Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella

Plot: The Enterprise answers a distress call and mounts a rescue attempt, only to realize too late that it's a trap set by Krall, who wants an artifact in Kirk's possession. As the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew is trapped on a planet, where they must team up with an alien named Jaylah to stop Krall from destroying a nearby Starbase.

Review: J.J. Abrams, who directed the first two Star Trek reboot films, steps down so that he can helm The Force Awakens, and in his place is Justin Lin from the Fast & Furious films. As a result, the film takes on a new method of fun and adventure, but doesn't always hit its target.

The biggest difference is watching the Enterprise crew lose the ship in the first third of the film and spend the second third trying to survive on the planet they crash landed. The downside is watching the film drag a bit as Kirk and company attempt to gather themselves and mount an offensive counter while pondering their future and existence, but the upside is allowing the separated crew an opportunity to get more screen time, at least for some of them. In this case, the late Anton Yelchin's Chekov gets more time than he ever did in the first two films, assisting Kirk in technical and strategic matters. The best part is seeing Karl Urban's McCoy and Zachary Quinto's Spock exchanging humorous banter while the latter is nursing a serious injury.

The film starts to pick up though, when the crew finally reunite alongside Jaylah and plan a rescue attempt as well as an escape from the planet. This leads to the final third where the crew battle Krall as he attacks Starbase Yorktown.

The somewhat minor pacing problem aside, Beyond also feels less of a Star Trek film than the first two, though Trekkies have been criticising about Abrams' less than pure approach for years now. Lin also tries to inject some drama into his film, getting Kirk to think of his future and Spock to consider taking over from his alternate predecessor's role after his passing (acknowledging Leonard Nimoy's recent death), but it doesn't work quite as well as the previous films.

But despite all that, the film still manages to entertain throughout most of its runtime, with the cast slipping into their roles like they never left. Sofia Boutella makes an interesting addition as Jaylah, while Idris Elba is solid as the villain Krall, though he's more like Nero than Khan here.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is an entertaining adventure, though it falls slightly short if compared to the first two films. (7/10)  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

Year: 2016
Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Edwin Hodge

Plot: Charlie Roan, a senator who lost her family on Purge Night, vows to end the Purge if she wins the election, making her a target by the New Founding Fathers, who intend to use the Purge to eliminate her. Her chances for survival are in the hands of her bodyguard Leo Barnes and a handful of poor people trying to survive the night.

Review: Writer and director James DeMonaco deserves credit for achieving two rare feats. One: writing and directing all three Purge films, and two: making each one better than the last.

The first film was a basic home invasion story, the second taking it a step further by putting the audience on the street and watching the poor and innocent victims getting mowed down by the crazies and the rich. The idea of the Purge being a plan by the New Founding Fathers to eliminate the poor in order to save money on welfare was hinted at in the second film, Anarchy. Now in Election Year, that idea is expanded. This angle is explored through the eyes of Joe Dixon, a deli owner whose insurance will not cover losses from Purge Night, and therefore has to take up arms and watch the place himself, alongside his loyal worker Marcos. There is also Laney, a friend of Dixon's, who has a history of crime but now chooses to roam the streets on Purge Night in an armored triage van giving help to the wounded.

As mentioned, the senator, Charlie Roan, a victim of the Purge herself, gains momentum in the upcoming elections by promising to end the Purge if she wins. The NFFA view her as a threat and attempt to eliminate her on Purge Night. Traitors within her security team forces her to flee with her bodyguard, Leo Barnes, whom you'd remember from Anarchy. The duo run into Dixon and company, and the fight begins.

DeMonaco improves on the earlier films in a handful of ways, upping the ante on the action, violence and the plot. Sure, this is yet another fight for survival, but the stakes are much higher now. As one of the character states: the soul of the country is at stake. Election Year takes a closer look at the plight of the true victims of the Purge, how they suffer every time this happens and what they stand to lose. There is a group, led by Bishop (the homeless man from the first film) who gives shelter and medical aid to the poor. Bishop plays a key role in the film's final third, where the senator's campaign and life hangs in the balance.

The action and violence is pretty awesome for the most part. Lots of headshots, explosions and blood. We even get a pretty nasty hit-and-run followed by shotgun blasts. The crazies get more creative with their outfits too, and DeMonaco even throws in murder tourists from Russia, who arrive just to have fun taking part in wanton murder. Like I said, the ante is upped tremendously. Even the pace of the film is perfect, as I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

The cast all perform splendidly, and while Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes makes a good action hero, it is Mykelti Williamson's Dixon that steals the show as the everyman trying to protect what's his. Joseph Julian Soria and Betty Gabriel are also solid as Marcos and Laney respectively, while Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell makes a convincing turn as Senator Roan. Also worth mentioning is Raymond J. Barry hamming it up as NFFA leader Caleb.

If there's a downside, it's the question of why there are so many crazy Purgers in each film. The final scene, which takes place in a church, is a fine example of this. Just watching this insane guy stabbing a man to death while the NFFA minister stands behind him preaching and getting orgasmic in front of an audience was pretty funny.

My local censors did wipe out several things which barred my enjoyment slightly. But I gotta say, The Purge: Election Year is awesome, and that's something I didn't expect. (8/10)   

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Legend Of Tarzan

Year: 2016
Director: David Yates
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent

Plot: Tarzan aka John Clayton III, who now lives in London with his wife Jane and accustomed to civilized life, is asked by American adventurer and historian George Washington Williams to travel back to the African Congo, to assist in investigating news of the King of Belgium engaging in slavery there. Little does he know that an old rival, Chief Mbonga is collaborating with the Belgium king's man, Leon Rom to capture him in exchange for the diamonds in his territory.

Review: There have been many tales of Tarzan depicted on film in the past, though none in live action as of late until now. The last two were animated features, one of which was made by Disney.

David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films, takes a stab at bringing Tarzan back to the silver screen. The first thing you'd notice is Yates not setting his film at Tarzan's beginnings, instead beginning his story where the man has accepted his true heritage and now resides in London with his beloved wife, Jane. It is very much a welcome change, though Yates does give the audience flashbacks of his past from time to time, some of which don't quite gel with the main running plot, but it is a mere mild distraction.

From a technical standpoint, Yates gets it mostly right. Set design and cinematography are all great, especially in the opening sequence. There are many beautiful shots of rivers, waterfalls and the jungle, till it almost becomes a character of its own. The CGI and motion capture for the gorillas are quite well done, though when used to depict a younger Tarzan, it looks much too obvious.

The cast perform to expectations, with Alexander Skarsgard making a suitable Tarzan, portraying him as a mild mannered hero who can throw down with anyone including gorillas. Skarsgard has done well in achieving the physique required for the role and should be commended for that. Margot Robbie plays Jane with a large dose of spunk, but unfortunately she still needs to be saved by her hero here. Samuel L Jackson gets the sidekick role of George Washington Williams and proves to be capable in being a useful ally and a funny guy too. Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou however are reduced to playing the same kind of villainous roles they have done before, which is a pity as they deserve better.

Action wise, the film does have a handful of suspenseful scenes, but Yates doesn't quite know how to shoot them properly. They're either over too soon or shot too close. The best one of them would be Tarzan facing off a group of soldiers on a train car, all by himself. The rest of the scenes are just average.

In the end, The Legend Of Tarzan is a fairly entertaining adventure film. It won't impress you too much but it's a decent way to spend two hours. (7/10)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Year: 2016
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Maika Monroe, Bill Pullman, Jessie T. Usher, Judd Hirsch, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Travis Tope, William Fichtner

Plot: Twenty years after President Whitmore, David Levinson and Captain Steven Hiller stopped aliens from destroying Earth, the planet has thrived on upgraded technology and peace among mankind. But the aliens have now returned with a bigger ship, to finish what they started.

Review: In 1996, Independence Day became a worldwide hit, and despite being pretty much a popcorn flick, is still considered a top notch blockbuster by movie fans everywhere.

Director Roland Emmerich takes us back to this world twenty years later, where Earth has thrived after defeating the aliens. Captain Hiller has perished in an air tragedy, and his son Dylan is now a pilot. President Whitmore is now an old man who still has nightmares from his encounter with the aliens, with his daughter Patricia as the current president's aide. David Levinson is now the director of the Space Defense program, monitoring any and all alien activity around the globe and in space. Trouble brews when the aliens return with a mega huge ship and squashes their defense systems easily. Levinson, Whitmore and a handful of brave young people have to team up and save the day.

Let's start with what's good about IDR. The special effects are awesome, as it was back then. When the big bad mothership arrives, the level of destruction you see is just like in Emmerich's 2012, and while it looks familiar, it's still no less exciting. There's a new subplot here involving a new alien entity that was one of many victims of these hostile ones, who offer our heroes a possible way to defeat them. Admittedly, this plot could have been played out better as the film makes it look too easy, but it does present a fresh angle to an already familiar story. Lastly, the returning cast members all seem game for the film, with Brent Spiner getting more screen time here and Vivica A. Fox and Robert Loggia making brief appearances as well (Loggia's final role before his recent death), though Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and especially Jeff Goldblum all fit right back in like they never left. 

Now for the downsides. If you recall the original's plot, it's really not that much different here. Aliens arrive. Aliens make a big impact. Earth responds and fails spectacularly. Earth finds another way to win. Someone makes a grand speech. Earth fights back and wins. So if you're expecting any surprises, there aren't any. The new cast don't seem to match the old cast's enthusiasm for the material, though they do try. Maika Monroe and Liam Hemsworth do alright but their romance is not convincing. Jessie T. Usher fares slightly better as Dylan Hiller. Sela Ward doesn't get much to do as new President Lanford, with William Fichtner doing much better as her replacement later on. There are also a couple of unnecessary elements here, like Judd Hirsch's subplot of finding a group of kids to babysit during the attack, and an auditor played by the same guy playing the tour guide from White House Down (another Emmerich piece) as the film's comic relief, which misses more than hits. Lastly, despite the final battle sequence looking good on screen, it all looks like one big video game where you have to beat a final boss to succeed.

In summation, I'd say Independence Day: Resurgence is just like the original as far as popcorn flicks go, but not quite as memorable. It's a fun way to spend 2 hours, but that's about it. (7/10)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Finding Dory

Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
Voice cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Hayden Rolence, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell

Plot: When Dory starts to remember details of her parents, she persuades Marlin and Nemo to follow her on a quest across the ocean to find them.

Review: It's been 13 years since Finding Nemo came out, and it is still one of the best Pixar works out there. So Finding Dory has its work cut out for it to match its predecessor.

Like in the first film, our characters embark on an adventure to find a loved one, in this case Dory's parents. Dory convinces Marlin and his son Nemo to follow her all the way to California to find Jenny and Charlie, her parents. They wind up at the Marine Life Institute, where Dory gets separated from the two clownfishes. And again, just like the first film, they all meet a colorful set of characters, which include a short sighted whale shark, a beluga whale, a couple of sea lions, a talking clam and a grumpy octopus.

Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton, shares duties with Angus MacLane on Finding Dory and does a splendid job once again, though it isn't quite as endearing as the original. As mentioned, the sequel shares many things in common with the original, such as the theme of family, a journey across the ocean, an assortment of characters to help the leads, and of course a healthy dose of humour. More importantly, this film sees a development of Dory's character as we see flashbacks of her life as a young blue tang fish who was already forgetful and how her parents helped her with her memory problems, and how she eventually got separated from them.

The new set of characters here may not be as memorable as the original Tank Gang or the trio of sharks from Nemo, but they do come close. The standout one would be Hank the octopus, whose camouflaging abilities makes for several hilarious moments, not to mention his grumpy attitude towards Dory.

The reason Finding Dory falls a bit short of Finding Nemo is the feel that Stanton and co. are trying too hard to milk the drama in the film's more tender moments. The climax of the film is also quite similar to Toy Story 2 but still very fun to watch.

Overall I enjoyed Finding Dory, and if you loved Finding Nemo, you ought to go see this. And do stay till the end credits for one final scene. (8/10)


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