181 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Inception (2010)
Inception is movie perfection!
15 July 2010
Super blown away by Inception! I can't get over how Christopher Nolan can keep topping himself with each flick. At first I was so scared to see this fail because of the curse of the stellar cast but i should have had faith in Nolan all along. This is just unbelievably good!!!

He takes his time telling such a complicated story without dumbing it down or complicating it too much. All the actors play their parts well that even Leo DiCaprio, in a rare way, fades into the character and you forget his celebrity. Everyone and everything is just amazing; from the ominous soundtrack to the sets to the acting and cinematography...all I could say at the end of the flick was, WOW!
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inexplicably hesitant and clunky when there isn't any action to be had on screen
1 March 2010
Director Pierre Morel (Taken) teams up once more with writer Luc Besson (Taken, the Transporter series) for another action-packed flick ironically entitled "From Paris with Love".

Yes, the story is set in Paris, where James Reece, played by Golden Globe Best Actor winner Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Elvis), plays administrative assistant by day in the US Ambassador's office and small-time secret agent by night. Itching for some action, Reece's boss relents to his request to do more than just switch license plates and partners him up with loud and brash Charlie Wax, an American spy played by two-time Oscar Best Actor nominee John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever), who is hell-bent on stopping a terrorist from attacking the city.

Rhys-Meyers and Travolta succeed in playing one of the oddest tandems to ever hit the screen. Rhys-Meyers seems to have finally landed the manly action-star role he's never played; this must have been such a big break for him; however, while I liked him in his previous movies where he plays androgynous royal types so well (The Tudors, Matchpoint), his silly mustache and constant poker face in this flick may have played up the discomfort of his transition from deskjob to field a little too well. He just wasn't as charismatic and could not hold up to Travolta, who was a delight to see in such a refreshing, overtly bad-ass role. It could be because the dialogue wasn't written to make Reece sound witty anyway.

There was just something so inexplicably hesitant and clunky (poor editing, perhaps?) when there isn't any action to be had on screen, which is quite unlike Morel and Besson's successful balance of drama and action in "Taken". In any case, trivia junkies will appreciate the not-so-sly nod to McDonald's Royale with Cheese, also Travolta's character's fave in "Pulp Fiction".
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Armored (2009)
a satisfactorily stirring thriller
1 March 2010
Director Nimród Antal (Vacancy) helms "Armored", a heist flick about new guard Ty Hackett, played by Columbus Short (Whiteout, Stomp the Yard), who is forced by his more experienced colleagues to steal an armored truck transporting US$42M. Oscar Best Supporting Actor nominee Matt Dillon (Crash) plays the group's leader Mike Cochrone, who promises that no one gets hurt, but things don't always go according to plan. Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) plays Eckehart, a cop who inadvertently stumbles into the scene of the crime, and their resolve falls to pieces as they make one tragic decision after another.

The rest of the group's characters weren't developed as well as Short's and Dillon's. Oscar Best Actor nominee Laurence Fishburne (What's Love Got to Do with It) plays the trigger-happy Baines, Jean Reno (Couples Retreat, the Pink Panther series) is muscle man Quinn, Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break, Transformers) plays the prayerful Palmer, and Skeet Ulrich (Scream) plays the weak-willed Dobbs. That's about all we need to know about them anyway. The entire cast just makes for a curious ensemble of B-listers when the movie could've stood well alone with a bunch of unknowns.

The creative impediment this time was the armored truck itself, reminiscent of "Panic Room", "Phone Booth", and, oh yes of course, "Vacancy". I had no expectations of this movie but it surprisingly delivered more than its trailer promised: a satisfactorily stirring thriller.
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The Wolfman (2010)
An honest-to-goodness, well-made frightfest
21 February 2010
Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects (Raiders of the Lost Ark), director Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, Jumanji) collaborates with writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self to bring "The Wolfman" to the big screen.

After an overdose of vampire flicks as of late, bringing back the old world gore of the werewolf is a definite change of pace. Far from the frequent romanticizing of vampire stories, Johnston doesn't skimp on the gore. He doesn't go overboard with the special effects, too, as he delivers the horror and frights that come with exploring the monster.

What Johnston brings to the screen is a Hallmark-worthy tale of Lawrence Talbot, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), who was exiled to America as a child by his father Sir John, played by Oscar Best Actor winner Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Amistad). Lawrence returns to his native England upon the request of his brother's distraught fiancée Gwen Conliffe, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt (Gideon's Daughter, The Devil Wears Prada). He embarks on his own quest to help find meaning in the gruesome murder of his brother Ben, but in his investigation, Lawrence is bitten and unwittingly turns into a werewolf.

The trailer pretty much already tells the familiar tale, nothing new is really added to the lore behind the creature, and so what is curious is how such a film attracted three A-list stars. It was a good old Victorian chiller, so it didn't make any misleading promises. An honest-to-goodness, well-made frightfest, nothing more.
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a refreshing break from modern action thrillers
21 February 2010
In his first lead role since "Signs" (2002), Oscar winning director Mel Gibson (Braveheart) plays homicide detective Thomas Craven, who looks into the murder of his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). He discovers not just her 'classified' life but something bigger: a deadly corporate conspiracy involving the government that engages Jedburgh (played by Ray Winstone of Indiana Jones 4 and Beowulf), a rogue agent tasked to make everything go away.

As Craven embarks on a one-man mission to make sense of his daughter's brutal death, he takes the audience's emotions with him as the story builds up to a tense climax that is sustained through to the end. Novakovic is a haunting beauty, and so is Gabrielle Popa who plays the Young Emma, which helps add to the mystery of Emma's death. It's great that Gibson is given another chance to play a role like this where he can showcase his talent once more. Winstone would've made a great Jedburgh, except that I couldn't understand what he was saying half the time.

Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Legend of Zorro) helms the movie based on the popular, critically-acclaimed British TV miniseries "Edge of Darkness" that he also directed in 1985. Without having seen the TV series this move should have helped keep true to the original's tone. The old-school way of telling the story is a refreshing break from modern action thrillers and proves effective for this movie.
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Invictus (2009)
Deserves a second glance
21 February 2010
Two-time Oscar Best Director winner Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) adapts for the screen John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation" with "Invictus".

In another Oscar nominated role as Nelson Mandela, Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) portrays the South African President who, in his first term, starts a curious campaign to unify the country torn apart by racism by supporting the mostly white national rugby team to win the 1995 World Cup. Oscar Best Screenplay winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) is also nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for his role as rugby team captain Francois Pienaar, who becomes Mandela's unlikely partner.

Eastwood tells this story like he's told his other movie gems: deliberately, bordering on overlong. He takes his time to explore each character and he often appeals to great emotion. Mandela is presented as 'a man, not a saint', touching painfully on his separation from his wife and estrangement from his daughter.

It's difficult not to like an underdog plot for a film, especially as a Filipino moviegoer such as myself who immediately latches on to parallelisms with South Africa's poverty and need for a strong leader, how rugby has served as an inspiring metaphor for unity just like our own boxing champ Manny Pacquiao has decreased crime rates whenever a match of his is on.

"Invictus" isn't something the average escapist moviegoer will camp out to see; frankly, it sounds boring. After all, the title is of a poem most highschoolers have had to memorize and so may regard this as a 'required viewing' sort of flick. But whether or not you still remember the lines to the poem that aptly inspired Mandela's 'unconquerable soul', revisit it in context with a glimpse of the actual cell where Mandela stayed for almost 30 years and marvel how despite that experience, he is able to forgive his oppressors, something that is crucial to his goal of unity for his country. (If that still doesn't grab you, at least watch out for Eastwood's son Scott, who delivers the final kicks for the Springboks in their game against New Zealand.)
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Best executed raw. Leave out the CGI, please!
18 February 2010
Based on Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones is about 14-year old Susie Salmon, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who has been killed but isn't ready to go to heaven yet. Instead, she haplessly watches over her father Jack, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed), her mother Abigail, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actress winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), her sister Lindsay (Rose McIver), and her murderer from limbo, where she works out her strong need for revenge and for her family to recover from her death.

Joining the powerhouse cast is Stanley Tucci, who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the creepy George Harvey, while Oscar Best Actress winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) lends oddly out-of-place comic relief as Grandma Lynn.

It was a surprise that Oscar winning director Peter Jackson (LOTR trilogy, King Kong, District 9) took on this family drama, but it's an unpleasant one (perhaps he's taking a break from his sci-fi films?). No doubt the cast and crew are all talented but I believe he ruined the story with the oppressive, uncalled for CGI. The surreal special effects were unnecessary and did not help the story at all, jarring whatever emotions the characters have tried to evoke from the audience. The story is better told in its raw state. I have not read the critically-acclaimed book but I can imagine how its readers must be cringing from its movie reincarnation. It just didn't feel right.
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Valentine's Day (I) (2010)
Hathaway, Dane and Cooper make this movie funny
17 February 2010
I have always been leery of stellar cast movies that are usually so thin plot-wise, with the bulk of the budget probably allocated to the salaries of its stars. "Valentine's Day" shamelessly borrows from "Love, Actually", a movie about young and old folks whose love lives intertwine and come together but instead of on Christmas Day, everything happens on Valentine's Day.

Another warning sign that a movie is desperate is when they still tout its director Garry Marshall as the one behind "Pretty Woman"—a movie released in 1990—when he's directed nine other movies in between.

And yet, I trooped to the theater a day before V Day with a galpal with the secret wish to be proved wrong, because I like some of these stars and I want to see them succeed.

There's careerist Morley Clarkson (Jessica Alba), florist Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher)'s girlfriend. Reed divulges his proposal plans to his bestfriend Alphonso (George Lopez), who is lukewarm about it. Reed's bestfriend is grade school teacher Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner), who is also not so hot about the grand engagement but is too busy dating the dreamy Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey) to involve herself.

Meanwhile, sports reporter Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx) is forced to do a lifestyle piece on Valentine's Day by his producer Susan (Kathy Bates) and interviews the love struck Reed, as well as high school sweethearts Willy (Taylor Lautner) and Felicia (Taylor Swift). Steamy football star Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) is in a career limbo and tries to set things straight with the help of his public relations agent Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel), who is an emotional wreck after seeing that no one is going to her annual Anti-Valentine's Day party. Office messenger Jason (Topher Grace) just started dating the mysterious new office temp Liz (Anne Hathaway), who is trying to balance working for Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah) and moonlighting as a Naughty Nympho. On a plane ride home are Holden (Bradley Cooper), who tries to get his seatmate Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) to warm up to him by asking her if she has a special guy back home.

There is also kiddie drama in the world of Edison (Bryce Robinson), Ms. Fitzpatrick's student and Reed's customer. Edison's babysitter Grace (Emma Roberts) and her boyfriend Alex (Carter Jenkins) have planned their first time to have sex during their lunch break but not without the likely snag! She confesses her troubles to her grandma Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) and grandpa Edgar (Hector Elizondo), who have their own revelations to deal with despite their 51 years of marriage.

Alas, it all unravels in abominable cheesy fashion, as expected, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. With a cast this big, don't expect time for character development, but it did have its priceless moments (all thanks to Hathaway, Dane and Cooper). I believe it was also because I saw it in a theater full of people who wanted to have a good time. During the gay parts, especially, you could hear shrieks of delight from the gay group sitting up front and that made it funnier.
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Tried to be Harry Potter but failed
17 February 2010
Based on Rick Riordan's novel, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is about a teen (played by Logan Lerman of 3:10 to Yuma) who discovers he's the son of a Greek god and has been accused of stealing Zeus (Sean Bean)' lightning. Along with his friends Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (The Hottest State's Alexandra Daddario), he sets out on a quest to Hell and back to clear his name and save the world from the wrath of the gods.

Chris Columbus (I Love You Beth Cooper) directs, and while Percy Jackson can be engaging at times (mostly because of the visual effects), the script is inferior to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter 1 & 2, both of which Columbus has helmed movie versions of as well. Similarly, the stepparent is horrible, the lead character realizes his superpowers all of a sudden and has to go away to a place for 'gifted kids', he has a guy and a girl for his sidekicks, they, too, consult a magical map, and they never listen to their elders yet they get away with it since all's well that ends well. There is just not much depth to go around and everyone else feels like a backdrop for what happens next.

So what does the adult moviegoer of a juvenile movie have left to do? Enjoy the bit parts of its strangely stellar supporting cast. There's Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Capote, Being John Malkovich) who plays Percy's mum Sally; Pierce Brosnan who plays both his professor and Chiron; Oscar nominee Uma Thurman as Medusa; Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum) as Hades; Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Alexander) as Persephone; CSI: NY's Melina Kanakaredes as Athena and many more.
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Up in the Air (I) (2009)
a toss-up between keeping lofty dreams and discovering the empty reality
15 February 2010
Jason Reitman directs Up in the Air, a story he began writing in 2002 with Sheldon Turner when the US economy was thriving. It was supposed to be his first feature, but he ended up making Thank You for Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007) first. With the onset of the economic recession, the delay in Up in the Air's release became timelier.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)'s job has him flying around the country as a professional firer. He enjoys his lack of attachment and even moonlights as a motivational speaker to spread his philosophy of having no baggage, concretized by a convenient pseudo-relationship Ryan has with his lady equivalent, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). Despite this, he successfully empathizes with the difficult, emotional turbulence firing people takes; he takes no joy out of this but he does have a secret wish: to rack up 10M frequent flyer miles and attain the ultimate elite card. So when his company takes on young upstart Natalie Keener (Twilight's Anna Kendrick), who proposes a cost-cutting measure by firing people online instead, Ryan has a lot more convincing to do, which could challenge the very core of the philosophy he preaches.

I laud the way the characters are written because they are all complex. Clooney's role is so eerily reflective of how he portrays himself in real-life (being the eternal bachelor) that it isn't a stretch to see him play Ryan. However, his performance also allowed audiences a glimpse of his vulnerable side, which his usually cocky demeanor never shows. While Oscar Best Actress nominee Farmiga did her usual disrobing, the surprise this time is that she used a body double, having just given birth. Performance wise, her muted expressions were the perfect blend for the grand reveal her character delivers near the end. 1998 Tony Best Actress nominee Anna Kendrick was able to hold her own beside the two stars as Natalie; she successfully gets you to admire her, hate her and feel sorry for her all at once.

If the clips of the people reacting to being fired makes you flinch at its rawness, it may be because they were real people who were recently laid off. They were reportedly asked to look at the camera as if it were the person who fired them and reenact what they did, or say what they hoped they had. Juxtaposing that with images of vacant office spaces made the scenes feel real for the audience, an effort that effectively translates genuine emotion on screen.

I would have preferred a different ending, perhaps one that ties everything up neatly, but if the objective is to stay truthful, then life never really turns out to be that simple. We already know that we won't always get what we want, but in the off chance that we do achieve it, it sucks to sometimes realize that it wasn't what we expected; it's a toss-up between keeping lofty dreams and discovering the empty reality.
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Dear John (I) (2010)
Channing Tatum is the sole reason to see this
11 February 2010
Channing Tatum (She's the Man, Step Up) is the only reason to sit through this unbelievably awful movie. Without eye candy like him, this would absolutely tank. Expect to burst into embarrassing fits of giggles when the actors try very, very hard to make you feel sorry for them and endure the disapproving dagger looks of die-hard Nicholas Sparks fans in the process.

But what can you expect from yet another Sparks weeper? The popular novelist relies heavily on his trademark tragic love stories (A Walk to Remember, The Notebook), and in his latest effort Dear John, he laments about John Tyree (Tatum), a young marine who falls for Savannah Curtis (Mamma Mia's Amanda Seyfried), a too-good-to-be-true college co-ed, in the two weeks he's home on leave. They decide to pursue their long distance romance and he promises to leave the Army after a year. Alas, 9/11 occurs and he is forced to extend his service indefinitely. Can Savannah wait for him any further while he tries to avoid getting killed?

Even Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Shipping News, The Cider House Rules) could not spin his magic with the terrible material he has to work with, and yet surprisingly, this movie has done very well at the tills. Go figure.
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Delivered the guffaws despite the formulaic plot
11 February 2010
Writer/director Marc Lawrence adds another gem to his string of rom-com hits (Music & Lyrics, Two Weeks Notice, Miss Congeniality) by banking on Hugh Grant for the third time and on the star power of yet another popular female lead, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Paul (Grant) and Meryl Morgan (Parker) are a separated couple from New York who jointly witness a murder and are abruptly whisked to a small town as part of a witness-protection program. While the US Marshalls look for separate relocation sites for them, Wyoming sheriff Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott) and his wife Emma (Mary Steenburgen) temporarily take them into their home, where the stereotypically career-driven city slickers learn how to rough it up and are forced to work on their issues.

What makes this movie work, despite the formulaic plot, is how it is able to inject pockets of realism even in its light moments without jarring the overall happy mood. Perhaps because the lead characters are so likable you root for them and want them to succeed. Life lessons and marital advice are imparted but they go down easy. The situations are ridiculous and the bumbling Paul and Meryl seem oblivious to them but the storytelling allows for the audience to be in on the emotions of each character amidst thoughtful laughter.
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Avatar (2009)
Technically a success, but the villains suck
11 February 2010
To say that Avatar is incredible is an understatement. Writer/director James Cameron's first directorial feature film since his Oscar-winning directorial effort in 1997's Titanic proved that he can still churn out critically-acclaimed box office hits.

With an estimated budget of US$280M, Avatar is one of the most expensive movies ever produced, and is the first film ever to earn over US$2B worldwide, making it the highest grossing film ever.

Relative unknown Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) is cast as Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine sent to the moon Pandora on a mission to infiltrate the enemy by assuming an alien body with the help of scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, who is reunited with her Aliens director). An accident facilitates Jake's acceptance into the alien community, but carrying out his mission becomes complicated when he falls for the alien Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), and the world he now sees with new eyes and he has to ultimately choose which reality he wants to save.

Since technically everything else is excellent, I have to gripe about the villains. Giovanni Ribisi (Public Enemies, Lost in Translation) plays Parker Selfridge, a sadly one-dimensional character bent on profits, while Stephen Lang plays Colonel Miles Quaritch, the stereotypical military man who impatiently muscles his way into anything. Both have no depth, no saving grace and become convenient objects of hate. Even Michelle Rodriguez typecasts herself once more by playing yet another tough girl role, macho helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon.

But that aside, the digs on the Bush administration's shock-and-awe tactics and the parallelism on the very current environmental degradation makes this cinematic experience easily digestible even when it takes its sweet time to entertain you, especially in 3D.
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A good romantic comedy is a rarity...
11 February 2010
It's Complicated is simply enjoyable. A good romantic comedy is a rarity, so who better than rom-com specialist Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, What Women Want) to write and direct yet another? Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) have been married for ten years and divorced for fifteen, but while attending their son's college graduation sparks fly between the old flames. But Jake's still married to the much younger Agness (Lake Bell), and Jane's architect and fellow divorceé Adam (Steve Martin) remains an interesting and sensible possibility. This puts everyone on a roller-coaster ride of what-ifs, which includes Jane and Jake's three grown kids.

It's a treat to see excellent actors delivering the laughs, especially when it looks like they're having a great time, too. In particular, John Krasinski (The Office) stands out in his supporting role as Harley, Jane and Jake's future son-in-law, who accidentally finds out about the affair before everyone else. Streep shines, as usual, while Baldwin eases into his newfound role of go-to comedy guy since his career-reviving 30 Rock success. The usually slapstick Martin surprisingly turns in a more toned down performance, which is a relief.

It's wonderful to see intelligent lead roles still being written for mature actors that doesn't exclude younger audiences. The story and characters have broad appeal; the dilemmas remain relevant regardless of age and so are the punch lines. It's Complicated is ironically comforting in its effortlessness.
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Decent, entertainment-wise...
5 July 2009
the funny bits were already shown in the trailer so it was a bit of a disappointment.

the graphics were incredible though and the story was earnestly told, even if it sometimes felt stilted. it unsmoothly segues from the main plot line to the side story of the rat and his love triangle w an acorn and an evolved female.

it also felt like it ran on too long so i was surprised to realize that it was only 1.5 hrs in length.

Decent, entertainment-wise but the writing and comic timing could-be-better.
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intense, raw, painful and brutally honest
2 March 2009
Frank: I have the backbone not to run away from my responsibilities! April: It takes backbone to lead the life you want!

Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) works for the first time with his wife Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road, a heavy drama based on Richard Yates' novel. It also reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Winslet since 1997's Titanic.

Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet) seem to live the perfect life with their two kids in a Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950s. Frank has a job he doesn't like but is good at, while April put her acting dreams on hold to become a full-time housewife. But they feel trapped and unhappy and feel like there is a better life than what they have. Then April hatches the perfect plan: the Wheelers will start over in Paris, the only place she remembers her husband saying was worth returning to, where people felt most alive. No job awaits Frank there, in fact, he has no idea what he will do, but he will finally have the time to find out. April volunteers to support the family by applying for a good-paying secretarial job. They announce their plan to the world, but when they begin execution, complications ensue, values are tested, and the couple discovers so much more about each other that will forever change their future.

Revolutionary Road is intense, raw, painful and brutally honest. It has been called a humorless American Beauty, but it's so much more. It may be set in the '50s, but its message continues to speak to anyone in a relationship today. Technically, while the performances were terrific, it sometimes felt like the characters were mouthpieces on a tableau, as if in a play. But that itch aside, Revolutionary Road resonated with me, being in a relationship and having had the same thoughts as the characters. When April says, "I saw a whole other future. I can't stop seeing it," you feel her desire and grief. You will also feel Frank's helplessness even in his volatile explosions. Even in their many conversations and yelling sprees, one might think that at least the couple communicates and are honest with each other. But in the end, there is a scene that at first confused me, but later on I realized its importance: how a couple lasts by showing how the other copes. It was a simple but powerful scene, perhaps depressing but real nonetheless.
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The International (I) (2009)
2 March 2009
"Sometimes you find your destiny on the road you took to avoid it." - Louis Salinger

Art imitates life in the tight thriller The International by talented director Tom Tykwer (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Paris, je t'aime). An original screenplay by screenwriter Eric Singer, the title refers to the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), a mighty global bank involved in illicit activities and corruption, purportedly patterned after real corporations, the Permindex Trade Organization of Canada and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International of Pakistan.

Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) is a scruffy Interpol guy whose partner gets killed in the middle of their investigation of the IBBC. He gets help from his American counterpart Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who allows him to get as close to the truth as possible, putting her own life on the line. The pair jetset all over the world in pursuit of characters who could help them take down the impenetrable IBBC. But the truth gets more difficult to swallow when they realize how deeply infected the whole system has already become, threatening to take not just the guilty down.

Tykwer employs his trademark crisp visuals to tell what could have been a very complicated story really well. Owen's performance is just right, and while Watts' is, too, I couldn't help but be distracted by how young and fresh she looked to be playing her character. The rest of the supporting cast deliver the chills, and so do the memorable action sequences, particularly the one in the Guggenheim Museum and the piazza in Milan.
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The Reader (2008)
What would you have done?
23 February 2009
Based on the 1995 novel by Bernhard Schlink, The Reader (Der Vorleser) tackles difficult ethical standpoints in post-WWII Germany.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) has a passionate summer affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a mysterious woman twice his age. She suddenly disappears but accidentally resurfaces in his life eight years later as a defendant in a trial he is observing as a law student. It culminates in a decision to either keep or divulge a secret important to Hanna that Michael knows could absolve her but damn him and the cause of those inadvertently affected by her unfortunate actions.

Oscar nominated director Stephen Daldry (for Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader) shows his trademark restraint and skillful handling of top-notch actors in this heavy drama about human complexity. The story itself is so open to interpretation and could've been coarsely treated but Daldry and his remarkable cast show immense sensitivity that it becomes difficult not to feel for each one.

After seven nominations, Winslet finally wins an Oscar for Best Actress for her stunning performance as Hanna. She is able to make you have mixed feelings of overwhelming sympathy and intense disgust for such a simpleton. It makes me wonder though, why she has to keep shedding her clothes in most of her roles when she doesn't really need to, with her incredible talent. Kross is a revelation and holds his own screen presence against such a formidable co-star. It was also interesting to find out that the production had to wait till he turned 18 to film his love scenes and that he had to learn English for this breakout role. Ralph Fiennes plays the older Michael, and while I originally thought it was a waste to cast him for this part, I later realized how crucial his eyes and expressions were in communicating volumes of feeling, even in the slightest of dialogues.

While heavy, The Reader is still a must-see, if only to get back to contemplating on your basic humanity. "What would you have done?" is the question Hanna poses to the judge, and would be interesting to ask yourself. Elements of many parts of this movie would make for a fruitful after-movie discourse.
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Valkyrie (2008)
Educational and entertaining
21 February 2009
Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns) steps away from his typical fantastic stories and instead embarks on a straight-forward historical drama with Valkyrie.

Based on the true story of the German resistance's plot to kill Hitler, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is a decorated war hero secretly against the Fuhrer. He gets an opportunity to do something about it by joining the German resistance, and they plot a daring coup to topple Hitler's Germany.

Carice van Houten (who oddly looks like Vilma Santos!) plays von Stauffenberg's wife Nina, and while without much dialogue, effectively transmits emotion on screen with the slightest of expressions. This acting style is strongly echoed by the rest of the cast: Kenneth Branagh (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hamlet) plays the cunning Major-General Henning von Tresckow, who enlists him in the resistance; Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Notes on a Scandal, Love Actually) plays the wishy-washy General Friedrich Olbricht and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) plays the careerist General Friedrich Fromm. The handsome Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist, King Kong) plays yet another ironic role as Nazi supporter, Major Otto Ernst Remer.

Reminiscent of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, Valkyrie is beautifully told in bittersweet fashion. The suspense and drama are efficiently translated by the stellar cast, told in a wonderful, old-school way of storytelling. Educational and entertaining.
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Gran Torino (2008)
irreverently funny!
21 February 2009
Surprisingly enjoyable! The poster seems serious and poised its viewers for heavy drama, but Gran Torino is irreverently funny. It's great seeing Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) create movies for himself using material that would otherwise never see Hollywood. Not only has he continued to successfully direct emotionally-charged dramas but he also shows aging actors how to create roles for themselves.

Set in the not-so-sleepy suburban Midwest, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a grumpy widower and Korean War vet who ends up befriending his Hmong teenage neighbor, Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang), who tried to steal his vintage car, a 1972 Gran Torino. The old dog is also forced to accept new ways when he has to deal with the growing number of minorities in his neighborhood, while struggling against his well-meaning son who tries to take care of him with embarrassing results.

The rest of the supporting cast is laudable and turn in earnest performances, including Christopher Carley as the young Father Janovich, who relentlessly tries to befriend Kowalski, and Ahney Her as Thao's sassy sister, Sue. Eastwood triumphs once more in turning what would otherwise be a simple drama into a memorable, engaging story, using his heroic anti-hero Kowalski as a platform for better written roles for older actors. Don't miss this one!
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could use some clever cutting
18 February 2009
Michael Cera reprises a role he does best (a good-natured dork) as high school student Nick O'Leary, the only straight guy in the mostly gay-punk group The Jerk Offs. Nick makes 'closure' CD soundtracks (up to Vol. 12!) for his bitchy ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena, another stereotype for most annoying girl ever--originally hated her in Fool's Gold). Nick meets Tris' best friend Norah Silverberg (Kat Dennings), a mysterious, brooding type, when she asks him to play her boyfriend for a few minutes (another old trick in the book).

Just like the characters' purported awkward age, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist was painfully awkward in its acting, story and editing. There were a few highlights and seriously funny moments, but they are a sad sprinkling. Ari Graynor's antics as Caroline, Norah's drunk and ditzy friend, seemed genuine but it wasn't established how and why they remain friends. Some of the dialogue is hilarious but you are rewarded by these handouts only if you're patient enough not to sleep through this infinitely long-drawn out teen flick.

Oh, the soundtrack was perfectly ambient but not particularly memorable (which is the saddest part!), however, I thought the escalator kissing scene was really sweet.
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Seven Pounds (2008)
Will Smith's messiah complex...
10 February 2009
"Seven Names. Seven Strangers. One Secret." is the mysterious teaser of Seven Pounds. The latest Will Smith vehicle teams him up again with director Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happiness), and that dual branding is enough to get people in the theaters, even without knowing anything about the story.

All we are allowed to know is that Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is a secretive, self-flagellating IRS agent who gets flashbacks from what appears to be his past life. He seems bent on a goal of screening seven worthy recipients of a purported gift he is able to give. Among the people he helps are Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), a blind vegan pianist, and Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a young woman with congenital heart failure and the inadvertent object of Ben's affection.

Based on an original script by Grant Nieporte, the poetic allusion to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is marvelously clever. However, the major twist in the story unfolds in excruciating slow-mo that the revelation sadly becomes anti-climactic, with its dramatic scenes drawn out too long. Seven Pounds could have been executed so much better. It meant well, but the pacing was off. Too much time was left open to anticipate what was happening, so I was unable to feel for the characters and their situations at the right time. As an aside, it is interesting to note Will Smith's messiah complex in all the roles he chooses. :o)
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Marley & Me (2008)
Skip the mascara..
10 February 2009
Gee, I hadn't cried in a really long time till I saw Marley & Me. It has no strong plot, but it will make you laugh and cry all the same.

Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) interprets Hollywood's latest book-to-movie offering, American journalist John Grogan's autobiography Marley & Me, a humorous account of 13 years of his family's life spent with their Labrador retriever, Marley.

After writers John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer Grogan (Jennifer Aniston) get married, they decide to have a dog first before having kids. They name him Marley, and he hilariously ensures who's alpha dog in the Grogans' home. Wilson does well in this semi-serious role, and has good chemistry with Aniston, who just looked a bit too good even for the parts where she was supposed to already look frazzled. Grey's Anatomy's Eric Dane takes on another playboy role as John's friend Sebastian, who lives out John's dream in a parallel universe, so he probably just ran on auto-pilot. It was shocking to see Kathleen Turner as the harassed dog trainer Ms. Kornblut; I can't believe she agreed to do such a non-glam role. Alan Arkin was wonderful as John's poker-faced but supportive editor Arnie Klein. Their scenes were restrained but memorable, and when Arnie tells John, "Sometimes life has a better idea", you can't help but apply his wisdom to yourself, too.

Considering the thin plot, and knowing how it will eventually play out in the end (even without having read the book), the movie drags on a bit too long. Although, anyone who's ever lost a dog will undoubtedly relive the tragedy through this movie, so it's definitely emotionally engaging. It really is true: "A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his." A must-see for doglovers of all ages!
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Taken (I) (2008)
Sure to be any father's required film viewing for their daughters!
1 February 2009
Sure to be any father's required film viewing for their daughters! I thought of mine the whole time I was watching this flick and I begrudgingly became extra aware of parents' POV when they have to let go of their kids. It really can be a bad, crazy world out there, and after watching Taken, you'd want to have a dad like Liam Neeson's character, Bryan Mills.

Bryan retired from the CIA to get closer to his beloved daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who has just turned 17. Kim lives with Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), and asks permission from him to go to Paris with a friend. He reluctantly allows her, and his worst fears come to life when she is kidnapped by an Armenian white slavery ring. Bryan is forced to use his special set of skills to get his daughter back, armed with only very few clues, in only a few hours he has before she disappears forever.

Written by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Transporter series), Taken is the impressive Hollywood directorial debut of cinematographer Pierre Morel. He has loads of help from Neeson, though, who is super believable transitioning from ultra-doting dad to unstoppable force to reckon with. If you're ever in trouble, you'd want to have him on your side. When he says he's coming to get you, you know he will, especially when he quickly and efficiently handles anyone who gets in his way. I would definitely like to see him taking on more roles like this one. It was just as startling to see the beautiful Janssen in a subdued mother role, having been used to seeing her as the femme fatale or the superhero for the better part of her career. While definitely pretty, Grace was miscast as Kim. Not only is she a decade older than the character, she's already famous as whiny Shannon in Lost. While still whiny, her acting was too affected, perhaps trying to compensate for playing someone much younger. She ran like a retard and her misplaced mannerisms distracted from the movie.

Still, I found Taken to be v. entertaining; needless to say, don't take it so seriously! It delivers on being violent, ridiculous, unbelievable fun so enjoy it!
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Recommended viewing with galpals when PMSing
28 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Written for the screen and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Secret Life of Bees is set in 1964 South Carolina, when the Civil Rights Act was still being enforced and not taken very well in the south, where racism was still at an all-time high. Against this backdrop unfolds a heartwarming, girl-power drama based on Sue Monk Kidd's novel about 14-year old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) who accidentally killed her mother when she was little. Lily runs away from her abusive father T. Ray (Paul Bettany), taking with her their housekeeper Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson). They find solace in the Pepto-Bismol-hued home of the Boatwright sisters August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo).

Fanning is now tall and gangly but is still riveting on screen with her amazingly controlled emotional range; she seems to be one of those actors who can do no wrong. Bettany is a surprise, playing a vicious redneck that can still manage to elicit some twisted form of pity from the audience for his lot in life. I was hoping his story could have been fleshed out further. Latifah has come a long way from comedy and veritably anchors her scenes, while Keys transitions wonderfully from musician to movie star playing the beautiful but haughty June. Okonedo played the retarded twin May with great sensitivity and depth.

A Hallmark sort of movie with a clear target market, The Secret Life of Bees is a warm and toasty pause from the usual Hollywood fare. Recommended viewing with galpals when PMSing.
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