Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Legend Of Zorro goes into Spy Kids territory

Time: 83 mins
Rating: * * 1/2

Image hosted by

WELL, whaddaya know! After successfully reviving The Mask Of Zorro in 1998, they have turned the franchise into a family act like Spy Kids! Instead of continuing the adventures of the lone masked champion of justice and freedom, this sequel has gone a few notches down the intellect level to pander to kids.

Okay, okay. I admit that the swashbuckling tales of El Zorro (or The Fox) had always been aimed at children. As a kid, I myself had donned the mask and cape, pretending to be Zorro. Then came Anthony Hopkins and the ‘new’ Zorro of 1998, which featured a more adult swashbuckler, and I had thought that we were going to get an updated and smarter version of the legend.

Well, this sequel, also directed by Martin Campbell, put paid to those hopes. By turning Zorro into a family movie with highly contrived sitcom situations and domestic squabbles, Campbell has taken the lustre off the romantic adventure. He may please the kids but he has lost the ‘magic’ and the ‘momentum’ of the first movie.

It is 1850 and California is poised to hold a referendum to become the 31st state of the Union.
Of course, some land barons are plotting against the union, seizing ballot boxes and bullying the people. And in rides Zorro to save the day! But wait. What about the next day?

Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) is now married to the beautiful Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and they have a 10-year-old son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). Alejandro has broken his promise to his wife not take off as Zorro again — and she has filed for divorce.

Meanwhile, a wealthy French land owner named Armand (Rufus Sewell) is courting Elena — and she seems to be falling for his charms. And if this is not enough to drive our hero to drink and despair, there is also the problem of his son despising him for not doing anything against Armand’s thugs when they bully the farmers. The boy does not know his dad’s alter ego.

On the drawing board, this may sound like fun but when they throw in far-fetched twists and a subplot about the Ancient Knights of Aragon, the movie goes from comic book territory into silly kids’ stuff. Consider Zorro’s horse that drinks and smokes — and can outrun a runaway train and land smack on its roof!
And imagine the boy helping to spring his old man out of prison...

To be sure, there are nice comic touches in the ‘squabbles’ between Banderas and Zeta-Jones and it is nice to see them reprise their roles. Young Alonso is cute too and sometimes steal the show.
But I wish this sequel had continued the legend on a more matured level.

CORPSE BRIDE: Just the film for Halloween

(stop-motion animation)
Time: 78 mins
Rating: * * *

Image hosted by

CAN the dead in the netherworld be having more fun than the living? This is the impression we get from Corpse Bride, another stop- motion feature by Tim Burton.

The world of the living, circa 19th Century, is dark, dank and drab — with most of its colour drained away. Greenery is scarce and the folks appear either sad, sombre or scheming. The world of the dead, on the other hand, is lively, cheery and a lot more colourful. The cadavers eat, drink and party all the time — with narry a thought for their health or other consequences.

Caught between these two worlds is Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp), a young man whose social-climbing parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) have arranged for him to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), daughter of impoverished aristocrats Maude- line and Finnie (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney).

This union is expected to provide Victor’s family with a touch of class — and Victoria’s parents with money. Victor and Victoria have never met before but when they are introduced at the wedding rehearsal, they are surprised to find that they actually like each other.
Victor, however, is so shy and nervous that he cannot remember the wedding vows. Fleeing to a church’s graveyard to practise his vows, he gets so carried away that he places the ring on a twig.The twig is actually the desiccated finger of Emily the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) whose arm is reaching out from the grave waiting for her husband.

Unwittingly, Victor has married the lovelorn Emily — and soon they find themselves celebrating their union with jolly skeletons and corpses and dancing to a score by Danny Elfman. Above ground, the parents are worried about the missing groom and the money-grabbing Everglots have consented to have Victoria marry the sleazy Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant).

Corpse Bride is not the macabre horror tale as its title suggests, but a touching and visually rich tale of love lost. The characters are nicely developed and surprisingly, there is a sense of tenderness to the tale.

Burton and co-director Mike Johnson have fashioned Emily as a strong but pathetic figure who had been murdered at her own wedding and she now sees Victor as a better match.
The movie is also a tribute of sorts to stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen — whose name is ’immortalised’ on the nameplate of a piano in the movie.

The film-makers have included some deft lines and vitriolic humour which should tickle our funny bone. Yes, there are plenty of eye-popping, jaw-dropping and bone-crunching scenes which should make for a perfect Halloween treat for the whole family.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

GOAL! Propaganda film for the US

(soccer drama)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 121 mins
Rating: * * ½

THE best part of this movie is the opening scene where we see some deft footwork by a young Mexican kid. After that, this rags-to-riches story of footballer Santiago Munez becomes a cliche-ridden effort which has little to excite diehard football fans.

Yes, we have cameo appearances by soccer legends, David Beckham, Zinadine Zidane and Raul and Alan Shearer but these are merely walk-on roles. Blink and you may miss them. Goal! is planned as the first of a trilogy on Munez’s career. It is partly funded by FIFA in a bid to promote the sport in the US.

Kuno Becker (right)

Part Two will see Munez being transferred to Real Madrid and the final segment will have him starring in the World Cup (where the BIG question is whether he plays for Mexico, his country of birth, or for the US, where he grew up in). We can only hope that the next instalments will score points more than this one...

As a boy, Santiago is passionate about football. Like most fans, he has posters and football stuff in his room in a shanty in Mexico. He even risks getting caught by the border guards when he retrieves his precious football while his family steal across to California.

In the US, Munez (Kuno Becker) helps out in his father’s pool-cleaning business and has little time for football. However, he is spotted by a talent scout (Stephen Dillane as Glen Foy) who offers to help him get a try-out for Newcastle United in England.

From here, the fairy tale mode kicks in. Papa (Tony Plana) objects to his fanciful thoughts of becoming a football star, but good ole grandma helps out. In Newcastle, Munez faces a series of ups and downs before he gets to play on the reserve team. The ups includes meeting a pretty nurse named Roz (Anna Friel) whom he manages to date, and getting on the good side of German coach Erik Dornhelm (Marcel Iures).

The ‘downs’ are his asthma problem and a lack of sparkle in his performance. To tug at our heartstrings, there is a subplot about his estrange relationship with his father which gives the story its emotional anchor.

Undoubtedly, lead star Becker gives a good account of himself although most of the action on the field are played by a double. Lending strong support is Alessandro Nivola (as superstar footie Gavin Harris) whose ‘sexploits’ reminds us of George Best’s.

Danny Cannon’s textbook-style directing offers nothing impressive. Also, the pub sequences, where American drinkers gather to watch soccer matches, look rather ‘alien’ and phoney.
As a kick-off to the trilogy, we had expected more nifty football action. And at least a few exciting goals.

More a Love Story than a Dance Flick

(romantic drama)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * ½

INNOCENT STEPS may be perceived by some as South Korea’s version of Strictly Ballroom and Dirty Dancing. At the core of the plot is a national ballroom dancing competition which the protagonists trained for most part of the movie.

However, in a controversial attempt to make the audience weep over the love story, the plot veers towards a near tragedy, leaving a sense of betrayal and a sour taste in our mouth. The ‘Innocent’ in the title probably refers to the elfin-faced Moon Geun-young (the star of My Little Bride), who plays Jang Chae-rin, a young impostor who has come from a small village China to seek fame and fortune in South Korea.

She is to team up with top dance coach Na Young-sae (Park Gun-hyung) as his ‘wife’ and partner in the national ballroom dance contest. Young-sae has been the best dancer in Korea until an accident damaged his knee and his career. He also lost his dance partner and now lives in a crummy apartment where he is content to ‘lick his wounds’.

Things change when Young-sae’s manager arranges a new ‘partner’ for him. She is Jang Chae-min, winner of a dance contest in China, who is supposed to provide Young-sae a new direction in his life. Admittedly, Young-sae is excited to meet the sweet and charming ‘Chae-min’. She is unpretentious and very eager to learn. Then, our hero is hit by a double whammy: The teenager is actually Chae-min’s younger sister Chae-rin — and she has no dancing experience whatsoever! Young-sae’s first reaction is to send her back to China, but he relents and decides to take up the challenge to train her for the competition which is just three months away.

Innocent Steps, directed by Park Young-hoon, is more of a love story than a dance movie like Strictly Ballroom. You won’t see many fanciful dance steps — just a lot of training sequences during which the two start to fall for each other. Still, for most of the 65 minutes or so, the ‘courtship’ is heartwarming, complemented by the comical exploits of a pair of Immigration officers going incognito to spy on the couple.

There is also a nice chemistry between Moon and Park Gun-hyung. The young and innocent-looking Moon readily steals our hearts as the naive girl who gradually turns into a glib dancer, fuelled by her love for her coach. Gun-Hyung seems to have the easier role as her mentor but he is nevertheless convincing as a gruff man with a tender heart. However, all these are spoilt when the film-makers decide to turn the plot into a gangster movie.

TRANSPORTER 2: French Alternative To Bond

(action thriller)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 83 mins
Rating: * * ½

Image hosted by

LOWER your expectations and shift your mind into neutral gear, Frank Martin the Transporter is here! Jason Stratham is back as the ‘new and improved’ action hero — the ‘French’ alternative to Bond — created by writer-director Luc Besson.

Being just a driver for hire, Frank is not as suave and sophisticated as Agent Double-0-Seven but he ‘kicks ass’ better than the British spy, and performs stunts that border on the miraculous. He seldom smiles but when he makes a pronouncement — like, telling a little boy, “I’ll never let anyone hurt you”, we tend to believe him. And instead of high-tech toys, he has a change of clothes in his new Audi A8 (yes, they have dumped the BMW he used in the original).

In Chapter Two, Frank is hired to chauffeur Jack (Hunter Clary), son of a pharmaceuticals boss (Matthew Modine) to and from school in Miami, USA. Jack’s mother, Audrey Billings (Amber Valleta), is estranged from her husband and Frank tries his utmost to protect the boy from his parents’ rows.

Yes, our Transporter has a soft side to his tough demeanour and he has chosen to play Guardian Angel to the boy. Meanwhile, a bunch of crooks are planning to kidnap Jack at the dentist’s office — starting off a series of bizarre and ludicrous attempts to demand a US$5 million ransom and to infect the members of a drug conference with a deadly virus.

Of course, the plot and its idiotic twists and turns are just a platform for director Louis (Unleashed) Leterrier and scripter Besson to display their stunts which are more spectacular and mind-boggling than in the first movie. Never mind that the stunts border on the preposterous. Action fans would definitely lap them up.

Consider these: When Frank discovers a bomb on the undercarriage of his Audi, he races the car out of the garage, drives it up an incline and spins it around so that the bomb can be pulled off by a hook on a crane. Of course, the bomb explodes just before the car lands safely.
Another features Frank chasing a private jet in his car just as it is trying to take off — and getting inside the plane to confront the crook!

Yet another shows Frank leading a police pursuit up the ramps of a building’s car park, and then crashing his car through a wall — only to land safely after flying a few hundred metres through the air. Every Besson actioner has a cool villain and a femme fatale, and here Alessandro Gassman and Kate Nauta play the nasty Gianni and luscious Lola respectively.

Nauta is a more punky version of Besson’s former ‘Angel’ Milla Jovovich (Fifth Element) and she only has to look fetching toting big guns in lingerie and red stilettos. Leterrier is not fussy about acting. Yeah, with eye-candy shots and non-stop action, this sequel can leave you breathless. Just don’t bother to try and figure out what the plot is about.

FOUR BROTHERS: A modern-day western

(action thriller)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 142 mins
Rating: * * ½

Image hosted by

JOHN Singleton’s Four Brothers could have been inspired by the 1965 western, The Sons Of Katie Elder. In that movie, four brothers (two were played by John Wayne and Dean Martin) return to their hometown of Clearwater, Texas, after the deaths of their parents, and embark on a trail of vengeance.

Singleton’s urban western has a lot more action and firepower but a preposterous ending.
The movie opens with a kind old lady named Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) chiding a young boy for shoplifting candy at a neighbourhood store in Detroit.

After the boy has left the store, two masked robbers walk in and the old lady is shot dead.
At the funeral, we learn that Evelyn has four adopted sons, two white and two black. She had been a foster mother all her life and these four were the ones she could not find homes for.

Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), the eldest, is a hot-head who has just been released from prison; Angel (Tyrese Gibson) is a former Marine who is eager to be united with his old flame (Sofia Vergara); Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) is married and has a real estate business, and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) is a punk rocker.

Reunited in the house where they all grew up in, the four recollect fond memories and shed tears of grief for their beloved. Then, at the Thanksgiving dinner, someone talks of revenge — and the ‘street justice’ plot kicks in. Bobby learns that their mom was not killed because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was the target of an execution!

With this ‘excuse’, the brothers take the law into their own hands, disrupting a basketball game by running into the court with guns, dousing a car with petrol and threatening to barbecue the local councilman, and getting entangled with the local mob led by the sadistic Victor Sweet (Chiweetel Ejiofor).

While it is difficult to root for ‘heroes’ who behave like hoodlums, the scripters David Elliot and Paul Lovett have seen to it that the bad guys are worse and we would applaud their downfall.
Director Singleton even recreates that cheesy Seventies cop-movie feel with tacky canned music and awkward cuts.

However, one of the pleasures of Four Brothers is watching the way these guys bond as ‘siblings’. There are the usual banter and rivalry — and even a tinge of betrayal.
And their characters are developed well enough to anchor the situation in reality mode even if the murder-mystery turns out to be rather ridiculous.

Singleton made his directing debut at age 23 in 1991 with the acclaimed Boyz N The Hood. After that his works had been uneven, especially with the commercial features like the Shaft remake and 2 Fast 2 Furious sequel. Here, he is showing signs that he is returning to his roots...

Saturday, October 08, 2005


INTO THE BLUE (adventure)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 109 mins
Rating: **

FIRST, let me sing some praises for this underwater adventure that seems destined for the video rental stores. The underwater photography is breath-taking and the scenic locations in the Bahamas are gorgeous.

There is a National Geographic feel about the scenes, especially in the shots of coral reefs and best of all, Jessica Alba, arguably the starlet of the year, looks ravishing in her bikini. The opening scenes of the well-tanned and shapely Alba frolicking in the water looks as if she has just wandered in from a modelling shoot for Vogue magazine.

Into The Blue It should delight all her fans.And then the infantile plot kicks in and I have to sing the blues...Sam (Alba) and Jared (Paul Walker) are a loving couple trying to eke out a living in the Bahamas. She is a shark-trainer at an ocean park and he is a dive instructor and part-time treasure hunter, hoping to make it big one day. That day arrives when Jared’s lawyer buddy, Bryce (Scott Caan), comes for a visit with his new girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott).

While out scuba diving, the four find two kinds of treasure in roughly the same area: An ancient sunken ship called The Zephyr, and a downed airplane with a huge cache of cocaine! Sceptics in the audience may question the odds of such things happening — especially in what seems like just 10 metres below sea level. But then these are nothing compared to the utter silliness that follows.Jared views the sunken ship as his ticket out of poverty but they must first ‘register’ the find and invest in salvage equipment.

Bryce sees the drugs in the plane as a solution to all these problems, and he sells a packet of the ‘coke’ — to a guy (James Frain) who happens to be the owner of the sunken drugs.Of course, soon the proverbial hell breaks loose and we get the long-awaited chases and action which seem to have been scripted and choreographed by an amateur.

The plot is never convincing because none of the stars can act. Alba has appeared in three movies this year (the previous two being Sin City and The Fantastic Four) but mainly in eye-candy roles. Here, her weakness is more apparent because director John Stockwell had obviously not bothered about the cast’s performance. Walker seems to be ‘modelling’ his role as the good guy, while Scott Caan has a juicier one as the reckless and greedy lawyer. Ashley Scott can only be remembered for her topless sunbathing scene.

GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 103 mins

Rating: ** ½

THE good news about The Skeleton Key is that it does not have dumb teenagers venturing into haunted houses and getting themselves chopped to pieces.

Image hosted by

No, we don’t have expendable starlets like Paris Hilton getting into all sorts of gory situations like in The House of Wax.Instead, we have an atmospheric thriller about hoodoo (or voodoo) practice in the swamps of Louisiana in the US of A.We follow Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), a New Jersey hospice care-giver, as she takes up a job as live-in nurse to Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) at his dilapidated house in the bayou.

Ben, a Southern gentleman, has just suffered a stroke and his wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), needs someone to help her take care of him.

A previous nurse had fled the house but Violet’s lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), is confident that Caroline will meet the challenge, although Violet tends to be suspicious of anyone who does not have a Southern accent.“She wouldn’t understand the house,” Violet complains to Luke as soon as she claps eyes on the new nurse.What’s there to understand about the grand century-old house? This is the mystery that the movie gradually unravels for the most part of the footage.The Devereaux’s mansion has many rooms which are never used, and Caroline is given a skeleton key which will open all of them — except the one in the attic.

Of course, things start going bump in the night and Caroline discovers that the former servants of the house had practised hoodoo, a variation of voodoo that involves incantations and human sacrifice.

Let’s just say that as Caroline tries to get to the bottom of this black magic madness, we get lots of ‘boo moments’ and minor scares, culminating in a frantic bid to get Ben out of the house.

Director Iain Softley unfolds the plot rather slowly, feeding us with bits of information about hoodoo and the former tenants of the house.For this, he has a bunch of competent stars at his disposal.

Rowlands is awesome as the domineering wife who may have something to hide. That she manages to keep us guessing is a testimony of her talent and experience as an actress. Hurt’s Ben, whose stroke has left him unable to speak, communicates with just his eyes and he speaks volumes of his fear and dilemma.Hudson’s role as a caring and dedicated nurse has us rooting for her throughout while Sarsgaard is competent in an undemanding role.

The Skeleton Key would have unlocked a lot more scares and drama if it had more going for it than just the twist at the ending.