Saturday, September 24, 2011

Apollo 18 Movie Review

The Pitch

The fact that NASA stopped all space mission to moon since 1972 had been a fascinating one. There's so much knowledge that humans could acquire with these trips to the moon and it comes to a halt since December 1972. Almost forty years had gone by and no man had set foot on moon again. The most probable reason would be that the mission to moon was not financially profitable. 

One of my faveourite conspiracy theories would be that NASA never landed on the moon and fake the landing to win the space race with Russia. After the "victory" and with the public popularity of Lunar landing missions waning, the subsequent missions (Apollo 18, 19 and 20) were canceled.

Now Dimension Films is creating another theory why there are no more official missions to moon since Apollo 17. Using shaky cam cinematographic technique, this movie tries to sell the "real" horrific reason why NASA didn't send anymore people to the moon.

Personally I am not a fan of the shaky cam cinematographic technique but this could work. The claustrophobic horror in space makes a fine addition to the alien and shaky cam genre.

The Plot

Officially, Apollo 17, launched December 17th, 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. But a year later, in December of 1973, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the US Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it’s the real reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.
In December, 1974, the crew of the previously-cancelled Apollo 18 mission is informed that the mission is a go, though it has now been deemed a top secret Department of Defense mission. Commander Nathan Walker, Lieutenant Colonel John Grey and Captain Benjamin Anderson are launched towards the Moon to place detectors to alert the United States of any impending ICBM attacks from the USSR.
Grey remains in orbit aboard the Freedom Command/Service module while Walker and Anderson land on the moon in the lunar module Liberty. While planting one of the detectors, the pair take samples of moon rocks. While attempting to sleep, the pair hear noises outside and a camera captures a small rock moving nearby. Houston claims the noises are interference from the ICBM detectors. Anderson finds a rock sample on the floor of Liberty despite having secured the samples. During further exploration they discover footprints that lead them to a Soviet LK lander nearby, finding it functional but blood-stained. Anderson follows tracks leading into a dark crater and finds a dead cosmonaut. Walker queries Houston about the Soviet presence but is told only to continue with the mission.
The following day the pair find that the flag they had planted is missing. Their mission complete, the crew prepares to leave the Moon but the launch is aborted when Liberty suffers violent shaking. An inspection reveals extensive damage to Liberty and non-human tracks that Walker cites as evidence of extraterrestrial life. Walker feels something moving inside his spacesuit and helmet and is horrified as a spider-like creature crawls across the inside of his helmet. Walker disappears from view and Anderson finds him unconscious outside of Liberty. Walker later denies the events. A wound is discovered on Walker's chest; Anderson feels, and removes, a Moon rock embedded within him. The pair find themselves unable to contact Houston or Grey due to increased levels of interference from an unknown source.
Anderson speculates that the true intention of the ICBM warning devices is to monitor the aliens. The pair also increasingly wonder if the devices are the source of the interference; Houston had assured them that this was not so. Walker shows signs of a developing infection around his wound and he becomes increasingly paranoid. The mission cameras capture the rock samples moving around in the interior of Liberty, revealing that the aliens are the moon rocks (or indistinguishable from the real rocks). Increasingly delusional, Walker attempts to destroy the cameras within Liberty but accidentally damages the system controls, causing Liberty to depressurize. Realizing the Soviet LK is their only source of oxygen, the pair travel to the LK lander in their lunar rover. Along the way, Walker attempts to run away, believing he should not leave the Moon because of the risk of spreading the infection to Earth. Anderson crashes as he attempts to stop Walker.
Anderson awakens and tracks Walker, finding him at the crater where they found the cosmonaut. Walker is pulled into the crater by the creatures. Anderson gives chase, using his strobe light to illuminate the area. The rocks start to sprout their spider-like legs, causing Anderson to flee to the Soviet LK. Using its radio he makes contact with USSR Mission Control who connect him to the United States Department of Defense. The deputy secretary of the department informs Anderson that they will not allow him to return to Earth, admitting they are aware of the situation and fear he is also infected. Anderson manages to contact Grey and they make arrangements for Anderson to return to Freedom. Anderson prepares the lander for launch but it is attacked by Walker. Before Walker can breach the vehicle, he is swarmed by the creatures.
Anderson launches the LK lander successfully with the intent of arriving near the orbiter and entering it via spacewalk. Grey is informed that Anderson is infected. Grey is ordered to abort Anderson's rescue or communication will be ceased, rendering him unable to return to Earth. Inside the lander, the reduced gravity causes small rocks within the Soviet craft to float. Anderson realizes with horror that some of the rocks are actually alien creatures. Anderson is attacked and infected by the creatures, preventing him from controlling the vehicle, leaving it headed toward Freedom. The space footage ends abruptly, implying a collision.
The footage cuts to before the pilots' mission, showing them having a barbecue with friends and family. The "official" fate of the astronauts is given, describing them as having died in various accidents that left their bodies unrecoverable. An epilogue explains that many of the rock samples returned from the previous Apollo missions are unaccounted for.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dolphin Tale [ Movie Review ] ★★★★

The Pitch

Dolphin Tale looked like it's going to be another family kiddie show that I thought I was going to be bored with. Then the trailer came along with Morgan Freeman narrating and appearing in it. My interest for this movie was somewhat increased. When the trailer ended indicating that it was based on a true story and it actually features the actual dolphin who lost it's tail in this tale, I became even more interested in this movie.

The Plot

Dolphin Tale is the remarkable tale of Winter, a dolphin who lost her tail when it gotten entangled with a fishing boat's crab trap. A young boy, Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) happened to be at the beach that Winter was washed up on. He tried to remove some of the crab trap ropes on her and stayed with her till the Clearwater Marine Aquarium rescue team arrive.

The boy and the injured dolphin immediately forms a strong bond but their friendship had to labored through a few obstacles. Aquarium vet (Harry Connick Jr) had to amputated Winter's tail to save the dolphin's life and Sawyer's mom (Ashley Judd) was upset that Sawyer been skipping his summer classes to take care of Winter. The aquarium was also having financial difficulties in covering it's operation and was facing a buyout from a business corporation.  But the worst hurdle would be that Winter swimming without a tail was going to damage her spine and would eventually kill her.

To overcome the most difficult issue, Sawyer decided to seek the help of Dr. McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), a specialist who works for the handicapped army veterans. Can they create a prosthetic limb for Winter in time to rescue her life?

The Perspective - Dolphin Tale Review

For most part of the movie, it runs like a predictable kids movie. It's not hard to figure out the ending or every situations that arises in this movie. There were plenty of cutesy moments, courtesy of the two kid actors (Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorf), an annoying pelican and of course, the dolphin Winter. What I didn't expect was the manner they used Winter's problem to heal the wounded souls of mankind.

After going through constant bombardment of how humans are destroying and using wildlife for their personal gain, it was a refreshing change to that the relationship between humans and wildlife could coexist in beneficiary ways. Dolphin Tale has a uplifting and inspiring message that reminds us that sometimes we can't make it on our own. Mankind that could do such horrible stuff to wildlife are also capable of so much beauty and love. There are so much we could learn and be inspired from the wildlife. The level of unexpected warmth in this movie caught me by surprise and even made me go teary up.

What I didn't like about the movie was rather trivial but I am going to list them. There's a romance angle that played out between the young Sawyer and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorf) which I felt serve no purpose except to introduce the young audience into boy girl relationship. I felt there's no need to push romance into such a young crowd and it wasn't essential to the story. 

I was also worried that the kids who loved this movie would start pestering their parents to bring them see a dolphin show and in Singapore, that would be Resort World Sentosa. But then again, watching dolphins in captivity might not be the best thing for dolphins. Just ask Ric O'Barry, the guy who helped made the movie Flipper and refer to the recent report on RWS treatment to dolphins. Winter's case is rather unique and personally, I still feel that the best way to get close to dolphin would be to visit them in their natural habitat.

Nevertheless, Dolphin Tale is an uplifting tale of how wildlife and human could coexist and benefit from working together. It might be formulaic but there's heart in this movie and a good way to teach the kids to start caring for nature. Dolphin Tale comes Highly Recommended - 4 Stars.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Tree of Life [ Movie Review ] ★★★

Some said that director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life is a multilayered film that requires repeated viewings. Others called it a snooze fest or the worst movie ever. There are cinemas in USA that put up signs that warned the moviegoers about the enigmatic and non-linear narrative of this movie and offering refunds for those who walk out of the show.

Even Sean Penn was quoted in a French publication that "A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!"

It makes you wonder how is it going to be a thought provoking film experience.

After experiencing Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line many years ago, I knew that there were going to be plenty of philosophy musing and questioning, abstract moments for the viewers to fill in the blank or link for themselves. It's pretty much the same for The Tree of Life.

There's hardly a conventional structure to tell the story of a Midwestern family dealing with the lost of a son. It started with Mrs and Mr O'Brien (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt) receiving the news of their son death. It jumped to the modern day when their other son Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) is a successful architect who was still affected by the death of his brother. The Tree of Life then depicts the formation of the universe with a prayer to God to ease the pain and briefly covers the evolution of life on planet Earth. After which, the bulk of the movie revolves around the O'Brien's household in the fifties, covering various aspects of the kids' growing up phrase and the relationship between the parents and the kids. Ending with an unexplained surreal reunion of the O'Brien family at a beach.

Personally, I felt that The Tree of Life is a movie that requires the right type of mood to watch. An unhurried contemplating patient mood to soak in all that's being shown. There are great visual and soundtracks that momentary helped ease the frustration with the difficulties in comprehending the significance of various events that's going on in this movie. But I got to agree with Sean Penn on how The Tree of Life could have been better. There's a degree of hollowness in the emotions that depicted in this movie. The philosophic contemplation had very little bearing when it's hard to be emotionally invested on the characters or their situation.

I don't think I had truly understood this movie in one setting. But I think it's ok. There enough goodness in The Tree of Life that make me want to revisit it in the future and perhaps the second viewing might give more insight to this multilayered movie. 

In closing, The Tree of Life is not for the usual movie goers. Personally, going for a Terrence Malick movie felt like an uphill task. There's always so much richness in the sight and sound found in his movie and it's a treat to be immerse in them. But then again, it's like going for philosophy marathon lessons that one can never be too sure if they got the stamina to last through out. I would recommend this movie but you have been warned.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beautiful Lies | De vrais mensonges [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

The last time Audrey Tautou and Pierre Salvadori collaborated, they gave us Priceless (Hors de prix
), a wonderful film about an unlikely romance between a gold digger and a poor bartender. This time round, they team up to give us the unlikely love triangle involving forwarding of a passionate love letter between a hairdresser, her secret admirer and the hairdresser's mother.

Can the magic repeat twice for the duo?

The Plot

Jean (Sami Bouajila) had been secretly admiring his boss Emelie (Audrey Tautou) a salon co-owner for quite sometime. He worked in her salon as a handy man while having qualification for better jobs. He wrote her a passionate mushy love letter, only to witness Emelie tossing the letter right in front of him.

Emelie on the other hand, had retrieve Jean's love letter so that she could copy it and send it to her mom Maddy (Nathalie Baye) who couldn't get over her husband infidelity with someone younger. Emelie had hoped that this fake secret admiration would ease the hurt that the impending divorce news that Emelie has been keeping from her mom.

The situation got out of hand when Maddy caught Jean hand delivering Emelie's follow up love letter to her mom and mistaken Jean as the secret admirer. That forces Emelie to cajole Jean to play along and pretend that he had written all the love letters.  Jean is now having the unpleasant prospect of helping the love of his life in romancing her mother.

The Perspective

Comparing Beautiful Lies to Priceless, this movie wasn't that convincing in selling the unlikely romance between the leads.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love In Space | 全球熱戀 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch
Love In Space (全球热恋) is the romantic comedy follow up to last year Hot Summer Days (全城热恋). Directed by Wing Shya (夏永康) and Tony Chan (陈国辉) with an ensemble of well known Asian celebrities, these two movies basically presents a variety of love stories like what Love Actually did.  
Hot Summer Days was one of my top ten worst movies of 2010. It was a fumbling attempt to ape Love Actually's success and it drown in it's arsenal of cardboard characters and multiple weak storylines. But Hot Summer Days must have done well at the box office since a follow up had been green lighted. 
The Plot  
Love In Space follows a mother (Xu Fan 徐帆) and her three grown daughters as they juggle their unexpected love encounters in a space station, Sydney and Beijing.
In Space, No one can hear your sweet nothing
In a space station, Rose (René Liu 刘若英) is unexpectedly reunited with her ex boyfriend Michael (Aaron Kwok 郭富城). With only the two of them working in a confined space, romance started to blossom. They tried to suppress their underlying love for each other as the issues that caused them to break up at the first place remained unsolved.
When Garbage Met Disposable Gloves
In Sydney, Lily (Gwei Lun Mei 桂纶镁) had a love at first sight encounter with Johnny (Eason Chan 陈奕迅). Their relationship wasn't a easy one as Lily suffers from anxiety disorder (OCD) with cleanliness and he works as a garbage man. But fate kept pushing them together and it's up to them to overcome their status quo for their love to blossom.
Proof that Clark Kent disguise work
Lastly, Peony (Angelababy 杨颖) is a well known celebrity in China but credential wise, she just got the worst actress award. In order to perform better for her next movie, she went undercover to work as a waitress to study her role. What she didn't expect was that she would fall for a failed writer Wen Feng (Jing Boran 井柏然) there. Relationship bliss would not be easy for her as she is under contact with her agency and it's forbidden for her to date for the next five years.
 The Perspective
Love In Space is a marked improvement from Hot Summer Days. The most obvious improvement would be reduction of love stories between five couples to three. Concentrating on only three couples gave more time to build up the chemistry between characters. But then again, these three love stories are still rather predicable and the only thing that saved it from being a yawn fest would be their rather interesting setups.

The most enjoyable love story among the three would be the one between Lily and Johnny. The quirkiness of their situation and the actors performance made it a pleasure to sit through this section of the movie. 

The most gimmicky portion of Love in Space would be the romance between Rose and Michael. I was interested to see what tricks would a China film use to depict the zero gravity environment. While the mixture of wires and computer generated images were not top notch Hollywood standard, they were not too bad. The romance were passable largely due to charisma of the two actors.

Last but not least, the Beijing love story which features Angelababy in various outrageous costumes. I am not sure why Angelababy and Jing Boran were paired up for the second time. It seemed that the China audience like them as a couple but I felt that the chemistry between them was lacking. Or perhaps I am just not used to the China style of romance which this segment is catering for.

In summary, Love in Space turned out to be more enjoyable than expected. The reduction of stories worked well and the set up here were so much better than Hot Summer Days. It might not go down as a classic love story like Love Actually but it would do to pass time with a love one.


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Smurfs [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

Back when I was a kid, Sunday mornings used to mean a healthy dose of The Smurfs cartoon. The lovely "bluelings" and their conflicts with their arch enemy Gargamel was the entertainment of the weekend. It's been years since the last time I watched a Smurf cartoon but fond memories remained etched.

Fast forward to 2011, The Smurfs are coming onto the big screen and being a movie fan, it's hard to give up the chance to catch up with "old friends", even if it meant that the setting will be at New York City and most of the Smurfs are not getting their original voice talents behind them.

The Plot

It's the Blue Moon Festival and The Smurfs are rehearsing their dance routine. Almost everyone is involved with the celebration except Clumsy Smurf for he is a walking disaster. In the meanwhile Papa Smurf had a vision that showed the Smurfs in suspended cages and Clumsy fumbling for a dragon wand. It was not a good premonition and that got Papa Smurf worried.

In an attempt to prevent the premonition from coming true, Papa Smurf kept Clumsy from gathering the herbs outside the Smurfs village. Clumsy probably felt left out from all the activities, went against Papa Smurf's wishes and tried to prove the other Smurfs wrong. However, Gargamel happened to spot Clumsy and followed him back to the village.

A big havoc ensured when Gargamel started to wreck the village and attempted to catch the smurfs. While making their escape, Clumsy misread a sign and run into a forbidden cave. Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Grouchy, Brainy and Gutsy went after him to recuse him. They were all sucked into a waterfall vortex caused by the blue moon and finds themselves transported to New York City.

In New York City, they befriend Patrick and Grace, a married couple who is expecting their first child. Patrick, a marketing executive for a cosmetic brand and a demanding boss, wasn't that please to put up with these little blue people but did it for Grace. Together, they tried to find a way back to Smurfs village while Gargamel is hot on their trail.

The Perspective 

For a old timer like me, The Smurfs didn't felt like the Smurfs that I once knew. Something is lost in this big screen adaptation of the well loved cartoon / comics. Kids, Folks who are new to this and less critical people would probably enjoy this movie more than me.

Let's start with what went wrong for me. It's a tell tale sign that a movie studio do not trust the property at hand. The displacement of Smurfs to New York City, the inclusion of actors like Neil Patrick Harris, having Katy Perry, Anton Yelchin, Alan Cumming & etc to voice the Smurfs and using well known reality star from Project Runway Tim Gunn were all obvious tactics that the movie studio used to lure in the customers, in case that the Smurf fans are not flocking into the project. I wouldn't say that they did a bad job but it just didn't feel very Smurfy.

I couldn't help but notice that kids in my theater started to talk when the focus shifted to Neil Patrick Harris' character and the work problems he faced in New York city. I am guessing that NPH was hired so that he could draw in the teenage crowd but this time round, I am siding with the kids. The Smurf movie could have been better without the addition of NPH and his character's subplot.

The voice over for The Smurfs took a while to get use to. Katy Perry was pretty good as Smurfette. Her voice over invoked the memory of Lucille Bliss' rendition of Smurfette while retaining her own distinctness. George Lopez and Anton Yelchin rendition of Grouchy and Clumsy respectively were pretty off. There's very little trace of the old Grouchy and Clumsy in this movie and frankly, I miss the old two. Hank Azaria's performance as Gargamel was as good as Katy Perry's Smurfette. It's not exactly the old Gargamel that we were accustom to but it's as close what a live actor could carry out.

We are selling Guitar Hero!
If there's anything that I dislike intensely about this movie, it would be the product placement for Guitar Hero. It felt like an unnecessary full length commercial that wasted precious screen time to enhance the story telling process.

But then again, the relocation of the Smurfs backdrop, the usage of more popular celebrities had already pointed out that this movie is made with the intent to squeeze the cash cow rather than to make a proper homage to the beloved memories of the old cartoon / comics. This blatant product placement shouldn't come as a surprise but it still left a memorable bad aftertaste.  

To summarize, this Smurf movie isn't really all that Smurfy. Perhaps I am too cynical about what went wrong with my expectation of what should make up a Smurf Movie but I think the new generation deserved something more than this. There are plans for a sequel to The Smurfs movie and I hope that the next time round, the movie maker would stay more rooted to the origin of the old blue ones.

Worth the 3D Ticket?

There were a couple of times, I took my glasses off to watch this movie and it was much better than experience. The quality was better and even the freckles on the Smurfs face could be seen. Quite often, during my glasses off period, the image on screen wasn't even that fuzzy at all.  

The only scene that I was impressed with the 3Dness of this movie would be when Gargamel used a leaves blower in a toys department. There's a scene with the flying leaves that came from the audience perspective and were sucked into the blower. Quite a niffy scene but other than that, there nothing much about this 3D movie to be wowed with.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Cat | 고양이 : 죽음을 보는 두 개의 눈 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Plot

So-yuen (Park Min-Young) works at a pet shop as a groomer. After tending to a cat, she started to see a mysterious bob-haired young girl. She didn't put too much thought on it as she suffered from claustrophobia due to a traumatic childhood incident and was still getting treatment for it.
When the cat owner mysteriously passed away in a lift, So-yuen happened to coincidentally passed by the building. A police officer Joon-Suk (Kim Dong-Wook) who was at the scene and was tasked to handle the cat, coincidentally turned out to be her good friend Bo-Hee (Shin Da-Eun) ex boyfriend that she had a crush on. The police officer requested her to take care of the cat and that's when the supernatural troubles started to escalate for So-yeun.

The Perspective 

The Cat smelled like another generic Asian horror flick that derived it's horror and storyline from the classic Japanese horror The Ring (Ringu). The trailer and plot synopsis reaffirmed that there will be no surprises in this tired genre.

You get a pretty lady as the protagonist who is having some sort of trauma from before. So-Yuen (played by the pretty Park Min-Young) is one such person. Something happened to her before and now, she is claustrophobic with a eerie dad. A convenient set up so that it would give her the excuse to freak out more often than normal people.

She would come across some form of supernatural device that would kill the people around her but not her. After the video tape in the Ring, we have seen Asian horror film makers desperately trying to throw anything and hopping that it would stick. There's been cellphones, wigs and even cinemas. This time round, the filmmakers are throwing the Cat at the audience. Cats could be morbid creatures but here it's just a another plot device at horror.

The scare tactics used in The Cat had been recycled so often that it's hard to be terrify. It's also easy to spot who are the "would be" victims and that lessen the element of surprise. Additionally, these dis-likeable characters were scripted so that the story could waste time in killing them off in the most uninspired fashion and it does nothing much to advance the plot or build up the characters. Last but not least, the climatic revelation behind the haunting felt like a blatant copy of The Ring without the fitness to execute it properly.

I would say that the only saving grace in The Cat would be Park Min-Young as eye candy. Otherwise everything else here is a rehash of the usual Asian Horror films. Unless you are a new to this genre and couldn't get enough of the same stuff, this kitty is avoidable.

 Beyond the Movie
The direct translation for the long Korean movie title literally means Cat: Two Eyes That See Death.