Tag Archives: movie review

Movie Review: Columbiana (2011)

Apparently, allegedly, supposedly, Columbiana was originally envisioned as a sequel to The Professional (otherwise known as Leon), you know, Natalie Portman’s debut as a pre-pubescent assassin wannabe who is rescued and taken in by a super lone assassin played by Jean Reno.  It’s kind of got cult classic status now and is a personal favourite of mine.

But let’s face it, even though it will get the fanboys all hot under the collar, the idea of a grown up Natalie Portman who has fulfilled her dream of becoming an assassin was always going to suck and piss all over the legacy of the original film.

And so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route.  Instead, Columbiana as a similar premise, except with Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek, The Losers) in the lead role as a little girl who is determined to become an assassin after her family is wiped out by drug lords in Columbia and she escapes to America to live with her uncle.  Fast forward a few years and Saldana has become the real deal — a super svelte, sexy, kick-ass assassin who is intent on tracking down and annihilating all those involved in her family’s demise.

As an action film, Columbiana does produce some thrills and clever ideas.  Saldana looks the part and, because the film is co-produced and co-written by Luc Besson (the man behind The Professional), the style is slick and has that unique “Besson feel” to it — I’m thinking classics like The Fifth Element, Nikita, Taken, Taxi — all films he has been involved with in some capacity).  The gun fights, hand-to-hand combat and in especially the chase scenes are all done extremely well.

That said, when all said and done, Columbiana will likely go down as one of the more forgettable Besson-related films.  There’s just nothing in this film that feels fresh or special, and the storytelling by director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3 — and said to be at the helm of the much anticipated Taken 2) leaves a lot to be desired.  It was choppy and uneven and simply not engaging.  I actually got a bit bored during the slower scenes.

But I will say that I found the action-packed scenes of Columbiana enjoyable when I was watching it.  As a Zoe Saldana vehicle and popcorn movie, it delivers, but don’t go in expecting a whole lot more.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Tyson (2009)

tyson 2009

Love him or hate him, Mike Tyson is a magnet for publicity and controversy.

In his prime, Tyson captured the imagination of boxing fans all around the world with his ferocious, brutal knockouts.  To this day, many still believe that at his best, Tyson would have beaten anyone in the history of the sport.  Watching some of the highlight footage in the opening of the new documentary Tyson, it’s hard to disagree.

In his early 20s, Tyson was an absolute beast of a man, built like a brick and possessing a perfect combination of power, speed and explosiveness beyond belief.  Today, apart from the tribal facial tattoo on the left side of his face, you would have never have thought that this high-pitched, softly spoken, mellow man with a noticeable lisp was once considered the ‘baddest man on the planet’.  An unbeatable force of nature.  The contrast is both shocking and saddening.

I suppose that is what director James Toback wanted to achieve with this film, to show a side of Mike Tyson that the public never saw.  To tell the tragic story of a deeply flawed man who had the potential to be the greatest heavyweight of all time but was consumed by his fear of the world and his hatred of himself, leading to one of the most publicised and devastating downfalls in sports.  In my opinion, Toback only half-succeeded with Tyson.

Tyson is a relatively straightforward sports documentary that chronicles Mike Tyson’s life from birth to present day.  The film comprises a series of interviews with the man himself, some old archive footage of Tyson out of the ring, news footage and clips of Tyson’s most famous fights.  As a compilation of Tyson highlights inside the ring, there’s no complaints – it’s pretty darn exciting.  However, as a documentary, it suffers from one fatal problem – we only get to hear Tyson’s side of the story. His voice is the only voice.

Yes, Tyson appears to be honest in the interviews, and he seems genuine.  He even chokes up and sheds a few tears over the life he managed to mangle up, the relationships he destroyed and the hundreds of millions he wasted away or allowed to be stolen from him.  There’s a fair bit of insight into his psyche, and in particular, what went through his mind at the times that everyone thought he had lost it.  But honestly, it all feels incredibly sanitised.

Part of that stems from the fact that Tyson narrates the entire film.  You don’t know whether some of the things he said are scripted, or if he had many takes to ‘get it right’.  Was the film made independently or did Tyson have the last say into what went in and what was kept out?  Was he only saying what he wanted us to hear so we would feel sorry for him?

Moreover, while the film doesn’t ignore them completely, it does feel like it glossed over some of the toughest topics in Tyson’s life, such as his documented tendency to resort to domestic violence, his rape conviction, his drug addiction, his time in prison and his infamous ear-biting fight against Evander Holyfield.  Although Tyson ultimately claims responsibility for everything that has happened in his life, when it came to these issues, he showed plenty of regret, but little remorse.  You want to believe him, but it was hard to because all you could see was a unrepentant man coming up with excuses and throwing around blame at those that he thought wronged him (in particular Don King, but every fighter thinks Don King wronged them!).  These were times when another perspective would have been perfect.  An interview with someone else that told a different side of the story.  But we didn’t get any of that in Tyson. Consequently, even though it was easy to pity Tyson, it was difficult to feel any compassion towards him.

That said, there were some good moments littered throughout, and the film itself (at around 85 minutes) was never boring.  In particular, Tyson’s relationship with his mentor Cus D’Amato (who passed away in 1985) and his love for his children were the most touching aspects of the film.  At the same time, however, it hard to forget all the terrible things he had done and the multiple chances in life that he managed to screw up time and time again.

In some ways, Tyson was the ultimate bully inside the ring, and the ultimate coward outside of it.  His life is a true tragedy – a man who overcame impossible odds and disadvantages to stand on top of the world, only to self-destruct and fall into the lowest depths because of his cowardice and refusal to learn from his mistakes.  The recent death of Tyson’s youngest daughter Exodus in a freak treadmill accident (which happened after the release of the film) is just another sad chapter in his life.  While Tyson will never be the great boxer he once was inside the ring, one can only hope that he can continue to be a better person outside of it.

3 stars out of 5.

[PS: Here’s an interesting article I found on Tyson that paints a particularly unflattering view of the boxer.  I was a little too young when Tyson ruled the world, but I did know of him through Mike Tyson’s ‘Punch Out!’, which has been rereleased on the Nintendo Wii but without Iron Mike.  I am, however, very much looking forward to Fight Night Round 4 which will finally have Tyson as one of the licensed boxers.]

[PPS: I just found out that Tyson recently got married for the third time, 2 weeks after his daughter’s death.  Not judging, just a piece of fact.]

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

star-trek-new-poster-1

Today I took some time out of my busy study schedule to go check out the new Star Trek movie.  Some call it the new JJ Abrams movie.  You know, the one everybody’s talking about.

Just a disclaimer: I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, never seen an episode of the TV show, and only saw one of the films (I can’t even remember which one – perhaps First Contact or Nemesis – and I can’t remember a single thing about it).  Like most normal people though, I have heard of some of the catchphrases and I know of Kirk, Spock (including his ears and hand gesture) and Scotty, but that’s the extent of my Star Trek knowledge.

And so, I went into the movie relatively optimistic but unsure of what to expect.  I came out of the film raving about it.  Honestly, it blew my mind!

The new Star Trek is what has been called a ‘reboot’ (kind of like the new Batman films with Christian Bale) that explores the origins of its two most famous characters, Captain James T Kirk and his pointy-eared Vulcan friend, Spock.  It’s also considered a ‘prequel’ that sets the foundation for a whole new series of films.  With the exception of one person, the film sports an all-new cast that is fresh, young and brimming with vitality.

As per my usual review code of conduct, I won’t give away the plot, and honestly, I don’t even know if I could explain it even if I wanted to.  There’s a fair bit of what I assume is ‘Trekkie’ jargon (but it could also be basic science stuff) that went right over my head and the film didn’t exactly take its time to explain everything in detail.  But it’s not hard to figure out the basic premise of the storyline and what is going on.

In any case, the story, while interesting in its own right, is not the strength of the film.  The strength lies in the way in which director JJ Abrams (the genius that created Alias, Lost and Fringe and produced Cloverfield) has reinvigorated the franchise with freshness, excitement and enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy this movie.  Star Trek WAS, for the most part, seen as a thing for die-hard fans and sci-fi geeks only.  One of the reasons I never got into it in the first place was because it seemed old and out-dated (despite being set in the future!), and the world it created was so extensive (with so many series, movies and novels) that I couldn’t be bothered making the effort to get to know it.  This film has provided the perfect spark to inject some much-needed life back into the franchise, and because it’s set right at the beginning, newbies to Star Trek (like me) can be eased into its world.

Abrams has inserted his unique directorial style and visual flair to the film.  Fans of his other works can probably spot the best elements of Lost and Fringe somewhere in there.  The new franchise players, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto were knockouts. Pine delivered a scruffy yet charismatic Kirk, brash and arrogant but a born leader, whereas Quinto showed he could be much more than a psychopath killer (what happened to Sylar’s eyebrows?!), inhabiting the character of Spock.  The supporting cast is also great.  John Cho managed to leave Harold (of Harold and Kumar fame) behind, and Simon Pegg stole the show as Scotty.  Guys like Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin were also solid.

The film was action-packed right from the start and didn’t let up.  It also had just the right dash of humor.  As for the special effects – I didn’t really notice it that much because I expected to see space ships and lasers flying through space – but I suppose that means they did an excellent job of it by not allowing the effects to overwhelm the film.

There were only two weaknesses I could point out.  The first was probably the antagonist played by Eric Bana  (almost unrecognisable in heavy make-up), which I felt wasn’t really terrifying or imposing enough.  It wasn’t really his fault though because the focus of the film was firmly on the young Kirk and Spock.  The second was some of the action sequences, which still relied too heavily on the rapid cut scenes.

On the whole, however, the new Star Trek was fantastic.  I’m sure old Trekkies will enjoy it, as will those who simply like to watch a fun, exciting movie.  Despite its significant running length (126 minutes), I was left wanting more by the time the credits began rolling.

I’m not going to rush out to buy the series on DVD any time soon, but I’m glad to hear that this film could be the first of many.  Bring on the sequels!

4.5 stars out of 5

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

 

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

 

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

 

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

 

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!