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How do you turn a racing game into a movie? Well we guess the 'Fast and
Furious' franchise offers a ready template, but anyone hoping for this
video game adaptation to deliver the same kind of high-octane thrills
will be sorely disappointed. And that's because instead of using that
franchise as the most obvious reference point, the filmmakers have
instead taken heed from Disney/ Pixar's 'Cars' and we kid you not, this
resembles a live-action version of the animated film and comes off all
the worse off for it.
Offering up as straightforward a story as you can get, first-time feature film writer George Gatins sets up a personal vendetta between local street racer Tobey Marshall and competitive racer Dino Brewster which forms the basis of the entire movie. High-school rivals whose fates have since diverged, the slicker California-based Dino challenges the less urbane Tobey to a race around their small town of Mt. Kisco, NY, in order to prove which among them is the better racer. Just because Dino happens to be engaged to Tobey's ex-flame Anita (Dakota Johnson), her brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), who also happens to be Tobey's good buddy, joins in the race as well.
Playing a one-two tag team, Tobey and Pete force Dino into pole position, which provokes the latter to ram Pete's vehicle from the back, causing it to spin, crash and catch fire spectacularly. Whereas Dino immediately flees the scene and finds an alibi, Tobey spends the next two years in jail for vehicular manslaughter. Upon his release on parole, Tobey immediately assembles his old crew to drive 45 hours across America to participate in an illegal race in California known as the DeLeon in order to exact vengeance and clear his name in the process.
Clocking in at an interminable 131 minutes, too much time is spent following Tobey and his buddies - Benny (Scott Mescudi), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and Finn (Rami Malek) - as they provide both ground and air support for Tobey's cross-country drive in a legendary Mustang that Carroll Shelby himself was purportedly building before he passed away. Amongst Tobey's crew, the most interesting of the lot is unquestionably Benny, who turns up in everything from a small prop plane to a news chopper to a military cargo chopper to provide air recon and eventually airlift to Tobey's Mustang.
Despite the addition of Brit actress' Imogen Poots as Tobey's wing 'woman' and obligatory romantic interest, there is little that Tobey and his crew can do to sustain your interest on the way to the expected finale. Pardon our bluntness, but Benny just isn't a very humorous 'black man' (think Tyrese Gibson in 'Transformers' or Ludicrous in 'Fast and Furious') no matter Gatins' attempt at milking that stereotype for all that it is worth. Joe and Finn hardly get much attention; the most you'll remember of the former is that he's a pretty skilled high-tech mechanic and of the latter that he strips completely naked somewhere during the movie to show that he's had enough of his corporate cubicle job.
In the absence of engaging moments of camaraderie, director Scott Waugh - his sophomore film since making his debut in the Navy SEALS drama 'Act of Valor' - tries to sustain the momentum by staging a fair number of high-speed car chases as Tobey tries to evade getting caught by the interstate police for violating the rules of his parole while getting noticed by the mysterious 'Monarch' (a terribly under-utilised Michael Keaton who spends all the time in the movie behind a console playing a video podcast radio show host) in order to get invited to the DeLeon.
Waugh's insistence at using real cars for each and every one of the stunts pays off to a certain extent - there's often no doubt you're seeing it for real on screen - but there is just something oddly disengaging about the manner in which the shots are edited together to form a coherent whole. Waugh's cinematographer Shane Hurlbut finds a variety of ways of putting the audience right into the point of view of the driver (in the spirit of the first-person perspective of the video game), and to give credit where it is due, there are a number of good heart-stopping Vertigo shots; but on the overall, none of the car chases are choreographed with the same imagination as you would expect from a Hollywood racing flick, which is OK only if you're expecting nothing more than reality-show type stunts.
In fact, the entire movie plays like a car stuck in second gear all the way through, incapable of revving up from a persistently sluggish pace even when it's close to the finishing line. The climax is nothing to shout for, even though it does total a number of expensive luxury cars that you'd wish the filmmakers had simply let you own instead. Waugh's heavy-handed tendencies with the more melodramatic scenes are also not what 'Breaking Bad' star Aaron Paul and his entourage manage to overcome; rather, Paul seems utterly out of his league playing the leading man here, coming off soft, ineffectual and thoroughly lacking in any sort of screen charisma.
Every which way you look, this movie adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name just doesn't cut it. The plotting is almost inexistent; the dialogue is awkward, stilted and often cringe-worthy; and the racing scenes barely raise a pulse for the modern-day viewer greased on them 'Fast and Furious' flicks. It would certainly have been better if Waugh had tried to launch a new 'Fast and Furious' franchise, rather than a live-action 'Cars' movie that leads its viewer along a road trip down half of America. True to its title, it demonstrates a desperate 'need for speed', which pretty much explains why it goes on and on (and on) for more than two hours.
'300: Rise of an Empre' isn't a sequel in the strictest sense of the
word; rather, seeing as how King Leonidas and his small but mighty band
of Spartans all but perished under the sheer numbers of the Persian
army led by Xerxes in the three-day Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.,
this 'side-sequel' stands astride the events of the original film by
taking place within the same concurrent period of time. Not to worry
though - for those who can't quite recall what happened the last time
round, there is enough backstory to make up for the seven-year wait in
between the two instalments.
Taking the place of Leonidas is the Greek general Themistocles (Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton), who in the extended prologue is seen shooting an arrow straight into the heart of the invading Persian King Darius (Igal Naor) in battle. King Darius happens to be the father of Xerxes, but more significantly, he also had a surrogate daughter in the Greek-born Artemisia (Eva Green). The young Artemisia had been sold into slavery after the massacre of her parents by invading Greeks, and was rescued on the brink of death by none other than King Darius himself.
Returning to script and produce but not to direct is Zack Synder, who together with his co-screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, lay out some relatively heavy exposition in the first half hour drawn again from a graphic novel by Frank Miller. Though one may get the impression from the name of that novel 'Xerxes' that the emphasis should be on the Persian god-king, the more intriguing character here - as well as that given significantly more screen time - is that of Artemisia. Indeed, it is Artemisia whose motivation for revenge inspires the same of the grief-stricken Xerxes, the latter of whom then undergoes a transformation from human to god- like complete with gold-dipped skin, multiple piercings and his unmistakable glistening chrome dome.
Turns out that Xerxes' battle with King Leonidas was just one front of the Persian invasion of Greece; and since that story had already been told, this 'side-sequel' as we had described it earlier paints the other front in battle, one that takes place at sea between the two navies. Again, the Persians triumph in numbers, so the Greeks led by Themistocles employ some clever tactical manoeuvres to outwit the first two charges of the Persians, which Artemisia delegates to her generals to lead in order to observe - and test - the formidability of her opponent.
Taking over the directorial reins is the commercials ace Noam Murro, who stages the naval battles with plenty of visual flair. Each major sequence is different enough from the rest to offer real variety, and impresses not just with its sheer display of military might but also its detailing of Greco-Persian battle strategy - the last we have seen such an exciting combination of both was in John Woo's 'Red Cliff: Part Two'. Nonetheless, those hoping for a reprise of the blood-soaked violence in '300' need not worry; there is still plenty of beheadings, skewerings, and sword slashes - though we might add that there is perhaps a gratuitous display of arterial sprayings which could really be toned down a little.
Much less successful however is Murro's attempt to recreate the stylistics of Synder's original. Try though he might of aping its predecessor's mesmeric, affected visual presentation, Murro's film ultimately looks less elegant, the use of slo-mo in particular coming off obligatory and even pretentious. Whereas Synder preferred artistic compositions, Murro here prefers to leave war looking grittier and messier, which stand sometimes in contrast to the beautifully rendered digital backgrounds inserted once again by CGI wizards. Not surprisingly then, it isn't the man-on-man clashes that prove most spectacular this time round, but the swooping overhead shots of Greek ships going up against their clearly more daunting Persian armada.
While substituting Artemisia for Xerxes proves inspired, the same cannot be said of Themistocles for Leonidas. Not only does Themistocles come off bland compared to the macho-man heroics of Leonidas, Stapleton takes the role just too seriously, lacking in the charisma and self-awareness that Gerard Butler brought to his character. You're more likely then to be transfixed by Green, who portrays Artemisia's malevolence with scene- chewing glee. She knows exactly how to deliver each line of the intentionally stilted dialogue, adding just the right touch of vampiness to make them campily entertaining; nonetheless, it is very likely that one will remember the centrepiece sex scene between Themistocles and Artemisia where both take turns to prove themselves the 'man' in the 'f**king'.
If it isn't yet clear enough, Green is a big reason why this long- gestating sequel doesn't come off unnecessary. Like we said at the beginning, '300' isn't the most straightforward movie to stage a sequel; and even though this hardly matches the poetic storytelling of the original, there are still plenty of scenes of glorious bloodletting if that is your thing. We prefer though the visual spectacle that the impressively staged naval standoffs offer, and of course the spectacle that is Green's scene-stealing turn as a warrior queen. A word of caution too - don't expect a neat ending, for the open-ended conclusion suggests that the filmmakers think there is still lots of potential in the Greeks' eventual vanquishing of the Persians at Plataea and Mycale to continue the mythology of '300'.
Luc Besson certainly knows something about career reinventions; after
all, he wrote and produced one of the most unlikely of them in
Hollywood with the lean and mean EuropaCorp-financed 'Taken', which
made an unlikely action star out of Irish actor Liam Neeson. There's no
secret that his latest, similarly written and produced by him, aims to
do for the same for former Hollywood A-lister Kevin Costner, whose
meteoric rise in the early 1990s with 'Dances with Wolves' and 'Robin
Hood: Prince of Thieves' never quite recovered from its swift descent
in large part due to his hubris from vanity projects like 'Waterworld'
and 'The Postman'.
And yet, as much as we had really hoped that '3 Days to Kill' would be the big-screen comeback for Costner that he much deserves, we are equally pragmatic about that prospect now that we've seen this McG- directed movie. Yes, we can safely say that this mishmash of action, comedy and family drama is hardly going to be the shot in the arm that will do for Costner's career what 'Taken' did for Neeson - and that is despite the obvious thematic similarity in the father-daughter dynamics between the two films. That is however no fault of Costner's, whose gruff charisma is the only reason that this tonally muddled comedy- thriller is anywhere near watchable.
To be sure, it isn't a persona that his fans should be unfamiliar with; indeed, from as far back as 'Bill Durham', Costner has made a career out of playing the cynic with a heart of gold. That said, it does take some getting used to seeing Costner this grizzled and downbeat, as if the years since have indeed taken a toll on the once boyishly dashing actor. With a paunch, jowls, and thinning hair shorn down to an unflattering buzz cut, Costner disappears right into the role of the veteran CIA field operative Ethan Renner whose unflappable demeanour is replaced by newfound vulnerability when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer and given but three months to live after an operation gone bad.
That explosive opening set in Serbia is the closest one gets to the kind of over-the-top action which McG of 'Charlie's Angels' and 'Terminator Salvation' is known for. It also establishes the de rigueur villain of the day, a Germanic arms dealer known simply as 'The Wolf' (Richard Sammel) and his right hand man referred to as 'The Albino' (Tómas Lemarquis). After blowing up an entire hotel, McG settles down - a little too much, we may add - as Costner returns to Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), which in Besson and his co-scripter Adi Hasak's terms means lending fatherly advice over a bad hair day, visiting the amusement parks they used to go when Zooey was young and teaching Zooey how to ride a bicycle.
Deserving of special mention is how McG inserts a sly nod to one of Costner's biggest hits of the 1990s 'The Bodyguard' by getting him to carry Zooey out of a nightclub as he did Whitney Houston after saving the former from nearly being raped by three guys. Not so humorous however are Besson's attempt to inject humour while Costner is on the job, recruited as he is by a mysterious woman named Vivi (Amber Heard) who claims that she works for the director of the CIA and will give him an experimental drug that may cure his cancer if he assists her to track and kill 'The Wolf'; indeed, a sequence where Costner and Heard banters over what a goatee or a moustache looks like falls painfully flat.
For that matter, the comedy works only because Costner gamely goes through the motion with his deadpan comic flair. A recurring plot device has Costner extracting personal advice from his hostages - a recipe for spaghetti sauce in the case of an Italian accountant (Bruno Ricci) when Zooey calls so she can cook dinner for her boyfriend, Hugh (Jonas Bloquet); and some parental advice from a Middle Eastern limo driver (Marc Andreoni) linked to 'The Albino' whom he tortures by waxing the latter's bodily hair using sticky tape. All the while, Costner plays it straight and cool, which is always good for a few chuckles here and there.
If the comedy is sporadic, the action turns out even more so. Costner does some shooting now and then, but there's nothing on the scale of the opening. Even the finale is over just a bit too soon, unfolding over the course of some gunfire exchanged at yet another nightclub that is combined with an obligatory conflict with Christine upon her discovery that he is not yet fully retired. The only mildly memorable sequence is a one-on-one skirmish between Costner and an assassin in the deli section of a grocery store, which is also the only point in the movie that Costner gets to show off a little of that physical agility which Neeson displayed amply in 'Taken'.
But again, one senses that Besson had tried to pitch '3 Days to Kill' as something quite different from that unexpected hit. Yet he has also clearly overcompensated here, trying too hard to mesh a father-daughter reconciliation with a espionage thriller complete with a dying spy and a generous load of farce. You can literally see the strain in the material, held only by Costner's effortless self-deprecating charm. Clearly, he doesn't want his audience to take it too seriously, and if you're willing to look over the frays and flaws, you'll probably still find this a mildly pleasing diversion. It's still a missed opportunity for Costner though, who could really use a resurgence - after all, it has been a good half-dozen years since he is taking on a leading role on the big screen.
Continuing one of the most unlikely career reinventions in Hollywood,
Liam Neeson is back in full-scale action hero mode reteaming with his
'Unknown' director Jaume Collet-Serra for a similar whodunit set on
board an airplane. No matter that the Irish actor is now at a ripe old
age of 61, he is perfectly cast as the grizzled United States air
marshal Bill Marks, a recovering alcoholic grappling with some demons
from his past that only become clearer much later into the film.
First-time screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle send Neeson's Federal agent on a transatlantic flight from New York to London, where a seemingly uneventful night on the job quickly becomes something else when he receives a series of text messages warning that a passenger will be killed every 20 mins unless he arranges for $150 million to be transferred to a bank account within that time. Needless to say, the first deadline does expire and then another and then another, but the clues all point back to Bill himself, casting suspicion on the very individual we so easily assume to be the one who saves the day.
For Bill (and the rest of us who continue to believe that he is just being set up), there are plenty of possible suspects on board. Could it be Bill's chatty seat mate Jen (Julianne Moore) who seems to display an inordinate amount of concern for him? Could it be either one of the air hostesses air hostesses Nancy (Michelle Dockery) and/or Gwen (Lupita Nyong'o)? Could it be the co-pilot (Jason Butler Harner) who's never really trusted Bill? Could it be a hot-headed New York cop (Corey Stoll)? Or how about the thirty-something bespectacled dude (Scoot McNairy) who had tried to make small talk with Bill prior to the flight?
But if there's one thing that we know, it's that it cannot be the most obvious one of them all, a Muslim doctor Fahim Nasir (Omar Metwally) whom Bill regularly relies on to check the pulses and confirm the deaths of his victims. Tapping on our post-9/11 paranoia of airplanes, Serra and his screenwriters concoct a revolving door of possible stereotypical culprits that the smart viewer hopes that the film is smarter than to eventually pin blame on (rest assured, the film does eventually offer this small reassurance). That said, you should probably be prepared to be less than blown away with the revelation at the end, which strains to find motive for the crime but comes out falling short.
Is it any surprise that credibility isn't exactly the movie's strong suite? Indeed, if you're going to be scrutinising the proceedings for implausibilities, you might as well not even board this flight. A slightly more than moderate suspension of disbelief is necessary to fully enjoy the disposable B-grade thrills here, which among other things, assumes that there is still live broadcast TV coverage while the plane is travelling over international air space. On his part, Serra rewards those willing to check their disbelief at the boarding gate with brisk pacing designed to keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
And you know what? He does succeed, to a large extent, and may we add, to a far greater extent that we had expected. Encouraging its viewer to play detective alongside Bill with what limited clues presented on screen, Serra further tightens the noose by making full use of the enclosed environment to induce a sense of claustrophobic danger. Nowhere is this more apparent than a full-on mano-a-mano brawl that takes place within the tight confines of the bathroom, where Neeson once again showing off his prowess at close-quarters grappling that was a trademark of his 'Taken' movies.
Unfortunately, those expecting the same level of excitement from these fight scenes will probably be disappointed. No thanks to the setting, there is very little room for Neeson to engage in many of these, and whether by artistic choice or spatial limitations, the photography remains too much in close-up mode. And yet Neeson remains undoubtedly the tough-guy hero of the movie first by his imposing physicality, but also more importantly by his thespian muscles that lend his tortured character plenty of gravitas despite some brutally stiff dialogue at the more supposedly poignant moments.
It is also Neeson who keeps the movie from flying off the rails even though it does get increasingly ludicrous in the third act on its way to an explosive finale. No surprises that there is a bomb on board, it does detonate mid-flight, and it does end with an emergency landing made under the most dire of circumstances that pretty much obliterates the plane from ever flying again - truth be told, it's been a while since we've seen a similar high-altitude set thriller on the big screen that its clichés no longer feel so. It's no 'Taken' that's for sure, but it packs a fair share of solid gripping thrills in between an Agatha Christie mystery that makes it perfectly watchable for those in need of an action fix.
Paul W.S. Anderson has never been a director of story or character;
instead, as he had demonstrated with five chapters of the 'Resident
Evil' franchise, it's all about giving his audience the most bang for
their buck with pure action spectacle. And just as he did with zombies
previously, Anderson spares nothing in recreating the destruction of
the ancient Italian city laid to waste by the eruption of Mount
Vesuvius in A.D. 72, so rest assured that it does deliver genuine
spectacle as it promises.
The only catch? The volcano only erupts an hour into the movie, which also means that Anderson has to grapple with his twin Achilles' heels of story and character for that same duration. We won't kid you - the wait till fire and ash rains down from the legendary mountain is quite literally a slog. The fault isn't entirely Anderson's; though the leaden direction is to blame for the cliché-ridden melodrama, it is the screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes), Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler (Batman Forever) who are responsible for the utterly pedestrian script and some truly cringe-worthy dialogue.
What they have done essentially is to take a gladiator drama and throw in a 'rich girl/ poor boy' romance in the vein of 'Titanic' as a pretext for the inevitable eruption, with the former relatively more fleshed out than the latter. To set the stage, we see a young Celtic boy watching his parents being murdered by the ruthless Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his top soldier Proculus (Sasha Roiz), both Roman guards whom you know the same older boy will come face to face with later on. Fast forward to seventeen years later and the boy named Milo has developed into a strapping gladiator known as 'The Celt', picked out amidst a grubby Londinium arena for the big league in Pompeii.
Milo's meet-cute with his romantic interest Cassia (Emily Browning) happens en route to Pompeii, when the latter's carriage becomes stuck in the mud and causes one of her horses to suffer a severe fall. In an act of kindness, Milo kills the horse with his bare hands to put him out of its misery, and immediately earns Cassia's fondness. Back in Pompeii, Cassia's father Severus (Jared Harris) and mother (Carrie Anne-Moss) play host to Corvus and his Roman entourage, whose favour they depend on to fund their plan to revitalise the city by building aqueducts. Turns out however that Corvus is only doing so to force Cassia's hand in marriage, whom he unsuccessfully courted while the latter was still back in Rome.
In the meantime, Milo forges an acquaintance with Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), one of the fiercest fighters who is according to the law just one fight away from earning his freedom. Needless to say, Atticus soon finds that his masters have no intention of honouring the law, and instead of being opponents, Milo and Atticus team up to rebel against their captors. All this culminates in a nicely shot showdown in the town's coliseum, where Milo and Atticus take on an entire Roman battalion in order to simulate Corvus' invasion of the Celtic homeland.
From that time on, Anderson's best instincts as a filmmaker take over, injecting the moribund proceedings with a much-needed shot of life that immediately jolts his viewer out of his seat. The sight of Vesuvius starting to boil over is a truly humbling one, even more so when it starts to rain fire, rock and lava down on the hapless citizens of Pompeii, not excluding our protagonists. Anderson skilfully cuts between wide shots offering birds-eye views of the scale of the devastation and close-ups of the disaster from the point of view of its victims, and it is to his credit - as well as that of his cinematographer Glen MacPherson and VFX supervisor Dennis Berardi - that we are simply and surely transfixed.
Lest you think it's all about the volcano, well the calamity turns out to be much more multi-faceted. Besides watching out for fire and rock from above, those looking for a way out of Pompeii are also either swallowed into the ground as the earth underneath them collapses or are swept away by an enormous tsunami precipitated by the tectonic forces causing the same eruption. As if that weren't enough, our star-crossed lovers also have to contend with Corvus' relentless pursuit, while Atticus proves a more than worthy ally against Proculus. Anderson channels his best inner Roland Emmerich to ensure that his disaster movie never has a boring moment once nature's tragedy strikes, and let's just say the last 45 mins is tense and exciting stuff.
Even so, Anderson threatens to be undone by a perennially weak link in his movie, and that is the quality of the acting. 'Game of Thrones' star Kit Harrington is no less wooden than he was in the HBO miniseries, and there is almost zero chemistry between him and 'Sucker Punch' actress Emily Browning. Though '24' star Kiefer Sutherland looks out of place in a sword and scandal epic like this, he proves more entertaining than our leads in a borderline campy manner. The best of the lot is without a doubt Adewale, who brings unexpected dignity and gravitas to his role in a movie that generally demands much less from its performers.
But really, one should not expect differently from 'Pompeii', which as we said at the beginning is no more than an opportunity for Anderson to leverage on historical events to deliver an action-filled disaster movie packed with visual spectacle. As long as you can get past that first hour, the prolonged cataclysmic climax will grip, astound and awe you - and since this is meant to be a disaster movie first and an action- romance second, the priorities are just right.
If you don't believe in the stuff of destiny and miracles, then you
might as well not bother with 'Winter's Tale'. A magic-realist romance
based on Mark Helprin's 1983 bestselling novel of the same name, it
spans present day Manhattan and early 20th century New York to tell a
love story between a petty thief by the name of Peter Lake (Colin
Farrell) and the daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher named
Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), the latter of which also happens
to be dying from consumption.
But before you think this is going to be some sappy melodrama a la a Nicholas Sparks novel, acclaimed screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's directorial debut actually has a lot more going for it.
First, there is an Oliver Twist-twist (pardon the pun) to the tale. Peter's love for Beverly earns the consternation of the malevolent crime boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who has raised Peter since boyhood as part of his criminal enterprise. It is not just Peter who time- travels; rather, Pearly's blind pursuit of the one whom he thinks has betrayed him also spans the century. Much as this is at its heart a love story, it never hurts to have a little action now - especially when it's Farrell and Crowe playing the hunted and the hunter respectively.
Besides also being a minor gangster saga, there is also the inimitable element of magic in the proceedings. It isn't just coincidence that Beverly exclaims 'The sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light!', accompanied of course by some CG dazzle. Peter's ability to travel through the ages is also no fluke, not least for the fact that he rides a pretty spectacular looking flying white horse with the name Athansor. Part of the mystery lies in finding out just who Peter is, seen at the start in present day riffling through a box on the roof of New York's Grand Central station, mirrored in his own search for his true identity with the help of Jennifer Connelly's newspaper columnist.
But it doesn't end there, and depending on your faith, this is either where it gets interesting or plain absurd. Heaven is depicted as a place among the stars. Athansor turns out to be Peter's guardian angel - and not the only spirit animal walking the Earth we may add. Will Smith turns up as Lucifer, more 'Judge' though than anything else. And perhaps most significantly, Peter discovers that he has some truly divine powers, so much so that by the time it is all over, he has become a Jesus figure. No matter the wistful or whimsical tone that Goldsman tries to achieve, how much you buy into its motifs of life, death, rebirth and the enduring power of love will ultimately determine if the magical woo-woo will come off as hocus pocus or something much more meaningful.
To his credit, Goldsman does try his best to make the fantasy enchanting. Every image that is meant to be adorned with magic comes off looking as if it were a page out of a picture book in particular, Beverly's abode looks like a mansion straight out of a Disney cartoon perched on the edge of a frozen lake. There is an otherworldly feel to the entire telling, and like its title suggests, one cannot deny that it does transport you to a live-action fairy tale world. And yet despite displaying a heretofore unseen visual imagination, the Academy-Award winning screenwriter of such acclaimed dramas like 'A Beautiful Mind' and 'Cinderella Man' disappoints by leaving out the weightier aspects of Helprin's novel.
Most prominently, by fashioning it as a pretty romance, Goldsman neglects the author's moral meditation on the meaning and purpose of justice. Helprin's prose was rich in portraying the industrial Edwardian era style of a mythic New York City, through which the injustices of that Metropolis was vindicated with the promise of redemption and salvation through death. These are difficult to portray no doubt, but their omission leaves ultimately a watered down story that works as a fairytale romance and little more.
Nonetheless, Farrell and Findlay are never less than engaging leads, and between them share a sparkling (pun intended yet again) chemistry that lights up the scene more than Goldsman's literal CG additions. On his own though, Farrell once again puts his roguish charm to good use, oozing sweet earnest sincerity in his performance of a bad boy who just wants a chance to be good again. He is also well-matched with Crowe's glowering screen villain, whose imposing presence effortlessly commands your attention.
Though far from the stuff we have come to expect from Goldsman, 'Winter's Tale' still works as a time-travel fantasy romance that espouses the hope that love be ageless and timeless. It might not be the thoughtful adaptation fans of the book may be expecting, but those looking for a Valentine's Day trifle will find plenty to ogle at and be delighted about. At the very least, Goldsman uncannily balances fantasy and realism, and even though it isn't quite magical, it promises to be a moving tale of enduring love that will sweep you off your feet.
If there was a postage system that can send letters to the past, this
writer would pen a letter to his younger self - say, to the primary
school kid he knew 25 years ago. And this is how the letter would read.
Dear John (from the past),
This is your future self writing to you. It's the year 2014 and much has changed. The Internet is amazingly fast, and almost everyone I see on the street is busy looking at some sort of electronic gadget. Most importantly, I have seen The Lego Movie, and this is the reason why I feel the need to tell you about it.
The 100 minute directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller is one you had dreamed of ever since you owned your first Lego construction set. That toy wasn't an elaborate castle of city set, but it sure brought you endless wondrous hours of imaginative fun. The police car (and the minifigure that comes with it) was a reward for your spelling test, and boy, was it a reward well earned.
Ever since then, you'd imagine an entire movie starring Lego minifigures, embarking on adventures in the different Lego backdrops. I have seen that movies 30 years on, and here are five reasons why I think you should look forward to it every single day of your life till you're 33.
Reason 1: The movie is a fine example of good ol' storytelling. The protagonist is an ordinary Lego minifigure (yup, one of those yellow faced common folks you'd lose if you had a humongous city set) who mistakenly gets recruited to stop an evil tyrant from destroying the Lego universe. The story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and the two directors is encouraging, inspiring and a feel good tale about how every individual has the potential to go a long way. Trust me, you may hear a lot about this in school now, but some 20 years on, the cynicism of the world will get to you. The plot of this movie, however, will steer you in the right direction to do good things about your life.
Reason 2: The movie is hilariously clever. The jokes are fast and furious, and while you may not understand the puns spouted by the minifigures now (if the movie was playing in 1989), it would make your teacher chuckle. Clever references to pop culture and the Lego brand are aplenty, and it is one movie you'd want to revisit repeatedly.
Reason 3: The movie is a technical achievement. I'm not sure whether you're familiar with the concept of stop motion, but go ask your teacher and you will be amazed by the amount of work needed to produce a stop motion clip. This movie infuses computer technology (I won't go into details of how scarily advanced this has become in 2014) with stop motion and the end result is an enjoyable visual treat.
Reason 4: The movie is chockfull of cameo appearances. As the years go by, you'd hear how everyone wants to see Superman and Batman in the same movie. This animated feature is the first to make that happen. On top of that, other well known characters appear as well. The names probably won't make sense to you now, but when you grow older, you'll understand why certain wizards from a popular movie franchise are a big deal. Oh, there are also characters from a certain galaxy far, far away; and a fellow yellow faced personality who make this movie a must watch for all nerds and geeks (I meant that in a cool way, of course).
Reason 5: The movie has got heart, lots of it. Some movies may be too obsessed with showing off its technical prowess, and forget about how it touches the human soul. This one is different. The revelation is one affecting turn of events, and trust me, it's one of the most relevant and heartfelt plots you'd ever see.
Before signing off, my advice to you is to hang on to that Lego police car set, continue to let your imagination take you to places, and all things will be good.
John (from the future)
And this writer thought he needn't be reminded of that disturbing scene
in director Paul Verhoeven's 1987 movie. Before the guy made the iconic
Total Recall (1990) and Starship Troopers (1997), he gave the world
Robocop. The movie has often been mentioned in media as one of the most
violently traumatising action flicks ever. How the protagonist Alex
Murphy was brutally murdered remains one of the most talked about
scenes in cinema history. Don't even get us started on how a villain
slowly dissolves to death after being drenched in toxic waste.
Call this reviewer a coward, but these scenes freaked the hell out of him. After all, he was only a six year old kid then. But hey, it didn't stop him from pestering his parents to get an uber cool action figure from the nearest toy shop.
With this remake directed by Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha (Elite Squad), this columnist is pretty sure he can sit through the 121 production without flinching, especially when it's a PG13 movie with the consumer advice "Violence & Brief Coarse Language". In this day and age of movie making, it's all about maximixing profits with impressive box office returns, man.
There's not much you need to know about the plot, really. In 2028 Detroit, Alex Murphy is a loving husband, father and good cop. After being critically injured in a car explosion, a multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees a chance to create part man, part robot police superhero. Cue themes regarding media, corruption, authorisationism, capitalism and human nature. But why get yourself all confused with this academia issues? You want an enjoyable action movie? You've got one right here.
Padilha knows better than to get Robocop all moped up with emotions. After a short introduction, Alex Murphy gets hurt and is all ready to suit up in his uber cool outfit. From there, expect adrenaline filled action sequences. You want car chases? Check. What about gun fights? Yup, they're in place. A finale showdown between Robocop and massive machines? Don't even get us started on that. This movie is pure popcorn fun, that's for sure.
Fans of the original will find themselves going through a checklist of comparisons, but while this geeky behaviour is somewhat respectable, we are advising that you don't do so because you'd be missing out on what the remake is set out to do an entertaining two hours in the cinema.
The supporting actors are on form here. Besides the reliable Abbie Cornish (Seven Psychopaths), Jay Baruchel (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) and James Earle Haley (Little Children), we had fun watching Gary Oldman (Sirius Black!), Michael Keaton (Batman!), and Samuel L Jackson (Mace Windu!) portraying a righteous researcher, a shady businessman and a TV host respectively.
Unfortunately, our leading man Joel Kinnaman (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) pales in comparison next to his co stars. The 34 year old actor isn't all that bad, but just doesn't hold his own ground. This isn't a major flaw though, because all we want is for him to go shoot some baddies in his Robocop persona.
And yes, this writer's got that impulse to go out there to get some action figures again.
More than a decade after hanging up them fake G-cup boobs, Sandra Ng
returns to her most iconic screen persona as the big-hearted prostitute
'Ah Kam' in the curiously titled 'Golden Chickensss'. Yes, that's three
'S-es' behind the original title 'Golden Chicken', and the third film
in the series if you've lost count - though it bears arguably no
relation to the earlier two films except for their titular character
and of course Hong Kong's most versatile female comedian in the role.
Lest anyone forget, Ng won her first and thus far only Golden Horse Best Actress award for the role back in 2002, where she played the plucky (ok, pun intended) and likable Ah Kam whose vicissitudes was cast against the changing fortunes of Hong Kong over the years. As much as it was a character showcase for Ng, the Samson Chiu and Matt Chow-scripted movie was also a love letter to their home territory, a celebration of the go-getter spirit which has made Hong Kong triumph over the odds from the 1980s right up till the early 2000s.
Circumstance created an inevitable sequel just ten months later, as 'Golden Chicken 2' reflected on Hong Kong's most trying period yet, i.e. the SARS epidemic of 2003. It was a valentine to the resilience that the people of Hong Kong displayed, mirrored in the same perseverance that Ah Kam showed during that period. But it was also evidently a more weakly scripted film, which was ultimately borne out by the less than stellar box office results - hence the absence of a third film till now.
Suffice to say that even fans of 'Ah Kam' who were disappointed by the last sequel will probably feel nostalgic about her return so many years later - and yet even that is probably not enough to make up for an even more lazily plotted sequel that rests too heavily on its impressive list of star cameos. Indeed, Ng has pulled out all the stops to get some of Hong Kong showbiz's most recognisable faces to turn up for the return of her 'Golden Chicken' - and the poster proudly touts many of these, including Anthony Wong, Donnie Yen, Chin Kar Lok, Alex To, William So, Raymond Wong, Ronald Cheng, Jim Chim, Lo Hoi Pang, Louis Koo and an unbilled Andy Lau (stay back for the end credits if you wish to catch that).
Matt Chow returns to script and for the first time direct the movie, and to his credit, he doesn't let one second of their precious time go to waste. Some are specifically designed to riff on their previous roles (like Donnie Yen playing 'Ip Man' to riff on 'The Grandmasters'), while other more substantial ones are exaggerated caricatures of their real- life personas - our favourite here is Louis Koo hamming it as his own impersonator from the Mainland, complete with poor Cantonese and a flamboyant get-up. In fact, the episodic nature of the movie suggests that it was written and re-written to ensure maximum star wattage - and for that matter, the best use of it.
What that also means in this case is a general lack of purpose and coherence. After an extended prologue laying out the evolution of the term 'chicken', the first half of the movie pretty much details the day- to-day routine of a 'mamasan', whom we are told not only needs to fight with other 'mamasans' for a limited pool of girls but also offer value- added services (like queuing to register at a popular kindergarten) to their regular clients. But when one of her regulars, an acupuncturist played by Jim Chim, suggests she pay a visit to Japan to learn some new tricks of the trade, she promptly leaves for Nippon-land to meet with a barely-there Edison Chen and a much-funnier Wyman Wong as the 'King of BJ'.
Only in the second half does some semblance of a story take shape, with Nick Cheung playing 'Ah Kam's' former love Gordon, a righteous triad leader who has just been released from prison. Together with his right- hand man Jackie (Eason Chan), 'Ah Kam' conspires to keep the truth of the reality from Gordon, whose mentality remains stuck in that of the 1990s. Though both are excellent actors in their own right, Ng and Cheung ultimately share less chemistry with each other than Ng's previous outing with Jacky Cheung in 'Golden Chicken 2', so much so that this detour into romantic territory seems unnecessary and uninvolving.
Even more important than the fact that it doesn't have a poignant angle to Hong Kong (despite trying to say something about the spate of protests in recent years) like the previous two films is the prominence of 'Ah Kam' in her own movie. Ng has always been front and centre with her character, but here she is almost like a talk show host whose act is less important than the revolving list of guests she has on her programme. To put it simply, 'Ah Kam' feels somewhat inconsequential here, without a compelling arc for her character that's supposed to be rightly the centre of attention.
And so, 'Golden Chickensss' feels less like an addition to the franchise than a Lunar New Year comedy built around the titular character. Certainly, it is nowhere as meaningful nor poignant as either one of the earlier movies, and when compared to them, will probably end up the worst of the lot. But against the lowered expectations of a CNY comedy, there are still some good laughs to be had, as well as the pleasure of seeing an all-star cast that's quite definitely the most star-studded in any Hong Kong movie this year. It's not the award-winning material it used to be, but if all you're looking for is some humour and entertainment, then 'Golden Chickensss' provides just that kind of throwaway fun.
Three years after they became Lunar New Year rivals by going head to
head with their 'he sui pians', top Hong Kong comedians Raymond Wong
and Eric Tsang are teaming up for the first time in the Vincent Kok
scripted and directed 'Hello Babies'. Even though it does not bear the
'All's Well Ends Well' brand name, this could very well be yet another
chapter of the series - not only does it revolve around the perennial
themes of family and familial joy, it also boasts a cast largely drawn
from the stars who have been regulars of the franchise since Raymond
Wong revived it back in 2009.
In a nod to their supposed real-life personas, Wong and Tsang play Lei Ming and Yang Awei respectively, sworn rivals from the same Malaysian village in Ipoh who have been competing with each other since young. Their latest brush has to do with lineage, or more specifically, whom among them will be the first to have a grandson. When Lei Ming hears that Yang Awei's son Alex (Alex Lam) is expecting a son with his wife Shan (Karena Ng), he immediately video-conferences his son Scallop (Ronald Cheng) and daughter-in-law Cher (Fiona Sit) to give him a grandson.
Unfortunately for Lei Ming, it isn't that simple - Scallop and Cher have lost that 'lovin feeling', so much so that Scallop sees his wife Cher as no different from a best friend, which explains why he keeps calling her Vincent after his best friend (coincidentally played by the director Vincent Kok). So into the proceedings enters Gong San (Sandra Ng), whose role is to assist the couple in rekindling their passion and ensure a smooth pregnancy for Cher thereafter - her therapy including employing a yoga instructor (Jan Lamb in a cameo) to get Cher in compromising positions so Scallop will get jealous.
With Ronald Cheng, Fiona Sit and Sandra Ng in the picture, Kok seems to have forgotten about the rest of his stars. Indeed, a good part of the movie is spent with the trio, as Gong San's welcome presence soon becomes frustrating with her intrusive checking-ins on Scallop and Cher. Despite the chemistry between the three stars, there's no masking the plain and simple fact that what passes for comedy here isn't really funny in the first place; instead, Kok and his co-writers (Anselm Chan, Poon Jun-Lam and Cheung Wai-Kei) are content to go for the lowest common denominator, and that includes passing off an extended farting exercise between husband and wife as humour.
Only slightly better are the shenanigans that Kok's favourite trio get up to with Alex and Shan in order to deceive Lei Ming, consisting of two - one less so and another more so - elaborate ruses at the hospital to placate the Alzheimer's stricken patriarch; indeed, the final switcheroo is probably the most inspired sequence, which frankly comes too late to redeem the film from its own tedium. But what really puzzles is why, after setting up and teasing its audience with a match-up between Raymond Wong and Eric Tsang, that Kok decides to abandon it almost entirely as if it were simply an afterthought.
Only at the start and right at the end do Wong and Tsang share the screen together, and even then, it is as part of an ensemble rather than just the two of them. It is a pity that the script does not develop their so-called enmity, and therefore accord the two veteran comedians the rare opportunity of facing off with each other. For that matter, Wong and Tsang have simply too little screen time whether together or apart - and that is especially true for Tsang, who despite getting top billing here, has really no more than a glorified supporting part.
Worse still, the best that Kok can come up with for Tsang is to have him play an irresponsible grandfather who is first openly disappointed that his grandchild is a girl and then in just one sequence show off his philandering tendencies trying to go after a middle-aged woman (Miriam Yeung). It is little consolation that Tsang gets to show off some of his 'Wing Chun' moves in a lame parody of 'The Grandmasters', in which Tsang gets to pose with Sandra's 'bagua' moves with a train in the background for good measure. Coming off the 'I Love Hong Kong' series, the material here simply does Tsang little justice, and one wonders why he had bothered with joining Raymond Wong's film in the first place.
Yes, 'Hello Babies' may have sold itself as a Raymond Wong - Eric Tsang pairing after their annual rivalry over the past consecutive three years, but what potential that premise might have held is squandered considering not just how little time they get in the movie, but also how little of that time they spend together. There is also little fun to be had with the other characters in the movie, chiefly because there just isn't much comedic juice in the first place. Sure, there are parts that are fitfully amusing, but yet again, this marks the third in a string of Vincent Kok duds which includes the even more unfunny 'Hotel Deluxe' this same time last year and the more recent 'Love Is Pyjamas'.
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