Movies, movies, movies… Doctor, I think I'm addicted!

Release date: March 29, 2012
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Wow! My last post was 3 months ago! I must say, maintaining a blog is more difficult than it seems. Between the time that I watched “Wrath of the Titans” and my last review (which was “Drive Angry”), I think I must’ve watched over 10 films and a bunch of DVDs. But I guess January, February and March became immensely busy periods for me. Interestingly, even though I have time to watch a 2-hour film, I couldn’t even spare 10 minutes to put together a review for it. I guess much of the problem I had hovered around the fact that I always had to think hard to give the movie I just watched a 3-sentence summary and at the same time conduct some research about its background. And during these last 3 months, I just wanted to watch something to help me relax~ and so, the reviews were scrapped altogether.

So what I’m trying to say is that I’m changing the format in which I review the movies I watch. Instead of following a structure, I guess I’ll just say what’s on my mind. Less structured in every way~ but for now, it’ll have to do. So anyway, here’s what I think of “Wrath of the Titans”.

In 3 words – I enjoyed it. And probably the reason I did so was because I had low or no expectations whatsoever. When I watched “Clash of the Titans”, there was so much hoo-hah over it and the hype just blew my expectations down the drain. So, all in all, I was expecting a crappy movie. And when I think back~ I think I must’ve mistaken “The Immortals” as the preceeding movie for “Wrath of the Titans”. While watching the opening sequences, I was like… “Wait, I thought Zues and the gods were pricks. Oh wait… that’s the other movie!”. So anyway, after I sorted out the confusion in my head, I began to just enjoy the movie on its own accord.

Story-wise, Wrath of the Titans was okay. Again, I was expecting all action-no story. But, I found some elements worth commending in this film – the concept of a father’s love for his children (as highlighted by Zeus to Perseus, and by Perseus to his son Helius). And, well, I guess the concept of forgiveness (between Zeus and Hades). Anyway, I felt these minor things helped make the movie better. In terms of scenes, I loved the labyrinth – or at least how they executed it to reality. Now… with regards to the supposed climax of the film~ which would be the final battle…. well, that’s another story. I was expecting more out of it. I know it’s supposed to be epic when you fight against enemies which are super big!! But… for some reason, it just felt like Perseus fighting the Kraken… again! I dunno~ it just felt like there wasn’t much of a challenge involved. I’m really used to “boss fights” to be really hard and challenging. This one… just seemed too easy.

All in all, I liked Wrath of the Titans. It was definitely better than John Carter by leaps and bounds. If they came up with a 3rd movie, chances are I’d watch it as well. But would I expect anything better in terms of story~ probably not.

Drive Angry (2011)

Release date: April 21, 2011
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner
Directed by: Patrick Lussier

Milton (Nicholas Cage) escapes from “prison” to find the people who killed his daughter and took his grandchild. Along the way, the fiesty mid-Western girl Piper (Amber Heard) joins Milton to Louisiana, where he has heard that the cult leader has taken his grandchild. Along the way, ruthless cult worshipers attempt to kill Milton… and so the action ensues. But… there is something mysteriously unique about Milton. He bears with him a mystical gun, and a strange man claiming to be part of the FBI, called the Accountant (William Fichtner), is following his trail.

IMDB rated this movie at 5.6 – I personally feel it should’ve been wayyyyy lower. Like a 3 or 4! When I saw the poster, I was like “Wow! A Nicholas Cage movie!”. And the movie title kinda gave me this idea that I was watching something to the caliber of “Gone in 60 Seconds”. But no… instead, it was the complete opposite… and what the movie does is guarantee that you’ll feel angry at yourself for even watching it. Okay, so the movie is supposed to be in the “Fantasy” category. But I somehow feel that they could’ve changed the setting, some of the characters or even how the story was told to make it even more coherent. Sure, Nicholas Cage escaped from hell to protect people who he left behind. I thought it was a good concept to begin with. But the movie was laden with red necks & trailer park trash – who were unrealistically blindly following their laughable cult-leader, unnecessary sex scenes, and a concept that the producers were trying too hard to make “cool” or “deep”. This movie could’ve been really great. The first scene grabbed my attention. But it just went downhill the moment the main antagonist came in. Now, what puzzles me the most was that it had two notable Hollywood actors who probably grabbed a piece of your heart for their wonderful, memorable performances in other movies / drama series – Nicholas Cage and William Fichtner. I was made to believe that despite a weak story, these guys would still provide some worthwhile value to the film. And so, I therefore blame the director… or more probably the writers of this film. They should go back to the drawing board and come back with a better script next time. And by the way, “Drive Angry” is such a terrible title.

Some trivia from IMDB - the coin the Accountant uses throughout the movie is an Obolos, from ancient Greece. In those days, Obolos were placed in a dead man’s hand (or two over his eyelids) by mourners as payment to Charon the Ferryman, who was in charge of crossing souls over river Styx into Hades, the Greek version of Hell. This would support the Accountant’s role as a retriever of lost souls.

Avoid this movie. It’s not even the least entertaining… even for a DVD rental.

War Horse (2011)

Release date: December 29, 2011
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
Directed by: Stephen Spielberg

Albert Narracott’s (Jeremy Irvine) life changes after his father, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) (foolishly) outbids his landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis) at an auction and purchases a unique horse. Hoping to alleviate the family’s debt, Albert takes the responsibility in raising Joey (the horse), and the duo somehow manages to miraculously plow the stony Narracott field. However, despite all efforts, heavy rain destroys the crops and Albert’s father has no choice but to sell Joey to the military. And so, Joey’s adventure begins – playing a part in the English cavalry, and then shifting sides, as part of the transport for the German medical ambulance, then off to the hands of a French family… then back to the hands of the Germans, then back to the hands of the English. And by fate, back to the hands of its original owner, Albert.

IMDB rated this movie at 7.5 – I must commend the excellent cinematography in this film. If you had a remote control that magically allowed you to press “pause” at any point in the movie, you’d be amused to realize that every shot was masterfully created to look like a well-composed painting. I enjoyed the fact that the characters where visually composed in relation to other subjects (other characters, the background, other elements of the story, etc.) – which added an interesting level of artistic depth. In terms of story, it was much a Spielberg movie as touted to be. It’s fascinating to know where Joey ends up… and how it manages to overcome some of the challenges it faced. I appreciated that the characters in the film were not too much stereotypes… and was especially thankful for a particular scene in the film, where the English and Germans worked together in cutting away the barb wire. Out of the countless war stories out there, perhaps such a scenario may have happened to some people in real life. Hence, I really appreciate the scene’s addition to the film.. as it was a fresh breath away from the usual grit and gore of war films. Of all the characters, I enjoyed the French grandfather (Niels Arestrup) the most. Towards the end, I felt that he struck an emotional chord most successfully among all the characters (yes, Joey the horse included).

Some trivia from IMDB – War Horse is based on both a children’s novel of the same name set during World War I, by Michael Morpurgo, first published in the United Kingdom in 1982, and the 2007 stage adaptation, also of the same name.

War Horse is a good movie. Much better in terms of story line compared to Darkest Hour (see previous post). The movie is a story-driven period drama… so be prepared to really sit down and watch through everything. Though the name is “War Horse”, don’t expect too much battle scenes (ala Saving Private Ryan) but instead remember it’s a story about a boy and his horse – and the poster tag lines provide the best possible (and suitable) summary for this film: “Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship.”

The Darkest Hour (2011)

Release date: December 29, 2011
Starring: Emilie Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor
Directed by: Chris Gorak

Sean (Emilie Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) fly all the way to Moscow to present their latest social service, dreaming of making it big – but only find out that their idea has been copied. Disappointed, they head over to the hippest night club and party the night away. There, they meet two other Americans, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor). And then – all the power goes out. Outside, something similar to the aurora borealis lights up the sky and mysterious orbs of energy appear. As the energy spheres approach closer to land, they disappear from sight. A policeman attempts to touch the object… and soon disintegrates! Everyone panics. And later, the 4 end up in the kitchen basement of the club together with the guy who stole their idea… locking themselves in for days. They decide to go out.. and soon discover a post-apocalyptic Moscow, empty of inhabitants.

IMDB rated this movie at 5.4 – I personally think this movie could’ve done better. In the very beginning, it felt like it was going to be an “8″… but as you spend more time with the movie, your rating would drop down and (further) down. Emptying a busy city like Moscow was impressive… or at least giving off that impression that they isolated the place. Likewise, the idea that the mysterious orbs of energy were invisible to everyone added an interesting layer of excitement (for me), anxiety and paranoia. What killed it, for me, was how fabulously quick-witted the non-conformist Sean was in making sense of what was happening, much less being able to single-handedly making statements that everybody just followed. I equally hated one of the characters Skyler, the guy who stole the idea – his presence felt rather unnecessary. I personally felt that weaving his part into the story added no such value. Likewise, I disliked how certain characters made rather illogical decisions (i.e., the submarine was within sights… and despite the group’s ship capsizing, Natalie is the only one who decides NOT to go to the direction of the submarine. I thought she knew what the plan was?!). Anyway, that was just plain senseless to me. And lastly, how it ended. I dunno, it seemed to me that for lack of budget they decided to just film the rest of the scenes on an abandoned Russian warehouse (sounds like an 80′s Eastern European low budget movie to me). How anticlimactic.

Some trivia – Filmed within an estimated budget of $44,000,000, I think the visual effects was pretty alright. I read that filming had to stop for 2 weeks due to some air pollution caused by some heavy smoke from wild fires around Moscow. Despite re-scheduling the film 3 weeks later, smoke still managed to make it into the shots and it had to be digitally removed after (whoa).

Don’t expect to be dazzled by the movie in the same manner that the trailer has. Luckily, there were still a number of shots and situations that helped the movie win some brownie points. And of course, without these, it could’ve easily slipped into the B-movie category. Watch at your own risk… if you want to be entertained, go ahead. I stick with IMDB’s 5.4 rating.

Black Swan (2010)

Release date: December 17, 2010
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Black Swan follows New Yorker ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she wins the lead role for the “Swan Lake”. Director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) attempts to reinvent the Swan Lake by stating that the lead role needs to be both the White and Black Swan. He pushes Nina the perfectionist to “lose herself” in her performance, sometimes through, ehem, unconventional means. Through the film, she perceives a sense of competition from her fellow company dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) until the point that she loses her mind and eventually transforms into the Black Swan and everything it embodies.

IMDB rated this movie at 8.3 – sure. It was different from the usual blockbuster films and approaches it in a more personal manner (i.e., close-up shots, characters having personal moments, facing the mirror, etc.). From the very beginning I felt Natalie Portman’s character was weird… and the entire environment she lived in together with the pressure being at the top spot of her ballet company seemed to play a part in her dementia. But that said, I equally felt that these elements all played a part in her ultimate transformation to womanhood and I appreciated how the performance somewhat mirrored her own life.

In the Black Swan, every scene seems to have mirrors or reflective surfaces – possibly there to convey Nina’s split personalities. Interestingly, the movie also has several motifs of swans – inside Nina’s bathroom, Thomas’ office, etc – which I found

A good movie~ it makes you think… in an artistic sense – on how Nina essentially lived her fantasy and how the movie director created an interesting parallel between Nina and the performance. But it’s something that I probably wouldn’t sleep over ‘coz it made an impact in my life.

Release date: December 11, 2009
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Directed by: Client Eastwood

Invictus is a story set in South Africa, sometime in the mid-1990′s, shortly after Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) was elected president. He tries to unify South Africa’s citizens shortly after the Apartheid was lifted. In the film, he takes interest in the national rugby team, the Springboks, lead by captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) – and encourages him to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela envisioned the Springboks as a catalyst to unite the country and help its citizens aspire for greatness.

IMDB rated this movie at 7.4 – and I agree. This is the 2nd Clint Eastwood movie I’ve watched and I enjoyed the movie a lot – I enjoyed Morgan Freeman’s performance as Nelson Mandela and I equally found Matt Damon’s performance was very believable. What I appreciate most about the movie was its angle in communicating that a sport is a means of uniting a county. From what I’ve observed with South Koreans and the World Cup, I found this to be very true.

In Invictus, there was a scene that an airplane flew over the stadium to the shock of Mandela’s security personnel. This actually happened in 1995  - but in reality, everyone was actually briefed on this stunt and the plane even flew twice above the stadium.

Go watch this movie!

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

Release date: December 22, 2011
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones
Directed by: Cameron Crowe

When adventure-writer Benjamin Mee’s (Matt Damon) wife passes away, he tries to start life over by moving to a new house. He searches through an array of houses only to be disappointed. That’s until he stumbles on a remote house at the far end of the city. There’s a catch though… it’s a zoo. And so, he takes his son Dylan (Colin Ford) and daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and begins to manage the zoo with the help of Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) and the other existing staff of the zoo. As it turns out, the zoo is ridden with problems and its sheer maintenance eats in to his personal finances. In addition to the rising expenses, Benjamin Mee battles with day-to-day operations as well as keeping up to the zoo inspector’s requirements (failure to comply would result to preventing the zoo from opening).

IMDB rated this movie at 7.1 – sure. I’d probably rate it much higher at 8, especially for its category. It’s been a while since we’ve had a story-driven movie in the cinemas and a true story at that. I found Matt Damon’s fatherly depiction of Benjamin Mee rather convincing (I was actually wondering if he had intentionally bulked-up his figure for this role). Maggie Elizabeth Jones’ character was quite endearing…. but not so much towards the end of the film, in my opinion. By the time the movie ended, it felt a bit overdone. I appreciated how the emotional difficulties of Matt Damon’s character (with regards to his wife) was somewhat projected towards his indecision to apply euthanasia on the tiger. It was an interesting parallelism.

Some interesting trivia – the movie was depicted to have happened in the United States… but the zoo actually exists in Devon, England – and is called Dartmoor Zoological Park. In the film, the film showed that a grizzly bear had escaped. In reality, it was actually a jaguar that escaped. One of the reasons the director had opted for a bear instead of a jaguar was because jaguars are far more dangerous to film than bears. And, as the real story goes, the jaguar escaped from its enclosure… and found itself inside the tiger’s area. The real Benjamin Mee shared that the jaguar tried to attack the tiger, but the tiger swiped the jaguar’s face (kaboom!) – essentially discouraging the jaguar from any more attempts. Oh~ last piece of trivia… towards the end of the film, when the zoo finally opens, after Matt Damon and the group climbs over the tree, the real Benjamin Mee, Dylan Mee and Rosie Mee are actually in the film. They’re the first family in line!

It’s a good family movie ~ and I recommend watching it. I find the situations to be grounded in reality and it’s a good story for families. Would I watch it a second time… hmmmm… I dunno. After watching it, I’d probably wait a while before deciding to watch it again.

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