Thursday, June 30, 2011

Super 8

Year: 2011
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich

Plot: In 1979, in the small fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, a group of teenage friends attempting to make a zombie film witness a horrifying train crash. A deadly creature escapes from one of the cars and sets the kids on an adventure they'll never forget.

Review: Honestly, I thought I wasn't going to like Super 8 as much as I thought before going in to the cinema, but I was proven wrong. Super 8 is super, and a fine way to spend time at the movies.

J.J. Abrams teams up with Steven Spielberg to make a movie that is reminiscent of previous 80s kids adventures like The Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T. If you must know, this was the reason I thought I wouldn't like this film, because I felt that those aforementioned films were a bit too old fashioned. I certainly thought I had outgrown them.

But in the end, Super 8 truly delivers. With a handful of fine young actors, a good plot and a bit of CGI, Abrams weaves his magic and gives us a film we can connect with and have fun at the same time. The most memorable moment had to be the train crash itself, which is astounding and mind blowing to see. This, along with other heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking moments make Super 8 very enjoyable.

Out of the kid actors, two of them stand out: Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, who are the main protagonists of the story. Courtney and Fanning play Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard respectively, two friends who share a good deal of admiration for one another, but are restrained by their respective fathers, who in contrast hate each other due to Joe's mother's death, an incident Joe's father blames Alice's father for causing. Courtney and Fanning successfully reel the audience in with their superb performances, making us believe and even feel the pain they experience, and the occasional funny moments they encounter as well. I think these two kids will be great as their acting career progresses.

Not to be outdone are Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as Joe and Alice's fathers respectively, Chandler as the town's deputy sheriff who is trapped between trying and failing to understand his son, and dealing with the aftermath of the crash; Eldard as the alcoholic who is emotionally abusive to his daughter. Like Kung Fu Panda 2, this is yet another film that could be a Father's Day entry.

But there's more to Super 8 than just drama. A creature comes forth from the train, and its needs are simple, but it will do whatever it takes to achieve them. Its connection to the military that shows up to contain the crash eventually presents itself, and the battle that ensues is well played out. This is where elements of Cloverfield, Abrams' well known produced film start to show, and Abrams is wise to not show us the creature's appearance till the final third of the film.

Summing it up, I had tons of fun with Super 8, as we see it from the point of view of a bunch of kids who are aspiring filmmakers witnessing a very real adventure unfold before them. Stay tuned during the closing credits to see their finished zombie film, which kinda reminds us why we love the movies so much. (4/5)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Green Lantern

Year: 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins

Plot: Based on the DC comicbook, Green Lantern focuses on Hal Jordan, a rebellious test pilot who is bequeathed a power ring by a dying alien and subsequently recruited into an intergalactic peacekeeping force called the Green Lantern Corps. His first test is protecting earth from Parallax, an alien entity that feeds on fear and has infected a scientist, Hector Hammond, giving him telekinetic powers.

Review: So I read a lot of reviews on this film and most of them were less than stellar. That added to the corny trailer certainly didn't help boost my confidence going in to the cinema for this. But I've read the books, so I had to know for myself if this movie hit the mark or not.

As it turns out, Green Lantern does not suck, not by a long shot. Granted, it's no Dark Knight, but it is rather entertaining. Since this premise involves extraterrestrial adventures, a Star Wars type universe has to be presented, and Martin Campbell does a great job showing it. A lot of CGI was needed to present the Lanterns' training planet Oa as well as their creators, the Guardians of the universe, and other aliens in different shapes and sizes as Lanterns. I'm glad that it all looked very convincing on screen. Also impressive is the CGI used to create the Green Lantern's ring powers, where anything they conjure from their imagination is created by the ring. For GL fans, watching all this is certainly a treat.

Like many heroes, they must endure some self doubt before embracing their destiny, and for this, Ryan Reynolds pulls it off well as Hal Jordan. Hal is basically an irresponsible guy still scarred from a traumatic event in his past, now having a great responsibility thrust upon him, and must overcome his fear to accept it. Reynolds is the right guy indeed for the role, I guess you can say that he was born to play a costumed hero. Blake Lively is a good match for him as Carol Ferris, Hal's love interest. They share great chemistry together, as evidenced in their many hilarious and sometimes poignant conversations.

Peter Sarsgaard is wonderful as Hector Hammond, whose daddy issues become a catalyst for his villainous actions. The role of Hal's mentor Sinestro falls to Mark Strong, and I felt he was perfect to a tee. Sinestro plays a huge role in the history of Hal Jordan, and not only does Strong look the part, he is very much like him in essence. Unfortunately he doesn't get much screentime here, but I do hope he gets more if they make a sequel.

As entertaining as Green Lantern is, the film still suffers from some corniness, like in the scenes you've caught from the trailer, which they could have left out in the final cut. The Lantern's oath especially was the most corny, I wish they didn't include it despite the fact that it is part and parcel of the character. And even when the film only ran for 105 minutes, it actually felt longer than that due to its slow middle third portion. Thankfully the action picks up in the final third of the film.

That being said, why did so many people dislike it? Perhaps Green Lantern is a hard sell compared to his more illustrious brethren like Batman and Superman, and his story a tad more complicated. But I think you ought to give this film a try, as it is quite fun for a summer flick.

Note: Stay during the closing credits for one last scene. GL fans will love it the most, as it sets the tone for the sequel, if it happens. (3.5/5)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Year: 2011
Director: Jennifer Yuh-Nelson
Voice cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Michelle Yeoh, James Hong

Plot: Shen, an evil peacock plans to conquer China with a secret weapon that can destroy kung fu. Po and the Furious Five set out to stop him. However, the tubby panda soon discovers that the stakes are higher for him, as Shen is connected to his forgotten past.

Review: Kung Fu Panda was such a huge success that a sequel was inevitable. The story of Po the Panda and his misadventures in the world of kung fu was both thrilling and hilarious, and in my opinion, is better than Dreamworks' other animated franchise about a cranky ogre.

Director Jennifer Yuh and company carve up a story that is two parts dramatic, two parts action and one part comedy. The focus is on Po's past, as to how he was adopted by his father Mr Ping the goose, and his life before that, and how he must come to terms with it. The villain Shen also gets some spotlight as we see how he's connected to Po, and the motivation behind his plans. To sum it up, the plot is about family, particularly fathers, and on a Father's Day weekend like now, I guess I watched this at the perfect time.

The action comes hard and fast, and it's cool to see Po fight more capably this time, now that he's learned kung fu, though he's still clumsy as ever and not a match for Tigress. It's also cool to see the Furious Five get some screentime to execute plenty of the action sequences here, though Po still becomes the hero in the end of course. All this comes at the expense of Master Shifu getting less time, but that's okay with me. Shen in particular is an interesting villain, as his peacock form allows him to be graceful and deadly simultaneously, using his feathers, claws and a spear as weapons. Gary Oldman voices him well, but I preferred Ian McShane's Tai Lung from the previous film a bit more.

The downside here is the laughs, which is considerably less than the first film. Yuh chooses to spend more time dispensing drama over humour, and though it gives the film more heart, it also makes it a tad more serious. Don't get me wrong, Po is still funny, I just wished there was more comedy to be enjoyed here. I do hope that will be rectified in the next Kung Fu Panda flick, as there is a huge hint of another sequel in this film's ending.

Verdict: A worthy addition to what promises to be a successful film franchise. (3.5/5)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Year: 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Kevin Bacon

Plot: An origin story that focuses on the pasts of Professor X and Magneto, a time when they were just Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. They join forces to stop Sebastian Shaw, another mutant who plans on starting World War III and then dominate the planet after the fallout.

Review: Let me get a few things out of the way first. I've been a fan of the X-Men for a very long time. I've read the comicbooks for more than half my life, so you can imagine my excitement the first time I saw the first trailer to X-Men back in 2000. It gave me goosebumps just seeing Magneto lift the police cars off the ground and Wolverine going 'SNIKT!' at the end of it.

Needless to say, the film was awesome, and its sequel X2, to this day, remains my ultimate pick for best comicbook adaptation ever. No amount of Dark Knight, Iron Man or Spider-Man films can change that. And then, Brett Ratner went and ruined X3. Wolverine was okay, but critics still hated it.

So they needed X-Men: First Class to work. They needed it to save the franchise. Initial buzz about the film was mixed, it was the good choice of director vs bad marketing strategies and poor character choices. But in the end, I'm happy to report that First Class is indeed a first class film.

Matthew Vaughn, who directed Kick Ass, succeeds in bringing back what audiences loved about the X films: humour, drama, action and perfect acting to go with it. Bryan Singer, who co-wrote and produced this film, also deserves some credit in making First Class an exciting and interesting watch from beginning to end. Vaughn, Singer and company set Charles and Erik's friendship during the 60s, specifically during the Cuban missile crisis, which is truly a smart move. The friendship between the two men was well written and fleshed out, and the two actors playing them did a marvelous job in complimenting each other in their scenes.

Initially I had my doubts about James McAvoy becoming Charles Xavier, but he put those doubts to rest. McAvoy plays Charles as a ladies man who uses his telepathy as an instrument to pick up women, then later as a way to communicate with others who doubt him and also in dangerous situations. By the end, you can believe he has become the man that Patrick Stewart embodies in the previous films. Michael Fassbender is a gem of his own too, as he convincingly presents Erik Lensherr's torn emotions, between doing what's right and doing what his heart wants. Fassbender's Erik is fearless, firm and intelligent, and not the bad man that everyone fears he will become someday. But of course, this is a far more innocent time, before Ian McKellen made Magneto an unflinching villain, and Fassbender has us rooting for him, at least until the moment he and Charles no longer see eye to eye. Fassbender is the man to watch for the future.

Kevin Bacon is deliciously evil as Sebastian Shaw, and an impressive choice as the antagonist here, I must say. January Jones is suitably icy as Shaw's associate Emma Frost, though Jones doesn't get a lot to do here other than look sexy. Jennifer Lawrence holds her own as the young Mystique and Nicholas Hoult has the interesting role as Hank McCoy aka Beast. These two characters explore the challenges of a mutant wanting to look normal, and the end result is convincing enough. Watch out for a couple of cameos that are quite hilarious too (you'll know what I mean when you see it).

If First Class has any flaws, its the continuity. There are a few things here that do not follow the storyline from the original trilogy, and that bugs me a bit. Some characters are added here just because of the filmmakers' wish to present new powers that hadn't been done before, which is kinda like how X3 and Wolverine were made, thereby ignoring comicbook history. But still, First Class is a lot of fun. It's still not as good as X2, but I sure wouldn't mind seeing First Class a few more times.

There's word that X4 may be over the horizon. With quality instalments like X-Men: First Class in the bag, I hope it turns out just as good. (4/5)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Year: 2011
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush

Plot: Captain Jack Sparrow is back. This time he is forced by his former lover Angelica to join her father Blackbeard on a quest for the Fountain of Youth, while being pursued by Jack's former nemesis Barbossa, who has an axe to grind with Blackbeard.

Review: I had read numerous reviews before going into this film, most of them saying that the Pirates series is tiresome and Jack Sparrow is done and boring to watch. I'll admit that I didn't like the idea of them making a fourth film after the super bloated At World's End, thinking that the ship has sailed and we ought to just quit while we're ahead.

But thankfully, On Stranger Tides turned out to be better than I thought. We have Jack, we have Barbossa, we have a great villain in Ian McShane and some nice new additions to the series, like zombie crewmen, black magic, and best of all: mermaids.

Director Rob Marshall takes over from Gore Verbinski and pretty much follows the same formula: put Jack in a sticky situation and watch him lie and dance and fight his way out of it. Scriptwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio improve on their script this time around by not making it too complicated and let the characters drive the story forward, thereby making the experience less of a headache for the audience.

Depp is once again in his element as the charming Jack Sparrow, looking like he hasn't missed a beat, while Geoffrey Rush is still as sinister as ever in the role of Barbossa. Depp and Rush still have their camaraderie from the previous films intact, which is always good. Penelope Cruz makes a good foil for Jack as Angelica, sharing some nice chemistry with Depp and manages to hold her own. McShane as always is perfect as the villain Blackbeard, looking like he can do this role in his sleep. Also cool to see is the returning Kevin R. McNally as Jack's first mate, Gibbs.

However, this film still suffers from being a tad too long, like the previous instalments. Plus, the subplot featuring a young clergyman on Blackbeard's ship falling in love with one of the mermaids wasn't really necessary. But overall I loved this film, not just because of Jack, but also because of Marshall's successful retention of the Pirates films' vibe and feel. The mermaids were pretty cool to watch, them being gorgeous and deadly simultaneously. Hans Zimmer's familiar theme is still fun to listen to as the closing credits start running. What can I say, I had a blast.

I do think that Curse Of The Black Pearl is still more fun, but On Stranger Tides is very much a worthy addition to the franchise. (4/5)

P.S: Stay till the end credits finish rolling for one last scene.


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