Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fast Five

I think I'll have to start this review by stating that I have not seen any of the previous instalments of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. The series has simply driven past me, never having revved up my interest enough for me to bother taking the franchise for a test drive. However, what with me now writing reviews for all the new cinematic releases, I've taken the fifth film for a little spin, and boy, what a ride it is.

"Fast Five" (also known as "Fast and Furious 5," with an optional addition of "Rio Heist" that can be slapped onto the end) was made with the audience's enjoyment level in mind. This is a film that knows its audience, knows what its audience likes, and knows what its audience needs; and it gets to delivering these specific requirements almost immediately.

As anyone who even slightly pays attention to the realms of filmdom should know, the "Fast and the Furious" franchise is all about cars, specifically fast cars that can go zoom and vroom. The films could very easily be called elaborate marketing schemes for the motoring companies of the world, the series doing very well to promote all the brand spanking new supercars that cost somewhere around a gazillion dollars.

Instalment number five is no exception, the vehicles all speeding down the streets at I don't know how many miles per hour, at times spinning through the air like they just don't care. The film opens with a pair of cars somehow managing to effortlessly overturn a bus transporting a load of prisoners, including one of the series' two leading men, muscle-bound slap-head Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, "Babylon A.D."), nicknamed "Dom."

And the two people who intricately overturned the bus? Well, one of them is the other leading man, ex-cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker, "Takers"), and the other is Brian's sexy squeeze, Mia (Jordana Brewster, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning"), who is also Dom's sister. Having broken Dom out of his prison shackles, the trio decide to go on a mission together in smokin' hot Rio de Janeiro. The mission? Well, to steal cars, obviously.

When the assignment goes awry, Dom and Brian end up hanging from the ceiling by their wrists, facing Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida, "The Way"), a cruel Brazilian businessman who owned the cars that were stolen. The pair of course escape, and realise that there's only one of the cars that Reyes was interested in: a Ford GT40.

Upon further inspection of the vehicle, they discover a computer chip which holds information on Reyes' business activities, and catch sight of a hundred million dollar figure which the big guy is laundering. Assembling a team together, Dom, Brian and Mia begin to plan how they're gonna get their hands on the dosh, which proves quite a tricky task to handle for the group.

Anyone can tell that "Fast Five" is just an extended montage of car chases, fist fights, road rampages and more vehicular pursuits, occasionally interrupted by some gratuitous bikini shots and a plethora of throw-away one-liners. It's very easy to dismiss the entire movie by this logic alone, but I couldn't help but enjoy the ride that "Fast Five" presents.

It's quite admirable how adrenaline-fuelled the film manages to be; usually the term "action-packed" is deceiving, but here it is perfectly applicable. Cars smash and crash, characters leap from rooftop to rooftop, tyres screech and bodybuilders get rammed through brick walls. It's all marvellously shot by director Justin Lin, who's stuck with the franchise since its third chronicle, "Tokyo Drift" of 2006. Working with cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, he keeps the action exciting and physics-defying, the hand-to-hand combats gritty and realistic, and the car-based activities thrilling and as refreshing as an air freshener on a rear-view mirror. In a film that's all about its action, it's pretty darn stuffed with it.

It's almost as if Vin Diesel was made for this franchise; he has the right look, the right personality and the right surname. While he may have the appearance of a gigantic Mr. Potato Head, he is undoubtedly cool and, while his acting skills are a bit limited, he just leaks the right kind of charisma for this specific role. Also, is it just me, or was Christian Bale's Batman voice in "The Dark Knight" dubbed by this guy?

Though Reyes is technically the main villain (and Almeida does a fine job as "evil foreign man"), it's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (action hero of "Tooth Fairy" and "The Game Plan") who really stands out as DSS federal agent Luke Hobbs, who's hunting down Dom and his team of thieves. Ridiculously butch, the ex-wrestler sports a hilarious goatee as this no-nonsense figure of physical authority. Johnson just owns the role, strutting about with his muscles on the verge of explosion, determined to sustain his reputation as a finder of people by catching up with Dom.

Though its script is a bit mediocre and the runtime of two hours is slightly overlong for the premise, "Fast Five" is pure and utter entertainment. It's dumb and clearly made to catch the eye of hormonal teenage boys, but it's far too enjoyable on a guilty level to be scalded too much for its cash-guzzling intentions. I'd say take it for a spin. Who knows? You might enjoy yourself.


Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Kicking off 2011’s summer of big-budget blockbusters is superhero flick "Thor," probably one of the most challenging stories for Marvel Studios to adapt onto the silver screen from the pages of a comic book. This is not necessarily because of the arguably second-rate awareness of the eponymous character himself, but because creating "Thor" requires one to create a fantasy world, another dimension which must convince and adequately intrigue general movie-goers. Unlike the company's recent cinematic triumphs such as "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor" takes place partially in a realm separate from our own, one with its own rich history and logic, and to build this calls for an ambience of epicness, which director Kenneth Branagh has thankfully relished in.

This world of which I speak is Asgard, which is located in a magical dimension that is certainly not our own. Its design is of polished gold, its grand kingdom furnished specifically for a noble king. This king is Odin (Anthony Hopkins, "The Wolfman"), a white-bearded god with a metallic eye patch covering his right peeper. He has a wife, Frigga (Rene Russo, "Yours, Mine and Ours"), and two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, "Star Trek") and Loki (Tom Hiddleston, "Archipelago").

Thor is the eldest of the two brothers, and is thus heir to the powerful thrown. As pointed out by his father, he is arrogant, vain, greedy and cruel. He wears a red cape and wields a powerful hammer called Mjolnir, a mighty mallet that can cause more damage than when a packet of Mentos is dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke. Seriously, that combination can take an eye out.

After a breach in Asgard's security almost leads to the theft of a sacred artefact, Thor decides to take matters into his own massive hands, and (despite his father's insistence that it would do no good) attempts revenge on the evil Frost Giants (just go with it). Following his defiance, Thor is banished from Asgard for the trouble he has caused and the war he has resparked, stripped of his armour and his beloved power-giving hammer.

He winds up on Earth, in the New Mexico desert to be exact, and meets mortal scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård, "Mamma Mia!") and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, "Defendor"). Assuming the rambling Norse god is a deluded drunk, they zap him with a tazer and take him to the hospital, where he inflicts some unprovoked violence on the unsuspecting staff. From here on, the trio are stuck with a man they believe to be a schizophrenic nutcase, but become more and more convinced by his claims that he is indeed Thor, god of thunder and son of Odin, as he tries to get back into Asgard and hold his enormous tool in his hand once again. I can hear you sniggering.

Meanwhile, in Thor's homely kingdom, Loki sees his chance to become ruler of Asgard, what with dad's favourite son being cast down to Earth. He is determined that his overshadowing brother never returns from his exile, while the god of mischief plots to take over the reigning role of his elderly father. Maybe he got bored of taking over Jim Carrey's body and dancing to jazz music with Cameron Diaz. SSSMOKIN'!

"Thor" is high camp, with Norse gods marching about in glistening armour and horned helmets that look neck-crushingly heavy, yelling at each other in perfectly stated Shakespearean English. The scenes in the grandiose kingdom of Asgard may have run the risk of being pretty darn laughable, but there's an unexpected sternness to them that counteracts any possible corniness. If anything, the scenes on Earth are cheesier than that of the alien realm. Also, it's difficult to not get caught up in what is ultimately a very fascinating world unlike our own, all rendered in beautiful CGI.

In true blockbuster fashion, the film is a special-effect spectacle that's bursting at the seems with computerised trickery, all showcased in post-converted 3D (which I should add is barely noticeable after a while). This is not only utilised to create the fantasy world of Asgard, but also the menacing robotic Destroyer, guardian of a sacred Asgardian artefact, his head opening up to blast out a raging fireball that roasts any nearby enemies. There's also the cold-as-ice Frost Giants, a whole species of monsters who live in a land made of ice (Jotunheim, not Iceland). Their skin is chilled blue, and their eyes are as red as the cheeks of a schoolboy who's just had his trousers yanked down to his ankles in the playground. These creatures will chill you to the bone. Literally.

Our godly hero is played stunningly by hunky Hemsworth, bringing a knowing sense of cheek and swagger to the hammer-thumping role. The Australian actor, standing at 6'3" tall, is a mammoth of a man, bound in muscles and oozing with genuine on-screen charisma, making for an enthralling and amusing protagonist for us to root for. When he dons his helmet, swings his hammer and yells at the top of his lungs, you know this man means serious business.

There's also Hopkins and Hiddleston as a father and son who struggle to connect with each other, the father always having favoured his older boy. Hopkins is not as hammy as usual, his character's status as a god fulfilled by the sheer gravitas of Mr. Hannibal Lecter's performance. Hiddleston manages to get across a sense of jealousy over the attention Thor receives, which raises his ambitions to show 'em all what he’s made of and rule the whole of Asgard all by himself, while yearning to impress his father.

Given that this is English director Kenneth Branagh's first real venture outside of Shakespeare adaptations and period dramas, "Thor" is ruddy impressive. He gives a full sense of a truly epic scope, perfectly balancing moments of fantastical absurdity with moments of lighthearted fish-out-of-water humour (like when Thor charges into a pet store and demands to be given a horse). The film is also tantalising when the action kick-starts and the hammers fly, the more adrenaline-pumped sequences suitably thrilling. I wasn't sure if Branagh could handle it all, but by Odin's beard, he does. He should calm down on all the Dutch tilts, though; they damn near gave me a headache.

In the run-up to next year's massively anticipated "The Avengers," "Thor" gives more promise to the mouth-watering prospect of the on-screen team-up of Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor. However, the film doesn't feel like one big advertisement (ahem, "Iron Man 2") for the big event, instead simply taking on the role of a magnificent, technically-impressive comic-book fantasy that excites, enchants and thoroughly entertains. You're up next, Captain America. Don't disappoint us.


Thursday, 21 April 2011


There's a disturbingly grim sense of humour pervading throughout writer-director James Gunn's "Super." This stems from the blood and guts which splatter and splash over countless scenes of nutso violence, played both for laughs and for adequate shock value. At times hilarious, at times downright off-putting, this sick method of dark comedy will no doubt split audiences in two -- almost as much as the main character splits civilians’ heads in two.

It's a superhero-slash-vigilante film (yes, another one of those), but not the kind you've seen before, at least not in terms of tone. For starters, I'm sure you won't be familiar with a superhero flick that shows a man's scalp being peeled off by slimy tentacles before having his exposed brain touched by the index finger of our lord God. This gives only but a hint of the 90 minutes of obscurity that is this film.

Our protagonist is short-order cook Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson, "The Office"). He is a man with two perfect moments in his life: 1) When he wed his beautiful wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler, "The Incredible Hulk"), and 2) When he once informed a police officer of a purse-snatcher's whereabouts. He has always held onto these precious moments, as the rest of his life has ranged from disappointing to melancholy.

Our antagonist is drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon, "Frost/Nixon"). He's slick and seductive, well-dressed and carries the demeanour of a nice guy when he is anything but. Sarah ends up leaving a distraught Frank for the suave Jacques, a decision which takes a turn for the worst; Jacques, being the douche that he is, gets her hooked on drugs and refuses to let Frank see her.

Slipping into depression, Frank receives a visit from the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion, "Serenity"), a fictional superhero from a TV show on the All-Jesus Network. Frank is told that he has been chosen by God for a very special purpose, one which is not fully stated. Coming out of what may have been a hallucination, Frank bravely makes it his duty to make a crime-fighting superhero out of his mumbling self.

He makes a suit, designs a symbol, pins posters to lampposts warning of his presence, and takes on the name "The Crimson Bolt." Armed with a wrench and steely-eyed determination, Frank aims to take on all the criminals in the city and get back his stolen bride -- what he doesn't anticipate is the onslaught of outrageous violence that he sets in motion.

"Super" is the second feature film from American movie-maker James Gunn, his big-screen debut being ultra-nasty monster horror-comedy "Slither" of 2006. His clear love of black comedy is continued in this super-violent superhero dramedy, mostly deriving from Frank's deliriously bloody escapades into semi-noble crime-busting.

Stalking the streets during both the day and night, The Crimson Bolt becomes a menace in the media, cracking open skulls with his trusty wrench and watching the blood pour from unsuspecting crooks' various body parts. It's from this that Frank's morals can be deemed questionable, as he tears open a man's forehead for cutting in line outside a movie theatre.

As we should with any protagonist, we feel sympathy for Frank and empathise with the situation in which he has found himself. He's a naturally odd character, Wilson playing him in a mostly deadpan fashion, the kind that strangely still remains appealing when he's violently overreacting to petty crimes. What makes this character so relatable is that he genuinely believes what he's doing is the right thing, which is understandable given that God told him to do it.

Joining him on his justice-enforcing tasks is 22-year-old Libby (Ellen Page, "Inception"), a foul-mouthed comic-book store employee who becomes Frank's kid sidekick, Boltie; the Robin to his Batman, essentially. Page is perfect in the role of a young woman who turns out to be even more demented than Frank once slipping into her skin-tight yellow and green outfit. Think her eponymous role in "Juno" mixed in with Christian Bale in "American Psycho," and you've got Boltie.

What may shock some viewers more than the blood-spurting and groin-stabbing is the film's beating heart and sudden dramatic turns. Unlike yesteryear's "Kick-Ass," this superhero comedy is less cartoony than it is quite deep and sporadically thought-provoking. "Super" is ultimately a tragedy of sorts, the comedy almost always followed by some sadness and slight psychological exploration, mainly relating to Frank. There are plenty of gut-busting laughs, but this is much more of a drama than what many will expect.

"Super" is a messy mash-up of many different tones, from silly to serious, light to dark, and is a success more often than not. At times it is genuinely side-splitting, at others it is effectively emotional and heartbreaking. The relentless violence is cheeky and fun, and the black comedy feels fresh, albeit slightly off-putting in some scenes. It's not super, but "Super" is a decent tale of an underdog barking at crime to make it, as Frank puts it, shut up.


Tuesday, 19 April 2011


"Hanna" is a sudden change of pace for English director Joe Wright. Having helmed a big-screen adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel "Pride and Prejudice" in 2005 and a 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan's romantic period drama "Atonement," the BAFTA-winning filmmaker is typically associated with the more snooty side of British movie-making, though both films listed are utterly sublime. And while 2009's modern-day drama "The Soloist" was also his doing, "Hanna" is a new territory altogether.

The film is an actioner, notable for the artful sensibilities that Wright has no doubt brought to the production alongside writers Seth Lochhead and David Farr. This is an action movie that lives outside of the mainstream world of big-bucks blockbusters, the ones that have either a public building or a sports car exploding every five to ten seconds and a muscle-bound ex-wrestler in the starring role.

Instead, we have a frail teenage girl named Hanna in the leading position, 16 years of age and played by Saoirse Ronan, with whom Wright previously worked on his masterpiece, "Atonement." With her big blue eyes, her long fair hair and the freckles dotting her fresh young face, she hardly stands out as a physical threat -- but looks can be deceiving in the world of film.

We meet her as she silently hunts a deer in the snowy landscapes of Finland. It is here that she lives with her father and self-defence trainer, Erik Heller (Eric Bana, "Star Trek"), in a secluded cabin that sits amongst the wooded wilderness. Hanna has never been in touch with civilisation before, her father keeping her sheltered from anywhere she can be spotted by the CIA -- you see, Hanna is a rather prized possession, and the American government wants her and Erik, who is himself a wanted man.

However, those darn Americans are alerted as to the location of the father and daughter, and the cabin is ambushed, the two splitting up. Hanna is taken into custody and placed in a large room to be interrogated about Erik's whereabouts. She asks to see Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), a rogue CIA agent with a shaky Southern accent who we learn is somehow involved with Hanna's past.

A fake Agent Wiegler is sent in for security purposes, and the real CIA agent watches through a screen as her decoy's neck is snapped by the teenage captive, who skilfully escapes from the building without breaking a nail, slaughtering a few guards along the way. Thinking her mission of killing Agent Wiegler is complete, Hanna runs out into the outside world for the first time to meet back up with her father in Berlin while the government chases after the adolescent assassin.

"Hanna" is essentially a contemporary fairytale, with references to The Brothers Grimm scattered throughout, and a scene in which the titular girl actually steps into a gingerbread house (it's part of an abandoned amusement park, I might add). The character of Wiegler is then filling the boots of The Wicked Witch, a villainous and menacing wench chasing after our seemingly innocent young protagonist, a sweet little girl who only wants to live a normal life, unfamiliar with what society is actually like.

Ronan is playing an utterly fascinating character, a girl whose past is unclear for the most part. She's a juxtaposition of child-like naivety and trigger-pulling, throat-slitting viciousness, trained her whole life in the art of self-defence. All of her knowledge stems from the pages of an encyclopaedia her father has read to her over the years, her memory able to automatically tap into every bit of information collected from the entire book -- still, she's entirely clueless about life and what it is to experience everyday reality.

The film is not necessarily action-packed, but when the bullets fly and the knuckles swing, "Hanna" is heart-pumping stuff. Wright has every reason to be called a visionary, his direction absolutely breathtaking, cramming in a whole barrage of nerve-racking tension. The escape from the facility in which Hanna is trapped is hypnotically edited and visually creative, boosted up by a funky score from The Chemical Brothers. Just like every other action set-piece contained within, it's incredibly well-shot -- you'll find no shaky-cam nonsense round these parts.

And then there's Wright's signature move of an extended tracking shot, for which he gained much acclaim in the technique's use in the jaw-dropping five-minute Dunkirk sequence in "Atonement." Here, it's used to unfold an action scene in which Erik suspects he's being followed, is proven to be right, and intricately beats the crap out of a gang of sharply dressed men in an underground subway station, all done with not one cut. It's impressive stuff, the director very clearly showing off, but doing it in style.

With a flourish of sci-fi thrown into the mix of action, drama and some touches of feminism (take that, Zack "Sucker Punch" Snyder), "Hanna" is an absorbing, technically mesmerising girl-power thriller. Wright's direction is nothing short of stunning, taking the film to a whole new level of tasteful awesomeness, and Ronan is simply enchanting as the teenage femme fatale. She very nearly gives Hit Girl from "Kick-Ass" a run for her money.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Winnie the Pooh

To not love Winnie the Pooh is to not have a soul, a heart or a conventional upbringing. The snuggable, huggable, yellow teddy bear, created by English author A.A. Milne in 1926, is beloved by anyone who, at some point, has had a childhood. Whether this affection has stemmed from the original books or the Disney films and TV shows, everyone adores Pooh Bear and his woodland friends. Their latest big-screen outing, again released by Walt Disney Studios, is simply titled “Winnie the Pooh,” and it is an absolute delight from start to finish.

To jog your memory of the heart-warming critters of the Hundred Acre Wood, we’ve got spring-tailed tiger Tigger (voiced by Jim Cummings), grumpy old Rabbit (Tom Kenny), ever-depressed donkey Eeyore (Bud Luckey), intellectual Owl (Craig Ferguson), nervous nellie Piglet (Travis Oates), caring kangaroo mother Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez), Kanga’s cute kid Roo (Wyatt Hall), and of course the eponymous, red-shirted bear, Pooh (also voiced by Cummings). And they’re all friends of local English boy Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), whose parents don’t seem to be very concerned that he’s running about in the forest with wild animals.

Pooh Bear wakes one morning to find that his tummy is making a weird sound. Upon further inspection, he comes to the conclusion that it is rumbling due to a craving for a certain food, which is, of course, honey (misspelled “hunny” in the film). This is in spite of the fact that his stomach consists of fluffy stuffing, but let’s not overanalyse anything here.

As he searches for the deliciously sweet tummy-filler, he discovers that the down-in-the-dumps Eeyore is missing his tail, which is usually held on by a pin on his backside. Seeking help from the other familiar animals of the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh and Eeyore go to try and find the latter’s absent tail while trying on some temporary substitutes, including a balloon and a cuckoo clock.

As well as the tail-searching and the grumbling of Pooh’s honey-starved belly, Owl misreads a written message from Christopher Robin, misinterpreting the words “back soon” as “backson,” a monstrous creature which Owl believes has kidnapped dear Christopher. And so, the gang goes off in pursuit of the hideous ogre, shivering their way along the wooded forest, Pooh getting hungrier and hungrier with each step he takes.

As you can probably tell, “Winnie the Pooh” caters to an especially loose and episodic narrative, one that is narrated fluently by “Monty Python” veteran John Cleese. However, with the film running at around 60 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, the small snippets of a plot more than satisfying for the brief runtime. No need to worry, your kids won’t be getting bored and restless and running up and down the aisles of the cinema screen.

The film is animated in a traditional hand-drawn style instead of the computer-generated approach that seems to have overtaken animated movies nowadays. This only enhances the film’s natural charm, unspoilt by the dulled-down visuals that come hand in hand with the current 3D phase. In fabulous 2D, it really is a treat for the eyes on the big screen, showing that pesky 3D glasses are not necessary for an animation to look spectacular.

Amongst the many joys that “Winnie the Pooh” delivers are the singing talents of actress Zooey Deschanel, who you may know from “Elf“ and “(500) Days of Summer.“ Here, she supplies much of the film’s soundtrack, from the well-known theme song to the tantalising “So Long,” which plays over the end credits -- I’d stick around for it if I were you.

The movie’s sense of humour is refreshingly clever, from Owl’s obliviousness to the fact that he can simply fly out of a pit in which he’s trapped, to Pooh’s desperate attempts to get a lick of scrumptious honey -- which comes with a perilous threat of bee stings. The film’s comedy is very wry and sharp, dealing with slapstick and character-based humour, the kind that should prove uplifting for both youngsters and adults -- I could certainly hear many chuckles from the parents in my screening.

Director Stephen J. Anderson’s “Winnie the Pooh” is an absolute must-see for kids, and is the kind of family film that remembers grown-ups will be in the theatre too. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s uplifting and it is charming, animated wonderfully and is as sweet as the sticky food the titular bear so craves. A load of Pooh this is not.


Scream 4

"Scream 4" is a complete and utter money grab, a horror sequel that's sucking out the blood of its very own franchise, feeding off of itself in a desperate bid to survive. It's just as cash-grubbing as all the other countless horror sequels out there, not even bothering to cover up its wallet-picking intentions. The slasher series has been rebooted for reasons of finance, to snatch the publics' dosh during these relaxing Easter Holidays. It's back, and it wants the pennies sitting in your trouser pocket. However, this does not strictly stop "Scream 4" from being a heck of a lot of fun.

You see, while the fourth chronicle of director Wes Craven's scare-em-up saga is as financially craving as any other sequel/prequel/remake/reboot, it manages to still be a thrilling and slashing Saturday night out at the multiplex. So, put on your black cloak, sharpen your knife and charge up your mobile phone, 'cause Ghostface is back, and he's thirsty for blood.

It's been ten years since the murderous events of the third "Scream" movie, and Sidney Prescott (scream queen Neve Campbell) is back in the town of Woodsboro for the first time in a decade. Now a celebrity for her cunning survival skills against knife-wielding hooded figures, she has written a book on her experiences and how she's learned to cope, currently promoting it in the infamous town.

This coincides (or does it?) with the brutal double murder of high school students Jenny (Aimee Teegarden) and Marnie (Brittay Robertson) in a Woodsboro home. It looks like there's another stabbing, gutting, speed-dialling murderer (or murderers) on the loose in the neighbourhood, and (s)he's playing by the rules of horror movie lore. Just another typical day in Woodsboro, then.

As a result, Sidney teams back up with series regulars Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Dewey’s ex-reporter wife Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) to hunt down the stalk-and-tease killer as they themselves are hunted by the determined masked slasher -- they've done this three times before, I'm sure everything will go perfectly swell.

Also up for some gruesomely bloody butchering are a gang of adolescent newcomers to the saga, all suspects and red herrings. These include Sidney's younger cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), a sassy film buff named Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), their friend Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), two male horror fanatics Robbie (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin), and Jill's douchebag cheater of an ex-boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella). There's also sponge cake-making Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), Sidney's intrusive publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie) and Sidney's dear Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell). But how many are going to make it to the end credits with their hearts still beating and their insides remaining on the inside? I'd go with a low number if I were you.

Yes, the bodies are piling up in Woodsboro yet again, and in "Scream 4" (or "Scre4m," as it's being advertised), the kills are frequent, frantic and as bloody as a used tampon (sorry). Characters have their throats slit, their guts exposed, their brains stabbed and their bodies thrown off rooftops. It's almost overwhelming how many are sliced and diced throughout the runtime of the third sequel in the franchise -- Ghostface definitely has his/her work cut out for him/her.

Back for this fourth "Scream" is writer Kevin Williamson, who was sadly missing from the series' weakest link, "Scream 3" of 2000. The newest chapter's script is jam-packed with self-references and prods at itself and its own genre, with talk of "new rules" and recent reboots having to up the ante, the film partly a commentary/rant on contemporary horror. The genre-mocking dialogue here is amusing (from jabs at "Saw IV" to pointing out general horror cliches), albeit overdone and at times a tad annoying. There's a certain point where taking the piss out of yourself makes you hard to take seriously anymore. And when your characters are complaining about the predictability of modern-day horror films, it doesn't look good when your film is itself rather predictable.

Nonetheless, "Scream 4" succeeds in thrilling and sending audience members into nail-chomping suspense. Ghostface lurks sneakily in the shadows, disappearing through what can only be described as supernatural teleportation, and phones up some local residences to enquire about the most popular scary movies amongst teens aged 18-19. Again voiced by Roger Jackson, Ghostface is still as clumsy as an octopus on stilts, at one point getting kicked down half a set of stairs, but can still amazingly predict the actions of the petrified protagonists with rare fault -- though it doesn't take a genius to do that.

Cheap "gotcha!" jump scares are aplenty here (people really like to lunge out of open doorways in horror flicks, don't they?), and the film sustains its whodunit premise right up until the big reveal in the grand finale. I must admit I was clueless as to the identity of the carnage-inducing murderer, and its revelation was a satisfying shock in the tense climactic scenes. Ghostface’s motivation is laughably far-fetched, but I guess we shouldn't expect much when we're four movies into a slasher saga. And fret not, dear reader, I'm not going to give anything away.

With its heroic trio starting to display some wrinkles (we'll call them scream lines) and the first film now 15 years old, the "Scream" franchise struggles to remain fresh and original, but the fourth instalment is still an entertaining slice of popcorn horror. For all its self-parodying monologues and unsubtle nudges to the nacho-munching audience, for all its never-ending jump scares and jugular spurts, "Scream 4" is a scream, baby!


Thursday, 14 April 2011


If there's anything that comes anywhere close to redeeming the insufferable adverts for Orange 3G phones that use Carlos Saldanha's "Rio" as a promotional tool, it's the film itself. While these adverts (which have annoyingly been playing in front of every damn movie in the cinema since January) make the 3D animated movie seem utterly intolerable, it turns out "Rio" is actually a fun and breezy slice of family-friendly entertainment -- there thankfully isn’t a single phone plan promotion in sight.

"Rio" is the sixth feature film from Blue Sky Studios, the production company which has previously brought us the sub-zero "Ice Age" franchise, the springy "Robots" and the Suess-tacular "Horton Hears a Who." Continuing the trend of animated flicks with non-human protagonists, "Rio" is about a nerdy bird who travels to the radiant titular city in a cage.

This bird is Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network" fame), a blue Spix's Macaw who lives with his bookish owner Linda (Leslie Mann, "I Love You Phillip Morris") in Minnesota. He's been her loyal pet for 15 years now, and is ever so happy with the daily routines they share, as is she. The rules of filmdom say this must be interrupted somehow.

Cue Brazilian bird expert Túlio (Rodrigo Santoro, "Che"), who stumbles upon Blu and claims that the domesticated macaw is the last male of his very endangered species. Well, it's lucky he randomly spotted him, then. Túlio says that Blu must be taken to Rio de Janeiro so he can meet and mate with a female of his kind, namely the feisty Jewel (Anne Hathaway, "Love and Other Drugs"), who’s been causing the now-bruised scientists some physical trouble.

Blu flies over to Rio (in a plane, I might add -- Blu has never been able to fly) along with Linda and Túlio and is taken to a laboratory for some species-saving bird loving. However, things go awry, and the two macaws end up being kidnapped for the financial gain of nefarious smuggler Marcel (Carlos Ponce, "Couple's Retreat").

Chained together at the ankle, Blu and Jewel luckily manage to escape, let loose in the ginormous city with Marcel's evil cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement, "Flight of the Conchords"), hot on their feathered tails. Meanwhile, Blu tries to get back to Linda, who also searches desperately for her beloved pet bird.

"Rio" is a straight-forward, simple computer-animated tale that boasts spectacular colours and supplies a whole ton of kid-friendly fun. It's a typical fish-out-of-water (or bird-out-of-Minnesota) story, the kind that's all too common in this genre, but it manages to squeeze every possible ounce of joyfulness out of the concept.

The visuals are extravagant, rendered in such a way that they give an overwhelming sense of warmth -- I would expect nothing less given the scorching South American setting. Director Carlos Saldanha (who has gained much experience from all of Blue Sky's productions, sans "Horton") knows exactly how to handle all the boisterous shenanigans and childish slapstick, the film filled with visual pizzazz and lively energy, as well as a clear love of the beautiful city in which Saldanha himself was born.

As our two squawking heroes, Eisenberg and Hathaway's voices are appropriately charming. Eisenberg's bird is a geek of sorts, unable to fly and feeling hopelessly homesick, while Hathaway is the free bird, determined to never be stuck in a cage again, yearning to live unchained in the jungle. Their destinies are all too predictable, but there's a sweetness to their stranded characters that makes them a delight to watch.

The film is partly a musical as well as a comedy, showing off quite a few dance numbers throughout the runtime. It opens with a flamboyant musical number in the jungle, birds flapping their wings in perfect unison, singing of the glories of Rio. A definite musical highlight is the hilarious "Pretty Bird," sung by the vicious villainous cockatoo, the character's New Zealand-born voice actor being one half of the brilliant musical duo "Flight of the Conchords." It all aids in the dazzling spectacle that is this film.

Visually magnificent and effectively charming, "Rio" is a treat (or tweet) that should work for kids, teens and adults alike. The narrative is maybe all too familiar and it wouldn't take a professional psychic to work out the ending, but it's a joyful ride that's bright, colourful and wholly amusing. It's no "Rango," but "Rio" is certainly not bird-brained.


Thursday, 7 April 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun

God bless Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. With their glorious "Grindhouse" double-feature of 2007, they popularised and reinvented a long-slumbering genre, namely the grungy exploitation aspect of cinema that reigned free in the '60s and '70s. Since then, we've received "Machete," "Piranha 3D" and "Drive Angry 3D," all deliriously amusing slices of crazily over-the-top violence. And now blasting its way onto cinema screens is "Hobo with a Shotgun," directed by first-time filmmaker Jason Eisener.

The imaginatively titled gunsploitation is actually a direct by-product of "Grindhouse," a fake trailer for a non-existent movie called "Hobo with a Shotgun" having been produced for display in front of the double-barrel splatter-fest. And four years later, that fake trailer is a full-length feature, much the same as Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis' "Machete" of yesteryear -- but better.

It stars Rutger Hauer ("Blade Runner") as the eponymous and nameless hobo, who arrives in Hope Town (renamed "Fuck Town") on the carriage of a freight train. He quickly grabs a shopping cart, starts to making signs for begging purposes, and wanders around the area to ask for some petty cash.

What he is shocked to find is that the town's new name is more than appropriate -- Hope/Fuck Town is run by degenerate criminals and corrupt cops. While minding his own business, the wrinkle-faced hobo is subjected to sickening acts of brutal violence, from public beheadings in broad daylight to breaking arms in video arcades.

Mortified by all the ignored savagery, our vagrant hero decides to intervene after witnessing an attempted rape on prostitute Abby (Molly Dunsworth), running afoul of hoodlum Slick (Gregory Smith, "Everwood"), Slick's crime lord father, Drake (Brian Downey, "Lexx"), and dirty Police Chief Wakeum (Jeremy Akerman, "Just Buried") along the way.

Unable to take a hint when having the word "SCUM" carved into his chest, the brave hobo decides to take on all the crime in the town, wielding a $49.99 shotgun and blasting holes into crooks and murderers all throughout the area. He's asking for change, and not the coins in your trouser pocket kinda change.

Filmed in wonderful Technicolor, "Hobo with a Shotgun" is unadulterated gratuitous goodness. Buckets of blood are splashed all over pavements, over the screen, over pedestrians and over half-naked prostitutes with their nipples on display. Victims of the hobo's newly acquired weapon are reduced to water balloons filled with red corn syrup. Who knew a shotgun and some shells could cause so much bodily harm?

The film is grungy, it's nasty and it's all the better for it. Almost going too far on several occasions, it really does push the envelope on the acceptability of on-screen violence, albeit executing it in the most cartoonish methods possible. Heck, even I cringed at some of the more obscene moments, and I'm supposed to be a desensitised teen.

Hauer really throws himself into the role, taking on its self-aware silliness and performing it with a straight face. He's playing this homeless vigilante who claims to be "from nowhere," appalled by the onslaught of barbarism he observes and eventually decides to act against. You find yourself caught up in his motivation, you yourself watching degrading and monstrous acts committed by the townspeople, egging the hobo on to take bloody justice into his own grubby hands.

While the film is a tongue-in-cheek throwback to grindhouse spectacles (complete with an '80s synthesiser score), it's surprisingly more serious than one would expect. Instead of parodying these outrageously lurid B-movies, it becomes one of them, the only real laughs coming from the brilliant one-liners and the maniacal amount of bodily damage. It's not 100% serious, but there is a stern sincerity to it amongst all the gory madness and deliberate goofiness.

There's a very little amount of negative things I could say about "Hobo with a Shotgun" because it does exactly what it set out to do, and it does it rather admirably. It's not perfect (the beginning of the film is a bit wobbly), but there's no denying it is a ton of hilariously demented fun and a gloriously revolting showcase of nasty violence. I'd give "Hobo with a Shotgun" some loose change if I were you -- he might shoot you if you don't.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011


"Hop" is pure fluff that's all about raking in the cash and counting all the banknotes. Like an Easter egg, it's all bright and colourful, enticing the little kiddies so they can drag mum and dad over to the candy aisle and get them to hand over their dosh in exchange for the chocolaty goodness. It's scrumptious, it's yummy and it temporarily turns the toddler into a human pogo stick, but it's hollow inside.

This is the latest cinematic cash cow from Tim Hill, director of "Garfield 2" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks." "Hop" follows the formula of both these vibrantly-coloured money-makers, taking bug-eyed CGI animals and planting them in a live-action setting to wreak havoc and embarrass the helpless human beings. This shall truly be a modern-day "Citizen Kane."

On this occasion, the computer-generated critter is the Easter Bunny, or at least the heir (or hare) to the candy-covered thrown. E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand, "Get Him to the Greek") is the son of the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie, "Monsters vs Aliens") and lives on, where else, Easter Island.

It is intended that E.B. take on the global egg-delivering position, but he has other plans, much to his father's disapproval. And so, the aspiring drummer runs away to Hollywood just two weeks before the seasonal holiday to live his drum-bashing dream. That's right, kids; if you feel pressure from your loving parents, just run away and travel to the other side of the planet and do whatever you please.

There, E.B. meets Homo sapien Fred O'Hare (James Marsden, "Death at a Funeral") by very nearly being hit by his car. Sadly, E.B. is still breathing, and Fred takes him into his sister's boss' mansion while the big man is away on vacation. You see, 37-year-old Fred was just recently living with his parents and has been kicked out due to being a massive disappointment. That poor grown man!

And then, a massive plot twist happens to the horrified shock of the audience, to the surprise of every single popcorn-muncher in the theatre: E.B. starts to screw up Fred's daily activities, from job interviews to general ventures outdoors. I bet you weren't expecting that, were you, moviegoer?!

Meanwhile, the Easter Bunny, worried sick about his missing son, sends out The Pink Berets, three karate-chopping ninja bunnies who are determined to find the AWOL cottontail. Also, there's a rebellious Hispanic chick scheming to take over the Easter Bunny's job and control the holiday for his own evil deeds. He's squeak raving mad!

"Hop" is nothing more than what you'd expect following hearing a brief summary of its plot. It's silly, it's goofy, it's family-friendly and it's a little lacking in the brains department. If you've seen either of the two "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movies, you'll know what to anticipate here.

Kids will no doubt get a kick out of all the slapstick buffoonery and will surely fall in love with the cheeky animated protagonist, while adult reaction will be mixed at best. I wouldn't say I was bored or found "Hop" tiring, just that I watched complacently and chuckled a couple of times at the most. "Hop" is not as agonising a watch as most would fear, demonstrating some mild entertainment while nonetheless not being particularly impressive or inspiring.

Brand's voice is a nice fit with the slacker rabbit, his notable Essex accent a decent change from other films of this ilk. His fluffy character gets all the one-liners, most of the attention he hogs and is the film's main driving force, and is sure to spring a succession of beanie baby toys. His live-action co-star is a lively companion, Marsden playing the suffering human tormented by the mess the carrot-chomper frequently makes -- and that's not just the jelly beans he defecates.

The release date of "Hop" was set to coincide with the Easter holidays, to catch kids when they're in an egg-hunting, chocolate-devouring mood -- it is little more than this. Slack in the head and deprived of originality, it's hard to feel that Illumination Entertainment's latest offering isn't a rip-off of ol' Saint Nic, given the extravagant factory and world-travelling sled that the Easter Bunny rides. If you have the chance, give "Hop" a skip.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Source Code

In the wake of the success of Christopher Nolan's masterful "Inception," we're guaranteed to be subjected to a whole ton of high-concept sci-fi flicks. After all, it's incredibly marketable now, isn't it? Every other film is being promoted as something that "meets 'Inception'" or as "this year's 'Inception.'" Heck, I'm shocked "Hop" isn't being advertised as "'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' meets Inception.'" But if we are to have countless theatrical releases inspired by Nolan's epic mind-boggler, they'd better be as good as "Source Code."

This is Duncan Jones' second outing as a feature film director, his first picture being 2009's one-man sci-fi hit "Moon." He's continuing the trend with another ambitious and brain-bending science fiction, this time from a script written by Ben Ripley. If you were to continue the advertising movement for this particular genre, "Source Code" would be "'Groundhog Day' meets 'Inception'" -- just with less Bill Murray and Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe."

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, "Love and Other Drugs") wakes up on a commuter train. He doesn't know how he got there. Sitting opposite him is Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan, "Due Date"), a woman he has never met before. She claims he is schoolteacher Sean Fentress. He has no idea who this is. He goes to the bathroom mirror. But wait, that's not his face. After eight minutes of confusion, the train explodes, and Stevens wakes up strapped to a chair in a metallic chamber.

Transmitted on a screen within the chamber is Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, "The Departed"), who tells him he is in the Source Code. What is the Source Code? It is a machine that allows the person inside to relive the last eight minutes of a person's life, given free will within the dead person's body in an alternate reality.

There are many questions to be asked. Why has Stevens been put in the Source Code? Because there's a massive nuclear explosion about to occur in Chicago, and the army wants to know who plans to detonate it. How will the Source Code help? Because it will give Stevens control of the body of a man who was on a Chicago commuter train that was bombed by the same terrorist earlier that day. Why Stevens? Because he was a perfect match with Sean‘s body. Why is there oil leaking from the ceiling? Where is the platoon Stevens was with in Afghanistan? Why can't he talk to his father? Where exactly is he? These go unanswered for quite some time.

It is Stevens' mission to locate the bomber of the train before time runs out and Chicago is reduced to a pile of rubble. Thus, he is sent back into the train in Sean's body, given an eight-minute time frame to search, observe and interrogate, this being repeated again and again as Stevens is sent back and forth between the train and the Source Code every 480 seconds.

"Source Code" is pure heart-racing stuff, a true thriller if you will, given more weight by its science fiction premise. Its concept is a unique one with a lot of potential, which is thankfully explored thoroughly by Jones and Ripley, with talk of alternate universes and different timelines, Stevens testing the rules of the simulated reality the Source Code presents.

It's all very new and it's all very exciting as we learn of the Source Code and what it can do. We are learning along with Stevens, told by Goodwin and the program's inventor, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright, "Quantum of Solace"), of what the Source Code is and what purpose it serves. For all of the film we are just as confused as he is.

Gyllenhaal is real leading man material, a very versatile actor who can juggle a sympathetic role while catering to the requirements of an action-thriller hero. His character is all befuddled about the situation he's in, frustrated at being blown up every eight or so minutes, and is dead set on believing that the Source Code's simulations are a reality instead of memories that take place on a separate timeline -- he’s convinced they are a reality with which the future can be permanently altered.

The film is edited in such a way that it doesn't become a victim of monotony -- reoccurring events that we see happen time and time again actually become quite fun. Spilled coffee, the bitterness of a comedian passenger, an Asian man nervously going to the bathroom, and the phrase "I took your advice" never become tiring. As these incidents are frequently repeated, Stevens searches ventilation shafts, pretends to be a transit cop, breaks into an off-limits room to find a gun and, at one point, hurls himself off the speeding train, tumbling along the platform's concrete and ending up a bloody mess on the side of the train station. Ouch.

"Source Code" also goes for sentimentality without forcing it, there being a hint of a romance between Stevens and Christina, though it is never rammed down our throats. Not only this, there's Stevens' desperation to hear his father's voice, and an ending that's quite sappy, yet sweet (a certain freeze-frame in one of the climactic moments is especially beautiful).

"Source Code" is an exhilarating follow-up to Duncan Jones' "Moon," the British director going a bit more mainstream, but not losing any of his edge in the process. Featuring a wonderful leading performance from Gyllenhaal and a trippy premise that's original and utilised to perfection, "Source Code" is an exciting one-of-a-kind sci-fi train ride that never gets derailed. I know I won't be jumping off a moving vehicle anytime soon.


Sucker Punch

There was a three-word phrase that kept popping into my head as I was viewing Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch." A three-word phrase that was constantly bugging me all throughout the runtime. A three-word phrase that would not leave my brain. A three-word phrase that made me question the moralities of the male gender. The phrase? "Men are bastards."

You see, the men in "Sucker Punch" are all bastards; they rape, they sneer, they gawk, they unlawfully lobotomise and they display no mercy. They are all shown to be corrupt, murderous and ape-like, as gormless cavemen whose brains seem to dwell in their ever-erect penises. The only one who seems the slightest bit decent lives within the imagination of the main character. As Hugh Grant eloquently put it in Chris and Paul Weitz's "About a Boy," "After about ten minutes I wanted to cut my own penis off with a kitchen knife." I felt similarly. And this wasn't just because of the apparent misandry.

The girls, on the other hand, are intended to be awesome and cool and strong and mighty, given licenses to kick ass and spill CGI blood. This is supposedly all in the name of feminism and girl power; Snyder seems to think that giving a woman a machine gun and dressing her up in skimpy outfits gives her social strength and independence. It doesn't. All it does is make her more of a subject of the male gaze.

These girls are all inmates of an asylum for the mentally insane, each given stripper-style nicknames (this soon becomes appropriate). We have Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, "Limitless"), Rocket (Jena Malone, "The Messenger"), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, "High School Musical") and Amber (Jamie Chung, "Sorority Row"), all good friends who stick together, all good friends abused by the men in the facility.

However, there's a newcomer to the institution in the form of Babydoll (Emily Browning, "The Uninvited"), a 20-year-old with platinum blonde pigtails and a fragile demeanour. She's been sent there by her abusive brute of a step-father (Gerard Plunkett, "Snakes on a Plane") after her attempt on his life ended in the death of her little sister. To make matters worse, the hulking bastard bribes the orderly (Oscar Isaac, "Robin Hood") to make sure Babydoll gets a lobotomy so that she can't reveal what really happened that fateful night. I repeat: men are bastards.

And then, all of sudden, during a tour of the asylum, the setting turns into a brothel, and Babydoll is an orphan who has been sent there to work. In this imaginary world, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber are now all exotic dancers, and Babydoll is to join them and be trained by Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino, "Watchmen").

Turns out Babydoll is quite the dancer, impressing and arousing the lip-licking men who watch and spontaneously drool on the dance floor. Strange thing is, whenever Babydoll swishes and sways she transports to another imaginary land in which she's an ass-kicking samurai pistol-blaster in a schoolgirl outfit. There, she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn, "Secretariat"), who tells her she can escape from the asylum/brothel by finding five coupons: a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mysteriously unnamed item.

From here on, the film consists of a monotonous structure; music plays, Babydoll begins to dance in the brothel, gently swinging her hips from side to side before being transported to magical lands in which she is briefed by the Wise Man and fights otherworldly villains (dragons, cyborgs, zombie Nazis, etc.) along with her four new friends to find a precious item, and then it's back to the brothel, where Babydoll has finished her dance, and the music comes to a halt. Lather, rinse, repeat.

To say "Sucker Punch" is excruciating would be an understatement; the film is so annoyingly repetitive that it renders itself obnoxious and eventually rather boring. Yes, a film with fire-breathing dragons, bomb-guarding cyborgs and undead Nazis is a tediously boring experience, feeling so overblown and desperate to be a teenage boy's wet dream that it becomes just silly and irritating.

Almost everything about the film comes across as an excuse for Snyder to use the talents of cinematographer Larry Fong, the director's partner on "300" and "Watchmen." "Sucker Punch" is undeniably a visual extravaganza (not only in the action scenes), Fong strutting his wondrous stuff, but it is never more than this -- one has to feel that this should have just been a collection of music videos, which it essentially (and annoyingly) is.

It is troubling how the plot and concept (which came from the mind of co-writer Zack "Slow-Motion" Snyder) are squandered so horrendously. Fantasy worlds, mental asylums and rough-tough gals are handled so badly that the film ends up a 110-minute mess that is sure to numb cinemagoing arses everywhere. I know mine wouldn't feel a thing if you were to stick a pin in either of the two cheeks.

The posters for "Sucker Punch" tell us we will "be unprepared" -- I certainly wasn't prepared for how abominable the next two hours would be. Laboriously repetitive and stupidly trying to be thematically clever, Zack Snyder's newest slow-mo epic fantasy actioner is an overcompensating load of old tosh. A teenager's wet dream is made into a moviegoer's worst nightmare.