Tuesday, May 30, 2006


(A new posting to help you plan your cinema-going)

1. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (Comic book fantasy sequel starring Hugh Jackson, Halle Berry & Patrick Stewart) Rated * * * (3 stars): A cure for mutation splits the ‘gifted people’ right down the middle – and the X-Men (and women) have a tough time saving the day. X-travagant action.

2. OVER THE HEDGE (Animated comedy with voices of Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling) Rated * * * (3 stars): A bunch of woodland animals wake up from hibernation to find a hedge in their way – and lots of food on the other side. Wacky fun for the kids during the school holidays.

3. 16 BLOCKS (cop thriller with Bruce Willis, Mos Def & David Morse) Rating * * 1/2 ­(2.5 stars): Willis has to match wits with his fellow cops to deliver a witness to court. Cliched odd-couple flick for Willis diehards.

4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (Espionage thriller with Tom Cruise & Philip Seymour Hoffman) Rated * * * (3 stars): Again IMF agent Ethan Hunt is lured back into covert action but this time there is more at stake. Heart-thumping action all the way – and nice bods too.

5. WE ARE FAMILY (Cantonese comedy with Alan Tam, Hacken Lee and Leung Wing-chung) Rated * * ½ (2.5 stars): A Hong Kong version of 'Meet the Parents' about a guy (Lee) having to go through all sorts of weirdos in his fiancee's family. The best part is that we also get to meet Phua Chu Kang (Gurmit Singh) in Singapore.

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16 BLOCKS: Donner's Retread Flick

16 BLOCKS (cop thriller)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def and David Morse
Director: Richard Donner
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * 1/2

Bruce Willis in 16 BLOCKS
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? After a long night’s work, veteran cop Jack Mosley (Willis), is assigned one more task: to escort petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse to testify in a case. The journey is just 16 blocks in New York City but Jack is waylaid by rogue cops who want to kill Eddie to stop him from spilling the beans against them. As they flee for their lives, Jack and Eddie become buddies…

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? This may be another attempt by Donner to recall his glory days of Superman, The Omen and Lethal Weapon but 16 Blocks turns out to be more of a retread than a potential blockbuster. The ‘waylaid witness’ plot has been done in The Gauntlet in 1977 by Clint Eastwood, and the ‘odd couple’ thingy is not only clichéd but also incredulous here. The motor-mouth Eddie is such a pain in the neck that I would not have lasted 10 minutes with him without gagging him. To have a guy like Jack risking his life for him is just asking too much.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watching the movie is like being on an intellectual rollercoaster: One moment, you just cannot believe what you see… and the next, something happens to restore your faith in the script. And for a change, Willis is actually acting instead of just spewing one-liners. He is at his best as the broken-down cop although there is not much chemistry between him and Mos Def.

LOWLIGHTS: The story stretches credibility a bit too far, especially the ending which requires us to believe that a scheming cop like Frank Nugent (Morse) would do something so utterly stupid, like crucifying himself.

THE LOWDOWN? A vehicle for Bruce Willis and Richard Donner fans.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Voices of Bruce Willis, Gary Shandling, Steve Carrell and Avril Lavigne
Directors: Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * * *
RJ (left) and the animals raiding a truck
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? A bunch of woodland animals wake up from hibernation to find a huge long hedge blocking their way to the forest. RJ, a crafty raccoon (voice of Willis), tells their leader, Verne the turtle (Shandling), that the domain Over The Hedge is where food is aplenty. “This is where the human critters gather, store, eat and waste food.” Except for Verne, RJ gets the others excited over the find. Unknown to them, the rascal raccoon has an ulterior motive in wanting them to help him amass the food.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? This Dreamworks adaptation of a popular comic strip starts off as a funny and biting revelation on suburbia and how humans are obsessed with food (in contrast to the other animals who need it for survival). There is fun to be had in seeing how the little critters, especially a family of possum, a squirrel and a porcupine, fool the human residents and raid their fridges. Then, of course, the plot turns into a war between the two sides when an Exterminator is called in…

HIGHLIGHTS: The animal characters are cute, well-developed and funny. There are cool one-liners to tickle the funnybones of the adults – and enough comic action to keep the kids occupied. Children will particularly love the deceitful RJ and Stella the Skunk (Wanda Sykes) who does a number on a house Cat. Technically, the movie is as good as the recent CGI offerings, with realistic details and colour.

LOWLIGHTS: The movie is basically a food-raiding adventure with no compelling main plot for us to sink our teeth into. It tries to teach us the importance of family but this appears redundant and obligatory. Also, it lacks a villain nasty enough for us to hiss at. There is the exterminator and a bear (Nick Nolte) involved, but they may even be considered victims.

THE LOWDOWN? Over The Hedge is intelligent and entertaining enough for the family and it may even change some of our kids’ perception of junk food.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CARS: This 'auto' delight the whole family

CARS (animated comedy)
Voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Cheeh Marin and Paul Newman
Director: John Lasseter
Time: 114 mins
Rating: * * *
Mater and McQueen going for a spin
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Set in the world of automobiles, this Pixar caper is about a hotshot racing car called Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) who finds himself ‘stuck’ in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs en route to the big Piston Cup race. There, he meets a battered tow-truck named Mater ((Larry the Cable Guy), a snazzy Porche called Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) and a wise old 1951 Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman) and learns that life is really all about friendship and caring ­-- and not just the finish line.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Unlike in the world of Toys, Bugs, fish and Incredible superheroes, it takes us a while to get used to this ‘new’ world of cars, trucks and tractors. However, as soon as our hero McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, we start empathizing with him and his feelings of frustration and urgency as he is ‘prevented’ from getting to that all-important race.
Here, the auto world ‘comes to life’ as the machines take on the characteristics of human townsfolk.

HIGHLIGHTS: The all-star voice cast have done a lot to add the human dimension to the ‘car-acters’ and we start to forget that they are cartoon vehicles. Car-acters like Mater, Sally and even the Italian tyre-shop owner Luigi (Tony Shalhoub) are nicely developed and there is even a background mystery to Doc Hudson’s past. Also, there is a bit of American road nostalgia about the famous Route 66, the artery that connected the North to the South and the East to the West. For F1 fans, listen out for the vocal performances of racing legends like Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt and Michael Schumacher.

LOWLIGHTS: The story is rather familiar and the going tends to drag a bit at 115 minutes long. Some of the dialogue lines turn out awkward, too.

THE LOWDOWN? A feel-good movie that ‘auto’ delight families and anyone who has ever gone behind the wheel.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

FORGIVENESS: Poignant and brooding

Cast: Arnold Vosloo, Quanita Adams and Denise Newman
Director: Ian Gabriel
Time: 104 mins
Rating: * *
Denise Newman in FORGIVENESS
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? A former cop, Tertius Coetzees (Vosloo of The Mummy fame), drives to an isolated South African fishing village called Paternoster ostensibly to seek forgiveness from the family of Daniel Grootboom, a student activist he had ‘helped’ to kill some 10 years ago. The parents reluctantly accept his offer of condolences but the two siblings, Sannie (Adams) and Ernest (Christo Davids), have ‘other plans’ for him.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? This poignant movie is made six years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings aimed at mending South Africa’s wounds of the Apartheid era. God knows there are a lot of sins to be forgiven and the definition of ‘amnesty’ is also explored.

HIGHLIGHTS: The location setting of the quiet, dusty fishing village helps to amplify the brooding, guilt-ridden feelings of the protagonist. First-time director Gabriel also explores the religious and cultural beliefs like self-punishment with a garden hose, the significance of sea-shells and the omens of the sea. For a low-budget effort, the performances are commendable.

LOWLIGHTS: The colour of this 2004 digital movie tends to run a bit and the pace is slow. It would help a lot if we are told why the pill-popping Coetzee is so much in need of forgiveness. Is that necessary for him to get to Heaven?

THE LOWDOWN? Only for those who seek something different in the cinema.

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND: An X-cellent Close

Cast: Hugh Jackson, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen & Famke Janssen
Director: Brett Ratner from a script by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn
Time: 104 mins
Rating: * * *
Halle Berry (Storm), Stewart, Jackson (Wolverine) and McKellen (Magneto)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? A cure has been found to turn mutants back into humans. You would think that this is good news to the ‘gifted’ ones who find that their powers have alienated them from normal society. But no, the mutants are split right down the middle between forces led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). Xavier is for tolerance and free choice but Magneto sees this as a move to wipe out his group of ‘superhumans’. And Magneto is declaring war on all who oppose him.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? This ‘last’ instalment may not have the wow-inducing X-factor of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United but it is just as engaging. The plot is more character-driven with the telepathic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) resurrecting from her watery grave to cause havoc and even the deaths of her ‘dear friends’. There are also neat subplots about newcomers like the winged Angel (Ben Foster), the impersonator Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and the blue Beast (Kelsey Grammer) who is also the mutant rep to the White House.

HIGHLIGHTS: The ‘realignment’ of the Golden Gate Bridge is the most awesome F/X treat here. Also the attack on Alcatraz Island can be eye-boggling. Director Rattner keeps the pace fast and taut with non-stop action throughout. Also, it is amazing to see Patrick and McKellen being transformed 20 years younger in a flashback sequence.

LOWLIGHTS: The dialogue is stilted somewhat and some of the ‘romantic sequences’ seem to fall flat.

THE LOWDOWN? A turbo-charged X-travagant entertainment for both X-men fans and action-seekers alike.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DA VINCI CODE: Like An Amazing Race

Cast: Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, Audrey Tautou and Paul Bettany
Director: Ron Howard from a script by Akiva Goldsman (based on the book by Dan Brown)
Time: 148 mins
Rating: * * 1/2

Tautou and Hanks

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Harvard symbologist Prof Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called to the Louvre museum where a curator has been murdered, leaving behind a mysterious trail of symbols and clues. With his own life at stake, Langdon and French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) unveil a series of ‘clues’ hidden in the works of
Leonardo Da Vinci, all leading to a covert society dedicated to guarding an ancient secret that has remained hidden for 2000 years.
The trail takes us through Paris, London and Scotland, as the duo try to crack the code and reveal secrets that will shake the foundations of mankind.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? I had purposely avoided reading the book because I did not want it to affect my enjoyment of the movie. However, after half-an-hour into the movie, I felt like I was watching a souped-up version of The Amazing Race, complete with symbols and clues from art history. Howards adaptation seems literal, albeit serviceable. The controversy over the Code is somewhat dissipated by complicated and laborious explanations which suck the life out of the thriller. Where was Howard’s great sense of humour when we needed it?

HIGHLIGHTS: The car chase in Paris and the Big Switch at a hangar in London help to raise the temperature a bit and prevent the proceedings from looking like a James Bond-type travelogue. Also, Ian McKellen (as Sir Leigh Teabing) looks like he is the only one having fun, putting the Da Vinci controversy into perspective for us.

LOWLIGHTS: Hanks and Tautou are credible enough but I can’t help feeling that Howard could have gotten a lot more out of them. The director could have, for example, explore more of their human and vulnerable sides as the two strangers team up to find the ‘truth’. And without enough character background, Bettany (as the albino monk Silas) looks like a villain out of a horror comic book. Another irritating factor is the lack of English translation for the French dialogue.

THE LOWDOWN? Don’t worry about the movie affecting your faith. The controversy over the movie is a godsend boost for the box-office. If anything, it only strengthens my faith that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

POSEIDON goes Popsidedown again

Cast: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum and Jacinda Barrett
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * ½
The passengers seeking a way out of the sinking ship
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? A luxury cruise liner goes ‘Popsidedown’ after it is hit by a huge tidal wave early one New Year’s Day. We follow some of the ship’s passengers who are determined to make it to the top (err, or bottom, actually) of the vessel so that they can be rescued. This is Petersen’s remake of Irwin Allen’s 1972 The Poseidon Adventure which, arguably, launched the disaster movie genre.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Coming from the guy who gave us Das Boot and The Perfect Storm, the sets and f/x are more spectacular than the 1972 original and viewers can be assured of a ‘helluva’ ride. However, Petersen seems to be rushing into the disaster scenario too fast without developing the human angles properly. For example, career gambler Dylan (Lucas), who has been a selfish loner all his life, suddenly transforms into a self-sacrificing hero overnight. What makes him tick?
Russell’s worried father in search of his estranged daughter (Rossum) and her boyfriend (Mike Vogel) is slightly more convincing. But then, considering the thousands of passengers on board, there is nothing very special or tragic about Russell’s Robert Ramsay, except that he is a former fireman and New York mayor. Which explains his courage but does not enhance the emotional impact.

HIGHLIGHTS: It’s New Year’s Eve, see? So the cast are in their tuxes and evening gowns -- which offer an eyeful whenever the ladies have to negotiate their way around tight places. Also, the Biblical connotations of the 1972 version have been expunged, leaving a straightforward disaster plot.

LOWLIGHTS: The long underwater sequences stretch credibility a bit too far. How can those guys hold their breath for so long under such conditions?

THE LOWDOWN? If you have seen the more superior 1972 version, this one is not going to give you nightmares.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

M:I:III Heart-thumping Action all The Way

M:I:3 (Mission: Impossible 3)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Michele Monaghan and Maggie Q
Director: J.J. Abrams
Time: 105 mins

Rating: * * *
Tom Cruise and Michele Monaghan
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? ‘Retired’ IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is engaged to be married to girl-next-door-type Julia (Michele Monaghan) when he is ‘recruited’ into yet another ‘Impossible’ Mission: To rescue his protégé, Agent Lindsey (Keri Russell), from captivity.
But of course, this whole thing is a set-up, ostensibly involving arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is the IMF’s next target. There is something about a Rabbit’s Foot which Ethan must recover – and this takes Ethan and the gang (Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q as Zhen) to Shanghai, China, which is the setting for the movie’s climactic stunt.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Arguably the most heart-thumping of the three Mission: Impossible movies, this sequel is one big action sequence after another. You hardly have time to catch your breath. Putting Ethan’s love life into the fray helps get the audience’s sympathy.
However, it has detoured from its TV roots and adapted a bit for its box-office lure. Incorporating a bit of TV’s Alias and Charlie’s Angels, it has heart-throbs Monaghan and Maggie Q who adds a touch of hot Asian spice to the proceedings.

HIGHLIGHTS: Ethan’s split-second escape from an on-coming missile on a bridge, and the painful sight of a Lamborghini being blown apart.

LOWLIGHTS: The plot can be rather confusing and illogical, especially the part where Ethan ‘turns off’ his life.

AND THE LOWDOWN? Oh well, none of the M:I plots made any sense anyway, but we would still see it for its stunts and extreme action.