Sunday, July 23, 2017

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Year: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna, Sam Spruell

Plot: Space agents Valerian and Laureline find themselves embroiled in a plot by one of their superiors to cover up the accidental destruction of a planet and its inhabitants.

Review: This movie is based on the French comic series Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. After seeing it, one can't help but compare it to director Luc Besson's sci-fi spectacle The Fifth Element.

The story focuses on two space agents, Valerian and Laureline, who are assigned to retrieve a tiny animal called a converter, but soon they find themselves in a middle of a plot that involves a cover up of a planet's destruction. At the same time, Valerian is trying very hard to propose to Laureline, who refuses, knowing that he has trouble committing to a relationship.

It is said that this is the most expensive independent film ever made, as Besson crowd sourced and funded the film himself. Visually, the film looks fantastic. It feels like Star Wars meets The Fifth Element, with a buddy cop element thrown in. Besson has certainly gone out of his way to create outstanding visual effects, which I'm certain involves lots of green screen and motion capture technology. It all looks incredible, and I'd be surprised if this film isn't up for the Visual Effects Oscar next year.

Besson also deserves credit for his slick direction, especially in the action sequences. It's reminiscent of the work James Cameron did for Avatar, where actors and motion capture actors have to seamlessly work together, and Besson pulls it off well. Save for a slow second act, Besson keeps things running smoothly for the most part.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play off well against each other as Valerian and Laureline respectively. Their chemistry is convincing enough as they bicker and fight, all the while trying to finish their mission. Clive Owen is slightly wasted as their superior while Ethan Hawke attempts to be flamboyant as a pimp here, but doesn't quite hit the mark though. Rihanna tries to be serious as a shapeshifting performer, but her poor acting skills are still quite obvious. In fact, I'd say Besson hired her so that she can pull off this flashy shape changing performance on screen in the second act, which was a waste of time in my opinion.

The romance between Valerian and Laureline also feels rather hollow since we're never told why he loves her, or how they were made partners in the first place. I would have also preferred a proper prologue for the story instead of a sequence backed by David Bowie's Space Oddity, followed by a pointless cameo by Rutger Hauer.

In the end, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a solid summer action sci-fi spectacle which is bound to entertain you, but not much else. (7/10)  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson. Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary

Plot: When a ruthless army colonel and his men kill a large number of apes including Caesar's wife and son, Caesar vows revenge. However he soon finds out that vengeance has a large price.

Review: The events of Rise and Dawn have led to this film, where the apes must now fight for survival against an army of marines who will not stop until they have wiped out every ape they find. While Dawn focused more on apes than humans, this one is actually even more so, as Caesar's journey from leader to vengeful patriarch takes place.

In an attempt to save his kind, Caesar plans on moving his community to the desert, away from the marines currently hunting them. But his personal quest to take revenge after his wife and son are killed leads him down a dark path, one that may cost him more than the last film's events. Along the way, Caesar meets two individuals; a mute girl and a clever ape that will play a part before the film reaches its finale.

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves pulls it off again as he gives audiences a thoughtful and dramatic story about two species and their quest to survive; one peaceful, the other desperate. The story, more than anything, focuses on Caesar and his journey, culminating in a thrilling climax (which I'll admit was a bit over the top) that more or less caps off his story that began in Rise. Here, even more so than in the past two films, the apes are shown to be more human than the vengeful humans themselves. The colonel who leads the marines isn't as two dimensional as I had expected, although for the first half of the film he seemed very much so. Other than him and the mute girl, not much is explored of what's left of humanity.

Andy Serkis once again does an amazing job as Caesar, not having lost a single beat. Woody Harrelson is a perfect fit as the colonel, playing him as a brutal man, but not totally without reason. Credit also goes to Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a talking monkey who assists Caesar and the young Amiah Miller as Nova, the mute girl.

If I have a complaint, it's a slight lack of tension in certain scenes. But despite its long running time at 140 minutes, War For The Planet Of The Apes scores many points in terms of plot, acting, CGI, cinematography and set design. Even Michael Giacchino, who turned in disappointing work in last week's Spider-man: Homecoming, comes good here with his great music score.

Needless to say, WFTPOTA is the sleeper hit of the year and a must watch. (8/10)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year: 2017
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier

Plot: After the events of Civil War, Tony Stark puts Peter Parker on standby in case he is needed, but Parker, in his eagerness to become a hero, is disappointed when the call doesn't come, and he is tired of merely catching small time crooks in his neighborhood. All that changes when Adrian Toomes, a disgruntled city employee who has amassed technology left behind by the Avengers' many battles, builds an arsenal of high tech weapons, one of which is a suit with wings, and plans to steal even more tech from Stark to sell at the black market.

Review: I'll give director Jon Watts and his five fellow screenwriters one thing: they set out to do a completely different version of Spider-Man and managed to do just that. The problem is, I could never relate to Spider-Man back in the day, and Homecoming doesn't change that. Don't get me wrong, the old Spidey films featuring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were quite entertaining (except maybe Spidey 3), but I never really put the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker and his alter ego at the top of my comicbook heroes list.

I'm gonna do something unprecedented as far as my reviews go, i.e list my pros and cons in point form. Here goes:

- Tom Holland makes a rather likable Peter Parker, even though his hyper eager to please attitude for the first 20 minutes of the film was grating on my nerves. Thankfully he matures quite well as the story moves along
- Michael Keaton is awesome as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. Toomes is basically a sympathetic villain; a blue collar worker trying to make ends meet until Stark's rich and powerful team of white collar suits take over, thereby forcing him to do whatever it takes to level the playing field. Keaton never hams up his performance and always keeps things cool, making him that much more convincing. Don't be surprised if you find yourself rooting for him at some point.
- Robert Downey Jr is still cool as Tony Stark, even in smaller doses. I also liked the PSA videos from Captain America, Chris Evans rocks.

- The different thing about Homecoming as compared to previous incarnations of Spidey is the non origin plot, which means they skipped the Uncle Ben's death thing, which is fine. But in its place is the kind of story you would see in a teen movie, which involves pining for a girl in high school, trying not to get in trouble with your teachers, dodging questions from your aunt, trying to be cool at a party etc. I mean, after they all watched John Hughes' films reportedly before filming this, is this the best they came up with?
- Peter's best friend Ned is quite annoying, sorry. I know he's the sidekick and he is supposed to be that way, but he can be quite dumb, at least till the third act.
- Why are they trying to sell Marisa Tomei's Aunt May as being hot? Seriously? I know some of you feel she is hot, but I don't. Again, sorry.
- The inclusion of Zendaya as Peter's outcast friend Michelle adds nothing to the entire plot, other than providing variety to his social circle, which includes a poorly written Flash Thompson.
- The final action sequence was filmed in bad lighting, making it difficult to see what's going on.
- Other than Michael Giacchino's orchestral score of Spidey's theme song at the start of the film, the music here is pretty disappointing.
- How the heck does a talented actor like Logan Marshall Green end up getting a forgettable supporting role as Shocker #1? 
- There's a cameo towards the end which I totally despised, since it was not necessary at all and adds nothing to the film.
- Lastly, they spent a bit too much time making Peter look stupid tumbling all over the place while trying to figure out how to use his suit or land properly.

Overall, I don't hate Homecoming, just felt underwhelmed, kinda like how I felt after I finished Alien: Covenant. If you're a Spider-Man fan, I'm certain you'll like it, but if you're not, this won't change your mind. (6.5/10) 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

47 Meters Down

Year: 2017
Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

Plot: Two sisters vacationing in Mexico decide to take a trip in a shark cage, but things go south in a hurry when the boat's crane snaps and the cage plummets 47 meters to the ocean floor. The girls now have to figure out how to survive with limited oxygen and sharks surrounding them.

Review: This film was originally set to be released on DVD, but then a studio that bought the rights to the film decided to release it in theaters. One wonders if they were trying to capitalize on the success of The Shallows from last year.

As the film's story goes, two sisters, Lisa and Kate are vacationing in Mexico. Kate, being the more adventurous of the two, persuades Lisa to join her in a shark cage experience in the ocean. Lisa, still healing from a breakup, agrees. Then trouble ensues when the boat's crane breaks and the cage sinks to the ocean floor. The sisters are trapped at the bottom, with air running out and sharks circling them. What will they do?

Writer/director Johannes Roberts makes 47 Meters Down as simple as possible for his audience. Two victims, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, there are sharks and time is limited. Nothing complicated, which is how most survival horror flicks should operate, and for the most part, he succeeds. Roberts makes good use of his environment and manages to create a handful of suspenseful moments, and unsurprisingly it usually involves a shark getting too close. It does take a while for the action to begin as Roberts spends a bit of time introducing us to the sisters, but once tragedy strikes, the pace picks up considerably. 

Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are convincing enough as Lisa and Kate respectively while Matthew Modine is alright in his short appearance as the boat captain. Credit goes to Roberts for not creating a cliched scenario where the sisters blame one another for the mishap.

However, other predictable cliches do turn up, making the ending much too easy to anticipate. There are also other elements that could have been avoided, like the girls constantly checking their oxygen meter and saying out loud that their air is running out, or the script's flimsy excuse for Lisa's breakup. But thankfully, these are minor faults, and Roberts still succeeds in filming this tightly so it doesn't overstay its welcome.

47 Meters Down isn't quite as awesome as The Shallows for sure, but it's a little more than decent entertainment, and can be quite fun if you allow it. (7/10)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Despicable Me 3

Year: 2017
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda and Eric Guillon
Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

Plot: Gru has his hands full dealing with a new villain named Balthazar Bratt, and the discovery of his long lost twin brother, who tries to persuade him to become a villain again.

Review: So after discovering he is capable of being a surrogate father in the first film and finding love in the second film, what's next for villain-turned-hero Gru? This time it's finding out he has a twin brother.

Gru's twin brother Dru is not bald, wealthy and quite a charmer. Upon meeting Gru, Dru sees an opportunity to become the villain their late father was, and tries to persuade his elder brother to show him the ropes. But Gru, now a father and happily married to Lucy, isn't keen on it, especially after losing his job at the Anti Villain League due to failing to capture Balthazar Bratt, a villain obsessed with the 80's era. To make matters worse, his Minions throw a revolt and quit when he refuses to go back to being a villain again.

Director Pierre Coffin teams up with his Minions co-director Kyle Balda and character designer Eric Guillon to present another Despicable Me instalment that pretty much gives audiences what they naturally expect from these films. The theme of family is front and centre as usual, with Gru bonding with his not-so-good-at-being-a-villain brother Dru, while Lucy tries to bond with the girls as their new mother. Some of these sequences work, some of them not so much. Personally I found Dru to be a tad annoying and clumsy, and not in a good way. A subplot about Agnes trying to get a sighting of an actual unicorn is alright and might make you go awww, but it's always like that when it comes to Agnes.

The film works better when it focuses on Gru battling Bratt, with a nice mixture of humor and action thrown in, and some 80's dance music to follow as well, like Bad, Sussudio etc. And of course, the obligatory Minion segments are present, though most of them are pretty meh, save for the sequence where they break out of prison.

My main gripe however would be how quickly Gru and Dru resolve their differences in the third act, but it's a cartoon so it's more or less forgivable. The final sequence featuring a battle between Gru and Bratt while Lucy rescues the girls is quite entertaining, and is on par with similar final fights in the previous instalments.

All in all, the third Despicable Me film is solid entertainment if you liked the first two films, and a good way to spend 90 minutes. (7/10)  


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