Sunday, May 22, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Year: 2016
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters

Plot: It's been ten years since the events of Days Of Future Past. Charles Xavier has reopened his school, Magneto lives a civilian life with his family and Raven still fights for mutant liberation. En Sabah Nur, the world's first mutant, buried alive for thousands of years, awakens and begins recruiting his Four Horsemen to assist him in cleansing the world so that he may rebuild it in his own image. When Charles is captured, Raven and his students team up to stop En Sabah Nur and his horsemen, one of whom is Magneto himself.

Review: Unlike the Marvel cinematic universe, Fox's X-Men universe has had a problem with continuity and quality, one that Bryan Singer had hoped to fix with Days Of Future Past, which reset the timeline, so to speak. So does this new instalment keep the momentum going?

I'll start with what I liked about it. The opening sequence and opening credits were awesome. The introductions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler were pretty good too, though of the three, Tye Sheridan's performance is the weakest. Sophie Turner and Kodi Smit-McPhee fare slightly better as Jean and Nightcrawler respectively. The final battle sequence where all the mutants fight one another is rather exciting. My favorite scene though is the inclusion of a certain clawed mutant that has become synonymous with the X-Men films. In fact, you'll notice that Singer has borrowed a number of things from the previous films to utilize here, like the inclusion of Moira MacTaggert, Alkali Lake, scenes from First Class and even a brief sighting of the Phoenix. Some work, some not so much. And lastly, the appearance of Quicksilver this time was slightly better than in DOFP, as it feels less shoehorned.

Now for what I don't like. En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse is pretty much the worst head villain in the series so far. I wouldn't blame Oscar Isaac on that, he did his best. But Singer and writer Simon Kinberg gave him lousy lines to work with, and constantly change his voice throughout the film (Singer has explained his reason for the voice thing but I'm not buying it). Then there's the Four Horsemen. Other than Magneto, the other three are given zero character development and next to nothing to work with. Other than enhancing their powers, what possible reason would Storm, Psylocke and Angel have to work with a guy they hardly know? To make things worse, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn and Ben Hardy all give poor performances, Munn being the worst. Speaking of poor performances, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence look like they're phoning it in half the time, especially Lawrence. 

If you're looking for great action sequences here, you'll have to wait till the second half before things start to kick into high gear. The final 30 minutes is undoubtedly cool and more or less makes up for its shortcomings.

As a movie fan, I was quite entertained by X-Men: Apocalypse, and because of that I'd still give it a soild rating. But the fanboy in me is getting weary of these retro X-Men films. Please just reboot the whole thing, guys. 

P.S.: Stay for the end credits scene. (7/10)   

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Angry Birds Movie

Year: 2016
Directors: Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly
Voice cast: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Maya Rudolph

Plot: Red is an outcast bird with anger issues, trying to live a normal life among the other birds on an island. When mysterious green pigs arrive on the island, Red immediately suspects them to be up to no good, but no one will listen to him. Red has to stop the pigs, who are on the island to steal the birds' eggs.

Review: Who hasn't played the Angry Birds game before? It's one of the most famous computer games in the world, though admittedly it's not as hot as it once was, but still hugely popular. Now we have an animated film based on it.

It's a storyline we are most familiar with. There's a hero, who isn't a hero yet, who will become a hero by the film's end and discover his calling/purpose, and in this case, he rallies the non believers into being what the game says they are: angry. I can easily relate to Red, an outcast with anger problems who can't seem to get along with anyone, and thus he finds it impossible to convince his flock that something bad is afoot when green pigs arrive, looking cool and talking sweet. The birds realize too late that the pigs are after their eggs, and fail to stop them. Red and his friends, Chuck (who moves at rocket speed like in the game) and Bomb (who blows up literally, like in the game), rally the birds to get their eggs back.

Seeing that Rovio, the company that created the game, did the animation here themselves, it certainly is an impressive feat in my opinion. It uses lots of colors that brighten the entire film while ensuring the key characters all look just like their game counterparts.

The script is quite funny too as it takes plenty of jabs at pop culture, and a wide selection of famous songs can be heard throughout the film, from Never Gonna Give You Up to Behind Blue Eyes to Rock You Like A Hurricane etc. There's even a spontaneous like rendition of a Mighty Eagle song that will have you in stitches.

The film does start to lose its momentum a little towards the end, and a lot of the film's tone is rather juvenile. And as much fun as the film was as a whole, it does have a strong by-the-numbers feel about it. You can easily predict how the film will end.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot, and you can do a lot worse at the cinema if you're not planning on watching Civil War again. A decent way to kill 90 minutes. (7/10)

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Year: 2016
Directors: Joe Russo & Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Tom Holland, Paul Rudd, Daniel Bruhl, Jeremy Renner, William Hurt

Plot: Collateral damage caused by the Avengers in their past attempts to save the world has been massive, resulting in the UN compelling them to sign an accord which will effectively have their activities policed and monitored. While Tony Stark is supportive of this idea, Steve Rogers is not, and a rift builds within the team. Things get worse when Bucky Barnes is set up for a terrorist attack on the UN, forcing Rogers to break the law to save his friend.

Review: 2016 is the year of the comicbook movies, and though the year is far from over, it's hard to argue the probability that the third Captain America film is the best of all of them.

The story is as follows: despite saving the world successfully from aliens, gods and robots, the Avengers have caused too much collateral damage for the UN to ignore. The world body plans to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will allow them to monitor and police the Avengers' activities. After being held accountable by a grieving parent of a victim, Tony Stark is on board with the idea. But Steve Rogers refuses, unwilling to let someone else dictate when to save lives and when not to. Then matters get more complicated when Bucky Barnes, Steve's old friend is accused of a terrorist attack on the UN, which results in the death of the ruler of Wakanda, prompting his son T'Challa aka Black Panther to seek revenge. Steve has to assemble a team to save Bucky as Stark assembles one of his own to bring them both in.

The Russo brothers, who previously directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, have done splendidly again. Working on a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Russos combine great action sequences with a plausible plot on what it would be like if heroes fought each other and why. I like how they present neither side as being totally right, though as a comic fan myself, I can't help but choose one (not telling, though). Unlike Zack Snyder's recent superhero showdown film that took too much time to get to the action, the Russos waste little time and throw in a solid battle between four Avengers and Frank Grillo's Crossbones to start things off. There are a handful more of well choreographed action sequences, but the airport fight between Rogers and Stark's respective teams is superb to behold. It manages to be thrilling and funny at the same time, which is hard to do.

Every cast member puts in an excellent performance without a doubt, the main ones being Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. Evans continues being the stand up hero he's always been, only this time it's more of a personal reason than a general one, with Downey Jr contrasting him well as the guy trying to keep his friends out of trouble without being biased. Another impressive cast member is Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, whose judgment is clouded by revenge, but not necessarily a reckless man filled with rage. I can't wait to see how he will fare in future Marvel films to come. The other newcomer to the Marvel universe, Tom Holland, impresses as Spider-Man, though to me, he isn't as endearing as previous incarnations have been, but it's not totally his fault.

The filmmakers ought to be commended for the incredible world building that they have done. Four years ago, The Avengers was successful because of all the Marvel films that have built towards it. Now Civil War is the result of all the films that have come before it (save Guardians Of the Galaxy), and it truly feels like their story has come full circle.

The only thing I can complain about is the limited screen time of Paul Rudd's Ant-Man and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, both showing up only at the half mark of the film. But the Russos give everyone else mostly equal time to shine, even allowing time for Paul Bettany's Vision and Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch to build something towards a relationship, like they did in the books.

Captain America: Civil War is truly a remarkable feat by Marvel Studios. For me, it's right up there with X2, The Avengers and The Dark Knight as the best comicbook films ever made. Highly recommended. (9/10)  

P.S.: As usual, stay for the end credits scene.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Jungle Book

Year: 2016
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Neel Sethi

Plot: Based on the well known story by Rudyard Kipling. The man-cub Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera in the jungle. When the tiger Shere Khan threatens his life, Bagheera sends Mowgli on a journey to his own people. Along the way, Mowgli meets a few new animals and learns to accept his destiny.

Review: I'm not familiar with The Jungle Book, though I did catch the Jason Scott Lee version many years ago. I do see the similarities between this version by Jon Favreau and The Lion King though.

Favreau wastes no time and immediately introdcues us to Mowgli, a boy living happily with a pack of wolves led by Akela and a panther named Bagheera. However the tiger Shere Khan, hateful of humans, particularly Mowgli's father who had burnt his face, vows to kill Mowgli first chance he gets. So Bagheera offers to take Mowgli back to his own kind at the edge of the forest for his own good. Along the way, the boy meets Baloo, a friendly bear who teaches him Hakuna Matata, and a bunch of monkeys led by King Louie.

The best thing about this film is without a doubt, the CGI. It's hard to believe that Favreau filmed this in a studio in Los Angeles, using green screen and top notch CGI to recreate the Indian jungle. Jim Henson's studio and some motion capture work did the animal effects, and I have to hand it to them, they did a splendid job. All this blend together seamlessly to create a very believable jungle world.

All the actors playing the animals were also accurately cast, from the funny Bill Murray as Baloo to serious actor Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, to the rugged Idris Elba as Shere Khan. Lupita Nyong'o lends a gentle air to Raksha, the wolf that raised Mowgli as her own. Christopher Walken is also great as King Louie, giving the huge ape a mafia boss type personality. It's sad though that Scarlett Johansson got just one scene as the python Kaa, she was perfect in the role. 

The Jungle Book's main weakness though is Neel Sethi, the 12 year old boy who plays Mowgli. Sethi isn't a very good actor and it shows, but he's young so he will probably get better if he keeps at it. I was also not a fan of the songs in the film. I know it's Disney and it was inevitable, but I'm just not into that sort of thing.

To sum it up, The Jungle Book is a solid adventure film for the whole family, though if you're looking for edgier entertainment, you should look elsewhere. (7/10) 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Eye In The Sky

Year: 2016
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox

Plot: A joint military operation conducted by American, British and Kenyan forces aims to take out a wanted terrorist using drone technology. But the operation is thrown into disorder when an innocent civilian is within the kill radius of the drone's missile.

Review: Eye In The Sky is the second film in recent memory that focuses on drone warfare, the first being Ethan Hawke's Good Kill.

In this film by Rendition director Gavin Hood, a military operation is conducted by three countries to apprehend a terrorist in Kenya. The head of the operation, Colonel Katherine Powell, commands and supervises the effort, using an American drone piloted by Lt. Steve Watts, while Kenyan forces provide ground support. Together they learn that the terrorist is planning a bombing which will happen imminently. The capture order has now become a kill order. But trouble begins when a young Kenyan girl steps within the kill radius of the drone's missile, and Powell struggles to get clearance from her superiors to launch an attack as they are afraid of the political backlash stemming from civilian casualties.

Unlike the dull Good Kill, which focuses on Ethan Hawke's character missing the feel of piloting a real military jet, Eye In The Sky takes the more interesting route by debating the ethics of drone warfare. In this case, the joint military forces have an opportunity to eliminate a dangerous terrorist, but at the expense of an innocent life. Do they save this one girl, or save the scores of other people who will die at the hands of the terrorist's suicide bombers? Hood and writer Guy Hibbert take their time to explore both arguments, mostly among Powell's superiors, made up of General Benson and ministers of British government. Their discussions actually manage to venture into slightly comedic territory at times, (because apparently nobody wants to make the hard decisions) but it still successfully holds your attention to the matter at hand, which is a feat indeed.

The cast all perform splendidly, the best being Helen Mirren as Powell, trying desperately to accomplish her mission with the sole purpose of saving lives. Aaron Paul is also effective as the drone pilot wanting to execute his orders properly without killing innocent people. Alan Rickman, in his final role before his recent death, is great as Benson as he attempts to persuade the nervous ministers into making the right call. And then there's Barkhad Abdi as a Kenyan agent providing ground surveillance, risking his life in the process. It's good to see him on screen again, despite the somewhat unavoidable typecasting.

The slight downside of this film is the rather predictable elements of how certain things play out, which is most evident during the third act. But to Hood's credit, he maintains the suspense and intrigue as much as possible while making the audience think of the moral debate at the same time.

Eye In The Sky is a gripping war thriller that sends its message without the need to get too personal. Recommended. (8/10) 


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