Sunday, March 01, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Year: 2015
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson


Plot: Eggsy, a juvenile delinquent, is recruited by Harry Hart, a friend of his late father, to join the Kingsmen, a top secret spy organisation tasked to protect the world. Their latest threat pits them against an eco-terrorist who has a plan to wipe out the world's population.


Review: Matthew Vaughn's latest film has elements of two of his previous works; the ultra violence of Kick Ass and the cool suave factor of X-Men: First Class. Some people already think that Kingsman is his best work yet, but is it?

Based on the comicbook The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman tells the story of the Kingsmen, a spy organisation which evolved from the old Knights of The Round Table, filled with members sporting codenames of the same knights like Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot and Galahad. Galahad, feeling guilty over Lancelot sacrificing his life to save him, recruits Lancelot's son Eggsy to join them and train to become the next Lancelot, which is no easy task since he's just a juvenile kid with low ambition. At the same time, Richmond Valentine, a billionaire tech geek, comes up with a dastardly plan to save the earth: by wiping out most of the human population. Galahad has to stop him, but he's going to need Eggsy to man up quickly.

I had my doubts before I went into the theatre to see this, I'll admit. I recall not liking Kick Ass very much, and I was simply hoping this wouldn't be a cheap rip off of the 60s version of James Bond. Thankfully, Kingsman is quite fun actually. Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapted the book quite well here, keeping everything moving swiftly and not letting any dull moments slow it down. Speaking of James Bond, this film manages to take the best parts of it and use it without looking like a copycat. Samuel L Jackson's villain for example, has a fear of blood and speaks with a lisp, and has a henchwoman with killer blades on her feet. The gadgets used by the Kingsmen are reminiscent of Bond too, such as umbrellas that double as guns and shields, shoes with hidden blades, exploding lighters and poison pens.

Credit must also be given to Vaughn for balancing the action, humour and some drama quite well. The drama comes from Galahad wanting to make up for indirectly causing his friend's death by doing right with his friend's son. Eggsy is a struggling kid who has potential, but is wasting it by letting his stepfather and other street kids beat him up, and now needs to learn the hard lessons of life from Galahad. The Kingsmen training program also teaches him to care about others and work as a team, something he hasn't learned before.

Acting wise, Colin Firth is surprisingly good as lead action man Galahad aka Harry Hart. He might still seem a bit effeminate in his demeanor at times, but he handles the action sequences splendidly and plays the perfect father figure to Eggsy. As for Eggsy, Taron Egerton shows great promise in the role, making him a likable kid with plenty of charm. Jackson is rather hilarious in a good way as Valentine, but for me, the best character is Mark Strong's Merlin. Merlin is like Bond's Q, and Strong proves once again he can play any character in any film, giving Merlin the right balance of intrigue and intelligence as he guides young Eggsy through the training program.

However, Vaughn messed up a couple of things, the first being the action sequences, as in the way it is filmed. Filming it at top speed with the camera moving around constantly only makes the action look cartoonish, which was most evident in the bar fight at the film's beginning. While the much talked about church fight scene looked better, I felt that slowing it down to regular speed would do wonders for it. Secondly, there are certain things that just didn't seem logical, but I can't go into detail without spoiling them for you. The last joke concerning the Swedish princess was also ridiculous, for me anyway.

Overall, I had fun with Kingsman, despite a few flaws here and there. With a bit of polishing, Vaughn would have a classic on his hands. I think a sequel isn't far behind, so here's hoping it will be better. (8/10)  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Unbroken

Year: 2014
Director: Angelina Jolie
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney


Plot: The true story of Louis Zamperini, a former US Olympic athlete and military bombardier who survived 47 days on a raft in the ocean after a plane crash, only to be captured by the Japanese during WWII.


Review: Being the humanitarian that she is, a story like Unbroken is pretty much expected to be right up Angelina Jolie's alley. In fact, it's no secret that this film is her pet project.

Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, a US bombardier who survived on a raft in the ocean with two other crewmates for 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp, where he was tortured by an officer nicknamed 'The Bird'. The film also explores Louis' troubled childhood, until his brother finally convinced him to be a track runner, which led him to the Olympics in Berlin.

For the most part, Jolie's direction is steady. She sort of divides the film into three sections: Louis' childhood and training for the Olympics, his ordeal at sea and his time at the POW camp, with flashbacks here and there. Each section is well handled and near seamlessly put together to tell his story thoroughly. I thought that his experience at sea was the best part of the three.

The cast themselves put in competent performances overall, with Jack O'Connell and Takamasa Ishihara aka Miyavi standing out the most as Louis and The Bird respectively. O'Connell is capable enough to display the right emotions while telling Louis' harrowing experience at sea and at the camp, with Miyavi doing an equally good job being sadistic and cruel in the shoes of The Bird.

However, despite all that, the film doesn't quite say enough about the man. Jolie and her cast do all they can, but they can't quite tell the audience what makes the man tick. They also can't tell the audience exactly why The Bird loves picking on Louis at the camp. Jolie keeps the man beyond an arm's length from the audience, and thus we're only scratching the surface on the man's true story here. It's a great story for sure, but not very comprehensive on the man behind that story. His real motivations remain hollow to me, at least as far as this film is concerned.

As far as being an incredible true story goes, Unbroken hits most of the right notes, but it needs more meat in that story to really stand out. (7/10)

Jupiter Ascending

Year: 2015
Directors: The Wachowskis
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton


Plot: Jupiter Jones, a janitor from a family of janitors, discovers that she is the reincarnation of an alien matriarch to a powerful alien family that owns Earth, and thus is the heir to the planet. This puts her in the crosshairs of the family's children, who want the planet for themselves to continue making youth serum and live forever. Her only hope of survival is an intergalactic hunter who exceeds his orders.


Review: Based on the trailers alone, this film seemed to have a ton of potential. Everyone loves a space epic, right? With loads of special effects and colorful characters, Jupiter Ascending could have been almost as good as Star Wars or Star Trek. Sadly it does not come close to either.

The Wachowski siblings wrote a pretty good story here, actually. But their execution of the plot is quite poor, and the over reliance of visual effects up to the point where you can't see who's shooting who or what's going on really brought the film down. The plot itself had potential, but the siblings overcomplicated it too.

So let me try to break it down for you as best I can: Jupiter Jones lives a mundane life of cleaning houses with her family. She discovers that some aliens want her dead because she is the reincarnation of an alien matriarch and thus has the power to take away their inheritance i.e. Earth. The aliens seeded the planet thousands of years ago so that they can harvest mankind to make youth serum and live forever. Her only savior is a spliced man wolf who was hired to capture her, but eventually learns how important she is.

If not for the many twists and turns and lack of explanation of motives, the film would have made more sense. Thanks to the poor direction by the siblings, the audience is either left trying to catch up or bored while waiting to see where it ends. The film does pick up by the final third, but by then it's a bit too late.

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis do the best they can with the material given as Caine the hunter and Jupiter respectively, but never really rise above mediocrity. Sean Bean fares a little better as Caine's buddy but doesn't get a heck of a lot to do. Eddie Redmayne hams it up extremely as Balem Abrasax, the eldest child of the alien family after Jupiter and the chief villain. While his performance may seem hilariously over the top at times, it's quite entertaining to watch him go off the rails like that, which is more than I can say for the other actors.

In the end, I can't say I hated this movie, but I can't say I liked it that much either. I'm just disappointed over the wasted potential. It's just barely good, I guess. (6/10)  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Still Alice

Year: 2015
Directors: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth


Plot: Alice Howland, a linguistics professor and mother of three, discovers she has Alzheimer's, and struggles to keep her life together as she and her family deal with it.


Review: Still Alice talks about the kind of thing we would never wish upon anyone, not even our worst enemies. While there have been many characters on screen that suffer from debilitating diseases, there hasn't been one quite as tragic as Alice. We're not talking about Stephen Hawking or anyone who rises above their condition at the end, or offers some glimmer of hope despite the odds. This is someone who is suffering from something awful, and all we can do is watch it unfold.

Julianne Moore plays Alice, a happily married linguistics professor with three grown children who starts forgetting things like words, appointments and names. After seeing a specialist, she discovers she has Alzheimer's despite being too young, and worst of all, not only is there no cure for it, she may have likely passed on the defective gene to her kids. The film focuses on how she and her family deal with her condition, which ranges from getting used to her forgetfulness, to making sacrifices they're not ready to make.

I won't lie, directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland did not make it easy for the audience to digest this. Alice's rapid decline from being a successful career woman to someone who can't find the bathroom in her own house is difficult to watch. On the flipside, it can get tough at times to see the movie drive home its point over and over, but thanks to the cast's fine performance, it doesn't get old often enough to make it nauseating.

Speaking of the cast, Julianne Moore is pretty much the main reason to go see this. She gives Alice the perfect mix of fear, vulnerability, strength and heart to justify her presence in nearly every scene in the film. In fact, she is the centre attraction up to the point that the supporting cast can't quite hold a candle to her, though not for lack of trying. Alec Baldwin is solid as her husband and Kristen Stewart is equally effective as her youngest daughter Lydia, who is portrayed as the black sheep of the family, but ends up empathizing with her the most.

The one weakness of the film is as mentioned; the over focus on Alice. This robs the chance for the other family members to show how they deal with the problem amongst themselves, which would have made the story a bit more interesting.

Overall, Still Alice is a sad and tragic film, but one you shouldn't avoid watching. Recommended. (8/10) 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Imitation Game

Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear


Plot: The true story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who successfully cracked the unbreakable Enigma code used by the Nazis during World War II.


Review: Hot on the heels of Stephen Hawking biography The Theory Of Everything comes The Imitation Game, based on the true story of the man who broke the Nazi's Enigma code that led to the Allies' victory in WWII, Alan Turing. Unlike the former, which focuses on Hawking and his wife Jane in equal measure, this film centres mostly on Turing.

Director Morten Tyldum presents his movie adapted from Andrew Hodges' book about the man, which flips back and forth from his time spent with MI6 trying to build a machine that can crack the Enigma code, to 1951 where he's being investigated by the police on suspicion of indecent behavior, with occasional flashbacks to his younger school days where his homosexual tendencies first surfaced. Tyldum and Graham Moore's adapted screenplay gives an even account of Turing's private and professional life, thus giving viewers a fair and detailed look into the man's genius and awkwardness around people.

The best parts of the film, in my opinion, is his work in building what is basically the world's first computer, in order to crack the ever changing Enigma code. Turing's struggles with his colleagues, superiors as well as the frustration of failure after failure before finally hitting paydirt, is excellently shown here.

However, the film needs a great actor to portray Turing, and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the role. Cumberbatch plays Turing as a difficult man to understand, who values his work above anything else, and seems unable to socially mingle with others, which puts him at odds with his teammates and superiors. But his genius is undeniable, and even as he proves himself to everyone, he still struggles to hide his dark secret from them. Cumberbatch is excellent here, and truly deserves his Oscar nomination. Keira Knightley puts in a strong performance as Joan Clarke, Turing's colleague and one of the very few people who connect with him. Other supporting cast members such as Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and the ever reliable Mark Strong also turn in great work here, but it is Cumberbatch's film, without a doubt.

The only drawback to this film is the scenes taking place in 1951, where police detective Nock (played by Rory Kinnear) is investigating Turing, suspecting him of espionage. I felt that this part of the story wasn't really necessary, even though it is executed mostly well. It's just that Turing's work during the war was far more fascinating and the film slows down a bit whenever it goes away from it.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Imitation Game as both a historical film and an interesting biography of a man finally being recognized for his triumphs after being unjustly punished due to his sexual orientation. Recommended. (9/10)

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