Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mummy

Year: 2017
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe

Plot: An American soldier accidentally discovers an Egyptian tomb in the deserts of Iraq and awakens an imprisoned ancient Egyptian princess inside, who proceeds to continue where she left off i.e. bring about the rebirth of Set, the God of Death.

Review: For the longest time, I can't recall Tom Cruise ever making a bad film, or at least one that fell below expectations. Well, looks like he finally did.

This certainly does not bode well for Universal Pictures' new Dark Universe franchise they're attempting to promote, with The Mummy as its first feature. One wonders how their future films, including Johnny Depp's Invisible Man, Javier Bardem's Frankenstein's monster and The Bride Of Frankenstein will fare. They will certainly have to be better than this.

Now, on paper, The Mummy has all the makings of a summer blockbuster. Action, horror, an exciting concept and Cruise, the world's biggest star in it. And for the first 30 minutes or so, The Mummy actually works. Then, right after the plane crash (which you've probably already seen from the trailers), things start to slide downhill.

Cruise's Nick Morton ends up becoming the object of Sofia Boutella's Ahmanet's affection, and thus starts getting nightmares and visions of his dead friend Vail. This leads to repeated false jump scares thrown at the audience, which becomes ultimately frustrating since it only serves as exposition and does not move the story along. And if this isn't happening on screen, we get to watch Cruise getting tossed around the screen over and over and over by mummies, rats and Ahmanet instead. Even Russell Crowe's Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde gets in on it, and it gets tiresome real quick.

All this made the entire second act really punishing to sit through (despite the fact that a lot of action was happening on screen) and leads to a rushed finale that makes little sense overall. While director Alex Kurtzman can be forgiven for his inexperience since it's only his second directorial attempt, experienced writers Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp were strangely off their game as their script is mostly uneven and dull. Their attempts at humor were very poor too, that even Cruise, with all his charm, can't make it work.

As for the cast, thankfully they're mostly on point, but they're unable to shine thanks to the above mentioned poor script. Cruise never has a problem being a leading man, but he doesn't quite click well with Annabelle Wallis' Jenny Halsey. Boutella makes a good villain in Ahmanet and Russell Crowe is actually perfect as Jekyll and Hyde. It's just unfortunate that you probably won't remember them after the film is over.

In conclusion, if you want to watch an entertaining Mummy film, go for Stephen Sommers' 1999 movie. It's pretty campy but at least it's never boring. Considering the huge expectations riding on Kurtzman's film, it's safe to say that a lot of moviegoers looking forward to the Dark Universe are gonna be disappointed. Let's hope the next one can deliver, as the potential is there. (5.5/10)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Wonder Woman

Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock

Plot: Diana of Themyscira was raised by her mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Sheltered from the outside world, she was trained to be a great warrior that will save mankind. When an American spy from WWI stumbles upon her island and tells the Amazonians of the great war, Diana leaves with him to join the battle where she seeks to kill Ares, the God of War, whom she believes is behind it.

Review: Here's an example where the movie lives up to the hype, and not a moment too soon. The DCEU is in dire need of a victory, no matter how small. I'm happy to report that Wonder Woman the film is indeed wonderful, pun intended.

This fourth entry into the DCEU is an origin story, much like Man Of Steel, Batman Begins and most of the MCU's Phase One entries. Since this story takes place outside of the DCEU's current storyline (being set in the WWI era), it has the distinct advantage of being its own animal without any ties to the rather convoluted mess that the first three entries have already caused. Thus, director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg are able to tell Wonder Woman's story without having to worry about continuity. As a result, Diana's tale of heroism is fascinating and inspiring as we see a young woman, riding on the back of the stories told by her mother, train hard to become a warrior and eventually take the fight to evil forces and save innocent lives, all the while not knowing a secret about her existence.

What I enjoyed the most was seeing Diana's view of the world. She sees it in black and white, even when it's clearly a dark shade of grey, but she still stands by the qualities she was raised with. This is best presented in a scene where she tells off a roomful of generals who understate the lives of their men in the field. Her naivete is obvious, but what she says to them is absolutely true, and she didn't care if they thought she didn't belong in that room. Diana's commitment to her principles is what makes her such a great hero, and that's the film's real trump card.

While Jenkins no doubt earns plenty of credit for steering the film steadily and telling a story filled with loads of action and thrills, it would not be great without the talents of Gal Gadot. This is truly a star making turn for her as she gives Diana the great presence a hero requires. Not only does she convincingly portray someone like a fish out of water when she arrives in the modern world, she truly embodies the character of a warrior who has dedicated herself to saving lives and doing good. In short, she makes you believe in her, and I don't think any other actress could have done better.

Chris Pine, who is more or less Diana's sidekick/love interest, also puts in a fine performance as Steve Trevor, as he attempts to educate and assist her as best he can. Pine and Gadot work well together on screen and it shows. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are also quite convincing as Diana's mother and aunt respectively (I'm impressed with Wright for excelling in the fight sequences). Lucy Davis lends some humor as Steve's secretary while Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock make up Steve's motley crew of war spies, each providing their own stories to tell.

The villains are played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya. While Huston's German general doesn't get much to do, Anaya's Dr Maru is an interesting baddie which I hope to see more of in the future. Finally David Thewlis pops up as a British spy, and is rather crucial to the film's third act.

As far as action goes, Gadot is phenomenal in every sequence. Watching her take down a group of soldiers in a room in the film's second act is so much fun. There are some great sequences in the first act as well when the Germans attack Themyscira. Compared to the first three DCEU films, the visual effects here are much better as it feels more contained and not overdone. Kudos also goes to the cinematography by Matthew Jensen and the superb score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

If Wonder Woman has any flaws, it would be Jenkins' decision to use a CGI generated villain at the end. It looks slightly better than the recent King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, but I still would have preferred something more practical. There are also a few incidents that seemed too convenient, and Jenkins relied on slow-motion a tad too often during a few action beats, but other than that, the film is pretty awesome.

So, is the DCEU redeemed? No, not quite. One film isn't enough to repair the damage that still lingers. I'd say redemption is earned if the upcoming Justice League film turns out to be great. But for now, movie fans can rejoice in the fact that the DCEU can make a good film. Wonder Woman is highly recommended. (8.5/10)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brendon Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, David Wenham

Plot: Captain Salazar, an old enemy of Jack Sparrow, cursed to be a ghost trapped in the Devil's Triangle for decades, finally breaks free and seeks revenge. To save himself, Jack has to find the Trident Of Poseidon, which gives its wielder the power to control the seas. In order to find it, Jack teams up with Will Turner's son Henry and a female astronomer named Carina.

Review: The POTC films are very similar to the Transformers films. They're both loud, lengthy, expensive, doesn't always make sense and not always smart. But it's pure summer entertainment for these two franchises, and that's how I usually approach them. If anyone ever expects them to do something different, they'll be disappointed.

That being said, Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar's Revenge depending on where you're from) is pretty entertaining as a whole. Just accept the fact that Jack Sparrow is on yet another crazy adventure that involves pirates, mystical artifacts, deadly foes and the British army giving chase and you'll be fine. Jack's nemesis this time is Captain Salazar, a ghost captain who had sworn to destroy pirates until he was lured into the Devil's Triangle by Jack many years ago. Now free, Salazar teams up with a reluctant Barbossa, now the chief pirate of the seas, to find Jack. Jack on the other hand, joins forces with Henry, Will Turner's son and Carina, an astronomer to find the Trident Of Poseidon. While Jack wants to save himself, Henry wants to break his father's curse and bring him home, while Carina wants to honor her long lost father's work.

Nowegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg keep things moving at a quick pace and manage to tell a solid story while making this the shortest Pirates film ever, which is no minor feat. While the film is not as charming as the Curse Of The Black Pearl, it still has a handful of neat moments, such as the chase sequence that seems inspired by the climactic safe dragging sequence from Fast Five, except it's not a safe but an entire building. There's also a well shot action sequence at an execution square, and another that involves ghost sharks (you'll have to see it for yourself). The script by Jeff Nathanson also allows for some dramatic moments involving Barbossa, Carina and an opening sequence with a young Henry and his father, which definitely adds some layers to the movie.

Johnny Depp easily steps back into the role he was born to play and he hasn't lost a step. Some fans may be tired of him already, but not me. The franchise was built on his back and he still is the key player. Geoffrey Rush scores a few key points here as he gives Barbossa a new side to him in a couple of scenes with Carina. Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are clearly this film's version of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and though they aren't as memorable as the latter two, they do try hard. Thwaites gives Henry the same enthusiasm that Bloom did for Will, while Scodelario is believable as the girl trying to prove her point when very few people believe her. These two eventual lovebirds don't gel as perfectly as Bloom and Knightley though. Javier Bardem is menacing enough as Salazar, but didn't quite get enough time to really make his character memorable, not in the way Bill Nighy did as Davy Jones. Last but not least, David Wenham's Scarfield is a poor substitute for this film's version of Norrington or Beckett, but it surely isn't Wenham's fault. There are a few cool cameos here, which you would know if you've seen all the trailers, but I won't spoil them for you.

There's a wedding sequence in the second act that just came out of nowhere and was unnecessarily played for laughs, which the film didn't really need and could have been left out. I wished Salazar and his ghost ship had more time to make an impact as well, as it is quite a waste of Bardem's talent here.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with this fifth and possibly final instalment. They ended it in a way that they can still make a sixth film (based on the post credits scene). If you're a fan of these films, there's no reason for you not to go see this. If you're not, this film won't change your mind. For pure entertainment, I'd say it's pretty solid. (7.5/10)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

Year: 2017
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Annabelle Wallis

Plot: Vortigen kills his own brother Uther using sorcery and seizes the throne of Camelot. Uther's son Arthur, ends up in the hands of prostitutes and is raised in the streets, until one day he discovers his destiny to raise his father's sword and reclaim the throne from his uncle.

Review: Guy Ritchie has a style that for me, only works in certain films. It's a mixed bag; the Sherlock Holmes films were good, but The Man From UNCLE was a failure for me. However, his fast paced, upbeat take on the legend of King Arthur feels quite promising.

As the story goes, Arthur is orphaned at the age of 2 when his uncle Vortigen makes a deal with a trio of syrens and kills Arthur's father Uther, and his mother, and seizes the throne of Camelot. Arthur is raised in a brothel and is trained in street fighting as he grows up. One day, he ends up pulling his father's sword Excalibur out of a stone, thereby making him a threat to Vortigen's power. Vortigen moves to execute him, but Arthur is saved by his father's old allies, and must now train under a female mage to embrace his destiny and how to use Excalibur to overthrow the evil king.

With Guy Ritchie, you can expect a few similar things in all his films: slow motion, quick cuts, flashback/flashforwards etc. This kinetic style actually works in his favor as it makes the film move at a steady pace, thus it is rarely boring. Ritchie also goes to great lengths to show the magic and sorcery aspect of the story, such as giant snakes, eagles and a humongous elephant that tramples everything in its path. There's also the power of Excalibur itself, which was like giving someone the power of the One Ring, and I thought it was cool. I also loved the music score, which has a heavy rock opera feel to it. It's one of the best things about the film. 

Charlie Hunnam hasn't exactly fully matured to become leading man material, but he definitely excels at being an action hero, which he does very well here as Arthur. Astrid Berges-Frisbey, whom I had last seen in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, is much older now, and quite effective as the mage who trains Arthur. Her rather cold exterior makes her perfect for the role. Jude Law is solid as the evil Vortigen, but honestly I felt he wasn't given enough time to really sink into the role. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen lend their veteran experience as Arthur's backup, but aren't given enough screen time to really stand out. And by now, you must have heard of a certain footballer's cameo, and it's not as bad as everyone thinks.

I do wish that the final fight between Arthur and Vortigen didn't involve a CGI monster. I would have also preferred Merlin to at least make an appearance here, since he is such an important piece of the legend. Ritchie should have also expanded on the story and supporting players a bit more.

Overall, I sort of enjoyed this contemporary take on the King Arthur legend. I hear there are more films planned for this story, but the supposedly lukewarm response at the box office might derail that plan. Anyway, it's an entertaining popcorn movie, bottom line. (7.5/10) 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Plot: After their ship is badly hit by a space anomaly, the crew of a colony ship head for a nearby planet to see if it can sustain life, only to fall into a deadly trap.

Review: Well, color me disappointed. With Ridley Scott continuing his Alien prequel story after the entertaining Prometheus, one would hope Alien: Covenant would be just as good, if not better. To be honest, Covenant is far from a bad film, but it certainly falls short of my expectations.

First, the story. The colony ship Covenant is heading to a distant planet, scheduled to arrive in 7 years. A space anomaly hits them and some casualties occur, including the captain (James Franco in a cameo). First officer Oram, shown clearly to not be ready for leadership, takes charge and orders them to head for a nearby planet that seems to have all it requires to start their new colony. Once they get down there though, shit happens and they realize too late that they've been lured into a trap by a familiar face if you've seen Prometheus.

Here's what's good about Covenant. As usual, from a visual standpoint, Scott scores full marks. Unlike the dark ruins and desert in Prometheus, Scott opts for desolate and quiet forests this time. The location is still scary as heck, which works in his favor. There's also more gore and blood this time around, and yes Alien fans, you will get to see the xenomorphs here. On top of that you will also see new versions of the aliens, which lead to some really gruesome kills.

But compared to Prometheus, Covenant's story is much weaker. While Prometheus is about the search for our creators and discovering weapons of mass destruction, Covenant is about betrayal and a certain character's quest to override his own creator, which is facilitated by the Covenant crew's own carelessness and stupidity. Yeah, I know the Prometheus crew made some dumb decisions in their time, but the Covenant crew were clearly unprepared for traumatic situations and succumb to their own panic really quick.

Secondly, Scott chooses to focus more on this particular character's development than the aliens or the Covenant crew themselves. When you get to the second half of the film, the crew suddenly become fodder for the aliens and their creator, right up to the predictable ending. The ending was what I hated most about this film, because even more so than Prometheus, it was obviously done to set up the next film in the franchise. Thirdly, Scott even tries to execute a space vacuum sequence in the climax, just like the first two Alien films, but the whole process was rather unexciting.

Michael Fassbender does double duty here, playing Walter the android for the Covenant and David from the previous film. Personally I felt he was better as the former. Katherine Waterston is alright as Daniels, who is modeled after Ripley obviously, but doesn't hold a candle to her thanks to the poor writing. Danny McBride does well in a serious role this time as ship pilot Tennessee, and Billy Crudup is solid as Oram. The rest of the crew, including poor Demian Bichir are much too disposable to make an impact.

All I can say is, I expected more than this. I really hope Scott improves on the story for the next one, because Covenant had a lot to live up to and dropped the ball here. For the record, it's still entertaining to a degree. I just wished there was more. (6.5/10)


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