Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Avengers

Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson

Plot: Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Bruce Banner, Clint Barton and Thor, the God of Thunder are brought together by Nick Fury to form The Avengers. Their first mission: stop Loki.

Review: The buildup for this film started at the end of Iron Man, when Nick Fury made his first appearance and mentioned the Avengers Initiative. That was four years ago and now we have all six heroes in one film.

I have to give a huge amount of credit to Joss Whedon for pulling off what seemed impossible. I mean, how do you have so many superheroes in one film and make them all equally important? How do you give them a threat that is as formidable as they are? How do you make this film work from start to finish? Whedon did it, and I can safely say he's one of the best writers working today. It is his sublime writing and excellent direction that steered The Avengers to being a great success.

Whedon, knowing full well that The Avengers is about a group of individuals and not just one person, gives enough attention to all the heroes, thereby making it easy for the audience to root for each of them without feeling that certain ones are dispensable. He also realises that the film can get weighed down by its lengthy runtime and potentially complicated goings on, so he fills the script with sharp witted dialogue to keep the audience in stitches. If you've seen Whedon's Buffy TV series, then you'll know what you're in for. As a result, the film breezes by without any of us feeling the 142 minutes watching it.

As for the action, well you won't be disappointed. In fact, you'll want more when it's done. The level of carnage you'll see rivals the stuff Michael Bay did in the last Transformers flick, and dare I say it, it's more fun in this film. Buildings get levelled, there are explosions all over....basically the second half of the film is one adrenaline pumping ride, and it's so much fun.

So who's great amongst the cast? All of them actually. Maybe Jeremy Renner gets a bit less screentime than I would have hoped, but at least he makes a lasting impression with his role as Hawkeye. As I mentioned, there are plenty of funny lines in the film, mostly from Downey Jr and Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Coulson. I must also give credit to Mark Ruffalo, who is splendid as Bruce Banner. I'm not taking anything away from Edward Norton, in fact I loved Norton's performance, but Ruffalo is good enough to make me forget Norton was Bruce Banner once. Johansson, Evans and Hemsworth prove they're not just easy on the eyes, they're pretty good actors too. And Tom Hiddleston is impressive as Loki. Despite being just one individual, he proves to be a match for The Avengers, physically and verbally.

I literally have no complaints about this film, except having to sit next to two ladies in the cinema who kept laughing at all the jokes. Really, The Avengers is that good. It's worth going back for, and I haven't been this thrilled about a comicbook film since X2. Bottom line is, you need to see this. (5/5)

P.S.: Wait for one last scene as the credits come on. Fans of the comicbook will get a kick out of this.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Year: 2012
Directors: James Mather & Stephen St. Leger
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Peter Stormare, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James

Plot: A CIA operative convicted for a crime he didn't commit is called in to infiltrate MS One, a maximum security prison in space and rescue the President's daughter, who is held captive by the rioting inmates during her humanitarian visit.

Review: The plot pretty much screams Escape From New York, where Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken is sent into New York, now harboured by criminals, to rescue the President. In fact, a lot of things in this film seem quite familiar, from the colorful villains to the wise cracking anti-hero.

Luc Besson, well known for his Europe action flicks, brings in James Mather and Stephen St Leger as directors, and what we get is a load of action and violence, with a nice helping of funny one liners thrown in. And yet, the film falls short of what it could have been.

Because it's an action flick, and a B level one at that (sorry Luc), some logic was obviously missing throughout. Now, I can tolerate it as long as it's entertaining, but a couple of characters end up doing certain things that just wouldn't make sense, and it's blatantly executed just to move the story where it's supposed to go. Some parts of the film are also terribly predictable.

But on the bright side, we have the excellent Guy Pearce as the wise cracking Snow, who goes about his mission with one smarmy line after another. His 'couldn't give a damn' attitude works quite well here. Maggie Grace, who was in Besson's other action film Taken, matches Pearce well as the First Daughter. Unlike her character in Taken, she is a lot more feisty here. For every verbal blow Snow throws at her, she throws it right back in equal measure. Their banter somewhat saves the film from being a total bore.

To be fair, the last third of the film is where things start to pick up, and the plot slowly comes together for the ending. On the whole though, the film could use a bit more substance, and a lot less of Joseph Gilgun, who plays the mentally unstable convict Hydell, who does some pretty annoying things throughout the film. 

Overall, it's a decent action flick, nothing more. (3/5) 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mirror Mirror

Year: 2012
Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane

Plot: The first of two adaptations of the Snow White fairytale coming out this year. This is the less serious one.

Review: I remembered the general reaction after the trailer to Mirror Mirror was first released. Everyone was like: WTF? But after seeing the film, I gotta say the movie is pretty damn good.

Everyone knows the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the evil Queen who hates her, and the handsome Prince that comes along. Director Tarsem Singh updates the tale for the modern generation, and makes it a lot of fun and humorous for the audience. Tarsem, who is well known for his visual flair (The Cell, Immortals), creates the world of Snow White using a lot of green screen obviously, but also lots of bright looking sets. Credit goes out to the set designer, as well as costume designer Eiko Ishioka (who died recently) for her awesome costumes. The outfits for Snow White and the Queen are just lovely.

Scriptwise, the dialogue is corny and funny at the same time, which means the cast hams it up, never taking themselves too seriously. If you walk in expecting a Lord of the Rings style adventure, then you're watching the wrong Snow White film. On the surface, it might look juvenile, but rest assured, the film is extremely entertaining.

Julia Roberts uses her undeniable screen presence to great effect, owning nearly every scene she's in as the evil Queen. Lily Collins on the other hand is perfect as Snow White. She is exactly the way you'd imagine Snow White to be: vulnerable and emotional. It's only in the second half of the film where Snow becomes more confident, yet still retaining her girly attributes. Armie Hammer is also a great choice as the Prince, as he is not only a solid actor, but also looks the part. It also helps that Hammer and Collins have great chemistry together. The always funny Nathan Lane rounds up the cast as the Queen's bumbling assistant. 

I should also mention the seven little men (Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Danny Woodburn, Sebastian Saraceno, Martin Klebba and Ronald Lee Clark) playing the seven dwarves, who are fun to watch. The lion's share of the humor comes from them.

My sole complaint would be Roberts' portrayal of the Queen as snobbish and vain when she ought to be more evil and cruel. Perhaps in an attempt to make this tale more suitable for the kids, the writers chose this path. But it matters little, as Mirror Mirror is a very entertaining piece of work for people of all ages.

P.S.: The Bollywood style ending is brilliant. And yes, that's Lily Collins singing. (3.5/5)  

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Year: 2012
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Liam Neeson

Plot: When a navy fleet taking part in an exercise off the coast of Hawaii are attacked by aliens, brash and impulsive naval officer Lt. Alex Hopper has to man up and lead his crew in a fight for their lives.

Review: Battleship is based on the famous board game of the same name, though I have never played it. In this film, the US Navy take on huge alien vessels who are superior in technology and firepower.

Peter Berg, who directed The Kingdom and The Rundown (two great action films), gets to be Michael Bay this time around. Berg is always executing huge action sequences in his films, except this time he has more toys to play with. As a result, the carnage you see here is massive, not unlike the Transformers films are well known for.

But Berg isn't just a director, he's an actor too. Thus he spends some time developing his characters and deserves credit for that. It's also good to know that the characters in Battleship are more interesting than the ones in Transformers. I know I keep making comparisons to that film, but it's Hasbro, so whatever.

Taylor Kitsch, fresh off playing John Carter, gets the lead role again as the irresponsible Alex Hopper. He starts out as being very hard to like, being the kind of guy that gets himself in trouble pretty easily, but slowly evolves into the hero we all know he will be. Alexander Skarsgard also does well as Alex's wiser older brother Stone. I wish he had more screen time here. Brooklyn Decker is basically eye candy for the male audience, but if you guys don't like blondes, there's always Rihanna.

The film however suffers a bit thanks to its unbelievably corny dialogue. For example, do people still use lines like "we'll all die, but not today" ? Really, they can do better than that. The film also starts a bit sluggishly as Berg introduces us to Alex (rather amusingly actually), and it takes a while before it really gets going. But once the aliens attack, it's action all the way. Berg even pays homage to the board game in one scene, which was cool.

Battleship is almost as fun as Transformers, and would have been just as good if their script was up to par. Nonetheless, it's a lot of fun to sit through. (3.5/5)

P.S.: Stay tuned till the credits finish rolling.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Wrath Of The Titans

Year: 2012
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston

Plot: Ten years after he killed the Kraken, Perseus now leads a quiet life as a fisherman with his son, Helius. However he is forced to go back into battle when his half brother Ares teams up with Hades and captures his father Zeus, in a bid to release the Titans from the underworld.

Review: I was one of the few people who loved the Clash Of The Titans remake. Many people thought it wasn't as good as the original, but I felt it was absolutely fun and great entertainment from start to finish. So I was looking forward to this sequel, but after seeing it, I was a bit underwhelmed.

Director Jonathan Liebesman, who gave us last year's Battle: Los Angeles (another one of my favorites), introduces more monsters in this sequel, in a bid to up the ante for Perseus. For Wrath we have Chimeras (two headed beasts), Cyclopes (giants with one eye), a Minotaur (bull headed beast), Makhais (monsters with two bodies) and the great Kronos, father of the gods. All of them look pretty impressive on screen. Liebesman also piles on the action and destruction, much like he did with Battle: L.A., and at the same time balances it well with some family drama, especially between Zeus and Hades.

However, as good as this is, I felt Clash was a much better film, in terms of look, cinematography and characters. And as good the battle scenes are in Wrath, Clash's battle scenes are far more memorable. Wrath's action sequences are a class below the scorpion fight scenes and the Medusa fight in Clash, and part of the reason this is so is because of the shaky camerawork Liebesman chooses to adopt. He makes up for it in the final battle with Kronos, as Zeus and Hades get in on the action, but it's not enough to make this film rise above its predecessor.

Sam Worthington is back as Perseus again, but the focus is less on him now, and more on his cast members Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, who play the warring brothers Zeus and Hades. To that end, the experienced duo give us some much needed drama. Edgar Ramirez however isn't so great as Ares, as he looks just like another Greek soldier. Rosamund Pike is back to her one expression acting, replacing Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, while Toby Kebbell and Bill Nighy provide some humour as Agenor, son of Poseidon and Haphaestus, the fallen god who built the gods' weapons, respectively. Once again, to my disappointment, Danny Huston gets the short shrift as Poseidon, this time getting more than one line compared to Clash, but still much too brief. What is up with that?

The fact is, Wrath Of The Titans is a fine attempt at creating a fantasy film based on Greek mythology, and it was fun while it lasted. But in comparison to Louis Letterier's Clash Of The Titans, it just falls short of awesome. (3.5/5)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games

Year: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Amandla Stenberg, Donald Sutherland

Plot: A country called Panem (once known as North America), is divided into twelve districts. As punishment for a rebellion many years ago, a young man and woman are selected from each district as 'tributes' to participate in the annual Hunger Games, where they must fight to the death until only one remains. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers as a tribute to save her younger sister from taking part when she is chosen. Together with male tribute Peeta Mellark, she travels to the Capitol and must find a way to survive the arduous tournament.

Review: The Hunger Games has been compared to a few other films. Some say it's like the Japanese flick Battle Royale (which I haven't seen), where students are forced to kill each other or they will all be killed. Others say The Hunger Games is a better version of Twilight, judging by the age group it is targeted at. But at the heart of it, the film focuses more on its lead character Katniss and how she has to survive the odds stacked against her.

To that end, director Gary Ross chooses Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and it's a great move. Lawrence is a fine actress and immediately owns the role. Ross puts the film in Katniss' point of view 90% of the time, thus it is to Lawrence's credit that she is more than able to carry the film from start to finish. Also great in a supporting role is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, who harbours feelings for Katniss. Hutcherson and Lawrence work well together and make their partnership before and during the games very convincing. It's interesting to note that the plot puts Katniss and Peeta in a reversal of typical roles, where she is the alpha male and he is the weaker one.

Other standouts include Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the only winner of the games from District 12, who becomes a mentor to the two. Haymitch is smart and bold, but a drunk at the same time, and this is a role that Harrelson is most suited for, and he pulls it off splendidly. Elizabeth Banks finally finds a role that suits her, as she plays Effie Trinkett, the flamboyant representative that takes the two to the Capitol. I also liked Stanley Tucci who hams it up as Caesar Flickerman, a talk show host who promotes the show's contestants on TV.

Credit goes to Ross who translates successfully the world in Suzanne Collins' book to the big screen. The Hunger Games is basically an extreme version of a reality show, where the audience cheers for blood and death. The way the tributes are made over and presented to the audience is truly interesting, and at the same time ironic, since most of them will soon be killed in violent fashion. Since we crave for reality shows these days, the message this film brings is relevant indeed.

However, the film starts to drag the moment the games begin. The first few kills are handled swiftly and jarringly, with shaky camerawork and absolutely no focus on who kills who. I understand that the shaky cam is meant to amplify Katniss' point of view, but it doesn't help when the audience can't see much of the action. Speaking of which, considering the age group this film is aiming for, the action is mostly subdued and there is almost no blood visible, which is frustrating since this is a fight to the death, isn't it? The lack of action leads to a lack of urgency, which makes the games rather dull, at least till the climax.

But overall, thanks to the great buildup and character development, The Hunger Games manages to be entertaining more often than not. A sequel is being planned and I'm hoping there's more to look forward to next time around. (3.5/5)


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