Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Directed by McG
Written by John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard

Reviewed by Paivi

The legendary leader John Connor, the son of even more legendary Sarah Connor, has been previously played (in movies) by Edward Furlong (young and rebellous one who played Guns N' Roses loud in his cassette player in T2) and Nick Stahl (a young adult in T3). This time it is Christian Bale's turn and the year is 2018 (and he's still playing Guns N' Roses when driving on a "motorbike") and John Connor has become the warrior legend we have heard so much about, the leader of the resistance against the machines of Skynet.

Not many years have passed but the Skynet has conquered the whole world with its machines and Terminators, cities and all working infrastructures are gone and no food is visible anywhere. Humans are living in small groups, some are battling against the machines along with the resistance, some are just trying to survive.

Skynet is developing better and better Terminators all the time and time is running out of the humans. They need to figure out a way to hit strong into the Skynet's system or they will go extinct.

The Resistance gets help from a very strange source when Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convicted murderer from 2003 whose last memory is his execution, is found from the desert. Marcus had earlier befriended with teenager Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, last seen in Star Trek as Chekov) (the future dad of John Connor) and when Kyle is kidnapped by the machines, Marcus helps John in getting to his rescue.

Terminator Salvation is all action war movie and only a little bit of drama. Which is a pity because almost two hours of shooting of Terminators and other machines does not exactly carry the whole movie. It amazed me how on earth had the Skynet with its machines managed in destroying the entire planet in just a few years and in developing such a fancy and sophisticated system for itself. Also the production of a certain well-developed infiltrator-Terminator is not believable because all the other Terminators are so different, so simple machines. And I don't even start talking about making successful heart transplants in field conditions and without any knowledge of the matching blood types...

We do hear the famous quote "I'll be back" and we see a digitally produced Arnold Schwarzenegger, but those feel fake. All humour that can be seen in previous Terminator -movies is gone, Terminator Salvation is very serious, laughless piece of action. Most of the action scenes are however well done and the scene when the special-Terminator is revealed is the best scene in the whole movie.

Just wait for new Terminator -movies in the future: John Connor's wife Kate (Claire Danes from T3 replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard) is pregnant (this is no spoiler because she is already pregnant in her first scene) so probably Connors' child will continue the father's work in making the world free again?

The Soloist (2009)

Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Susannah Grant (screenplay), Steve Lopez (book)

Cast Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Justin Martin, Nelsan Ellis, Lisa Gay Hamilton


Reviewed by: Sari

The Soloist is a true story inspired by a book written by journalist Steve Lopez.

The movie starts with a violin, a homeless guy and a journalist, who is in need to find a new subject for his column and ends up meeting a homeless guy called Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx). The journalist happens to be Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), Los Angeles Times columnist who immediately sees something special in Nathaniel and starts to investigate his past. He discovers that Nathaniel was once a very talented cellist, who also studied in Juilliard School for gifted, but who dropped out after the second year due to mental health problems.

Steve is intriqued by Nathaniel and these two get closer. Steve finds himself wondering among homeless people in the streets of Los Angeles and gets a whole new picture of their situation. Steve now has a mission. He wants to get Nathaniel's life back on it's track and uses his contacts to try and help him out. Eventually he realizes that big concert halls and public events are not meant for Nathaniel but he is still there to help him and even gets him an apartment of his own. Eventually Nathaniel shows his darker side and Steve gets frightened and stays out of his life for a while, but at the end these two people from two different worlds are still able to remain friends.

This was yet again an unbeliavably strong performance by Jamie Foxx, which was not a big suprise after seeing him in the legendary role of Ray Charles in the movie Ray. Here the role is still so much more challenging. Playing a mentally unstable, musically gifted genius is not a role for everyone, but Jamie Foxx nailed it. Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez was no less performance, and he once again proved to be one talented and strong actor, even though the main focus of this film is on Nathaniel.

This movie is an eye-opening experience and really gets you to think about the less fortunate homeless people who live among us. There are so many untold stories behind those faces and tired-looking eyes. So many chances, so many lost talents, like Nathaniel.

Considering this The Soloist was not just a story of Nathaniel. It also represented the situation of homeless people here in U.S. In a way it was a little reflection of our society and the sad fact that so much more should be done to help these people. In our society we have learned to turn our heads away from all the misery and sadness, concentrating on our own success and material needs. Hopefully this movie gets people to talk and even creates some kind of action to help all these people in need.

I was deeply touched by this story and the message it delivered. Beautiful, soulful story, that will for sure linger inside my mind for quite some time.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

2009 movies summarised

The movies released this year and which we have either reviewed or seen will from now on be summarised in a chart that you can find in the right hand side image link :) Check in there if you don't immediately find the movie you are looking for!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Observe and Report (2009)

Directed by Jody Hill
Written by Jody Hill
Cast Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Anna Faris, Michael Peña, Collette Wolfe

Reviewed by Paivi

Observe and report is a strange comedy of a mall security guard Ronnie, played by Seth Rogen, who would like to be something more than just someone observing and reporting to the real police - he would himself love be allowed to carry a gun like a proper police officer. His prayers are answered in the form of a flasher who starts harassing the female customers and employees of the mall. Ronnie takes the "flasher case" as his own, and plans to solve it before the real police led by agent Harrison (Ray Liotta).

Apart from being the head of the mall security, Ronnie is in love with the beautiful Brandi (Anna Faris) from the cosmetics section, lives with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), has a bi-polar disorder for which he is taking medication and becomes friends with cute and friendly Nell (Collette Wolfe) from a coffee shop.

When Ronnie's dream of a career in the police force is wrecked because of his mental disorder and delusions, hell breaks loose in the mall.

Observe and report is a strange comedy, because it is not really a comedy at all and this is what makes it very difficult to review. The characters are not funny, but mostly sad and pathetic, and it is extremely difficult to actually like them in any level. None of them, except maybe Nell.

Security guard taking anti-depressants during lunch and with delusions of killing all the bad guys is just plain sad and not funny. Cosmetics sales girl allowing pretty much anyone to screw her and lying in her own puke is just plain sad and not funny. Alcoholic mother who blames her son for the fact that the father left the family is sad and not funny.

We are used to seeing the funnyman Rogen in roles that make you like his teddybear appearance, laughter and witty dialogue - like for example in Knocked up and Pineapple Express. This role brings us a different Rogen, dark Rogen who is ready to fire a gun and is not sympathetic at all. I personally prefer the other type of Rogen.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Taken (2009)

Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Cast Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Xander Berkeley, Katie Cassidy

Reviewed by Sari

What if you are a retired CIA spy, a loving father and ready to help your child whenever possible? What if your child happens to be an adventurous 17-year old girl, ready to explore the world, all by herself? Well, it means that perhaps your help is needed sooner or later, especially Liam Neeson being in the leading role in this fast paced movie.

In Taken Bryan (Liam Neeson) is this ex-spy, living modest life close to his 17-year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who herself lives with her mom Lenore (Famke Janssen) and stepdad Stuart (Xander Berkeley), getting everything she wants and having a very luxurious lifestyle. Bryan doesn't necesserily agree on her daughter's lavish lifestyle and all the freedom her daughter has, but tries to adjust as well as he can. As for him the most important thing is just to be close to his daughter, after all those years serving the country and not being able to spend a lot of time with his family.

Suddenly Kim decides to travel to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) and Bryan gets very frustrated and even a little paranoid about this idea. He is afraid that she ends up getting in trouble travelling with no adult supervision, but reluctantly sings the papers that free her to go abroad, being under aged. He gives Kim a cell phone and asks her to keep in contact with him all the times, fearing for her safety. Girls have just arrived to Paris and Bryan is on the cell phone with Kim when the inevitable happens. Both girls are being kidnapped by Albanian human smugglers and Bryan is witnessing all this by the phone.

He contacts his friend Sam (Leland Orser) and finds out about the Albanian connection and is immediately on a a plane, on his way to Paris. This leads to a hunt where desperate father is after the criminals trying to figure out their next steps to find her daughter and he doesn't hesitate to use all his power and all the possible ways to rescue Kim.

This movie has all the parameters needed to work like a good action movie should. There is a lot of exciting moments, some pretty intense chasing scenes and the person who makes this film even more interesting is of course Liam Neeson and his character Bryan. Neeson is just wonderful to watch on screen. There is a man who is always so humble, yet extremely talented and can play any role, any time, making it his own thing.

The storyline is not perhaps the strongest possible and at some point it gets pretty obvious what is going to happen next and how the story is going to end. But Neeson keeps the audience in excitement and it is quite obvious to see, that the main responsibility for this movie to succeed lays on Neeson's hands.

Reminds me of those good, old 90s action films with a lot of chasing, excitement and a strong, charismatic person in a leading role. Sometimes that is all it takes to have a good movie experience. So enjoy! I sure did!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Angels and Demons (2009)

Directed by Ron Howard
Written by David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman, based on Dan Brown's novel
Cast Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Armin Mueller-Stahl

Reviewed by Päivi

Like so many others, I started my friendship with the author Dan Brown with his novel Da Vinci Code. Few years ago when I was traveling in New Zealand and had already almost two months behind me, I needed something to read and rest my head. I found Angels and Demons from a bookstore and after that the next few days I spent sightseeing the amazing New Zealand by day and adventuring in Vatican by night. After that experience I thought, wow, this would be great to see as a movie!

Now my wish has come true - Angels and Demons is released as a movie version. Tom Hanks continues as the professor Robert Langdon specialised in symbolism as he did in the movie version of Da Vinci Code. (I have always had problems with Hanks as Langdon because he is not at all that convincing, handsome professor I pictured him in my mind...) Langdon is invited to Vatican City after the Pope has died and four cardinals - preferiti, the most popular choices to become a new Pope - have been kidnapped by an ancient secret society called Illuminati. A cryptic message is left behind and the Vatican wants the world famous symbolist to help them in saving the lives of the cardinals.

At the same time a container of antimatter is stolen from the LHC lab (Large Hadron Collider) in CERN Switzerland. A physicist studying the antimatter, Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), has traveled to Vatican as well because not only have the cardinals been kidnapped, also the whole Vatican is in danger of exploding because the antimatter may work as a bomb.

While the Pope's camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) heads the papal office and leads the cardinals into a conclave to try to elect a new pope. Langdon and Vetra run around the Vatican and Rome in search of the ancient Path of Illumination, the kidnapped cardinals and the antimatter container.

Angels and Demons the movie is filled with action. Everything happens within five hour timeframe and as the pretty complicated story is squeezed into two and a half hours, the action is at times breathtaking. The screenplay is written well, it sticks together and does not fall apart despite the various possibilities. The focus of the story is mainly in the riddle of the Path of Illumination, the four elements of science and how they are combined with the four missing cardinals and pretty much everything else from the book is left out.

For someone not familiar with the novel, this is one hell of an action ride with interesting twists and turns and a very different angle for a mystery thriller. It is fascinating to see how the Vatican works and see a glimpse of the secrets vaults of Vatican (which are of course not real because director Ron Howard was not allowed to film in Vatican but he had to recreate Vatican elsewhere). But for those who know the story. the thrill gets lost at times, and it is often difficult to really stay interested in what happens to who.

Overall, Angels and Demons is pretty loyal to the original story, is well acted, has good action sequences, interesting twists, introduces us to the art and history of Vatican and Rome, but is a bit soulless. It runs it's course in a decent way, but instead of being either black or white, it leaves a somewhat grey feeling.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman based on Gene Roddenberry's tv-series
Cast Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Zoe Saldana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin

Reviewed by

First, let me clarify one thing: I am a Star Wars fan and I have never really seen any Star Treks. So I saw the Star Trek directed by Lost creator J.J. Abrams open minded, without any expectations and no original story to compare it to. Trust me, all I knew was that there were characters named Kirk and Spock, and a spacecraft named Enterprise. And I have to say I was very pleased indeed in what I saw on the big screen: a fascinating space adventure, interesting characters, story well written and visually worth sitting in the theatre for a bit over two hours.

This version of Star Trek is like Batman Begins - it tells the origins of how James T. Kirk became the famous Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise and how Kirk and Spock became friends. Chris Pine is the young and restless - and fatherless - James Kirk, who tries to pick up girls in a bar when he meets a certain Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who questions his future and tells him to join the space fleet if he wants to honor his father.

Kirk is sceptic but eventually turns out in the recruitment center next morning. Arrogant young man does not please everyone, especially one guy from the planet Vulcan with pointed ears (Zachary Quinto) but he becomes friends with the doctor McCoy (Karl Urban). With the help of McCoy Kirk gets through things he would not otherwise get, fights against a group led by (almost unrecognisable in his mask) Eric Bana's Captain Nero, and eventually turns from an arrogant, selfish youngster to a reliable guy worth of Captain's status.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek is something you would wish for a good space adventure: cool gadgets and technologies, interesting, brave characters and action that is still not happening on the expense of the story. The growth story of Kirk was very basic, but it worked in a reliable way. Some overacting from Pine especially in the beginning bugged me a bit, as did some extremely cheesy moments, but they did not spoil the overall experience, which was purely entertaining.

A nice addition is the original (from the tv-series in the 60's) Mr. Spock Leonard Nimoy's appearance, and based on the comments of friends' who have seen also the original shows, all characters are very loyal to the originals and all names, personalities and nationalities have been stored unchanged. The diversity of the Enterprise crew was something that I took notice, and I found them all fascinating, well done and well played characters.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Star Warsy stuff, Episode I

Star Wars is an institute in movies. Not only has the Maker George Lucas made a fortune with the movie saga and the spin-off tv-series, but also with all the merchandise around the movies, Extended Universe of novels and comic books, action figures, toys, collectibles... you name it, uncle George has it.

Since the release of the first ever Star Wars in 1977 have many movie makers used the theme in their creations and included references to the space fantasy in their work. I, as a Star Wars fan, find it extremely entertaining when I notice the beloved adventure featured in other movies.

Last weekend I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the ending scene (can't explain in detail so that I won't spoil the story) reminded me very much of a certain scene in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the one when the evil Darth Maul is defeated by young jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. The scene in Episode I is haunting and the same atmosphere has been captured in Wolverine as well.

A much lighter reference was seen in the recent hit-comedy 17 Again starring Zac Efron. Efron's character's best friend is an adult "fanboy" who has decorated his home with all kinds of fancy merchandise from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and the type. Even his bed is the shape of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder from A New Hope.

When Efron's character and his friend have a fight, they settle it with one blue and one red Force FX lightsaber (even though the box of the lightsaber says it is a collectible item and not a toy - I know I have two of those myself) - Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker -style. The scene is so very cute.

References to Star Wars can be seen literally everywhere. These movies that came out this spring are just two most recent examples. The story continues...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Duplicity (2009)

Directed by Tony Gilroy
Written by Tony Gilroy
Cast Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson

Reviewed by

Tony Gilroy, the man behind many engaging cinematic stories such as Michael Clayton, Jason Bourne -series, The Devil's Advocate, an Oscar-nominated director of Michael Clayton and also a man behind another new thriller State of Play (reviewed in here) has written and directed Duplicity, a story of two spies who end up falling in love.

Clive Owen is Ray Koval, a MI-6 agent on a mission in Dubai when he meets Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), a CIA agent. There's something about Claire, thinks Ray, and ends up in bed with the lady... only to find himself next morning, drugged, and all his secret papers stolen by the other agent.

Time passes, the agents' paths meet again and it seems they can't stay away from each other. Because they know so many of the agent tricks, they start planning together a gig that would lead them to big money. But they have a problem: how to be able to trust each other? They are a perfect match in a way that they understand each other, but they are both so deep in their jobs that betrayal and mistrust is always in their minds.

Their plan involves two soap industry bosses, played brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (check especially the opening of the movie, when the two middle aged bosses have a fight in slow motion - just hilarious). A lot of spying, counter spying and a very very complicated plot follows, and I'm not going to explain that to you because it would spoil the surprises, and eventually everything pretty much turns upside down and everyone is confused on who betrayed who.

The complex story is very well written and the actors play their parts nicely. Especially Giamatti and Wilkinson are awesome as those soap moguls who try everything to find the magic product and especially launch it first (no matter who originally invented it). It is interesting to see all the complexities in industry secrets, how those big companies are well organised like countries who hold national secrets and they even have their own agents in house. In case of a big invention that might bring the company billions of dollars, this is understandable.

Roberts and Owen are cute as professional spies who are very efficient and self confident in what they do, but who are so vulnerable and insecure when it comes to questions about love. Owen is showing his usual charm and he fits into the role beautifully. Roberts is a bit missing her charisma as an ice-cold spy, and it is easy to understand why Ray questions her love.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, and still the ending brought a little surprise with it, which is pretty rare nowadays. And I totally loved the end scene with the champagne and all. Duplicity is recommended to all who enjoy crime/thriller stories with some comedy inside.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Directed by Gavin Hood
Written by David Benjoff, Skip Woods
Cast Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds, Lynn Collins. Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Dominic Monaghan, Kevin Durand, Will i Am

Reviewed by Päivi

When I was a teenage girl, I loved reading X-Men comics (and other Marvel-comics as well). My two favourite characters were Wolverine and Storm - Storm for being so beautiful (especially when her hair was cut and she was wearing it as a mohican) and so powerful with her talent on controlling the weather, and then Wolverine - for being the tough guy with those magnificent claws and a skeleton made of some fancy sounding adamantium. Also, what combines these two characters was that their past is interesting: it holds secrets only few people know.

When they made movies of X-Men, I was happy to find my other favourite character performed by an actor that suits the character perfectly. Yeah well, Hugh Jackman is a lot taller than Wolverine in the comics, but that did not matter. He did a brilliant job.

A movie of this character's origins that so many I've heard thinks as their favourite character, was more than justified. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is exactly what the name tells: how Logan became the adamantium-skeletoned Wolverine.

The story begins with events that lead to young James (Troye Sivan) first witnessing the claws coming out of his hands and killing a man. Terrified of what happened, James and his older brother Victor escape from home. Both of the boys have the skill of healing fast and eventually they end up fighting back to back in many wars. It is not until in Vietnam war when the then grown up brothers (Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber) are spotted by a certain William Stryker (Danny Huston) who recruits the brothers to his secret group of overly skilled soldiers.

The many wars have made their mark on the brothers: when James (now known as Logan) has grown to hate all the killing, Victor has learned to love his power. When Stryker takes them on a mission that is morally questionable in nature, James leaves the group and for many years lives a harmonic and peaceful life in the Canadian Rockies with beautiful Kayla (Lynn Collins). But Logan is not meant to live in peace, and after six peaceful years his brother finds him which leads to events that give birth to the Wolverine we all know.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a dark story with a lot of emotions. It is a very well made action flick with all the compounds an action fan would enjoy. But it has also flaws that made me drop off one star from the review.

South-African born and awarded director Gavin Hood has all the tools to make a great film of one of the most-loved comic characters ever, but sometimes he relies too much on the old action cliches where the hero walks out of a scene of an exploding helicopter just a few meters behind without looking back for example.

Also the visual effects are often not at the level they should be. For example the scene when Wolverine admires his new adamantium claws for the first time, they look fake, and with all the technology available today, this kind of essential thing from the story's point of view should be pretty basic to make look real. In some scenes I was really wondering how the effects could be so poorly made in a movie of this big budget.

But overall, Wolverine is a decent piece of entertainment. The story rests on Jackman's charisma pretty strongly, which is understandable because of the awesome charisma of last year's sexiest man on Earth. Jackman makes Wolverine the character we know from Marvel's comics, and even though he still brings some new life to the character, he does it in such a subtle way that the audience is totally bought.

Of the other mutants seen on the flick, we can see among others Ryan Reynolds' swordman Wade, Kevin Durand as Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Will i Am as John Wraith, Daniel Henney as Agent Zero and Tim Pocock as young Scott Summers (future leader of the X-Men, Cyclops). Also Taylor Kitch's Gambit does some cool stuff with his cards.