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"Taken" (2002)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
If Only Someone Else In The World Gets It ..., 13 November 2004

TAKEN is not just a mini-series, a film, it is an experience. I sometimes find that the best movies I watched are unexpected, in the sense that I didn't know they would be the best things I'll ever watch for a long time. I bought the DVD thinking it would be interesting. What I didn't expect, is that TAKEN would affect me so much that I pretty much lived in my room for a week and didn't speak to anyone the first time I saw it, and almost jeopardised my A-level exams because of it.

Lots of people seemed to have missed the point. When I saw TAKEN I didn't see acting or plot or Spielberg or special effects. Instead I got to know these characters, everyone of them, and got involved in their lives, got to feel how they feel, got to listen to their thoughts. Every part of the mini-series was perfect in the sense that it created a certain kind of atmosphere that I will never be able to explain to anyone, and for that I will remain a lonely person. The smell of the DVDs, the music composed by Laura Karpman ... both of these alone would send me back to those days when i first watched TAKEN and when I almost went completely insane because of it. I wished the world in the mini-series was real, and that the real world was fake ... because I'd rather know these characters, Jake and Allie and Jesse, etc, than to live in the world we live in today. To know that it is possible for benevolent aliens to exist.

If all you see after watching TAKEN is a mini-series whose motivation is to make a profit, or that the storyline is boring or mundane or overly-sentimental, or that only Owen Crawford's character is memorable, or that the special effects suck ... you have not watched TAKEN yet. I think most people will never.

And that is a miserably depressing fact I have to live with.

Timeline (2003)
And then some more ..., 6 December 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers ahead. Please, you know what to do - skip.

I really need to defend this film. I won't say that this film is only for those who have read the novel (no filmmaker would do that for a film in this kind of circumstances), but I will say that it would have been a better experience for those who have read it. I understood it more easily, even with the choppy editing (which I'm sure is not the director's fault ... we'll never know the true story behind it, did someone accidentally destroyed some of the negatives shot in the process of producing the film?). In fact in the beginning I was constantly spotting the points of references they inserted in the film. Some people call that 'predictable' (almost everyone apparently, not because they believe what they are writing, but because they want to sound contradictory) and as such, bad. What's wrong with a film being predictable in an interesting way? I knew about the ending with Marek and Claire, and I was looking forward to it, wishing to see how that aspect was done. In fact they gave it a little twist. Some reviewers said that the film doesn't really resemble the novel - are they sure?

And yes, the choppy editing ruined things a little. Those who have not seen the novel wouldn't have seen the point of the prologue, which happened so fast that a few of the main characters (Kramer, Doniger, Gordon) were introduced without being introduced. Again, for those who have read the novel, they wouldn't have noticed the flawed editing.

The book gave our protagonists 33 hours - in the film they had 6. Even then the film was already proceeding at a frenzied rush - they had so many elements to incorporate, and to be honest I was really surprised at how many of the elements of the novel they were able to insert into the film. The fear after killing a person for the first time, De Kere, struggling to get out of the river (a cheat, they used it in a different event), the underground tunnel where Kate and Chris were looking for it together, the idea that whatever the protagonists do they cannot 'change history' because it will somehow correct itself - so much more from the novel. I was initially disappointed that the scene where Chris was forced to do a jousting match was not written in, but now that they have decided on Paul Walker to play Chris, his personality has changed drastically and that wouldn't have worked.

Hulk (2003)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Hulk - Oscar Winner, 26 November 2003

Many people have commented on this film and they belong to either of these two groups - those who think it's boring (maybe they saw the green lights and thought it was The Matrix) and didn't understand what was going on (yup, like philosophy) and then when the action happens it's cool except that it's unbelievable that Hulk didn't drop his pants when he shrank (yeah, right, now that would be both realistic and in good taste ...). The others understand what Ang Lee is trying to do (without having to really analyse the film, in case some people think that is the case), enjoys the seriousness and graveness the film presents, and think that when the action happens it's downright cool and entertaining too.

I belong to the latter group (anyone who's able to work that out does deserve some prize - currently the split is 50/50). The name Ang Lee would have sounded alarm bells in the first place - for me it sounded like 'WHAT?!' Then was the anticipation - the studios have made an interesting choice ... it would really be interesting to see how the film turned out to be like. It's so long since I've been to a film where its contents are unexpected - unlike every other film nowadays, through either the trailer, synopsis or review you know some of the stuff that will appear on screen, so that what was original when the script was penned suddenly became a cliche simply because you experienced the film from all three sources.

And when I finally saw it - wow. I was half-dizzy from the experience - my brain was numb, couldn't think, not even of what the whole thing fully meant. All I knew was it was a good movie - it told a story, acknowledged its roots without distracting (those who were distracted by the you-know-what probably have short concentration spans

anyway), and also surprised me. I didn't know the Hulk could jump, run and hop like that, but it was interesting that he did. It was real - just let yourself believe that it is real in the world of the film and you will enjoy it, as simple as that. Instead certain people chose to pay with their hard-earned cash and go in with a set expectation of what's going to happen (under 2 hours of smashing stuff) and refusing to let that expectation go even when it was clearly wrong, even if letting it go means enjoying the film. As for his pants? It was a special material that could stretch by a large amount - they're the military, they have enough money to spend on this stuff. Now enough about the pants, coz I'm more interested in seeing what happens next with the relationship between Bruce and Betty and his father ...

Point is, this film is aiming for the Oscars. Best Editing (hey, JFK won remember?), Best Sound (notice the sound used when Hulk is running), Best Cinematography (the shot of the helicopter flying above the waters was stunning), Best Special Effects, Best Direction - and Best Picture. The signs are all there. It won't win Best Picture, but see that it gets nominated. The cast won't get a nomination, but that's not because they did it badly. Some people complained that Eric Bana wasn't explosive enough - erm, anyone with a sober brain would realise that he is playing a quiet introvert here. There is a point to choosing someone who's capable of exploding to play someone whose explosions

happen within and not without - Bruce Banner might almost never explode but you feel it subconsciously. (But of course I'm being idealistic. The Academy Awards are not about awarding awards and nomination to the right winners, but to wade between the heavy pressure of anticipation of the press and the audience in general. For example, how many people understood what was the theme of The Hours?)

Some people complain about the film being a franchise and all and that the ending suggests a sequel. Yes it does, but I'm comforted by the fact that if (unfortunately it's a BIG IF, thanks to all the film-bashers out there) there is a sequel, no one else can take over and still maintain the same tone and style of this film and hence will be an abomination (take the case of Brian De Palma vs John Woo). It can only be directed by Ang Lee.

P.S. - For the record, I thought it was great that the film was 2 hours and 20 minutes. If there is a sequel it had better be as long as that.

23 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
I demand the 3-hour original release!, 28 August 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film had so many things going for it, despite the odds. In the end, it was the odds that pulled it down. The film was well made, and though I wasn't too impressed with Elizabeth I think Shekhar Kapur did an admirable job under very pressurised situations (constantly visited by worried producers, directing a film whose script isn't finished yet, the rigours of the desert, as well as the daunting aspect of directing 1,000+ extras which few films nowadays have with the advent of CGI replicating). The cinematography was wonderful, seriously on par with The English Patient though in a different way - in its way. The score - what can I say about it except that I've almost worn out the score soundtrack CD by James Horner due to the unique Qawwali wailings combined with a heartbreaking and tender piano theme. Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley, all non-Brits, did an admirable job handling the accents and still managing to come out with dramatic performances. I don't get it - why did non-Brits accuse them of not having perfect accents? I don't know whether they have perfect accents but they certainly sounded British. Some people said they were stiff. I don't see how that could be a complaint for a movie set in Victorian Britain. The script was not bad - nothing negative should be said about it.

Now here is where the theatrical release of the film faltered - the editing. The original cut was three hours long, a release which apparently Miramax boss approved of. Somehow, 9/11 got in the way due to the anti-colonialist stance of the movie. Also, studios generally dislike 3-hour releases. Kapur was flung back into the editing room to chop it down to 2 hours. Which he did. And many people complained that the movie was incoherent, that there were jumps. And this is why. (Spoilers till end of paragraph.) I think the scene where Ethne's feather was presented to Harry may have been filmed but was cut, causing some people to lament the loss of a dramatic moment. Also, many people couldn't understand the motives behind Harry's actions, first leaving the army, then going after his friends. I believe the editing had a lot to do with that.

In other words, everything about the movie was good, right up to before it was to be edited to 2 hours. Some people might complain it was boring - they deserve to watch films like The Matrix and that's it - that's all they deserved. Some people kept saying that the previous version(s) were better. Maybe that's true for the older folks but for me (and I believe for most of the younger generations) it is difficult for us to watch films made decades ago, due to the different style and pacing of different eras. The older generation may watch films such as Chicago and lament the advent of the MTV generation; whereas people like me would watch Casablanca and find it wide-open-mouth-shocked to be ranked 2nd on the AFI 100 Films. So I believe there is nothing wrong with the remaking of The Four Feathers - it is making a period film using today's kind of epic filmmaking style. You can see how the colours are so rich, how the battle scenes are filmed in ways more sophisticated than a 1939 film can.

Also, poor marketing has failed this movie, causing it to earn only 1/4 of its budget on the domestic market. On the other hand, I did noticed that negative critics tend to be American. Some people actually thought of it as swashbuckling adventure. It is not - while Harry may do things that seem impossible realistically, it works fine in a film which also aims to make people feel rather than just watch. There is enough realism that it doesn't look stupid. Apparently Americans disagree - one viewer reported laughing in the cinemas ... and it isn't the part where the Englishman is laughing.

The DVD version has been released in the US. It is the Special Collectors' Edition, but it remains the same 2-hour flawed movie. I charge that Miramax release a 3-hour Director's Cut edition of the movie in its DVD release overseas. The film deserves at least that.

Hulk (2003)
Character-driven drama, 16 July 2003

Hey, the film's actually not bad! I walked out of the theater feeling slightly dizzy, a feeling I get after watching movies such as The Pianist or The Hours. What that implies is that Ang Lee was probably trying for another Oscar, somehow, though hardly in the acting department (not that Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly weren't good, just that ... comic-book Oscar winners, anyone?). They do have a chance in editing and a slight one in special effects though. People who watch this film should, as most of the other positive-reviewers agree, watch this as a drama - go in with your expectations programmed like you're going to watch Road To Perdition or something. The action is more a representation of his anger, and I loved how intense it was. There were even attempts to make it look realistic in an already unrealistic Hulk-comic-book world - the way Hulk landed he stil had to hop another step to break his jump. Basically, it's all about emotions. Just that, all about emotions (that means you, the audience, not only the movie).

"Taken" (2002)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
I love this film so much, every day of the week and twice on Sundays., 28 May 2003

Steven Spielberg presented Taken because he wanted to make the definitive film about alien abduction, a film he believed he couldn't have done in 2 or so hours. So although Taken is a TV Series which is 14 hours exc. commercials, I watched the entire thing almost continuously over a period of three days, so to me this is more like a film rather than a mini-series.

Taken succeeds in so many levels and aspects. The story is first-rate and beautiful. I really do admire Les Bohem's talent in presenting a story that does the unconventional by becoming a sci-fi story within a drama rather than the other way round, by being able to write characters which are somewhat complex and memorable (I will remember Jacob Clarke and Allie Keys for the rest of my life), by writing a story that is clever (but not too clever, like The Matrix Reloaded does), by being able to avoid clichés in its dialogue and storyline (some cynics complain about it being clichéd, but then the only thing that isn't clichéd is the first word uttered by the first man; heck, even The Matrix can be considered to be inspired by The Thirteenth Floor and Terminator), and by writing it in such a sentimental manner - it's a long, long time since I last cried at a film. It is not soap opera-ish as some might complain. Those who do are probably avid sci-fi fans, and it is probably true that advertising Taken as a sci-fi series is rather misleading. What Taken does that other sci-fi series doesn't is to focus on the human drama - domestic problems at home, noticing that your son suddenly decides to use the right hand to eat rather than the left, that your dad's hobby is to mow the lawn, etc. In a way, sci-fi can be realistic if we make the characters realistic - in Taken, the characters are usually ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. It's only when you get abducted by aliens that you forget to feed the fish. In most sci-fi environments, strange things happen all the time so characters never stop to thing of little things like that.

The special effects are good enough for a production that has a rather short post-production period. The ten directors did a very good job - in the sense that it felt like just one person is directing. The actors were great - most people have already mentioned Joel Gretsch and Dakota Fanning; Anne Crawford's (Tina Holmes) tragic life was heartbreaking; Anton Yelchin plays Jacob Clarke maturedly and with looks that could send the chill down your spine; Heather Donahue uses her eyes to symbolize Mary Crawford's dogged and ruthless ambition; and the image of Jesse Keys (Desmond Harrington) looking at the blood on the towel and asking his wife to take Charlie away has stayed on my mind ever since. Perhaps the only character I didn't like was that of Chet Wakeman, though I guess he does lighten things up a bit.

Throughout the series, we always hear the little girl's quotes, which sounded weird at first, but we would later understand the significance, and is actually a nice touch by (I assume) Les Bohem. They contain meaningful insights written out in an indirect manner but in simple prose (unlike the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of The Matrix Reloaded . sorry Matrix fans, just can't help comparing since I just saw Reloaded right before this one). And the fact that it's uttered by a little girl makes you feel as if there's something we can learn from it.

Taken is now on the top of my list of favourite movies (for the past 3 years it had been Gladiator). All in all, Taken is, as they say, a powerful emotional and evocative drama.

9 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
I don't get it., 20 May 2003

I simply don't. Perhaps someone will explain to me how did this film get to #20 in the top 250 films list, because I can't see why. I'm not complaining that the film is dated (1959 ... nope, no problems with that) or that the film is full of plotholes (only a newspaper film critic will complain about that), but I can't see how the film is interesting. I take it that Cary Grant is playing an unrealistic character, someone who's ordinary but thrown into extraordinary situations, but still doesn't flinch when a crop-duster comes after him or when he's escorted out by strangers with guns. Fine - but where's the charm? Where's the suaveness? Where's the style? I don't feel it. In fact, it came across as VERY fake. I don't see Roger Thornhill - all I see is Cary Grant. I can't understand why the cropduster scene is so memorable - is it because it's the first time there was a movie with a man being chased by a plane in it? I take it that the Mt Rushmore scene is memorable because it's the first time it's been done and no other film has really gone to do it again, but didn't think that was outrageously original (not saying it's not a creative idea, just don't get the hype). Eva Marie Saint is pretty and plays the complicated Eve subtly well. But I don't see Hitchcock's 'master' direction - I can't see what's so unique ... or ... or incredible about it. Can somebody point the way, cause I don't think age has anything to do with this (I'm an 18 year-old movie geek).