Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

© 2007 Ray Wong


More is more. At least that's what Disney thinks when it comes to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Here, we have not one, not two, but more than a handful of heroes, and I lost count of the number of villains in this mega-blockbuster. You know you're going to get your money's worth.

p1Continuing where the second sequel left us, the film opens with a mass hanging scene in which Lord Culter Beckett (Tom Hollander) sends anyone suspected of being pirates to the gallows. The people begin to sing a pirate song, calling for the pirate lords. Thanks to Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport), Beckett now possesses Davy Jones' (Bill Nighy) heart and thus control Jones and his men, and the sea.

p2Meanwhile, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) leads Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and the rest of the gang to Singapore to find Captain Sao Fen (Yun-Fat Chow). They need a ship and a crew to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who is trapped inside Davy Jones' locker. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) has the chart to find him at world's end.

p3Once they find Sparrow, they must find a way to return to the world of the living, and answer the people's call. Of course, things are not as simple as they seem, as everyone has his or her own motive, and they would do anything to sabotage one another to achieve their own goals. At the end, they must bend together to fight Lord Beckett, or they risk extinction altogether.

p4The huge cast compete for screen time. Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd) doesn't even appear until midway into the film. His Capt. Jack Sparrow is just as zany as before. Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) and Orlando Bloom (Elizabethtown) reprise their roles as the lovers torn apart by their ambitions. Geoffrey Rush (Munich) returns as a kinder, gentler Barbossa. Bill Nighy (Notes on a Scandal) has much less to do this time around, plagued by a subplot that involves Tia Dalma, played by Naomie Harris (Miami Vice).

p5Also reprising their roles are Jack Davenport (The Libertine) as Norrington, Tom Hollander (Pride & Prejudice) as Beckett, Jonathan Pryce (The Brothers Grimm) as Governor Swann, Kevin McNally (Scoop) as Gibbs, and Stellan Skarsgard (King Arthur) as "Bootstrap" Bill Turner. New to the cast is Hong Kong superstar Yun-Fat Chow (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) as fiendish Captain Sao Feng. Rocker Keith Richards has a ball playing Captain Teague, Jack Sparrow's father.

p6The writers, headed by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, return for round three. Many people considered the plot of Dead Man's Chest extremely convoluted; At World's End is no different. To summarize the plot: Someone betray someone else, and then they make amends, and then they betray one another again. That's pretty much it. They try to explain why the characters act certain ways and how things come to be -- but the explanations defy logic, even within the realm of high-concept fantasies. The huge cast of character leaves no room for solid character development -- they're only there to propel the plot from one action sequence to another.

p7Fortunately, under the old hands of director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Ring), the pace is fast enough so that the audiences don't have time to raise too many questions. The special effects are inconsistent, ranging from spectacular (the journey to Davy Jones' Locker, the climactic fight in the middle of a maelstrom) to underwhelming, even cheesy (for example, the reveal of Calypso, the Sea Goddess). The fight scenes are also very confusing, with a lot of close-ups and fast cutting -- it's very difficult to figure out what is going on.

p8In all fairness, Pirates of the Caribbean is pure popcorn. It's loud, fast, and mind-boggling. We must check our brains at the door in order to just let go and enjoy the film for what it is -- an amusement park ride. It's exciting, and it's crazy. At 168 minutes, however, the film is at least 30 minutes too long. They could have cut many extraneous parts (the scenes with Sao Feng, for example, really are not necessary), reduced the number of characters, and tightened the plot. If the movie is a roller-coaster ride, it's a long one that may make you sick at the end.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Yun-Fat Chow, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure and some frightening images
Running Time: 168 Minutes


Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 9

Total –6.9 out of 10

Shrek the Third

© 2007 Ray Wong


It's inevitable: Adhering to Hollywood tradition, the third outing of Shrek and company is bigger, louder, and packed with mythical characters. Does it mean it's better? Let's see.

s1Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are resigned to their temporary royal duties and lifestyle when Fiona's father, King Harold (John Cleese), falls ill. After the King dies, Shrek is to be King but he just wants to go back to his swamp. Accompanied by loyal friends Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boot (Antonio Banderas), Shrek sets off to find Artie (Justin Timberlake), Fiona's distant cousin, and coerce him to become the new King instead.

s2Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is scheming to take back "his" kingdom. He recruits all the villainous outcasts and stages an attack on Far, Far Away, capturing Fiona and her friends. He plans to lure Shrek back to the castle and kill him in front of everyone.

s3At the same time, Shrek has to deal with the news that Fiona is pregnant. The impending fatherhood scares Shrek, and he fears that his simple life will never be the same again.

s4The usual suspects all do a good job reprising their roles as the lovable characters. Mike Myers (Shrek 2) is a bit subdue as Shrek settles down. Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) is still funny as Donkey. Cameron Diaz (The Holiday) is lovely and spunky as Fiona. And Antonio Banderas (The Legend of Zorro) is a worthy forth wheel.

s5The returning cast includes Julie Andrews (The Princess Diaries 2) as the regal Queen Lillian, who shows some fighting skills this time around; John Cleese (Charlotte's Web) as the dying Frog King; and Rupert Everett (Separate Lies) as the vain Prince Charming. New to the cast are Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog) as teenage Artie, and Eric Idle (Ella Enchanted) as zany Merlin. Funny ladies Cheri Oteri (The Ant Bully), Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory), Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy) and Maya Rudolph (A Prairie Home Companion) are Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, and Rupunzel respectively. There are too many cameos to list here.

s6Written by a large group of writers headed by Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia), the story is actually rather simple, with three subplots going on in parallel, then coming together at the end. The writers have done a good job keeping the story clutter-free, considering the huge cast of characters, by focusing on the main characters and the three subplots. The main theme of "be who you are" continues through this film. They also succeed in giving us some unique and funny characters.

s7There are many funny moments, including a hilarious fight scene involving the Princesses, and a side-splitting one involving Gingerbread Man and Pinocchio being interrogated by Prince Charming. Fortunately, there are also some quiet moments to help develop characters. The scenes with Artie and Merlin, however, somehow drag and feel flat. Also, for once I'd like to see less bathroom humor and fart jokes -- I know, they are funny... for six-year-olds, perhaps.

s8Directed by Chris Miller and Raman Hui (Fat Cat on a Diet), the film thankfully avoids going down the frantic path. Over all, the film strikes a good balance between comic action and quiet, introspective scenes. That's a pleasant surprise. The animation is gorgeous, and advance technologies have enabled huge improvements in giving the characters facial expressions and fluid motions. It's impressive. The colors are vibrant and the sceneries are wonderful eye candy. Unlike in the first two films, however, the soundtrack is somewhat lacking. The editing gets choppy sometimes as well.

Let's just say I came into the theatre expecting an overblown, overproduced, overloud production and came out pleasantly surprised. I had fun, and the film made me laugh and think at the same time. That's not an easy task given we've seen these characters before. The film clearly sets its aim at a wide audience -- adults, children, families -- but they managed not to dumb it down too much. While not as original and poignant as the first movie, Shrek the Third exceeds my expectations and is even better than the second one.

Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Eric Idle, Justin Timberlake
Directors: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
Writers: Andrew Adamson, Howard Gould, Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, J. David Stern, David N. Weiss, Jon Zack (characters based on William Steig's book)
Distributor: DreamWorks, Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor, suggestive content, and swashbuckling action
Running Time: 92 Minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Animation – 9
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 9

Total –7.5 out of 10

Georgia Rule

© 2007 Ray Wong


For her second outing after her long "retirement," Jane Fonda seems to have established her preference for working with Hollywood's hottest actresses du jour. Much of the film's publicity has been about Lindsay Lohan's bad behaviors on and off the set. Perhaps she was staying in character as bad girl Rachel.

gr1Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) is a seventeen-year-old troublemaker from San Francisco. To teach her a lesson, her mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman) strong-arms Rachel to spend the summer with grandma Georgia in Idaho. Georgia is known for her strict rules, and Lilly hopes she would knock some senses into Rachel, even though Lilly herself can't stand Georgia.

gr2Right off the bat, Rachel breaks all the rules Georgia sets forth. The only things that keep her entertained are Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), a young Mormon man ready to embark on his two-year mission, and Simon (Dermot Mulroney), a handsome veterinarian who also treats human patients. Rachel has a lot of fun raising hell in the quiet small town until Georgia learns of her dark secret. When Lily returns to town to confront Rachel, the three women must find their places in this twisted web of broken relationships.

gr3Jane Fonda (Monster In-Law) looks stunning for her age. All those years of aerobics must have worked out. While her performance is nuanced and meticulous, her role is subdue and somewhat restrained, especially compared to her flashier role in Monster In-Law. She has some great lines and scenes, but over all, I find her characterization a bit undercooked.

gr4Lindsay Lohan (Bobby) has all the fun playing party girl on and off screen, but we can't help but recognize her talent. She reminds me of Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex: sexy, scheming, unflinching. Yet she shows enough vulnerability that we wonder what's going on in this girl's head. Felicity Huffman (Transamerica), surprisingly, is the weakest link among the actresses of three different generations. Compared to Fonda's restrained granny and Lohan's wild child, Huffman's portrayal of a middle aged woman looking for love seems overdone and over the top. She seems a bit too comical for the drama; she seems out of place.

gr5The men are in fine forms, albeit underutilized. Dermot Mulroney (Zodiac) is affecting as the virtuous, gentle vet with a history. As the object of Rachel's affection, Garrett Hedlund (Eragon) is wonderfully bewildered and ernest. Cary Elwes (Walk the Talk) has made a name for himself playing boyish, charming creeps, and he delivers once again. Dylan McLaughlin (Bones) and Zachary Gordon (Sex and Death 101) both give controlled performances as two young bothers. Hector Elizondo (The Celestine Prophecy) and Laurie Metcalf (Meet the Robinsons) have small cameos.

gr6Written by Mark Andrus (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), who excels in "chick flicks" including his Oscar-winning As Good as It Gets, the script does feel bloated with estrogen. Clearly, females are the target audience. Part The Opposite of Sex and part Steel Magnolia, the story focuses on the relationships among grandma, ma, and daughter. The main question is "Do you ever love me?" Simple yet complicated. The problem with Andrus's screenplay is that it deals with the subject matters with a heavy hand. It also loses focus -- is it a comedy or a drama? It's often too heavy for a comedy, and not deep enough for a drama. Also, there are enough coincidences to risk losing our suspension of disbelief, and part of the plot feels cliched, contrived, and manipulative. The characters lose their credibility when faced with some of the choices they make -- they somehow become caricatures.

gr7Director Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries) has a lot of experience making movies for women. By and large, his decision to plunge us right into the situations and slowly reveal the characters works out pretty well. At times, though, the plot lacks focus and it seems to go all over the place. As a character study, it doesn't go deep enough. At the end of the film, we still don't know much about Georgia, the titular character. The film also feels disjointed, and the relationships between these three women suffer from underdevelopment, which undermines the final emotional payoff.

gr8While it's not a bad movie, Georgia Rule is too preachy and manipulative to make a true impact. There are not enough laughs, and I think even women looking for a good cry would be underwhelmed. There should be a Garry rule that Garry Marshall sticks with comedies from now on.

Stars: Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes, Garrett Hedlund
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Mark Andrus
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language
Running Time: 113 Minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7

Total –6.5 out of 10

Hot Fuzz

© 2007 Ray Wong


The team that brought us Shaun of the Dead and A Fistful of Fingers has come back with another satirical romp. This time, instead of having fun with the zombie genre, their target of ridicule is the over-the-top, violent buddy-cop flicks.

hf1Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is a top-notch police officer in London. Obsessed with his job, Angel has no personal life and he devotes all his energy to work. In fact, he is so good on the job that he threatens everyone around him. So Chief Inspector Kenneth (Bill Nighy) promotes Angel to Sergeant -- only that he will be transfered to a sleepy country town named Sandford. hf2His new colleagues are inept buffoons. Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) is a silly old man, and Angel's new partner, the Inspector's son Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), is a drunken dimwit. Angel tries to do this job, only to be met with ridicule: "You're too over-zealous; this isn't London."

hf3Just as Angel begins to resign to his quiet small-town existence, a series of gruesome accidents piques his suspicion. His prime suspect is store manager Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), a slick, arrogant man active in the community. When Angel voices his concerns, everybody laughs at him and brushes him off, except Danny, who thinks he's missing out on the "big stuff" as depicted in Hollywood movies. He idolizes Angel and wants to be a top cop just like him. When Angel finally unveils the malice behind the "accidents," it's up to him and Danny to protect Sandford and seek justice for these crimes.

hf4Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible III), the rubber-limb actor is back on top as the one who saves the day. Much like his reluctant hero in Shaun of the Dead, Pegg makes great use of his Everyman charisma and goofiness. Unlike a typical Hollywood action hero, he's not particularly handsome or built, and that's why he's perfect. He's absolutely identifiable and that makes the character so funny. In a way, he reminds us of Steve McQueen, only funnier. In comparison, chunky Nick Frost (Kinky Boots) is such an adorable doofus. His character isn't very smart, but he has tremendous heart and charm to spare. As they did in Shaun of the Dead, they make a great team and their chemistry adds greatly to the production.

hf5The excellent cast also includes Bill Nighy (Notes on a Scandal) in a limited but humorous cameo as the Chief Inspector, Timothy Dalton (American Outlaws) in an anti-Bond role as Skinner, Jim Broadbent (Art School Confidential) with a spot-on performance as Inspector Butterman, and Paddy Considine (Cinderella Man) as dim-bulb undercover Andy Wainwright, paired with Rafe Spall (A Good Year) as equally dim Andy Cartwright.

hf6Written by co-star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), the script is witty, hilarious, funny and satirical all at once. The characters are well-developed for a comedy, identifiable and likable (yes, even the villains). Even for those not familiar with British humor, they can appreciate the intelligence and sharp wit, especially the subtle or not-so-subtle jabs at violence, gore, and Hollywood action movies. Many great lines. There is nary a dull moment and the plot moves along smoothly, with enough suspense and mystery -- we don't quite know where it's going. Sure, there are plot holes, but really, when we're laughing so hard, who really cares? The ending is a bit sappy but perfect for the genre.

hf7Wright's direction is brisk and full of energy, with great pacing and movements. There are many sight gigs that are sure to create some belly laughs. But there are also great moments and sentiments about friendship, loyalty and, ironically, taking things slow. The editing is very clever, and the soundtrack is fun. In fact, the whole production has that jovial, wink-wink quality to it, and you can't help but think: Wow, they really had fun making it.

hf8From the title to the end credits, Hot Fuzz is hilarious, silly, and a jolly good time. It's a great little film amid the overblown, overproduced, over-zealous summer blockbusters. These fuzzes are definitely hot.

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Distributor: Rogue, Focus
MPAA Rating: R for violence, graphic images and language
Running Time: 121 Minutes


Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 9
Production – 8

Total – 8 out of 10