Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flashpoint

Once again, kung fu legend Donnie Yen (Hero) and director Wilson Yip (SPL) team up for a second collaboration. Unfortunately, while th film made me discover Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), I thought that the film missed something in the script. Of course, the film is entertaining, but when you're past the half part of the film, the story starts to look more and more like a Western taking place in a society where there's no law. Anyway, SPL was way better than this as far as I'm concerned.

Detective Ma (Donnie Yen) has a partner, Wilson (Louis Koo), who went undercover in Hong Kong's most ruthless crime syndicate. As many evidences are gathered against this crime syndicate, other witnesses and Wilson are to testify in courts so that the criminals can be imprisoned. Unfortunately, these "evidences" are destroyed as Wilson is the only witness alive. In order to protect his partner, Det. Ma decides to personally take down the crime syndicate.

Although the film is not that bad, the problem that it has is that it's trying to do so many things at the same time. Hence, the feeling that the script is somehow incomplete although it has a lot of potential. For instance, while the movie's pace is a little bit slow at the beginning, Flashpoint seems to explore a rather interesting avenue: 1) Det. Ma's lack of qualms to beat criminals to a pulp to crack his cases and 2) his superiors' reservations for these kind of methods even though they admire Ma for being the cop with the most complete investigations in Hong Kong. As we see it, this is the reason why Ma is summoned before a discipline committee at the beginning of the film.

However, as we're in Flashpoint's captivating second half, the scriptwriters didn't elaborate that much on what the main characters think about police ethics. In fact, as many witnesses - who are to testify in a trial against a member of the crime syndicate - die, the scriptwriters are more preoccupied to display Ma's obvious desire to personally take down the crime syndicate. Nonetheless, at that point, we wonder if Det. Ma still believes in traditional justice, that is gathering evidences (through witnesses) to imprison criminals. Therefore, this film doesn't have the dramatic tension that you found in The Dark Knight in which the characters test their belief in traditional justice versus vigilantism.

While he's not necessarily an incompetent director, Wilson Yip (SPL) approaches the story only to focus on Flashpoint's entertaining nature. In fact, in the movie's second half, the storyline ceases to develop the tough relation between Ma and his superiors. Secondly, we don't get to know that much about Ma's superiors ambivalent attitude toward him. Anyway, that's what happens when your dialogues are thin and your story is more action-driven than character-driven.

Finally, for all that's right about the film, the performance by the cast is rather okay - given that the script needed a little bit more development - and the fight scenes will amaze you. No wonder choreographer Donnie Yen won this year's Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Action Choreography! All in all, if you leave aside these elements, Flashpoint is just one of those movies that could have been a little bit better. By the way, the final fight between Donnie Yen and Collin Chou is probably one of the best fights I've ever seen.

Rating: 2.5/5


Flashpoint
Hong Kong (2007)
Length: 88 minutes
Genre: Police drama
Screenplay: Tang Lik-Kei et Szeto Kam-Yuen
Director: Wilson Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Collin Chou and Louis Koo

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Spirit

Here's one friendly advice: avoid this film - unless you like action scenes - and watch Sin City instead. While Frank Miller wanted us to enjoy this The Spirit, he, in this case, seems to be taking viewers for idiots. In fact, although the movie pretends that it has a story, it will make you laugh mostly because of its uninteresting characters. Too bad that it isn't as good as the trailer would like to make you believe given that the movie is shot mostly on green screen!

Based on a comic book strip by Will Eisner, the story is about Denny Colt, a dead police officer who was "resurrected". Now known as "the Spirit" with his eye-mask and his red tie, he "spies" for the policemen so that Central City can be a cleaner city. However, he has one desire/obsession, that is to kill The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a criminal who wants to get hold of a vase containing Heracles' blood, which gives immortality to anyone who drinks it.

Make no mistake, this is the kind of movie that you should avoid even though the film uses more or less the same filming techniques than Sin City. In fact, there's certainly a premise that the movie exploits, that is the Spirit's desire to kill The Octopus. However, each of the main characters seem to be a mere ornament. This means that they're extremely stereotyped and one-dimensional. Moreover, their presence is only a way for Miller to have fun shooting action scenes and making an eye-candy film through its impressive gallery of beautiful actresses (Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson and Stana Katic).

Obviously, although The Spirit is visually stunning without being as gritty as Sin City, it just has an extremely weak dramatic value. For instance, the character of Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) appears shortly without being of much use to the story. Given the lack of dramatic interest that the movie generates, we can say that for most actors, their performance (i.e. their character's attitude) oddly seems to remain the same during all the film. The only actor who tries to stand out from the rest of the cast is Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), but his character (who almost changes costumes as much as Canadian singer Nathalie Choquette does in her shows), doesn't remind you of what you probably saw in Pulp Fiction.

With that said, the problem with The Spirit, is the fact that the cast - despite its obvious enthusiasm at work - doesn't have characters who have nuances in their psyche. As if it wasn't enough, when there's no action scenes, the film gets so dull! With that said, despite being entertaining thanks to its action scenes, The Spirit's story is simply pathetic. Add to that the long periods, disconnected scenes and mindless dialogues. If you want to make a "nice investment", just avoid this film unless you like stories involving a good guy running after a bad guy without many elaborated reasons.

Rating: 2/5


The Spirit
USA (2008)
Length: 103 minutes
Genre: Action drama
Screenplay: Frank Miller
Director: Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson and Stana Katic

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Changeling

The film Changeling may not be Clint Eastwood's (Mystic River) best directorial achievement because of some loopholes in the script. However, one shouldn't be dismayed by the performance given by the cast. Besides, after she starred in so many questionable flicks, it was - pardon my language - bloody time that Angelina Jolie was offered a role allowing her to showcase her talent.

Based on a true story, Changeling takes place in Los Angeles in 1928. On March, 10, Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother, reports the disappearance of her son Walter after she returns home from work. After five months of investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Capt. J.J. Jones and Chief James E. Davies affirm to Christine that her son was found and a reunion will be organized with the presence of the press. However, as Christine expresses more and more her conviction that the boy is categorically not her son (i.e. three inches shorter and circumcision), she looks for the help of Gustav Briegleb, a preacher with a radio show who wants to expose the LAPD's corruption. Besides using the newspapers to label Christine's negligence of her "son", the LAPD also throws Christine in an asylum because another investigation shows that Walter might still be missing.

Obviously, the script shows Eastwood's knack for unearthing good stories. Unfortunately, the storyline suffers from scriptwriter J. Michael Straczynski's historical bias, so to speak, toward the LAPD. While we get to know about Capt. J.J. Jones' desire to throw Christine in an asylum through what his words suggest during a trial, the movie doesn't explore thoroughly the 5 months investigation. Sure, we know that the young boy brought to Los Angeles from De Kalb, Illinois, is definitely not Christine's son, but the movie doesn't explore the LAPD's perspective to answer this question: why was the investigation so sloppy given the look on Capt. J.J. Jones' face on the day when the young boy is "brought" back to Christine?

In the end, speaking about that investigation, viewers are only left with things that revolve around Christine and Detective Lester Ybarra, a LAPD officer who believes her and who's impeccably played by Michael Kelly (Generation Kill). Thus, Changeling will probably not win (nor be nominated for) the Academy Award for best movie because of this minor flaw in the script: the one-sided portrayal of the corruption that is sullying the LAPD.

Despite that, Angelina Jolie performance seemed well to me given that she has, most of the time, starred in questionable films over the last - let's say - ten years. However, just like Norma, I hardly think that Jolie is the appropriate person to play her character, because the real Christine Collins wasn't that beautiful if you look into the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Database. Nonetheless, Jolie deserves recognition for her work and she's well supported by other members of the cast, especially Michael Kelly and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), who plays a fellow inmate.

Finally, Changeling is a rather effective drama from Eastwood, as a director. In fact, analogically, if wine gets better by ageing, Eastwood, on the other hand, seems to always be able to astonish us as time goes by. However, this film is certainly not perfect. Besides, if this film doesn't get at least some Academy Award nominations concerning some cast members' performance, then Eastwood can accuse the Academy of robbing him.

Rating: 3.5/5


Changeling
USA (2008)
Length: 141 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Screenplay: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich, Michael Kelly, Colm Feore and Amy Ryan

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nitro

Along with movies like The Art of War or Passchendaele, this film is an attempt by Canadian movie makers to play more and more in sandlots usually reserved to Americans, some wealthy European countries (ex: France and the UK) and some Asian countries. While the entertainment factor makes us forget how small the movie's budget was, Nitro's script is not exempted of flaws. Nevertheless, this film is a The Fast and the Furious with a minimum of brain thanks to its slightly unpredictable story.

Max (Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge), a former street racer, is a construction worker who now lives with his wife Alice and their son Théo. When Alice (Myriam Tallard) needs a heart and that one is not available, Max is willing to do anything to save her. At that point, he gets back in touch with his troubled past by seeing the Lawyer (Martin Matte), a crime boss who promised him that he'll have a heart in 48 hours, and afterwards, Max seeks the help of Morgane (Lucie Laurier), a former street racer (turned into a professional racer) that he once loved.

Although the idea behind the script makes Nitro a little bit more interesting than the movies from the series The Fast and the Furious. Unfortunately, the problem that the script has, it's the incoherence of many situations that only seem to be there to speed things up in the evolution of the storyline. Obviously, one wouldn't complain about the quick pace of Nitro. Nonetheless, with many sequences of car chases and parkour, one wonder how can a heart (kept in a backpack with ice bags) be in such a good state?

Despite that flaw, the performance by the cast - which is simple - keeps us even more in the film. Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge's (Le matou) charisma makes him a sympathetic hero (despite what he does) at the point that you absolutely believe in his race against the clock. Lucie Laurier (La grande séduction) elegantly adds some attitude to the film given that she's normally seen in movies as a very nice woman.

Finally, Nitro shouldn't dismay you too much thanks to its action sequences. However, as Canada produces more and more action movies, our movie makers must understand the importance to make a script that has sense rather than acting like an excited teenager (who has sixteen years old) driving a Porsche (or any other prestigious car) and who crashed it. Besides the action scenes, the performance of most members of the cast should please you.

Rating: 3/5


Nitro
Canada (2007)
Length: 106 minutes
Genre: Action drama
Screenplay: Benoît Guichard
Director: Alain Desrochers
Starring: Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, Lucie Laurier, Martin Matte, Myriam Tallard

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mon oncle Antoine

Just like my fellow Canuck Norma, I've also heard about Mon oncle Antoine. However, I heard about it in a cinema class when I was in Grade 7. Although I found the movie a little bit boring (i.e. slow pace), I still objectively believe that Mon oncle Antoine is good, but doesn't necessarily deserve to be called the best Canadian film ever made. So to be honest with you, I just watched this movie out of curiosity.

In the 1940s: In a small mining village of Quebec, Benoît (Jacques Gagnon) works at his uncle's general store. On the eve of Christmas, many villagers gather in the general store to socialize. Through these people, Benoît will try to make a transition between teenagehood and adulthood despite not being an adult yet. On the other hand, we also follow Jos Poulin, a mine worker, who can't stand the fact that the area's economy is controlled by American and English Canadians.

If you have enough patience to watch it, you'll be seduced by this film simple storyline. Although the film doesn't give many details through dialogues and its story's evolution, it's amazing how characters are canvassed through few things. With few details, the movie displays its hidden depth and also most of the characters' back stories: how they feel about life, their joy and even their personal misery. Besides, with these hidden details, we witness Benoît's maturation and Jos Poulin's problem with Anglo-Saxon economic authority and power (and his way to deal with it). However, despite being considered as one of the best Canadian films ever made, the movie focuses on too much stories (do you consider two stories too much?). In fact, the scriptwriter could have chosen to only focus on either Benoît's coming of age or Jos Poulin's miserable life. Moreover, add to that the long periods at the beginning and in the middle of the movie.

Finally, despite the flaws you may find to it, Mon oncle Antoine still remains a movie that you should watch if you're curious about Canadian classics. However, as a movie that doesn't necessarily focus on a specific story (but rather through the daily life of its characters), I just don't think that it is as entertaining (don't expect too much from the National Film Board) as Falling Angels. Hopefully, if the story is not that great (because of the long periods), the cast's modest performance (especially from Jacques Gagnon and Lionel Villeneuve) makes up for it.

Rating: 3.5/5


Mon oncle Antoine
Canada (1971)
Length: 104 minutes
Genre: Drama
Scriptwriter: Claude Jutra and Clément Perron
Director: Claude Jutra
Starring: Jacques Gagnon, Jean Duceppe, Lyne Champagne, Olivette Thibault, Hélène Loiselle, Monique Mercure, Lionel Villeneuve and Claude Jutra

Friday, December 12, 2008

Transporter 3

Seriously, French director/writer Luc Besson should be ashamed of this film. For someone who once had a relatively solid reputation, he's becoming too "Hollywooded" as time goes by. In short, Transporter 3 is just a movie with a thin script that would just make you want to watch it only for the action scenes if you just watch movies for entertainment. If you're looking for some serious action movies, just skip this one.

An "environmental" corporation that wants to do business in Ukraine abducts Valentina (Natalia Rudakova), the daughter of the Ukrainian minister of Environment (Jeroen Krabbe). Afterwards, Frank Martin (Jason Statham), a professional "transporter", is pressured by that same corporation to transport Valentina from Marseilles to Odessa, in Ukraine, on the day when Ukraine's Environment minister signs a deal with the corporation. Besides, to make sure that Frank fulfils his mission, Mr. Johnson, the boss of the corporation, locks a bracelet on Frank's wrist. If Frank steps 75 feet away from his car, he'll explode.

I haven't seen the Transporter 2, but all I can say is that this film shows many signs of a much more exhausted franchise. Besides, the first movie had the merit of having a few flesh around the script. In this case, the extremely thin storyline is a deplorable excuse to pile up as much action scenes as possible. Therefore, Transporter 3 dully focuses, during most of the running time, on Frank's mission/trip across Europe: what's he's told to do, a few action sequences here and there, and ultimately a load of bland and pre-fabricated dialogues.

While the film tries to entertain us, it lamentably fails to give itself any credibility at the end. In fact, the love story between Frank and Valentina seems too contrived and you could see it coming from many kilometres away! Which makes me wonder if scriptwriters Besson and Kamen (Kiss of the Dragon) wanted to throw at us this corny love story just to give us the feeling that something is happening after all these dangerous situations involving the two main characters. Anyway, this is the last thing Transporter 3's script needed, because halfway through the film, we just don't know that much why Frank has reservations about his missions and his speech about not getting emotionally involved in his missions looks more like a made-up tape.

Finally, if you're looking for a good action film, just don't waste your time with this one. After all, Transporter 3 is just a forgettable film that only tries to take your breath away with its countless action scenes that serve no purpose. Besides, add to that the very simplistic performance by the cast.

Rating: 1/5


Transporter 3
France (2008)
Length: 100 minutes
Genre: Action
Screenplay: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Director: Olivier Megaton
Starring: Jason Statham, Natalya Rudakova, François Berléand, Robert Knepper and Jeroen Krabbé

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Falling Angels

Haven't not read the novel from Barbara Gowdy, it's sure that there are things that I couldn't get about the movie. Nonetheless, while I'm not a big fan of independent movies mostly because of their slow pace, I'll still recommend it to anyone who is willing to try something different from mainstream movies. Moreover, if you appreciate good performance, Falling Angels shouldn't disappoint you.

Set in 1969, the story follows three sisters coming of age, who a part of a dysfunctional suburban family that has a bomb shelter in their backyard. Lou (Katharine Isabelle) rebels against her tyrannic father (Callum Keith Rennie), Jim, and even decides to try LSD (without developing an addiction for it) with her boyfriend. Sandy (Kristin Adams) is looking forward to become a perfect mom. Norma (Monté Gagné) is obsessed with the death of her brother and doesn't feel well because of her bad look despite being good in trade skills.

While many may not like this film, Falling Angels has the merit of trying to offer a different kind of movie experience. In fact, the movie doesn't seem to have a story per se that follows a leading premise. In other words, we get the feeling that this film is like one of those documentaries from the National Film Board of Canada that follows the life of an average family. Despite that, that gives, in my opinion, to scriptwriter Esta Spalding (The Republic of Love) the occasion to built a simple character-driven story that focuses on their relation between each other. Add to this a focus on how each of the main characters react to what characterizes the 1960s: Cold War, sexual revolution, drugs and feminism.

All in all, watching this movie is like watching The Osbournes (PS: I never watched it, but I know what it is).

However, if the three girls' relation with their oppressive father and their views on feminism are well shown, there are few things that could have been developed a little bit more. In fact, although the character of Norma may not be the most interesting of all the three sisters, Spalding could have seized the occasion to bring us further into Norma's ambiguous fascination for (and also her friendship with) Stella (Ingrid Nelson), a blond girl that Norma seems to envy for her looks. After all, if Norma hypothetically represses her lesbianism, anyone would certainly like to know how she tries to deal with it given that the movie takes place in the 1960s, a period of "rebellion" against social conformism.

Finally, without being the best Canadian movie ever, Falling Angels is definitely a cute movie with its share of dramatic and humorous moments about a suburban family that tries to deal with its own problems and keep up the appearances for honour's sake. Although some aspects of the script are thin, Falling Angels is nonetheless well served by the well-chosen cast performance. To that matter, kudos to Callum Keith Rennie (H2O), as a father who firmly believes that the man should always dominate the roost, and Katherine Isabelle (The Englishman's Boy), as a girl who staunchly questions that belief.

Rating: 3.5/5


Falling Angels
Canada (2003)
Length: 100 minutes
Genre: Dramatic comedy
Screenplay: Esta Spalding
Director: Scott Smith
Starring: Miranda Richardson, Callum Keith Rennie, Katherine Isabelle, Kristin Adams, Monté Gagné and Ingrid Nilson

Monday, December 8, 2008

Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is one of those war movies that I enjoyed watching when I was in high school. In fact, I even saw it as a blueprint for making war movies. As I got older, I still like this film and I'll watch it again just for the depiction of the Normandy landings at the beginning. Nonetheless, this doesn't mean that the film is exempted of flaws.

After he took part to the Normandy landings (in the Omaha sector) as an American ranger, Captain John Miller receives another mission. With seven other men, Miller must find a soldier from the 101st Airborne Division called James Francis Ryan and escort him until he's brought back to the USA. Besides, Ryan must be brought back home, because three of his brothers were killed at war.

You'll certainly remember this movie for its intense depiction of the Normandy landings at the beginning. In a moment that nearly last for half an hour, Spielberg does combine an excellent cinematography and a stunning editing that doesn't spare us from the horrors of war. Aside from its intense action scenes, Saving Private Ryan has a rather conventional script about courage and sacrifice that shouldn't dismay anyone. In fact, unlike war films like Pearl Harbor or Passchendaele, this film has the merit of actually focusing on a specific thing, which is the mission of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). Add to that the fact that movie centres on Miller's squad. Therefore, don't expect to see a rather complex story in this film. In fact, between two action scenes, it's surprising that the script does minimally develop the main characters. Therefore, it even allows us to see how these characters feel about war and also the mission itself without being stereotyped.

Secondly, although there's no actor that stands out from the cast, let's admit that its performance is uniformly impeccable. Some will say that this movie doesn't represent Tom Hanks' most intense performance up to date, but he does a very good job in leading all the cast. Besides, he's very well supported by his colleagues whether it's Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper or Jeremy Davies, for instance.

Finally, anyone who likes war movies should be pleased by this film. However, there were times when I found that the movie was a little bit too long, which were the scenes the character-building scenes. Nonetheless, Saving Private Ryan is still a good entertainment. Enough said, just enjoy the film!

Rating: 4/5


Saving Private Ryan
USA (1998)
Length: 169 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay:
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper and Tom Sizemore

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quantum of Solace

As a die-hard fan of James Bond, I thought that I would get to see a movie that unashamedly tries to be as serious as any Oscar contenders. After all, wasn't Casino Royale a critical and public success worldwide? The truth is after one year of waiting, Quantum of Solace turns out to be a joke (not that I laughed while watching the film). All in all, if you're in for gunfights and explosions, then this will certainly be your cup of tea.

The film continues where Casino Royale left off. While he's thinking about avenging the death of his girlfriend Vesper, James Bond (Daniel Craig) has to track an organization that seems to be everywhere. This leads him to Dominic Greene, a business man, who wants to topple the Bolivian government (with the help of the CIA) in order to bring to power general Medrano. In fact, by doing it, Greene wants to be assured that he can control Bolivia's water. However, as Bond's mission goes on, he'll ally with Camille, an agent who wants to avenge the death of her parents at the hands of general Medrano.

While Casino Royale contained a few good surprises, Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, obeys too much to the old formula of the franchise. With that said, we're left with a storyline that blandly evolves through different levels: Bond finds something, goes after it and kills people. That's it. That's all. However, while we look at the final version, this formula was brought to an unfathomable peak of ugliness.

Therefore, any exploitation of a premise literally seems to be absent from the movie. In fact, between two explosive action scenes, the development of Bond is unfortunately one-dimensional. So, director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) can say whatever he wants, but his minimalist approach doesn't work, because neither the extremely thin dialogues nor the over-abundance of action scenes manage to convey with nuances Bond's inner feelings. Besides, add to that Forster bad directing which makes Daniel Craig (Munich) unable to express Bond's inner feelings through his poker face (no play on words intended).

With that said, the only thing that seemed to count for the three scriptwriters were the action scenes. If you want to judge the movie's bright side, at least, you'll be satisfied to see that Daniel Craig is in a better shape than ever. To that matter, Roger Moore (The Spy who Loved Me) wasn't wrong when he said that involving ourself in an action sequence of a James Bond movie is exhausting (and dangerous)!

While Daniel Craig doesn't have much margin of manoeuvre in this film to showcase his real talent, Olga Kurylenko (Hitman) surprised me at the end when we saw the fear in the eyes of Camille when she faces (and even after it) general Medrano. Unfortunately, the script doesn't place a smart emphasis on the ambiguousness of Kurylenko's character. As for French actor Mathieu Almaric (Munich), although he's trying to be near the character of Auric Goldfinger (who was played by Gert Frobe), I wasn't really convinced that he plays the bad guy. Of all the actors, only Judi Dench (Die Another Day), as M, seemed to be the only character who can display feelings.

Finally, Quantum of Solace, as a movie, displays the symptoms of a franchise that inadvertently came back to its bad habits inherited from the Brosnan era (starting with Tomorrow Never Dies): focus on the action scenes and few (if not none at all) attention to the dramatic aspect. Although this film shamefully surfes on the prior success of Casino Royale, it still remains a must if you're only in for the action scenes. However, it's not because a film has a lot of action that it's smart. Above all, if you like James Bond movies, just watch it and judge it for yourself. Moreover, since when does James Bond refuses to say "My name is Bond, James Bond" in a movie?!?!? I want my money back! Ok, I forgot to tell you that I had a ticket that gave me the right to see this film for free.

Rating: 2.5/5


Quantum of Solace
UK/USA (2008)
Length: 104 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric, Judi Dench and Gemma Arterton

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