Saturday, July 31, 2010

Salt

I arrived at the cinema just in time for this show. I was not expecting much as the reviews and ratings for this movie were not favourable. I must say that the action sequences and the stunts portrayed in this movie are commendable indeed which is more than I can say for the plot. Jolie must have really trained herself for the stunts in the movie (if indeed the stunts were performed by her). They were remarkable and the explosions and chase-scenes were also exciting and entertaining enough. The plot however is weak and lacks clarity. This is coupled with an ending which is so abrupt that you will never see it coming.


SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!


The movie opens with a scene of CIA agent, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) being tortured for information by North Korean soldiers who accuse her of being a US spy. Salt denies these allegations and to her detriment continues to be brutally tortured. It is not until later that she is released through an exchange with an elderly Korean man. We also learn that the person responsible for her release is Mike Krause (August Diehl) and not the CIA agent who escorts her in her release, Ted Winters (Liev Schriber). We later learn that this is the event which leeds to the marriage union of Mike and Evelyn.

Some time has passed and Evelyn is back in the US safe and sound with her husband. All seems well, as she continues to work as a CIA agent who masquerades as an employee in a petroleum company. Everything seems routine and ordinary until a man called Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) enters offering vital information to the CIA about Russian sleeper agents who could possibly destroy America. Salt is sent in to conduct what seems like a routine interrogation. All hell breaks loose when he claims (in a rather convoluted flashback) that Salt is in fact a Russian spy and that she is scheduled to execute the Russian President when he comes to the US for the funeral of the Vice President. Salt denies having any knowledge of this and bolts, proclaiming her innocence all the way. When Salt is finally caught in connection to the assasination of the Russian President, she is taken into police custody. After a series of double crosses, triple crosses, and quadruple crosses, Salt actually emerges as one of the good gals who vows at the end of the movie to eliminate the bad guys from the face of the earth. This leaves the ending of the movie with plenty of room for multiple sequels, and even the creation of a series.

It is safe to surmise from the rather absurd plot and the sheer amount of twists and turns that Salt is an action feature only made for pure entertainment and nothing else. If you are looking for depth and a good movie plot to go along with the spectacular action sequences and kick-ass stunts, you will leave the cinema feeling sadly disappointed. A must-watch, however for fans of Jolie whom I think did a pretty good job as the fugitive who will fight to the death in the name of justice.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Despicable Me


I first came across this particular feature when I saw the movie poster in the cinema after one of my movie weekend escapades. I remember asking my movie partner what those cute little yellow things in the poster were. Neither of us knew that they were actually genetically modified corn pops! (which apparently is a breakfast cereal...never expected that!) My curiosity about the animated feature grew, but I did not manage to feed it due to my daily obligations.

My next encounter with this feature was during another trip to the cinema about a few weeks later when I managed to catch the trailer to the movie. In the trailer, we are introduced to Gru (Steve Carell), the so-called protagonist of the movie. Gru is portrayed as this really unpleasant guy who would give a kid a balloon only to have the pleasure of popping it the very next minute. However, my curiosity about those cute little yelllow dudes was still not sated.

BE WARNED! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we were not able to arrive at the cinema in time to catch the beginning of the movie (This rarely happens, mind you). I was told that the beginning of the movie featured the theft of the pyramid and scenes of the three little orphans trying to sell cookies to Gru. It was when the three orphans were being reprimanded in the orphanage that my movie partner and I walked in. We are introduced to the three orphans, whose names are Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). The three little girls are being reprimanded for not selling enough cookies. I took an instant liking to the three girls; Margo the responsible and caring eldest sister; Edith, the mischevious and bright tomboy and of course Agnes, the bright-eyed cutie whom would melt anyone's heart.

The focus then shifts to Gru and his master plan. Gru is portrayed as a man who is desperate to be the world's greatest villain due to his mother's (Julie Andrews) low opinion of him. Gru is often tortured by flashes from the past where his mother belittles his achievements, however monumental they may be to him. It is with this that Gru is determined to design a master plan which would deem him the greatest villain of all time; a plan which would finally make his mother proud of him; a plan to steal the moon...yes, the moon! A project as gigantic as this has to come, of course, with the proper funding, which Gru hopes to continuously obtain from the Bank of Evil (formerly knowns as Lehman Brothers). It is there that Gru crosses paths with Vector, (Jason Segel) who attempts to befriend Gru, but Gru keeps his distance. Gru gets in to see Mr Perkins (Will Arnett), the bank manager and he promises to continue funding Gru's project with the condition that Gru can grant him some assurance of his of success, mainly by stealing a shrink-ray gun which is essential in his ultimate capture of the moon.

Gru manages to steal the shrink-ray gun (which awesome powers are demonstrated in an earlier scene with the shrinking of an elephant - a very cute scene by the way) from a secret lab with the help of his little minions (the little yellow dudes). However, Gru's plan to use the gun to steal the moon is quickly thwarted by Vector when he swiftly and cunningly steals the gun from Gru. Gru tries to penetrate Vector's fortress to retrieve the gun, but Vector's security measures simply prove to be too much for poor Gru. When Gru is just about to admit defeat, he sees three little girls easily gaining access into Vector's residence as Vector is apparently a sucker for cookies (especially coconutties). The light bulb comes on and Gru immediately decides to adopt the girls simply to gain access into Vector's home and recover the shrink-ray gun.

The girls jump for joy when they receive the news that they are to be adopted. Expecting to meet a beautiful mother and a kind father, the girls are surely in for a big surprise. Hovering over them is the tall figure of Gru which the girls, at first view with awe and fear. But soon after, sweet little Agnes innocently jumps onto Gru's leg, hugs it and refuses to let go. He proceeds to take them home with Agnes still hanging on to his leg (She is simply adorable and reminds me so much of the little girl, Boo in Monsters Inc.). Gru does not have a clue what little girls need and proceeds to treat them with indifference. Gru's plan to retrieve the shrink-ray gun is realised with the help of the girls and of course the little yellow dudes (they are just so cute and are responsible for most of the laughter in the feature). After getting what he wants, Gru passes an amusement park and another lightbulb comes on as Gru plans to rid himself of the girls. But as convention would have it, instead of abandoning them, Gru starts to bond with the girls and they actually have a great time together at the amusent park (where Gru manages to win a soft toy unicorn for Agnes, which according to Agnes is just so fluffy!!!).

As Gru grows attached to the girls, he starts to neglect his master plan much to the dissatisfaction of his resident mad scientist, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), who thinks that the girls are too much of a distraction. Much to Gru's detriment, Dr Nefario decides to take matters into his own hands by sending the girls back to the orphanage leaving both parties heart-broken. Gru decides to execute his plan and actually manages to steal the moon. His success is short-lived however, when Vector proceeds to kidnap the girls and demands that Gru surrenders the moon in exchange for the girls. Gru of course agrees and although many more challenges await him when Vector decides to go back on his word, Gru emerges victorious, saves the day and everyone lives happily ever after.

I have to say that for a first production from Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me has managed to surpass many productions, even those from other major animation studios of today. It is simply delightful and purely entertaining. Never have I enjoyed watching an animated feature so much this summer (including the likes of Shrek Forever After). Refreshing and unique in its concept, it manages to draw the audience in with its dialogue, a unique and refreshing protagonist (don't think I have seen anyone who wants to be a super-villain so badly and failing so miserably), its slapstick humour (mainly contributed by the little yellow dudes - whose origin I still did not know of when I left the cinema) and not to mention the Russian-ish accent which Steve Carell manages to pull of with such humour and conviction. I highly recommend this feature to anyone who is looking for a good laugh or even many many good laughs for that matter. This is one feature which will keep you rolling and asking for more.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yun Niang

I never thought I would ever return to watching Mandarin series. When I was in primary school, I was absolutely crazy about Mandarin series. I remember my frequent visits to the video store to rent any Mandarin series I could get my hands on. One of the most memorable series I have watched is entitled "Liu Ge Mong" which when translated means "Six Dreams." The series is divided into 6 different stories which portray women as the protagonists. They show how women are treated in the olden days in China. These women protagonists are often forced into loveless marriages, tortured by their mothers-in-law, and have to go against all odds to find their true selves and happiness.

I was extremely bored the other day and I decided to walk into a DVD shop. I browsed through the collection of DVDs and I happened to stumble upon a series entitled, "Yun Niang." The first thing I will always look at when deciding to buy or watch a series is the actors. I found the female protagonist very pretty and of course the male protagonist fairly presentable. I also saw a familiar face. It was the actress who acted in quite a number of stories in the "Six Dreams" series. It was then that I decided to purchase the box set. And I must say that I definitely made the right choice.

Being a Mandarin series set in olden China, I expected a lot of tragic events to take place and a lot of tears to be shed, and I was right. But melodrama and tragedy aside, Yun Niang is a really good series. I love the actress (Ady An) who plays the title role. I have never seen her act before, so she is obviously a fairly new actress. Her performance as the sweet, gentle and kind-hearted Yun Niang is to be applauded. Having no idea that she does not really belong to her parents, Yun Er (as they call her) grew up poor and had to work hard for a living. She lives with her adopted parents, her retarded half-sister and her father's student ( a guy who is head over heels in love with her and is willing to do almost anything to make her happy). However, Yun Er falls in love with a rich man's son, Hao Chung (William Feng) and after many challenges and trials, they finally come together and get married. She loves her husband but from the first day of her marriage to him, her mother-in-law seems to hate her and immediately proceeds to torture her verbally. She does not understand what she has done wrong.

The secret that Yun Niang is not aware of is that she has actually married into her own family! Her father-in-law is none other than her biological father and her mother-in-law is her stepmother. We find out from the beginning of the series that Hao Chung is not the biological son of his parents, therefore there is no incest involved! Phew!!! Anyway, to cut a long story short, after discovering her true identity, Yun Niang is reunited with her father in the most touching scene in the series. Her stepmother/ mother-in-law has to suffer the consequences of her evil and deceitful actions towards Yun Niang and Yun Niang is finally reunited with her true love, Hao Chung at the end of the series.

The series was rather long, but I did not find many boring scenes in it. I enjoyed all 32 episodes and would recommend this series to anyone who is a fan of the "Six Dreams" series and other Mandarin series. Watching Yun Niang get her happy ending was most satisfying indeed!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Knight and Day

I have been looking forward to this feature ever since I watched the trailer about 2 months back. It looked like an action comedy/ adventure which I would probably enjoy. After a long wait and much anticipation, I was not in the least bit disappointed. Knight and Day proved to be every bit as exciting and entertaining as I imagined it would be.

I have always been a fan of Cameron Diaz, especially after having watched her comedic roles in movies such as, There's Something About Mary and of course Charlie's Angels. I find her portrayal of the characters in these movies, refreshing, energetic and vibrant. She exudes personality and breathes life so naturally into these roles that one cannot help but be captivated by her charms. As for Tom Cruise, I used to be a fan of his for a very long time. In fact, when I was in high school, I rented all his movies just to salivate at his good looks. I realise now that, good looks aside, he is not much of a dramatic actor and perhaps his switch to comedic roles in the later part of his life may be his best career move yet. I must admit that I was very much amused and entertained by his character in this movie and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. He seems to appear cool and calculated in the most dire and dangerous situations in the movie.

Diaz portrays June Havens who is flying to Boston to attend her sister's wedding. She is spotted by Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) and he arranges to bump into her a few times. After a series of coincidences, they end up on the same and oddly fairly empty plane. The two start a conversation and get rather flirty with each other when June decides to go to the washroom to freshen up. Unbeknownst to her, Roy is being ambushed by everyone on the flight and he manages to kill every one of them, including the pilot. After June returns from the washroom, she is drugged by Roy and wakes up in her own bedroom. Before Roy drugs her, she is told not to trust anyone who says that they want to protect her and under no circumstances is she to get into any vehicles.

After a series of events, as expected, June is forced to enter a vehicle and is taken into protective custody. Roy comes to her rescue, despite her reluctance to trust him and the two continue to battle dangerous people, powerful weapons and multiple explosions in their fight for survival. Romance blossoms on their adventure together, and in the end the two find that they have no one else to trust but each other.

It has been quite some time since I have watched a decent action adventure which is simple, light-hearted and does not require any deep thought. Most action features nowadays are wrought with convoluted storylines and complicated characters which deter people from enjoying them for what they truly should be. Some examples of disasterous action features I have watched lately are, The A-Team and The Losers. Both these movies are examples of how action-comedies should not be made. Both of them portrayed shallow character explorations, weak and complicated plots and rather forgettable performances.

I thoroughly enjoyed Knight and Day and would recommend it to anyone who is just looking for a fun and enjoyable time at the movies.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Frozen

Chilling, intense and terrifying are some of the words I encountered when I read reviews on the movie, Frozen. Frozen is about a trio who are stranded on a chairlift at a ski resort. After the characters realise that they are trapped 50 feet in the air, with no obvious means of escape, they find that they have to make life or death decisions which prove to be more dangerous than just staying put and freezing to death. When I watched Frozen, I was reminded of features such as Open Water and Black Water which both focus on characters who are stranded at a remote location and have to make dangerous decisions in their fight for survival.

As always, in features such as these, we expect to see people dying in rather horrifying and tragic ways. Frozen was no different, but nothing prepared me for the shocking tragic outcome that befell these characters. It was a rather decent movie which managed to keep me on the edge of my seat and I have to admit that there were quite a few scenes which were cringe-worthy. The movie was rather short, with a runtime of 94 minutes, but I found that I really grew to like the three characters featured in the movie and I wanted badly for them to survive the terrible ordeal that they had to go through. I felt for them when they expressed sorrow and desperation and at their dire situation. There were certainly many heartbreaking and horrifiying moments in Frozen and I came out from the cinema feeling rather depressed and somewhat mentally drained.



MAJOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!

The movie begins with the three characters trying to get free tickets to go skiing. The characters are Dan Walker (Kevin Zeggers), his girlfriend, Parker O'Neil (Emma Bell) and Dan's best friend, Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore). After Parker manages to use her feminine wiles to get the free tickets, they end up spending most of their time on the bunny slope teaching Parker how to ski rather than doing any actual skiing as Parker is an amateur at skiing. The resentment felt by Joe towards Parker's presence is fairly obvious as the trio has an awkward conversation about Parker hindering them from their usual "guy time" together. It is then that Joe and Dan consider going back on the real slopes to do some last minute skiing before the resort closes. This is a really bad idea. What follows is horrifying, brutal and tragically devastating.


On their way to the ski slopes, the chairlift suddenly stops moving. Thinking that it is just a glitch, Dan starts a very ironic conversation about the worst ways one can die and mentions that the worst thing is knowing that death is staring at you right in the face and you know it's coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it. When the lights at the resort begin to disappear one by one, fear, sorrow and panic ensue. The characters have a tough time deciding what to do, when Dan comes up with the "brilliant" idea of jumping to the ground from the chairlift. Joe and Parker try their best to persuade him to stay, but he is defiant and insists that he can pull it off. Of course, to his detriment, his actions result in dire consequences as he breaks both his legs when he lands on the ground. To make matters worse, Dan's injury attracts a pack of wolves and Dan's worst fears of staring death in the face are realised in the first quarter of the movie.

Joe and Parker are left on the chairlift after the shocking and horrible death of a boyfriend and a beloved best friend. They start to blame each other for Dan's death, but after the blaming game, they come to terms with the situation and are made aware that they only have each other. The two form a bond as they talk about Dan with fondness. After some time, Joe decides to make an attempt to use the other chairlift to get to a pole where there is a ladder. After succeeding in his attempt to reach the ground, he manages to get hold of a ski pole in hopes of warding away the pack of wolves should they return. The last we see of Joe is in a scene of him running down the hill with two wolves chasing him.

Parker is left to fend for herself. Strong and determined to survive, she tries to find a way to get to the ground. Luckily for her, the chairlift comes loose and cushions her fall and she lands on the ground without any major injuries. She manages to slide down the mountain only to follow a trail of blood leading to none other than Joe's body (or what's left of his body). The wolves are happily enjoying their "meal" when one of them spots her and gets close to her. In a fortunate turn of events, the wolves decide to leave her and she manages to escape. She is then saved by a driver in a passing car.

My thoughts on Frozen...

I must say that Frozen left quite an impression on me. I really felt for Parker, Joe and Dan. It was heart-wrenching when Dan asked Joe to cover Parker's ears so as not to let her hear his screams of anguish as the wolves tore him apart. After the devastation and the horror of Dan's death, the two characters who obviously dislike each have to depend on each other for comfort, solace and survival. And after losing Joe, I was amazed at Parker's determination for survival. The performances of all the characters (well, all three of them) deserve a mention as they are the ones who made the movie what it is. As the plot of the movie is nothing new, the characters managed to breathe new life into a common plot and made it more than just a plain survival movie.

Unlike the other two movies mentioned earlier, I really cared for Dan, Joe and Parker and felt their pain and desperation at many points of the movie. I was filled with fear and anticipation for the characters through every step of their journey and I came out of the cinema with a horrible feeling having watched their tragic outcome from a merely innocent ski trip. I wouldn't write Frozen off as a masterpiece and it's safe to say that it will probably be forgotten soon. But I will always remember the impact the characters had on me and the sadness I felt when each of them did not make it. Most of all, I will remember Frozen as the movie where the major characters were actually eaten by wolves!!!!!!! I have never imagined that such a horrible thing was possible and that will certainly stay with me for a long, long time.