psychological thriller, Shutter Island.

In Shutter Island, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Edward "Teddy" Daniels, a U.S. Marshal sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. He is accompanied by his partner, Chuck (Mark Rufallo), and they arrive on the titular island where the hospital is located, only to be stranded there following a severe hurricane.

This doesn't dampen their resolve though, and both men decide to carry out their investigation as planned. But they find the hospital staff reluctant to help out, and soon come to the conclusion that they must be hiding something. They soon stumble upon a trail, suggesting a massive government conspiracy, and must work hard to get to the bottom of it. But nothing could have prepared us (the viewers) for what was awaiting them at the end of that trail.

I had to watch Shutter Island two times back to back. That's how much the revelation at the ending left me blindsided. I saw it a third time for good measure too, but couldn't find the plot holes and inconsistencies I thought must be there. This is a testament to both a well-thought-out story and Scorsese's eye for detail.

There are several other aspects I loved about this movie, like the atmosphere and superb acting. But at the end, it was that final revelation that took it from being just another enjoyable Scorsese flick to something truly memorable.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Road (Movie Review)

I don't know where it came from, but I've always had this love of all things post-apocalyptic. I guess it's really a fascination with the world coming to an end, at least the world as we know it, a concept that has been explored times without number both in the realm of literature and motion pictures. We've dreamt up every scenario possible, from a nuclear holocaust to our planet's collision with a massive celestial body. What we rarely put into consideration is just how gradual our planet's end may very well turn out to be.

The Road tells the story of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they journey south for the winter through a post-apocalyptic rural America. In this particular vision of our future, all animal life have already become extinct due to a global cataclysm, with plants following suit at a much slower pace. This has left the vast majority of humanity no choice but to resort to scavenging and cannibalism. What brought about these conditions is never revealed, but we are made to understand that it is only a matter of time before the entire planet becomes inhospitable.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn more and more about the man and his late wife (Charlize Theron). They were lucky enough to be secluded in a cabin home during the outset of the disaster, and it was there that she gave birth to their only son. Over the years, she becomes convinced that there is little hope of any kind of a future, and practically begs her husband to kill her and her son before they fall prey to cannibals. But he refuses, insisting that they must keep hope alive no matter what.

The Road paints a bleak yet beautiful portrait of a world standing on its last legs. But the focus here isn't as much on that portrait as it is on its inhabitants, namely father and son. One of the man's most valued possessions is a gun with only two bullets left in it. He has reserved those two bullets for his son and himself, should the world prove to be as hopeless and irredeemable as his wife had thought.

If you haven't guessed it already, I feel quite passionate about this movie. Very few movies connect with me on both a visual and emotional level. This is one of those few.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Quantum of Solace (Movie Review)

I was one of those who'd laughed themselves almost to the point of hysteria when they'd learnt Pierce Brosnan would be handing over the mantle of agent 007 to a blond, hard-faced actor called Daniel Craig. But following the tremendous success of Casino Royale in 2006, we'd all come to acknowledge our shortsightedness and taken back our snide remarks, only for similar remarks to resurface following the release of the 2008 sequel.

Quantum of Solace kicks off right where Casino Royale left us, with Bond on a trail to exact his vengeance for the death of Jesper, a woman he'd fallen in love with. Following a truly spectacular car chase, the terrorist liaison called Mr. White is interrogated by both Mr. Bond and M, and we learn that he works for a group named Quantum. But Mr. White manages to escape when M's bodyguard, Mitchell, proves to be a double agent and attacks M. Mitchell is eventually put to sleep for his troubles, in arguably the best action scene in the entire movie.

Bond later pokes around the dead bodyguard's apartment where he discovers a new trail to follow. And in keeping with the standard set by previous entries in the series, that trail takes him to various exotic locations, which would eventually culminate in the discovery of the leading member of Quantum, Dominic Greene, and his plan to control the freshwater supply of Bolivia.

It was always going to be tough following in the footsteps of the ground-breaking Casino Royale. Sadly, many seem to consider Quantum of Solace a rather large misstep, even though I feel it is still a step in the right direction. Hopefully though, Skyfall (the next Bond movie coming out later this year) will prove to be the return to form everyone expects it to be.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Pan's Labyrinth (Movie Review)

I don't know if you know this, but I am a writer of speculative fiction. I started out in 1998, and self-published three of my stories on Amazon in December 2011 [points to tacky animated book widget thingy in sidebar]. One of the greatest influences on my stories so far has been the works of Guillermo Del Toro. And of all those works, the finest one, and indeed greatest influence on my work-in-progress coming out later this year, is Pan's Labyrinth, a dark fantasy.

Set in 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, the film tells the story of a young girl named Ofelia. It opens with Ofelia travelling with her pregnant mother, Carmen, to meet and move in with her stepfather, a soldier stationed at a mill in a rural countryside. The film wastes little time in establishing the fact that Ofelia's stepfather, Captain Vidal, is the main villain. He is the man in charge of weeding out the Spanish Marquis (a group of rebels opposed to the Spanish fascist regime) in the region and he hunts them down mercilessly.

Needless to say, Ofelia doesn't like him very much. The main reason for their friction is Ofelia's love of books and fairy tales, something Captain Vidal sees as trivial and inappropriate for a girl on the verge of becoming a woman. But Ofelia's active imagination proves to be her only respite from the harshness of reality.

After following a dragonfly (of which she is convinced must be a fairy) in true Alice in Wonderland fashion, she discovers an abandoned maze where she finds an ancient faunlike creature. It tells her that she is really a fairy-tale princess from an alternate reality, and she must now complete three tasks for her to reclaim her heritage.

Throughout the movie, we're constantly left wondering whether or not Ofelia's fantasy world is real or make believe. And by the heart-pounding climax, where she is asked to make an ultimate sacrifice in order to proceed, we finally learn that answer for ourselves, but also discover that there is indeed more than meets the eye.

Pan's Labyrinth is yet another filmmaking triumph, and one of the most visually-striking films I have ever seen. I simply cannot stress how awe-inspiring the titular faun looks. Only a genius mind like Del Toro's could craft something so sinister, yet ultimately beautiful beyond words.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Other Guys (Movie Review)

Growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, one of my favorite movie genres was the buddy cop action comedy. I remember I used to (and still) love films like Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon and Men in Black. And of course more recent variations on the formula like Taxi (2004), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). But of all the recent movies in the genre, one of the most hilarious is 2010's The Other Guys.

Detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrel) and Terry Holtz (Mark Walburg) are the butt of all the jokes in their police department. They are "the other guys," both relegated to desk jobs and forced to live under the shadow of two superstar detectives, Christopher Danson (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and PK Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson). But when both hotshots meet an unexpected end, Terry sees it as their opportunity to step into the spotlight. The trouble is there is a second pair of detectives (played by Damon Wayans, Jr and Rob Riggie) who wish to claim the spotlight for themselves by undermining both Terry and Allen.

This is one laugh-out-loud movie that falls just shy of slapstick. With numerous pop culture references covering implausible concepts like a Chechnyan version of Dora the Explorer, this movie could be considered the definitive parody of the buddy cop genre.

---signed, Dirty Mike and the Boys

Monday, 16 April 2012

Ninja Assassin (Movie Review)

Having just reviewed The Matrix over the weekend, a movie produced by Joel Silver and directed by The Wachowski Brothers, it seems somewhat coincidental that I pick another film where they all share production credits, though one on the opposite end of the critical acclaim spectrum.

Ninja Assassin tells the story of, you guessed it, a ninja, who just so happens to be an assassin (What ninja isn't?). This one is named Raizo (played by South Korean pop musician, Rain), and he is a lethal killing machine, just like the title suggests. But things take an unexpected turn when he decides to turn against his ninja kin, having also decided against killing for material gain alone. Now, Raizo must fend off wave after wave of fellow (ninja) assassins sent out to do him in, and at the same time come to terms with his decision to go renegade.

Never (in recent memory) have I come across a movie that greatly resembles the Mortal Kombat series of fighting games like this one. The only things missing here are health bars. Just think super-stylized fight scenes filled with bucketloads of blood and you'll get an idea of what to expect. These ninjas are quite clearly in the wrong line of work; they could easily make a fortune selling their blood as blood donors. But that wouldn't make for a compelling story now, would it?

The only reason why movies like this work is because they never try to be anything they aren't. I went into Ninja Assassin expecting scene after scene of mindless action. And I got precisely what I paid for. But in the end, I feel we need to see the occasional guilty pleasure like this one, if only so we could better appreciate the real movie gems when we come across them.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Matrix (Movie Review)

I still find it hard to believe that it's been 13 years since The Matrix was unleashed upon the world. I remember seeing a trailer for it in early 1999 and proclaiming that I had to see the movie at all cost (or possibly die trying). All that was based on getting a glimpse of the numerous ground-breaking action scenes. But nothing could have prepared me for the mind-bending story lurking underneath that shiny exterior.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a man living two lives. By day, he is a programmer who works for a reputable software company. By night, he assumes the alias of Neo, a well-known hacker in the digital underground. He is also a man searching for answers, answers to questions like "What is the matrix?" Following a meeting with a fellow hacker named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), he is contacted by the very man that could provide all the answers, a hacker/rebel leader named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).

Neo is successfully jacked out of the matrix, a virtual reality simulation built to mirror the world as we knew it circa 1999. But what he finds in its place is a future where man is at war with machine. In that future, the entire human race has been enslaved and what little resistance remains forced underground. The skies had been scorched black by the humans in an effort to block out the machine's main energy source, the sun. But the machines proved most resourceful when they'd turned to an alternative energy source: human body heat.

Now, human beings are grown in vast fields where their body heat is harvested, while the matrix serves as a prison for their minds. Those who have broken out of that prison are ruthlessly hunted down by sentinels, specialized machines built solely to search and destroy. Forced to overcome the harshness of reality, Neo must either choose to embrace his destiny as the One (the hero destined to liberate the human race) or come to terms with a future with little or no hope of survival.

As far as science fiction movies go, The Matrix is a fine example of how to strike a balance between believability and over-the-top action. We are constantly treated to various gravity-defying stunts, but all within the context of the matrix (where rules like gravity can easily be broken by those who know how). It is also one of the most influential science fiction movies in recent years, helping popularize such current action movie staples like still motion, bullet time and wire fu.

Despite a disappointingly over-the-top sequel and an underwhelming conclusion to a series ripe with so much potential, The Matrix still retains its original level of pure awesomeness.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Lord of the Rings (Movie Review)


"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them."

Hands down, the Lord of the Rings is my favorite movie trilogy of all time. Nothing has come close to delivering the same level of spectacular visuals, and I doubt if anything would, except maybe Avatar. But unlike James Cameron's planned trilogy, the Lord of the Rings isn't all eye candy and special effects; at its heart lies a story of epic proportions.

In a place called Middle-earth, the forces of good and evil are about to face off in an ultimate showdown. The story begins with a hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood), who has been entrusted with a magical artifact, a gold ring. Following a visit from the grey wizard, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Frodo learns the significance of this ring and of the need to destroy it. The ring was forged by the dark lord, Sauron, to aid him in his quest to rule all of Middle-earth, but was lost following a great battle and a series of misfortunes. And now the dark lord wants it back at all costs.

Frodo embarks on a journey to destroy the ring with the Fellowship of the Ring, an unlikely company of nine comprised of men, hobbits, a dwarf and an elf. But the Fellowship is broken after they are attacked by the enemy. Now, Frodo and Sam (Sean Austin) must make the rest of the journey on their own, while those left prepare to face the forces of darkness and the possibility of a dark future, should the two hobbits fail in their quest to destroy the ring.

It took eight years to make the Lord of the Rings, including three years of back-to-back filming. And it shows. The final product is a trilogy that manages to stay (relatively) faithful to its source material and at the same time offers added insight into the world of Middle-earth.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The King's Speech (Movie Review)

Going into the 2010/2011 awards season, I was pretty sure that the two major contenders for the Academy Awards were Christopher Nolan's Inception and David Fincher's The Social Network. There were other potential favorites of course, like The Town and Black Swan. But I think no one really foresaw that the year's finest movie would be coming out mere days before the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced.

Originally intended as a stage play, The King's Speech tells the story of Prince Albert (Colin Firth) who must learn to overcome his speech impediment with the help of a speech therapist named Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), in order to better serve his country in its greatest moment of need. He was never really intended to be king; his older brother, Edward (Guy Pearce) rose to the throne following the death of their father, King George V (Michael Gambon). But following Edward's decision to abdicate the throne, Albert is left with no choice but to embrace his destiny and face his greatest fear: giving public speeches.

My expectations for The King's Speech were set very high, largely due to the level of critical acclaim it achieved following its January 2011 release. But the movie somehow managed to exceed those expectations. It is arguably one of the best acted movies I have seen. Ever. Not to mention it has tremendous production values, especially when weighed against its £8 million budget. It was a movie that I instantly fell in love with and I would highly recommend seeing it if you haven't already.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Jaws (Movie Review)

I am very sure that by now pretty much everyone and their grandmother's cat has seen Jaws at least a half dozen times. Ironically, it wasn't until a year ago that I finally saw this 1975 classic for the very first time. And I was immediately surprised by its ability to deliver the thrills despite its age.

Amity Island is a summer resort town that thrives on its main tourist attraction, its sandy beaches. Unfortunately for its inhabitants and tourists alike, its waters are about to be declared unsafe. Following the discovery of the mangled remains of a young woman, it is discovered that a shark had wondered towards the coastline. But due to the effect such news would have on its community, the tragedy is downplayed as a boating accident. However, the lid is blown wide open when a second victim falls prey to the shark, and the boy's mother places a bounty on the shark's head.

There is a frenzy as a large number of bounty hunters race against one another to do the shark in. And a tiger shark is killed in the process, and the crisis seemingly resolved. But following further examination of the first victim's remains by a marine biologist, it is determined that the shark responsible for the attacks is much larger than that captured. Now three men (a police deputy, a marine biologist and a shark hunter) must board a boat and set off in pursuit of the great white shark before it claims any more victims.

Considered to be the first ever summer blockbuster, Jaws is regarded as not only one of Steven Spielberg's finest, but as highly influential too. It paved the way for movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but still manages to retain its place amongst such classics. And while it might be lacking in the acting department (at least by today's standards), it still boast some pretty solid, edge-of-your-seat action.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Inglourious Basterds (Movie Review)

A little disclaimer, ladies and gentlemen; I am a big Quentin Tarantino fan. Wait. Scratch that. I am the biggest Quentin Tarantino fan there is. Over the years, he has left us with cult classics like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. But hands down, his finest piece till date, his "masterpiece," has got to be 2009's Inglourious Basterds.

Set in a Nazi-occupied France in the dying moments of World War II, the movie tells the story of two separate efforts to burn down a cinema full of high-ranking officers of the Third Reich. The first is by the owner of the cinema, a woman that has every reason to hate the German soldiers. Her name is Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), and she is a Jew under the guise of a new identity in Paris. Her family was hunted down by the German soldier, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a man popularly referred to as The Jew Hunter. And now she wants her revenge.

Then we have the Basterds themselves, a group of Jewish-American soldiers who have managed to strike fear into the hearts of the German soldiers. They are led by the charismatic Lieutenant Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt), a man to whom each member owes "a hundred Nazi scalps taken from the heads of a hundred dead Nazis." Having also learnt about the premiere of a German propaganda movie right there in France, and the attendance of prominent members of the Third Reich, the Basterds plan on infiltrating the event, and bringing down the building with as much explosive firepower as they can smuggle into the place.

This is one movie just oozing with perfection. It does not belong in a cinema, or on a DVD, but in an art gallery somewhere. It should be placed there as the definitive example of how to make a great movie. I could go on and on listing everything I loved about this film, but then we'd be here all day. So instead I'll just say that this movie has some of the best dialog I've heard in any film, and I found myself hanging on every word, most of which were spoken in French and German (with subtitles of course).

There are a few movies out there that simply demand a second viewing for you to fully appreciate them. Inglourious Basterds is such a movie. But regardless of whether you've seen it before or not, this movie never loses its ability to blow you away (no pun intended).

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Hurt Locker (Movie Review)

I think the above poster says it all really. According to wikipedia, "it is one of the most acclaimed films of 2009." It garnered a total of 9 Academy Awards nominations at the 2010 Oscars, going on to take home 6, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. And why not, when you consider that this post-invasion Iraq War thriller is not only suspenseful, but eye-opening to boot.

The Hurt Locker is easily one of the most realistic dramatizations of the War in Iraq out there. And rather than trace the lives and actions of a mobile infantry like its peers, the movie focuses on the activities of three members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James, the leader of the unit. He is a man who is clearly good at what he does (diffusing unexploded bombs) but generally sucks at being a person. Or at least so we are led to believe.

James' daredevil persona actually conceals a childlike vulnerability, one that is revealed when he forges a friendship with a bootleg DVD salesboy named Beckham. And though there is initially some tension between him and the other members of the unit, the three men eventually form a bond that transcends their differences. But when Beckham is revealed to be caught in the snare of the war-torn city, James is willing to go to any lengths to make sure the perpetrators pay with their blood.

One of the most memorable scenes in this movie was the desert ambush, a scene I must have rewatched at least a hundred times now. It was a tense, long-distance battle between snipers, and the tension of that scene alone more than captures the overall tone of this movie. And that is what sets The Hurt Locker apart from others like it, that ever-present fear of an uncertain future, the knowledge that one stray bullet is enough to put an end to any of these soldiers.

The Hurt Locker is quite simply a fine example of quality filmmaking. The movie grabs you from the very first scene and doesn't let go till the very end. And even then it leaves you very much relieved and also wanting more, all at the same time.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Gattaca (Movie Review)

"Like many others in my situation, I moved around a lot... getting work where I could. I must have cleaned half the toilets in the state. I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No. We now have discrimination down to a science."

Those were the exact words spoken by Ethan Hawke during his opening monologue for this 1997 science-fiction movie. Gattaca explores the concept of genetic discrimination, through a depiction of our future that is not only possible, but dangerously close at hand.

In the not-too-distant future, geneticists have perfected the science of eugenics to the point that parents are able to select exactly what traits they would like their child to inherit. Through the further manipulation of genes, all likelihood of certain diseases and health disorders can be completely eliminated. The result of this advancement is a dystopian society where those born through this selection process (valids) are given preference over those born naturally (invalids).

Ethan Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, an invalid harboring dreams of becoming an astronaut and going off into space. The problem is while he does have the brains and will to fulfil that dream, he does not have the requisite DNA. Not only was he born myopic, he also has a heart disorder that puts his projected life expectancy at a little over 30 years. But he is determined and so he contacts an underground agent of sorts who introduces him to Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law).

Jerome is a valid with an exceptional genetic profile who got crippled in a car accident. He is willing to let Vincent impersonate him by lending him blood and urine samples to enable him gain admission into Gattaca, the agency responsible for space exploration. The plan works but things become complicated when a murder occurs at the space agency, just days before the launch date of Vincent's seminal mission. The place is soon crawling with forensic detectives looking for the killer and Vincent's chances of being exposed as an invalid increases exponentially.

What I love most about Gattaca is its look and feel. It has this 1950s/1960s aesthetic which both manages to be futuristic and old-school at the same time. A good example would be the computer terminal displays that pop up whenever a blood sample is analysed for identification purposes. Then there are its powerful themes and message which we experience as we follow Vincent's struggle to prove his worth (as stipulated by Jerome's DNA).

If you are looking for high-speed car chases and massive explosions, then kindly look elsewhere. But if you are willing to trade those things for a movie that would stay with you long after the credits roll, then look no further. Because that is precisely what Gattaca is, a thought-provoking science-fiction movie that is sure to leave you thinking for years to come.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Finding Nemo (Movie Review)


Almost 9 years later and this movie still looks every bit as stunning as it did in 2003. This was the movie that finally managed to wrestle the title of highest grossing animated movie from the mighty paws of The Lion King, a more than worthy predecessor. And we had to wait 9 years for that to happen too. Sadly, it didn't get to hold on to that title for more than a year, before being forced to relinquish it to a less than worthy successor. *cough* Shrek 2 *cough*

Finding Nemo is a family adventure that tells the story of an overprotective clownfish father (Marlin) trying to rescue his son (Nemo) who was captured by a scuba diver. The story is told from both points of view, and we learn that Nemo had been taken to a dentist's office somewhere in Sydney, Australia, where he is kept in an aquarium. There he meets with an interesting cast of characters, and begins to formulate an escape plan.

Meanwhile, Marlin is prepared to scour the ocean in search of his son. And the only clue he has to go by is a diving mask left behind by the scuba diver. He joins forces with a fish suffering from short-term memory loss named Dory, who not only claims she can read the address written on the mask, but that she knows how to get there as well. So together they set off to "find" Nemo, coming across another set of interesting characters, including three vegetarian sharks and a surfer-dude turtle.

Dory is by and large my favorite animated character of all time. She is simultaneously annoying and lovable. Only a great talent like Ellen DeGeneres could bring this character to life, and I am surprised that she hasn't gotten or taken on any similar voice acting roles ever since. She more than stole the show in this movie as far as I'm concerned. I simply cannot imagine a Finding Nemo without her in it.

Pixar has been on a winning streak these past 9 years (not counting Cars 2 of course). They've given us back-to-back instant classics like The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up. But Finding Nemo still manages to retain its status as one of the finer movies to come out of their stable.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Equilibrium (Movie Review)

I'll admit, my first thought upon seeing the Equilibrium poster all those years ago was "Matrix Rip-off." It also has a bit of a B-movie vibe to it, which might explain my lowered expectations when I originally saw this film. But the thing about lowered expectations is that they can more readily be exceeded.

The story is quite simple really. Following a devastating World War III, the city of Libria is formed. This city is governed by a council known as the Tetragrammaton and its laws enforced by a police force headed by elite warriors known as Clerics. These Clerics are trained in the art of the Gun Kata (just think Kung Fu with guns, or better yet Gun Fu). But the most interesting thing here is the nature of the laws they enforce.

In Libria, all forms of artistic expression have been outlawed. Books. Music. Paintings. You name it. Its citizens are also required to take daily doses of a drug that suppresses human emotion; a drug called Prozium. The logic behind this is that without emotions like fear, hate and anger, and the presence of art to trigger said emotions, the human race would finally be able to live in peace and harmony. But there is of course a major compromise in those well-thought-out laws; Prozium also takes away our ability to love and experience true joy. So what we get in reality is a community of drones.

Anyone going against these laws is labelled a "sense offender" and is prosecuted as a result (if they aren't immediately gunned down that is). Christian Bale plays John Preston, a Cleric so ruthlessly efficient that he was willing to turn over his own wife to the higher authorities, having learnt that she was a sense offender. The movie opens with a (somewhat powerful) scene where John had in fact been willing to kill his own partner (Sean Bean), after finding out that he too was a sense offender. But things get really interesting when John ends up missing a few doses of Prozium and starts experiencing emotions for the first time in his life.

The problem with Equilibrium is that it's been done before. A post-apocalyptic setting. A dystopian society with a totalitarian government. An elite police force appointed to put everything in check. A rebel movement. These are elements we've seen in books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and more recently movies like The Hunger Games. The real question is what else has this movie done to distinguish itself from others just like it...?

Well. Aside from some truly spectacular shootout sequences, and decent performances from the cast members (Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Sean Bean and Emily Watson), there isn't much else you haven't seen before. But despite its lack of originality, Equilibrium is a movie worth checking out.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

District 9 (Movie Review)

The 2009 science fiction movie that took the world by surprise. Well, at least before Avatar came along and blotted out the sun. The most remarkable thing about District 9 is not its South African origin, or its modest $30 million budget, but its unique spin on the tried-and-tested alien invasion formula.

The story focuses on our first encounter with an alien race. And for the first time in cinema history, these aliens didn't come to show us the error in our ways, or to enslave us, or to mine our resources, or to blow us to smithereens, but to seek asylum as mere refugees. And just as important, they didn't choose to seek said refuge in Washington DC, or London, or Tokyo, but in the South African city of Johannesburg.

Right off the bat, the movie opens with a mockumentary showing the public's reaction to the presence of the space invaders. It is immediately clear that the aliens are very much unwanted, and they have been relegated to a shanty town known as District 9. Their social segregation mirrors that faced by the black majority during the South African apartheid. And just like the victims of apartheid, the aliens must struggle to survive in a society that hates them for being different.

The focus of the movie is on a planned evacuation of District 9, during which the aliens were to be relocated to a place called District 10 (which was really just a concentration camp built to put a check on their population growth). This exercise is led by a militarized organization known as Multinational United (MNU), a company with much interest in alien weapons research. But before they can carry out their plans, they must first serve eviction notices to the inhabitants of District 9.

Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is the man in charge of serving out all those eviction notices. He is a somewhat nerdy guy who, although seems to show little concern for the aliens' plight, is well intentioned enough. He talks us through the entire process, documentary-style, as they make their rounds through District 9. But during a raid of one of the shacks, he is sprayed by a strange black liquid that would eventually alter his DNA and make him more "prawnlike."

In a classic reversal of roles, Wikus is forced to forge an unlikely friendship with one of the inhabitants of District 9, as he finds himself running from the MNU soldiers, who seem bent on securing him for use as a human guinea pig for their inhumane experiments. The reason for this is that the alien weapons are DNA based. And now Wikus is the only human alive capable of using them.

Watching District 9 was like a breath of fresh air. In a movie industry content with serving up the same reheated formula over and over again, this movie proves that you can have aliens and guns and lots of explosions and still be thought provoking at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Children of Men (Movie Review)

Now here is a world that I never get tired of revisiting. After his brilliant takes on the Charles Dickens classic, Great Expectations, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men is quite possibly Alfonso Cuarón's greatest adaptation till date.

Children of Men paints a portrait of a dystopian future where the human race lies on the verge of extinction. For some reason (which was better explained in the book apparently), all women have grown infertile. Due to this unexpected development, people do precisely what people do best: succumb to mass hysteria. Governments crumble as nations are plagued by riots and war. But amidst all the chaos, the United Kingdom struggles to maintain law and order.

The year is 2027, 18 years since the last baby was born. The city of London is teeming with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, most of whom are kept in cagelike detention centers. The problem is the city is already filled beyond capacity, which is evidenced by the street corners overflowing with garbage. Add to that the near-constant fear of several terrorist groups and you'll get a feel of just how messed up things have become.

The most haunting aspect of this depiction of our future is how ultimately familiar it looks. Rather than scenes filled with flying cars and robocops, what we get is a version of London that looks just like present-day London, only rowdier of course, with hints of technological advancement here and there. This minimalistic approach only goes on to further enhance the story.

Clive Owen plays a civil servant (Theo) who must help transport an illegal immigrant (Kee) to the safety of a group of scientists known as The Human Project. The catch is Kee is (unexplainably) pregnant, and might thus hold the answers to mankind's infertility, and The Human Project is the only organization capable of finding those answers. So our two protagonists must journey through a dystopian countryside and refugee camps to reach their goal. They are joined by the likes of Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor, creating an unforgettable ensemble.

Children of Men is as much a triumph in filmmaking as it is in storytelling. There are a number of scenes that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Like the opening coffee shop scene. Or the countryside ambush scene. Or the childbirth scene. Or the climatic war scene. Okay. Now I'm just rambling. This movie is a definite must see.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Batman Begins (Movie Review)

Truth be told, I originally wasn't too keen on Christopher Nolan's take on the Dark Knight's origin. I mean, heck, Batman doesn't even make an appearance until well over an hour into the movie. For that reason, I felt it didn't feel like a Batman movie (or a superhero movie for that matter).

Needless to say, I didn't see what all the critics were going on about, proclaiming it to be the finest superhero movie ever made (at the time). So of course, when The Dark Knight came out three years later, I avoided it like the plague, even though it had broken all sorts of box office records and whatnot. But it was that movie that allowed me to enjoy Christopher Nolan's vision of The Caped Crusader for the first time.

I recently rewatched Batman Begins, and couldn't believe how utterly brilliant it was. I guess I was originally blinded by my expectations of what a typical superhero movie should be, expectations set by the likes of Spider-man 2. What I love the most, aside from a stunning all round performance by the cast members, was Cillian Murphy's portrayal of Scarecrow. His was a character just as tortured as the victims of his medical experiments.

There was also the overall atmosphere of the film, which was inspired by films like Blade Runner. Then the fact that we were given some psychological insight into what motivates Batman, with a direct view at his greatest desires and deepest fears. The only other movie till date that has shed more light on the character was Batman: Under the Red Hood, my personal favorite (animated) superhero movie of all time.

Right now, as the world awaits the final instalment of Nolan's trilogy, I suddenly feel that The Dark Knight Rises can't come soon enough. Here's hoping that it doesn't go the way of X-men: The Last Stand.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Artist (Movie Review)

With a list of awards and accolades as long as the Nile, The Artist was a film that had a lot to live up to in terms of expectations. I was one of those who had never even heard of this film prior to the awards season. And even then, it was only after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture did I become committed to seeing it.

My first thought was "How in the world were they going to make a black-and-white silent film work in 2011?" I recently saw the 1927 science fiction film Metropolis, and have to admit that it was a bit tedious to watch by today's standard. The good news about The Artist though, is that while it is presented as a film from the silent movie era, that is where such comparisons end; in its presentation.

In terms of pacing, the story moves along as quickly as any romantic comedy out there today. And that is precisely what this movie is, a romantic comedy. The only reason why its makers decided to present it as a silent movie was to draw a parallel between it and the story it was trying to tell.

That story is about a middle-aged actor of silent films faced with the dilemma of a new era of cinema, the dawn of the talkies. The romance is between him and the rising star of that new era, an actress he had helped bring into the limelight. The main obstacle between that romance, aside from a stale marriage, is the man's pride, with his insistence on sticking to making silent movies. He is a visionary you see. An artist. Hence the title.

I loved the fact that the French movie was lent some credibility by being set in Hollywood, during the outset of the Great Depression. And despite what might seem like a somber backdrop, I was really surprised by how comical the actors' performances were, given their general lack of dialogue. Most especially that of Uggie (the dog), who indeed should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the very least.

The chemistry between the two stars is also worthy of note. And the development and progression of their romance also felt somewhat realistic. Overall, there are more reasons why this movie needs to be experienced than not. So if you still haven't seen The Artist, then I suggest that you do so at your earliest convenience.