Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review of DUPLICITY

June 2, 2009



In a rare while, along comes a movie which challenges the audience's intellect because of its intricate plotting and intriguing sequencing of scenes. "Duplicity" is an example of such a movie that keeps you guessing to the very end. The opening sequence shows our leads meeting in a party in Dubai and that liaison ends in a double-cross. The next scene is an inexplicable rain-drenched exaggerated slow-motion fight scene between two men in an airport. From such an unorthodox incongruous beginning unfolds the tale of a large-scale confidence scam that spans five years in the making.

Aside from the smart story and witty script, "Duplicity" surely does not shy from star power as well. Julia Roberts (as Claire) is so striking beautiful a con artist that you know she could manipulate you with a mere smile. Clive Owen (as Ray) uses his sad-sack charm to great advantage as well in his role. Tom Wilkinson (as Tully) and Paul Giamatti (as Garsik) play it over-the-top in their portrayal of rival business magnates, both using the most modern intel personnel and technology to gain access to each other's latest corporate moves.

We do not get the story in chronological order, as the scenes go back and forth in time. You, the audience, are kept on your toes in order to keep up with what is going on. You know you need to hang on to every word that is exchanged so as not to get lost in the plot. As the elaborate con set-up shapes up, the dialogue drips with suspicion and double-cross. The sense of irony and humor energizes the script. They even manage to sneak romance somewhere in there. Another triumph for writer-director Tony Gilroy after the Bourne series and "Michael Clayton". I loved it! Haha! A definite must-see!


Review of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN

June 1, 2009



We have not watched the first Night at the Museum, but decided to watch this Part 2 anyway. This sequel touches on what happened in the first movie a lot, so I had to assume a lot of what happened. Nothing really too deep I expect. I think the kids just glossed over the storyline, and had fun with individual funny sequences about the main point of the movie, which is about the exhibits of a museum coming to life because of the powers of an ancient Egyptian tablet.

This is just one fun romp. This takes place several years after the first movie, where ex-security guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) now owns his own successful manufacturing company. However, he finds out that his old "friends" at the New York Museum of Natural History, led by the cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and the centurion (Steve Coogan), were being moved to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

When Jedediah and company arrive in DC though, they were held captive by the evil Pharoah wanna-be Kahmunrah who wants the powerful Egyptian tablet for his own nefarious schemes. And it is up to Larry to help his friends escape and to defeat Kahmunrah and his henchmen (Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte and a black and white Al Capone).

Not having seen the first movie, we were impressed by the special effects of the living exhibits. Most memorable are the sequences involving the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial and the flying of various generations of aircraft at the Air and Space Museum. There were unfortunately several sequences that seemed pointless and dragging, especially those involving Custer, and the squirrel.

There were stupidly hilarious scenes with the Jonas Brothers as singing Cupids, the talking Albert Einstein heads and the two capuchin monkeys slapping Larry silly. Some sight gags work, a lot do not though. Amy Adams makes a very spirited and sassy Amelia Earhart. Hank Azaria plays Kahmunrah with tongue in cheek, very sinister yet very funny with his little lisp. Ben Stiller though looked bored in reprising his starring role.

Overall, an enjoyable movie. A message is tacked on about going for what adds spice to one's life. There is nothing too serious or useful here. Just some shallow entertainment fare for a lazy afternoon for a few good laughs with the family.

Review of ANGELS & DEMONS

May 18, 2009



It isn't very usual that I could get to watch two great movies in a row (when it isn't awards season). The previous week we got to watch "Star Trek" which I totally raved about, and now we watched "Angels & Demons". We watched this at the SM Mall of Asia while waiting for the David-David concert. This is the first time I have ever been denied a ticket because a showing was completely sold out! So we watched the next showing in another cinema there and that too turned out to be sold out. Amazing.

Anyway, back to the movie. "Angels and Demons" is actually my favorite Dan Brown book, more than the more popular "The Da Vinci Code." Even when I was just reading A&D, you already get a sense of how cinematic the entire story was. Apart from the obvious travelogue interest in the Rome and Vatican locales where the action takes place, we also get a closer look into the inner workings of the Vatican and the fabled history of the Illuminati.

"Angels and Demons" the movie stayed quite loyal to the main storyline of the book. The Pope just died and the Cardinals are in conclave to elect a new Pope. Before that could happen however, a terrorist kidnapped four favored Cardinals and starts to kill them ceremonially in various locations, invoking the Church's historical dispute with the Illuminati. This terrorist does all this while holding the entire Vatican City under threat of annihilation with a powerful anti-matter explosive. The plot, especially the ending, is admittedly very unlikely and highly over-the-top but it makes for a perfect summer blockbuster.

For me, the most interesting character in A&D is the enigmatic Camerlengo. He is the priest who is the dead Pope's closest aide and confidante, and who temporarily holds the Papal powers while the new Pope has yet to be elected. I remember I was very fascinated with this character because I have never heard of such a position in the Vatican, even after years of Catholic education. I learned afterwards that Dan Brown fictionalized this part as a real Camerlengo should be a Cardinal, an elector and possible candidate for Pope, unlike what was written in the book. The movie makes major changes in the character of this Camerlengo. In the book, his name is Carlo Ventresca, a young Italian priest. In the movie, he becomes Patrick McKenna, a young Irish priest who used to fly military missions against the IRA. I do not know if these modifications were made to fit the actor who played him, Ewan McGregor, or vice versa.

The movie also works for me on a personal level. My wife and I spent some days of our honeymoon in Rome and the Vatican so we enjoyed revisiting the sights as they appeared onscreen, like the Pantheon, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Castel Sant' Angelo. During that exciting scene with the fourth Cardinal, we recalled that afternoon we spent at the Piazza Navona, just sitting down a bench there, and quietly admiring the beautiful Fountain of the Four Rivers.

Unfortunately, the main debit of the movie for me is still the actor playing the main character, Robert Langdon. Tom Hanks is completely wrong as Robert Langdon. It did not work in DVC, nor did it work here in A&D. The other members of the cast did very well in their roles. Israeli stunner Ayelet Zurer made a very good Vittoria Vetra. She is much better than Audrey Tatou was in DVC. Stellan Skargaard and Armin Muller Stahl were solid and imposing as Commander Richter and Cardinal Strauss respectively. It was a bit of a stretch to imagine Ewan MacGregor as a priest, much less the Camerlengo, but he was not bad at all.

So overall, this is a very good and exciting summer movie. Ron Howard did much better in this one than DVC. As before, do not take everything seriously as this is fiction. For those who have not read the book, read it! And later, you will be enticed to research more about Vatican lore, the Papacy, and the Illuminati, as I was, to distinguish what is fact from the fiction.


Review of IP MAN

May 25, 2009



I enjoy my occasional Chinese martial arts movie once in a while. I saw the classy trailer of this film once, and thought it seemed to be of a quality above the usual of its kind. I was also intrigued by the title which made no sense at the time. I did not hear about it again until last last week when I noted it was showing, and so caught it. When I entered, the girl collecting tickets said "I-P Man?" Had me worried that is this a Chinese superhero movie. Hehe. Nevertheless, I had already bought the ticket so in I went.

The language of this film was Mandarin with English subtitles. The Mandarin soundtrack was not in very good quality, rather garbled, which was disappointing. So I ended up just reading the English subtitles along with everyone else. "Ip Man" turned out to be the Cantonese pronunciation of "Ye Wen," the name of the lead character, enigmatically played by Donnie Yen.

This is a biographical film following the real life story of Ip Man, who was a legendary martial arts master of the Wing Chun form, and eventual mentor to the equally legendary Bruce Lee. The story follows the story of Ip Man from a well-respected rich businessman who excelled in martial arts. Their prosperous village of Fo-Shan was occupied by Japanese troops in the late 1930s. Ip Man lost his fortune and had to work for meager wages with the rest of his townspeople. The highest Japanese officer in their area was arranging violent Japanese vs. Chinese martial arts tournaments for his perverse sense of entertainment, and Ip Man's skills caught his attention. Can Ip Man's formidable skills serve to rally the Chinese cause in the midst of their current sorry state of wartime persecution?

Director Wilson Yip, along with action director Sammo Hung and choreographer Leung Siu-hung, have created a seamless series of breathtakingly memorable action sequences of awesome martial arts prowess (NO special effects here), neatly integrated into this dramatic story of personal and national pride. In the center of all this is the fantastic portrayal of lead actor Donnie Yen. His humility and generosity as a family man and friend is counter-balanced with his graceful yet deadly skills as a martial artist. Mr. Yen effectively captures this unique spirit for all of us to cheer for and admire. This is indeed a must see for all fans of Chinese martial arts movies.



Review of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT

May 4, 2009



This is already the second movie with "Haunting" in the title that I have seen this year. This movie is unusually plugged to be "Based on THE true story," not just A true story. I believe I may have actually seen the original Discovery Channel documentary about this particular haunted house in Connecticut, but I cannot be too sure now. Given the array of dramatic issues tackled in this movie, I would think it was based loosely only on the actual events. But then again, truth can be stranger than fiction.

This story revolves around a typical American family who had a son with cancer. They needed to get a cheap house near the hospital where the son is getting treatment. The regimen he is undergoing may tend to give him visual and auditory hallucinations. This was how some of his initial experiences in the house rationalized away. But as the movie progressed, they find out more about the house's history, and why supernatural events persist to make their stay a living hell. The story further touched on several other macabre topics such as funeral parlors, séances, ectoplasmic photography and even grave robbery.

This is not a bad horror movie. The first two-thirds of this movie are genuinely creepy. The opening credits with all those photographs of dead people and the funereal music set the mood just right for the rest of the 100 minutes you will invest in the theater. All the scenes with the small kids playing hide and seek were a study in effective tension. There was that memorable scene when they come home finding son Matt hiding behind a wall of furniture trying to claw his way out of the wall. And for me, the creepiest was the box of EYELIDS (you have to see it to believe it)!

Of course, there were also horror clichés here and there, like brave people walking in the dark alone to investigate strange noises, the erratic power outages, and the obligatory shower scene by the pretty teenage girl (Amanda Crew). The ending sequences were a bit excessively over-dramatic, but admittedly the sight of all those hidden dead bodies was really scary.

The mom is played by Virginia Madsen and she is really a solid presence here. Her acting is very natural and realistic, nothing of the typical over-the-top horror theatrics with her. The son with cancer Matt is performed by a new actor Kyle Gallner pretty well, and he succeeds to be as gaunt and creepy-looking as the ghosts that he sees. On the down side is the character and the actor of the dad (Martin Donovan). The character was carelessly written and woodenly portrayed.

A final word, according to a conversation between Matt and co-patient Reverend (Elias Koteas), cancer patients are more sensitive to spirits around them because they are spending their life on the borderline of the living and the dead. I have never heard that before, but I guess it is just some interesting pop psychology from the scriptwriters to keep the story going.


Review of STAR TREK (2009)

May 12, 2009



I am definitely giving this movie a five star rating. I'd give it a six if I could. This is the best movie I have seen so far this year! I am not a serious Trekkie by any means. I know the members of the crew of the Original Series, but not with too much familiarity. But for a casual Star Trek fan like me, this prequel is really excellent! Excellent story. Excellent casting. Excellent technicals. Excellent execution.

The film begins with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk and it never lets up on the drama, the action, the science fiction, no holds barred. There is heavy drama even before the credits. (My wife already was teary-eyed by the end of that opening sequence!) Even when the story grapples with time travel, warps and black holes, you never get lost with the flow. The logic is always there. None of the usual plot holes that beset stories that deal with time.

I really have to complement the casting director. The new cast is amazing in its portrayal of the crew which millions of fans know and loved over the years. They have collectively succeeded in recapturing the spirit and character of the individual Enterprise crew members as young cadets. Kudos to Chris Pine as J.T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock. They really possessed the essence of the iconic characters, and the evolution of their friendship is very believable as portrayed. Apart from John Cho (as Sulu), the other actors are not really known to me, and this is an additional plus. The guy who played the young Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) also did very well, as with the guy who played Scotty (Simon Pegg).

I congratulate the director J. J. Abrams for this bold visual spectacle that went well beyond my expectations. I went in the movie house with very high expectations due to the very positive word of mouth. I was definitely NOT disappointed. I exhort all of you to watch this movie on the big screen as it deserves to be watched. I think this movie would be a classic the appeal of which will never fade even after repeated viewings.


Review of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

April 30, 2009



I do not really read the original comics, so I went into this as a fan of the X-Men movies and TV cartoon series. So I am not really sure if this movie was faithful to the story. But having said that, based on its own merits, I think this movie is really awesome. Despite being leaked on the net, this is the sort of film that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

I think they were correct in choosing Wolverine as the subject of the first movie about the origins of the X-Men. The character has that combination of coolness and mystery that makes for an interesting back story. Where did all that pent-up anger come from?

The movie starts way way back in 1840's when Jimmy (Logan) and his brother Victor (Creed) were still children. These two special children grow up and go through different wars in a great opening sequence montage. Because of their fighting skills and invincibility, the two brothers (now played by Hugh Jackman and Liev Schrieber respectively) were recruited by Stryker to join a special military force.

Logan realized that that life is not right for him so he decided to desert the group. He went on to hook up with a pretty school teacher Kayla (Lynn Collins) as his girlfriend to lead an idyllic life as a lumberjack in Canada, or so he thought. One day, his brother Victor comes back and targets the girlfriend. From there, the whole story of Logan's revenge and retribution, and the actual origin of the Adamantium skeleton of Wolverine will further unfold.

Of course, a movie like this will have to feature special effects. And certainly, the effects here surpass those of the previous X-Men movies. There was that very exciting fight of Logan and Agent Zero (Daniel Henney) involving a motorcycle versus a helicopter. Amazing action choreography there. And the same is true in the scene of Logan, Victor and Weapon XI on one of the towers of Three Mile Island was fantastically rendered. This was because Weapon XI was a swordsman mutant who had been artificially imbued with other mutant powers like those of John Wraith and Cyclops, making for an breathtaking fight. The sound effects and the film editing were fantastic in these scenes and more.

I think all fans of the X-Men movies will like this excellent prequel of sorts to the entire X-Men saga. Gambit finally made an appearance in an X-Men movie, played by Taylor Kitsch. There were already scenes which showed how the young mutants of the earth have gathered together, along with a cameo by a certain bald headed mentor. There was also very nice dramatic touches with the relationship of the two brothers, and the relationship of Logan and his girlfriend Kayla. Script is simple to follow despite the number of stories intertwined. Overall, a very good, thrilling and thoroughly satisfying movie.

**** By the way, there is a scene about Col. Stryker in the middle of the first part of the credits, then another one about Logan at the very end of the credits. You may want to wait up for them, but don't expect too much though.