Valentine’s Day * *

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Director:  Garry Marshall

Writer: Katherine Fugate

Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Jessica Alba, Eric Dane, Hector Elizondo

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: About 20 different characters populate the various stories that are told in this movie, set (of course) on Valentine’s Day and in the city of Los Angeles. The central storyline revolves around Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), a florist, who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba), who unfortunately has commitment issues. His best buddy Julia (Jennifer Garner) has hidden away her romantic feelings for Reed, and instead is involved with a philandering doctor, Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey). Separately, TV sports news reporter Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx) has been tasked to do man-in-the-street segments on love for Valentine’s Day, but is a cynic and doesn’t believe in love. However, he is suddenly presented with a potential love interest in the form of Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel), who is the agent for star quarterback Sean Jackson (Eric Dane). Sean seems to be troubled by more than the fact that his football contract is ending, and decides to call a press conference to announce exactly why.

Other tales abound: two strangers on a plane (Bradley Cooper and Julia Robert) manage to make a connection during a 14-hour flight; an old, happily married couple’s (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine) marriage suddenly doesn’t seem quite as happy to one of them when a secret is revealed; a secretary (Anne Hathaway) who is also working as an “adult phone entertainer” finds that her side job is interfering with the budding relationship she has with her boyfriend (Topher Grace); two young couples (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift, and Carter Jenkins and Emma Roberts) contemplate the possibility of engaging in pre-marital sex before their high school graduation; and a young boy (Bryce Robinson) has to deal with his first crush in school. (Phew.)

Review: It’s a huge morass of interconnected plot lines and characters, all revolving around the theme of love. However, the one biggest failing of Valentine’s Day is how little comedy and romance there is in this supposed rom-com. Many of the storylines are not even given a decent amount of screentime, and are so perfunctory that they almost seem like a desperate attempt to up the star wattage of the movie to pull in more moviegoers. It doesn’t help that the central storyline is so boring and uninspired that the film sags every time these so-called central characters are featured.

There are a few stories that show more potential – the airplane story works because Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts are immensely likeable in their roles and display some chemistry (which is sadly not the case in most of the other pairings), and Anne Hathaway has an absolute ball with her “adult phone entertainer” role and hams it up to the max, although the actual romantic development with this storyline is somewhat lacking. And then there’s the “surprise!” subplot that would potentially blindside some audiences – although it didn’t manage to “fool” this jaded moviegoer. Sadly, these storylines are not given enough time to fully develop, and it can get vexing when so much time is wasted on other inconsequential subplots, or worse, the insipid central plot. Valentine’s Day is a movie that would have benefitted immensely from some restraint and editing.

It’s interesting to see how Garry Marshall managed to somewhat drop the ball on this project. It’s a formula that has been done before (see Love, Actually for a far better take on the same theme), and Garry Marshall had practically made his name exclusively in this genre. Whilst Valentine’s Day is not a bad movie, too much of the film feels tired and uninteresting. The few bright spots and funny moments are unable to outweigh the flotsam and jetsam that make up the rest of the movie. The number of stars involved will probably still ensure this is a commercial success, helped somewhat by the fact that this is the only love-related movie released over this Valentine’s Day long weekend, but if you really want a romance fix this holiday period, why not try renting Love, Actually instead?

Rating: ** (out of four stars)

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief * * 1/2

 Genre: Fantasy

Director:  Chris Columbus

Writer: Craig Titley, based on the novel Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandria Daddario, Catherine Keener

Running Length: 119 minutes

Synopsis: Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is shocked to discover, after an attack by his substitute Math teacher, that he is actually the demigod offspring of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and that his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is actually a satyr sent to protect him. Zeus (Sean Bean) has had his mighty lightning bolt stolen, and he points the finger of blame at Percy. Ushered to the safety of demigod-training Camp Half-Blood, run by a centaur headmaster called Chiron (Pierce Brosnan), Percy needs to prove his innocence to Zeus by reclaiming the lightning bolt, aided by Grover and Annabeth (Alexandaria Daddario), daughter of Athena. Things get a little more complicated when Hades (Steve Coogan) abducts Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener), and the trio must make their way literally to hell and back, in the process stopping a war between the gods and the destruction of Earth (as always).

Review: Haven’t we all been here before? The answer is yes, of course we have – Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (strangely the local film title is truncated, dropping the bit about Olympians) feels very derivative, almost like a mutant child of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, even though it is based on its own bestselling novel series. We even have Chris Columbus helming the movie, the same auteur that brought the first two Harry Potter novels to the big screen. But is the film any good, or just another “me too!” movie trying to cash in on Potter-mania?

It’s a mixed bag – Percy Jackson is a rather entertaining movie, chock-full of action set pieces and eye-popping CG visuals, but it also suffers from logical flaws and is narratively very sparse, especially for an “origin movie”. Of course, this does help to move the film along at a good pace, but there’s very little content behind the action sequences and creates little emotional attachment to even Percy Jackson, which makes the viewing experience a very passive one. However, the film does manage to check all the boxes without committing any major mistakes, which means it actually fares a little better than the first Harry Potter film.

Much like the Harry Potter franchise, apart from the young leads the remainder of the cast is composed mainly of rather famous faces. However, most of these are walk on roles that aren’t all that memorable, except for Uma Thurman’s deliciously campy turn as the most fashion savvy Medusa I have ever seen.

Of all the fantasy films that have surfaced after Harry Potter, Percy Jackson is one of the few that shows enough promise to become a viable franchise – the Greek mythos is relatively interesting, and if the series takes off then hopefully the characters will gradually become more fleshed out over the next few movies. It seems like a sequel is already being green lit, so this is definitely the one to watch out for, especially after the conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise in 2011.

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)

 

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Law Abiding Citizen * 1/2

Genre: Action Thriller

Director:  F. Gary Gray

Writer: Kurt Wimmer

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb

Running Length: 108 minutes

Synopsis: Engineer Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) wife and young daughter are brutally raped and murdered before his eyes when burglars break into their home. However, the assistant DA assigned to the case, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), decides to preserve his 96% conviction rate and makes a deal with one of the two burglars – testify against his partner in crime and he gets a much reduced sentence. Clyde is enraged at this miscarriage of justice, but he patiently plots for the next ten years, setting up an epic revenge on everyone involved – be it the burglars, the judge, the DA and Nick himself. Surprisingly, even though Clyde is quickly incarcerated, the revenge killings continue unabated…

Review: Verisimilitude has never been a very important criterion for rating movies in my book, but I draw the line when suspension of disbelief becomes impossible, and the sheer stupidity of the script overshadows everything else that make up the movie. Law Abiding Citizen is one such film.

Law Abiding Citizen starts out quite well, and even though the “justice kills” are quite graphic and feel almost at home with the Final Destination series, there’s some (admittedly twisted) pleasure in seeing the “bad guys” get their comeuppance in these convoluted, unorthodox ways.

However, these machinations become increasingly preposterous, and it is simply impossible to believe that a single man, even if not incarcerated, could have been capable of setting everything up with such precision. It is also frustrating to see a character like Shelton, who is supposed to be extremely intelligent, behave stupidly just to advance the plot.

The denouement, in particular, feels very unsatisfactory because it hinges on Shelton being particularly dumb, and I for one found it impossible to accept the turn of events (no spoilers for what happens, even though a scene in the trailer actually gives part of the conclusion away).

The exchanges between Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler are also rather insipid, and Jamie Foxx’s character seems to be a cop first then a DA, probably as an attempt to beef up the action sequences in the film. However, this leaves Law Abiding Citizen in a state of limbo, as the action sequences still aren’t all that exciting, and yet the supposed intellectual exchanges aren’t very interesting either. This is a movie that would have probably been better if it tried to do less, but as it is, Law Abiding Citizen simply isn’t a very compelling movie in any way.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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