Directed by Zack Snyder
Based on the comic book by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Release Year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Another movie based on comic book, Watchmen is set in an alternate timeline when the cold war between United States and the Soviet Union still persists and moving towards the risk of a nuclear war. In this timeline, the United States won the Vietnam War thanks to the intervention from Dr. Manhattan, and that Richard Nixon won his third presidency bid. The story opened with the murder of Edward Blake, or known as The Comedian, long after the government passed the Keene’s Act, a law that outlawed costumed vigilantes. Upon learning the murder of The Comedian, another vigilante Rorschach set out to investigate the case. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the confrontation between United States and the Soviet Union escalates, putting the world on the brink of a nuclear war.

While most people who haven’t read the comics may think that this is a superhero movie, there’s only one character with superhuman abilities. The rest of the characters have no superhuman abilities and as shown at the beginning of the story, may die. Another thing that may surprise the audience who expects lots of action scenes and special effects, there are only lots of special effects here, but the action scenes were very few. The movie’s duration of 162 minutes could exhaust some, although I definitely enjoy the entire movie.

The cast were great with the emphasis on Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Billy Crudup, while mostly contributed his voice rather than his looks, was also played very well even in just voice. Patrick Wilson and Matthew Goode also fit their roles well, although still outshined by Jackie Earle and Jeffrey Dean. The lead actress, Malin Akerman may be the weakest among the cast, and definitely outperformed by Carla Gugino who played Sally Jupiter. The dialogues and expressions were brilliant. With or without his mask, Rorshach was definitely a menacing character, despite being rather short compared to his fellow Watchmen. Unmasked, I could instantly see that Clint Eastwood face on Jackie Earle. Not only the face, but also the voice.

Visuals in the Watchmen are fantastic, especially the costumes and the colors. Again, I haven’t read the comics, but the flow of the story was enjoyable, moving back and forth in order to unveil more information on the characters. This movie exploits not the powers of the heroes inside, but rather it exploits the inner psychology of the characters: the uncomprimising Rorshach; a rather hesitant Nite Owl; the frustrated Laurie Jupiter, the violent and ruthless, patriotic Comedian; and Dr Manhattan that slowly losing his humanity; and the genius Adrian Veidt who would do anything to achieve his goals.

Overall, this is a unique movie about heroes. It doesn’t idolize heroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, or Batman, but it shows a more balanced charaterizations of the heroes. Given that this is a comic book adaptation, I believe I should also credit the series creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. One thing for sure, this movie is not suitable for kids for some of the contents. For the final rating, I’d give this movie a 9.0. Yes, this means it beats my ratings on Iron Man and Dark Knight. I guess if you want to make a hero story dark, make it dark all the way, not just halfway.

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Directed by Robert B. Weide
Based on a book by Toby Young
Written by Peter Straughan
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Danny Huston, and Gillian Anderson
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 6.9

Based on the memoir of Toby Young with the same title, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People is about Sidney Young, a smalltime British journalist that covers celebrities. After crashing a party, he was offered a job in New York by Clayton Harding, owner of the Sharps magazine, who happens to be Sidney’s idol. At Sharps, Sidney was put under Lawrence Maddox and also met Alison Olsen. However, since his arrival at Sharps, Sidney finds nothing but troubles and the only friends he got were Alison and Clayton himself that sees his young self in Sidney.

I enjoy every bit of this movie, from the story (although a bit slow at first) and the acting. The casts were great. For the same genre with Yes Man, this movie is more balanced. Simon Pegg didn’t swallow the entire attention, because somehow Kirsten Dunst was also pretty good in catching the attention. Jeff Bridges and Gillian Anderson, who didn’t get a lot of screentime, also played well. Weaker performances however, were probably came from Megan Fox and Danny Huston.

Just like Yes Man, this is also a romantic comedy, but with less emphasis on romance. There’s no serious theme here, but not all scenes were cheerful. There was a bit of drama when Sidney met his father and some scenes regarding the relationship between Sidney and Alison. This is why I called it a more balanced movie. The end was also predictable, so there’s nothing extra special to it.

For being an enjoyable movie to watch, I give it a 7.5.

Yes Man

Directed by Peyton Reed
Based on a book by Danny Wallace
Screenplay by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel
Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, Rhys Darby, Terence Stamp.
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 7.1

The latest comedy from Jim Carrey tells about Carl Allen whose life had been pretty much boring and lonely. Spending most of his time alone and tend to see life in a negative tone. This all changed when he met his friend Nick who invited him to attend a motivational seminar given by Terrence Bundley. After making a promise to Terrence to say yes to every request, he began saying yes to everyone’s request, thinking that breaking the promise will bring him bad luck. Subsequently, Carl met Allison and so a romantic element is introduced in this movie. Carl continued to say yes to everything until in the end he realized that people should say yes only when they want to say it.

It’s been quite some time since I saw a Jim Carrey movie. Yes Man puts Jim Carrey back on his usual acting style. Still, compared to Ace Ventura and Mask, the comical expressions were somewhat very few. The film has a serious message to deliver, but successfully executed in a fun way. From start to finish, despite the misfortunes that struck Carl, the fun remains.

Acting has been fully centered on Carl Allen, leaving hardly any room to expand other characters. Peter and Norman could have received better character depths, but that didn’t happen. As for Jim’s performance, it could be said that he was still good in doing his usual style of comedy, but I still prefer his previous films like Liar Liar. Zooey was also good, although as the lead actress she was also overshadowed by Jim’s part.

Nevertheless, this is a fun movie to watch. The story is good enough, although its end is not hard to predict. The acting is probably mostly credited to Jim Carrey instead the rest of the cast, and the directing is pretty much standard for a romantic comedy. Wrapping things up, I’d give it a 7.0.



Based on the novel Tenshoin Atsuhime by Miyao Tomiko
Screenplay by Tabuchi Kumiko
Directed by Sato Mineyo, Okada Ken, Horikirizono Kentaro, Watanabe Yoshio, Uesugi Tadashi, & Matsukawa Hirotaka
Music by Yoshimata Ryo
Narrated by Naraoka Tomoko

Atsu-hime is the 47th taiga drama depicting the life of Princess Atsu from her birth in until her death. The story is somewhat divided into two phases. The first is involving the childhood of Okatsu, which is filled with family theme. This theme gradually replaced with political theme as Okatsu marries Tokugawa Iesada, although some family-related theme remains. Her marriage was set by Shimazu Nariakira who adopted her in order to push for the reform in the government. Atsu-hime’s task is to persuade her husband, Tokugawa Iesada, to name Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu as successor.

As Atsu-hime moves to Edo, the story is mainly about her efforts to adapt into the Ooku’s everyday life, while political theme gradually rising. Although under pressure by her chief attendant Kikushima who repeatedly reminds her of true mission, Atsu-hime decides to meet with both Yoshinobu and Iemochi. She finally let Iesada to choose the heir, defying Nariakira’s wish. At this point, the shogunate’s power gradually weakens. After the death of Iesada, Atsu-hime takes the tonsure and takes the name of Tenshoin. Hereafter the story shifts towards the prelude to the fall of Tokugawa shogunate.

Tenshoin assumes the leadership at the Ooku after Iesada’s death. Her relationship with Iemochi is close as she often gives the young shogun her thoughts regarding the politics. Still, at the moment the Chief Minister Ii Naosuke wields the power strong enough to mostly control the shogunate, undermining Iemochi’s authority. Yet, the shogunate’s power rapidly declined after Naosuke was assassinated. With no strong political figure in the government, Iemochi faces difficulty in dealing with the Satsuma clan’s intention to reform the government, as well as dealing with the Imperial forces who want to win the power back from the shogunate and return it to the Emperor.

Tokugawa Iemochi then marries Princess Kazunomiya Chikako, who comes from the Imperial family, thus creating a union between the shogunate and the imperial families. At this moment Lady Tenshoin met with Katsu Rintaro, who turns out to be an able politician. Soon after the untimely death of Iemochi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu takes over the lead. Despite he is a stronger leader than Iemochi, he could not win against the Satsuma clan which is led by Nariakira’s brother Shimazu Tadayuki who was appointed as successor after Nariakira’s death. Along with Komatsu Tatewaki, Saigo Kichinosuke and Okubo Shosuke, the Satsuma clan join forces with the Choshu clan, thanks to the mediation by Sakamoto Ryoma, a student of Katsu Rintaro. In the end, the reformation succeeds and Japan enters the Meiji era. Several years later, Lady Tenshoin passed away at the age of 49.

Miyazaki Aoi broke the record of being the youngest artist to take the lead in the taiga drama series at the age of 22 years and 1 month. This record was previously held by Takizawa Hideaki who portrayed Minamoto Kuro Yoshitsune in the 2005 taiga drama series “Yoshitsune”. As shown in the early part of the series, the cheerful Katsu must overcome a lot of hardship as Atsu-hime, even until after she becomes Lady Tenshoin. For portraying this part, Aoi managed to play the role perfectly. Unfortunately, the leading actor seems to be unable to match her performance and the rest of the cast’s performance. Eita, who played as Komatsu Tatewaki, was probably the weakest link in the series. Maybe not bad, but somewhat he was below the others’ performances.

The series has a remarkable cast, doing remarkable job. I cannot put all of the names here, because the list is too long to put on. Still, my favorite is Takahashi Hideki who played Shimazu Nariakira. The actor sparked charisma and able to command respect from the audience. And this was not his only remarkable role. In Yoshitsune, he played Fujiwara Hidehira and in Hojo Tokimune he played as Mori Suemitsu. Another strong performer is Ozawa Yukiyoshi, the man behind Saigo Kichinosuke. He and the others from the Satsuma cast used the local accent throughout the series. This contrasts with his previous role as Kiso Yoshinaka in “Yoshitsune”. His portrayal of the iron-willed man who in the end only yield to his late master, Shimazu Nariakira, was brilliant. The actors who played the last three shoguns were also great. As Tokugawa Iesada, Sakai Masato must play as a man who pretended to be an idiot as a mean to protect himself from assassination. Matsuda Shota portrayed the elegant and soft spoken Tokugawa Iemochi, while Hira Takehiro successfully played the harsh and bold Tokugawa Yoshinobu who, in the end fell into despair after the Emperor branded him as traitor. Some other noticeable characters are Nakamura Baijaku (as Ii Naosuke), Kitaoji Kinya (as Katsu Rintaro), Harada Taizo (as Okubo Shosuke), Hira Mikijiro (as Zusho Hirosato) and Nagatsuka Kyozo (as Shimazu Tadatake). The actresses other than Miyazaki Aoi also delivered impressive performances, starting with Matsuzaka Keiko (Ikushima) and Inamori Izumi (Takiyama). Despite perhaps a popular actress, Horikita Maki who played as Princess Kazunomiya was somewhat less impressive.

Music is definitely where this series also excelled. The soundtrack made the acting more convincing and the story more emotional. Even when listened separately, the soundtrack is top notch. As far as I’ve experienced, Atsu-hime soundtrack is the best taiga soundtrack that I’ve ever heard, toppling the OST from Toshiie and Matsu from the top of my list.

Blessed with great story (although dragging its feet at first) and excellent soundtrack, as well as strong performance from most of the cast, Atsu-hime is truly a series worth watching. Given the content and the fact that the leading role is a heroine, this would be easily preferred by female audience rather than male ones. Still, I enjoyed every bit of it. For the score, I’d give it a 9.5.


The Spirit

Directed by Frank Miller
Written by Will Eisner
Screenplay by Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Jamie King, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, and Louis Lombardi
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 5.1

Mesmerizing visuals are probably the only strength of this movie about a deceased cop who returned from the dead and became a crime fighter known as The Spirit. Looking after the Central City, he works with the police department headed by Commissioner Dolan. His arch-enemy is The Octopus who claimed that he created The Spirit and this time, on the hunt of the Blood of Heracles which could make him an immortal. On the other side comes Sand Saref, a femme fatale who was a childhood sweetheart of Denny Colt, aka The Spirit. After she mistakenly took the chest containing the Blood of Heracles wanted by The Octopus, and that The Octopus mistakenly obtained the treasure of the Argonauts sought by her, the parties will have to confront each other in the final confrontation.

The style of the movie is similar to Sin City, another comic book adaptation, also directed by Frank Miller (and Robert Rodriguez). Frame by frame comic strip translations to the movie screen made both movies great to behold. 300 was also using similar approach, but regarding similarities, I’d say Sin City and The Spirit are much more look alike. Despite some violent scenes, compared to what I just watched in Punisher: War Zone, the ones in The Spirit could be classified as mild. The atmosphere is dark, just like Sin City, with red being used as the main contrasting color.

Alas, the great visuals is not accompanied with great acting. There’s some sense of lack of depth in the cast’s performances. Watching the movie was like flipping through comic pages, there’s a lack of emotion expressed from the characters although there are a few funny scenes involved. The only noticeable play was from Samuel L. Jackson who played The Octopus. Other characters seemed to be overshadowed by Jackson’s Octopus.

As for the plot, well it’s a comic book adaptation, so if Frank Miller wanted to do it as exactly drawn and told in the comic pages, then we cannot complain about the story. Yet, some improvisations could really help put more quality to this film.

The final score is 6.0. I’ve seen Sin City before, so another look alike would have to offer something more, such as better plot or better acting, or both. The visuals were great, but without great performance from the cast, it’s like beautifully wrapped box with nothing inside.

Punisher: War Zone

Directed by Lexi Alexander
Written by Nick Santora, Lexi Alexander, Matt Holloway, Arthur Marcum
Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Wayne Knight, Stephanie Janusauskas, Dash Mihok, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 6.3

Frank Castle is back, and this time he must deal with Billy Russoti who later transformed into Jigsaw. Along with his brother Loony Bin Jim and his two henchmen Ink and Pittsy, Jigsaw seeks revenge on Punisher for disfiguring his face. Later on, Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim recruited gangsters from all over the city to fight the Punisher while also taking hostage of Microchip and Angela Donatelli and her daughter – the wife and daughter of an FBI agent mista
kenly killed by Frank Castle during the attack on the mob boss Gaitano Cesare’s mansion.

Except from the despair shown at the cemetary, not much emotion is shown at the face of Frank Castle, which is played by Ray Stevenson. Throughout most of the movie, only cold stare could be seen from his eyes, ma
king him a lot tougher Punisher than Thomas Jane. Unfortunately, as the plot demands lots of action scenes, dialogues are limited. Unfortunately, so did the quality of the acting. A starking example is when Angela Donatelli met Frank Castle in her home. I just couldn’t see real anger in Julie Benz’s expression nor tone of voice. As for the performances from the villains, well, I guess they’re pretty much standard. Seen better ones in the Dark Knight.

The plot of Punisher: War Zone is very, very simple. So simple that if the action sequences were zipped, maybe there’s only 45 minutes left in the film. The only thing bugging me with the story is why after rampaging for years Frank Castle would feel remorse after mistakenly killed an undercover FBI agent. I doubt that the real Punisher would feel that low. At least, watch the massacre at the beginning of the movie and you will know what I mean.

While the pictures were quite nice, there’s a big question regarding the movie: do all those violence necessary? I mean, I don’t even consider them violence anymore, but rather sheer brutality. Blown heads, chopped neck, someone blow to bits by a grenade launcher, and other graphically violent scenes. These scenes dominated the movie, mostly at the beginning and near the end of the movie. Of course, action-packed movie lovers would be feeling ecstatic, but I believe it went too far with it.

If only the violent scenes were toned down a bit, and more dialogues and quality performance from the cast were there, this could have been a lot more enjoyable movie. For sure, this flick is not for kids. The blood and gore are too much to handle for kids. My final rating is 4.0. There are just two positive things in the movie: the casting of Ray Stevenson and most of the pictures are great. But then again, no story, no glory.