Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spy

Year: 2015
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney


Plot: A CIA analyst with zero experience in the field is sent on a mission to stop an arms dealer after the agency's top agents' identities are compromised.


Review: When it comes to Melissa McCarthy, I can be on the fence. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I mean, there's only so much of her foul language and physical comedy that one can endure before it gets old. Good thing for us this time though that Paul Feig uses those skills of hers very well and in the right doses.

In Spy, McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst that helps top agent Bradley Fine carry out his dangerous assignments by becoming his eyes and ears via her computer back at Langley. When he gets killed on a mission by Raina Boyanov, an arms dealer trying to sell a nuclear bomb, Susan volunteers to go undercover since Raina has apparently got all the identities of the agency's top assets. And off she goes in an attempt to be like her idol Bradley, with the advantage of not being suspected as an agent due to her image, and the disadvantage of having zero experience in the field.

Feig is wise enough to make Susan Cooper a competent protagonist. Remember Johnny English? How long before one gets tired of watching him make a fool of himself for the whole movie? In this case, Susan is no weakling. She can fight quite well and although a bundle of nerves at first, manages to get the hang of what it takes to be a spy. To that end, McCarthy hits mostly the right notes by playing Susan the same way we would if we were in her shoes. And it is fun to watch her physical comedy this time around, and see her kick ass so well too. The kitchen fight scene is a memorable standout here.

Jude Law exudes charm as Bradley Fine, but doesn't quite get enough screen time here. Rose Byrne is pretty good as the foul mouthed Raina, but it is Jason Statham who steals the show here as Ford, the equally foul mouthed agent who despises Susan. Statham is awesome here, exaggerating his famous tough guy persona by mentioning his torturous experiences in the field while not exactly being the sharpest knife in the drawer. Miranda Hart deserves mention here as the sort of British version of McCarthy, playing Susan's partner Nancy.

The film isn't perfect of course. Some of the comedy bits don't work so well, for instance the serial groper Italian agent played by Peter Serafinowicz only works half the time, and some of the R-rated jokes don't really hit the mark. The last fifteen minutes of the film is also a tad messy due to an abundance of characters and subplots. 

Overall, Spy is a solid spoof of the spy genre (complete with a 007 style credit sequence) and a step up from Feig and McCarthy's last effort, The Heat. (7/10) 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2015
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton


Plot: In a post-apocalyptic world filled with chaos and insanity, one man is caught in the middle of an escape plan spearheaded by a female warrior who wants to save the wives of a lunatic warlord.


Review: I hadn't watched the original Mad Max trilogy, but I thought I knew what to expect going into this film. After seeing it, I assure you, even if you knew exactly what to expect, you'll be blown away by it.

Writer-director George Miller, who created the original Mad Max films that starred Mel Gibson, has wonderfully brought a hellacious spectacle of a movie that just might be the year's best adventure. Mad Max: Fury Road basically feels like one long chase sequence from beginning to end, but damn if it isn't so much fun to behold.

There is a plot though, don't you worry. A man called Max is all alone in a desert world filled with crazy people. He gets captured by War Boys, a bunch of foot soldiers who follow Immortan Joe, a warlord with five wives who controls a large water supply that the poor folk depend on. His right hand woman, Imperator Furiosa, hatches a plan to turn on Joe and take his wives away to her home far away, and Max gets caught in the middle. Also along for the ride is Nux, a War Boy who seeks to redeem himself after failing Joe.

If there's one thing that really stands out in this film, it's the amount of vehicular carnage on display here. It pretty much rivals all the Fast & Furious films combined. Crashes, explosions, suicide dives, flips, and a huge sandstorm all come together beautifully. Never has destruction looked so cool on screen. And then there are the vehicles, costumes, sets, cinematography, music....it's insane and yet gorgeous at the same time. You'll have to see it for yourself to know what I mean. Miller is truly a genius, I salute him and his entire production team for creating a world that is visually remarkable and making action sequences, from vehicular destruction to a simple hand-to-hand scrap look awesome.

The cast's three main leads, Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult all deliver outstanding performances. Hardy plays Max as a man of few words but says a lot with his fists and eyes very well, just as he did in Warrior and Lawless. Theron gives Furiosa a fine balance between toughness and delicateness, while Hoult succeeds in making Nux a character worth pitying and eventually root for. Hugh Keays-Byrne makes a good villain as Joe despite wearing a mask throughout the film. While the women chosen to play Joe's five wives look like mere pretty faces, to their credit, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough and Courtney Eaton manage to stand out in their own way, with each of them having their own moment to shine.

If there is a downside to this film at all, it would be Max himself looking like someone who is shoved into the main plot instead of being the focal point of the story. Not much background is given to Max, save for visions and nightmares he keeps having of his dead family. But this is a small complaint, which doesn't really matter when you're in the middle of seeing him and Furiosa kick ass.

I can't say it enough. Mad Max: Fury Road is the most adrenalin-pumping, ass-kicking film of the year. Highly recommended. (9/10) 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Unfriended

Year: 2015
Director: Leo Gabriadze
Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson


Plot: Six friends communicating on Skype are stalked and then killed off one by one by a mysterious person who is using the identity of their dead friend.


Review: When I saw the trailer to Unfriended a few months ago, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was an innovative way of making a horror film by having it take place on a computer screen, but on the flipside, can it hold the audience's interest for the entire duration of the film?

Thankfully, director Leo Gabriadze, writer Nelson Greaves and the cast successfully pull it off. For about ninety minutes or so, we watch in suspense as these six kids get stalked and horribly killed off by a seventh online friend they can't shake, hang up on or get rid of. All over a damning video posted online that caused their friend to kill herself a year ago. This is basically watching cyberbullies getting their comeuppance.

First, a little details. We begin with Blaire, who is in the middle of a conversation online with her boyfriend Mitch, when they are joined by mutual friends Adam (the jock), Jess (the girly best friend), Ken (the tech whiz) and Val (the bitchy one). Then a seventh person with no profile picture enters their conversation. Upon checking they discover that this person is using the account of their dead friend Laura Barns, who killed herself a year ago after a humiliating video of her was posted online. Then weird things start to happen and one by one the kids get killed off, with the stalker forcing the kids not to leave the chat or someone else dies.

I have to hand it to the filmmakers and the cast for pulling off this feat of making the whole film on a computer screen. It looks, sounds and feels genuine with camera feeds occasionally buffering or breaking up, sound effects of messages and notifications coming in being used...the filmmakers use all the tools available at their disposal like Skype, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Chatroulette and even printers. (I didn't even know there was such a thing as Chatroulette till I saw this film) Word has it that they filmed the whole thing in one take, so that's impressive.

The film is shown from Blaire's POV the whole time, so it is her character that we identify with most, not only by what she says to the others, but also her surfing habits, as well as the secrets she keeps, judging by how she sometimes backspaces her comments before posting them. As it turns out, all of them have secrets, which the stalker uses against them before turning violently on them. This piles on the suspense and keeps things tense for most of the film. When they meet their demise, you'll feel the tension, or maybe you'll just laugh if you're the kind of person that doesn't scare easy.

However, like most horror flicks that involve young kids, the cast is made up of people that are worth getting killed off. While the actors make their characters very believable, at the end of the day, they're all hiding something and probably deserve what's coming to them. That would probably explain why some people in the theatre I was watching this with were either sniggering or decided to get up and leave. There's also a lack of explanation on how the stalker is capable of doing all this, but in the horror genre, logic isn't always necessary.

All in all, Unfriended has innovation and a certain level of originality on its side, and thanks to that, it manages to entertain and scare quite well. It's definitely worth a watch, even if you're not into horror flicks. (7/10)


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Year: 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader, Samuel L Jackson


Plot: Tony Stark attempts to create an artificially intelligent program called Ultron that can protect the world, but it turns on the Avengers and intends to destroy mankind. The team joins forces with a pair of gifted twins to stop Ultron from carrying out his plan.


Review: It's pretty hard to top a hit film like The Avengers, and I have to say Joss Whedon put in a humongous effort to make Age Of Ultron awesome and memorable. To be honest, it wasn't perfect (then again, what film is?) but it never stops being hugely entertaining, and that's what essentially counts.

So in this film, the Avengers take down Hydra and retrieve Loki's sceptre, only for Tony Stark to use it to finish his Ultron program i.e. a peacekeeping program that can operate by itself. The plan of course goes south when Ultron decides to turn against him and eradicate mankind. The Avengers attempt to stop him, but he's more than prepared for them.

As usual, when it comes to Marvel films, technical elements are never short of perfect. The visual effects here are as good as it was back when they made the first Avengers, in fact it did a great job in keeping the action sequences exciting and visually decipherable. There are plenty of action set pieces to behold, the best of them being the Hulk taking on Iron Man in a Hulkbuster armor. In between all this, Whedon throws in the humour he is well known for, while adding more layers to the characters. For instance, Hawkeye, who got the least screen time previously, gets more to do here, and a relationship develops between Bruce Banner and Black Widow.

Acting wise, all of them deliver strong performances, with Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson standing out the most as they bring forth their characters' emotions and weaknesses. New cast members Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen also do well as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch respectively, the former doing a better job than Evan Peters in X-Men: DOFP in playing the same guy. Olsen successfully gives Scarlet Witch the vulnerability that is required of her, wielding powers that may be too much for her to handle. James Spader surprisingly gives a very human performance as Ultron, in the way he moves, talks and gestures. He kinda threw me off with that performance, but it's not a bad thing. Paul Bettany finally gets to physically be in these films as he evolves from being JARVIS to Vision, Ultron's creation. He too, puts in a splendid effort.

The only thing that bothered me about Age Of Ultron is the fact that it felt a little less coherent compared to its predecessor. Whedon threw in a ton of things here, and occasionally moves so fast you'd likely miss something. I think I may have to go back and see this film again, just to enjoy it one more time and properly take it all in.

To sum it up, Age Of Ultron is awesome and a whole lot of fun. If you've been following all of Marvel's films so far, there's no reason not to go see this one. Recommended. (8/10)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Gunman

Year: 2015
Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba


Plot: An ex-soldier who carried out an assassination on the Minister of Mining of the Democratic Republic Of Congo finds himself being targeted by a hit squad eight years later. In order to find out who's behind it, he goes in search of all the people who knew about his hit job.


Review: It's truly baffling that Pierre Morel, the director of Taken and From Paris With Love, could miss the mark on his latest feature, The Gunman. I suppose every director has his day off. The truth is, it's not a terrible film, just not close to the quality that is expected of him.

The film focuses on Jim Terrier, an ex-soldier who's doing security work for NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but secretly carrying out hit orders for private contractors who want control of the minerals in the country. Terrier's last job is killing the Minister of Mining, after which he goes into hiding, forcing to leave behind his girlfriend Annie (who's a doctor helping war victims in Congo). Eight years later, Terrier is targeted by a hit squad, and he suspects whoever's behind it is connected to the job he carried out. So he seeks out everyone who knew about that job, including old friends who have now become rivals.

The setup was actually promising, to be honest. Despite the all too familiar scenario of spy thrillers that involve travelling, covert ops and finding out who to trust and who not to, it can be entertaining if done right. Unfortunately, Morel chooses to focus on the plot points that are less interesting and leaves little time for the ones that are. The most glaring example is the love triangle between Terrier, Annie and their friend Felix played by Javier Bardem. This part of the film takes up at least a third of the screen time, with another chunk of the film spent on Terrier rekindling his relationship with Annie. As a result of this, too little time is spent on some much needed action sequences and plot twists to spice up the film.

The only real reason to see this is Sean Penn, who holds the film together by being its lead actor and anchor. He's solid as the tired man who wants to know why he's being hunted and by whom. It would have been better if they followed up on the subplot about his illness though. Out of the supporting cast, Ray Winstone and Jasmine Trinca fare the best, the former as an ally of Terrier and the latter as Annie, though admittedly, Trinca is mostly a damsel to be gawked at by male viewers, not that I mind. Bardem and poor Idris Elba are unjustly underused here, but Mark Rylance gives a good portrayal as another one of Terrier's acquaintances.

There are a few action sequences here, and while they were shot well enough, there should have been more. Morel spent too much time on exposition and personal drama, and too little on the mystery behind who's targeting Terrier, which is quite predictable to be honest.

The Gunman is basically wasted potential, considering the people involved in it. If you're a fan of Sean Penn, you can check it out. Otherwise, try something else. (6/10)  

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