Friday, March 27, 2009

Movie Review: Taken

Movie Title: Taken
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace.
Directed By: Pierre Morel
Genre: Action/Thriller
My Rating: 7/10

If you're in the mood for a brilliantly acted, yet cliched action movie - Taken is just the flick for you. Everything about the movie seemed just... French? I swear it looked like a French movie with its pace and dialogue.

And I like French movies. But I anticipate the Frenchness before I watch it.

Underrated and under-appreciated N-Irish actor Liam Neeson plays a former CIA operative/spy/field agent (pick one) who retires to be as close to his estranged daughter. Being a workaholic on international assignments for several years lead his wife to divorce him, and he had a guilt trip about the same. The ex-wife (Janssen, in her weakest role) re-marries a tycoon and the daughter gets everything she wants, including a horse!

Ok, enough of the premise, no spoilers there. The daughter (Grace) travels to Paris, France with a friend upon turning 17, and they both get kidnapped. And the real movie starts with Liam Neeson executing the rescue operation solo using his spy expertise.

Great action. Bourne-esque and doesn't look ripped off (QoS, anybody?). Neeson pulls an American accent well, even when he's impersonating a French services officer. A lot of cheesiness in the movie, but Neeson single-handedly makes up for it all. And the actress who played the kidnapped daughter - Maggie Grace (formerly on TV's Lost as Shannon) looked anything but 17. Come on, Hollywood and TV seriously need to start casting actors of the right age, especially teenagers. I thought they would have learnt that lesson from Beverly Hills 90210 in the last century.

It might be rated PG-13, but it is definitely not a family film. But I enjoyed it. 93 minutes just flew by. 7/10, with the fairness doctrine.

Friday, March 20, 2009

E-mail Regrets? You have 5 seconds to "Undo-Send"

You may be perplexed next morning. You're confused, and prudence would suggest you ought to take some time to think it over. But out of confusion, you may rush to conclusions.

Ok, this is not a self-help blog.Moreover, it is a save-yourself-from screwing up blog. I read something cool on Google's Twitter feed a few days ago.

You might send an e-mail to someone hastily and regret it the moment you click "Send" and the Escape button ignores your belated second thought of not sending the e-mail. It's ok, especially if you're using Google's GMAIL! Now you have 5 seconds to undo sending the e-mail after you click the "Send" button. Sweet, eh?

Also, Google has devised a way to help you make sure you know what you're sending. Sometimes people are so inebriated late in the night, they may send an e-mail which they'll regret later. A feature under "Google Labs" called "Mail Goggles," when configured, makes you solve a simple math problem when you click "Send" for any e-mail within a certain period of the day or the week. If you solve the problem correctly at that time, your mail will send. Else it'll stay in draft.

While I respect the purpose of Mail Goggles, it's terribly annoying. I would recommend it for those of you who live life by the edge. Cheers!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Post Oscar Watch: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Movie Title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton and Jason Flemyng.
Directed By: David Fincher
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
My Rating: 8.5/10

Turns out that Slumdog Millionaire wasn't the only Oscar contender this year that was shot in India. A few scenes of Benjamin Button were shot there too, but nothing too significant. Just a cool surprise.

And about the movie. Brilliant, just brilliant. A little long (2:40 hours) and comparable to Forrest Gump - extraordinary outcast and his life from beginning to end. This time the protagonist was played by Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt, a very versatile and much more talented actor than he gets credit for in Hollywood. Scandals don't always help a career, but they may not make it worse either.

Set in New Orleans in the late 1930's, Benjamin Button was born under unusual circumstances and adopted by a caretaker at a seniors nursing home (played passionately by Taraji P. Henson who truly deserves her Oscar nomination). The baby was just born old, and slowly ages backward. He can't walk until he's 7, where he is faith healed into making his first steps. Then he starts un-balding, un-hunchbacking, and basically keeps getting younger. After a serious of sailing expeditions through the second world war with his cockney tugboat captain (Jared Harris), Benjamin returns home and re-connects with his redheaded childhood sweetheart, Daisy, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett. She's an Oscar winner, very good at picking her movies, and seldom stars in a flop movie these days. In many ways, her presence overshadowed Pitt's performance. A younger, better looking, lesser known and less illustrious actress could have been a better fit to throw more light on the protagonist on the movie. Also, I am surprised that Blanchett won an Oscar for Aviator but got overlooked for Button? Well, I guess there can only be five nominees for each award each year. Pitt did deserve his nomination, mind you.

The locales and cinematography was just superb. More than that, the special effects/CGI and makeup to make a 40+ Pitt look different ages throughout the movie was better done than ever before in movie history. Nothing in the art department was one bit overdone, and I respect that. The direction and acting was good too. Jason Flemyng made brief appearances as Benjamin's biological father running a guilt trip for abandoning his son and being all alone in his old age.

So my rating formula has changed quite a bit. Previously, I would give 8/10 for a movie I spent ten bucks to watch at the theater, enjoyed it, but wouldn't bother watching it on HBO months later. Benjamin Button is much better than that, but I assessed it to the best of my abilities. 8.5/10. Good watch, just be aware that it's 2 hours and 40 minutes long.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Watch: Slumdog Millionaire

Movie Title: Slumdog Millionaire
Starring: Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto, Irfan Khan and Anil Kapoor
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Genre: Drama
My Rating: 8.5/10

There are entertaining movies, feel-good movies and touching movies. The touching movies usually win awards. One hour to go before the Oscars, I thought I'd finally blog about this super-hyped movie I watched last night. If you noticed, I said super-hyped and not over-hyped. Slumdog Millionaire does deserve all the praise and acclaim it's getting. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but have a mild feeling of ambivalence nonetheless.

Set in Mumbai (Bombay), India, the story is about how a rag picker from the slums (poorest part of town) wins 20 million on an Indian version of the TV show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" 18-year old Dev Patel played the protagonist, innocent and battered throughout his life, works as a tea-boy (chai-waalah) at a call center for a UK telecom firm. The host of the show (Kapoor) and the police strongly believe him boy is a cheat, and the latter interrogate him all night long, but to no avail.

I won't go any further into the story, but would recommend this movie for anyone who appreciates a well-made and thought-provoking movie. It has many sad moments, a few happy ones, a couple of laughs, and a few tears as well. The acting was plausible. This is definitely not a Bollywood film, but had Bollywood touches. Shot in Bombay, casted some Bollywood stars (Kapoor, Khan etc.) and the music as the icing. A.R. Rahman's score and soundtrack collaboration with Sri Lankan singer M.I.A. was one of the best things about the movie.

Good luck to Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars tonight!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Twitter too!

Twitter meI've finally joined the Twitter bandwagon! Twitter is a place where people post one line updates about themselves, and respond briefly to other people's updates. It is less complicated than the usual social networking (facebook, myspace) but limited to status updates only. You can update your twitter via cellphone SMS as well. Fine by me.

I blabber more on there than I update this blog. Feel free to "follow" me :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Currently listening: GnR, AC/DC and Metallica

Alright, so I haven't blogged about music for a really long time. There hasn't been much good rock music around for a good part of this year. In fact, I found myself guilty of listening to popular radio hits when I needed a break from 90's rock. Velvet Revolver fired Scott "that unstable rockstar" Weiland, and are looking for a new singer, while band members pursue solo careers on the side. Duff McKagan's Seattle-based band Loaded is supposed to be pretty good, but I have yet to check it out. Slash's upcoming solo effort should be super! It could be something in between a Santana album with guest vocalists and a Joe Satriani compilation of long guitar solos. Scott Weiland has a solo album coming out tomorrow as well, called "Happy in Galoshes," and the songs that I heard on his MySpace page were... lame, unfortunately.

Anywho, the last 4 months of this year seem to have a burst of old-time musicians returning to the scene with new material. First, Metallica finally releases a decent album after 2003's debacle, called "Death Magnetic." It is no "Black Album," but has some good tunes and lyrics that blend well together. I would consider this album to be the sane kind of metal music. I will hopefully post a proper review shortly. Smart enough, this CD is available in all stores that sell music.

Hard rock veterans AC/DC are back this year, and with a bang! Their new album "Black Ice" is their typical music, no improvising for the present generation, no techno/emo salt and pepper, just pure rock. And yet, they don't sound outdated one bit. Their first single "Rock N' Roll" train has hit the charts, and I enjoy listening to it every time. The rest of the songs in the album are decent too, except for one that goes all Keith-Urbanesque country. I guess they're targeting a certain crowd.

And finally, finally, finally, Guns N' Roses released their album "Chinese Democracy," which has been in production since 1995! Wait, I'm just going to go ahead and call this an "Axl Rose solo project" because like any other old-GNR die-hard fan and Slash loyalist, the real GNR had to comprise of Axl, Slash and Duff. The presently so-called GNR only has Rose from the original composition, the rest being a handful of free-lancers and a Nine-Inch-Nails has-been guitarist who quit GnR not too long ago. Everybody wins a free 20 Oz Dr Pepper thanks to the soda maker's promise regarding GnR releasing this album.

This GnR is different. Less classic/hard rock, more industrial and emo. Axl Rose's voice has obviously gotten older, and it's the only thing that identifies with the band name right now. Guitarist Bumblefoot and former leads Buckethead and NIN's Robin Finck contribute to the solos in almost all the songs, but none of them beat Slash! However, the songs are not bad, honestly speaking. I might even buy the album just to have something to listen to while traveling abroad. But, is this the best that Axl Rose can do after 13-15 years? Like, seriously? Best songs: Chinese Democracy, I.R.S. and Better. The last one made me laugh.

Note: Guns N' Roses is streaming the full album of "Chinese Democracy" on that link above.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Movie Title: Quantum of Solace
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Thriller
Directed by: Marc Foster
My Rating: 8/10

The 007 franchise reboot continues with Daniel Craig starring as the British super spy in a first time direct sequel in the history of Bond movies. QoS continues where Casino Royale last left us, with James Bond picking up Mr. White for interrogation regarding the "organization" and Vesper's (Bond's deceased flame) involvement. Alfa Romeos chasing the hero in an Aston Martin in the mountains of Siena, Italy start the film. Mind you, this movie doesn't start with the "James Bond shooting the screen and splattering blood all over" sequence either, and I do hope the next in the series has it. I won't give away much of the story, but will summarize the characters and flow a bit.

The Bond girls:
Ukranian model and actress Olga Kurylenko made her presence felt in the movie. She wasn't one of Bond's bimbos, but a femme fatale with some secrets in the past who works for the main baddie of this story. She isn't easily charmed by Bond, but is no Michelle Yeoh or Halle Berry as far as giving him the burn goes. The only fault was, she did not look South American one bit, not even with the ultra tan. I wouldn't hold that against her overall performance and character development, though. I look forward to seeing where her career goes from here, many Bond girls don't have much of a post-Bond career peak.

The other lady, a very young Gemma Arterton plays a British field agent based in Bolivia. Not a bad looker, red-headed, speaks with a polished London accent and hardly an ass-kicker. The weaker one of the Bond girls, as there always is.

The villains:
French actor Mathieu Amalric made his mark in English movies with his short but powerful role in Steven Spielberg's Munich, and was an excellent choice to play a Bond baddie. However, he wasn't given enough screen time as he deserved, thereby his character didn't have a chance to establish well with the audience. As a natural resources baron, Amalric's Dominic Green helps a Bolivian general stage a coup d'etat, with the blessing of the American C.I.A., and in return get a certain block of desert which could potentially be an oil field, or just a water dam to hold off water from the famished locals and distribute through the black market (like in Somalia). Hopefully when the DVD for QoS comes out, they'll add about 15 minutes more of Greene's screen time.

Mexican cine veteran JoaquĆ­n Cosio plays the ruthless Bolivian general who wishes to topple the government and rule the country on his own. Even though his character wasn't very likable and his last scene was a little graphic for a Bond movie, he did deserve a couple of more minutes in the first half for better character establishment.

The love-hate Bond aides:
James Bond may say he doesn't have any friends, maybe because he isn't always in their good books. Starting with his MI6 chief still known as M, played gracefully by Dame Judi Dench for the sixth time. Every time Bond catches a suspect, she is impressed. Every time a lead or agent gets killed and Bond is to blame, she asks for his head. James Bond even jokes in one scene that M likes to think she's his mother!

Bond's to be best-and-maybe-only-true C.I.A. ally was played by Jeffrey Wright just like in Casino Royale. A man of conscience, somewhat hesitant to collaborate with baddies, has some instinctive trust in 007, and always has time for a beer and a laugh, even when the marines come barging in. Wright, in my opinion, is an excellent American actor whose true potential is yet to be unveiled. Hopefully his performance in the upcoming Cadillac Records will earn him praise from the critics and audience alike.

Italian veteran Giancarlo Giannini returns as former MI6 associate Mathis, who helps Bond once the agency freezes his assets.

Finally, the flow.
The movie was very fast-paced. The chase at the beginning was rather well done. It was sometimes hard to pay enough attention to the dialogue because I was still recovering from inertia created by the action scenes. The Bourne movies of late have set the bar for action movies so high that even the Bond franchise could have a hard time catching up. The gun shots did sound real, however. If you have been to a shooting range once, or remember a shooting you heard outside your school as a kid, you will know that gunshots do not have a musical sound like they've made to sound in most movies.

For long-time Bond enthusiasts, this movie lacks gadgets. Completely. And somehow I was okay with that. Casino Royale had a few gadgets - in the car etc.. This time, Bond had a simple cellphone, it wasn't even a touch screen that everyone seems to flaunt around these days. The only paranormal thing that this handset could do was take pictures from far-far away. It was probably a 10 mega pixel camera, which is possible to have in a phone, and would always meet a 007 budget.

One thing reminiscent of the classic Bond movies, was how a villain got to Bond by "decorating" the weaker Bond girl. I won't say more, and spare you any spoilers.

This was a great movie! It did not have the novelty like its predecessor, Casino Royale, did. But provided a closure. The next movie in the series will probably be a new episode altogether. I will be surprised if a 70+ Judi Dench will return as M.

8/10. Shaken, not stirred.

P.S. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Actually, I forgot, then remembered. The theme song! Jack White (White Stripes/Raconteurs) and Alicia Keys sang a duet for the first time in 007 movie history, called "Another Way to Die." I am personally a fan of both the musicians, but the song seems like it was written and composed in a bit of hurry. Bond producers should have kept Amy Winehouse's song no matter what. Anyway, here's the video for that song, judge for yourself:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Movie Review: Body of Lies

Body of Lies PosterMovie Title: Body of Lies
Starring: Leonadro DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Genre: Action/Thriller/Drama
Directed by: Ridley Scott
My Rating: 8/10

How do Hollywood movies save money while making movies set in the Middle East? By doing extensive research on the culture, language and locations, and eventually shooting it all in Morocco. Jordan, Iraq, Syria, UAE and Turkey were all shot in Morocco, on the other end of the Middle East. And it almost looked convincing! More convincing for an average moviegoer whose world history and geography probably suck and anything that doesn't look like civilization is some foreign land for sure.

All that being said, I must admit that "Body of Lies" was a good movie. However, a lot of its contents and subplots are tried and tested formulas in show business. At a time of war, one which has been dragging almost throughout this decade, and in election year, this movie may not find the success it deserves at the box office and at the hands of the professional critics.

Leo DiCaprio plays Roger Farris, a CIA operative tracking down terrorists in the Arab world, and Russell Crowe is his boss, a technocrat and family man whose job is mostly to talk to his field operatives on the cellphone all day long using a hands-free earpiece in the age of Bluetooth technology, and thinks he has the feel of what's really going on on the field just like an armchair quarterback.

To catch one bad guy, you "create" another just to distract the media and the people all over the world, and use that distraction to avail more resources to catch the actual bad guy.

I am really not sure what they're trying to get at with such a plot. A deja-vu, a cliche, a "heard-of-it-so-what" concept, which some or many people would comprehend and concur with, but the others likely to call it a one-sided agenda.

Even though I wasn't much of a fan of DiCaprio back in the Romeo+Juliet/Titanic days and Crowe is one of my favorite actors, I would have to admit the former overshadowed the Aussie in this movie. Crowe did what he had to do, make his character less and less likable, be a corporate douche and call the shots like he's all "been there, done that" - but DiCaprio seemed to have put in much more effort into his role. It just wasn't too different from being a mix of his roles in Departed and Blood Diamond. I must praise him for his spoken Arabic in the movie. I don't speak that language, but would imagine it to be really difficult to learn a new language which is nothing similar to the ones you already speak. It would be easier to learn Spanish or French if your first language is English, but to jump to an Asian or African language from a Latin-base would definitely be as tough as an Economics graduate trying to learn C++ or CAD.

Hey, I enjoyed the movie. I appreciated how actually unbiased it was. However, I also understand why most people wouldn't give a flying hoot about a movie at it's time of release. Election year, war-time, come on. It could be a DVD hit. 8/10.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Back from exile

Been going through some career and location changes. You can expect some new blogs and reviews, updates, blabbers sooooooooon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Movie Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Movie Title: The Forbidden Kingdom
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano and Collin Chou
Genre: Action/Adventure/Martial Arts/Fantasy
Directed by: Rob Minkoff
My Rating: 7/10

I haven't blogged for a while. There weren't too many great movies over the harshly cold winter, and I just lost touch. I might start posting reviews of movies I watched on Netflix here.

The Forbidden Kingdom is a movie that had a lot of potential to be great. Too much star power, too much hype, weak script and lame direction made it just the opposite.

Michael Angarano plays a bully-magnet teen in south Boston who is a big fan of Martial Art movies (like yours truly). One evening while escaping from bullies with a Chinese staff in his hand he jumps of a building. Before he reaches the ground time travels to China in the past where magic and immortality supposedly existed. His mission is to return the staff to the statued Monkey King (Jet Li) with the help of an old drunk (Jackie Chan) and a monk (Li, again). Jackie Chan could totally do without playing a drunk martial artist here. I am a big fan of the Drunken Master movies but here it just didn't fit. He did stay comical and fought well, nonetheless. Surprisingly, Jet Li cracked a few jokes himself, a rarity.

Even the work of legendary kung-fu choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (Once Upon a Time in China, Crouching Tiger, Matrix, Kill Bill) in this movie couldn't be put to justice. There was way too much string-held jumping/flying, unnecessary magic and cliches that ruined the movie. I still enjoyed it just a bit only because of the few fight scenes. I think I'm going to add more Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba movies to my Netflix just to make up for watching this movie. I'm sure Jet Li and Jackie Chan made good money, but I hope their agent finds them better movies with more seasoned directors.

For those who don't know, the villain in this movie is played my Collin Chou - same guy who played Seraph in the Matrix sequels. Good fighter too, also in need of good representation in Hollywood.

Teenage kids would appreciate this movie. I prefer the old Chinese movies with subtitles and fewer jumper strings. 7/10.