Monday, June 12, 2006

Movie Review: The Omen

(poster courtesy of

I nearly got to watch this film on the 6th of June. I was near KLCC on an off-site meeting which ended early that day and thought of catching the movie since I have to go there anyway to catch the LRT back home. The thought of watching “The Omen” on 6/6/06 was quite novel and I found out that a lot of people think the same as well. The show that I wanted to watch that day was fully booked and I wasn’t keen on waiting for the next showing with my heavy laptop bag and whatnot. I decided then to go for an early dinner at KLCC instead and watch the movie on the weekend at my usual cinema where I’m almost certain able to get the seats that I like. In foresight, it would have been a little more exciting if I was able to watch this film on that particular date so I at least have something original from the film to talk about.

“The Omen” directed by John Moore is the second remake (the first being the waterlogged “Poseidon”) to come out of Hollywood this summer blockbuster season. With the exception of several minor additions and music score changes, this film is in essence a slavish replication of the original 1976 movie of the same name directed by Richard Donner. This film even reuses the original screenplay written by David Seltzer with uncredited revisions by Dan McDermot to less than effective impact compared to the original. While not as pointless as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot recreation of “Psycho”, the film does still begs the question why it should be remade other than to capitalize on the calendar coincidence. There were too many times in the film that audiences who have seen the original will be left wondering why they paid money to watch something that they have seen done much better before.

As in the original film, “The Omen” begins when a high ranking US ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) cannot bear to tell his wife Kate (Julia Stiles) that her baby was stillborn so he accepts an offer made by a priest at the Italian hospital to secretly adopt an orphaned infant and pass him off as his true son. This seemingly benign act would later bring misfortune to all as the child, now called Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), seem to have a knack of causing those around him to die horrible deaths as he grows older. When their attentive nanny and a priest who tried to warn him about Damien’s true parentage dies in spectacular fashions, the father begin to realize that all is not as it seems with Damien. With the help of a doomed photo journalist, Robert races across Europe to find out the truth behind the deaths and the ominous happenings that surrounded his family. All his efforts would end up in vain when he discovers who Damien real father was and what they have planned for him. Unfortunately their plans would be fatally inconvenient for the Thorns now that they know who they were dealing with.

As mentioned before, “The Omen” is a remake of the original using the same script that was written for that 1976 movie. As such, almost all of the scenes and dialogues followed closely to what we have seen before. I can’t be sure if they used the same sets or locations from the original but I do have the sense that they may have used a close approximation of it. Unlike the earlier “Poseidon” remake, this film is true to the point of slavish in their recreation of the original film. There were a few new scenes added in this new remake in an attempt to differentiate itself from the original but they neither added anything new or exciting to what was already a warmed-over fare. The new opening scenes set in the Vatican actually undercut the story’s plot build up now that we know that the Anti-Christ was scheduled to be born in the first 5 minutes of the movie . The new dream sequence unimaginatively added used cheap scares and loud noises in hopes that it would jolt the fast becoming bored audience from their seats but added nothing more. The new additions, in short, were pointless and easily dispensed of without taking anything away from the experience.

Taking the reins from Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, both Schreiber and Stiles portrayal of the doomed parents pales in comparison. While he is a great actor in his own right, Schreiber’s constantly dark and brooding expression made his Robert Thorn too morally ambiguous. Audience of the original could easily understand Peck’s, an icon of the all-American fatherhood from his earlier movies, anguish when he found out that he had to kill his son to save the world but in this remake it was hard not to believe that Schreiber’s Robert would have the same difficulties in driving a knife into his son’s heart the moment he found out the truth about Damien. It also didn’t helped that Julia Stiles’ Katherine played out more like a helpless victim from the start instead of a mother gradually realizing that there was something horribly wrong with her son.

Fortunately, the supporting actors fared a little better than the main leads. Both Pete Postlethwaite and David Thewlis in their roles of the mad Father Brennan and the doomed photo journalist Keith Jennings managed to make the most of their limited screen time. I was quite a surprised to find their characters more memorable to me than the leads in this movie. Mia Farrow’s Mrs. Baylock, the replacement nanny from hell, came across as sickeningly sweet and patronizing which is a departure from the much more reserved and controlling approach that her predecessor used for her character. While it may not work in some of the scenes, the choice to depart from the original was a welcomed breath of fresh air in the whole déjà vu – ish experience.

One glaringly obvious item that made the original work better for me than this remake was how the character Damien was portrayed. Richard Donner was able to keep the audience hooked into his version of the movie by letting us come to the realization organically that not all is right with Damien. The audience are taken in by Harvey Stephens’ innocence and charm that it was hard to not to be horrified when we watch his gradual transformation from angelic to demonic. In contrast, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick’s Damien in this remake practically telegraphs diabolical evil by constantly scowling and glowering at everything he sees from start to finish. Unless this child actor was born pissed and had his features frozen in a perpetual scowl, there was no excuse for the director not to give this actor better directions on how the character should act.

There were more than a few occasions when I caught myself thinking about how bored I was while watching this movie. The movie came across too much like a pale imitation of the original and had too little to add to the experience. Having the film undercut it’s own plot build up with the new opening scene and the unrelenting creepy kid scowl at the audience did not helped to lessen the disappointment I got from having to pay to watch the film. It is very rare that I leave the cinema feeling like I just wasted nearly 2 hours of my life but that was exactly what I felt after watching this warm-over presentation.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Here we go again

(image courtesy of

This may be a bit late in coming but I was actually a bit hesitant to put in the effort to recap the show at first. After the debacle of last year’s MI finale (yes .. I’m still sore about the results), I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge to recap another weekly popularity contest disguised as a show about the search of the next big name deserving of the one million ringgit prize money. I also missed the first episode of the East Malaysia auditions show so I thought that I would skip it this time.

Then I found out about the repeat shows being streamed on the web courtesy of the local ISP sponsor for the show.

Instead of having to furiously jot down notes during the show and scheduling my nightlife (what little I have) around a fixed TV slot so I can get my notes for weekly recaps, I can now actually watch the show at any time when it is convenient for me. I will have the ability to really scrutinize the performances and figure out what works and what doesn’t. At the very least, this time around, I would be more confident about what I’m jotting down in the recaps after getting more opportunities to review the performances.

With that said, I hope to start putting up my own take on 8TV’s “One in a Million” weekly fairly soon. I’ve watched the repeat shows on the web and the collection of talent that I’ve seen in the first 2 audition shows was also a factor in my decision to recap the show. There were more than a few diamonds in the rough here that might be worth following to see their progress in the show.

I hope to have my write-ups for both audition and 1st round eliminations up soon.

Update: I will be back dating my recap entries so I document when they actually first show the episodes but will provide the links to the entries here until I catch up to the latest episode.

Recap for KK auditions is located here.

Recap for KL audition and 1st Central Eliminations forthcoming soon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Movie Review : X3: The Last Stand

(picture curtesy of

After months of speculations and anticipation, I finally get to see the movie that I have been most looking forward to this summer blockbuster season. When I wrote about watching the trailers back in December and March, I also listed down a few spoiler-ish observations that was able to glean from the two trailers. Coming into the theater to watch this film, I was both excited and apprehensive to see how much I have speculated back then would actually come up on screen. While a lot of the things that I speculated did come up in the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised by the many other story twists that I would have never thought of unfolding as I watched the movie.

“X3: The Last Stand” is allegedly the last installment in the X-Men movie franchise. In this last installment of the mutant trilogy, our merry mutants have moved away from the mutant vs. mutant and human vs. mutant struggles we saw in the first 2 movies. Mutants seemed to be more visible after the end of the last movie and the US government even has a blue-furred mutant Dr. Hank McCoy/The Beast (Kelsey Grammer) on the Cabinet. Just as the world was beginning to look more like what Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) envisioned for his charges, the news of a cure that seemingly neutralizes the mutant gene in mutants is made public by a pharmaceutical company owned by Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy). Worthington Sr. had invested his sizable fortune to find the cure after finding out that his only son, Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Foster), was a mutant with the ability to fly with his 16 feet long angelic-looking wings.

While the mutant cure is being promoted as a purely voluntary option for all mutants, Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) sees it as just steps away from being something that is forced onto the mutant population by the fearful baseline humans. His fears would be later confirmed when they realized that the US army had been outfitted with cure-guns specially designed to administer the cure forcible to any mutant. In response, Magneto swiftly gathers like-minded mutants into an army opposed to the cure. At the core of his army is the new Brotherhood of Mutants consisting of Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), John Allerdyce/Pyro (Aaron Stanford), Cain Marko/Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Callisto (Dania Ramirez), Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man (Eric Dane), Archlight (Omyhra Mota) and Quill (Ken Leung). Commanding legions of disfranchised mutants, the Brotherhood of Mutants seeks to destroy the cure at its source at any cost.

On the flip-side of the argument, the X-Men favors opening a dialogue with the authorities about the cure despite their own misgiving about their intentions. Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) finds the mere idea that there was something to be cured in mutants morally reprehensible while Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) feels that it is up to the individual mutant to choose what is best for them. Marie/Rogue (Anna Paquin) sees the cure as a way for her to be able to finally physically touch her boyfriend Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) who seems to be getting closer to fellow teammate Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (Ellen Page). When The Beast resigns from his position in the cabinet over differences with the administration on the issue of the cure, he rejoins the X-Men and adds his considerable skills alongside the strongman Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). The team will have to rise to the occasion when they have to try to stop Magneto and his army when they come to destroy the cure at the source.

While both side of the conflict begin to assemble their forces, Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen) returns seemingly from her death at Alkali Lake as shown at the end of the last installment. Her return bodes ill fortune for her grieving boyfriend Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden) who gave up leadership of the X-Men after her death. Resurrected with vastly greater levels of telekinetic and telepathic powers, Phoenix becomes Magneto’s most powerful ally when he decides to raid Alcatraz Island where Worthington Pharmaceuticals is developing the mutant cure from the genetic material they harvested from an imprisoned young mutant Jimmy/Leech (Cameron Bright) who has the ability to temporarily suppress any mutant power within a certain radius. The final climatic battle would leave a lasting impact to all involved and would irreversibly change the X-Men forever when they have to face the ultimate sacrifice that they have to undertake.

If all of this seems a lot to be happening in a movie, it is because it is. Story threads from the previous 2 installment make their appearance here to be tied up by the end of the 105 minutes. Add to that, the new storylines that appear here, the combination of these plotlines at times seemed too rushed and unsatisfying. Unlike the previous two films, the newly introduced mutants have little exposure time to allow the viewer to really know them. This was true for the new mutants on both sides of the conflict. Angel was hardly an X-Men in any sense compared to Nightcrawler at the end of the last film and if you’ve seen Archlight’s display of power in the trailers then you’ve already watched everything that she does in this movie. I would have liked to see more character beats in the film for them to shine and be memorable. I guess that part of the problem is that there were too many mutants running around in this movie for director, Brett Ratner and the screenplay writers team of Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, to keep track. In this regards, Bryan Singer’s skill at juggling multiple character development as seen in the last 2 installment was sorely missed.

As a fan and long-time reader of the X-Men comics, the movie has it’s high and low points. I have to say that I was absolutely thrilled at seeing the Danger Room session and the famous “Fastball Special” maneuver which incidentally looks more like a hammer throw rather than a fastball pitch. Seeing it on screen is akin to hearing Human Torch shouting “Flame On!” in the Fantastic Four film for a fanboy. I was even more excited at the prospect of see the Sentinel on screen but alas they only gave us a severed Sentinel head instead. After being disappointed by the lack of the mutant-hunting robot, I was further disappointed by the lack of Phoenix-effect that we say at the end of the last movie when Jean Grey was resurrected. Most of the time the Dark Phoenix seemed to be channeling either Carrie or Gollum when she used her powers. Fortunately for the character, I have no problems with their explanations on how Jean Grey turned to the Dark Phoenix. That particular character development arch felt very organic and in line with the more “real world” feel of the movies compared to the comics.

Acting-wise, I have to say that this latest installment of the X-Men franchise is a mix bag. I was fairly concerned about how Beast would come off but after watching the movie, aside from the hit and miss makeup job, Kelsey Grammer did an acceptable job with the character. Standouts from the movie would be the usually suspects from the previous installments with special mention for Famke Janssen chilling portrayal of the Dark Phoenix. As I mentioned before, the newly introduced mutants this time around got the short stick in this deal. We hardly get to see Colossus in action when a scene where he goes toe to toe with the Juggernaut would have been very much welcomed. Ben Foster’s character, Angel, had all the build up but in the end was let down by disappointing pay-off. Most of the mutants on the Brotherhood side fare no better when their combine powers could be more dramatic in the hands of people who know the characters better.

If this movie was to be the last of the franchise, I have to admit to being sad as it closes the trilogy with a whimper instead of the bang that I expected. After the momentum of the first 2 films, especially the much superior X2 : X-Men United, it was slightly disheartening to see it falter at the finish line. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in this regards and that a future expanded and restored version will be released in DVD form to correct this oversight. I do believe that there is an extended version out there as the film felt too short and rushed through the editing process. Despite all indications based on what the audiences saw in the closing credits, I am not putting too much hope that they will revive the franchise with these group of characters. It would be a bonus if they did but if the don’t then I will be looking forward to the characters spin-offs rumored to be in development. I wouldn’t mind watching a film about the young students at X-Academy dealing with the mutant powers for the first time.

X3 : The Last Stand was not all bad. It fulfilled all the requirements of a summer action movie admirably and it had a fairly thought-provoking storyline. The movie also boast the highest casualty body count in the franchise including several major characters which I admit took me by surprised. The action scenes were sufficiently grand in scope and execution to sustain interest although I would have liked to see more heart in the movie based on a comic that has always been known for angst. If one was willing to over look several glaring plot holes when the characters choose to ignore the more logical approach in favor for the more “showy” action then this film then this can be an exciting movie to spend the afternoon at. Long time comic fans may continue to debate about how successful the movie was but personally I felt that much more could have been done to make this last installment better. There was so much potential here that ended up unrealized at the end.