Saturday, March 6, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

MOVIE REVIEW

By FRANCIS DASS




PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF
Directed by Chris Columbus (also director of Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets)
Starring Logan Lerman, Brando T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Melina Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener, Kevin McKidd, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Julian Richings

This lightweight teeny-bopperish film is suitably, well, lightweight. The first of a few films to come our way under the Percy Jackson and The Olympians tag, this one sees magic, mayhem and modernity all sitting pretty next to one another.

The Greek gods are seen presiding over humanity and, sometimes, coupling with humans and creating demigods in the process (yup, like in the good old mythical days!), and on the other you have the humans living oblivious to the existence of these supernatural entities and their powerful offsprings amongst them.

Like all films targeted at teens today, the film is spot on in the crucial looks department -- both that of its cast as well as the realistic rendition of special effects.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon and his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is actually a myhthical beast assigned to guard him.

When Zeus' (Sean Bean) thunder is stolen -- ok, ok, it will sound a lot better (and not make Zeus seem like a petty loser) if we say that Zeus' favourite mother-of-all-lightning-bolt is stolen, the Greecian chief god confronts Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and accuses his son Percy of having stolen the bolt of lightning. Harsh words are exchanged and deadlines delivered for the return of this weapon of destruction.

This forces Percy's teacher Mr Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), mother Sally Jackson (Catherine Keener) and Grover to rush him over to a special school for demi-gods so that the young lad would be safe and prove his innocence.

At this school for demigods, he befriends the attractive Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who is the daughter of Athena (Melina Kanakaredes) and Luke (Jake Abel).

Hades (the funny Steve Coogan) also wants the lightning bolt so that he can dethrone Zeus and take over. This results in Hades capturing Sally and taking her to the underworld.

As Percy springs into action to save his mother and prove his innocence. a whole lot of magical creatures are unleashed. If you like your sword and sandal movies with heaps of magic and cute young actors and actresses in the lead, then this is the perfect movie for you.

In this film, the adults gamely play second fiddle to the cast of young ones. It's obvious everyone working on this film is seriously hoping the Percy Jackson films will be a gigantic franchise!

Also on the plus side, it is hilarious to see the ultra flirty Persephone (Rosario Dawson) who is Hades' companion and the super-campy Medusa (Uma Thurman) hamming it up on the big screen.

This harmless movie, where everything ends happily-ever-after, is a nice antidote to a stressful day at school or work!

Friday, March 5, 2010

MOVIE REVIEWS: LITTLE BIG SOLDIER AND THE BOOK OF ELI

Movie reviews

By FRANCIS DASS




LITTLE BIG SOLDIER
Directed by Sheng Ding
Starring Jackie Chan, Wang Lee Hom, Steven Yoo Seung-jun, Lin Peng

As far as I can see, Little Big Soldier is a movie that marks a dramatic shift in Hong Kong filmmaking. Having watched quite a number of Hong Kong flicks, this is probably the first time that the former British colony has produced a legitimate buddy-movie, and set in a period piece too!

The film, like all Chinese films do, glorifies ancient Chinese history and transports the audience to a period when a battle is waged by the Qin and Liang factions centuries ago.

Jackie Chan plays a lowly soldier from the Liang side and in the opposite camp there is Wang Lee Hom who is the general from the Qin faction. The movie begins with the duo being the only two survivors of a bloody battle where everyone on both sides are practically mutually massacred. Jackie's character survives by feigning death with a trick arrow while Lee Hom's General barely survives, being badly wounded in battle. As Jackie's character (he is nameless in the film and is not interested in war) takes the general hostage for the purpose of collecting a reward and owning his own plot of farm land, an-initially-antagonistic-and-then-respectful friendship develops between the two. In the process, the General is treated with  Jackie's secret family potion to speed up his healing.

The director Sheng Ding has done a remarkable job of sustaining the audience's interest in the unlikely friendship that develops between these two protagonists. To have only two actors carry the bulk of the movie is quite a feat indeed. Sheng Ding displays a firm grasp of the techniques and art of filmmaking which indicates that future projects from this director are worth looking out for.

As the buddy-film brews at the centre, on the side is the traitorous Prince Wen (Steven Yoo) who is pursuing the General in the hopes of silencing him -- as Wen had a hand in betraying his own soldiers, resulting in the bloodbath that we see at the start of the movie, The Prince had hoped that the General would have died in battle. The General, aware that only a betrayal could have caused him to lose the battle, is determined to get revenge.

There is also a horde of barbarians who cross paths with the film's two central character as well as Prince Wen and his men. Such instances provide some worthwhile action sequences in the film.

Oh, there is the gratuitous addition of the ornamental actress Lin Peng who serves no purpose at all.

If anything, the film is watchable for the novelty of seeing pretty boy Wang Lee Hom actually delivering a very decent performance throughout. However, Chan disappoints as he is obsessed with playing the doofus with acrobatic skills. Someone should tell him that many people find this very tiresome. Worse crime of all, the script is written to glorify Chan's character and makes him a martyr of sorts at the film's end, referencing Ridley Scott's Gladiator. For film aficionados, the ending makes a film that is initially somewhat watchable a bit of a letdown and lose its artistic integrity.





THE BOOK OF ELI
Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes
Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits, Chris Browning

If there is one man in Hollywood who takes his craft very, very seriously, then that man is surely Denzel Washington. He does not fail to deliver in this latest outing of his.

It bears saying that this mystery-thriller-drama-action-&-sci-fi mashup is brilliantly directed, acted and scripted.

Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man walking his own chosen path in a post-apocalyptic world. But unlike the other survivors who have no purpose in their lives, Eli is a man on a mission. He is carrying a book and feels compelled to take it to an unnamed destination on the west of the United States.

Along the way, this lone man is under threat from all sorts of post-Holocaust thieves and hooligans.

(The look of Mel Gibson's Mad Max films is present, although the look and colour of The Book of Eli is all its own.)

Eli, when faced with danger, is quite deft indeed with a knife and guns. The violence brought on by such face-offs is staggering -- probably a first for Washington -- but there's nothing gratuitous about it. In a brutal dog-eat-dog and mouse-eat-cat (seriously!) post-holocaust world, the shocking violence is necessary for self-preservation.

Unfortunately for Eli, there is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man determined to rebuild his broken-down town. He uses his thugs to rule a nondescript godless town where he aspires for respect, which he hopes will be brought on by scriptural words.

In an encounter, when Eli single-handedly wipes out Carnegie's minions, the latter's interest in Eli is piqued. Carnegie tells Eli that he could do with a man like Eli in his team.

The book that Eli is carrying -- as you would have guessed by now -- is supposedly the last known copy of the Bible. Once Carnegie finds out of Eli's prized possession, he is hell-bent on wresting it from the hands of the lone man.

Carnegie believes that in a ruthless and crude world, the elegant wording of the Bible would win people over to his post-apocalyptic religious institution and help him reconstruct civilisation. But don't think for a moment that Carnegie is saintly or noble in any way. He feels the Bible is an excellent tool to control the stupid masses. In this, the script takes a delightful, if veiled, dig at the mafia-like construct of organised religions throughout human civilisation, i.e. serving the purpose of the delusional and self-righteous few who want to exert control over the masses.

As Eli makes his getaway, he gets an unlikely travel companion in the form of Solara (Mila Kunis), who is impressed by this mysterious man, and decides to follow him.

Mila Kunis, she of That 70s Show fame, has here blossomed into an impressive big screen actress indeed. Perhaps it is her own talent -- or maybe it is the opportunity to bounce off her performance against an excellent actor like Denzel Washington  OR even thanks to the masterful direction of the Hughes brothers -- whichever one or a combination of all three factors as the reality might be, Kunis comes across as a formidable presence in this film.

As Eli and Solara make their getaway from Carnegie and his "leftover" henchmen (whoever is left from the earlier massacre) they encounter some very interesting characters, the most outstanding being the strange couple Martha (Frances de la Tour) and her devoted husband George (Michael Gambon). It is amazing how in such a serious movie, the couple bring out the laughs so effortlessly. There's also the "Engineer" (Tom Waits) who is wickedly-blackly funny in his dealings with Eli.

That's the thing about this movie -- the casting is truly inspired and almost every single performer on screen delivers an ace of a performance, no matter how small their part. The good script makes this serious movie enjoyable and something worth talking about after a viewing.

What is clever and completely unanticipated about The Book of Eli is the stunning twist at the end. You have to see it to believe it. What was driving Eli indeed!?


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

VALENTINE'S DAY

MOVIE REVIEW

Review by FRANCIS DASS


VALENTINE'S DAY
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Bryce Robinson, Taylor Swift, Matthew Walker, Larry Miller, Joe Mantegna, Garry Marshall

It'd be no surprise if, the first time you see this disposable romance and the sheer number of stars who continuously keep creeping out of the woodwork, you end up wondering if the film had a gazillion dollars for its budgets.

As the film's title indicates, the movie is centred on Valentine's Day. It starts with various couples preluding and then celebrating Feb 14th, driven by their own visions of love.

The unrealistic Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher) wakes up and proposes to Morley Clarkson (Jessica Alba). She, who has seen an awful marriage at work -- her own parents' -- is wisely not as keen on the idea as he is.

Reed, is oblivious to her true feelings and goes through the day fantasising about a happily married life with Morley. (Yes, there will be those of us who retch at the idea of Punk'd's Kutcher being given so much screen time but take consolation in the fact that although Demi Moore's cub is a lousy actor -- mercifully! -- the other stars are infinitely more watchable and make the lightweight film enjoyable.)

Most fortunate for us, there is also Jason (Topher Grace) and Liz (Anne Hathaway). Grace, from the That 70s Show fame has grown to be a very lean and muscled man and his on-screen likeability is remarkable. Yes, this young man has leading man potential written all over him. Hathaway, of course is the most talented actress of her generation and is practically a screen magnet. Everything she does and says on the silver screen is riveting. She is the Julia Roberts of her generation.

But talent alone is nothing if one has no one of equal or some measure to spar with. So, the best thing director Garry Marshall has done is pair Hathaway with Grace. Their onscreen chemistry is heartwarming, cute and endearing.

Also on the high end of the Hollywood performance scale, there are two solid actors Susan (Kathy Bates), a television producer, and her journalist Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx). Bates' Susan gets Kelvin to do a coverage of Valentine's Day, veering him off his true calling as a sports journalist.

In case you wondered if the film is a showcase of love amongst random couples, note that there is a six-degrees-of-separation thread at work and the characters are all linked in one way or another -- as friends, colleagues, lovers and/or florists etc.

The kinds of love projected in this film is not that varied from the many forms of love that we have come to see on the silverscreen. So, not to flog this love horse any further, the other characters in the film are:  the delectable Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel) who is a public relations practitioner; Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) whom Kara represents; the delightful Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah) who is part of Sean's talent management package; the dashing Holden (Bradley Cooper) who befriends Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) while on a flight; the philandering Dr Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey) who is having an affair with the all-jaw-and-funny-enunciation Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner); and Edgar (Hector Elizondo) who is married to the flamboyant and diva-esque Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) who once had an affair with Edgar's business partner.

Oh, and there are also Willy (Taylor Lautner) and Felicia (Taylore Swift) who play a young, dizzy and silly couple in high school. Swift is a ditsy delight and showcases her talent for comedy rather well.

As you can imagine, Garry Marshall who is now 76 years old knows that love is overrated and comes in all colours and flavours. Although he does the right thing with the Hollywood studio that funded his film (i.e. there are plenty of happy endings all around!), audiences also get to see that loving someone is all about accepting one's partner's weaknesses and foibles. The point that Valentine's Day valiantly makes is that it is the ups an downs of life that  make a relationship so much fun and being with a partner is better than being alone in life!

And it must be said that although Julia Roberts has a small role, and Marshall has captured some really, really unflattering angles of this actress' feature in this film, she has a magical way of working her lines and and it is astonishing to see the raw power of her talent when she is emoting even the slightest of feelings.

The script, although can be saccharine at times, is also funny often times. Valentine's Days is a harmless and worthwhile distraction if you are up to it. The funny references to other movies also work towards making this film enjoyable.