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119 reviews in total 
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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: NAKED SOLDIER (2012), 23 September 2012

Back in 1992, writer-producer Wong Jing hits jackpot with his seminal NAKED KILLER -- one of the most popular Category III action thrillers filled with gleefully over-the-top performances (Chingmy Yau, Simon Yam and Carina Ng), acrobatic action set-pieces, and erotic content. It was a worldwide cult sensation that inspired countless imitations. Then came NAKED WEAPON in 2002, which was basically a rehash of NAKED KILLER formula. While it was an inferior follow-up, the movie had its worthwhile moments. A decade later, Wong Jing has finally completed his "NAKED" trilogy with NAKED SOLDIER. Like the previous two movies, it's more of the same. Except this time, Wong Jing have to remove all the edgy content (read: Category III) and repackaged them with a milder version to cater for the lucrative Mainland market (well, when you have to deal with China movie industry, strict censorship is inevitable). Naturally, NAKED SOLDIER is the weakest entry of the trilogy by comparison. But if watching this as a standalone movie, it has enough outrageous action and some over-the-top performances to win over fans of exploitation cinema.

NAKED SOLDIER opens in 1980 where hotshot Interpol agent Lung Chi-Keung (Sammo Hung) has successfully infiltrated a massive drug bust and manages to confiscate all the goods worth US$25 million. The owner, Brother Power (Anthony Wong) is very upset over the matter and hires Madame Rose (Ellen Chan) and her assassins to kill Lung and his entire family over Christmas dinner at their home in Florida. Lung is lucky enough to escape death, but his beloved five-year-old daughter is kidnapped by Madame Rose and brainwashed her to make her believe she's her mother. The girl is given the name Phoenix and subsequently trained, along with other kidnapped children, to become a professional assassin when they are grown up.

Fifteen years later in 1995, Madame Rose sends out her three best squad, Phoenix (Jennifer Tse), Selina (Ankie Beilke) and Ivy (Lena Lin), to wipe out a number of high-ranking international drug leaders. Enter Sam Wong (Andy On), who works for the Beijing police force, is assigned to the Hong Kong office of Interpol, to investigate the murder case. Along with his partner Siu Pei (Timmy Hung), he also reassigns Lung to help out with the case. Lung agrees, as long as Sam reopens the case on his missing daughter.

While Selina and Ivy manage to accomplish their mission successfully, the same cannot be said to Phoenix. She is supposed to kill one of the drugs leaders' widow (Amy Lu) at the funeral in Taiwan, but she shows compassion and let her go instead even though her cover is already blown open.

Madame Rose realizes Phoenix's mistake and subsequently assigns her to kill Lung. Meanwhile, Selina has a huge grudge over Phoenix because she keeps thinking Phoenix is stealing her admirer, Dragon (Philip Ng).

The plot is formulaic at best, with a varying degree of silliness that echoes the good old '90s formula. Some might find this too outdated and awkward for today's generation, but at the very least Wong Jing doesn't take his subject seriously and make it as fun as possible.

Some of the casts here are playful enough to make them worthwhile. Model-turned-actress Jennifer Tse (sister of Nicholas Tse) made her first leading role with mild success. She is convincing when comes in the action sequences, particularly in her final showdown against Ankie Beilke. However, it's a shame that Wong Jing and director Marco Mak doesn't gives her opportunity to showcase some sexual tease as she spends most of her time fully clothed. Other than that, Tse's acting skill is exceptionally wooden. The rest of the female casts -- Ellen Chan, Ankie Beilke and Lena Lin -- have their fair share of over-the-top trashy performances. Veterans Sammo Hung and Anthony Wong show up and let loose with their playful charms.

Action-wise, Corey Yuen's martial-art choreography relies heavily on wirework as usual and he does them with some entertaining results. Coupled with fluid editing by Lee Kar-Wing and Marco Mak, the action are fun to watch for and I'm glad the filmmakers doesn't follow the annoying trend of tight close-ups often plagued in this department.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), 23 September 2012

All style but no substance is always best characterized Paul W.S. Anderson's directing efforts. In his new movie, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION -- the fifth installment in the lucrative series -- continues his similar trend of filmmaking style. Suffice to say, whoever expecting Anderson to learn a thing or two about cohesive structure will be left disappointed.

But the movie does show some striking potential -- at least in the first 15 minutes. From the minute one, Anderson dazzles the viewers with an innovative opening credits sequences that runs backwards and in glorious slow-motion, showcasing the explosive attack on the Arcadia by a swarm of missile-launching helicopters. It's certainly an attention-grabbing opener, and Anderson continues to strike gold with the following scene involving Alice's (Milla Jovovich) hallucinatory zombies outbreak in a daylight suburbia. For a while there, Anderson shows some credibility in crafting expertly-staged suspenseful moments rarely seen since his EVENT HORIZON (1997). After a few quiet moments in the Umbrella Corporation where Alice finds herself being held captive and slowly tortured for information by her old friend-turned-brainwashed Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), the movie jolts back to vivid life when a system reload allows her to escape (together with a S&M-like skintight suit). She subsequently enters into a simulated Tokyo city at night and gradually being chased by a number of Asian zombies. Again, Anderson makes great use of slow-motion to depict a highly-stylized fight scene. No doubt they are all cool stuff. Of course, if only Anderson continues to maintain that creative momentum for the rest of the movie, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION could have been hailed as his most entertaining entry in the series.

Unfortunately he loses steam so fast that the subsequent running time is awfully formulaic. From here on, the action -- chase, fistfights, shootouts -- are repetitive and executed in the utmost conventional way possible (Is it because Anderson has exhausted all the budget in the first 15 minutes?).

What about the plot? Let's just say Anderson has seemingly thrown away his previous scripts he has wrote for four RESIDENT EVIL movies, jumbled up all of them, and ends up as a patchwork of half-realized ideas. So whoever who are looking for coherent structure to tie back what happen in the previous movies, are best to left their brains at the door and enjoy the mindless ride instead. Oh, wait -- even the word "enjoy the mindless ride" isn't enough to warrant this as a solid B-action picture.

As for the cast, they are basically the same old stereotypes. Even the presence of Li Bingbing in her first Hollywood role as Ada Wong is particularly wasted here. Her textbook-like line delivery in English is simply wooden, while Johann Urb's performance as the fan-favorite Leon Kennedy is reduced to a thankless role.

Likewise, Anderson concludes the movie with an open ending that seemingly promised for something big will happen (the sixth installment is reportedly will be his last series). Let's just hope the sixth entry in the future will be truly his last in the series.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: THE BULLET VANISHES (2012), 23 September 2012

Hong Kong's answer to SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009). Lo Chi-Leung's THE BULLET VANISHES is a stylish period whodunit blessed with charming two leads (Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-Wan), clever plotting and impeccable technical areas. Best of all, it's a huge relief that Lo Chi-Leung has finally made his true comeback after his once-prolific directing career took a huge tumble in 2010's CURSE OF THE DESERTED.

Set in 1920/30s Shanghai, the movie opens with a suspicious death of a young female worker named Yan (Xuxu) of an ammunition factory, who is accused of stealing a bullet by his boss, Ding (Liu Kai-Chi). To prove her innocence, Ding challenges her for a game of Russian roulette. She is unlucky enough to end up dead after she shoots herself into the head.

Meanwhile, Song Donglu (Lau Ching-Wan), a quirky and eccentric prison superintendent who is known for his obsessive investigation method, is summoned by police chief Jin (Wu Gang) to investigate the murder of Chen Qi (Liu Yang), a foreman who has been hit by a bullet that went through his skull and made a dent in the wall. Teaming up with hotshot "fastest gun-in-the-region" detective Guo Zhui (Nicholas Tse), they head over to the ammunition factory where Chen Qi's death took place. Strangely enough, they find no trace of bullets. The workers there claims it must be the work of Yan, who returns as a ghost exacting revenge but Song and Guo figures there must be a less supernatural explanation in their investigation.

Lo Chi-Leung and Yeung Sin-Ling's screenplay surrounding the complicated mystery is especially intriguing and fun to watch for. Elsewhere, there's an intriguing subplot involving Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), an inmate convicted of murdering her husband (Chin Kar-Lok) where Song is trying to learn the truth -- together with an entertaining flashback scene shot in stylized black-and-white silent movie-style. Somewhere in between, director Lo Chi-Leung also inserts a couple of lively action set-pieces especially the final Mexican standoff and the slow-motion explosion sequence.

The cast is top-notch, with Lau Ching-Wan being the best of the bunch. His eccentric performance is always fun to watch for, and his character easily recalls the one he did before in MAD DETECTIVE (2007). Nicholas Tse is charismatic as usual, while Liu Kai-Chi gives a gleefully over-the-top performance as the crooked Ding and Jiang Yiyan is captivating as the icy Fu Yuan.

As for Lo Chi-Leung, his direction oozes with plenty of style and enthusiasm to keep the viewers intrigued throughout the movie. But still, his movie is not without some of the glaring flaws. The pace is slow and draggy in some parts, while the obligatory romance between Guo Zhui and Little Lark (Yang Mi), who plays a fortune teller, feels like an afterthought. Then there's the unexpected twist at the finale. It's a surprise that baffles me, but it also feels unnecessary and also convoluted.

Despite the setbacks, THE BULLET VANISHES remains one of the best Hong Kong movies of the year.

Dredd (2012)
1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: DREDD (2012), 23 September 2012

Mention the word "Dredd" or "Judge Dredd", that Stallone's embarrassingly awful movie instantly comes to mind. For decades (17 years, to be exact), no other studios has dared to resurrect the franchise ever since until a new development has finally seen the light of its day when it was first announced on 20 December 2008 as an independent movie project. At the first glance, I was skeptical for the new "Judge Dredd" movie, titled as DREDD, when the studio (DNA Films) hired director Pete Travis (2009's VANTAGE POINT) to helm the project. After all, Pete Travis isn't the kind of name that immediately springs to mind for to take over such a beloved comic-book character. But thankfully, Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland has (mostly) succeeded what Stallone has failed back in 1995 -- they get the somber brutality tone right. Just like the comic book itself, DREDD is undeniably gritty and ultra-violent sci-fi actioner that will surely please a lot of fanboys and like-minded audiences who prefers their R-rated genre movie.

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that the future America is reduced to an irradiated wasteland known as the "Cursed Earth". The only place inhabitable located on the east coast of North America called "Mega-City One" -- a vast metropolis that housed 800 million residents and patrolled by members of an all-powerful police force (judge, jury and executioner) known as Judges. These Judges are bestowed with responsibility of executing life-or-death sentence immediately at the scene of a crime. Among the famous Judges of all, is the hard-edged lawman named Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). He is tasked by Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) to evaluate rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), an Academy underachiever who has an amazing ability of psychic power.

When Dredd and Cassandra chooses to investigate a triple-homicide in a high-rise building, they find themselves engaging against a ruthless drug lord nicknamed Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former prostitute who rules with an iron fist over the 200-storey slum tower block known as "Peach Trees". They also subsequently discover that the three dead bodies are actually being skinned alive before infused by Slo-Mo -- an addictive drug capable of slowing the user's perception of time to 1% -- before being thrown off from the top of the tower. They proceed to investigate the case further, and arrest Kay (Wood Harris), one of Ma-Ma's henchmen, after Anderson psychically detects his involvement with the murders. Before they even manage to remove Kay out of the tower for interrogation, Ma-Ma orders her men to seize the tower's security control room and seal the place using its blast shields under the pretense of a security test. With no way out, the two Judges are trapped inside without outside help and they're on their own. As Ma-Ma demands both Judges to be killed, they have no choice but to fight back all the way up.

If the story sounds familiar, it is because Alex Garland's script has (coincidentally -- or is it?) shared the similarity of this year's Indonesian action hit, THE RAID: REDEMPTION. But unlike that movie, the pace in DREDD is surprisingly erratic, especially given its DIE HARD-like premise. Whereas the movie is supposed to be a straightforward and fast-paced actioner, Garland has thrown a lot of fats inside his threadbare script that constantly ruins the momentum.

Still, the movie remains entertaining enough, thanks to Karl Urban's perfectly-minimalistic portrayal as Judge Dredd. Unlike Stallone's awkward performance which borderlines into self-parody, Urban spends all the time acting behind his ever-present helmet (at last!). It's really a tough act, but Urban manages to pull it off with genuine flair. His blunt charisma and deadpan humor makes him a perfect Judge Dredd character that reminds me of Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" and "Dirty Harry" character. Elsewhere, Olivia Thirlby, who is primarily known for her acting work in indie movies, fares equally well as Cassandra. She's a perfect balance against the emotionless Judge Dredd, and she also convincing during some of her action-packed moments. However, Lena Headey is quite disappointing as the supposedly vicious Ma-Ma. Sure, she has the ugly scar in her face that makes her intimidating but her portrayal is somewhat undermined. Her final scene, where she confronts Judge Dredd at the top of the tower, is especially a letdown. Considering in the earlier movie where she is depicted how ruthless she is, it's a surprise the way she chooses to fight against Judge Dredd, is -- anticlimactic.

On the technical level, the movie is top-notch. Even though it's only blessed with a modest $45 million budget, Travis manages to deliver enough memorable visual feast here to satisfy the genre fans. The "Slo-Mo" sequences are especially eye-catching -- e.g. Bullet tears through the faces, blood burst from the wound, and water droplets suspended in the air -- all beautifully executed in balletic slow-motion. Imagine Sam Peckinpah or John Woo, but further enhanced in a precision level, you'll get the idea. Thanks to the surrealistic touch by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, those sequences are truly a sight to behold. Production designer Mark Digby also does a good job on creating the grungy feel of the 200-storey "Peach Trees" tower block. The action, in the meantime, are well-executed that doesn't skimps on gore and violence. Not to forget also, is Paul Leonard-Morgan's throbbing and addictive electronic score that perfectly accompanied the grungy tone of the movie.

Overall, it's a huge relief that DREDD is a good, if not perfect antidote that erases the painful memory of Stallone's poor version. A few setbacks aside, I sure hope that Garland's intended trilogy will come true if this first movie manages to make enough money at the box office.

Prometheus (2012/I)
4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: PROMETHEUS (2012) review, 10 June 2012

How often you get to watch a blockbuster movie where it mesmerizes you at the opening minute, before gradually grabs you by the throat and never let go until the very end? The answer is none others than PROMETHEUS, Ridley Scott's long-awaited comeback to sci-fi genre since BLADE RUNNER (1982). It is certainly well worth the wait especially since PROMETHEUS is a prequel to his own timeless classic, ALIEN (1979). Well, actually it is more of an indirect prequel (you just have to see it for yourself). But one thing for sure, prequel or not, PROMETHEUS is a rare breed -- a thought-provoking, yet frightening science-fiction epic that isn't afraid to ask difficult questions related to our very own existence....


1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: GET THE GRINGO (2012) Review, 2 June 2012

Lately, Mel Gibson's offscreen bad antics have really ruined his reputations as a Hollywood's A-list superstar. His previous two "comeback" movies, EDGE OF DARKNESS (2010) and THE BEAVER (2011), failed to ignite box-office success. This year, the once-bankable superstar attempts to make (yet) another comeback in a tongue-in-cheek, neo-noir thriller titled GET THE GRINGO (previously known as HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION). Here, Gibson who also acts, produces and writes the movie, made a boldest move by releasing his movie primarily straight-to-VOD (video on demand) instead of a wide theatrical release. Whatever marketing tactic Gibson is trying to pull here, the good news is that this movie does sounds and looks like a vintage Mel Gibson in a classic action-movie mode (at least that's what the promotional trailers have indicated so far). Make no mistake, GET THE GRINGO does possesses some of those quick wits and robust violence you've come to expect from an action movie starring Mel Gibson. It's only too bad that the movie is mostly a half-baked effort...


0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: DARK SHADOWS (2012) Review, 2 June 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Prior to the release of Tim Burton's highly-anticipated, big screen adaptation of TV's Dark Shadows, I admit I never come across this popular cult series before. But this four decades-old classic Gothic soap opera proves to be personal favorites for both Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer when they were young. And it's no doubt that Tim Burton is a natural choice to direct DARK SHADOWS. After all, (nobody) does quirky Gothic elements better than Burton himself. Too bad his eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp proves to be another creative misfire since their last outing in 2010's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Not only that, DARK SHADOWS is also their worst collaboration to date. It's really hard to believe, especially given the source material that they suppose to pull it off with relative ease. Instead what you get here is a listless Gothic drama that doesn't really goes anywhere (read: interesting)...


0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: PIRANHA 3DD (2012) Review, 2 June 2012

For the record, Alexandre Aja's extremely gory remake of PIRANHA (2010) wasn't as good as one might suggested. But at least that remake have its fair share of guilty-pleasure entertainment, and you've gotta admit that Aja knows well a lot about how to make a gory movie. Now here comes PIRANHA 3DD (no, that "3DD" is not a typo error), a follow-up that I bet a lot of those who've watched the remake, are naturally expecting something "bigger" or "more outrageous". Heck, even this sequel has been heavily promoted with the self-proclaimed tagline of "Double the action. Double the terror. Double the D's". However, PIRANHA 3DD fails to live up its "double the (insert the pun)" promise and instead delivers more of the same without the technical expertise that Aja has fashioned rather well in his remake. This time, there's no Aja in sight here as the sequel is replaced by FEAST director John Gulager. And Gulager is no Aja. What you get here instead is a cheap and uninspired follow-up that makes Aja's PIRANHA looks like a genre classic...


2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012), 2 June 2012

When we last saw MEN IN BLACK II (2002), that was like 10 years ago. So what's been keeping off MEN IN BLACK 3 to arrive sooner back then? To begin with, this long-delayed third installment of the successful MEN IN BLACK franchise has gone a treacherous journey to finally make it to the big screen -- troubled shoot without a finished script, production delays, and a particularly controversial Will Smith's 53-foot trailer (nicknamed "The Heat") which angered Manhattan residents during the filming process last year. And thanks to all the delays and hiatuses, MEN IN BLACK 3 costs a staggering $215 million budget to complete this notoriously-difficult production. When this movie finally came out, I went in with a low expectation (after all, a big-budget tentpole movie with so much negative buzz is always a disaster). But to my surprise, MEN IN BLACK 3 proves to be quite a decent sequel. The good news is, this third installment is a huge improvement over the messy MEN IN BLACK II. But the bad news is, this movie doesn't quite matches the entertainment level of the first MEN IN BLACK (1997)...


Gone (2012/I)
3 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Casey's Movie Mania: GONE (2012) review, 12 May 2012

On paper, Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia's Hollywood feature debut in GONE sounds like a potential psychological thriller: Amanda Seyfried plays Jill, a former kidnapping victim who also previously institutionalized following the death of her parents. She claimed she managed to escape from death a year ago when a mysterious man abducted her and dump her in deep down a well-like hole somewhere in Portland, Oregon's Forest Park. However the police found no evidence of the crime after her escape whatsoever. A year later, she is convinced that the same kidnapper is back for revenge, and this time her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) has gone missing. Wasting no time, Jill races against the time to play vigilante in an effort to find the kidnapper all by herself, especially when the head of the police detective Powers (Daniel Sunjata) who previously handled her last case, claimed she is delusional all over again. So the biggest question: is Jill really delusional or Molly's sudden disappearance turns out to be true after all? At the beginning of the movie, GONE works nearly well as a whodunit especially after Molly has gone missing and Jill starts her own investigation. Everybody she comes across to are possible suspect, which makes the story angle rather interesting to pay attention for. But Dhalia and screenwriter Allison Burnett doesn't seems to have a single clue how to sustain the viewers' interest as the movie progresses further.


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