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Note (II) (2015)
7/10
A spellbinding, if laboured psychological drama featuring a scene-stealing performance from the late Ramli Hassan.
27 August 2015
Prior to the release of NOTA on August 13th, I have little knowledge about this movie. It is not until I discovered a series of overwhelming responses that finally piqued my interest to check out the movie in the cinema. There were only four audiences (including me and my friend) for the NOTA showing -- a shockingly low attendance if you ask me. But after watching the movie, it's easy to see why. Despite familiar faces (Hans Isaac and Maya Karin) and a psychological thriller-drama element, NOTA is hardly the kind of movie that would easily attract the mainstream audiences. Still, that doesn't bother me at all because NOTA is a rare local gem worth checking out for, especially for those who often complain about the lack of quality movies in Malaysia.

FULL REVIEW: http://goo.gl/Z6kqJu
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Sabotage (2014)
5/10
Schwarzenegger delivers a rare dark performance in this extremely violent but ponderous cop thriller.
3 April 2014
From TRAINING DAY (2001), DARK BLUE (2002), HARSH TIMES (2005), STREET KINGS (2008) and END OF WATCH (2012) at which he either writes, directs or doing both duties, David Ayer has crafted quite a career for himself as the go-to guy when comes to movie that explores the dark side of a law enforcement. This year is no different as Ayer explores the same territory again with SABOTAGE. But what's really interesting about his latest effort is his first-time collaboration with the former '80s and '90s king of big action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the kind of role unlike anything fans have seen him before... well, at least not since 1984's THE TERMINATOR or to certain extent, 1997's BATMAN AND ROBIN.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Following a successful drug raid to steal US$10 million from the cartel's money, John "Breacher" Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his rugged team of undercover DEA task force -- James "Monster" Murray (Sam Worthington) and wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos), Joe "Grinder" Phillips (Joe Manganiello), Julius "Sugar" Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie "Neck" Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom "Pyro" Roberts (Max Martini), and Bryce "Tripod" McNeely (Kevin Vance) -- are happy to collect it later where they hide it in the sewer pipes. However, they return to discover that the drug money has gone missing. They are eventually held for investigation and everyone ends up suspended from duty. But after the authorities fail to land hard evidence against them, their superior (Martin Donovan) put them back into action. Then, one by one from Breacher's team members ends up dead in gory fashion. While trying to find out the culprit, Breacher is subsequently working with homicide investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and realizes that the murders as well as the stolen drug money is actually involving one of them.

THE GOOD STUFF

As with other Ayer's movies, the action is brutal and gripping enough to capture your attention. Together with cinematographer Bruce McCleery, Ayer also manages to create some creative shots including the one where he utilizes small digital cameras from the tip of a gun barrel's point-of-view during a shootout.

The overall cast here is engaging, with Schwarzenegger gives a daring performance as the cigar-chomping John "Breacher" Wharton with a dark past. It's certainly nice to see him willing enough to change his usual larger-than-life action image for something radically different. As the emotionally-confused and relentless Caroline Brentwood, Olivia Williams plays her role with enough gravitas to stand out on her own. The rest of the supporting actors, including Sam Worthington (sporting a shaved head and braided goatee) and Joe Manganiello (looking good with a cornrow hairstyle), are equally adequate with their respective roles but it was Mireille Enos who steals the show in SABOTAGE. Here, Enos brings an uncompromisingly fearless performance as the tortured Lizzy who is addicted to drugs.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

For all the blood, sex and profanities that showcased throughout the movie, I can't singled out a moment worth placing here.

THE BAD STUFF

It's a pity that the story here is major disappointment. Written by David Ayer and Skip Woods, SABOTAGE does look promising with a nifty concept that mixes Ayer's trademark gritty cop thriller with Agatha Christie-like whodunit structure (particularly her famous novel of And Then There Were None). However, the execution is rather poor or should I say, lazily constructed, as the whodunit doesn't look interesting at all. And worst, the story drags a lot throughout the movie.

As exceptionally good as Schwarzenegger has put into his character, there's a nagging feeling that he looks wooden when he is required to deliver more stilted dialogues than usual. As the soft-spoken Sugar, Terrence Howard does little to make his performance worthwhile in the movie.

As much as Ayer loves to showcase a lot of grits in his movie, his penchant for shaky camera-work feels rather annoying, particularly when he loves to do a lot of tight close-ups. Another flaw here is Ayer's over-the-top display of gore and violence that somehow works better for a hardcore horror movie than a gritty cop thriller.

FINAL WORDS

While SABOTAGE is far from both Ayer's and Schwarzenegger's best efforts, the movie remains quite a jolting cinematic experience.
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Divergent (2014)
4/10
The cast is the least worthwhile in this lacklustre and generic young-adult dystopian thriller.
29 March 2014
Riding on the phenomenally successful adaptations of the first two HUNGER GAMES movies, it's simply a matter of time before Veronica Roth's best-selling novel trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) is finally riped for big screen adventure. Out of the gate this year is the highly-anticipated first movie in a trilogy, DIVERGENT, which already positioned as the next HUNGER GAMES.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Set in a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into five factions based on five different personalities: Erudite (smart), Candor (honest), Amity (peaceful), Dauntless (brave) and Abnegation (selfless). Those who doesn't fit to any of the five personalities are declared factionless and they are equivalent of homeless peoples.

However, Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley), who belongs to an Abnegation family with parents Natalie (Ashley Judd) and Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), discovers that she is a Divergent after being tested by a tester named Tori (Maggie Q). Apparently Divergent is classified as someone who fit into more than one personality, and could not be discovered by anyone or risk terrible consequences.

When the day has arrived for a new group of teens to choose their own factions, Beatrice picks Dauntless. After the choice has been made, she has to undergo an extensive training period to become a qualified brave warrior within given time period. If fail, she will be kicked out of the faction and becomes homeless. As the training takes place, she slowly becomes friends with one of her drill instructors named Four (Theo James) and eventually falls for each other. Then one day she learns about Erudite, led by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), is planning to overthrow Abnegation, the humble faction which currently rules the government.

THE GOOD STUFF

The cast here is overall solid, with Shailene Woodley being the particular standout. As Tris, she manages to handle her first leading role with her engaging and soulful performance. Equally good is Theo James, who brings an unexpected warmth beneath his cool-looking exterior. In fact, both he and Woodley display believable chemistry together as eventual lovers.

As for the supporting actors, Jai Courtney is perfectly typecast as the no-nonsense Dauntless leader Eric, while Zoe Kravitz is likable as Tris' closest friend, Christina. Maggie Q, who plays compassionate tester Tori, manages to make full use of her limited screen time to give a worthwhile performance. Last but not least is Kate Winslet, in her rare villainous role as the power-hungry Jeanine Matthews. Although her role doesn't flesh out well, she remains plausible enough to pull off her role with her steely-eyed expression.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The engaging knife-throwing scene (which is heavily promoted in the internet) where Tris is daring enough to step in front of the knife boards and tries her best not to flinch when Four starts throwing knives at her.

THE BAD STUFF

At 139 minutes, DIVERGENT suffers badly from glacial pacing while the story -- adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor -- feels bland and noticeably lack of sheer urgency needed for this kind of dystopian-thriller genre. Then there's the drab vision of dystopian Chicago which feels like a cheap-looking, B-grade movie. Overall technical credits here are disappointingly mediocre, while all the action sequences here (from fistfights to extended shootouts during the climactic finale) falls flat on the surface. It doesn't help either when the action is mostly ruined by shaky camera-work.

To top that off, it's a surprise that Neil Burger's previous directing credits, such as the magic-themed period drama THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) and mystery thriller LIMITLESS (2011), who has a knack for showing versatility when tackling different genres, seems to be clueless directing DIVERGENT. I was shocked to see his direction here is terribly pedestrian and dare I say, lifeless as well.

FINAL WORDS

Overall, DIVERGENT is a waste of opportunity and a weak start to a potentially exciting new movie franchise. Hopefully, the subsequent two sequels (INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT) will show some improvements in the future.
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9/10
A taut and engaging sequel that cleverly mixes comic-book sensibility with political-thriller undertones.
29 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
When news broke out that 2011's CAPTAIN America: THE FIRST AVENGER director Joe Johnston did not return for the sequel and replaced by Anthony and Joe Russo instead, I felt skeptical at first. After all, we are talking about these directors whose previous directing experiences consisted of *gulp* comedies including 2002's WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, 2006's YOU, ME AND DUPREE and TV's Community. It's definitely a very odd choice to choose such filmmakers for tackling a blockbuster movie that is seemingly out of their leagues. But upon finally watching the sequel in the cinema, I was really surprised that the Russo brothers are unexpectedly the right choice for CAPTAIN America: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Better yet, this sequel is noticeably more improved than the first movie.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

In this sequel, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) continues his duty as a S.H.I.E.L.D. team leader who engages on counter-terrorism missions under the direct order of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). At the beginning of the movie, Rogers and his fellow team members, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) are assigned to rescue the hostages on a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship hijacked by pirates. However, the mission proves to be more than just a mere assignment when Rogers find out that Fury and Romanoff are keeping a secret. Things get worse when there's an assassination attempt against Fury that leads to a wide conspiracy theory involving S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the mysterious appearance of an unstoppable ruthless killer nicknamed The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

THE GOOD STUFF

For first-timers who exposed to big-scale action movie like CAPTAIN America: THE WINTER SOLDIER, directors Anthony and Joe Russo does a tremendous job like seasoned pros. Surprisingly enough, most of the action sequences are top notch which has that sense of urgency to keep you on the edge of your seat.

But the real deal here is the way Anthony and Joe Russo made a lot of efforts to distinguish CAPTAIN America: THE WINTER SOLDIER from your average Marvel movie. Working on a tense script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it's a refreshing change of pace to see a comic-book movie is fueled with political intrigue. Apart from that, Anthony and Joe Russo also make good use of their comedy background to come up a couple of witty one-liners as well as snappy verbal exchanges along the way.

As Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Evans fares better than he did in the first movie as well as THE AVENGERS. This is because his character is finally given a chance to evolve more than just a strictly by-the-book superhero who follow orders. Not only that, he also improved a lot in terms of fighting scenes as well as his excellent use of shield. And despite this is a solo movie, Anthony and Joe Russo ensure that most of the supporting actors here are given a fair share of limelight. As Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson is as stunning as ever. Anthony Mackie acquits his role well as Steve Rogers' sidekick, Sam Wilson/The Falcon while Samuel L. Jackson is blessed with a bigger and important role this time around as Nick Fury. Finally, there's Robert Redford, who gives a solid performance as the mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. senior leader, Alexander Pierce.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

Marvel fans rejoice! There are plenty of memorable moments throughout the movie and here goes: the intense car chase scene between Nick Fury and the police that ends with a showdown against the Winter Soldier; the claustrophobic fight scene in an elevator where Steve Rogers takes down a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; the exciting scene where Steve Rogers jumps off from his motorcycle while throwing his shield to take down a S.H.I.E.L.D.'s jet (Quinjet); the explosive battle scene at the highway that ends with an one-on-one fight between Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier; and the extended climactic finale involving the helicarriers.

THE BAD STUFF

At 136 minutes (which makes this as Marvel's second longest movie after 2012's THE AVENGERS), there are times the plot feels a bit heavy-handed. And for a CAPTAIN America movie subtitled as THE WINTER SOLDIER, it's rather surprising that Sebastian Stan's character as The Winter Soldier himself is sadly underwritten (although he looks good during the action sequences).

While there are plenty of praises to be had for the action sequences, I just couldn't help it but feel some of Anthony and Joe Russo's camera-work is inconsistent. For instance, most of the opening set-piece on a ship is hard to tell what's really going on because the way they utilize too many tight close-ups and whip pans.

FINAL WORDS

CAPTAIN America: THE WINTER SOLDIER may have its fair share of flaws, but this sequel remains engaging enough to qualify as one of the best Marvel movies ever made. Likewise, don't leave your seat once the end credits rolls. And just so you know (especially for fans), there are two teasers at the middle and another one at the conclusion.
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7/10
A surprisingly better-than-expected, if flawed follow-up to Zack Snyder's 300.
5 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
When Zack Snyder's 300 was screened back in 2006, the effects-heavy ancient epic was one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. It became such a beloved fan-favorite movie that many filmmakers tried to imitate the similar stylized technique (e.g. the super slow-motion, actors and props against computer-generated background, CGI blood-and-gore) with varying degree of success. Now, in this long-gestating sequel/side-quel, I originally never expected much from 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. After all, I thought the movie will be probably more of the same. However, upon finally watching the movie at the exclusive IMAX 3D sneak preview, I was surprised that the movie lives up beyond my low expectation.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE tells the other side of the story where Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads his army against Artemisia (Eva Green) on a naval battle by the sea, while King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, only appeared in recycled footage from 300) and his Spartan warriors engaged in their ill-fated battle against King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army on the land.

THE GOOD STUFF

Prior to 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, veteran Israeli commercials director-turned-feature filmmaker Noam Murro only has the 2008's dramedy, SMART PEOPLE to his credit. However, Murro manages to handle his first big budget studio production like a seasoned pro. Here, Murro proves to be an accomplished visual stylist like Zack Snyder himself (who only returned as one of the screenwriters and producers) after all. With the help of cinematographer Simon Duggan, Murro successfully recreates Snyder's stylized display of slow-motion violence and gore while his mix of fluid and gritty camera-work are put into good use. Thanks also to Murro's energetic direction, the action scenes -- especially the one involved the naval battle -- are electrifying. Other technical credits, including Junkie XL's throbbing score with a dash of sizzling Middle Eastern beat, are equally first-rate.

Zack Snyder's and Kurt Johnstad's screenplay is effective, especially the way it juggles between the main premise surrounding the naval engagement and several flashbacks/backstories without making them heavy-handed.

Cast-wise, Rodrigo Santoro is typically imposing as the ruthless King Xerxes while Lena Headey made adequate use of her limited screen time as Queen Gorgo. But it was Eva Green who steals the show with her wicked performance as Artemisia. In fact, it's simply refreshing to see a female actor commands the screen in this otherwise male-dominated movie.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The scene where Themistocles and his Greek army manage to outwit Artemisia and her crew by making their ships stumbled between the rocks, and another one where Artemisia stages a brilliant plan by creatively using oil to trap and blow up Themistocles' ships (you simply have to see it for yourself). Both of these well-staged strategies are particularly fascinating to watch for.

MOST MEMORABLE QUOTE

Queen Gorgo: You've come a long way to stroke your cock while real men train!

THE BAD STUFF

The absence of Gerard Butler is sorely missed in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (his character is supposed to be featured here in the original script, but forced to cut out because Butler declined to return). After all, his iconic role as the fearless Spartan leader King Leonidas is simply unforgettable. But all can be forgiven if a new leading role is engaging enough to carry the movie. Unfortunately, Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton isn't really the one. Although he has the impressive physique, Stapleton looks somewhat bland and noticeably lack of rugged charm and commanding presence that Butler previously displayed very well in 300.

But the major flaw here is the anticlimactic finale that ends abruptly before the credit rolls. I mean, is it really necessary to make way for an open ending?

FINAL WORDS

For those who are disappointed with the lackluster results of recent ancient epic failures (THE LEGEND OF THE HERCULES, POMPEII), 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE proves that this particular genre can stand tall if done right.
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Formulaic storyline aside, THE LEGO MOVIE is vibrant and wildly entertaining animated feature for all ages.
5 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
For more than 60 years, Lego has entertained kids all over the world with their famous colourful interlocking plastic bricks. Now thanks to directors duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, 21 JUMP STREET), we finally get to watch the long-awaited LEGO MOVIE in the big screen for the first time ever!

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an ordinary Lego mini-figure who works at the construction site. He lives his routine life by following "instruction manuals", until one day he is mistakenly identified as the Special -- Master Builder, to be exact -- by a tough young woman named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). Soon he meets an old blind wizard named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and joins a fellowship of strangers including Batman (Will Arnett), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie) and Benny the "1980-something space guy" (Charlie Day), on an epic journey to stop the evil tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the Lego universe on Taco Tuesday by gluing it altogether.

THE GOOD STUFF

For decades, Lego is widely known to kids as a toy that allows them to unleash their creativity. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller clearly understands what makes Lego such a long-lasting toy phenomenon till now, and successfully translating that very idea into a spectacular animated feature. Thanks to the effects team from Animal Logic, the seamless mix of stop-motion animation and CGI are very eye-catching. The action are imaginatively staged to maximum impact it's almost like riding a roller coaster. Lord and Miller also have fun times parodying plenty of Hollywood famous blockbusters and other creative properties including DC comic characters (e.g. Batman, Superman and Green Lantern); Gandalf from THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogy; STAR WARS, NBA All-Stars (which includes Shaquille O'Neal himself) and even William Shakespeare, to hilarious result.

All the voice cast here delivers first-rate performances. Chris Pratt is wonderful as Emmet, while Elizabeth Banks brings superb tough-girl attitude as Wyldstyle. Then there's Will Arnett, who perfectly brings the trademark husky voice of Batman character and Morgan Freeman delivers an entertaining parody of himself as Vitruvius. As for the two particular villains, Will Ferrell is well-cast as Lord Business and the normally tense Liam Neeson lets loose as Bad Cop/Good Cop.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The "twist" finale. Well, it's not something out-of-this-world kind of experience, but it is the poignant moment that gives me the true meaning of Lego existence.

THE BAD STUFF

It's quite a pity that Phil Lord's and Christopher Miller's overall screenplay feels formulaic. You know, it's like when you stumble upon a plot about "a chosen person who is destined to save the world", they are basically more-of-the-same clichés.

FINAL WORDS

THE LEGO MOVIE is far from perfect, but with enough fun to be had here, it's a great cinematic experience for both kids and adults.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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7/10
Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux deliver performances of their lifetime in this intimate but overlong romance drama.
3 February 2014
Winner of the coveted Palme d'Or and Best Director (Abdellatif Kechiche) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR has also made history when the movie awarded two of the actresses (Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux) for the first time ever in the history of Cannes.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

The movie centers on a 15-year-old high school student Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) who has a particular passion for literature. Following a short-lived romance with handsome classmate Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte), Adele soon finds herself she has more feelings for women especially after she meets a blue-haired fine arts student named Emma (Lea Seydoux) at a lesbian bar. Both of them eventually become lovers. At the beginning, their relationship is fulfilling but as years goes by with Adele becoming a kindergarten teacher, everything starts to feel different than they used to be.

THE GOOD STUFF

Director Abdellatif Kechiche's penchant for relentless close-ups, as well as his attention to detail is visually captivating. The story -- adapted from Julie Maroh's Le Bleu est une couleur chaude comic book -- is equally stunning where Kechiche embraces the lesbian theme with the utmost passionate and heartfelt manner.

But the movie, of course, is best remembered for its few graphic sex scenes where Kechiche is daring enough to push the boundaries of the NC-17 rating. Equally remarkable as well are the two central performances from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. Exarchopoulos, in particular, is tour de force especially the way she conveys her varied emotion beneath her shy-looking exterior.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The first sexual encounter between Adele and Emma -- one of the most explicit and passionate sex scenes ever put into film.

THE BAD STUFF

At three hours long, the movie can be a test of patience to watch this in one sitting. Not surprisingly, most of the scenes feel unnecessarily overlong. It is understandable that Abdellatif Kechiche wants to unfold his movie as naturalistic as possible, but it would be more appreciated if he practices a sense of restraint with a little cinematic term called "editing".

FINAL WORDS

While BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR isn't exactly a masterpiece at all, this French lesbian drama remains one of the best movies of the year.
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The Counselor (2013)
3/10
Despite A-list cast and some shocking act of violence, THE COUNSELOR is too wordy to thrill.
3 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
At the first glance, THE COUNSELOR seems like one of the must-see movies of 2013 (and yes, it was banned here in Malaysia): there's Ridley Scott (PROMETHEUS) on the director's chair; acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) making his first screen writing debut; and an A-list cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt. With the amount of talents involved, this movie is seriously hard to ignore. But upon finally watching it, I was floored by the disappointing outcome of this movie.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

THE COUNSELOR revolves around the unnamed title character (Michael Fassbender), a Texas attorney who is about to marry his beautiful girlfriend, Laura (Penelope Cruz). He gets himself involved in a US-Mexico drug deal with a shady middleman named Westray (Brad Pitt), simply because he needs money to pay for a 3.8 karat diamond of engagement ring and live a lavish lifestyle. When the drug deal starts to go wrong, the counselor lands himself in a deep trouble that everyone else involved with him will pay the price.

THE GOOD STUFF

The movie's sudden burst of graphic violence is simply shocking, especially the one involved "bolito" -- a mechanical device comprising a loop of alloy wire attached to a small electric motor at which the wearer's head will be decapitated when the loop is tightened around the neck. Technical credits are top notch, including Dariusz Wolski's lush cinematography, Daniel Pemberton's unusual music score and of course, Arthur Max's slick production design that deserved some mentions here.

Javier Bardem is perfectly typecast as the counselor's flamboyant wealthy friend, Reiner while Cameron Diaz steals the show as Reiner's vicious girlfriend, Malkina. As Laura, Penelope Cruz makes full use of her limited screen time hitting all the right notes as the counselor's naive girlfriend and bride-to-be.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The controversial, yet bizarre scene involving Malkina having "sex" on Reiner's yellow Ferrari. Another one of course, is the graphically violent scene involving the fate of Westray's life.

THE BAD STUFF

Ridley Scott's direction is unusually restrained here, which in turns, becomes his huge mistake because he let Cormac McCarthy's wordy screenplay do all the talking. Although McCarthy is a highly-acclaimed author who has unusual talent for words, he fails miserably as a screenwriter simply because he makes every scene a chore to sit through. Almost every conversation involving two characters interacting each other will last about ten minutes or so. Problem is, McCarthy's love for verbose dialogues are heavy-handed, yet so boring to hear. He should have learn a thing or two from better screenwriter like David Mamet or Quentin Tarantino when comes to talky pictures. Not surprisingly, THE COUNSELOR feels terribly draggy at an almost two hours long. If that's not bad enough, the movie is also noticeably lack of thrills while the anticlimactic ending is such a huge disappointment it might leaves you hanging with... Is that it?

As the title character, it's such a waste that Michael Fassbender's would-be impressive performance is sadly underdeveloped.

FINAL WORDS

THE COUNSELOR is simply one of the worst movies in 2013. For those who have trouble sleeping all the time, watching this movie might helps.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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7/10
Donnie Yen's highly-spirited performance and Soi Cheang's energetic direction made this a surprisingly enjoyable epic fantasy.
3 February 2014
When THE MONKEY KING debuted the teaser trailer sometimes last year, I was doubtful whether Donnie Yen was really up for the legendary Sun Wukong role or not. Even the glimpse of the special effects doesn't look engaging enough to convince me whatsoever. However, upon finally watching it, this nearly four-years-in-the-making production proves to be a well-worthy cinematic experience after all.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

During an ongoing war between god and demon on the Heavenly Palace, Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) lost the battle against Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat). However, Jade Emperor's daughter, Princess Iron Fan (Joe Fan), begs her father for mercy because she loves Bull Demon King very much. Jade Emperor ends up banishing both of them to the Fire Mountain and forbids them to enter Heavenly Palace ever again. Meanwhile, a monkey spirit is born out from Princess Nuwa's (Zhang Zilin) magic stones which later grows up as a mischievous adult. Soon he is trained under Master Puti (Tian Hai Yi) and names him as Sun Wukong. After Wukong completed his master's training, he returns to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits where he originally belongs to reunite with his fellow monkey clan and calls himself as Handsome Monkey King. Trouble arrives when Bull Demon King sees Wukong as his golden opportunity to use him as bait to access Heavenly Palace, while waiting for the right moment to wage war against the god all over again.

THE GOOD STUFF

Last seen in 2012's MOTORWAY, Soi Cheang's direction is colorful and yet entertaining enough to please most of the die-hard fans of the Sun Wukong story. Speaking of story, Szeto Kam Yuen's and Edmond Wong's screenplay is a fairly satisfying combination of action, comedy, romance and fantastical elements all rolled into slick package. Christopher Young's music score, in the meantime, is simply majestic. The action sequence, which is choreographed by Donnie Yen himself, is often exhilarating and epic in scope.

As Sun Wukong, Donnie Yen has successfully delivers one of his best performances ever seen since IP MAN (2008) and IP MAN 2 (2010). And likewise, he proves to be such a nimble fighter as usual, especially when he uses his golden staff. Other actors, such as Peter Ho as the scheming Erlangshen and Chow Yun-Fat as the noble Jade Emperor, are equally acceptable as well.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The "all-hell-breaks-loose" duels during the movie's spectacular finale.

THE BAD STUFF

Despite the hefty amount spent on the budget, the special effects are average at best. Even there are times the special effects looks like a rushed job. Some of the other cast, including Aaron Kwok's villainous turn as Bull Demon King, Kelly Chen as Guanyin and Gigi Leung as Chang'E, are sadly underwritten.

FINAL WORDS

While THE MONKEY KING is far from the best movie adaptation ever seen from Wu Cheng'en's classical novel of Journey to the West, it remains a satisfying effort worth checking out for this Chinese New Year.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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7/10
First-class acting ensemble dominates in this harrowing but slack slavery drama.
3 February 2014
Long before 12 YEARS A SLAVE reaches to our local cinemas (scheduled for release on 26 December 2013), this acclaimed slavery drama has been (almost) universally praised by critics and even garnered a number of accolades from various film festivals when it first landed in the US. Not only that, it has also been positioned as one of the frontrunners for 2014 Oscar. And now, here lies the biggest question: does 12 YEARS A SLAVE really worth such a high praise? Upon finally watching it, I admit the movie was good but hardly the kind of cinematic masterpiece I was hoping for in the first place.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Based on the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free and well-educated black man who lives with his beloved wife and two children in New York. One day he is enticed by a pair of professional illusionists Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam) to travel with them to Washington, DC for a lucrative circus gig. But things goes wrong after he's been drugged by the two illusionists and finds himself awakens being chained to a floor. He is subsequently sold into slavery by a slave trader Freeman (Paul Giamatti), and later finds himself being laboured away by the kind-hearted plantation owner Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Northup's life as a slave turns uglier when Mr. Ford sells him to Mr. Epps (Michael Fassbender), a drunken sadist who owns a cotton plantation.

THE GOOD STUFF

As in previous two features, HUNGER (2008) and SHAME (2011), director Steve McQueen applies the same unflinching approach in 12 YEARS A SLAVE with some worthwhile moments here and there that makes you cringe.

However, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is best remembered for its top-notch acting showcase. Chiwetel Ejiofor achieves his career-best as Solomon Northup, who is particularly memorable the way he uses his expressive eyes to convey his varied emotions. This is the kind of performance that I seriously hoped he will lands an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. As the spiteful Mr. Epps, Michael Fassbender is similarly impressive while newcomer Lupita Nyong'o almost steals the show with her heartbreaking performance as the sympathetic slave, Patsey. The rest of the supporting actors, ranging from Benedict Cumberbatch to Brad Pitt, have equally prove their worthy talents here.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The long uninterrupted take where Northup is seen struggling to stay alive with a noose dangling around his neck, and a painful scene where Patsey ends up being lashed after trying to reason with Mr. Epps over a bar of soap.

THE BAD STUFF

Despite the agonising subject matter, McQueen's direction is somehow too restrained to fulfill the impact for the horror of slavery. Sometimes the movie feels overly melodramatic and other times the pace slackens a lot, particularly in the climactic finale which could have been trimmed shorter. John Ridley's adapted screenplay, though captivating, is unnecessarily overlong that doesn't justify its 134-minute running time.

FINAL WORDS

While 12 YEARS A SLAVE misses the opportunity for becoming the great movie it aims to be, it remains a worthwhile effort that deserved to be seen at least once.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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All Is Lost (2013)
10/10
Robert Redford delivers a superb one-man show in this well-crafted, minimalist survival drama.
3 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Movies about "man vs. nature" is nothing new at all. In fact, there were already few great ones out there such as 2000's CAST AWAY, 2010's 127 HOURS and 2012's LIFE OF PI. Added to the list is J.C. Chandor's ALL IS LOST, an impressive survival drama featuring a groundbreaking performance by veteran Robert Redford.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

ALL IS LOST begins with an unnamed protagonist (Robert Redford, where his character's name is actually called "Our Man" at the end credit) being jolted awake when his yacht hits a steel crate floating in the middle of the ocean at 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. At the beginning, he manages to fix his punctured yacht with some cloth and lacquer but soon he is forced to face a violent storm in a horrifying life-and-death situation.

THE GOOD STUFF

For the record, ALL IS LOST is a rare movie where only one actor (Robert Redford) occupied the entire duration. It's certainly not an easy feat but writer-director J.C. Chandor manages to sustain interest throughout 106 minutes with his taut direction about how a person being pushed beyond the limit to battle against the forces of nature. Technical-wise, the special effects (especially the storm sequence) is top notch, while Frank G. DeMarco's cinematography is perfectly claustrophobic. Then there's Peter Zuccarini's amazing underwater camera-work especially in the scene underneath the raft where a school of fish is passing by in the sea, and of course, Pete Beaudreau's airtight editing that keeps the movie on an intense pace.

Speaking of that one actor, Robert Redford is a revelation. He has acted many memorable roles before in the past, just to name a few, The Sundance Kid in 1969's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and Bob Woodward in 1976's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. But for ALL IS LOST, this is no doubt his most challenging role ever tackled in his long acting career. Throughout the movie, he only speaks very little dialogue and spends the rest of the time conveying his varied emotion through his craggy face. His expressive acting performance is simply naturalistic, and yet compelling enough to watch him how he uses every survival skill he can think of to overcome the disaster.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The final poignant scene where the unnamed protagonist almost gives up hope to survive anymore.

THE BAD STUFF

I was captivated from the minute one until the closing finale that I couldn't find a flaw in this movie.

FINAL WORDS

ALL IS LOST is a terrific movie worth checking for.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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7/10
Overlong but reasonably entertaining movie with Leonardo DiCaprio's manic performance on the loose.
3 February 2014
After going 360-degree with the unexpected children's fantasy, HUGO in 2011, it's good to see director Martin Scorsese has finally back to his familiar R-rated territory with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Already a highly controversial movie upon its release last Christmas in the US due to its boundaries-pushing R rating (for the depiction of sex, drugs and profanity), it's no surprise that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET failed to pass our local censorship board to be shown in Malaysian cinemas.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Based on the Jordan Belfort's memoir of the same name, the movie charts the rise and fall of 22-year-old Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who first started out as a rookie Wall Street stockbroker in 1987. On his first day at the firm, his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) already sees potential in him and eventually mentors him to become a successful stockbroker. It all started out well for Jordan, until the unexpected Black Monday (the 1987 stock-market crash) cost him his job. Jordan moves on and gets a new job selling penny stocks in Long Island, at which he manages to make a fortune out of it. Then one day, he meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and quickly becomes partners after he decides to open his own brokerage firm called Stratton Oakmont. Soon he recruits more people to work for him and he gets richer as the time goes by. With so much money, drugs and sex at his disposal, it doesn't take long before FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins to investigate around Stratton Oakmont's illegal practices.

THE GOOD STUFF

Martin Scorsese's direction is as energetic and cinematic as always. He really amazes me that even at his senior age of 71, he still got what it takes to make a vibrant cinema (even though he doesn't reaches the same creative peak he had in GOODFELLAS, CASINO or even THE DEPARTED). From the technical standpoint, everything here are aces with Rodrigo Prieto's lively camera-work (e.g. freeze-frame, slow-motion, fast dollies) worth the special mention.

Collaborating with Scorsese for the fifth time since GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), Leonardo DiCaprio gives a live-wire performance as Jordan Belfort. Here, he combines the cocky swagger of Michael Douglas's Oscar-winning performance of Gordon Gekko in WALL STREET (1987) with a dash of Alec Baldwin's Blake character in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992), and even a little of Robert De Niro-style of acting method. But it was the funny side of him that viewers rarely seen from the typically-tense DiCaprio he always known for. He certainly knows how to let loose and have fun with his character. He even pushes his comical edge to the limit that you have to see it for yourself.

The supporting actors, ranging from Jonah Hill's strong support as Jordan's right-hand man Donnie Azoff to Kyle Chandler's effective performance as FBI Agent Patrick Denham (with his particular memorable scene involving him and Jordan at a yacht), are downright captivating. Last but not least is the breakthrough performance by 23-year-old beauty Margot Robbie as Jordan's trophy wife, Naomi. Not only she's strikingly hot and beautiful, she manages to stand on her own against DiCaprio.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The long, comical set-piece involving Jordan overdoses a handful of Quaaludes (a type of sedative-hypnotic drug), at which his entire body becomes numb and unable to speak properly. During that particular scene, he tries to crawl his way out of the building and back to his car to head home. Think Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or even Jim Carrey and you'll get the picture.

THE BAD STUFF

At three hours long, the movie is undeniably excessive to a breaking point. Not surprisingly, all the manic energy that Scorsese is trying so hard to push forward, begins to wear out its welcome. Then there's Terence Winter's adapted screenplay which feels strangely monotonous. For instance, does the movie have to be so redundant by including repetitive scenes of Jordan and his people snorting cocaine and having sex with lots of endless naked women like nobody's business?

FINAL WORDS

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is far from Scorsese's best works, but it's a worthwhile entertainment for those who wanted to see the lighter side of him.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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Lone Survivor (2013)
9/10
One of the most brutal and realistic combat pictures ever made in recent memory.
3 February 2014
On the summer of 2012, director Peter Berg faced harsh criticism when his big-budget sci-fi action blockbuster, BATTLESHIP, flopped big time at the box office. But thankfully, Berg manages to bounce back with this impressive combat picture, LONE SURVIVOR -- easily one of his best directing efforts to date.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Based on a failed "Operation Red Wings" mission which takes place on June 28, 2005, a four-man Navy SEALs team -- Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) -- are sent into the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan to apprehend Taliban commander Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami). However, their mission is compromised when they stumble upon local goat herders. Facing a dilemma whether to kill them or to let them go, they choose the latter option -- a ill-fated decision that soon cost them dearly.

THE GOOD STUFF

Kudos goes to Peter Berg for his well-paced direction throughout the two hours of this movie. He starts off with a strong setup that introduces all four main characters, sustaining the momentum, and finally hits full button with some of the most gruelling combat sequences ever staged in a war genre. Here, he doesn't skimp on the violence as well as the harsh reality of a war combat. In fact, the sequence is so intensely choreographed that you could almost feel all the pain (especially the scene where they rolled down the rocks and injured their bodies in the process) that these four main characters have to endure.

All four main actors give believable and solid performances. But it was Mark Wahlberg who excels the most as the last standing soldier (hence the title).

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The extended combat sequence between the four-man Navy SEALs team and an army of Taliban fighters.

THE BAD STUFF

If there's any flaw in this movie, it's Eric Bana. For such an established actor of his calibre, his performance as Lt. Commander Erik S. Kristensen is sadly reduced into thankless role.

FINAL WORDS

LONE SURVIVOR is definitely not for the squeamish. However, those who can stomach the unflinching act of violence, will be rewarded with one of the best post-9/11 war pictures ever made in years.

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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The Journey (III) (2014)
10/10
Emotionally poignant and genuinely funny, THE JOURNEY is a must-see movie for all Malaysians.
30 January 2014
Before I first went to watch THE JOURNEY in the cinema, I have little knowledge about this movie at all. But to my surprise, this locally-made production has totally exceeds my expectation, at which THE JOURNEY truly deserves its recognition as one of the best Malaysian-Chinese movies ever made. And bear in mind, this is only Chiu's (his full name is actually Chiu Keng Guan) third directing effort following his back-to-back success of 2010's WOOHOO! and 2011's GREAT DAY.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

After spending a decade living with her aunt to study art in England, Bee (Joanne Yew) has finally returns home to Cameron Highlands. She also brought back her British fiancé, Benji (Ben Andrew Pfeiffer) to introduce him to her conservative father Uncle Chuan (Frankie Lee) and hoping to seek his blessing for their upcoming marriage. At first, Uncle Chuan opposes to his daughter's marriage because he doesn't get along with Benji well. However, he ends up agreeing anyway except with one condition -- their wedding ceremony has to be done in the Chinese tradition. Soon, Benji is tasked to bring along Uncle Chuan on a long motorcycle journey across the country to deliver the wedding invitations to Uncle Chuan's 11 ex-primary schoolmates.

THE GOOD STUFF

Chiu's direction is sharp and meticulous to detail, especially the way he depicts the Chinese culture and tradition with such authenticity. His regular screenwriter, Ryon Lee, successfully combined the universal themes of culture, hope, love, friendship and unity within his screenplay that everyone can relate to. Eric Yeong's cinematography, which is shot on locations across six states in Malaysia (Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Penang, Kedah, Melaka and Johor) are wonderfully captured with such sheer beauty it's like watching a travel channel. The panoramic and idyllic view of the Cameron Highlands setting is especially worth a special mention here.

For the acting department, Chiu has certainly took a huge gamble by casting actors with little or no experience in acting at all. However, his gamble proves to be surprisingly rewarding. 73-year-old retiree Frankie Lee is perfectly cast as the conservative and stubborn father Uncle Chuan. He pairs well with Australian stage actor Ben Andrew Pfeiffer, who delivers an impressive performance as Benji. Watching the way they argue against each other because of their cultural and ideological differences are simply both entertaining and heartfelt. Miss Astro Chinese International Pageant 2007 Joanne Yew, in the meantime, is not only photogenic but also acted well as the estranged daughter Bee. As for the rest of the supporting actors, all of them have their equal share of limelight.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The brief but wonderful scene where Bee uses a black marker to draw caricature of her father, Uncle Chuan and her fiancé, Benji riding motorcycle together on the car window.

THE BAD STUFF

Throughout the duration, I was surprised by the mesmerizing result of this movie. In short, THE JOURNEY is pitch perfect that I hardly find a flaw within.

FINAL WORDS

Like the title itself, this is one cinematic journey worth exploring for. No doubt THE JOURNEY is a rare gem of a local movie not to be missed this Chinese New Year. By the way, make sure to stay for the end-credits music video featuring Ben Andrew Pfeiffer singing a wonderfully cheeky song that combines English and Chinese languages.
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RoboCop (2014)
Comparing with Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original version is unfair, but the new ROBOCOP here manages to stand on its own as a reasonably engaging effort.
29 January 2014
In 2010, acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER, BLACK SWAN) was originally attached to direct the ROBOCOP reboot. Frankly, I thought he was the right choice to reboot the once-popular franchise back in the late '80s. Unfortunately, he quits the project and Brazilian director Jose Padilha (ELITE SQUAD, ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN) was brought in as his replacement. WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT? When police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured during a car explosion in front of his home, CEO of OmniCorp Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) sees him as a golden opportunity to make him feel alive again by turning him into "Robocop" -- a cyborg police officer which is touted as the future of law enforcement in America. However, OmniCorp doesn't realize that Murphy still has a personal vengeance in his mind to pursue the criminals who nearly caused him dead. THE GOOD STUFF Like the first two ELITE SQUAD movies, director Jose Padilha delivers the same raw intensity that gives ROBOCOP a quasi-documentary feel to the action sequences. Even though Padilha utilizes shaky camera-work, at least he doesn't make the scene so wobbly until the viewers unable to see what's really going on. The special effects are spectacular, while the costume design for the all-new Robocop in a black tactical body actually looks quite nifty. Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (best known in the US for TV's The Killing) delivers an emotionally engaging performance as Alex Murphy and Robocop, while Michael Keaton steals most of the spotlight as the slimy CEO of OmniCorp Raymond Sellars and Gary Oldman gives a perfectly restrained performance as the sympathetic Dr. Dennett Norton. Other minor roles -- including Abbie Cornish as Murphy's wife, Clara; Jackie Earle Haley as the military tactician Mattox; and Samuel L. Jackson as the media host Pat Novak -- are all equally impressive. MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S) The brief but intense battle between Robocop and a small army of ED-209 during the climactic finale. THE BAD STUFF The biggest weakness in this ROBOCOP reboot is Joshua Zetumer's captivating but bloated screenplay. First of all, the story drags too much with Murphy's personal family matter with his estranged wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan). Then there's the underwritten plot involving Murphy's personal vengeance against Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), who is responsible for the car explosion. Even the so-called social commentary involving the "robo-phobic" issue quoted by Samuel L. Jackson's Pat Novak doesn't really say much that worth a debate. FINAL WORDS While the new ROBOCOP is far from a genre classic by any means, at least Jose Padilha's version isn't as bad as most people might have expected. Just put your mindset of the Paul Verhoeven's original 1987 version aside, and treat this as an entirely new movie altogether.
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Chow Yun-Fat reigns supreme in this formulaic but entertaining action comedy.
28 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
It's been 20 years since Chow Yun-Fat last portrayed his iconic Ko Chun role in 1994's GOD OF GAMBLERS RETURNS. And this year, he's finally back to the gambling genre that first made him popular in 1989's GOD OF GAMBLERS. Unfortunately, FROM VEGAS TO MACAU is not the long-awaited GOD OF GAMBLERS 4 everyone has been anticipating for. Despite the return of Chow Yun-Fat and director Wong Jing, FROM VEGAS TO MACAU is actually a new movie altogether.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Chow Yun-Fat plays Ken, who was once a renowned gambler and a former Vegas security consultant known for his "magic hands" technique. When Ken invited his old buddy, a retired swindler named Benz (Hui Shiu Hung) to Las Vegas for his lavish birthday event, Benz's son, Cool (Nicholas Tse) wants to become Ken's protégé. Meanwhile, Cool's undercover brother (Philip Ng) is killed by one of Mr. Ko's (Gao Hu) right-hand men, Ghost Eyes (Max Zhang) for trying to expose his money-laundering operation. The cops (led by Michael Wong and Jing Tian) seek Ken's expertise to help them apprehend Mr. Ko at all cost, while Cool has set his sights to avenge his brother's death against Ghost Eyes.

THE GOOD STUFF

The biggest attraction in this movie is definitely none others than Chow Yun-Fat himself. It's been a very long time since we watch Chow Yun-Fat in such jovial mood. Even though he's nearly 60 years old, he's hardly lost his charisma and comic flair at all. Whether flirting and romancing around with Annie Wu and Jing Tian, singing with Hui Shiu Hung and Maria Cordero, showing off his skills on the gambling table or stylishly flicks his gold-playing cards as throwing weapons, Chow Yun-Fat's hugely entertaining performance is the reason that made this movie a fun experience to watch for.

Meanwhile, director Wong Jing manages to retain some of the wacky charm that we used to watch from GOD OF GAMBLERS series. His direction is fast and furious, at which he blends action, comedy and romance in a fairly enjoyable manner.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The brief but memorable scene occurs midway during the end credit rolls... let's just say it involves a certain character making a cameo appearance that guarantees to give the fans something to cheer about.

THE BAD STUFF

It's quite a pity that the rest of the actors doesn't fare as good as Chow Yun-Fat does. For instance, Nicholas Tse is almost wasted here as Cool. Same goes to Chapman To as Karl, who appears to be more annoying than actually being funny. The female cast, in the meantime, ranging from Kimmy Tong, Annie Wu to Jing Tian, are mostly reduced to eye-candy roles.

Wong Jing's screenplay has several rough patches as well, especially when it comes to numerous subplots. Some of them are almost useless, like the one involving the would-be romance between Cool and Rainbow (Kimmy Tong). Even some of the jokes feel either forceful or recycled from Wong Jing's previous own movies.

FINAL WORDS

While the movie isn't as nearly memorable as GOD OF GAMBLERS, FROM VEGAS TO MACAU remains a recommendable effort worth watching for this Chinese New Year. After all, how often do you get to watch Chow Yun-Fat playing such a role these days?

caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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Her (2013)
9/10
Smart, funny and poignant, HER is a fascinating cinematic experience about modern love in the cyber-obsessed era.
16 January 2014
From his impressive feature debut in 1999's BEING JOHN MALKOVICH to 2009's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, director Spike Jonze always has his way to craft one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. In his long-awaited follow-up since WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Spike Jonze excels again in HER -- a unique look of love between man and modern technology.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Set in the not-so-distant future, the movie revolves around Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who makes his living penning "handwritten personal letters" given by the clients of the company he works for, at which he's very good with words. Despite his successful profession, his personal life is a depressing mess. His childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara) has recently filed a divorce but Theodore is still reluctant to sign the papers. Things change when he purchases a state-of-the-art computer operating system called "OS1". After customizing his needs, an A.I. by the name of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is created. Despite being a computer system, Samantha is a fast learner and communicates well with Theodore until one day, both of them unexpectedly fall in love for each other.

THE GOOD STUFF

Likewise, Spike Jonze's creative visual sense is put into great use in HER. With the help of Hoyte Van Hoytema's dreamy cinematography to KK Barrett's impeccable production design, everything here is simply enticing to the eyes. But it was Jonze's first original screenplay that really struck a chord. Despite his unusual concept about "a man falling in love with computer software", the movie is hardly silly at all. In fact, the concept is genuinely heartfelt and emotionally relevant that asks you the all-important question: Is true love possible regardless whether it's a human being or an artificial intelligence?

Of course, no movie with such outlandish premise would be believable if not for its strong cast. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an exceptionally soulful performance as the lonely Theodore -- a role which is no doubt one of his finest roles to date. Equally captivating is Scarlett Johansson whose trademark husky voice is put into remarkable use as Samantha. It's a very challenging role nonetheless since she has to rely solely on her vocal acting to convince us that she is not much different than an ordinary human being -- but she succeeds pretty well. Her chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix is simply outstanding. The supporting actors, especially Amy Adams (who plays Theodore's best friend), Olivia Wilde (who plays Theodore's blind date) and Rooney Mara round out the magnificent cast here.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The odd but intimate moment where Surrogate Date Isabella (Portia Doubleday) appears as human stand-in for Samantha to perform a lovemaking scene with Theodore.

THE BAD STUFF

Despite the clever structure of its unique love story, there are times the movie feels out of place with Jonze's penchant of overwhelms his story with too many unnecessary profanities.

FINAL WORDS

While hardly perfect, HER remains an intriguing movie to check out for. After all, how often you get to watch such unconventional love story as unique as HER?

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9/10
Well-acted, if flawed melancholy drama with a unique touch of Coen brothers' dark sense of humour.
15 January 2014
After scoring their biggest hit to date with their first Western genre, TRUE GRIT (2010 -- a critically-acclaimed movie which I personally thought was overrated), the Coen brothers goes low-key with INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Set in the winter season of 1961, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS revolves around Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a talented folk singer who suffers a rough week following Timlin's unexpected suicide, his music partner at which they sing together as a folk group duo called Timlin & Davis. As Llewyn tries to embark into a solo career, his journey proves to be an unpleasant experience. With no money for a place of his own, he forced to crash with various friends from time to time. He even had a hard time trying to get paying gigs, while his girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan) thinks he's a total loser.

THE GOOD STUFF

From the sublime opening scene that begins with Llewyn singing "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" at the Gaslight bar, the Coen brothers successfully captured the melancholic atmosphere of the 1960s folk music scene surrounding New York's Greenwich Village. With the help of lush cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel and the distinctive period look by production designer Jess Gonchor, the movie certainly have the lived-in quality that transports you into the particular era. Even though INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a depressing movie, the Coen brothers manage to strike a fine balance between their downbeat tone and dark-comedy element without going overboard one after another.

Apart from the Coen brothers' beautifully restrained direction, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is also a musical triumph for its folk music. This is largely thanks to the talented T-Bone Burnett himself, at which the songs are performed live by the actors themselves. From the above-mentioned "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" to "Five Hundred Miles" and a particular uplifting tune of "Please Mr. Kennedy", all the songs are simply top notch.

As for the actors, Oscar Isaac scores a breakthrough performance as the soulful Llewyn Davis. He's particularly terrific the way he expresses the lyric when he sings a folk song while strumming his guitar with full of emotion. Equally great is the highly-talented Carey Mulligan, who is memorable as the estranged and foulmouthed Jean. The rest of the supporting actors, even the small roles from Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund to F. Murray Abraham, have their fair share of acting highlights.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

Three folk songs -- "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me", "Five Hundred Miles" and "Please Mr. Kennedy" -- are particular highlights that stuck in my head. The blackly comic but symbolic scene involving the orange cat is another must-see sequence.

THE BAD STUFF

The debatable finale somewhat left me cold, and yet unsatisfied the way Coen brothers chooses to end the fate of Llewyn's career journey.

FINAL WORDS

Minor flaw aside, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS remains one of Coen brothers' best movies ever made in their illustrious career.

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Devil's Due (2014)
A typical found-footage supernatural horror movie that fails to capitalize the intriguing ROSEMARY'S BABY-like premise.
14 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Promoted as ROSEMARY'S BABY meets PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, this low-budget found footage movie was first caught the attention of famed director Eli Roth (HOSTEL, HOSTEL: PART II) at which he quoted on his official Twitter account: Don't pre-judge Devil's Due because Rosemary's Baby is a holy grail movie. It's so smart, creative, inventive, and fun. Very very scary. Upon finally watching it, I was like: Is he for real?

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

DEVIL'S DUE revolves around a newlywed young couple, Zach McCall (Zach Gilford) and Samantha McCall (Allison Miller) who both experience a mysterious lost night during their honeymoon vacation at Santo Domingo. Upon returning home, Samantha finds out that she is unexpectedly pregnant. Though shocked, the couple is happy with the result. Soon, as Zach starts to record everything with his video camera, he begins to notice a series of odd behaviors in his wife. As months goes by, it becomes obvious that there is something bad going on within Samantha's pregnancy.

THE GOOD STUFF

DEVIL'S DUE begins promisingly with a sneaky opening scene involving a "stalker" prowling at Samantha's house. It's nevertheless a good cinematic tease that both directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (V/H/S) has displayed here. Apart from that, the two primary actors -- Zach Gilford and Allison Miller -- are worthwhile as well. However...

THE BAD STUFF

... Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett botches the would-be intriguing premise with their pedestrian direction. Aside from the middle scene involving Samantha and the three teenagers at the woods, most of the spooky parts are surprisingly low on scare. If that's not insulting enough, the so-called payoff at the finale is a huge disappointment -- all strangely anti-climactic and yet so unfulfilled that you might end up shouting in your mind: Seriously?

Added to the disappointment is Lindsay Devlin's uninspired screenplay. It's nothing more than your typical found footage and supernatural horror combo that you've seen many times before.

FINAL WORDS

All I can say that DEVIL'S DUE is a total rip-off from the immortal classic, ROSEMARY'S BABY. Save your hard-earned money, and wait for DVD release instead.

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Casey's Movie Mania: JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
14 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Despite all the talents involved, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is pretty much a moderate thriller that doesn't rise above its genre clichés.

In 2002, there was already a franchise reboot for Jack Ryan adventure in the form of THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, at which Ben Affleck plays the young version of the famous character originally created by the late author Tom Clancy. More than a decade later, the franchise is rebooted for the second time in this long-awaited JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

The movie begins with a brief prologue following the news of 9/11 attack in 2001 when Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is still an economics student in London. Two years later, Ryan is on the active duty as Marine lieutenant in Afghanistan who ends up getting attacked during a helicopter ambush. He is lucky enough to survive the attack, and while nursing for recovery in the hospital, he meets his doctor Cathy (Keira Knightley) and a high-ranking commanding officer, Harper (Kevin Costner). Cut to the present day, Harper offers Ryan a job as a junior CIA analyst to work on a covert operation based in the Wall Street firm. When he uncovers an elaborate scheme involving a mysterious Russian businessman, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), he has a reason to believe that Cherevin is trying to cripple the US economy.

THE GOOD STUFF

It's nice to see a thriller like JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT where brain favors over brawn. For instance, the Moscow sequence which sees Ryan tries to bluff his way out of the dining restaurant to sneak into Cherevin's office building so he can hack into his data while leaving Cathy and Cherevin flirting at each other, is particularly thrilling.

As the young and smart but reckless Jack Ryan, Chris Pine fits the profile adequate enough for his role.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The climactic finale where Ryan engages in an exhilarating police van chase across the busy street of Manhattan.

THE BAD STUFF

It's quite a pity that the rest of the supporting actors doesn't register as much subtlety as I would expect from them. As the movie's main villain, Kenneth Branagh is forgettable as Viktor Cherevin. Same goes to Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley as well, at which both of their characters feel stereotypical. Then there's the plot, written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, which is nothing more than your standard-looking thriller filled with weary clichés. Director Kenneth Branagh, who proves that he can handles blockbuster element in 2011's THOR, is surprisingly pedestrian (save it for the above-mentioned Moscow sequence and the final race-against-the-time third act) in his direction here. Even most of the action sequences are choppily edited with lots of shaky camera-work. Speaking of choppy editing, nothing comes worst than the head-inducing, nighttime car chase scene in Moscow.

FINAL WORDS

Overall, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT doesn't exactly set this long-gestating franchise on fire like it used to be. In fact, I would say the first reboot in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS fares better than this one.

http://www.caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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E zhan (2014)
Casey's Movie Mania: ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI (2014)
9 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Well-staged fight sequences and Philip Ng's fairly charismatic performance are the saving grace in this elegantly stylish but hollow martial arts movie.

Chang Cheh's BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972) was one of Shaw Brothers' most popular hits among all martial arts classics that best remembered for then-young martial arts star Chen Kuan-Tai playing the title role, Ma Yongzhen (also the movie's Chinese title). Then in 1997, director Corey Yuen attempted to remake the movie under the title of HERO (no, not that HERO starring Jet Li) with Takeshi Kaneshiro in the title role (yikes!). But that movie failed to make an impression at the box office. Now, director Wong Ching-Po made his own attempt to remake BOXER FROM SHANTUNG with ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Philip Ng plays Ma Yongzhen, a young labourer from Shantung, arrives at the prosperous city of Shanghai trying to earn some living. One day, he meets Long Qi (Andy On), a rising gangster and boss of the Paradise Club who is determined to conquer Shanghai. Long Qi is particularly impressed with Ma's amazing martial arts skills and eventually hires him to work at his club. Both of them become best friends. Meanwhile, the Japanese government collaborates with Long's nemesis, the Axe Fraternity gang (Chen Kuan-Tai, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Fung Hak-On) for drug trafficking business and eliminates Long at all cost.

THE GOOD STUFF

Likewise, Wong Ching-Po's direction is stylish while Yuen Woo-Ping's kinetic action choreography is impressive. Despite favoring over choppy camera-work and slow-motion effect for enhancement purpose, rest assured that the fight sequence is exhilarating and fluid enough to keep the martial arts fans happy.

Up-and-coming actor Philip Ng gives a fairly charismatic performance as Ma Yongzhen. His well-toned physique, agility as well as his energetic fighting skills immediately reminds me of the late Bruce Lee. As Long Qi, Andy On displays his usual good-looking charm and cocky swagger while his fighting prowess is as impressive as always.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The climactic fight sequence beginning with Ma Yongzhen taking down a group of axe-wielding gang, before proceed to square off against the three Axe Fraternity gang leaders (Chen Kuan-Tai, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Fung Hak-On), and finally goes head-to-head against two Japanese fighters one who carries sai and shuriken, and another with a katana).

THE BAD STUFF

Like (all) Wong Ching-Po's movies in the past, ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI is sadly all style but little substance. Despite the familiar but engaging premise, his overall execution feels hollow. It doesn't help when Wong Jing's screenplay is lack of compelling depth to justify the entire movie. Even his added theme of brotherhood between Ma Yongzhen and Long Qi feels superficial.

FINAL WORDS

Although ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI doesn't exactly lives up to its fullest potential, the movie is nevertheless a fairly engaging old-school martial arts movie worth watching for.
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7/10
Casey's Movie Mania: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)
8 January 2014
This profanity-filled family melodrama may have been stretched into overkill, but the powerhouse acting ensemble and some worthwhile moments are irresistible enough to watch for.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Based on the successful 2007 Broadway play by Tracy Letts, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY begins with Weston patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) hires a Native American housekeeper named Johanna (Misty Upham) just before he goes missing. Following the incident, eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) heads back home along with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their rebellious 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) to look after her cancer-stricken mother Violet (Meryl Streep). Arriving home as well is middle daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and brother-in-law, Charlie (Chris Cooper), youngest daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) and her handsome beau Steve (Dermot Mulroney), and finally, Charlie's quiet son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Then something happens: Beverly is found dead of an apparent suicide. Soon the Weston clan begins to reveal long-buried family secrets that goes nowhere but downhill.

THE GOOD STUFF

John Wells' direction is fairly efficient, while Tracy Letts' own adapted screenplay is reasonably sharp with snappy dialogue all around. No doubt he knows how to play around with words.

Acting-wise, this is where the movie shines the most: Meryl Streep, as usual, gives an excellent performance as Violet. The way she acts all angry and crazy due to her excessive medication is riveting to watch for. Speaking of riveting, Julia Roberts gives one of her finest dramatic performances since ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) and CLOSER (2004). Here, she is simply electric and even more so when she engages in verbal abuses against Meryl Streep during some of the movie's key moments. The rest of the cast is equally captivating, with special mention goes to Julianne Nicholson's breakthrough performance as the quietly affecting Ivy.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The heated family dinner scene which ends up Barbara loses her temper and strangles her mother, Violet. The other memorable scene is of course, the "eat your fish" moment between Barbara, Violet and Ivy. Here's that particular clip below for your "enjoyment":

MOST MEMORABLE QUOTE(S)

Barbara: I'm running things now!

Barbara: Eat your fish, b***h.

THE BAD STUFF

Some of the scenes are unnecessarily over-the-top, at which a little restraint would have been appreciated.

FINAL WORDS

It's far from great, but if there's one movie you love to see top-notch actors insulting and screaming against each other, you can't go wrong with AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.

http://www.caseymoviemania.blogspot.com
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8/10
Casey's Movie Mania: AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT (2013)
2 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Blessed with solid cast and top-notch special effects, AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT is gripping if clichéd firefighter drama.

Last year, the Pang brothers attempted to resurrect the long-forgotten genre about firefighters with their big-budget 3D blockbuster, INFERNO (read my review here). The result wasn't as spectacular as I hoped for, even though that movie had its moments. This year, it was director Derek Kwok's turn for another big-budget firefighter drama entitled AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT. The good news is, AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT is far more accomplished effort than the underwhelming INFERNO.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT takes place on a single night during Christmas Eve when a team of Hong Kong's Lung Kwu Tan station-based firefighters -- team chief Sam (Nicholas Tse), Chill (Shawn Yue), Tao (Simon Yam), Ocean (Hu Jun) and among others -- are called upon to stop a fire at a winery in Menford Street. Everything seems to be under control at first, until the fire starts spreading again from the winery to a nearby power plant at Pillar Point which gradually causes the entire Hong Kong island into total blackout.

THE GOOD STUFF

From the award-winning martial arts drama GALLANTS (2010) to his recent Chinese New Year's big-budget fantasy blockbuster JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS (where he co-directed with Stephen Chow), director Derek Kwok has proved his worth as a versatile filmmaker who can switches different genre with equal success. Here, Kwok's direction is taut and engaging. Special effects are first-rate where fire and smoke looks more lively and visually spectacular than the overly CG-looking effects in INFERNO.

As for the plot, though filled with clichés, manages to blend reasonably well with solid characters-driven drama and overall excellent acting ensemble. Speaking of acting, both Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue, who previously collaborated together in Wilson Yip's DRAGON TIGER GATE and Benny Chan's INVISIBLE TARGET, deliver powerhouse performances as usual. Supporting actors including Simon Yam and Hu Jun, and even smaller roles from Andy On to Liu Kai-Chi, are equally worthwhile.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The stunning "flour explosion" sequence at the end of the movie.

THE BAD STUFF

Some of the action sequences tend to be difficult to follow because of Jason Kwan's wobbly camera-work. The female cast, including Bai Bing and Michelle Wai, are sadly underutilized here.

FINAL WORDS

While the movie isn't as refined as Johnnie To's seminal (and still the best) Hong Kong firefighter drama LIFELINE, AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT remains a highly entertaining blockbuster. It definitely does the Hong Kong cinema proud by ushering a positive beginning in the brand new year of 2014. On the side note, do watch out for a certain cameo appearance somewhere earlier in the movie.
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Ilo Ilo (2013)
10/10
Casey's Movie Mania: ILO ILO (2013)
2 January 2014
Poignant, funny and heartbreaking, Anthony Chen's feature debut in ILO ILO is a true gem of a Singaporean drama.

Winners of this year's Camera d'Or award (an award for best first feature film) at the prestigious 2013 Cannes Film Festival as well as the recent Taiwan's Golden Horse Award (which nabbed four awards including Best Film and Best New Director), this low-budget Singaporean drama ILO ILO is truly a remarkable feat for a first-time feature director Anthony Chen.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Set in Singapore during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, ILO ILO revolves around 10-year-old Singaporean boy, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) and the newly-hired Filipino maid, Terry (Angeli Bavani) who at first doesn't see eye-to-eye against each other. But their relationship gradually improves when the resilient Terry manages to earn affection and respect from the hardheaded Jiale. Meanwhile, Jiale's parent -- pregnant mother Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) and recently jobless father Teck (Chen Tianwen) -- are struggling to deal with their own family and financial matter.

THE GOOD STUFF

Prior to ILO ILO, Anthony Chen has already crafted his name in the world of short films with critically acclaimed efforts such as AH MA and HAZE. In ILO ILO, Chen proves to be a gifted filmmaker who knows well how to tell a great story. In fact, he actually inspired the movie from his own personal experience when he grew up in 1990s Singapore with a Filipino maid and a family suffering from financial woes. Chen's direction is meticulous to details where everything here is presented in a uniquely Singaporean manner. Among some of the themes that everyone (at least for Singaporeans) can relate to, is the kiasu (literally means "fear of losing") attitude of a typical middle-class Singaporean family when dealing their domestic or personal problems, as well as Chen's hilarious perspective on how people usually react when comes to buying lottery numbers. Production values are suitably top notch, especially for Benoit Soler's down-to-earth cinematography which perfectly evokes the sense of time and place of the 1997 Singapore.

The cast here are just as noteworthy, with newcomer Koh Jia Ler impresses a lot as the troublemaker Jiale. Despite this is only his first acting debut, Koh Jia Ler proves to be a gifted actor who definitely has bright future ahead. Angeli Bayani is tour de force as the Filipino maid Terry, while her chemistry with Jia Ler is genuinely heartfelt. Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann (who recently won Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Horse Award) is pitch-perfect as a typical Singaporean working-class woman, while Singaporean theater and TV veteran Chen Tianwen shows amazing range of top-class acting in his first big screen debut as the family's breadwinner who faces uncertainty in life after losing his job.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

There are plenty that I wanted to include here, but among them are the funny scene where Jiale tries to escape punishment from his discipline teacher by offering him a lottery tip and of course, the bittersweet finale between Jiale and Terry.

THE BAD STUFF

None available.

FINAL WORDS

No doubt ILO ILO is well deserved for all the accolades it has received thus far. This is certainly one of the must-watch movies of the year.
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7/10
Casey's Movie Mania: American HUSTLE (2013)
2 January 2014
The acting ensemble is a joy to watch for, with a few lively sparks here and there in this entertaining but uneven crime drama.

In just a year after writer-director David O. Russell hits jackpot with his winning quirky comedy SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, he's back with the highly-anticipated American HUSTLE -- a movie which has already receiving tons of accolades from many critics and even hailed as one of the Oscar frontrunners come next year.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Loosely inspired from the FBI ABSCAM operation in the late '70s/early '80s (hence the opening title card that reads "Some of this actually happened"), American HUSTLE first introduces Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a potbellied owner of New Jersey dry-cleaning stores who is also a slick con man. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a party where they instantly falls for each other and ends up working together to con people's money with their elaborate scheme. They become so famous that one day they get caught red-handed by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Instead of putting Irving and Sydney to jail, Richie uses them to help him capture the New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) as well as other corrupted congressmen and mobsters for bribery.

THE GOOD STUFF

I'm particular loved the way how David O. Russell incorporated various storytelling techniques such as flashbacks and voice-over narrations to introduce his four major characters -- Christian Bale's Irving Rosenfeld, Amy Adams' Sydney Prosser, Bradley Cooper's Richie DiMaso and Jeremy Renner's Carmine Polito -- in a lively Martin Scorsese-like filmmaking style. Technical-wise, American HUSTLE -- from Linus Sandgren's fluid camera-work, excellent song choices (e.g. America's A Horse with No Name and Wings' Live and Let Die), and right down to the meticulous re-creation of the 1970s location settings, hairstyles and flamboyant wardrobes -- is top notch.

But it was the actors that shines here the most. Christian Bale, who previously collaborated with David O. Russell in 2010's THE FIGHTER (which won him his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), looks almost unrecognizable behind his sunglasses, large belly and combover. It's refreshing to watch Bale in a laidback and warm performance that doesn't requires him to brood all the time like most of his usual roles in many other movies. Amy Adams is captivating who cleverly alternates her dual personalities -- one is Sydney, and another one is a British character named Lady Edith Greensly -- in such graceful manner. Bradley Cooper is energetic as FBI agent Richie DiMaso, while Jeremy Renner delivers a likable performance as the New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito. Finally, the biggest scene stealer here is Jennifer Lawrence, who excels in her mesmerizing and showy performance as Irving's estranged wife, Rosalyn.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

The hilarious scene where Rosalyn quarrels with Irving over a broken microwave, and the tense moment where Rosalyn and Sydney comes face to face together.

THE BAD STUFF

As a crime drama about deception and duplicity, it's kind of odd that David O. Russell and his screenwriter Eric Warren Singer doesn't deliver much in the subject matter, especially when everything is stripped down in mostly all-too-lightweight manner. The story feels lackluster while the movie takes time to find its proper footing after the wobbly first hour (apart from its lively opening scene).

FINAL WORDS

While American HUSTLE is hardly a great movie that I hoped for (which is definitely not in the same league with David O. Russell's previous two efforts, THE FIGHTER and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), it remains a worthwhile entertainment best seen for its colorful cast.
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