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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

[7.00/10] 14 Blades a.k.a. Gam yee wai (2010)

Gam yee wai


14 Blades (2010)

Director Daniel Lee isn’t a very good story-teller and that his films reveal nothing but patchy storyline. “14 Blades” lacks the engaging must-have tear duct squeezing moment and most importantly strong plot. Instead, it is about exotic locations, elaborate costumes and fancy weaponry. Donnie Yen manages to make his fights look like a spirited walk in the park as he oozes masculinity and charisma. But his acting still leaves much to be desired. Vicky Zhaodelivers a decent performance. She's super-cute and a joy to watch! The film’s most notable performance is turned in by pop star Chun Wu, here playing a Jack Sparrow-type desert pirate by the name of the Judge of the Desert. Wu’s desert bandit adds some much-needed color to the film! The fighting scenes also leave a lot to be desired. While the fights are well-choreographed, the egregious use of fast cuts and slow-motion seem to point to technical deficiencies during the shoot. While Daniel Lee's "14 Blades" isn't a modern wuxia masterpiece, but there is enough hard action, longing romance, silly humour, morality spiels, and well-choreographed fight sequences in deserts, forests, temples and tea-houses, to engage every martial arts fan across the board.

[5.50/10] The Rebound (2009)

The Rebound (2009)

"The Rebound" is pretty straightforward, and just a little bit predictable. Bart Freundlich's direction is too bland and impersonal, because he does not bring too much passion to his work. There's nothing special about "The Rebound". It is the typical love story about the older woman falling in love with a younger man. However, the thing about the movie that grabbed me was that it was genuine, it seemed quite real. It was funny without being over the top, the kid actors had me in stitches, and it really is the epitome of a female mid-life crisis. The cast is good. Zeta-Jones delivers a very good performance and Justin Bartha was also very decent, the two kids are very funny. For those who like their fairy tale happy endings - you might be disappointed. The ending leaves the outcome of the reunion of Sandy and Aram up to the viewer's interpretation. All in all, "The Rebound"is watchable and moderately entertaining, but absolutely forgettable.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

[6.50/10] The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies (2010)

The 2010 remake of "The Crazies" can be considered an upgrade from the original film. Is it an original concept? No, not really. "The Crazies" is pretty predictable and is fairly standard fare. Most horror film clichés are thrown in and there are very few surprises. Yet the film remains entertaining, partly due to the great cinematography, but mostly due to it's lead cast, predominantly Timothy Olyphant. He continues to prove that he is one of this generations best new character actors with another great role that will probably end up going mostly unnoticed. There are quite a few interesting kills and the make-up and CG effects are more than satisfactory, but it often felt like the film borrowed ideas from other horrors and thrillers from the past few years rather than providing something a bit more creative. "The Crazies" falls a bit flat overall, but is still worth checking out if you're a die hard horror fan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

CineMarvellous Preview: Empires of the Deep (2010)



Empires of the Deep (2010)

--> Written by Jiang Hongyu, and produced by Jiang, Byers, and Harrison Liang, the US $50 million (reports now have the films budget at $100 million) "Empires of the Deep" is set in ancient Greece and tells the story of a band of Greek sailors who discover a secret underwater kingdom of mermaids, and must join forces to combat a dark evil that threatens both mermaid and human civilizations. Even though the story is set in the Greek isles, the picture will be shot entirely in China, on sound stages in Beijing, and exotic seaside locations in Fujian and Hainan provinces, making it one of the first Chinese productions based on an entirely Western story.

With Jonathan Lawrence now firmly ensconced as director, despite some sources that still give Pitof the role, "Empires of the Deep" seems now on track. Filming was to begin on 20 November 2009 and set to end on 19 March 2010.

"Empires of the Deep" is without a doubt the most ambitious fantasy film that has ever been attempted in China, so it wouldn't be too surprising to assume that the project would run into a mountain of obstacles ever before filming was slated to begin.

Indeed "Empires of the Deep" has already had a major casting change, Monica Bellucci replacing the disgruntled Sharon Stone as the Mermaid Queen, and director change, Jonathan Lawrence stepping in for the Frenchman, Pitof.

Here is a bit from the E-magine Studios press release about the film:

“Jonathan Lawrence is uniquely suited to direct this epic adventure,” said producer Mark Byers. “His previous films integrate visual effects seamlessly into the story instead of treating them like add-ons, and his global experience allows him to interface with the all-Chinese crew without a hitch.”

The undersea fantasy epic is being touted as the first film in the history of cinema to explore the mystical world of the merfolk — a world “inhabited by mermaids, giants, an evil mage and dozens of different undersea kingdoms and races: each with their own cultural traits.

"Empires of the Deep" will introduce audiences to an entirely brand-new style of huge action set-pieces, a host of fantastical creatures and amazing underwater fight scenes. It will combine mystery and intrigue with incredible sea battles.

Produced by Beijing production company E-magine Studios, Empire of the Deep features extensive visual effects that will set it on the level of a Hollywood studio production, further enhancing the picture’s uniqueness in Chinese cinema.

Concept Art: CGI Creatures:
For the early production artwork it is easy to see why visually, "Empires of the Deep" could be spectacular.
Jonathan Lawrence
“It is an honor to be part of this groundbreaking production, and a great experience to work with such a world-class Chinese crew,” said Lawrence. “Mr. Jiang has an extraordinary vision, and I’m excited to bring his epic story to the big screen.”

On the mermaid side of things at least (the rest of the cast being largely ignored in existing promotional material), the film stars Monica Bellucci as the Mermaid Queen (first below) and Yan Fei as the film’s main aquatic protagonist (second below) — who together cover the gauntlet of cinematic feminine allure from sexy to cute:

Over the past decade Asian cinema has taken major strides in forming a solid base to compete with Hollywood, and with a good cast, creative creature design, elaborate sets, stunning effects, and a good story to work from, "Empires of the Deep" could end up being China's answer to "Avatar". Though it would be hard to gauge at this point how much, if any impact the film will have on the west, or international cinema markets.

At least, at this point, unless suddenly Jonathan Lawrence pulls out to shoot another American TV movie, or actress Monica Bellucci publicly disagrees with Chinese politics, "Empires" will continue moving along as planned and should finish on schedule. As it stands, that, in upon itself is an incredible accomplishment for a film that has been in a various states of flux since it was first conceived of way back in 2006.

Sources: Undead Backbrain / Avery Guerra / Press Release/ Twitchfilm

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

[7.25/10] Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010)

"Shutter Island" is a movie with Martin Scorsese signature all over it. How fantastic direction can made ordinary plot interesting is the highlight of movie? Nice camera movement, shadow photography and capable cast selection made this one worth watching. Despite the brilliant atmosphere which Scorsese and his cinematographer Richardson cook-up, the films narrative lacks the essence of a Scorsese film and a Lehane novel. At times the extended sequences seem to be dragging the film out, for the sake of dragging it out rather than extending our knowledge of the on-screen surroundings. While DiCaprio is continually on-screen for almost two hours, and during this time his performance starts to wear thin. Which is a consequence of the fact that despite the subtle and quite well refined performances by Ruffalo, Kingsley, Lynch, Levine and Williams, nobody steps forth and offers DiCaprio a supporting hand and because of this, by the end of the film it seems as if he utilizing every last acting bone in his body to complete the film. Director Martin Scorsese also seem to have a hard time trying to build up suspense, especially towards the end. The dream sequences were annoying at times and a bit overdone. Overall, "Shutter Island" does a competent job of building the apparently normal, but 'you-know-something-is-going-on' atmosphere. However, it quickly goes downhill, and like DiCaprio's character, I was also searching for a way to abandon the island at the half-way point. It picks up again in the second half, but just around the point where you think it's going to get interesting, you realise you've seen it all before. That said, even though the dénouement is predictable, it's done well enough to stick with to the end.

Monday, March 22, 2010

[4.00/10] Nine Dead (2010)

Nine Dead (2010)

"Nine Dead" was slightly below average, yet watchable horror/thriller. The script was poorly written and the acting was absolutely horrible with no exceptions. The plot borders on that of "Saw", teach people what they did wrong in a situation and try to make them appreciate life more, but that is really where the comparison ends. "Nine Dead" tries to have heart and purpose behind simple ideas that are not new. Film's biggest fault was the slap in the face to the viewer of flashbacks that occurred three minutes before in the film and were completely unnecessary, and a completely inadequate ending. The best thing that can be said about "Nine Dead" is that it wasn't predictable.

[4.75/10] Possession (2009)

Possession (2009)

Quickrating: Sadly, "Possession" is yet another Asian horror remake that doesn't work. Here, the problems rest on the film's lazy execution. While the performers Lee Pace and Sarah Michelle Gellar do their best with the material, the film itself is an absolute bore, bogged down by tedious plotting and an incredibly dry pace.

[5.25/10] Shuttle (2008)

Shuttle (2008)

Interesting from the start, though far from riveting, the plot of Shuttle very slowly builds to an incredibly unsatisfactory ending. The premise is all right; people embark on an airport shuttle towards downtown only to discover that they are at the mercy of a psychopath who kidnaps them. What ensues, however, is a pretty by-the-number thriller where there is not one development, plot point or reversal that is unpredictable or surprising in the least. Even a supposedly midpoint twist is totally foreseeable only by the way the main characters are introduced at the beginning. From then on it's merely a long cat and mouse game that loses interest quickly. There is a conclusion but it is neither truly shocking nor original. Acting is surprisingly accomplished throughout, particularly by the two girls, especially in light of the weakness of the material they have to work with. "Shuttle" does nothing spectacular and drags on a little bit too much ages after you can see the climax looming over the horizon.

[5.00/10] Left Bank a.k.a. Linkeroever (2008)

Left Bank


...( read more)Screenwriters Pieter Van Hess and Dimitri Karakatsanis try to jolt the Belgian horror industry alive with "Left Bank", a film which finds itself completely successful in creating three dimensional characters and a realistic world but completely fails at it's core objective: scary the bejesus out of the audience. Van Hess is unable to create any sense of tension or terror for the entirety of Left Bank. Two scenes at the beginning do successfully establish the mood and are appropriately creepy, but no one follows up on them for far too long. The terror aspect fails to come into play; it's as if the script doesn't know how to blend the exposition and the horror. Visually, "Linkeroever" is absolutely great though! The anamorphic transfer smartly retains the intended grainy look of the film, automatically creating a dank and horror-ish vibe. On top of that, the usual dingy, off-color feel of foreign films is at full effect, further helping Left Bank take its place within the genre. With its pacing problems, lack of intensity, scares and excitement, "Left Bank" ended up as mediocre horror flick with great potential, but uninspired execution.

Monday, March 15, 2010

[6.75/10] The Descent: Part 2 (2009)

The Descent: Part 2 (2009)

The original "Descent" by Neil Marshall was an extremely claustrophobic 'descent' into madness. "The Descent: Part 2" is totally unnecessary sequel to the the brilliant original. In fact, for this sequel to work the film-makers have removed the ending from the UK version and gone with the US ending. Jon Harris, who edited the original movie has made a decent job of directing the follow-up. He manages to create tension in places, and stages some impressive attacks by the creatures. The attacks are probably more bloody that they were in the first but that's not a problem at all. "The Descent: Part 2"'s not as scary as the original even though it does have some good shocks in it, and the new characters aren't as well-developed as they were in the original , but get enough time to make you care for what happens to them. The acting is pretty decent, especially from the leads. It is disappointing then to say that for all the good work in the movie, it is let down by a frankly ridiculous and nonsensical twist in the final moments that makes no sense at all. "The Descent 2"'s nowhere near as good as the original, but a surprisingly effective sequel. Plot-holes and revealing mistakes aside, it's a good scary fun and definitely worth-seeing!

[6.25/10] The Burrowers (2008)

The Burrowers (2008)

"The Burrowers" is low-budget horror/western that stands somewhere between total pap and inspired genius. The first half is a bit dull with it's constantly having the characters waiting for something to happen. In the second half everything gets better, apparently even the directing! Actual suspense begins to build and the encounters with the Indians begin to become increasingly bizarre. The atmosphere becomes more sinister and the movie begins to take on the aspects of a nightmare in which you can't wake up. The acting was on par, as good as it will get in a "horror" movie. The creature effects are rather good, and it was refreshing to see only a partial use of CGI, as well as the inventive fate of the victims. The finale is pretty harrowing. The atmosphere in the movie is satisfactory. For the most part, it really felt like the 1800's. There were a few scenes during the night that seemed like it was too well lit for an era that didn't have electricity but over all, the set was well done. "The Burrowers" is much better than most straight to DVD releases. It's original, scary and pretty watchable!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

[6.75/10] Brothers (2009)

Brothers (2009)

There is not one single new, insightful, or even particularly interesting thought in "Brothers" on the subject of either war or brothers, and yet fine performances by Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and powerful performance by Tobey Maquire, make it compelling and even moving. Although not so much a fan of Tobey Maguire, I was actually surprised at his role in this movie, and the strength he gives to his character, so in the sense of character portrayal Tobey did quite a realistic and natural approach to someone who has been through a traumatic experience. Also, you will not believe the acting by the two little girls that portray Toby and Natalie's daughters. They truly steal the show! Writer David Benioff adapts the film well but misses the mark with cheesy dialogue and not enough bridges between characters. Sheridan fills the film with tension and silence which make Thomas Newman's score nearly non-existent. The film doesn't make anything new with its cinematography or film pacing. Sheridan seems half-fast in his execution and doesn't measure up to his previous works. All in all, "Brothers" is a decent film with a great characters and amazing performances.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

[9.00/10] [Rec]² (2009)

[Rec]² (2009)

This is a direct sequel to the phenomenal Spanish horror "[Rec]". The story takes place where the original movie ended, this time focusing more on a SWAT team. From the very start "[Rec]²" has the exact same feel as its predecessor. The acting is great, special effects even better. The characters in the movie were believable and well-portrayed, especially because they have that 'everyday man and woman' feel to them, they are just like you and me. That makes the movie all the more real. Again, picking up the scenery and sets from the first "[Rec]" movie makes for a good scenery with a constant underlying sense of dread and claustrophobia. Again the camera work was amazing, makes you feel like you are right there in the middle of the chaos. The way the movie is shot works so well, it is like participating in a superb horror game. The whole possession and Christian propaganda approach they had decided to turn the story to was a little unexpected and maybe a little disappointing. However, taking things in a new direction and presenting ideas in a real and efficient way was very effective. From the very beginning it was clear that the directors wanted to have the same approach to "[Rec]²", but with a twist, a twist that would change the movies perspective and make it for once different. "[Rec]²" is a honest movie, made by horror fanatics for true horror fans. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza prove themselves once again as pure horror geniuses!

[7.00/10] Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians:
The Lightning Thief (2010)

In "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief", veteran director Chris Columbus does what he does best. He puts normal kids in incredible situations and has them take a journey to learn life lessons, while not forgetting what it means to be young and carefree. It's what he's been doing for a long time and I truly believe he knows his craft and executes it well. "Percy Jackson" mixes pure adventure with movie magic. The three main characters play out the adventure of a lifetime against a back drop of Greek mythology. It's like they are real life characters thrown into the fantasy backdrop of the movie. The effects, of which there are quite a lot, are mostly pretty good, as is the cast, with Steve Coogan and Rosario Dawson, in particular, having a lot of fun as Hades and Persephone. And Uma Thurman has a huge amount of fun as Medusa. Logan Lerman conveyed Percy really well, Alex Daddario pulled through for Annabeth, and I found it hilarious the way Brandon T. Jackson played Grover. "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" was fun, action-packed, true enough to the books to please fans with open minds, and just an overall good movie.

[8.00/10] Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire (2009)

Precious: Based on the Novel
PUSH by Sapphire (2009)

"Precious" is a powerful, audacious film. Although it has an affecting script and appears to have only one perspective, it is deep and insightful. It is an important film, a film that dares to as real as it can get. "Precious"'s a depressing tale of a overweight 17-year old who's been destroyed by her own parents, she's a mother of two kids and is humiliated within. "Precious" is so so real, that you might feel irritated at the goings-on, it's a like happening near you... and the tragedy is that you can't help the innocent & troubled child. Director Lee Daniels' style of direction might have been rather conventional, but what is really commendable is that he manages to hypnotize his cast thereby making them deliver outstanding performances. First timer Gabourey Sidibe might not have had to do much, taking into account her appearance which so perfectly suits her role, but she doesn't slack. A truly remarkable breakthrough performance is what she does give! Mo'Nique's performance as the vicious, abusive mother is outstanding. Near the end of the film she manages to clearly convey the conflicted feelings and thoughts of a selfish, emotionally puerile woman unable to distinguish right from wrong. The viewer doesn't overlook the crimes of the mother but comes to understand this pitiful failure of a human being. Being able to generate pity from the audience for this monstrous woman is no mean feat. Nothing quite prepares you for the rough-cut diamond that is "Precious." A rare blend of pure entertainment and dark social commentary, this shockingly raw, surprisingly irreverent and absolutely unforgettable story of an obese, illiterate, pregnant black Harlem teen circa 1987 is one that you hope will not be dismissed as too difficult, because it should not be missed.

[3.50/10] The Spy Next Door (2010)

The Spy Next Door (2010)

"The Spy Next Door"' story is overly simple and has been done to death already. It seemed like a copy of the crappy Vin Diesel movie "The Pacifier", just a notch better than the last mentioned. The film misfires in every way you can imagine, except that it is shot in color. The acting of the main stars as well as the supporting cast was rock bottom, with none of the timing that comedians are supposed to be good at. Instead of avoiding stereotypes, the film embraces them in shallow ways, such as the improbable Russian accents. From an action movie standpoint, the film spends its tension unwisely. With the exception of a creative scene involving kitchen implements, the fight sequences are just not very impressive. "The Spy Next Door" makes little to no attempt to even be a good movie. It's all recycled drivel, with nothing remotely original about it.

[3.00/10] The Tooth Fairy (2010)

The Tooth Fairy (2010)

"The Tooth Fairy" is a kids movie, pure and simple, endlessly saccharine and full of pratfalls, moral lessons and magic fairy dust. It's also incredibly dull, and a massive waste of what's actually a great cast - Merchant is consistently funny and Billy Crystal is in vintage form as Fairyland's gadget-master Q equivalent, and Johnson is as charming as ever. 6 year old kids will probably laugh their six-year-old heads off, but the dullness of the script, the predictability of the gags and the moral convenience and simplicity of the story is going to bore pretty much everyone else. "The Tooth Fairy" is the worst movie I've seen so far this year.

[6.50/10] Agora (2009)

Agora (2009)

"Agora" is a mildly-entertaining historical drama by the Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, set in Alexandria around the end of the fourth century and features a woman named Hypatia, played by Rachel Weiss, who is considered in history to be a scientist, mathematician and philosopher, although in reality, very little fact is really known about her. The chief reason to see this film is for Rachel Weisz's performance. She is the main character and she gives an excellent performance. Whenever she is on screen you are riveted to the screen. Her excitement at discovery, her endless desire to learn, her ability to figure out the mysteries of the universe are fascinating and she makes them feel exciting even though we know it all already. She gets good support from her leading men, Max Minghella and Oscar Isaac, but it's hard for the three of them to connect with how unfocused the script is and that's the film's biggest problem. Unfortunately, when ever Weisz is off-screen there is nothing to hold our interest until she returns. The rest of the plot is a really blunt, unsubtle message about the dangers of religious zealotry blatantly inserted onto Hypatia's story to give it some sort of relevance. The sheer lack of subtlety and intelligence behind this message is annoying. Technically, "Agora" is stunningly beautiful - the costumes, the setting, the make-up, the art direction, it brought to life a fascinating Alexandria. Dario Marianelli's score is also very good, with its use of orchestra to highlight the magnificence of the movie.

[2.75/10] Laid To Rest (2009)

Laid To Rest (2009)

"Laid to Rest" is just another dull slasher 'shocker'. The film pretty much lays out its stall during the opening credits, as we've got a bunch of flashily edited images showcasing various shots of blood, gore, torture and screaming. The nominal plot has a young woman waking up in a coffin unaware of who she is or how she got there. Almost immediately she finds herself stalked by a guy wearing a silver skull mask and two huge knives. There is no set up the film just goes from there as random people die around her and she hooks up with people who later die. The deaths are horrible and bloody. Technically the film is a gore lovers delight, but that's it. The script is ridiculous, lazily-written and devoid of any decent dialogue. It's not even bad in a funny way, unfortunately. Lead actress Bobbi Sue Luther is rather awful too, and clearly only got the part because she's the director's wife. "Laid to Rest" is very clichéd throughout and doesn't feature any surprises. It's boring, amateurish and awfully-made. It should be laid to rest, indeed!

[7.50/10] Ninja Assassin (2009)

Ninja Assassin (2009)

Almost too self-explanatory, "Ninja Assassin" is a martial arts movie involving ninjas, and is set in the real world. It's produced by Andy and Larry Wachowski, who created the iconic Matrix movies, and is directed by the very talanted James McTeiguie, director of "V for Vendetta". "Ninja Assassin" has that 80's corny style of an action movie that focuses more on the action, the incredibility and the exaggeration of the violence, and a lame back story. Because of the fact that this pays homage to old b-movie ninja movies, it's easier to ignore some of the movie's flaws. The script was horrific, the acting, only slightly better. The only actor seeming to have any real fun in the movie was Ben Miles as Agent Maslow. The protagonist Raizo was played by the unusually one-named Rain, who, while a tremendous athlete and martial artist, could only deliver his lines with a stoic one-note woodenness and without any emotion or urgency. Even the usually good Naomie Harris seemed to feel stuck in her role. On the other side, "Ninja Assassin" has quite a strong sense of visual identity. All fight sequences are presented in an almost abstract way - you can't follow the action specifically, but that doesn't matter too much because there is such a strong overriding visual flair, in terms of dynamic movement, light and dark and colour. The ninjas themselves literally blend into the shadows. The great thing about this movie is that the film-makers know who their audience is and they deliver the goods. When a film is called "Ninja Assassin", you know what you're signing in for; a lot of martial arts, a lot of blood, some kind of honor/revenge related plot, a ton of fighting scenes, basically, mayhem. And that is what you get!