Sex and the City 2 * *

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Director: Michael Patrick King

Writer: Michael Patrick King

Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Chris Noth, Evan Handler, David Eigenberg, John Corbett

Running Length: 146 minutes

Synopsis:  It’s been another two years since freelance writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) has finally married the man of her dreams, John Preston aka “Mr Big” (Chris Noth). However, beneath the marital bliss lies some discontent – Carrie is afraid that the spark has gone out of their relationship, especially since Big seems more intent to stay home and watch TV then to go out and paint the town red. Her three best friends are also each having problems of her own: Samantha (Kim Cattrall) enters menopause and is trying her best to beat the clock with handfuls of vitamins and supplements; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is overworked and underappreciated in the law firm she works in; and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) finds her two children to be more than she can handle, and though her buxom nanny is a great help, she’s afraid that the nanny’s presence may cause Harry (Evan Handler) to stray. After a chance meeting with a sheik, the girls are whisked off to an all expenses paid, one-week vacation in Abu Dhabi, where Carrie chances upon old flame Aidan (John Corbett), and old emotions bubble once again to the surface. Will Carrie’s ever after be as happy as she envisaged it would be?

Review:  I’ll be the first to say that I am a big fan of the Sex and the City series, and even though the first movie had quite a few flaws, I was more than willing to let them slide and to go along for the ride. The huge box office success of the movie practically ensured the existence of this sequel, but one cannot help but wonder if it was a good idea. In the first movie, all four women had storylines of their own, which at least managed to justify the epic running length. In this second film, however, none of the women have very substantive storylines, and Samantha and Miranda are both reduced to being nothing but plot devices (just like all the men in the movie) – yet the movie is only 2 minutes shorter than its predecessor. It’s an incredibly bloated and indulgent movie, and there’s so little narrative progression and so much excess that it becomes overwhelming.

And “excess” is truly the keyword that permeates the entire movie. Sure, the out-of-reach fashions and accessories may be interesting, but this time round costume designer Patricia Fields seems to have been equipped with an ugly stick, as some of the fashions are truly gaudy and hideous. A purported $10 million wardrobe budget doesn’t manage to buy good taste, unfortunately. And yes, it’s supposed to be an escapist fantasy, but sometimes it stretches believability a little too much, and throughout the twelve-year lifespan of Sex and the City, it has never been this apparent.

And then there’s the sojourn to “Abu Dhabi” (actually Morocco, and it’s easy to see why Abu Dhabi declined to be part of this movie), which to me is the lowest point in the entire Sex and the City franchise. The name of the game after all is Sex and the City, and the characters do best when they are on their home ground of NYC, not a foreign country. This sequel makes the mistake of keeping the ladies on a foreign land for what seems like more than half the running length, in which all they do is go from tourist locale to another tourist locale. Was this meant to be a travelogue? The Mexico interlude in the first movie was somewhat acceptable because there was a fair bit of plot development, but the way the ladies behave in Abu Dhabi, particularly Samantha, crosses the line of comedy and enters into the realm of bad taste and crassness. It’s so belittling of the Muslim faith and the cultures and traditions of a foreign land that I felt mildly apologetic simply by sitting through it. Sex and the City is supposed to be fun, but it should not be at someone else’s expense.

There are still some brighter moments in the film, where what made the TV series so good comes to the forefront – an example would be the scene where Miranda and Charlotte commiserate about the difficulties of motherhood over Cosmopolitans, and for a moment one is transported back in the better days of the franchise. Unfortunately, too much of the movie is like the (rather painful) Liza Minelli performance of “Single Ladies” early on in the film – everyone looks older, and although their presence is somewhat appreciated, it eventually feels a little too desperate and sad, even for fans. Here’s hoping that Michael Patrick King finally realizes that Sex and the City’s shelf life is up, and to quit while he’s ahead, before the franchise makes a seamless transition to Golden Girls: The Movie.   

Rating:  * * (out of four stars)


Shrek Forever After * * *

Genre: Animation

Director: Mike Mitchell

Writers: Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke

Voice Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohn

Running Length: 93 minutes

Synopsis:  Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are now happily married ogres, with three children in tow, and best friend Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and family an integral part of their lives. However, life has become so routine that Shrek suffers from a mid-life crisis, hoping to find a way out from his mundane existence. Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohn) hears his wish and grants it, but Shrek fails to read the fine print on the contract, and is tricked into an alternate version of Far Far Away where he never existed and Rumplestiltskin is king – and Shrek has only a day to fix everything. Yes, it’s basically an animated take on It’s A Wonderful Life.  

Review:  With all the Shrek movies making big bucks, it’s little wonder that yet another sequel has been made(claimed to be the final installment, but Puss in Boots already has a spin off coming next year so…). The good news is that Shrek Forever After is very much improved from Shrek the Third, and at times is reminiscent of the first two films in the Shrek franchise. However, even Shrek cannot escape the trappings of 3D, and it now has the dubious honour of being the animated film with the most poorly implemented 3D I have had the chance to see (so far). My advice – don’t bother shelling out the extra money for 3D for this film.

Although the first Shrek had a very different visual aesthetic to Pixar’s films, nothing much has improved or changed over the past decade, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the benchmark was set pretty much from the beginning. There are some attempts early in the film to make things “pop” in 3D, but as the film progresses these instances become fewer and further between. In fact, with the frequent chase and action sequences in the film, the 3D implementation simply cannot keep up. The same goes for the voice talents – we’ve all heard these voices before, and although it’s unimaginable to replace them at this point in time, even Mike Myers seems to be dialing in his performance.

It may seem like there are a lot of niggling points for Shrek Forever After, but the film is solidly entertaining despite these flaws. There are still fun pop culture references (the usage of “Top of the World” by the Carpenters is rather inspired), and some good gags to be had (although many of the funny parts have been included in the trailers for the film). And Puss in Boots’ googly eyes never, ever fail to crack me up regardless of the number of times I see it.

However entertaining and fun the movie was, there’s also this consistent feeling that this fourth movie is a very good time to give closure to the main Shrek franchise. I cannot imagine sitting through yet another Shrek movie, and since the franchise has already done a Frank Capra, even the alternate reality angle has been covered. Let’s hope that the almost-assured box office success of Shrek Forever After won’t change the producers’ minds.

Rating:  * * * (out of four stars)


Iron Man 2 * * * 1/2

Genre: Action

Director:  Jon Favreau

Writer: Justin Theroux

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

Running Length: 124 minutes

Synopsis: Set 6 months after the incidents that unfolded in the first Iron Man, the world now knows that billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is the seemingly invincible Iron Man. However, beneath that brash exterior, Stark is beginning to crack from the strain of being Iron Man, and the technology that is keeping him alive is also slowly poisoning him. Meanwhile, a deranged Russian man, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is plotting to annihilate Stark, and with access to similar technology, has become a super-villain named Whiplash. Stark has to figure out how to overcome the restrictions of his suit, rescue his relationships with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard), and survive Whiplash’s vicious onslaught…

Review:  What a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season! If we look back to 2008 when the first Iron Man was released, Robert Downey Jr was a middling star, Iron Man was a minor Marvel property that nobody really cared about,  and Jon Favreau was known more as an actor than a director (Elf, anyone?). However, Iron Man became a stellar box office performer and garnered praise across the board, and as a result all eyes are now on Iron Man 2 to repeat this feat. Has it managed to do so? On most counts, I would have to say yes it did.

Superhero movies aren’t exactly known to have strong plots, but even then Iron Man 2’s plot does tend to feel very thin at times. It doesn’t help that the sequel is also a little lazier, depending on prior knowledge of the first movie to fill in some of the narrative gaps. Having gotten that out of the way, the rest of Iron Man 2 is supremely entertaining, and shows exactly how a successful blockbuster is created – an extremely charismatic lead, a bunch of reasonably decent supporting performances, good action set pieces that don’t take up the bulk of the film’s running time, and a generous peppering of humour to make everything go down that much easier.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Robert Downey Jr is largely responsible for making this film a success – his performance is so compelling, charismatic and eminently likeable that one can’t help but root for him, warts and all. In fact, Favreau is so aware of his lead actor’s charisma that he practically keeps Downey Jr out of the metal suit for the entire movie, save for a few action sequences. The same goes for Don Cheadle, who is a more than capable replacement for Terrence Howard but unfortunately really isn’t given that much to do.

On the villain front, Mickey Rourke is silently menacing in his few scenes, whereas Sam Rockwell is the exact opposite, actively chewing the scenery in every scene as millionaire weapons dealer Justin Hammer, and almost steals the show with his over the top performance.

And then there are the femme fatales – Gwyneth Paltrow once again feels underdeveloped as Stark’s love interest (as does the entire romance subplot), but Scarlett Johansson scores a home run with her portrayal of Natalie Rushman aka the Black Widow in the Marvel universe. She gets a scene where she literally kicks ass, and it would be interesting to see if she would get an expanded role in the upcoming Marvel universe films, which could include Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, Nick Fury and of course the inevitable Iron Man 3. Many of these are subtly referenced in the film (as well as in a short post-end credits sequence), but these little winks and nudges could prove to be confusing and alienating to audiences not acquainted with the Marvel universe, especially since many of these characters aren’t as popular or well-known as those in X-Men or Spiderman.

Iron Man 2 also has a couple of well-choreographed action sequences, in particular the scene at the Monaco Grand Prix, but the finale feels slightly underwhelming as it’s simply a bunch of tin men battling it out with guns blazing. It doesn’t confuse, unlike the terrible action sequences in the Transformers franchise, but it’s not particularly exciting either. Having said the, the CG work in Iron Man 2 is top notch, and there’s very little that can be nitpicked.

There’s a potential for Iron Man 2 to be quite a dark movie, with Stark’s gradual poisoning from the suit and his nihilistic behaviour, but Favreau tries as much as possible to keep it light, injecting a fair amount of humour into the film. There were times where I wished that Favreau would have taken the risk and gone a little more Dark Knight on his take of Iron Man, but two brooding superheroes probably won’t make good business sense. Not that there’s much wrong with the path he’s chosen for his franchise, since Iron Man 2 is almost assuredly a box office hit and will spawn one more sequel at the very least. And unlike most franchises, I am actually quite eager to see what else can be pulled out of Favreau’s bag of tricks in the third installment.

Rating:  * * * ½ (out of four stars)