Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League

Year: 2017
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams


Plot: Steppenwolf, an ancient being bent on conquest, seeks the three powerful Mother Boxes, which when combined, will enable him to enslave the planet. With Superman gone, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting superpowered people to their ranks; the king of Atlantis, a cyborg, and the fastest man alive.


Review: There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Justice League to succeed. After all, it is supposed to be as big a deal as The Avengers, bringing together the greatest heroes of the DC universe in one film. While the DCEU has made a box office killing so far, it has not been a darling of the critics, save for Wonder Woman's recent solo adventure. While Justice League is nowhere near the train wreck Suicide Squad turned out to be, it isn't exactly the epic it could have been.

It starts off well enough; a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows by Norwegian singer Sigrid as the opening credits roll, showing the aftermath of Superman's death. This is probably my favorite part of the whole film, which says a lot about what the rest of the film looks like. Bringing Joss Whedon onboard to finish Zack Snyder's work after he departed due to personal matters may have lightened the previously sombre tone felt in Batman Vs Superman, but personally I didn't care either way. Justice League has a few cool moments, such as Diana coming to the aid of a handful of hostages about to be blown up by a doomsday cult, a chase sequence between the Amazons and Steppenwolf, and a resurrected Superman (yes he returns, don't pretend you didn't know that was going to happen, it's no spoiler) getting into a mini fight with the League. The banter between the League members work for the most part, and Ezra Miller's Flash is actually quite funny, even more so than Tom Holland's Spider-Man or nearly every character in Thor: Ragnarok.

But Justice League falls a bit short on being the superhero epic it could have been. For starters, Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash deserve more time for their characters to develop. Cyborg honestly was the least affected by the lack of time, as his struggle to accept his new form after being resurrected by his father feels genuine. Flash is presented here as an underachiever, living as a petty thief while lamenting his father's wrongful incarceration for murder. I felt there was a lot more about him that Snyder / Whedon could have explored. And Aquaman is just a guy with a rock star attitude spending time saving people from shipwrecks and helping fishing villages, who has his own parental issues. Again, his story is not fully fleshed out. 

The action sequences are mostly clunky and filled to the brim with CGI and green screen effects. While using CGI is pretty common in most superhero movies, it felt quite overused here, and it doesn't help that some of it looked weak, none more so than Steppenwolf. His look here is only a couple of notches above the bad CGI in The Scorpion King. Speaking of Steppenwolf, he's pretty much one of the weakest villains I've ever seen in a superhero movie. Unlike the charismatic Loki or the brilliant Joker, Steppenwolf feels like a prelude to a greater villain that will come later.

Acting wise, the cast are mostly spot on. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot both bring a good amount of gravitas to their respective roles as Batman and Wonder Woman. Ezra Miller is perfect as the comedic Flash, though I wish he was given more to do, including the action sequences. Jason Momoa gives Aquaman plenty of attitude while Ray Fisher brings a subtle performance as Cyborg. Jeremy Irons has much less to do here as Alfred, and J.K Simmons has even less time than Irons playing Commissioner Gordon, sporting a horrible toupee while he's at it. Amy Adams is always welcome as the returning Lois Lane, while Henry Cavill does what he can as Superman, only appearing in the second half of the film. In fact, once he shows up, the rest of the League nearly gets upstaged by him.

In the end, Justice League is entertaining and coherent enough to not be bad, but considering that this should be the DCEU's crown jewel, it should have an epic feel and more "wow that's cool" moments. It's a good movie, but not a great one. 

P.S. Stay till the credits finish for two post credit sequences. (7/10)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Only The Brave

Year: 2017
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale


Plot: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters who battle wildfires across the country, until tragedy befell them in Yarnell.


Review: Most true stories brought to the big screen would focus on a certain event at a specific time, but Only The Brave takes a different route by taking an in depth look at the men who make up the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots, their professional and personal trials, right up to the tragedy at Yarnell Hill.

The first half of the film focuses on team superintendent Eric Marsh trying to get his team certified by the government, as at the beginning, they were largely considered a trainee B team sent in to clean up the mess instead of being at the front line. The second half shows the team doing what they do best after receiving certification, until the fateful Yarnell incident. In between, we witness the team members' personal problems, ranging from unhappy spouses to fatherhood and women trouble etc.

Director Joseph Kosinski, who had directed sci-fi thriller Oblivion previously, paces the film quite well, never letting it stall too long while making sure the dramatic elements are played out perfectly. I am impressed with how Kosinski directs the firefighting sequences as they look very authentic. Director of photography Claudio Miranda deserves praise for capturing the wide skyline and billowing smoke beautifully; there's one scene in the film where he shoots the Hotshots walking in between burnt trees from a bird's eye view, which looks simply marvelous.

The acting is superb all across the board. While James Badge Dale (a popular choice for playing working class heroes) and Taylor Kitsch provide solid support as team captain Steed and senior member Mackenzie respectively, the film mostly belongs to Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. Brolin superbly plays Eric Marsh as a strict but fair man, who has dedicated his life to his job, which puts a strain on his marriage. In that regard, Jennifer Connelly matches Brolin as his wife Amanda, and their relationship comes off feeling very genuine. Teller plays McDonough, a former junkie rebuilding his life by signing up as a firefighter in order to provide for his newborn daughter. He's almost unrecognizable with blond hair, but pulls off the role effectively.

The film does feel less exciting when there's no fire to run towards, and Kitsch's women problems, along with a handful of other juvenile level humor feels more of a distraction than being authentic, but overall it isn't enough to ruin the whole experience. As a biography on courageous firefighters, Only The Brave scores mostly high marks, and ought to be checked out. (7.5/10) 

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Jailbreak

Year: 2017
Director: Jimmy Henderson
Cast: Jean-Paul Ly, Dara Our, Tharoth Sam, Celine Tran, Savin Phillip, Dara Phang


Plot: Three cops and a French-Cambodian exchange cop are assigned to escort a convicted criminal named Playboy to prison. However, they end up getting trapped in the prison when a riot breaks out, set in motion by the leader of the Butterfly gang, who wants Playboy dead before he can expose them.


Review: One look at the film's trailer and it's obvious that Jailbreak was inspired by Asian actioners like The Raid and Ong Bak. While the film isn't quite as good as those films, it still manages to deliver some excitement throughout its 92 minute runtime.

The premise is simple enough; four cops have to protect a white collar criminal from being killed by dozens of prisoners who have been let loose by another prisoner hired by Madame Butterfly, seeking to silence her former associate before he talks. Thus begins the difficult ordeal of the cops who have to fight for their lives against impossible odds. 

I must note that unlike The Raid and Ong Bak, Jailbreak is actually quite light hearted in its approach. Director Jimmy Henderson makes several attempts to ellicit laughter from his audience, mostly by having the criminal Playboy run away in fear and do all sorts of things to stay alive. There's also a Hannibal Lecter-like convict who breaks out and starts chewing everyone he gets his hands on. Literally. It's clearly an attempt at comedy, though not all of them work that well.

As for the action, there are some really well choreographed scraps between the four cops and the prisoners, though the ones that really stand out are the one on one fights, the best one being Tharoth Sam versus Celine Tran. Sam nearly steals the show with her skills which are reminiscent of Tony Jaa in this fight alone. Lead star Jean-Paul Ly also impresses every time he is in a fight with anyone. The acting however is a letdown, as the quality ranges from wooden to just average.

Henderson's direction is also rather uneven as the film loses momentum in the second half, whenever he tries to serve the plot and stop the action. In fact, Henderson should be raising the tension and intensity towards the end, but fails to do so properly, resulting in a rather unsatisfactory ending. 

All in all, while Jailbreak doesn't have the intensity of The Raid, nor the inventiveness of Ong Bak, it still is a slightly more than decent attempt at delivering an action vehicle from South East Asia. Personally I'd like to see more from these guys in the future. (6.5/10)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch


Plot: Hela, the Goddess of Death, Odin's first born and Thor's sister, has returned to take over Asgard. Thor and Loki try to stop her, but they fail and end up on a distant planet called Sakaar, where the former becomes a prisoner of the Grandmaster and forced to fight in his arena against his champion, the incredible Hulk.


Review: After a dozen or so movies that have raked in big bucks, Marvel Studios must feel pretty confident. They probably also got tired of churning out film after film that some critics have deemed too indistinguishable from one another. So what does director Taika Waititi and his trio of writers do? They turn Thor into a comedy.

But wait. Isn't the MCU supposed to be light-hearted enough, compared to the dark tones of the DCEU and the convoluted mess of FOX's mutants? Apparently Waititi and company don't think so, and as a result, Thor: Ragnarok has become a "one joke per minute" film. I don't think there was a time in the movie where a joke wasn't thrown for more than 2 minutes. It begins just as soon as we see Thor hanging from chains in front of his captor Surtur, as he spews the kind of comedic lines we'd expect from someone like Tony Stark. 

But it doesn't end there, as we are treated to more and more comedy. Loki throws an outrageous play about his faked death (featuring cameos that didn't elevate the scene whatsoever). Doctor Strange makes an appearance and shows how much he's learned about jumping from one place to the next. Karl Urban's Skurge jokes about naming his guns (facepalm moment). And it goes on and on. And this is before we even get to Thor and Loki ending up on Sakaar where more jokes await. Some of which, comes from a talking Hulk, while the rest mostly from a very unfunny Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster.

Now, making jokes is not really a bad thing. But it most certainly is when it's either not funny or poorly timed. Do these filmmakers not realize that we can't take the movie seriously (because we have to at some point, the universe is at stake, isn't it?) if they keep making fun of everything? Since when does Thor have a humongous need to be funny? It's not too bad when Loki's with him, then the banter between them balances it out somehow. But all the same, it would have gone down easier if it was worth laughing at.

I also have an issue with Waititi and company treating a handful of supporting characters poorly, by killing them off without a second thought. I won't spoil it, but the way it was handled left a bad taste in my mouth. Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie was also badly written, and Thompson's arrogant performance doesn't endear her character well either. Valkyrie is supposed to be an indifferent character who slowly ends up giving a damn again here, but the whole process wasn't convincing.

Only Idris Elba's Heimdall and Anthony Hopkins' Odin appear to be unaffected by the bad script, thankfully so. Mark Ruffalo's Banner is at least hilarious when he tries to be, but the rest of the cast are let down by a script that does not allow them to be the same heroes we loved before Ragnarok. As for Cate Blanchett, she does what she can with her part, but isn't given more time to shine, thanks to the script's need to pander to a bathrobe wearing Goldblum, who has no real value to the overall story.

So what's left that's good? The Thor vs Hulk scrap was well done, one of the highlights of the film. Most of the action sequences were good, save for the last one where too much is happening on screen and thus too difficult to properly enjoy. Some of the exchanges between Thor and Loki were good, especially when they were being serious. Their final moments with their father was also well executed.

I'll be honest though. The MCU can't really make a horrible film (like the Fantastic Four remake for instance), but they came very close here. Thor: Ragnarok isn't bad, just terribly underwhelming. At this point, they should be firing on all cylinders and deliver a better film than the last before Infinity War gets here. I really expected more.

P.S.: Stay for the first credit scene. You don't need to see the second one, trust me. (6/10) 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dohmnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig


Plot: A couple's tranquil home is disturbed by sudden unexpected guests.


Review: Much has been said about Mother! recently. Some call it brilliant, some call it garbage. After seeing it, I can say this: it's not meant for everyone.

Writer and director Darren Aronofsky's new film is an allegory of sorts, one that I can't say too much about, lest it spoils the true plot of the film. The closest thing to an idea of what it's about that I can mention is that it's a message from Aronofsky about the way the world is. To say anything more would be wrong to those of you who have yet to see it.

But let's cut to the all important question: is it good? Well, yes and no. If one were to view it the way Aronofsky does, then yes it would be. But movies are so much more than just seeing through the director's eyes and feeling it through your bones. It's about being entertained and experiencing emotions like excitement and sadness. If that's what you're looking for, you're going to be somewhat disappointed, for Mother! is not that kind of film.

The impeccable cast all deliver sterling performances, whether their appearances are minor or major. Javier Bardem still commands the screen well, and Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dohmnall Gleeson all contribute in their own way. Pfeiffer in particular comes off suitably sinister for the most part. But Mother! truly belongs to its main star Jennifer Lawrence. As much as I abhor Lawrence's role choices, she delivers a tour de force performance here. Her job is basically to make the audience feel the same way she does, and she accomplishes that perfectly. 

I'm aware I'm not giving you much to go on with this review, but it's better that way. It's a divisive film, and one that is difficult to comprehend fully even when you think you get the idea. You'll either love it or hate it, or like me, you'll find it fascinating but confusing at the same time.

If you're the curious type, then by all means, go check this out. If you want to be entertained, stay away from this. (7/10)

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