Sunday, July 31, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci

Plot: This is the origin story of Steve Rogers, a frail young man who is deemed unfit to join the military during WW2, but gets his chance when he is chosen to participate in a top secret project that turns him into the super soldier known as Captain America.

Review: After two Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk and Thor, this film is the last piece of the puzzle before The Avengers assemble on screen next summer. That being said, Captain America has the biggest burden of being a success story, especially if Marvel wants The Avengers to work. And thankfully, it delivers.

I am happy to report that Captain America isn't just a filler film so that we'll know who Chris Evans is playing once The Avengers rolls in. No, this is one very entertaining and fun-filled movie, from beginning to end.

Director Joe Johnston, who is inconsistent throughout his career, manages to deliver a well made film that covers almost everything there is to know about the Sentinel of Liberty, from his origins as a weakling with big dreams and a courage to match, to becoming a soldier that would readily risk his life to save as many of his comrades as he can. To that end, Johnston creates a WW2 era that is very authentic, from set design to costume and the overall feel of it. Even the soundtrack, led by a 40s type number The Star Spangled Man, is retro, and it doesn't feel out of place in our time. At the same time, there are developments in technology here which wouldn't make sense had this been a real story, but since it's a comicbook film, it really fits and there isn't anything on display that defies logic. You'd really feel that it was all plausible when you see it.

Chris Evans does a wonderful job as Steve Rogers. I had my doubts about him, because he's the same guy that became the irresponsible Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films. But here, Evans shows a lot of maturity as the unlikely hero that steps up to become the man he was meant to be. I always knew Evans had potential, if you've seen him in Sunshine, you'll know what I mean. Hayley Atwell is also great as Peggy Carter, Rogers' love interest who holds her own in combat. Atwell is not only good looking, she looks like she was born in that era, making her a perfect fit. Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci provide some good and humorous support as Col. Phillips, Rogers' skeptical commander and Dr Erskine, creator of the super soldier program, respectively. Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull, Captain America's nemesis with evil glee, but his German accent isn't very convincing though.

There are also other interesting supporting characters like Dum Dum Dugan, Bucky Barnes (Cap's sidekick) and Dr Arnim Zola, but they do not get much screen time, which is a pity. I have a gut feeling though, that Bucky will reappear in the future, but that's just me.

I also particularly liked how the film begins and ends, the latter part being related to the aforementioned Avengers. It was well written and executed, just the way I hoped it would be. It's safe to say that Captain America is a perfect prelude to what is to come, and if you've been waiting for it, you shouldn't miss this. (4/5)

P.S.: Look out for the customary Stan Lee cameo, and wait till the credits end, you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Year: 2011
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams

Plot: After being raised as a ruthless assassin by her father, a former CIA operative, 16 year old Hanna is sent on a mission to kill her father's former handler Marissa Weigler, before Weigler finds them first.

Review: I hadn't watched any of Joe Wright's films before, I wasn't a fan of his period dramas Pride And Prejudice or Atonement. But the prospect of seeing Saoirse Ronan in an action role was too good to pass up.

The film is part drama, part adventure and part Jason Bourne type action cinema, minus the car chases. Hanna may be a teenage girl cum assassin, but she's still a girl. She has a lot to learn about the world after being kept from it by her father Erik, so much that when she ventures out, she finds it peculiar to see things we take for granted now, like electricity, music or television. Then when the bad guys come calling, she dispatches them with deadly precision.

All this is possible thanks to Saoirse Ronan, who is just amazing as Hanna. Ronan has that exotic quality that reflects off her pretty face, a quality that showcases her innocence and at the same time something dangerous lurking underneath. Best of all, Ronan does her own fighting here, which makes it even more outstanding. She is ably supported by Eric Bana, who plays her father. Bana grounds the story and as the story progresses, you'll realise that he has as much to hide from Hanna as the villain does. The villain is Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett. Initially I hated the idea of Cate playing a villain because the last time she did that, it didn't work. But here, she's much better, displaying no emotion as she goes out of her way tying up all loose ends that might come back to haunt her. Tom Hollander adds some colour to the proceedings as Marissa's flamboyant hired hand.

Joe Wright may not have much experience in action films, but he does quite all right here. The fight scenes are well filmed and the camerawork is pretty good too. There is a scene where Bana arrives at the bus station and walks to the subway where he is surrounded by four agents. The camera follows him from the station to the subway in one long continuous shot. It might sound simple, but it's little things like that that make this film stand out.

However, Hanna does suffer from having to end with some questions unanswered. I don't know if there's a sequel planned, but if there isn't, then you may have to live with some things not fully explained. But this, and a few pacing issues, are just minor flaws.

If you're looking for something different amidst all the summer blockbusters out there, Hanna is a good choice. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Year: 2011
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis, Maggie Smith

Plot: Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of Hogwarts' students and teachers make their final stand against Voldemort and his army.

Review: After 10 years, 7 books, 8 films and over six billion dollars, it's finally time to say goodbye to the boy wizard. My anticipation had been high leading up to this last film, but the result is a bit underwhelming. I'll get to that in a bit.

First, I'll say that a few supporting characters finally get the spotlight they deserve, starting with Neville Longbottom. Matthew Lewis has always played him as a bumbling student, but here he finally gets to show what Neville is really made of, as he becomes a hero more than once in the final fight. I liked how his character turned out overall.

Then there's Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, who had been sidelined in the last few films, finally getting some screentime, and she does wonderfully here. Over the years, McGonagall was usually the nice and fair teacher, but here she gets to become a general, so to speak. And Smith pulls it off splendidly.

But the real star supporting actor would have to be Alan Rickman, who brings Professor Snape full circle in this instalment. Now you'll find out the motivation to his character in the last ten years of Harry Potter, why he did what he did, and the reasons behind his disdain for Potter. Rickman brings the perfect amount of emotion and believability to his role, and you really couldn't ask for a better actor to do this.

As for the leads, I'll say that Daniel Radcliffe is the one who truly owns this film. The entire franchise has always been about him, I know. But it's in this film where it's most obvious. Kudos to Radcliffe for capably leading this film to where it ought to be. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson also shine in their roles, though this time around they take a backseat more than usual to Radcliffe. This being the final film, Ralph Fiennes gets the most screentime than he's ever had as Voldemort, and he is still great as the maniacal Dark Lord.

Now for the underwhelming part. I didn't like the epilogue Yates included in the end. It wasn't convincing to me, especially since his attempt to show the amount of time that had passed was poor. I felt that the film would end better without it. Yates also isn't very good at filming battle scenes, as the battle for Hogwarts was badly executed. We get minor glimpses of people and monsters fighting, then we cut back and forth to scenes of Harry, which distorts the flow overall. A bit more time spent on one-on-one duels would be nice too. I thought that Molly Weasley's duel with Bellatrix Lestrange was shorter than it ought to be, there's a good chance some of it was edited out. That's a shame indeed. And then there's a plot turn concerning Harry that wasn't explained after it happened (I can't mention it without giving it away), which makes it either confusing or silly. I guess if I read the book, I'd understand why, but as an audience member I'd prefer it being explained to me.

But in the end, I had a good time with this final picture. Not being a Potter fan, the emotional effect on me is much lower than people who are fans. But I will miss Harry a bit. My fondest memories of him will be mostly from the first film and not this one though. All in all, it's been an awesome decade. Goodbye Mr Potter. (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

Year: 2011
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich

Plot: When the Autobots learn that the Apollo 11 moon mission was to investigate a crashed Cybertronian spaceship, they race there to retrieve its cargo before the Decepticons do.

Review: Just about everyone remembers how bad Revenge Of the Fallen was, though personally I thought it was cool, save for a handful of very annoying characters and scenes. Michael Bay remembers it too, which is why he sought to make this Transformers instalment better than the last one. To some extent he succeeds.

Firstly, he dispenses with Sam Witwicky's annoying friend as well as the two Autobots Mudflap and Skids. Then he reduces the screentime for Sam's overbearing parents. Then he gets the screenwriter to pen a better plot, which has a couple of neat twists thrown in. All this, added to some really awesome battle scenes, make Dark Of The Moon quite watchable.

But Bay loses one of his best assets: Megan Fox. Admit it, if you're a straight male, you'd want her back, and thanks to Spielberg, we won't get to see her here. In her place is newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who does a decent job as Sam's new girl Carly. Granted, she doesn't get to do much other than run and scream, but her performance here will do just fine.

LaBeouf, Duhamel and Gibson all do their respective roles as good as they did before, though LaBeouf still has to maintain his sometimes super intense, sometimes manic personality, which can be really grating after a while. Patrick Dempsey acquits himself well here as Carly's boss, and plays an important role when the third act kicks in. John Turturro plays Simmons a little more low key this time thankfully, and shares some good rapport with Frances McDormand, who steps into the role of the unsympathetic government officer.

However, Dark Of The Moon still has its fair share of stupid human comedy, and it comes in the form of John Malkovich and Ken Jeong. The former wasn't too annoying, but Jeong.....will someone please tell him to go screw someone else's franchise? Last but not least, Alan Tudyk gets some nice humour in as Simmons' assistant.

Actionwise, this film has plenty. It takes a while before you actually feel the film shifting into a higher gear, and it's when the plot turns in the last third, but it's well worth the wait. The final scene takes place in Chicago, which pretty much looks like a warzone at the end. You've got huge robots going at it, from old ones like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Megatron to new ones like Sentinel Prime and Shockwave. In the last 45 minutes, it's just slam bang action nonstop which, as many critics have said, is easier to discern compared to Revenge Of The Fallen.

I had a great time with Dark Of The Moon, as I have with the last two Transformers films. I certainly hope the rumours of Jason Statham taking over future instalments aren't true, I'd hate that. (4/5)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Attack The Block

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Leeon Jones, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost

Plot: A group of South London teenagers team up with a nurse they just mugged to defend their apartment block from invading aliens.

Review: Amongst all the loud slam bang summer blockbusters coming in your face this year, in slips this low key comedy thriller about aliens invading your backyard.

Attack The Block can be considered low key due to its minimal use of special effects and a cast made up of mostly unknown actors. Thankfully, director and screenwriter Joe Cornish makes it work well. The premise is reminiscent of Aliens but it's actually a lot closer to Guillermo del Toro's Mimic, with plenty of light-hearted moments.

Probably to achieve some realism, Cornish gets these kids to speak a South London accent, from the sounds of it, they really are from there (if I'm wrong about this, please correct me). It's quite fascinating and funny at the same time to listen to it, which can be somewhat confusing sometimes, yet hilarious anyway.

All five of the kids are very believable as the teenage gang of muggers thinking they're really tough, until they face an enemy they're not prepared for. But to their credit, they manage to step up when needed to, and show they're not to be messed with. John Boyega makes a good leader of the gang in Moses, showing his mettle in the face of danger, and is really the bravest of the lot. He shares some good rapport with Jodie Whittaker, who plays Sam, the nurse he and his gang mugged just before the aliens land. Sam is forced to team up with him and his friends when things get out of hand, and makes herself useful in a scene or two. The other kids lend some great support as well, especially Alex Esmail, who plays Pest, the one with the best lines of the lot. Not to be forgotten are Luke Treadaway as a drug addict who was unlucky enough to be in the block, and Nick Frost as the drug dealer he was buying weed from. The two of them also put in some pretty funny moments here.

Because of its low budget, the CGI for the aliens isn't very convincing, they look like black cotton swabs with flourescent teeth. Plus some suspension of disbelief is needed to really enjoy it, as some lapses of logic do occur from time to time. But if you are looking for an alien invasion film that doesn't take itself too seriously, then Attack The Block is for you.

Overall, it's worth checking out if you're looking for something different in the alien genre. (3.5/5)


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