Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hong Kong Ghost Stories [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as the return of Hong Kong horror, "Hong Kong Ghost Stories" features two spooky tales from director Wong Jing and Patrick Kong. From the good o' classic such as Mr Vampire to the crappy cheaply made ones like the Troublesome Night franchise in the nineties, it's been a long time since there's any comedic horror movies from Hong Kong. 

But can Wong Jing (King of low brow entertainment) and Patrick Kong ( Director of Mr and Mrs Single) revived this once popular genre for the Hong Kong film industry? Or is this just an excuse to put straight to video quality movie on the big screen to earn some quick bucks?

The Plot

The first story, "Classroom" is written and directed by Wong Jing. It stars Jennifer Tse (Nicolas Tse's sister making her acting debut) as Miss Yip, a substitute teacher who is returning to the teaching field after breaking up an abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend Chung (Pakho Chow). But she is not getting any break as her new class is unruly and her ex-boyfriend keep pestering her for a patch up.

Things got worse for Miss Yip when she saw some of her students going for compensated dates. Her offers to help them were met with threats and acts of defiance from her students.

And since this is a horror movie, Miss Yip subsequently got locked up in the toilet with slamming doors and flying blades (courtesy of the exhaust fan). Miss Yip soon discover that this is not your usual unruly class. It's the supernatural horrific type that wouldn't allow Miss Yip "abandon" them. To "entice" Miss Yip more, it seemed that there's a victimized student that would need rescuing. Could Miss Yip survive her class from hell?

Patrick Kong wrote and directed the second story "Travel" in a non-chronological manner. It started with the funeral wake of Bobo (Chrissie Chau) that attended by four of her friends (Charmaine Fong, Jacqeuline Chong, Harriet Yeung and Rose Chan). They spent their time playing cards and recounting their first encounter with Bobo and policeman Jack (Timmy Hung) at a recent tour trip to Thailand.

Halfway through the wake, Bobo's lover Karl (Him Law) arrived to pay his last respect to the deceased. The four girls quickly befriended him and invited him over for a steamboat dinner to talk about Bobo's last few days at Thailand. Karl then revealed some startling information about Bobo and his wife, Phoenix (Stephy Tang). Things are not what they seemed and it's twist galore with this segment.

The Perspective 

Comparing these two segments, Patrick Kong's Classroom was much more entertaining to sit through. There were some genuine funny moments that were delivered by the four female friends of Bobo. Ranging from digs at TVB / ATV (the two Hong Kong TV stations) to their rendition of extremely horny predators, the laughs kept coming to distract the rather weak performance from the rest of the cast (especially Chrissie Chau who got top billing here but was noticeably missing most of the time).

The climatic twist galore was mildly enjoyable even though it's filled with plenty of plot holes. It could have ended earlier with the strongest twist but it went a little too far with the finale revelation and in the process diluted the impact that it had going. "Travel" won't be the next gem in the Hong Kong comedic ghost genre but it's definitely more enjoyable out the two stories that Hong Kong Ghost Stories had to offer..

Wong Jing's Classroom was rather unremarkable. It's not the worst material that he had put out and neither was it one of his better works. It's like a bland functional time wasting TV program. There's a major twist at the end which was also ridden with plot holes. One of the enjoyable bits of this segment was to see how it tried to justified the revelation with contrived explanations.

The other noteworthy aspect of this segment would be that it provides a chance to check out if Jennifer Tse could act or not. Surprisingly, she wasn't as bad as her brother when he had just started out as an actor. Plus she looked like a young Gong Li to me and that makes it easier to follow her role as a protagonist in a rather uninspired horror story. It would be interesting to see what kind of choices she makes for her movie career.

Bottom line, both Classroom and Travel are as scary as Hong Kong comedic horror goes (which is to say that it isn't). Not exactly the type of show that you should fork out hard earn money for but it wouldn't be that terrible if one actually like this genre and actually paid for this. If you could wait, I am pretty sure that the cable TV or dvd rental for Hong Kong Ghost Stories would be out soon after it's taken off the cinema screens. Otherwise, it isn't a big lost if you give this movie a miss.

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The Pitch

It all got started with a movie review compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Hergé The Adventures of Tintin comic books. That review introduced Steven Spielberg to the world of Tintin comics and he became fan of Hergé signature style of drawings.

After decades of attempts to make this movie, Steven Spielberg had decided to make The Adventures of Tintin as a live-action adaptation and asked Peter Jackson if Weta Digital could help create Tintin's faithful dog Snowy with computer generated effects. As a fan of the comics, Peter Jackson convinced Steven Spielberg that the best way to show Hergé's world of Tintin would be through motion capture animation.

But even with two of the biggest current Hollywood filmmakers at helm, would it be enough to attract the audience to watch The Adventures of Tintin on the big screen? Since the late Hergé didn't allowed another artist to draw Tintin, there isn't any new Tintin books for decades. Without a new Tintin product to market, it limits the exposure of this fine comics to the masses, particularly the younger generation. While Tintin has always been a huge success in Europe, it remained a relatively unknown franchise to the America audience. I suspect that many viewers of The Adventures of Tintin might be experiencing the world of Tintin for the very first time.

Personally, I was a casual reader of the Tintin comics back in school days. It would be difficult for me to recall any specific stories from those Tintin comics but I had fond memories of reading Tintin at a super quick pace and was intrigued by the unexpected chain of events. It would be a blast looking forward to what Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson could do to revitalize the Tintin franchise and my memories of this Belgium comic books.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11-11-11 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

11-11-11 seemed like a gimmicky way to make a horror movie. Using this date to set up the ominous doomsday scenario just have a desperate feel to it. It might appeal to those who likes to find mystical meaning in numbers. Other than that, there's nothing really of any significant about this date.

It makes me wonder if 11-11-11 would loses it's novelty once the special date had pass. I can't shake off the feeling that this movie would be desperately finding ways to link any form of horror inclination to 11-11-11. Even before watching the movie, It got a "dated convoluted film product" sentiment set against it.

But apparently Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw 2, 3 , 4) thought otherwise. Personally I liked his Saw movies and would like to see what he could do after leaving the Saw franchise. Fellow Saw franchise director James Wan's Insidious was impressive and personally I hope that Darren Lynn Bousman could equally good. Let's see what he could cook up for 11-11-11.

The Plot 

Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs) is a successful author who lost faith in God when his wife and son died in a fire. After surviving a car crash, he started to notice a trend with the number 11 and it seemed to be plaguing him with nightmares and horrific events. Returning home from hospital, he got a call from his wheelchair bound priest brother Samuel (Michael Landes) and found out that his father was dying. Although they are in an estranged relationship, he decided to travel to Barcelona, Spain to meet his religious dad and brother.

However upon arrival, Joseph began to encounter more weird occurrences involving the number 11. He started to research on this special "number" and discovered that there are some who believed that entities from other realm would be entering earth on 11-11-11. It might even be the end of religion. Not only that, his dad also revealed that both Joseph and Samuel would have a part to play on this predicted apocalyptic date. The atheistic Joseph started to question his lack of faith and wonders if there's some truth with the "religious" prophecies on this date.

The Perspective (11-11-11 Movie Review)

11-11-11 turned out to be a rather weak horror flick as one would expect. With only Joseph as the only main character in the movie, it's not hard to figure out that no harm will come to him for most part of the movie. Therefore for most part of the movie, it's laden with plenty of those silly "spook a moment" scenes that felt cheap scares and pointless.

The subplots and characters were weakly established to bring any emotional resonate to the main story. Joseph's grief and beef with God were so superficially setup that it was cringing to see Timothy Gibbs go through the motion as 11-11-11 required of him. There was a supporting character Sadie (Wendy Glenn) that was supposed to provide emotional support to Joseph and to showcase the power of the other worldly entity. But at the end of the day, I find myself asking what the point of this character.

The whole linkage with the unique date of 11-11-11 felt rather forced and silly. Just imagine part of Joseph's research to the date was watching "youtube" videos of people talking about what they felt and expect would happen on 11-11-11. While some excel in making something out of nothing (eg. The Blair Witch Project), 11-11-11 handling of the special date just drew more attention to how hollow the material they have at hand.

The best aspect of movie was the climatic "twisty" finale. However movie fans should not have any problems figuring it out half way through the movie. It could have been as impactful as movies like Sixth Sense or A Perfect Getaway but due to the lackluster handling of the lead up to the finale, the payout came off as a whimper instead of a bang.

11-11-11 reminded me of the old school scary atmospheric that Insidious had going but it paled in comparison when it comes scarring the audience and providing a satisfactory wrap up in the end. There are some decent scares during the movie but those scares are largely silly and forgettable. The  draggy pace and the revelation of the movie certainly didn't make the wait felt worthwhile either.  11-11-11 didn't had the potential to start with and faltered in many ways that were expected. I don't think this horror movie would be remembered after it's expiry date.  Not Recommended.

Rating: **

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tower Heist [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

With the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movements and Bernie Madoff pleading guilty in defrauding thousands of investors of their money in 2009, Tower Heist seemed to be the movie to reflect the zeitgeist of the current economic situation in USA. But to make a adventure comedy out of such thorny issues might not be such a good idea. I don't think it would be as distasteful as how a "foreclosure mill" firm mocked evicted homeowners by dressing up as homeless people at their company's Halloween party last year but still it's a reflection of what people suffered in real life and making a comedy out of it requires carefully delicate handling.

The other thing to look out for would be the return of Eddie Murphy in a live action film after the lackluster Meet Dave and Imagine That. Some had hope that it would be a return to form for his comedic career and early reviews had indicate that he is pretty good in this. Personally, the one that I am looking out for would be Alan Alda. I am a big M*A*S*H because of him and it's been an awful long time since I saw him on the big screen.

Last but not least, there's Ben Stiller and director Brett Ratner. Their movies usually entertains me without fail. Additionally with Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Michael Peña and Matthew Broderick, it felt like Tower Heist is loaded to be a mini The Expendables. Let's just hope that Tower Heist would be able to better utilize the cast at hand and create an enjoyable heist movie out of it.

The Plot

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) has managed The Tower, one of the most luxurious and exclusive New York residence for over a decade. He is one of the best manager around and kept his staff under strict control. Then unexpectedly, they found out that Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the resident at their penthouse was charged with frauds and held under house arrest in the swanky The Tower's penthouse. The Towers staffs are hit the hardest as Josh had asked Arthur Shaw to invest with their pension and it seemed that they are unable to get their money back. 

Facing bankruptcy, Lester (Stephen Henderson), one of their doorman attempted suicide. Outraged by Arthur Shaw's unsympathetic reaction, Josh went on a rampage in Arthur's beloved Ferrari. That act caused Josh, his brother in law Charlie (Casey Affleck) and new employee Enrique (Michael Peña) their job. While drowning his sorrow with Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), the special agent in charged of Arthur Shaw's case, Josh found out that there's a large sum of money that has not been uncovered.

Josh then deduced that the money is hidden in the penthouse and he might know where the money is hidden. Enlisting the help of Charlie, Enrique and bankrupt businessman Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), they decided to rob Arthur Shaw. But realizing that they know nothing about robbery, Josh turned to his criminal neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy) for help. They also realize that they need someone who can open safe and one of The Tower staff, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) happened to come from a family of locksmiths in Jamaica.

With Arthur Shaw getting acquitted soon, Josh and gang must carry out the prefect heist during Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. But the best laid plans don't always go as planned.

The Perspective 

The real fun of Tower Heist began when the rookie thieves commenced their heist. The unexpected chain of events for the heist were thrilling and it was the most suspense that you can get out of a comedic entertainment. The satisfaction level for Tower Heist matches other recent good heist movies Inside Man and Ocean's Eleven. The only thing that marred the enjoyment of Tower Heist was ironically the slow establishment of the characters and events in this movie.

Ironic because it was necessary for the heist to work so well at the end of it. The viewers needed to root for the amateur thieves to make it enjoyable for the many twists and turns leading to the finale. But yet it was a rather bland and tedious build up of characters and the situation leading up to the heist (specially when viewers were already expecting the  blue-collar employees to extract their revenge on the rich crook all along). The movie tried to make it entertaining by infusing humorous bits into the show but somehow it felt like an awkward blend of humor and real life tragedy. It came to a point where it might have been better if it was a serious drama instead. There were some funny bits with Ben Stiller, Eddy Murphy, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe but Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni and Matthew Broderick comedic contribution felt a little bland.

While the comedic elements weren't at it's best, the thrilling secretive robbery was a page turner. It's not a well thought out heist but the fun lies in what went wrong and how they attempted to rectify the problem. The setup for the characters were done "well" enough that viewer will root for them to get achieved their heist so that the "Bernie Madoff" type of villain can have his comeuppance. There's some glaring loopholes in the whole operation but it was entertainingly executed that it didn't matter that much.

Partly another reason why the heist worked so well would be that in real life, those victimized individuals would likely be unable to extract revenge in such manner. In a way, it's pure escapism for those who seek justice in a society that favors the rich.

Among all the stars, I felt that Alan Alda performance stood out the most. In a limited role, he managed to capture the essence of what a "Bernie Madoff" type of con artist might be like. Someone who could befriends folks from all walks of lives, gain their trust and swindle them ruthlessly. The rest of the stars were right for their respective roles but in my opinion, it was Alan Alda that stole the show.

Tower Heist is an enjoyable heist movies. It suffers from a little slow start up but once the heist gets going, it was high octane fun. The heist could get a rather unrealistic and crippled by a couple of loopholes but it's easy to overlook those problems. Recommended.

Rating: ***