Tag Archives: Academy Award

Skiptrace (2016)

It’s hard to believe that Jackie Chan was just awarded with an Oscar for lifetime achievements late last year! In celebration of the man’s career, I decided to watch Skiptrace, an action movie that apparently came out in 2016 but I had no idea even existed.

To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this movie. The last couple of Jackie Chan films I watched were all garbage — Dragon Blade, Chinese Zodiac, The Spy Next Door — essentially lame efforts to promote cross-border collaboration for the mainland Chinese film industry. Skiptrace seemed like more of the same, with Chinese actress Fan Bingbing being cast in the lead female role and Johnnie Knoxville as the American buddy sidekick. But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it. It’s definitely one of Jackie’s more watchable movies in recent memory.

The plot is pretty non-existent. Chan plays a Hong Kong cop trying to track down a criminal mastermind called the “Matador”, and somehow he has to track down a conman gambler played by Knoxville who witnessed a murder. Naturally, this takes the two of them on a trip around from Russia to China through Mongolia. Oh, and Fan Bingbing plays his goddaughter and the damsel in distress.

It’s a fairly typical Jackie Chan script, with the usual cringeworthy plot points, dialogue, jokes, and Asian actors forced to speak uncomfortable English. I’m actually quite sure some of Fan Bingbing’s lines were dubbed, or at least recorded later. Like many of his previous movies, Skiptrace felt like a tourism commercial, this time for Mongolia and parts of scenic China.

Having said that, I was surprised by the chemistry between Chan and Knoxville, who gets thrown around an awful lot (his forte, I suppose). Chan also seems to have a bit more of a spring in his step despite having hit the age of 62 and is involved in more action and stunts than in his prior films of the last few years. The action sequences and fights in general are just more creative and better choreographed too.

These positives don’t quite make up for the cringe moments and the bad Jackie Chan movie trademarks (such as always having a woman young enough to be his daughter as his love interest), though on the whole, Skiptrace turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Perhaps five-time Golden Raspberry Award nominee for Worst Director, Renny Harlin, somehow managed to turn back the clock to work his magic this time.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Rite (2011)

I am a huge fan of horror films, and few intrigue me more than those with ‘possession’ and ‘exorcism’ angles.  So of course I was eager to see The Rite, which was apparently aiming to be this generation’s The Exorcist.  It stars Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Colin O’Donoghue (great screen presence), and tells the story of the young son of a mortuary owner (O’Donoghue) who almost drops out of seminary school and is instead whisked to Rome to participate in ‘exorcism’ class, and ends up learning from an unorthodox expert (Hopkins).

I didn’t have to see the film to know that critics were probably going to savage it — few horror films these days, especially those dealing with the supernatural, are likely to pass through unscathed.  However, I thought the previews looked pretty promising, so I was kind of hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I’ll get straight to the point.  The Rite started off extremely well, almost too well for its own good.  It was atmospheric, intriguing, chilling and rather eye-opening.  It also asked some interesting questions about religion, faith and psychiatric illness, without coming off feeling contrived.  There were some fantastically effective scenes and sequences that made me recoil in horror.  It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by true events, though I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

However, at some point, around halfway through the film, The Rite takes a massive wrong turn.  I can almost pinpoint the exact scene where things start going downhill.  The point of view begins to switch awkwardly all over the place, and all subtlely flies out the window.  Instead of keeping you guessing, everything is spelled out and shoved down your throat, and genuine chills are replaced by cheap scares and special effects.  What began as potentially a new classic spiralled into just another uninspiring supernatural horror flick.

Sigh…

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first half.

2.75 stars out of 5

Post Oscars Film Blitz

I was supposed to review these films one by one, but I really couldn’t be bothered.  So I decided to lump them into a ‘post Oscars’ film blitz, as all of these films were a part of the Oscars.  Kind of.

Here we go…

Rabbit Hole (2010)

I’m not usually into depressing films, but I was in a good mood and thought, why the heck not?  And seriously, they don’t get much more depressing than Rabbit Hole (I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, might add it to the list later).

For those who don’t know what it’s about, let’s just say it’s about profound grief and loss, and how to deal with it and move on.  It stars Nicole Kidman in her Oscar-nominated performance, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest and Sandra Oh.

It’s an extremely powerful film, I’ll admit that, and it has some surprisingly amusing sequences, but on the whole, Rabbit Hole is a pretty rough 91 minutes to sit through.  I don’t know what else to say without giving away too much.

As for the performances, I know Kidman got all the kudos, but it beats me how after so many years she still can’t pin down that American accent!  In all honesty, I preferred Eckhart.  I found his scenes more engaging and wondered how Kidman got the nomination and he didn’t.

3.5 stars out of 5

Inside Job (2010)

I rushed out to see Inside Job after it won the Oscar for Best Documentary.  It’s essentially a film that attempts to explain how the Global Financial Crisis (ie the one we’re still recovering from) happened, and tries to apportion the blame to the various parties involved.

Ultimately, despite learning a great deal about the history of the financial markets, the financial instruments, and the GFC itself, I was a little disappointed.  Props for making this film because I know a lot of people (myself included) would like to know just what the heck happened, and how it happened.  However, I did find it somewhat dry in parts and a little too preachy, especially towards the end.  Just listen to director Charles Ferguson’s acceptance speech at the Oscars and you’ll get what I mean.

I am by no means trying to defend the greed and the corruption that plagued the system and led to the collapse, but I think it would have been good to see more of the human side of the crisis.  Rather than simply painting them as the ‘bad guys’ in all of this, I wanted to see what was going through the minds of these bankers and executives as they raked in the money without regard for the consequences — and I wanted to see how the crisis affected the lives of people on all levels of income and wealth.

It was an interesting film and an important one, but apart from a lot of anger and frustration, I didn’t get the deeper emotional connection and understanding I was expecting.

3.5 stars out of 5

No Strings Attached (2011)

This film was obviously not nominated for an Oscar, but the star, Natalie Portman, did win a Best Actress Oscar for another film (Black Swan), so I guess that’s my Oscar connection to justify this film being in the post.

I remember before the Oscars there were people saying that No Strings Attached is potentially so bad that it might derail Natalie’s Oscar chances.  Well, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.  And besides, No Strings Attached was not that bad anyway.  It was just average, which is not horrible considering that most rom-coms these days are.

Portman’s Emma and Ashton Kutcher’s Adam met when they were teenagers at some camp, and kept bumping into each other over the years.  Then Adam’s dad, played by Kevin Kline, does something despicable and sends Adam into a bender and eventually Emma’s house.  Yada, yada, yada, you know what happens, but they decide to have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship.  And yada, yada, yada, you know what happens in the end.

The film started off promisingly enough.  Director Ivan Reitman (pretty mixed bag as a director) infuses the story with quirky humour and likable characters (essential for a good rom-com).  There are some genuinely amusing moments and one-liners littered throughout, though mostly at the beginning.  Kutcher is kind of always the same — with that cheery, but mopey/dopey looking dude-face, while Portman gets to show her less serious side (with shades of her Saturday Night Live performances?).  The chemistry is there, which I must admit surprised me.

As usual, the rom-com shifts from comedy to romance as it strolls along to the predictable finale, and that’s where No Strings Attached fails to bring something fresh to the table.  And for what is really a sweet film at heart, it is inexplicably and unnecessarily dirty — I blame that on all the Judd Apatow films in recent years.

3 stars out of 5

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

The Oscar connections are getting more tenuous.  Love and Other Drugs features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the latter of which…hosted the Oscars this year!

Anyway, this is one of those films that I liked more than I should have.  It was marketed as a laugh-out-loud, silly rom-com about two promiscuous people, but that’s really only half true — because the second half, which is completely different to the first, is kind of a depressing ‘disease romance’ (I just made that up).  To me, both halves were pretty good, even though that does make for a fairly uneven film.

What I liked about the first half was the insight into the pharmaceutical industry and in particular medical reps who try and sell drugs to doctors.  And the start of the Viagra craze is always a fascinating thing to relive.  I think the film handled that part very well.  As for the second half, while the laughs died out quickly, I did find myself unexpectedly moved by the story and the emotions of the characters.

So yeah, I enjoyed it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Burlesque (2010)

Mmm…Cher once won an Oscar, and let’s face it, Christina Aguilera never will.  And it won a Golden Globe (a pre-cursor to the Oscars) for Best Original Song.  Oh, and Cher got a Razzie (the opposite of the Oscars) nomination for it this year!

Using the typical ‘small town girl in big city’ template, Burlesque follows Christina as she finds herself working in a burlesque bar (called ‘Burlesque’) where she’s just waiting to be discovered.  Cher is the owner, Kristen Bell is the rival, Eric Dane is the tempter, and Cam Gigandet is the potential love interest.  Fill in the blanks yourself and toss in a bunch of musical song and dance numbers from Christina and Cher, and that’s the movie in a nutshell.

Is it horrible?  No.  I actually expected a lot less, though I would have preferred it if they just went along for the ride and not taken themselves so seriously (because the unintended effect is quite comical).  At the end of the day, Burlesque is a Christina vehicle, and it certainly shows off her spectacular voice and not-too-shabby acting abilities.  It’s campy, musical and melodramatic, just as you would expect it to be.  And while it’s certainly nothing special, it is better than the Britney equivalent (Crossroads).

2.5 stars out of 5

Pre-Oscars Movie Blitz (Best Picture)

The Academy Awards are upon us once again, and this year I vowed to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony. With the list of nominees extended to 10 for the second straight year, this was more difficult than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I had seen most of them already, so there were only three outstanding: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and 127 Hours.

Here goes!

Winter’s Bone (2010)

There’s usually one powerful independent film in the Best Picture mix and this year it’s Winter’s Bone, which has gotten rave reviews from just about every respectable critic out there.

The story feels complex but it’s actually very simple. In an extremely poor rural area, a meth cooker has disappeared while out on bail and his daughter Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is looking for him — she has to, because she has two young siblings and a catatonic mother, and their house is collateral for the bail. But the more Ree snoops around the family business, the more trouble she gets into.

I suppose I would call it a gritty drama-thriller. A slow burn with moments of genuine suspense and horror. It’s the perfect example of a well-made indie film — low budget but compelling and well-acted — but I’m not sure I would put it in my top 10 list for the year (and hence Best Picture nominee).

My problem with it is that it rarely gets out of first gear, and all the mumbling makes some of the conversations difficult to decipher. That said, I was intrigued even through all the slow bits, and it was a very bleak and harrowing depiction of rural meth country.

Nevertheless, this film will likely make Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Best Actress) a big star (she’s already nabbed the role of young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and had an Esquire photo shoot that was rumoured to be the source of many ‘Winter’s Boners’). It was a knockout performance, subtle and utterly believable. Her co-star John Hawkes (also nominated, for Best Supporting Actor), was also very good.

Overall, a very good film, an excellent indie film, but perhaps because of the lofty expectations I came away slightly disappointed.

3.75 stars out of 5

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

I had no idea what this film was about before I saw it and I didn’t really care — it just didn’t look like the type of film I was interested in. But it’s a Best Picture nominee so I forced myself, and came out pleasantly surprised.

If there’s one movie I would compare The Kids Are All Right to (in terms of style and feel), it would have to be American Beauty. It’s one of those quirky dramas about suburban life in America, with genuine dramatic elements but also plenty of witty laughs and awkward moments.

Without giving away too much, it’s about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), their kids (Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson) and the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). As usual, the less known the better.

I would say this is a borderline deserving Best Picture nominee if we’re talking about a list of 10 (which is still pretty darn good in a relatively strong year). It had a fabulous script with terrific dialogue that’s amusing while remaining strangely realistic, plus killer performances by all involved. The standout for me was Mark Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor nominee), who was just such a fantastic character.

Even though I wouldn’t consider this a classic or a particularly memorable film, I still really enjoyed it.

4 stars out of 5


127 Hours (2010)

I was vary wary of watching 127 Hours, and it’s not just because of the gruesomeness most viewers knew they were about to encounter. It’s because it’s a story where it’s predominantly one guy in one place (think Buried, which a lot of people loathed) and you knew exactly what was going to happen at the end because it’s a true story.

But my concerns were absolutely unfounded. 127 Hours is hands down one of the best films of 2010 and a deserving Best Picture nominee (even if there were just five instead of 10). Full credit to Danny Boyle (who won for Slumdog Millionaire a couple of years ago) for overcoming all the obstacles I thought this film would have and delivering such an emotionally involving, jubilant, triumphant motion picture.

Just in case you’re one of the three people on earth who don’t know the story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), I won’t say much. I just wonder how I would have received the film had I not known about his amazing story, but the impressive thing is that I was still completely absorbed by the film despite that dreaded feeling of inevitability.

I thought there was going to be a lot of extended flashback sequences, but to Boyle’s credit, there were surprisingly few. Some clever use of sound and sporadic dream sequences pushed the plot right along and kept it interesting and eventful for the entire 94 minute running time.

Of course, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the ‘masterful’ performance from James Franco (a strange word for the guy from Pineapple Express), who has become one of my favorite actors. Is there anyone in Hollywood more affable than him right now?  Who else could have carried a film like this from start to finish?  It’s a shame he’s going up against virtual lock Colin Firth this year.

I loved this film and can’t believe I passed up two advanced screening opportunities last month.  If I redo my Top 10 Films of 2010 this would probably be in the top 5.

4.5 out of 10!