Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Expendables 3

Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Hughes
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger


Plot: Barney Ross learns that his former comrade turned enemy Conrad Stonebanks is alive despite having shot him dead years ago. Ross retires the old team and forms a new, younger team to go after him, but will his old buddies simply stay retired?


Review: The Expendables films have become not much more than showcasing veteran action heroes square off against each other and side by side. It's basically a mix of hard action and nostalgic moments, but not much else. So needless to say, this third outing isn't very different from the first two, but still quite fun to behold.

In this instalment, Barney Ross runs into Expendables co-founder Conrad Stonebanks, whom he had killed years ago, or so he thought. Stonebanks maims one of Ross' mates, prompting the latter to retire the old team so that he doesn't have to watch them die, and forms a younger team to go after his nemesis. But the old team won't stay down of course, and the young team still needs to learn a thing or two about kicking ass, so a huge collision is forthcoming, which happens in the film's climax.

Director Patrick Hughes, working on a script co-written by Stallone, does a decent enough job with the material, keeping things flowing smoothly with two big action set pieces in the first third of the film before throwing in an even bigger sequence in the final third. The middle portion consists of Stallone and old acquaintance Bonaparte (played by Kelsey Grammer) recruiting the young team, and a handful of rather hilarious moments ensue.

It's interesting to note that Stallone has given more time to the action veterans newly added here as compared to his usual co-stars, which means that Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture get less time to show off here. (Sorry Jet Li fans, he gets even less here than previously, so you might want to skip this film) Wesley Snipes makes good use of his screen time as Dr Death, showing the kind of charm we haven't seen since Demolition Man (where he fought Stallone). Mel Gibson is absolutely delightful as the villain Stonebanks, making him more than a match for Stallone. But the prize for best performance goes to Antonio Banderas as Galgo, the Spaniard soldier desperate to join Ross' crew. Who would have thought Banderas was capable of comedy like this? It's almost like he's being Puss In Boots all over again, but even better.

Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey make up the young team, though only the former two make an impression. Ortiz is forgettable and Rousey has zero acting skills. Arnie gets credit for just showing up (it's what he does best) while Harrison Ford makes good on his CIA agent character, and he actually does better than Bruce Willis, who got cut for asking for more dough.

The thing is, with The Expendables, what you see is what you get. You get action, tough talk, lots of cheese and illogical situations (like why are all the bad guys terrible marksmen?). But if you don't mind all that, it's always fun to watch these guys go at it. 

Verdict: If you enjoyed the first two, you'll love this one. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Year: 2014
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Danny Woodburn


Plot: Four mutant turtles team up with aspiring reporter April O'Neil to stop a devastating attack on New York City.


Review: It's been seven years since the last TMNT film, and that last one was an animated version. This time they're going back to live versions, but thankfully the level of CGI has improved a lot since then.

Being a Michael Bay production, the turtles in this film is reminiscent of the robots in the Transformers films, only less annoying. At the very least, their humor hits the mark more often than not. But it still isn't as sharp as the humor in the original cartoon of the 80s.

Anyway, in this story, April O'Neil, struggling reporter for Channel 6 News, discovers acts of vigilantism performed by mysterious people, but no one believes her, not even her fellow cameraman Vern Fenwick. Then one night she runs into them and finds out they're mutant turtles, and they come from something her late father worked on in a lab many years ago. In the meantime, the treacherous Foot Clan led by Shredder, have a plan to destroy New York City, and the turtles are pertinent to the plan.

If one were to make comparisons between this and the Transformers films, it can be said that this TMNT adaptation is much closer to the original than the former ever was to their cartoon. They may have changed the turtles origins a bit, including Splinter's origins too, but the general feel of the film is pretty close to the cartoon. The action sequences are also not too shabby, though it doesn't really pick up until the third act when the turtles are sliding down a snow mountain in a huge truck with the bad guys in pursuit.

Megan Fox, still looking as hot as ever, does a decent job as April, though I wished there was more depth to her character, as in more chances for dramatic impact. Will Arnett provides good comic relief as Vern while William Fichtner as always does not disappoint in the villain role of Eric Sacks. The four guys playing the turtles also deserve credit, as well as Johnny Knoxville, who lends his voice to Leonardo.

The villains however are rather weak. Sacks, although a textbook villain in the way he conducts business, is the only one that stands out. Shredder, played by Tohoru Masamune, comes off like a caricature, and with that heavy costume on, resembles a rejected version of the Silver Samurai from last year's Wolverine film. The CGI for Splinter is also rather disappointing. And one can't help but feel that the entire plot is really simplified so the kids will get it and enjoy it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles overall is a lot like the 2007 animated cartoon in terms of quality. It's not bad, it's enjoyable enough and has plenty of entertaining elements. But brain food this certainly isn't, and you should keep that in mind. (3.5/5)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker


Plot: A group of misfits team up to retrieve an orb containing immense power and keep it from falling into wrong hands.


Review: You have to hand it to Marvel Studios for having the guts to take a chance on adapting a comic book that isn't as popular as their core titles, as well as handing the reins to someone who hasn't directed any of their films before.

On the surface, Guardians Of The Galaxy may look like Avengers in space, but it's not that, since these guys aren't exactly heroic, not when we first meet them anyway. As for me, it was a pleasant surprise. I expected this to look like Serenity but it's more like Star Wars actually (not that I hated Serenity, I liked it, I just enjoy Star Wars as well).

We begin with the introduction of Peter Quill, who as a kid, gets abducted by space pirates after watching his mum die of cancer. Cut to 26 years later, and Quill is now a thief, whose latest acquisition is a mysterious orb, wanted badly by Ronan The Accuser, who plans to use it to destroy the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps who are his sworn enemies. He runs into a group of criminals: Rocket, a talking raccoon, Groot, a walking tree, Drax, a brute man who has a beef with Ronan, and Gamora, a female assassin who used to work for Ronan and is now betraying him by stealing the orb for herself.

Director James Gunn, who also co-wrote the script, does an incredible job of keeping GOTG action packed and light hearted at the same time, with just enough drama to keep things real as the story moves along. The Guardians themselves are a fascinating bunch, not the most likable at first, but they will grow on you as they fight, bicker and bond with each other. Their interactions with one another is the film's strongest point. The other strong point is the action sequences, which are simply well done. The first scrap between the Guardians when they first meet is a nice appetizer for what's to come. Another plus point is the music, which is made up of Quill's mix tape of 70's and 80's songs, so you'd probably dig it if you were from that era. I know I did.  

Chris Pratt makes a solid hero as Peter Quill or Star-Lord (as he keeps insisting on being called), who is a lot like Han Solo, but just falling a little short on the charm level. Pratt is funny enough and easy to like here as the leading man. Dave Bautista does all right as Drax, the role certainly suits him well, even if his acting isn't top notch yet. Zoe Saldana once again does what she does best: play an ass-kicking alien/assassin. Gamora isn't that different from her previous roles, so it's not a stretch for her. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel deserve credit for their voice work as Rocket and Groot respectively, even if Diesel only says the same three words. Lee Pace is okay as Ronan, he does come off a bit caricature-ish at times, with Karen Gillan faring slightly better as his lieutenant Nebula, but she should have had more to do.

I was disappointed though at the fact that talented actors like Djimon Hounsou and Benicio Del Toro had such minor appearances here. Hounsou in particular should have gotten a bigger role with the talent he has. I would have also preferred Gamora and Nebula to be a bit more badass than they were here. It would have made things more interesting.

I can say for sure that GOTG is one of my favorites for the year, and as far as comic book films go, only second to the Captain America sequel for this year. Recommended. (4/5)  

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hercules

Year: 2014
Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan


Plot: The legendary Hercules is called upon by the ruler of Thrace to help stop a ruthless warlord. But there's more to it than meets the eye.


Review: There have been many adaptations of Hercules on screen, but this one is based on the comic book by Steve Moore.

In this film, Hercules has finished conquering the 12 labors put upon him by Hera, and now leads a band of mercenaries for hire. Lord Cotys, the ruler of Thrace, hires Hercules and his men to stop Rhesus, a warlord causing havoc in his country. Something happens along the way and the demi-god realises he must make a choice between fighting for gold or for his conscience.

Brett Ratner isn't exactly an A-list director, but he has a knack for making things entertaining despite the presence of a certain level of silliness. It's fascinating to note that the film doesn't try to be either too bloody or too serious, like other films of its kind such as 300, Troy or Gladiator. But thankfully, it's not as campy as The Scorpion King either, which is a step up for star Dwayne Johnson. It also must be said that even though the production value is a B plus at best, Ratner excels in the action department as he makes both large scale battles and smaller confrontations look good.

Johnson once again plays the lead role well, as he has many times before. While he may not look the part of Hercules that well, he still makes a great leading man and action hero. Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane are also commendable as Hercules' comrades, which is a welcome change from playing villains before this, but special mention goes to Aksel Hennie as Tydeus, Hercules' barbaric comrade who doesn't speak. 

The film does suffer from a few much too convenient happenings. Joseph Fiennes is also rather wasted in a key role when he should have gotten more screen time. The film does make up for this with a few dramatic attempts by Johnson, and well thought out by Ratner in terms of execution, especially those regarding Hercules' tragic past.

All in all, Hercules doesn't quite break new ground in the sword and fantasy genre, but it's entertaining for what it is. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Locke

Year: 2014
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott


Plot: Ivan Locke, a construction manager and family man, decides to drive to a hospital 90 minutes away to welcome the birth of his child resulting from a one night stand, and the decision proves to be a tough one as the phone calls he has to take turns his life inside out.


Review: Films featuring a mostly one person performance are tricky to pull off, as the possibilities are quite limited when it comes to making a great story. Buried starring Ryan Reynolds and the recent Gravity with Sandra Bullock are good examples.

Locke features Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, a construction manager in charge of a new building that's about to begin construction the next day. On this night, he makes a decision to drive all the way to a hospital 90 minutes away to see a woman he had a one night stand with, who is now in labor with his child. Throughout the journey, he has to make and take calls from the woman, the man he put in charge of the building in his absence, his very furious boss, and his wife, to whom he has to break the terrible news.

Steven Knight, who wrote and directed Hummingbird starring Jason Statham, took a big risk filming this, which again he also penned. A film made up entirely of a man driving and talking on the phone? On the surface it doesn't look very appealing. But thanks to his solid screenplay and a tour de force performance from Hardy, the film works brilliantly.

Hardy plays Locke as a regular guy, someone who has made a terrible mistake and is now trying to take responsibility for it, at the cost of his marriage and job. The amazing thing is, even if you've never been in his position, Knight's screenplay and Hardy's acting makes Locke a very relatable person to the audience. I think we've all been in a tough spot some time in our lives, and how we react to it is rather similar to what Locke is going through. Locke can be clearly seen as a good but flawed man who screwed up big time and knows it, and now he has to atone for it, even if it means destroying everything he holds dear.

Hardy is simply awesome in this role, carrying the entire film with his conversations over the phone, and his emotional reactions, within the confines of a moving vehicle. He makes us root for him easily even during moments when he has to be rude to get things done. You'll feel for him when he tries to tell his wife the bad news, and comfort the other woman while she's in distress at the hospital, though personally I enjoyed his exchanges with Donal, the man he left in charge of the building project, which gets quite hilarious at times.

I admit, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea. You probably won't enjoy it if you're expecting something more than a story about phone conversations in a moving car. I, for one, enjoyed it for what it was. It's something different than what most people would expect. Recommended. (4/5)

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