Category Archives: 2009

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part II

Yes, there is a Part II.  For Part I, click here.

Here are the rest of the DVD movies I acquired in a recent trip to China.

Stone (2010)

Even though I didn’t know what it was about, I really wanted to watch this one when it came out at the cinemas, but I’m glad now that I caught it on DVD instead.

I thought it was going to be a smart, slick thriller, but Stone is essentially a character-driven drama about sexual politics featuring three sensational actors: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich.

It’s a stylish film, an interesting film in many respects, but not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for.

3.25 stars out of 5

I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

It seems like the world still isn’t ready for a rom-com about a homosexual couple, because I had never heard of I Love You, Phillip Morris despite the fact that it features two big stars in Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

To be fair, apart from the intentionally full on gay jokes, Phillip Morris is not all that different from some of the other slightly farcical, somewhat strange/awkward (The Cable Guy comes to mind) comedies out there.

I did find certain parts quite funny, but there wasn’t anything apart from the unusual premise that made this film stand out.  And it did get a little tedious towards the end.

3 stars out of 5

 

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

I’ve loved the story since I was a kid, and so I was kind of excited about the Jack Black version, even though to me Black is a bit of a hit and miss comedian.

Unfortunately, Gulliver’s Travels was pretty much all miss.  It had a great cast, including Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, but the jokes were mostly infantile and unfunny.  A fair attempt at a modern retelling with updated pop culture references but even as a children’s film it missed the mark.

2 stars out of 5

 

Season of the Witch (2011)

 

If this film made it to the cinemas then it must have been pulled off pretty quickly, because even though I saw ‘coming soon’ posters months ago, I don’t ever recall seeing the film screening at cinemas.

After watching it, I can kind of understand why this film was a flop (or went straight to DVD).  On the other hand, there are far worse films making it to the cinemas.

This was a Middle-Ages fantasy film (which I usually like) with Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as two warriors tasked with escorting a suspected witch to a monastery.  It started off okay but the middle section was a bit of a bore and the final part, as usual, fell apart.  A shame, because as uninspiring as it was, I thought there was some potential.

2 stars out of 5

 

And yes, there will be a Part III, though I haven’t watched them yet.

Movie Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009)

I read the first book and saw the first two Swedish film adaptations, but unlike millions of people out there, I don’t really get why Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is the biggest commercial book sensation in the world at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the first book (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) was pretty good, albeit a little long and tedious, and I thought the first film was phenomenal. The second film (The Girl Who Played With Fire — I have the book but haven’t read it yet) was pretty good, but nowhere as good as I wanted or expected it to be.

And now, the third and final (unless Larsson’s widow writes another one) volume of the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is about to hit Australian cinemas next month. I saw it at a critics’ screening earlier this week, and I believe hard core fans of the series will not be disappointed. It’s still not as good as the first film, but is a moderate step up from the second.

This one picks up from where the second one left off, and Lisbeth Salander (ie, Noomi Rapace, aka the ‘Girl’ in all the titles) is fighting for her life after being shot in the head (at the end of the previous film), but things are just getting interesting as there is a massive conspiracy behind everything and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nykvist) is there to get to the bottom of it.

Like the two earlier films in the series, Hornet’s Nest is a slow burn for the most part, with short bursts of excitement and exhilaration tossed into the mix.  Once again, the story is driven by the two central characters, both who whom are at the peak of their game in this one.

I actually consider Dragon Tattoo to be kind of a separate part of the trilogy because it’s a film that stands up very well on its own.  On the other hand, Fire and Hornet’s Nest are essentially one film, with Fire providing the set up (which is why it was weaker) and Hornet’s Nest providing the climax.

I can’t say I found the conspiracy to be particularly intelligent or engaging (to be honest I found it a little unnecessarily convoluted), though the way it was all brought together was ultimately quite satisfying.  The courtroom scenes were especially enjoyable, as was the climatic showdown in the abandoned warehouse.

That said, like Fire, I was expecting and hoping for more, something that would blow me away and justify the hype surrounding this series.  It didn’t happen, but on the whole, I was still pleased with the experience.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Still kinda looking forward to the American version.

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part II

As Frank Costanza once said: ‘You want it?  You got it!’  Four more movie reviews to continue my Start of Year DVD Blitz.  I predict there will probably be one more after this.  Maybe two.  Or three.

Beautiful Kate (2009)

If Animal Kingdom was 2010’s best Aussie film, then Beautiful Kate was most probably the cream of the 2009 crop of Australian cinema.

In many ways, this was a typical Aussie film — low budget, set in the outback, sad and depressing.  But for some reason I was really affected by the emotions of this splendid movie directed by Rachel Ward.

It’s based on an American story by Newton Thornburg but adapted to Australian conditions, and tells the story of Ned (Ben Mendelsohn), a writer to returns home with his young girlfriend (Maeve Dermody) to his dying father (Bryan Brown) and younger sister (Rachel Griffiths).  Ned’s past his replayed through various flashbacks, most of which revolve around his twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe) and their tragic youth.

This was the type of film that, perhaps as recent as two or three years ago, I might have scoffed at as another boring old Aussie flick.  But I was never bored with Beautiful Kate.  Because it deals with taboo subjects and has a lot of powerful scenes, I found myself engrossed.  A few sequences towards the end may have overstepped the mark, but this was still a small triumph.

4.25 stars out of 5

Creation (2009)

Paul Bettany is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, and Creation, in which he plays Charles Darwin, may be his best performance to date.

I’ve always been fascinated with the struggle between science and religion, and Creation is at the very heart of this battle, telling the story of how Darwin came about to write On the Origin of Species, one of the most important works ever written (for those who don’t know, it is considered the foundation of the theory of evolution).

I thought a film about writing a book would be rather dull, but boy was I wrong.

Little did I know, Darwin (a fellow Cambridge student — I remember walking past the house where he once lived) was once quite religious, and his wife and first cousin, Emma (played by Bettany’s real life wife Jennifer Connelly) was a deeply devout Christian.  And so it was actually a gargantuan struggle for Darwin to write what he did.

Bettany’s marvellous performance drives this film from start to finish, and I was amazed how moved I was by his story and his relationship with his eldest daughter Annie.  The narrative jumps around back and forth in time quite a bit, which was distracting at first (because I could only gauge the time through how much Bettany’s hairline had receded), but once I ot used to it I was completely captivated by this fascinating film.  The final scene was perhaps a little contrived but it didn’t dampen the experience for me.

I know a lot of people were underwhelmed by this film, but not me.  I loved it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Despicable Me (2010)

Universal’s first foray into CGI animated features was a success.  I can’t believe I had almost zero interest in this film before, which utilises the vocal talents of Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Will Arnett.  Perhaps it was the lack of promotion, but Despicable Me was every bit as good as, if not better than, Megamind, that other animated feature about a villain with a heart.

Despicable Me has a pretty familiar core — a bad guy who wants to be worse, but through a bunch of little orphans, becomes good.  However, I loved the humour, which uses a combination of clever references to real life, slap stick and outrageous jokes.  The kids are also very cute.  Not much to dislike here, though I grant you that this will unlikely go down as one of the more memorable animated features.

Nonetheless, I had a great time with it.  Not sure if it can challenge the other nominees in the best animated film category this year at the Golden Globes (Tangled, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist) but it will sure give them a run for their money.  Or at least it should, anyway.

4 stars out of 5

Notorious (2009)

I was desperate to see this one (even though I’m not a huge fan of hard core rap) because I had always been fascinated by the Notorious BIG and that whole East Coast-West Coast feud thing with Tupac, which probably led to both their deaths.  I finally got a chance to watch Notorious the other day and it was just okay — a biopic where the subject and story were absolutely fascinating but the film’s execution was somewhat lacking.

The life of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious BIG, aka Biggie Smalls, is one of rags to riches that was ultimately cut short at the age of 24.  The man was built like a barrel, but he was a rapping genius and had a way with the ladies.  I got to see all of that, but I still didn’t really feel like I got the essence of the man.  I’m not sure if it was the script or the performance of Jamal Woolard, but BIG never shone through, even though he narrated the freaking film.  Perhaps it’s because he was portrayed as not a particularly likeable guy — a bit of a sleeze, a serial cheater and prone to outbursts of violence, especially towards women.

Interestingly, I thought the two most sympathetic characters in the whole film were Puff Daddy (played by Derek Luke) and BIG’s mother Voletta Wallace (Angela Bassett) — and as it turned out, they were both producers of the film.

For a biopic, 123 minutes is not especially long, but Notorious felt long.  I did enjoy it because I was interested in the subject and his life, but this was a film that could have been so much better.

3.25 stars out of 5

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part I

As promised, here is my first set of DVD reviews for the start of 2011!

Centurion (2010)

Here’s another one that when I first saw the trailer thought was going to be a hit — but strangely, it either never screened or screened for such a short time that nobody noticed, then went straight to DVD.

Centurion is based on the Roman conquest of the Picts, told from the perspective of the ill-fated Ninth Legion.  It’s dark, moody, gritty, extremely violent and gory, and a surprisingly enjoyable ride.  Even though we get the story from the side of the Romans, there are really no good guys or villains in this one.  

Excellent performances from a great cast, including Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko and Dominic West, even though the script and characters probably don’t do the performances justice.

Centurion certainly doesn’t have the depth or wide appeal of Gladiator, but hardcore battle fans (like myself) might get a kick out of it because it does have some wonderful battle and fight scenes.

3.5 stars out of 5

Cop Out (2010)

This buddy cop comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan (from 30 Rock) and directed by Kevin Smith has been on many of the ‘Worst Film of the Year’ lists, so I decided to check it out for myself.

And well…I didn’t personally hate the film, but it was pretty awful, especially when you factor in the director (Smith has been a favourite of mine, even though this is the first time he didn’t direct his own material) and the all-star cast (which also includes Rashida Jones, Jason Lee, Sean William Scott, Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack).

My problem with Cop Out was that it wasn’t as funny or clever as it thought it was.  I haven’t seen much of 30 Rock, but Tracy Morgan was extremely annoying.  He just wouldn’t stop shouting and screaming all the time.  It was exhausting to watch and listen to him go on like a lunatic for the overlong 107-minute running time.

There were a couple of amusing scenes but most of it was pretty stock standard stuff that you’d see in any B-grade comedy.

1.75 stars out of 5

Remember Me (2010)

Enter the non-Twilight star vehicle for Rob Patz to showcase his acting chops as Tyler Hawkins, an American college student who has a dead brother, a neglected younger sister and a father (Pierce Brosnan) who is too absorbed in his work to care.  He meets and befriends Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin), a girl with a dead mother and an overprotective cop father.  Sad, tragic, melodramatic love story.

Remember Me is depressing and tries too hard to tug at the heart strings through numerous ‘please feel sorry for me’ sequences.  At its core it’s not a horrible film, but there’s not a whole lot going for it.  It had a strong introductory sequence but went downhill from there, and even though I expected things to pick up and the various plot threads to be tied together, it never really happened.

The ending, which I’m sure gets discussed a lot, came out of nowhere, and I believe some might even find it offensive to pull a stunt like that.

Watchable for Rob Patz fans, but everyone else won’t be missing much by skipping this one.

2 stars out of 5

Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day is acomedy action film about an ordinary girl caught up in the world of CIA operatives and dangerous/revolutionary inventions.  It’s fast paced, outrageous, over-the-top, and quite fun if you don’t take it seriously.

However, I didn’t really like it much.  To be honest, it’s probably because the film stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  I used to really like Cruise, but ever since he lost the plot there’s just something off about him, even on screen.  Maybe he’s getting too old, but the suave routine he got used to pulling on Top Gun and Mission: Impossible doesn’t work for me anymore.  As for Diaz, sorry if this offends anyone, but I really dislike her face.  I know she’s considered one of the most attractive women in the world, but I simply don’t get it.  It became a distraction to the detriment of the viewing experience.

Knight and Day is a film that runs on the charm and chemistry of the two main characters, so fans of Cruise/Diaz might enjoy it a lot more than I did.  But unfortunately for me, I let my prejudices get the better of my objective judgment.

2.5 stars out of 5

Me and Orson Welles (2009)

A coming-of-age/character study film by Richard Linklater about a 17-year-old kid (Zac Efron) who got to spend a few months with Orson Welles (Christian McKay), the man credited with making Citizen Kane, a film widely regarded as the best of all time.  However, this film takes place in 1937 (4 years before Citizen Kane), and it was about a stage production of Julius Caesar.

It’s pretty light-hearted, harmless stuff, but to me, it was more like ‘Meh’ and Orson Welles.  Perhaps lovers of period pieces and those who appreciate meticulously designed sets and the threatre might enjoy it more than I did.  I don’t deny that the film is well-made, though I can’t help it if it didn’t get my juices flowing.

Efron is adequate and McKay is actually brilliant as Welles, the egotistical, narcissistic genius, but neither the technical attributes nor the performances made me enjoy this film as much as I wanted to.

3 stars out of 5

I still have a few more left — Part II should be coming soon.

Movie Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

‘The Loved Ones’ screens in Australian cinemas from 4 November 2010

I find it strange that an Australian movie with Australian actors is already on DVD overseas and it hasn’t even shown here in Australia yet.  Lucky for me I caught a media screening of it earlier this week.

Nevertheless, The Loved Ones will no doubt generate plenty of interest for one big reason: Xavier Samuel (you know, that boy Riley from Twilight: Eclipse — it seems anything remotely Twilight related will kick up a storm these days).

In The Loved Ones, Samuel (who is almost unrecognisable without his Bieber haircut from Eclipse) plays Brent, a grief-stricken 17-year-old who is asked to ‘prom’ by a seemingly shy girl, Lola (Robin McLeavy).  When Brent refuses in favour of his girlfriend,  it becomes the worst mistake he’ll ever make in his life…

The Loved Ones has been described as Wolf Creek meets Pretty In Pink, though to be honest it reminds me of neither.  It’s a teen horror that feels eerily familiar, probably because it takes elements from a lot of other torture-porn horror films like Hostel, Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a result, while there isn’t anything completely like it as far as I know, it just doesn’t feel particularly fresh or original.

That said, it still provided some very decent scares (particularly visceral ones that challenge you to not look away), and I must admit there were a couple of nice little surprises thrown in there that I hadn’t expected.  The characters, especially the antagonists, are not well-drawn out at all (we needed more time with them in the ‘normal’ world), but they certainly are twisted and demented.

Not all of the scenes and dialogue worked in my opinion — they were a little clunky in some parts when you could tell the intention was to make the characters creepy, except they weren’t.  However, later events and sequences definitely make up for it.  The film is probably a lot more clever than I give it credit for.

As far as low budget horrors go, this is certainly one of the better made ones, especially by Australian standards.  At a trim 84-minutes, it gets straight into the action, wasting very little time from start to finish.  And despite there only being a handful of characters, everyone had a purpose and all the subplots were tied together nicely.

One of the things that annoyed me for some reason was the deliberate Americanising of the school aspects of the film.  Even though it is set in an unknown part of rural Australia, for some reason the school reminds you of every American school you’ve seen on TV, from the casual clothing to the lockers to how everyone runs out a second after the bell rings.  That decision, perhaps to connect with American audiences more, took away some of the Aussieness of the film.

Ultimately, The Loved Ones isn’t anything special, but if you want to be scared and disgusted (in a kind of fun, entertaining way), it should have no problem getting the job done.  If not, just watch it for Xavier Samuel.  He’s actually very very good in it.

3.25 out of 5

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

After missing two preview screenings, I finally got a chance to catch The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second film in the hugely successful Millennium trilogy based on the books by the late Stieg Larsson.  This time, I went into the cinema not having read the book (which I have, but have been too busy to tackle), which got me a little excited because I had no idea what it was about.

At the end of the day, The Girl Who Played with Fire was okay.  It’s not as horrible as some reviewers say it is (like this one that gave it 0/5 stars), though it’s certainly not as good as some others say either (like Ebert, who gave it 3.5/4).  To me, even though it was adequate and engaging for the most part, it was still ultimately a disappointment.

The Girl Who Played with Fire takes begins shortly after the end of the first film, with the titular character, Lisbeth Salander (played once again in a brilliant performance by Noomi Rapace), on a ‘break’.  The man whose life she saved in the first film, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is back at Millennium magazine and looking into a potential article on the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden.  Like the first film, the two main characters carry the film despite leading separate paths, and to be honest, it was almost like watching two separate movies at times.

Also like the first film (and the book), this one is also what I would consider a ‘slow burn’.  Actually, the pace is probably even slower.  I don’t have a problem with that, but to me, the plot was not as exciting as what I had expected.  Instead of a slick detective adventure into the seedy underworld of sex-trafficking, The Girl Who Played with Fire is really a more personal tale about Salander’s past.  Even when there were murders and a couple of mysteries involved, it never escalated into the adrenaline-pumping thriller I hoped it would be.  It remained mildly interesting but the story simply plodded along with a few unsurprising twists and left me feeling a little empty by the end.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still an above-average thriller, but that’s all it is.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but is it wrong to expect more out of a film based on the biggest selling books in the world right now?

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Cairo Time (2009)

Last night I went to see a screening of Cairo Time for my university newspaper (for which I am doing reviews).  I had no idea what the film was about except it was a romance-drama set in modern Cairo.  I’ve always wanted to visit Egypt, but I’ve never been a huge fan of romances, so my feelings and expectations were somewhat mixed.  There were only 6 people in the theatrette (and half of them were likely guests of the reviewers), so clearly anticipation for this film is not huge.

As it turned out, Cairo Time was brutal.  I don’t remember the last time I checked my watch so many times during a 90-minute film.

Directed and written by Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda, Cairo Time tells the story of a middle-aged woman named Juliette (Patricia Clarkson), who travels to Cairo to meet her husband Mark, a refugee camp worker for the UN.  However, after she arrives she discovers that he is still stranded in Gaza, and consequently has to find ways to pass the time.  Enter Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a local ex-police officer and old friend of her husband, who has retired and can spend lots of time with her.

And so begins an unusual courtship filled with plenty of lovely walks through the beautiful streets of Cairo and along its various landmarks; long, wistful glances and small, intimate moments.  Will they or won’t they?  Should they or shouldn’t they?  Do we even care?

In my case, the answer was a clear and firm no.

I can definitely see why some people would appreciate this film.  After all, Cairo is a wonderful city, and Cairo Time captures the beauty of the place with its wide, cinematic shots — on the Nile, across the desert, in the mosques, with the pyramids, and so forth.  It was like a marketing campaign for Egyptian tourism (though I wonder why there were no tourists to be seen anywhere, including at the Sphinx and the pyramids).  On top of that, there are some terrific yet subtle insights into Egyptian culture, such as their attitudes towards women, religion and poverty.  There is an abundance of quiet moments of reflection and contemplation where the two perfectly acted leads stare into each other’s eyes with yearning and passion.  There is a grand orchestral score interlaced with local music.  It’s all about mood and the emotional complexities of living in a foreign and unfamiliar land.  If that’s your cup of tea then this is the film for you.

Unfortunately, that type of stuff doesn’t get me going at all.  Cairo Time, for me, is essentially a white middle-aged woman’s boring holiday in Cairo.  We follow her around the streets.  We see a few landmarks.  She meets a few people.  She talks to some of them.  She spends some alone time with a local man.  They connect for some reason (as if we didn’t see that coming).  The end.

There is virtually no plot, no action, no suspense, no tension (apart from the sexual kind — and even that was fleeting).  Nothing happens.  It took 40 minutes (I know because I was looking at my watch) for the first meaningful event to take place, and when it did I thought, thank goodness, something is finally going to happen.  And then, like a fart in a storm, it was gone, and back we went to sitting alone in the hotel room and wandering the streets.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with a slow pace and not every film has to be action packed — but please, at least make it interesting, intriguing or compelling to watch.

The main problem for me was that there was nothing to look forward to in this film.  It was so important for the audience to care about and invest emotionally in the relationship between Juliette and Tareq — but all I was thinking of was how awful these two people were.  Why would I want this woman (who appears to have a different outfit every single day) to cheat on her supposedly loving husband while he is saving refugees for the UN?  Why would I want this man to crack onto the wife of a dear old friend?  But at the same time, part of me was thinking — well, at least something will happen!

Anyway, you may have gathered I was not in love with this film.  And so you can imagine my utter disbelief when I discovered that Cairo Time had won “Best Canadian Feature Film” at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.  And to rub salt into the wound, it had received generally positive reviews from critics, who thought it was “delightful”.  But I stand by my opinion of this film.  Technically it may have had some merit, but to be perfectly honest, it bored me to death.

1.5 stars out of 5

Cairo Time opens across Australia on 19 August 2010

DVD Review: More Than a Game (2009)

The question on everybody’s lips right now is which team free agent and the NBA’s reigning 2-time MVP Lebron James will sign with.  Will the King stay with his hometown Cavs, or will he go join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami?  Will he join forces with Amare Stoudemire in New York, or will he team up with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer in Chicago?  It has become such big news that ESPN is televising Lebron’s announcement live on Thursday night (US time).

Of course, Lebron James is no stranger to publicity, having been anointed “The Chosen One” since his high school days, as documented in the film More Than a Game.  I had heard about this documentary directed by Kris Belman last year when it was first released, but had forgotten all about it until I came across the DVD last week.

So was it any good?

I’d say it’s a “must” for Lebron fans, a “worth watching” for NBA/basketball fans in general, and a “can skip” for Lebron haters.

More Than a Game follows Lebron and his four best friends, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee (the “Fab Five”) through their trials and tribulations as their team, Saint Vincent-Saint Mary (from previously little known Akron, Ohio), played their way to national stardom.

It’s a coming-of-age story, a rags-to-riches story, and a perseverance-pays-off story full of excellent basketball footage from the time when the friends were just a bunch of poor but talented pre-teen kids having fun in an old gym.

The best part about the film is that it’s NOT a promotional vehicle for Lebron (not that he needed one).  While Lebron does get more attention towards the end when his name took off on a national scale and he struggled with eligibility issues, the film divides time equally between all members of the Fab Five and their coach, Dru Joyce II (father of one of the players).  At various times throughout the 105-minute running time, we received wonderful insights into each of the six central characters, including their difficult backgrounds, their strengths, their flaws and their motivations.  As one of the kids said, they were all stars of a rock band — Lebron was just the lead singer.

The "Fab Five"

Thanks to the ubiquity of the hand held cam and the team’s relatively early rise to stardom, the film also had some ripping footage — not just on the basketball court but off it too.  Whether it’s Lebron dunking as an eighth grader (I think) or him goofing around with his buddies at school, this film had it all.

However, to be honest, More Than a Game should have been a much better documentary.  All the elements were there.  You had a future NBA superstar in the making, already heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition from the first pieces of grainy footage.  You had a team full of African American players from broken families who were considered traitors by their community because they joined a school with predominantly white students.  You had plenty of ups and downs, setbacks and glory.  You couldn’t write a more inspirational story than this one.

And yet, More Than a Game doesn’t quite get there in my opinion.  There is no narrator as the story is told entirely through archived footage, interviews and recorded monologues.  While this was effective in its own way (such as let us make up our own minds about the characters), the story does suffer as a result when it came to exposition and transition.

There were times when it felt as though pieces of the narrative were missing.  For instance, you got the feeling that all these kids did was play, sleep and breathe basketball, but then all of a sudden we find out that some of them actually played other sports too at an elite level and had to make a choice.  In another sequence we were led to believe that the kids hated a particular player on their team, and then shortly thereafter he apparently became one of their best friends without much of an explanation!  And for those who don’t understand it, the system of competitive youth basketball in American is rather confusing.  I found myself asking questions such as why are these kids playing in Division II if they were “the best”, or why they would be “national champions” if they won the “state championship”.  These are easily answered with a bit of self research, but it made me wish things were made clearer when I watched the film.

Overall, not a bad way to watch some highlights of young Lebron in action, and the background stories of all the central characters were inspiring to watch — but as a documentary, More Than a Game was not much more than average.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: Having watched this I sure hope Lebron stays in Cleveland and doesn’t go for the seemingly perfect situation in Miami.  I don’t think he’s guaranteeing himself any rings by choosing the Heat and it could backfire terribly.  He seems like a loyal guy, I think he would be best served creating his own legacy in the city that picked him.]

In-Flight Movie Reviews (Part I)

A long flight means movies.  On my way to India, I watched a few relatively recent films, and here are the reviews.  This is Part I.  Need to bear in mind that I watched these on a mini airplane screen in a prescription drug-induced state, so my experience may be slightly affected.

Dorian Gray

I was really looking forward to this Oscar Wilde adaptation starring Ben Barnes (ie Prince Caspian) and Colin Firth ever since I heard about it.  The titular character is a beautiful young man who is immortalized in a painting. Dorian is then seduced into a life of excess and debauchery, but while his youth and beauty is magically preserved in real life, the painting begins to manifest his actions as it morphs into something horribly grotesque. Excellent premise that really fascinated me, but this film version fell flat.

Ben Barnes is indeed a beautiful man (and I say this with no homosexual undertones whatsoever – not that there’s anything wrong with that), but he seems to lack the requisite charm and simply ends up going through the motions. It just felt like something was missing with this one, which was very disappointing considering how much promise it had.

2 stars out of 5

Edge of Darkness

I believe this is the first Mel Gibson movie since the “incident”, and I expected it to be fairly decent. While it is smarter than the average thriller, it’s really just another violent Gibson revenge rampage in the mould of Ransom and Payback.

Gibson is a cop who picks up his daughter from the airport, and soon a violent incident has him in crazy mode, sending him on an investigation that takes him deeper and deeper into a mystery that, to be honest, I can’t exactly remember.  It’s not horrible, but overall, a pretty forgettable affair.

2.5 stars out of 5

(For Part II click here)

DVD Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney’s latest animation feature, The Princess and the Frog, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 June 2010.  Running time: 94 minutes. Rated: G

In the age of computer animations and 3D special effects, it’s always good to see a traditional hand-drawn story that is just as beautiful to the eye — but with that extra bit of fluidity and a human touch.  That’s exactly what Disney has delivered with Oscar-nominated The Princess and the Frog, a true family film that brought back the nostalgic feelings of those classic animated features from my childhood.

I must admit, The Princess and the Frog was not a film that immediately jumped out at me at during its theatrical run.  The original Grimm brothers’ fairytale about a princess who turns a frog into a prince never really appealed to me personally, and I thought the film would just be a simple retelling of that story.

However, full credit must go to John Musker and Ron Clements (creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin).  Instead of going down the expected route, The Princess and the Frog turns the original fairytale on its head, and the result is both surprising and hilarious.

The obvious thing that sticks out about this film is that Disney finally has a black female lead in Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls), a hardworking waitress who dreams of opening up her own restaurant.  But there’s a lot more than that.  Rather than some magical alternative world, The Princess and the Frog is set in French Quarter of New Orleans.  This backdrop gives the film an entirely new dimension, bringing back that fun-filled era of jazz music, big bands and old-school dancing never before seen in Disney animated features.

Young Tiana’s world is turned upside down when Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos from Nip/Tuck) arrives for a royal visit.  Of course, there is a mysterious villain, and without giving away too much of the plot, spells and frogs become involved and the setting is transformed from New Orleans to the mystical bayous of Louisiana, where more interesting characters are introduced, including a musical alligator and a lovesick firefly.

As I understand it, The Princess and the Frog endured a lot of controversies and changes over title, the lead characters, the location and the villain — but seriously, as always, it was much ado about nothing.  In the end, it’s just pure family fun without a suggestion of political messages or racial or cultural insensitivity.

I haven’t been a big fan of animations for a while (with a few notable exceptions), but I really enjoyed The Princess and the Frog.  It is indeed a film intended for the whole family but the target is still clearly young children, despite a couple of “frightening” scenes involving voodoo and the “other side”.  The humour is very much geared towards the kids, though from about the halfway mark I found myself laughing way more than I should have been.

I don’t usually consider myself a jazz listener, but the score for this film was exceptional — lively and fun while remaining true to the Disney spirit.  But perhaps my favourite thing about The Princess and the Frog was the character of Prince Naveen.  For once, the male lead is not just some wealthy, handsome and unbelievably perfect guy who comes in to sweep the heroine off her feet.  Naveen is really a bit of a douche, and I was almost disappointed to find that he actually had some redeeming qualities by the end of the film.

3.5 stars out of 5!