Saturday, December 31, 2011

The 10 Best & Worst Movies of 2011

2011 was an awesome year for catching movies. There a record high of movies that I really enjoyed. The only downside was that there's equally high numbers of movies that really irked me. Of course there might be gems that I missed and some duds that I had purposely avoided (There's no way that I am going to pay for something that I know it's bad, specially if it's a sequel to a series of not so good movies). Without further delays, here's my 10 Best and Worst Movies of  2011 (click Read More to reveal the list).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns | Laughing Gor之潛罪犯 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

Laughing Gor is quite a "cultural" phenomenon in the Hong Kong entertainment scene. This undercover cop character was a supporting role in a Hong Kong TVB television police drama E.U (Emergency Unit - which was already a third installment to The Academy series). While undercover cops characters and angle had been done numerous times in Hong Kong films and tv series, Laughing Gor managed to gain so much popularity until the character / actor got a movie and drama series spin off.

First was the movie Turning Point that was supposedly meant to chronicle the Laughing Gor's times before the events in E.U. However it wasn't a faithful prequel as there are a few events that contradict with what happened in the television series.

TVB "corrected" those problems by making another spin off television series called Lives of Omission. This new television series became a replacement series that correct the contradiction between E.U and Turning Point. After Lives of Omission, it seems that Laughing Gor is still pretty much sought after and that why there's Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns ( Laughing Gor之潛罪犯 ), a movie that directly ties in with events that occurred in Lives of Omission.

Turning Point 2 starts off with Laughing Gor (Michael Tse) being sentenced to life imprisonment for killing So (Bosco Wong). But for Hong Kong's most beloved undercover cop, it's never that simple. It turned out that Laughing Gor is in a new mission to gather more information on Tai Chit (Chapman To) a former Narcotics Bureau Station Sergeant who admitted to corruption but refused to reveal the identity of his accomplice.

Soon afterwards, a trained psychologist Professor Fok (Francis Ng) is imprisoned for drug dealings. The mysterious Professor is not a simple man. As soon as his jail term starts, he demonstrated his ability in analyzing people and manipulating people's mind. Laughing Gor soon realized that the Professor is interested in Tai Chit too. To add on to his dubious character, Laughing Gor also noticed that So's wife, Paris (Kate Tse) has been visiting Professor Fok and they are in a strange loving relationship.

What is Tai Chit withholding? Who is this mysterious Professor Fok and what is he up to? Why is Paris hooking up with the Professor when she should still be in the mourning for her dead husband. It all adds up to a big confrontation with the new head of police, the drug lord of the golden triangle and a diabolical plan to change the system.

There are a couple of things that I noticed about Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns. The first and foremost would be that this movie relies heavily on the events in Lives of Omission and how it affected characters like So and Paris. Even though there's flashbacks to the last few episodes of Lives of Omission, it can get rather disconnecting. If it's impossible to access the television series, at least try to read up with Wiki page on it.
The second thing would be that Turning Point 2 played out like the third installment of Infernal Affairs. In order to move on, it adds new characters in by writing new background stories that wasn't established in The Omission of Life. In a way, it's a major retcon to what's been established, particularly to Laughing Gor killing So at the end of Lives of Omission. Some might like it and some might not. Personally, I thought it was a rather intriguing retcon and it kept me entertained throughout the show.

It's also quite strange that Michael Tse's screen time as Laughing Gor has been dramatically reduced for a lead role. It's filled with unnecessary characters like Carmen (Janice Man), Laughing Gor's handler and comedic performance of MC Jin as Officer Yeung that did very little for the story or Laughing Gor's story. It doesn't help when Michael Tse's co stars, Francis Ng, Chapman To and Kara Hui are stealing the show from the lead. It's like what Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang and Francis Ng (again) did in the first Turning Point movie, out shinning Michael Tse's performance.

In summary, I am still waiting for Michael Tse to impress me with his Laughing Gor character. I am still not getting the hype and popularity of this undercover cop. But that not to say that Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns isn't without it's entertainment value. The retcon was fun to watch and the supporting cast of Francis Ng, Chapman To and Kara Hui are ever reliable in their respecting roles. Turning Point 2 comes recommended and probably highly recommended if you are a fan of Lives of Omission.

Rating: ***

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Darkest Hour [ Movie Review ]

The Darkest Hour tells the story of four young Americans who became stranded in Moscow when aliens that comes in form of energy beings suddenly invaded planet Earth. After escaping extermination, they managed to find other survivors and a way to spot the invisible aliens.

Together with other survivors, they also found a broadcast message that informed them that there's a Russian submarine that would bring them to their nation's submarine. Armed with a homemade weapon that's designed to disarm the alien's electronic force field, they make their way to the rendezvous point that's located in the heavily alien infested area.

As an alien invasion movie, The Darkest Hour was rather bland. The best stuff are already on the trailer and there's nothing in this movie that really top those that were shown. The Darkest Hour is essentially a tour to see Moscow in post-apocalyptic ruins while the American teenagers attempt to find a way back to America. Initially the alien beings in the invisible electric form look impressive but after a while, it became rather boring. The homemade weapon that helped them fight back came about so easily and very little explanation was spent on this equipment.

It's a visual fest but emotionally hollow when we follows the character in trying to survive this massacre. If the alien invasion is so effective, it really make little sense to travel back to their home country when it's a worldwide invasion. But being a formulaic movie, the characters had to do something and the whole point of this movie was to make that impossible attempt to return home. It's not the worst alien invasion movie but it isn't that good either.  Catch it only if you want to watch the extended version of the trailer on a big screen.

Rating: ** 1/2

Margin Call

Set in the high-stakes world of the financial industry, Margin Call is a thriller entangling the key players at an investment firm during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster. Expanding the parameters of genre, Margin Call is a riveting examination of the human components of a subject too often relegated to partisan issues of black and white.

Cast: Zachary Quinto , Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore

Director: J.C. Chandor

Monday, December 5, 2011

East Meets West 2011 | 东成西就 2011 [ Movie Review] ★★

The Pitch

Back in 1993, director Jeffrey Lau and a group of well known Hong Kong celebrities of that period, gave us The Eagle Shooting Heroes 东成西就, a memorable parody of Louis Cha's The Legend of the Condor Heroes (射雕英雄传). Folks who had seen it would probably remember the Tony Leung's sausage lips gag, the centipede torture and many more. Needless to say, it was one of Jeffrey Lau's outstanding works in his long history of "Mo Lei Tau" comedies.

Flash forward to today, director Jeffrey Lau is back with another 东成西就 (East Meets West 2011). Although it's not a parody of The Legend of the Condor Heroes, it follows the same format of having an ensemble of the famous stars in the current Hong Kong / China entertainment field. While a handful of them are famous enough to match their 1993 counterparts, the rest are mainly made up of relatively new stars and folks whom I have not heard of. Other than that, it features Kenny Bee, the only actor that appeared on both movies.

Personally, I am a fan of Jeffrey Lau's movies. Even though he had some misses (eg A Chinese Tall Story), he also help created some of the classic Mo Lei Tau comedies from Hong Kong (A Chinese Odyssey, All for the Winner and etc). Although his recent features (Just Another Pandora's Box and The Fantastic Water Babes) were panned by most online reviews that I had came across, I thought they were pretty enjoyable. Here's hopping that Jeffrey Lau would be able to achieve something special with this ensemble that makes this new update East Meets West 2011 worthy of it's Chinese title 东成西就. 

The Plot

Funny Meh?
Xiaoming (Karen Mok 莫文蔚) and her father Ah B (Kenny Bee 锺镇涛) are on the run from debt collectors. It turned out that Jia Jia (Huang Yi 黄奕), Ah B's unreliable wife (who also happened to be Xiaoming's ex classmate and stepmom) had accepted a deposit to set up a concert featuring the Wynners (Kenny Bee's famous Hong Kong pop band from the late seventies to the early eighties). It's an impossible mission as all the members of Wynners (except Ah B) are too busy to perform in this concert.

While the father and daughter are on their way to rescue Jia Jia from Mainland tycoon Zhou Dong (Eason Chan 陈奕迅), they came across a eccentric taxi driver Wen (William So 苏永康) who happens to be fanatic actor wannabe. On their quest to form a musical group, they came across Jade (Sitar Tan Weiwei 谭维维) a rich man's daughter who left the life of wealth for a musical career and her money minded butler Bing (Jaycee Chan 房祖明). Before they could make their way to meet Zhou Dong to rescue Jia Jia, they had a fiery car crash accident with Da Xiong (Ekin Cheng 郑伊健), a mute dumpling chef.

Da Xiong's son witness how these group of individuals became superheroes during the accident and escaped unscratched. He told the survivors that they were seven immortals that's been betrayed and killed by the eighth immortal. The legend has it that they are destined to be reborn as humans with no knowledge of their past and eventually, they would have to fight the evil eighth immortal. Naturally, the kid was dismissed as a liar until they found out about their supernatural power.

I like how you cut my hair ...
Meanwhile, Xiaoming became smitten by Zhou Dong and came out with a wacky plan to hold the "Wynners" concert. Things were going well until a shadowy mysterious figure (Stephy Tang 邓丽欣) came and wreck havoc. In times of distress, the seven individuals transformed into super powered heroes to rescue the concert goers from the destruction.

Could this be the eight immortal that they been waiting for? Will these seven immortals survive the battle with the power hungry immortal when their previous incarnations had failed?

The Perspective

East Meets West 2011 was a major disappointment. I am not sure if there was any creative inputs from the China bosses but since it's Jeffery Lau's name on the writer and director credits, he probably should bare the major bulk of this disparage. In recent years, his movies had suffered from his self indulgence with his sense of comedy and story that interest him. Sometimes, it hits the right spot but in East Meets West 2011 case, it was a horrid waste of time and talent.

But how do you critically review a "Mo Lei Tau" (nonsensical) movie? I am going to compare it with The Eagles Shooting Heroes and Just Another Pandora's Box, two of previous Jeffery Lau's movies.

Both East Meets West 2011 and Just Another Pandora's Box suffered from patchy storyline but what helped Just Another Pandora's Box was that it didn't have to suffered from the overcrowding of "main" characters in East Meets West 2011. There was a central love story of Ronald Cheng's character and the Rose fairy (Betty Sun) with the rest of the stars as supporting characters to that love story. In East Meets West 2011, all the "stars" are laden with their own stories and around the halfway mark, it seemed that the director realized that the movie had to focus on the main love story that revolving between Xiaoming (Karen Mok) and Zhou Dong (Eason Chan). Subsequently all the other subplots were either minimize or abandon.

Nothing for me to do?
Of all the characters that were affected, Ekin Cheng's Da Xiong and Huang Yi's Jia Jia suffered the most. It seemed that there were some build up between Da Xiong, his son and his ex wife but nothing was made up of it. Jaycee Chan had a special appearance / cameo billing but it turned out that Ekin Cheng had less screen time or things to do in this movie.

Ekin Cheng might not be the most talented artist around these days but among this cast, he is one of the most well known and to see his role reduced into a forgettable cameo, it's just kinda sad.

Likewise, Huang Yi's Jia Jia character was destined to have a never ending feud with Xiaoming. After a few squabblers, her character was discarded and were only brought back for some gags. Their resolution came quickly and there was very little emotional impact between the two. It makes one wonder why bother with her character at all. Just another waste of talent.

Are We Stars?
lucky they hide half my face
Comparing East Meets West 2011 with The Eagles Shooting Heroes, the first and foremost thing that's lacking was star factor. Given that Eason Chan, Karen Mok, Kenny Bee and Ekin Cheng are all well know personalities in the Asian region, the rest of the East Meets West 2011 stars are not exactly stars qualities (as compared to their counterparts in The Eagles Shooting Heroes). Who is this Sitar Tan Weiwei? Will Jaycee Chan still have a career in the entertainment business if his father is not Jackie Chan? Is William So still singing? I also wonder if Stephy Tang is popular in the Singapore market?

Movies of such nonsensical nature requires a certain star quality to it. It would allow the audience to like the characters quicker as there's hardly any material in such genre to do such buildup. It also allows comedy to arise from a play in their well known personality. These are stuff that you can't do with a relative bunch of unknown / wannabes / up and coming stars. It's possible to do such nonsensical comedy with relatively unknowns but they must have a strong sense of comedy and comedy performance. As again, it's lacking with those that's picked for this movie.

Beside that, the handling of the characters was a mess in East Meets West 2011. There were just as many characters in The Eagles Shooting Heroes and yet they well woven to support each other stories. In East Meets West 2011, you could remove a few of the characters and it wouldn't affect the gist of this story. That how disposable the characters are in this movie.

Last but not least, what The Eagles Shooting Heroes and Just Another Pandora's Box had that East Meets West 2011 didn't was that most of the characters from the previous spoof comedies were well known. Even though some of the eight immortals names sound rather familiar, I believed that they were mainly characters that made from scratch and it's just difficult to handle so many characters at the same time.

East Meets West 2011 might have been better if the focus was on Karen Mok and Eason Chan's character from the start. Reduce the other star roles into secondary supporting ones like the ones in Just Another Pandora's Box and remove all traces of their background stories. This movie had a fairly good theme of redemption and pure love. It just a pity that it muddled the story with allocating screen time for the stars.

Rating : **

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hong Kong Ghost Stories [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as the return of Hong Kong horror, "Hong Kong Ghost Stories" features two spooky tales from director Wong Jing and Patrick Kong. From the good o' classic such as Mr Vampire to the crappy cheaply made ones like the Troublesome Night franchise in the nineties, it's been a long time since there's any comedic horror movies from Hong Kong. 

But can Wong Jing (King of low brow entertainment) and Patrick Kong ( Director of Mr and Mrs Single) revived this once popular genre for the Hong Kong film industry? Or is this just an excuse to put straight to video quality movie on the big screen to earn some quick bucks?

The Plot

The first story, "Classroom" is written and directed by Wong Jing. It stars Jennifer Tse (Nicolas Tse's sister making her acting debut) as Miss Yip, a substitute teacher who is returning to the teaching field after breaking up an abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend Chung (Pakho Chow). But she is not getting any break as her new class is unruly and her ex-boyfriend keep pestering her for a patch up.

Things got worse for Miss Yip when she saw some of her students going for compensated dates. Her offers to help them were met with threats and acts of defiance from her students.

And since this is a horror movie, Miss Yip subsequently got locked up in the toilet with slamming doors and flying blades (courtesy of the exhaust fan). Miss Yip soon discover that this is not your usual unruly class. It's the supernatural horrific type that wouldn't allow Miss Yip "abandon" them. To "entice" Miss Yip more, it seemed that there's a victimized student that would need rescuing. Could Miss Yip survive her class from hell?

Patrick Kong wrote and directed the second story "Travel" in a non-chronological manner. It started with the funeral wake of Bobo (Chrissie Chau) that attended by four of her friends (Charmaine Fong, Jacqeuline Chong, Harriet Yeung and Rose Chan). They spent their time playing cards and recounting their first encounter with Bobo and policeman Jack (Timmy Hung) at a recent tour trip to Thailand.

Halfway through the wake, Bobo's lover Karl (Him Law) arrived to pay his last respect to the deceased. The four girls quickly befriended him and invited him over for a steamboat dinner to talk about Bobo's last few days at Thailand. Karl then revealed some startling information about Bobo and his wife, Phoenix (Stephy Tang). Things are not what they seemed and it's twist galore with this segment.

The Perspective 

Comparing these two segments, Patrick Kong's Classroom was much more entertaining to sit through. There were some genuine funny moments that were delivered by the four female friends of Bobo. Ranging from digs at TVB / ATV (the two Hong Kong TV stations) to their rendition of extremely horny predators, the laughs kept coming to distract the rather weak performance from the rest of the cast (especially Chrissie Chau who got top billing here but was noticeably missing most of the time).

The climatic twist galore was mildly enjoyable even though it's filled with plenty of plot holes. It could have ended earlier with the strongest twist but it went a little too far with the finale revelation and in the process diluted the impact that it had going. "Travel" won't be the next gem in the Hong Kong comedic ghost genre but it's definitely more enjoyable out the two stories that Hong Kong Ghost Stories had to offer..

Wong Jing's Classroom was rather unremarkable. It's not the worst material that he had put out and neither was it one of his better works. It's like a bland functional time wasting TV program. There's a major twist at the end which was also ridden with plot holes. One of the enjoyable bits of this segment was to see how it tried to justified the revelation with contrived explanations.

The other noteworthy aspect of this segment would be that it provides a chance to check out if Jennifer Tse could act or not. Surprisingly, she wasn't as bad as her brother when he had just started out as an actor. Plus she looked like a young Gong Li to me and that makes it easier to follow her role as a protagonist in a rather uninspired horror story. It would be interesting to see what kind of choices she makes for her movie career.

Bottom line, both Classroom and Travel are as scary as Hong Kong comedic horror goes (which is to say that it isn't). Not exactly the type of show that you should fork out hard earn money for but it wouldn't be that terrible if one actually like this genre and actually paid for this. If you could wait, I am pretty sure that the cable TV or dvd rental for Hong Kong Ghost Stories would be out soon after it's taken off the cinema screens. Otherwise, it isn't a big lost if you give this movie a miss.

Rating: **1/2

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Puss in Boots

The Pitch

Puss in Boots was originally a straight to video release but the most popular addition to the Shrek Franchise eventually gotten a theatrical release to tell it's tale of origin and the adventure it had prior to meeting Shrek, Donkey and the rest of the gang.

It makes one wonder if the reason for the "upgrade" was a strictly "milking the kitty for all it's worth" financial strategic tactic or there's really something special about this origin story that's worthy of a theatrical release. 

Another aspects to ponder about. Could Puss in Boots stand on it's own without the help of Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona? There's only so much cutesy eyes that one can take. Can the new additions of Humpty Dumpty, Kitty Softpaws and Jack and Jill repeat the success that the Shrek ensemble had enjoyed? 
The Plot

Long before he even met Shrek, the notorious fighter, lover and outlaw Puss in Boots becomes a hero when he sets off on an adventure with the tough and street smart Kitty Softpaws and the mastermind Humpty Dumpty to save his town.

This is the true story of The Cat, The Myth, The Legend... The Boots.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The Pitch

It all got started with a movie review compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Hergé The Adventures of Tintin comic books. That review introduced Steven Spielberg to the world of Tintin comics and he became fan of Hergé signature style of drawings.

After decades of attempts to make this movie, Steven Spielberg had decided to make The Adventures of Tintin as a live-action adaptation and asked Peter Jackson if Weta Digital could help create Tintin's faithful dog Snowy with computer generated effects. As a fan of the comics, Peter Jackson convinced Steven Spielberg that the best way to show Hergé's world of Tintin would be through motion capture animation.

But even with two of the biggest current Hollywood filmmakers at helm, would it be enough to attract the audience to watch The Adventures of Tintin on the big screen? Since the late Hergé didn't allowed another artist to draw Tintin, there isn't any new Tintin books for decades. Without a new Tintin product to market, it limits the exposure of this fine comics to the masses, particularly the younger generation. While Tintin has always been a huge success in Europe, it remained a relatively unknown franchise to the America audience. I suspect that many viewers of The Adventures of Tintin might be experiencing the world of Tintin for the very first time.

Personally, I was a casual reader of the Tintin comics back in school days. It would be difficult for me to recall any specific stories from those Tintin comics but I had fond memories of reading Tintin at a super quick pace and was intrigued by the unexpected chain of events. It would be a blast looking forward to what Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson could do to revitalize the Tintin franchise and my memories of this Belgium comic books.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

11-11-11 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

11-11-11 seemed like a gimmicky way to make a horror movie. Using this date to set up the ominous doomsday scenario just have a desperate feel to it. It might appeal to those who likes to find mystical meaning in numbers. Other than that, there's nothing really of any significant about this date.

It makes me wonder if 11-11-11 would loses it's novelty once the special date had pass. I can't shake off the feeling that this movie would be desperately finding ways to link any form of horror inclination to 11-11-11. Even before watching the movie, It got a "dated convoluted film product" sentiment set against it.

But apparently Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw 2, 3 , 4) thought otherwise. Personally I liked his Saw movies and would like to see what he could do after leaving the Saw franchise. Fellow Saw franchise director James Wan's Insidious was impressive and personally I hope that Darren Lynn Bousman could equally good. Let's see what he could cook up for 11-11-11.

The Plot 

Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs) is a successful author who lost faith in God when his wife and son died in a fire. After surviving a car crash, he started to notice a trend with the number 11 and it seemed to be plaguing him with nightmares and horrific events. Returning home from hospital, he got a call from his wheelchair bound priest brother Samuel (Michael Landes) and found out that his father was dying. Although they are in an estranged relationship, he decided to travel to Barcelona, Spain to meet his religious dad and brother.

However upon arrival, Joseph began to encounter more weird occurrences involving the number 11. He started to research on this special "number" and discovered that there are some who believed that entities from other realm would be entering earth on 11-11-11. It might even be the end of religion. Not only that, his dad also revealed that both Joseph and Samuel would have a part to play on this predicted apocalyptic date. The atheistic Joseph started to question his lack of faith and wonders if there's some truth with the "religious" prophecies on this date.

The Perspective (11-11-11 Movie Review)

11-11-11 turned out to be a rather weak horror flick as one would expect. With only Joseph as the only main character in the movie, it's not hard to figure out that no harm will come to him for most part of the movie. Therefore for most part of the movie, it's laden with plenty of those silly "spook a moment" scenes that felt cheap scares and pointless.

The subplots and characters were weakly established to bring any emotional resonate to the main story. Joseph's grief and beef with God were so superficially setup that it was cringing to see Timothy Gibbs go through the motion as 11-11-11 required of him. There was a supporting character Sadie (Wendy Glenn) that was supposed to provide emotional support to Joseph and to showcase the power of the other worldly entity. But at the end of the day, I find myself asking what the point of this character.

The whole linkage with the unique date of 11-11-11 felt rather forced and silly. Just imagine part of Joseph's research to the date was watching "youtube" videos of people talking about what they felt and expect would happen on 11-11-11. While some excel in making something out of nothing (eg. The Blair Witch Project), 11-11-11 handling of the special date just drew more attention to how hollow the material they have at hand.

The best aspect of movie was the climatic "twisty" finale. However movie fans should not have any problems figuring it out half way through the movie. It could have been as impactful as movies like Sixth Sense or A Perfect Getaway but due to the lackluster handling of the lead up to the finale, the payout came off as a whimper instead of a bang.

11-11-11 reminded me of the old school scary atmospheric that Insidious had going but it paled in comparison when it comes scarring the audience and providing a satisfactory wrap up in the end. There are some decent scares during the movie but those scares are largely silly and forgettable. The  draggy pace and the revelation of the movie certainly didn't make the wait felt worthwhile either.  11-11-11 didn't had the potential to start with and faltered in many ways that were expected. I don't think this horror movie would be remembered after it's expiry date.  Not Recommended.

Rating: **

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tower Heist [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

With the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movements and Bernie Madoff pleading guilty in defrauding thousands of investors of their money in 2009, Tower Heist seemed to be the movie to reflect the zeitgeist of the current economic situation in USA. But to make a adventure comedy out of such thorny issues might not be such a good idea. I don't think it would be as distasteful as how a "foreclosure mill" firm mocked evicted homeowners by dressing up as homeless people at their company's Halloween party last year but still it's a reflection of what people suffered in real life and making a comedy out of it requires carefully delicate handling.

The other thing to look out for would be the return of Eddie Murphy in a live action film after the lackluster Meet Dave and Imagine That. Some had hope that it would be a return to form for his comedic career and early reviews had indicate that he is pretty good in this. Personally, the one that I am looking out for would be Alan Alda. I am a big M*A*S*H because of him and it's been an awful long time since I saw him on the big screen.

Last but not least, there's Ben Stiller and director Brett Ratner. Their movies usually entertains me without fail. Additionally with Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Michael Peña and Matthew Broderick, it felt like Tower Heist is loaded to be a mini The Expendables. Let's just hope that Tower Heist would be able to better utilize the cast at hand and create an enjoyable heist movie out of it.

The Plot

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) has managed The Tower, one of the most luxurious and exclusive New York residence for over a decade. He is one of the best manager around and kept his staff under strict control. Then unexpectedly, they found out that Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the resident at their penthouse was charged with frauds and held under house arrest in the swanky The Tower's penthouse. The Towers staffs are hit the hardest as Josh had asked Arthur Shaw to invest with their pension and it seemed that they are unable to get their money back. 

Facing bankruptcy, Lester (Stephen Henderson), one of their doorman attempted suicide. Outraged by Arthur Shaw's unsympathetic reaction, Josh went on a rampage in Arthur's beloved Ferrari. That act caused Josh, his brother in law Charlie (Casey Affleck) and new employee Enrique (Michael Peña) their job. While drowning his sorrow with Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), the special agent in charged of Arthur Shaw's case, Josh found out that there's a large sum of money that has not been uncovered.

Josh then deduced that the money is hidden in the penthouse and he might know where the money is hidden. Enlisting the help of Charlie, Enrique and bankrupt businessman Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), they decided to rob Arthur Shaw. But realizing that they know nothing about robbery, Josh turned to his criminal neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy) for help. They also realize that they need someone who can open safe and one of The Tower staff, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) happened to come from a family of locksmiths in Jamaica.

With Arthur Shaw getting acquitted soon, Josh and gang must carry out the prefect heist during Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. But the best laid plans don't always go as planned.

The Perspective 

The real fun of Tower Heist began when the rookie thieves commenced their heist. The unexpected chain of events for the heist were thrilling and it was the most suspense that you can get out of a comedic entertainment. The satisfaction level for Tower Heist matches other recent good heist movies Inside Man and Ocean's Eleven. The only thing that marred the enjoyment of Tower Heist was ironically the slow establishment of the characters and events in this movie.

Ironic because it was necessary for the heist to work so well at the end of it. The viewers needed to root for the amateur thieves to make it enjoyable for the many twists and turns leading to the finale. But yet it was a rather bland and tedious build up of characters and the situation leading up to the heist (specially when viewers were already expecting the  blue-collar employees to extract their revenge on the rich crook all along). The movie tried to make it entertaining by infusing humorous bits into the show but somehow it felt like an awkward blend of humor and real life tragedy. It came to a point where it might have been better if it was a serious drama instead. There were some funny bits with Ben Stiller, Eddy Murphy, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe but Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni and Matthew Broderick comedic contribution felt a little bland.

While the comedic elements weren't at it's best, the thrilling secretive robbery was a page turner. It's not a well thought out heist but the fun lies in what went wrong and how they attempted to rectify the problem. The setup for the characters were done "well" enough that viewer will root for them to get achieved their heist so that the "Bernie Madoff" type of villain can have his comeuppance. There's some glaring loopholes in the whole operation but it was entertainingly executed that it didn't matter that much.

Partly another reason why the heist worked so well would be that in real life, those victimized individuals would likely be unable to extract revenge in such manner. In a way, it's pure escapism for those who seek justice in a society that favors the rich.

Among all the stars, I felt that Alan Alda performance stood out the most. In a limited role, he managed to capture the essence of what a "Bernie Madoff" type of con artist might be like. Someone who could befriends folks from all walks of lives, gain their trust and swindle them ruthlessly. The rest of the stars were right for their respective roles but in my opinion, it was Alan Alda that stole the show.

Tower Heist is an enjoyable heist movies. It suffers from a little slow start up but once the heist gets going, it was high octane fun. The heist could get a rather unrealistic and crippled by a couple of loopholes but it's easy to overlook those problems. Recommended.

Rating: ***

Sunday, October 30, 2011

You are the Apple of My Eye | 那些年, 我们一起追的女孩 [ Movie Review ] ★★★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as Biggest Ever Opening Day and Weekend Box Office for a Taiwanese film (remained as Taiwan Box Office champion for three weeks), You are the Apple of My Eye ( 那些年,我们一起追的女孩 literally means The girl that we wooed during those years ) marks a revival of Taiwanese films that getting commercial release here in Singapore. This coming-of-age movie is based on a popular autobiography book by Giddens (九把刀 or Nine Knives) and it's selling like hot cakes in Hong Kong (No.1 at Hong Kong box office and out selling it's nearest competitor Life without Principle by about 2.65 times). 

What makes this school days romance movie so popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong? The trailer gave the impression that it's going to be another routine romantic comedy with good looking actor and actress. The director. Giddens is primarily known for his novels and this movie somewhat marks his first directorial debut. To have such a result for his first main feature is pretty impressive. 

Perhaps there's something special about this box office champ that getting a commercial screening like it's predecessors, Monga and Cape. No 7. Let's find out what the X-factor in this movie.

The Plot

The movie started with the introduction of the protagonist, Ko-Teng (Ko Chen-tung 柯震東) and his close friends. They are distinctively different with their own special quirks However all his friends had something in common and that's having a crush with the class monitress, Shen Jiayi (Michelle Chen 陳妍希). For the longest time, Ko-Teng could not understand why his friends got the hot for her as he felt that she was only slightly prettier than the rest of the female classmates and there's nothing special about her.

After getting into trouble with their homeroom teacher, Ko-Teng was made to sit in front of Shen Jiayi. Being one of the top students in school, Shen Jiayi was tasked to keep close tabs on him and supervise his school works. The two of them resented the arrangement initially and started bickering until an incident in class changed the dynamic between them.

Shen Jiayi started to prepare extra homework for Ko-Teng and forced him to stay back after class for revisions. Romance blossom between the both of them but the usually outspoken Ko-Teng couldn't find the courage to propose to Shen Jiayi. With graduation looming, could their puppy love withstand the long distance test as they head towards different universities?

The Perspective 

You are the Apple of My Eye turned out to be surprisingly good. I didn't have much expectation for this coming-of-age romcom but it came out of nowhere and stole my heart. Without any surprises for this coming two months, You are the Apply of My Eye is likely to emerged as the best movie of 2011 for me. If I would to narrow down why this movie worked for me, it would because this movie got heart and soul. It wonderfully captures the wooing process and school days romance. Folks who had "similar" experience at school, they would find this movie easily relatable and heart wrenching in many ways.

Before lapping it with more praises, this movie isn't without it's faults. Some jokes and gags missed the spot entirely. At times, the movie can get rather crude, long winded and even tedious to follow at times.

But the payout at the end made all the wait worthwhile and the flaws forgettable. Especially the last ten minutes of this movie when all the build ups came into a satisfying wrap up. It was said that the director had decided to make this movie when the idea for the closing moments came to his mind. It was an excellent decision as the ending was one of the most beautiful yet poignant endings to coming-of-age school days rom com.

One of the biggest discovery for this movie would be Giddens, the director cum writer for this story. I have not read any of his Chinese novels and this first encounter with his work had impressed me much. He is pretty talented in telling a story and has an inventive touch in approaching materials that had been done to death. If imagination is intelligence having fun, it's not hard to see that Giddens is having a hell of time with this movie.

He had also made a good casting choice for this movie. You are the Apple of My Eye worked due to the casting for the two leads. Michelle Chen is lovely to watch and possess a certain special on screen flair that makes it easy to believe that so many guys would fall for her. Without her to breathe life into the objection of affection in this movie, You are the Apple of My Eye would not have work this well.

Likewise, the hunky newcomer Ko Chen-tung turned in a pretty good performance. As the protagonist, he had to carry the bulk of this movie and he did it in an effortlessly charismatic fashion. Whether the scenes  requires him to be comedic, suave or downright emotional, he managed to aced most of those scenes. Without a doubt, I will keeping tabs on these two actors future works.

After recommending this movie to a fellow movie lover, I was told that this type of movies come every five or ten years. The movie does have it's flaws but the heart of this move could easily hide those flaws. Highly recommended for those who wants to reminisce about their school days romance or currently going through some form of dilemma in romance.

Rating: ****1/2


During the credits roll, there are some scenes of the boys heading to play baseball and talk about their future and writing a book that this movie is based on. The real fun would be at the end of the credit roll when the director played a prank on Michelle Chen. Definitely worth staying back for.

Beyond the Movie

Sadly, this popular movie had cause much distress to the real Shen Jiayi. She had to take a year off from work and left for China to escape the Taiwanese press and the "overly resourceful" online fans. It seemed that the director / writer Giddens Ko was equally affected by the success of his movie and the trouble that it's causing for the apple of his eye that he is avoiding any talk about her to the press.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Time [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

Andrew Niccol movies always have an interesting premises. Ranging from gene discrimination (Gattaca) to the gun trading (Lord of War), he had always weaved unforgettable stories from those premises. This time round, he is tackling a future where the aging gene stops at 25 and time is the new currency with Justin Timberlake.

Justin Timberlake, primary known as a pop star, has been making quite a few movies these days. His rendition as Sean Parker was quite outstanding and his latest leading performance in the romcom Friends with Benefit was pleasantly entertaining. I am aware that he has his fair share of detractors but I for one is interested to see where he is heading with his movie career.

Let's see how this collaboration turns out.

The Plot

In the futuristic world, the aging gene had been stopped and people stop aging when they reached 25 years old. In order to control the population, time has became the new currency.

The poor works from day to day to ensure their mortality. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor who worked hard to earn minutes and seconds to sustain his life. When trying to prevent a robbery in a bar, he rescued a man with too much time on his hand and was looking for a way to end his life. 

While they were hiding out from their pursers, the "wealthy" man gave the secret behind the rich upper class and why the poor are doomed to be poor. While they were resting, he committed suicide by giving Will Salas the bulk of his lifespan .

Will Salas soon discovered that inheriting a "fortune" might not be that good after all. He was too late to save his mother from running out of time and the time keepers (the police force of this future) are hot on his heels. Will Salas then decided to do the unthinkable and take on the rich to try to right the wrong for the poor.

The Perspective (In Time movie review)

After Gattaca and Lord of War, In Time was a disappointing flick from Andrew Niccol. It has that novel approach of blending currency with time but it didn't come together well to build up an unforgettable story like what Gattaca and Lord of War achieved.

In fact, the characters felt lost and didn't know what to do after Will Salas gained the unexpected long life span. After the protagonist discovered how the poor had been exploited, there wasn't really any solid idea or plan in bringing a balance in the inequity in this futuristic society. Instead it spent the bulk in the protagonists played a cat and mouse game with the rather inefficient time keeper (their equivalent of police force). Things just automatically fall in place for the protagonist and it's hard to feel anxious for them even when their "bio-clock" was going to run out. There's also the additional subplot with a group of gangsters that gave the movie excuses to choreograph some action sequences which didn't really add to much to the story.

The upside of this movie would be that the novel concept of blending currency with time. It brought up a couple of interesting perspective on how we live our lives. The time we spend on and what we choose to do with the resources we have in hand. It also gave an interesting perspective on the lifestyle of the rich and the poor. On the bigger scale, it touched on how currency works in our society and why the gap between the rich and poor could not be closed. But of course, the manner which it tried to solved the inequity between classes was lazy and ludicrous.

Acting wise, I felt that Justin Timberlake did a decent job to carry out the protagonist role. But it felt like the movie didn't have much material for him to expand on his character. Like how the story falter for this movie, his performance went from engaging to boring as the plot plodded on. It's specially disappointing for someone who is hopping for another Ethan Hawke / Andrew Niccol turn out in Gattaca.

Bottom line In Time felt like a good concept that wasn't well executed. It pale in comparison with Gattaca and Lord of War. It was even less enjoyable than Andrew Niccol's second movie S1m0ne. It felt like a big drop in standard for the director. But even still, it's still a passable film with it's formulaic plot and it's still entertaining in it's own way. Perhaps if one didn't approach In Time with such high expectation, it might even be more enjoyable.

Rating: ***


Exclusive Comic Con Footage Trailer from In Time Official Youtube Channel

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Without Principle [ Movie Review ]

Life Without Principle Movie Review

With the financial gloom looming in near future, director Johnnie To's cinematic take on the financial crisis came at the right time. Divided into three stories, Life without Principle examine how the common folks are affected by the financial market.

Teresa (Denise Ho), an investment banker was forced to push high risk investment to her greedy but ignorant customer in order to meet the business quota. Panther (Sean Lau Ching Wan), a loyal but somewhat dim witted triad member who gets enrolled into futures market stocks when he tried to bailout a fellow triad member. A dedicated police inspector Cheung (Ritchie Jen) gets drawn into financial burden when his fiancee Connie (Myolie Wu) decided to place a down payment without coming to an agreement with him. Three unrelated individuals and their respective problems somehow intertwine when they cross path with loan shark Yuen (Lo Hoi Pang).

The problem with Life Without Principle would be the split into three stories. The stories were riveting on it's own and showed potential to be more than what it was presented in this movie. There's no time to go in-depth with each character's dilemma and the problems that they faced varies so differently from each other that it does not complement each other well.

But then again, there are gems in these stories. In particular, my favorite segment would be that of Teresa, the bank teller segment. We get placed in her shoes and gets a better understanding why some bank tellers would sell high risk investments to their customers. The unpleasantness of a competitive field and the fear of getting left behind could be overwhelming at times. The depiction of how some elderly people loses their life savings through greed and ignorant were also a painful reminder of real stories in financial investments. Life without Principle marks the first time that I took note of Denise Ho's performance. I felt that she got on screen charisma and the camera seems to love her. I am interested to see what this Hong Kong Cantopop singer will take on for her next movie.

On the flip side, Lau Ching Wan's take on the righteous but bumbling gangster was the most amusing segment of these three. It invokes memories of his performance in the TVB series The Greed of Man in which that an amateur started to dabble on stocks speculation. It's entertaining in most part but it took quite some time before it started to have anything to do with the stock markets and it could be quite a drag if one is anxious to know what's the linkage to the financial aspect of the story.

The less satisfying segment would be the one with Cheung (Ritchie Jen) and Connie (Myolie Wu) investment in a pricy Hong Kong apartment. A lot more could have been done for this aspect of financial woes but it meanders with Cheung getting new police cases and a half sister that he is apparently not aware of. This segment ties with loan shark Yuen and the other two segment were also the last satisfying one.

In closing, this movie didn't exactly live up to both it's English and Chinese title. The Chinese title for this movie is 夺命金 (duo ming jin or the gold that seize or deprive one's life) but the movie didn't exactly go to that extreme to illustrate that effect. Neither did the main characters in this movie did anything that radical that would be deem as without principle. But overall, it's a interesting peek at how money affect the common folks and how the financial world operates.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Colombiana [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

After the recent Star Trek, Zoe Saldana career is on the roll. Appearing in popular movies like Avatar and etc. But however, there isn't a movie that rest solely on her shoulder yet.

Enter Luc Besson, Olivier Megaton and rest of the folks from EuropaCorp. Crafting a movie about a female assassin who is seeking revenge for her parents' death for her, Colombiana might just be that movie that showcase whether Zoe Saldana got the ability to carry a movie all by her own.

The Plot

After witnesses her parents death at a drug lord's hands and escaping the drug lord's clutches, Cataleya seek vengeance by deflecting to the American Ambassador with an important computer chip that her father left her. In exchange for the information on the chip, the Ambassador arranged her to be moved to America. Half way through, she escaped once again and made her way to Chicago to look for her Uncle Emilio.

Her Uncle Emilio took her in and wanted to give her a normal life but Cataleya asked her uncle to train her as an assassin. Conveniently her Uncle Emilio had ties with the underworld and years later, Cataleya became a top notch assassin for her Uncle. She started leaving trademarks of cataleya (orchid) on her victims to attract her parents' killer. What she didn't expect was that she was putting her love ones as risk as she seeks vengeance.

The Perspective - Colombiana Movie Review

Colombiana is filled with over the top action sequences and scenarios that were aesthetically nice to look at but emotionally hollow and a little too convenient plotting. This movie utilize Zoe Saladana's body and looks well but didn't give her much room to showcase her acting nor did it give her character more substance so that the viewers could better remember her and this movie after the credits rolled. It's a wasted chance as female actress seldom gets the chance to headline a movie on her own and this blotch up might just had screw her chance of getting another headlining gig in the future.

Let's head back to the movie review and dissect what went wrong for Colombiana. The whole leaving her calling card at the assassinated victims to get to her intended targets was rather pointless as it didn't achieve what it was intended. Conveniently, she got the information by threatening some top management at the FBI and CIA. She could have done without the numerous assassinations to get the information she needed in the first place. It's also baffling that someone with links to the underground groups had no way of getting the information in a safer manner.

Colombiana was not the Nikita and Léon that I hoped for. In fact, it was more akin to the soulless and forgettable action flick Transporter 3 that Olivier Megaton had also directed. There's lots of bing bam boom and Zoe Saladana looked pretty hot but it's a pity that the plot was so flimsily connected together. Instead of wowing with the over the top setups, it made me lookout for plotholes and what could have gone wrong in the elaborate schemes. Colombiana wilted with poor handling and excessive enrichment. It's a pity because it had the potential to blossom into a beautiful work of art.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Real Steel

The Plot

A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future where the sport of boxing has gone high-tech, “Real Steel” stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring.

Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. 

When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback. 

(Plot Taken from Real Steel Singapore FB Page)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dolphin Tale [ Movie Review ] ★★★★

The Pitch

Dolphin Tale looked like it's going to be another family kiddie show that I thought I was going to be bored with. Then the trailer came along with Morgan Freeman narrating and appearing in it. My interest for this movie was somewhat increased. When the trailer ended indicating that it was based on a true story and it actually features the actual dolphin who lost it's tail in this tale, I became even more interested in this movie.

The Plot

Dolphin Tale is the remarkable tale of Winter, a dolphin who lost her tail when it gotten entangled with a fishing boat's crab trap. A young boy, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) happened to be at the beach that Winter was washed up on. He tried to remove some of the crab trap ropes on her and stayed with her till the Clearwater Marine Aquarium rescue team arrive.

The boy and the injured dolphin immediately forms a strong bond but their friendship had to labored through a few obstacles. Aquarium vet (Harry Connick Jr) had to amputated Winter's tail to save the dolphin's life and Sawyer's mom (Ashley Judd) was upset that Sawyer been skipping his summer classes to take care of Winter. The aquarium was also having financial difficulties in covering it's operation and was facing a buyout from a business corporation.  But the worst hurdle would be that Winter swimming without a tail was going to damage her spine and would eventually kill her.

To overcome the most difficult issue, Sawyer decided to seek the help of Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), a specialist who works for the handicapped army veterans. Can they create a prosthetic limb for Winter in time to rescue her life?

The Perspective - Dolphin Tale Review

For most part of the movie, it runs like a predictable kids movie. It's not hard to figure out the ending or every situations that arises in this movie. There were plenty of cutesy moments, courtesy of the two kid actors (Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorf), an annoying pelican and of course, the dolphin Winter. What I didn't expect was the manner they used Winter's problem to heal the wounded souls of mankind.

After going through constant bombardment of how humans are destroying and using wildlife for their personal gain, it was a refreshing change to that the relationship between humans and wildlife could coexist in beneficiary ways. Dolphin Tale has a uplifting and inspiring message that reminds us that sometimes we can't make it on our own. Mankind that could do such horrible stuff to wildlife are also capable of so much beauty and love. There are so much we could learn and be inspired from the wildlife. The level of unexpected warmth in this movie caught me by surprise and even made me go teary up.

What I didn't like about the movie was rather trivial but I am going to list them. There's a romance angle that played out between the young Sawyer and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorf) which I felt serve no purpose except to introduce the young audience into boy girl relationship. I felt there's no need to push romance into such a young crowd and it wasn't essential to the story. 

I was also worried that the kids who loved this movie would start pestering their parents to bring them see a dolphin show and in Singapore, that would be Resort World Sentosa. But then again, watching dolphins in captivity might not be the best thing for dolphins. Just ask Ric O'Barry, the guy who helped made the movie Flipper and refer to the recent report on RWS treatment to dolphins. Winter's case is rather unique and personally, I still feel that the best way to get close to dolphin would be to visit them in their natural habitat.

Nevertheless, Dolphin Tale is an uplifting tale of how wildlife and human could coexist and benefit from working together. It might be formulaic but there's heart in this movie and a good way to teach the kids to start caring for nature. Dolphin Tale comes Highly Recommended - 4 Stars.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Premium Rush [ Trailer ]

I like to Ride, Fixed Gear, No Brakes, Can't Stop ... Don't want to Either

Pure Adrenaline Rush with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it... Nuff Said

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Tree of Life [ Movie Review ] ★★★

Some said that director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is a multilayered film that requires repeated viewings. Others called it a snooze fest or the worst movie ever. There are cinemas in USA that put up signs that warned the moviegoers about the enigmatic and non-linear narrative of this movie and offering refunds for those who walk out of the show.

Even Sean Penn was quoted in a French publication that "A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!"

It makes you wonder how is it going to be a thought provoking film experience.

After experiencing Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line many years ago, I knew that there were going to be plenty of philosophy musing and questioning, abstract moments for the viewers to fill in the blank or link for themselves. It's pretty much the same for The Tree of Life.

There's hardly a conventional structure to tell the story of a Midwestern family dealing with the lost of a son. It started with Mrs and Mr O'Brien (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt) receiving the news of their son death. It jumped to the modern day when their other son Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) is a successful architect who was still affected by the death of his brother. The Tree of Life then depicts the formation of the universe with a prayer to God to ease the pain and briefly covers the evolution of life on planet Earth. After which, the bulk of the movie revolves around the O'Brien's household in the fifties, covering various aspects of the kids' growing up phrase and the relationship between the parents and the kids. Ending with an unexplained surreal reunion of the O'Brien family at a beach.

Personally, I felt that The Tree of Life is a movie that requires the right type of mood to watch. An unhurried contemplating patient mood to soak in all that's being shown. There are great visual and soundtracks that momentary helped ease the frustration with the difficulties in comprehending the significance of various events that's going on in this movie. But I got to agree with Sean Penn on how The Tree of Life could have been better. There's a degree of hollowness in the emotions that depicted in this movie. The philosophic contemplation had very little bearing when it's hard to be emotionally invested on the characters or their situation.

I don't think I had truly understood this movie in one setting. But I think it's ok. There enough goodness in The Tree of Life that make me want to revisit it in the future and perhaps the second viewing might give more insight to this multilayered movie. 

In closing, The Tree of Life is not for the usual movie goers. Personally, going for a Terrence Malick movie felt like an uphill task. There's always so much richness in the sight and sound found in his movie and it's a treat to be immerse in them. But then again, it's like going for philosophy marathon lessons that one can never be too sure if they got the stamina to last through out. I would recommend this movie but you have been warned.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


The Plot

Tatsumi, an animated film by Eric Khoo, celebrates the life and work of Japanese comics artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

In post-war occupied Japan, young Tatsumi’s passion for comics eventually becomes a means of supporting his poor family. Already published as a teenager, talented Tatsumi finds even greater inspiration after meeting his idol, famous Disneyesque animator Osamu Tezuka.

Despite his steady success, Tatsumi begins to question why Japanese comics should cater to children with cute and whimsical tales and drawings. 

In 1957, Tatsumi coins the term gekiga (dramatic pictures) and redefines the manga landscape by encouraging an alternative genre for adults. Realistic and disquieting, Tatsumi’s work begins to grapple with the darker aspects of life. 

(Plot Outline taken from Tatsumi Official Facebook Page)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love In Space | 全球熱戀 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch
Love In Space (全球热恋) is the romantic comedy follow up to last year Hot Summer Days (全城热恋). Directed by Wing Shya (夏永康) and Tony Chan (陈国辉) with an ensemble of well known Asian celebrities, these two movies basically presents a variety of love stories like what Love Actually did.  
Hot Summer Days was one of my top ten worst movies of 2010. It was a fumbling attempt to ape Love Actually's success and it drown in it's arsenal of cardboard characters and multiple weak storylines. But Hot Summer Days must have done well at the box office since a follow up had been green lighted. 
The Plot  
Love In Space follows a mother (Xu Fan 徐帆) and her three grown daughters as they juggle their unexpected love encounters in a space station, Sydney and Beijing.
In Space, No one can hear your sweet nothing
In a space station, Rose (René Liu 刘若英) is unexpectedly reunited with her ex boyfriend Michael (Aaron Kwok 郭富城). With only the two of them working in a confined space, romance started to blossom. They tried to suppress their underlying love for each other as the issues that caused them to break up at the first place remained unsolved.
When Garbage Met Disposable Gloves
In Sydney, Lily (Gwei Lun Mei 桂纶镁) had a love at first sight encounter with Johnny (Eason Chan 陈奕迅). Their relationship wasn't a easy one as Lily suffers from anxiety disorder (OCD) with cleanliness and he works as a garbage man. But fate kept pushing them together and it's up to them to overcome their status quo for their love to blossom.
Proof that Clark Kent disguise work
Lastly, Peony (Angelababy 杨颖) is a well known celebrity in China but credential wise, she just got the worst actress award. In order to perform better for her next movie, she went undercover to work as a waitress to study her role. What she didn't expect was that she would fall for a failed writer Wen Feng (Jing Boran 井柏然) there. Relationship bliss would not be easy for her as she is under contact with her agency and it's forbidden for her to date for the next five years.
 The Perspective
Love In Space is a marked improvement from Hot Summer Days. The most obvious improvement would be reduction of love stories between five couples to three. Concentrating on only three couples gave more time to build up the chemistry between characters. But then again, these three love stories are still rather predicable and the only thing that saved it from being a yawn fest would be their rather interesting setups.

The most enjoyable love story among the three would be the one between Lily and Johnny. The quirkiness of their situation and the actors performance made it a pleasure to sit through this section of the movie. 

The most gimmicky portion of Love in Space would be the romance between Rose and Michael. I was interested to see what tricks would a China film use to depict the zero gravity environment. While the mixture of wires and computer generated images were not top notch Hollywood standard, they were not too bad. The romance were passable largely due to charisma of the two actors.

Last but not least, the Beijing love story which features Angelababy in various outrageous costumes. I am not sure why Angelababy and Jing Boran were paired up for the second time. It seemed that the China audience like them as a couple but I felt that the chemistry between them was lacking. Or perhaps I am just not used to the China style of romance which this segment is catering for.

In summary, Love in Space turned out to be more enjoyable than expected. The reduction of stories worked well and the set up here were so much better than Hot Summer Days. It might not go down as a classic love story like Love Actually but it would do to pass time with a love one.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Contagion [ Character Posters ]

“Contagion” follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne

Directed By Steven Soderbergh

(Plot Outline taken from Contagion FB Page)
(Contagion Character Poster taken from Shaw Online Albums)

The Smurfs [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

Back when I was a kid, Sunday mornings used to mean a healthy dose of The Smurfs cartoon. The lovely "bluelings" and their conflicts with their arch enemy Gargamel was the entertainment of the weekend. It's been years since the last time I watched a Smurf cartoon but fond memories remained etched.

Fast forward to 2011, The Smurfs are coming onto the big screen and being a movie fan, it's hard to give up the chance to catch up with "old friends", even if it meant that the setting will be at New York City and most of the Smurfs are not getting their original voice talents behind them.

The Plot

It's the Blue Moon Festival and The Smurfs are rehearsing their dance routine. Almost everyone is involved with the celebration except Clumsy Smurf for he is a walking disaster. In the meanwhile Papa Smurf had a vision that showed the Smurfs in suspended cages and Clumsy fumbling for a dragon wand. It was not a good premonition and that got Papa Smurf worried.

In an attempt to prevent the premonition from coming true, Papa Smurf kept Clumsy from gathering the herbs outside the Smurfs village. Clumsy probably felt left out from all the activities, went against Papa Smurf's wishes and tried to prove the other Smurfs wrong. However, Gargamel happened to spot Clumsy and followed him back to the village.

A big havoc ensured when Gargamel started to wreck the village and attempted to catch the smurfs. While making their escape, Clumsy misread a sign and run into a forbidden cave. Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Grouchy, Brainy and Gutsy went after him to recuse him. They were all sucked into a waterfall vortex caused by the blue moon and finds themselves transported to New York City.

In New York City, they befriend Patrick and Grace, a married couple who is expecting their first child. Patrick, a marketing executive for a cosmetic brand and a demanding boss, wasn't that please to put up with these little blue people but did it for Grace. Together, they tried to find a way back to Smurfs village while Gargamel is hot on their trail.

The Perspective 

For a old timer like me, The Smurfs didn't felt like the Smurfs that I once knew. Something is lost in this big screen adaptation of the well loved cartoon / comics. Kids, Folks who are new to this and less critical people would probably enjoy this movie more than me.

Let's start with what went wrong for me. It's a tell tale sign that a movie studio do not trust the property at hand. The displacement of Smurfs to New York City, the inclusion of actors like Neil Patrick Harris, having Katy Perry, Anton Yelchin, Alan Cumming & etc to voice the Smurfs and using well known reality star from Project Runway Tim Gunn were all obvious tactics that the movie studio used to lure in the customers, in case that the Smurf fans are not flocking into the project. I wouldn't say that they did a bad job but it just didn't feel very Smurfy.

I couldn't help but notice that kids in my theater started to talk when the focus shifted to Neil Patrick Harris' character and the work problems he faced in New York city. I am guessing that NPH was hired so that he could draw in the teenage crowd but this time round, I am siding with the kids. The Smurf movie could have been better without the addition of NPH and his character's subplot.

The voice over for The Smurfs took a while to get use to. Katy Perry was pretty good as Smurfette. Her voice over invoked the memory of Lucille Bliss' rendition of Smurfette while retaining her own distinctness. George Lopez and Anton Yelchin rendition of Grouchy and Clumsy respectively were pretty off. There's very little trace of the old Grouchy and Clumsy in this movie and frankly, I miss the old two. Hank Azaria's performance as Gargamel was as good as Katy Perry's Smurfette. It's not exactly the old Gargamel that we were accustom to but it's as close what a live actor could carry out.

We are selling Guitar Hero!
If there's anything that I dislike intensely about this movie, it would be the product placement for Guitar Hero. It felt like an unnecessary full length commercial that wasted precious screen time to enhance the story telling process.

But then again, the relocation of the Smurfs backdrop, the usage of more popular celebrities had already pointed out that this movie is made with the intent to squeeze the cash cow rather than to make a proper homage to the beloved memories of the old cartoon / comics. This blatant product placement shouldn't come as a surprise but it still left a memorable bad aftertaste.  

To summarize, this Smurf movie isn't really all that Smurfy. Perhaps I am too cynical about what went wrong with my expectation of what should make up a Smurf Movie but I think the new generation deserved something more than this. There are plans for a sequel to The Smurfs movie and I hope that the next time round, the movie maker would stay more rooted to the origin of the old blue ones.

Worth the 3D Ticket?

There were a couple of times, I took my glasses off to watch this movie and it was much better than experience. The quality was better and even the freckles on the Smurfs face could be seen. Quite often, during my glasses off period, the image on screen wasn't even that fuzzy at all.  

The only scene that I was impressed with the 3Dness of this movie would be when Gargamel used a leaves blower in a toys department. There's a scene with the flying leaves that came from the audience perspective and were sucked into the blower. Quite a niffy scene but other than that, there nothing much about this 3D movie to be wowed with.