Category Archives: Rating: 1-1.75 stars

Movie Review: New York, I Love You (2009)

I just went to see a screening of New York, I Love You, a collection of 10 short films masquerading as a full-length feature.  Despite having one of the most amazing ensemble casts ever, it was no good.  No good at all.

New York, I Love You comes to us from the producers of the French film Paris, je t’aime (ie “Paris, I Love You”) and has basically the same concept.  All stories take place in the city of New York, and each one is about love, or the search for love (which is often confused for sex).  Apart from that, they are entirely different and standalone pieces, even though it is put together as though it is a single film.  Characters from one story might make a cameo in another every now and then — and there’s one character, a girl who walks around New York carrying a video camera, that I suppose links the pieces together — but there’s absolutely no connection between the stories.

You can’t discuss this movie without talking about the actors that make up the ensemble cast.  Just off the top of my head, there was: Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Bradley Cooper, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Christina Ricci, Julie Christie, James Caan, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, Jacinda Barrett, Maggie Q and Shu Qi.  Brett Ratner directed one of the stories and Natalie Portman wrote and directed another.

I guess the whole point of New York, I Love You was to show off New York as a city, and to make some sort of general comment about the “moments” and “connections” people make, whether it is with a completely random stranger or with someone you’ve been with for 60 years.

Needless to say, I struggled with this movie.  Putting aside that I did not know it was really a collection of short films as opposed to a segmented narrative (eg Love Actually, Crash, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentines Day), many of the stories didn’t work for me.

That’s what happens when you combine what is essentially 10 films written and directed by different people.  There is no consistency in the style or the tone or the feel of each one (for instance, some stories used internal dialogue; another had a narrator).  More importantly, many of the situations and much of the dialogue felt contrived.  It was very uncomfortable watching something you know is trying to manipulate your emotions in a hurry because it only has 10 minutes in which to do it.  I often found myself shaking my head wondering who on the planet reacts and talks like that to random strangers!

The short films all certainly had a lot of style — with the pretty shots, arty imagery and poetic chit chat — but there was rarely enough substance to establish an emotional connection.  And besides, even if you did connect with a particular character, you may never see them again anyway.

Individually, some of the stories were pretty good, witty and insightful.  My favourite one was a short conversation between Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q.  A couple of others, the one with Anton Yelchin and the one with the old couple, were decent.  However, not all of them hit the mark.  One or two were actually quite boring or irritating.  And the worst part about this being a collection of short films is that about half of them (or more) had a twist ending.  Usually one or two in a film is fine, but when it keeps happening over and over, it can start to get a bit tedious.

I would have very much preferred it had they simply presented the movie as 10 short films written and directed by different people, and broken them up accordingly without trying to force an unnecessary link between them.  Knowing when one short story ended and another began would have helped me reset and watch the next one with a clean slate.  Instead, the “combined” collection we ended up with felt uneven, disjointed and lacking in direction.

New York, I Love You is technically sound, shows New York in a nice light, and features an amazing cast — but so what?  It wasn’t enjoyable and that’s all that mattered in the end.

1.5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Spy Next Door (2010)

Growing up, Jackie Chan was one of my movie heroes.  His innovative and comedic action flicks, especially the old Hong Kong classics when he was in his prime, are amongst my favourites of all time.  Which is why it was so upsetting for me to watch his latest, The Spy Next Door.

In this stereotypical, The Pacifier-style set up, Chan plays Bob (horrible name — I loved the old films where he was just called “Jackie”), an undercover superspy who has to look after some bratty little kids belonging to his squeeze, played by Amber Valletta.  I have no idea how this happened, but Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez both somehow found themselves on the cast.

Jackie Chan is old.  He has just turned 56, and it showed in The Spy Next Door.  It showed so much it was depressing.  Not only the way he looked (the hair just about killed me), but also the way he moved.  While Jackie still impresses for a man of his age, especially in a few slapstick-style fight scenes where he bounced around like a monkey, he’s a few steps slower and a lot less agile than the man I grew up idolizing.  I’m not even sure if he does his own stunts anymore.  To be honest I’m pretty sure it’s not all him doing those moves.

While it’s unfair to expect Jackie Chan to turn back time, it’s absolutely fair to slag the rest of the film, which is repetitive, annoying, and frankly, very unfunny.  Jackie still has charm, but the script is so lacking he’s essentially handcuffed.  And there’s no Chris Tucker to bail him out this time.

I know The Spy Next Door is targeted almost entirely at children, and particularly young children, but even as such, it’s terrible.

Come on Jackie.  You may be unable to move like you used to, but that shouldn’t mean you have to be stuck doing films like this.

1.5 stars out of 5!

2009 DVD Blitz!

I had initially planned on doing separate reviews for all of these DVDs I watched over the last couple of weeks, but I decided it was wasting too much of my life.  I need to focus on my studies and my novels more, and less on blogging.

Maybe I’ll eventually get around to reviewing them in full on 7Tavern.  But for now, here are some brief reviews.

The Taking of Pelham 123

I expected a bit of a stinker and my expectations were fulfilled. John Travolta was a shocker in this one (simply swearing a lot doesn’t make a villain cool or menacing or interesting), and Denzel feels the same as always. There were a couple of decent moments and flashes of excitement that prevented the film from being a total disaster, but on the whole this was one to forget.

2 out of 5

Never Back Down

Teenage mixed martial arts movie with all the expected crap that comes with it – average acting, bad dialogue and predictable flow. Good fight scenes though. Cam Gigandet’s evil smile reminded me of a chiseled Hayden Christensen.

2 out of 5

Redbelt

I was getting my MMA fix.  Hard hitting, both physically and emotionally, in true Mamet-style. For once a martial arts film that deals with more than just punching and kicking. Keeps you wondering where it would take you next. Awesome.

4 out of 5

Whatever Works

Look, it’s not a bad film. It’s just that Larry David is annoying enough for half an hour on Curb, so Larry David for 92 minutes straight gets a bit…

And it’s hard to ignore the fact that the movie is written and directed by Woody Allen, and surprise surprise, it’s about the relationship between a misunderstood old man and a girl that is far too young to be married to him. Thankfully, it’s not his daughter. 

2.5 out of 5

The Hangover

Maybe I expected too much. The Hangover is pretty good but not as gut-bustingly hilarious as I thought it would be. That said, it could have been way worse. Ken Jeong is an absolute classic.

3 out of 5

Lost Boys: The Tribe

Long awaited sequel to the 87 classic went pretty much according to script. B-grade all the way, but that doesn’t mean it was destined to be crap. I liked the tongue-in-cheek moments but there was too much serious stuff mixed in there which made it uneven. It could have been worse, I suppose.  RIP Corey Haim.

2 out 5

Michael Clayton

Oozes class all the way through. A tremendous opening sequence, an intriguing plot, and handled with style and precision. A well-made, gripping thriller.

4 out of 5

Fool’s Gold

Should have been simply titled “Fools”. Horrible plot (where is the adventure? People sit around, talk, and figure out where the treasure is?), annoying characters, and action without excitement. And it’s 110 minutes! And the ultimate killer blow? Matthew McConaughey.

1.5 out of 5

Did I mention I’ve been kinda busy lately?

Late addition – can’t believe I saw this film but totally forgot about it!

Vantage Point

Pretty clever idea and a great cast, but unfortunately they didn’t nail it. Despite the gimmick, in the end it turned out to be a rather pedestrian thriller plot. That said, there were some exciting scenes and at 90 minutes, the film didn’t outstay its welcome.

3 out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolfman (2010)

Argh!

Talk about a massive disappointment.

The Wolfman (the film not the man) is a ‘remake’ of the 1941 classic horror movie (which I haven’t seen), and had been on my ‘must-see’ list for quite some time.  I’ve always been a sucker for monster movies and this one looked highly promising.

Ponder the following:

  • a classic werewolf storyline (let’s not pretend there’s any surprises here);
  • 2010 make-up and prosthetics skills combined with the latest special effects technology;
  • Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro, Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins, Golden Globe nominee/winner Emily Blunt, and freaking Mr Smith/Elrond (Hugo Weaving)! and
  • script by Andrew Kevin Walker, who worked on Seven and Sleepy Hollow (plus uncredited rewrites of Stir of Echoes and Fight Club!).

There was no way this film could not be awesome.  Or so I thought.

Even when I heard that The Wolfman received lukewarm reviews, I was convinced the critics were wrong.

Well, they were right.  It’s still early, but there is a good chance The Wolfman will be my biggest disappointment of 2010.

It’s difficult to know where to begin. The Wolfman‘s biggest problem is that it’s not scary.  Not one bit.  All the elements were there – the full moon, the shadows, the misty woods, and even the growls – but there was zero tension.  Not having seen the 1941 original, I can’t say whether this was supposed to be a tribute or a ‘re-envisioning’, but The Wolfman felt like a cheesy, unintentionally comical mess.  I couldn’t decide whether it was trying to take itself seriously or be tongue-in-cheek with the over-the-top blood and violence.

The pace was all stuffed up (when a 102 minute film feels both too long AND rushed at the same time, you know there’s a problem) and the script was utterly predictable all the way to the end.  Even the music didn’t fit.  Worst of all, the special effects and make-up were sub-par.  The CGI buildings and scenery were good, the morphing process were decent, but the post-transformation scenes made me think I was watching a pissed-off Chewbacca on acid.  While there may be excuses for all the other problems, there’s no excuse for for this in a production of this magnitude.  Not in 2010.

I should have known the film was in trouble when Benicio Del Toro (one of my faves) appeared on screen sporting the worst haircut since ‘The Hanks Disaster’ from The Da Vinci Code.  When I heard Del Toro was cast in the lead role, I thought, “Great choice!  They’ll hardly have to use any make-up!”  However, that haircut made him lose all credibility, and I think the look on Del Toro’s face throughout the movie confirmed that he was embarrassed to have such an abomination on his head.

As for the others: Anthony Hopkins looked like he was just there to pick up the paycheck, Emily Blunt did her best in a thankless role, and Hugo Weaving was utterly hilarious (unintentionally, of course).

There must be a plethora of reasons why The Wolfman was crap, but the easiest point of blame is director Joe Johnston.  It’s not he is a bad director, but his style didn’t fit this film.  It may have worked for Jumanji and Jurassic Park III (and could for the upcoming Captain America and Jurassic Park IV films), but not for The Wolfman.  How they ever managed to botch up something so promising this badly is beyond me.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Astro Boy (2009)

astro-boy-movie-poster

If you’re searching for the most disappointing movie of 2009, look no further than the much-anticipated American remake of the legendary Japanese manga/anime hero Astro Boy.

I ducked out of work early to catch an advanced screening of Astro Boy last night.  I have been a fan of the manga and anime (created by the Japanese ‘God of Manga’ Osamu Tezuka) since I could remember and was so excited to see it (in part due to the awesome posters), even if it was with modest expectations given the track record of American remake efforts.

Frankly, there is no other way to put it: Astro Boy sucked.  If you are a fan of the manga or anime, you will be particularly offended by it.  There’s almost none of the charm, excitement and heart that made Astro Boy such an iconic figure around Asia (and the world).  The plot resembles the original storyline but not enough attention and care was given to make it work.  Much of the devices used were pointless.  Apart from Astro, the characters were generally underdeveloped.  The villains were cardboard boxes.  There were a couple of amusing references but on the whole the jokes were flat and childish (my biggest gripe).  The action was no better than any ordinary episode of the anime.  It felt like a film made for young children without any regard to the now older original fans that made Astro Boy successful in the first place.

Even if you’ve never seen the original (or its later incarnations) before, you’ll still be shocked by how derivative it is.  Think AI.  Think Gladiator.  Sure, some of these things could be blamed on the original story, but they were certainly aspects the writers could have worked their way around.  They could have remained true to the spirit of the original while infusing some fresher elements to it.  Instead, it feels like the film failed on both counts.

On the plus side, the CGI was not groundbreaking, but I liked its simplicity and texture.  It was an obvious improvement on the old hand-drawn techniques but retained the smooth visual style of the original.  There was also a superb voice cast, led by Freddie Highmore and featuring the familiar voices of Nicholas Cage, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron, Eugene Levy and Samuel L Jackson.  They were all solid, though Highmore’s voice, which must have broken the last couple of years, made him sound older and more masculine than the Astro we’re used to.

If I had gone into Astro Boy having never heard of the series or character before, I’d probably give this film 2 stars, but because I was such a huge fan, I can only give it 1.5 stars out of 5!