Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman

Plot: Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, Gotham City is almost crime free under the watch of Commissioner Gordon, and Bruce Wayne has retired the cape and suit. However, when the terrorist known as Bane strikes and brings Gotham to its knees, Batman makes his return to save it. But can he?

Review: I was one of the few who thought that The Dark Knight should not have ended the way it did, and that it deserved a follow up to give the character a proper closure. To that end, Christopher Nolan, his brother Jonathan and David S Goyer gives us The Dark Knight Rises. The trailers didn't exactly impress me when I first saw them, but after seeing the finished film, I have to say I'm very impressed.

Nolan has outdone himself again, giving us an epic conclusion to Bruce Wayne's journey from orphan billionaire to vigilante to misunderstood hero, and now to a broken man who has to rediscover his purpose. In this film, Bruce has become a recluse, sleeping in his room all day until Selina Kyle, a cat burglar shows up and steals from him. He learns that she has connections to someone from his company, who in turn is connected to Bane, a masked man with grand plans on destroying Gotham City.

Bane here is closer to the comicbooks than the one in Batman & Robin. He isn't just some over-muscled brute, but a brutal and intelligent villain. Bane successfully beats Batman and breaks him in every way, then turns Gotham upside down. This is where Bruce has to heal himself and fight back to save his city.

It's a story that all Batman fans can be proud of, since it involves watching their hero rise up after being convincingly defeated, a concept that most people can relate to. But Nolan has improved on a lot of other things here. His filming of the fight scenes are better now, we can at least see every move made unlike Batman Begins, where it was mostly blurry. And unlike The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent and The Joker take up more screen time than our hero, TDKR focuses more on Bruce Wayne this time, which is the right way to go. Even the plot is clearer than TDK.

The entire cast do extremely well here, every one of them fulfilling their roles perfectly. Bale is always awesome as Bruce/Batman, with Tom Hardy doing a good job being intimidating as Bane. Old hands Caine, Oldman and Freeman also do well in their roles as Alfred, Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively. I loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt as policeman John Blake, one of the few who hasn't lost hope in Batman. Joseph has certainly come into his own and it shows here. Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway play Bruce's romantic interests here, the former as Miranda Tate, someone with an interest in Wayne Enterprises and the latter as Selina Kyle. Both are great, though I dislike Anne's Catwoman costume.

The first half is great, but I simply love how everything comes together in the second half of the film, where every character's role is defined and played out, with the exception of Alfred, who disappears somehow. This bugs me a bit, along with a few other scenes that could have turned out better.

In conclusion, I have to say that it's a perfect way to end a great trilogy. TDKR may be 164 minutes long, but I sure didn't feel the time go by. It's awesome and everyone should go see it. Really. (4.5/5)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Year: 2012
Directors: Steve Martino & Mike Thurmeier
Voice cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Wanda Sykes, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez

Plot: Scrat the squirrel inadvertently causes the shifting of the continents, resulting in Manny, Diego, Sid and Sid's granny being separated from the rest of the animals. The group try to find their way back, but standing in their way are a group of pirates, led by the ferocious giant gorilla Captain Gutt.

Review: The first Ice Age came out in 2002. It's hard to believe this franchise has lasted a decade, as it felt like just yesterday when I first saw Manny, Diego and Sid go on an adventure to return a human baby to his father. Oh, and that pesky squirrel too.

But ever since they introduced Ellie and the possums to the herd, the quality went down somewhat. Thankfully, this instalment is actually quite fun, even though those three are still present. Maybe it's because this time, the original three are back together on their own, with only Sid's troublesome granny for company.

The story, which focuses on finding your way back home and reconciliation, hits mostly all the right notes. The filmmakers drive home the point without resorting to sentimental melodrama and instead focuses on the comedy, which Sid and his granny have a lot to provide. Even Ellie and Manny's daughter Peaches are more than tolerable here, and the possums even have a funny moment on screen.

For villains, we have the animal pirates, led by Captain Gutt who is voiced by Game Of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, with Jennifer Lopez (sigh) as female saber cat Shira. Gutt and his crew are certainly better villains than Diego's pack in the first film, providing some quick and cool action sequences battling the herd here. Then there are a group of chipmunk like animals who are only capable of communicating with Sid, with a hilarious tribute to a famous Oscar winning movie (I'll let you see it for yourself).

The downsides for this film do exist though. We have a couple of song and dance routines which felt out of place, since they never needed them before. The subplot involving Peaches' teenage problems are quite unnecessary too, though they do not take up too much time here.

Overall, it's a great instalment to the franchise. If they choose to end it here, it's not a bad idea as it feels like it has come to an end. Besides, what else is Scrat gonna do next? (3.5/5)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Silent House

Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens

Plot: A girl plays cat and mouse with an intruder while helping her father and uncle repair their abandoned lake house.

Review: Silent House is a remake of the Spanish film La Casa Muda, and it boasts being a film that runs on a long continuous take from start to finish. In reality, there were about 13 separate shots carefully edited to form that take.

Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) stars as Sarah, who is helping her father and uncle repair their old lake house, which is all boarded up. While packing things in the dark, Sarah hears noises and suspects someone else is in the house with them. Before long, she has to deal with an unknown assailant stalking her in the dark, with no way to escape.

Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau do a pretty good job of raising the tension as the film plods along. They successfully do so by putting us in Sarah's shoes as the camera follows her everywhere in the dark, flipping back and forth between occasional noises like footsteps and creaking doors, and just plain silence. It makes you edgy, waiting for the next surprise to come from any direction you haven't thought of yet. Using the darkness as a scare tactic is reminiscent of Quarantine, except Silent House is far quieter.

Elizabeth Olsen deserves plenty of credit for carrying the film almost entirely by herself. Her portrayal of fear and terror is very believable. Needless to say, she is a better actress than her more famous twin siblings.

But this film isn't just a straightforward thriller, as a third act surprise almost turns the entire film on its head. Just when you think you've figured it out, you haven't.

The film isn't without flaws though. There are a few moments when you can sense a lack of urgency sneaking in. The ending itself is a tad ambiguous as well.

Silent House is a solid thriller capable of scaring anyone who's ever been afraid of the dark, and maybe even those who aren't. On the whole, it's quite watchable. (3.5/5)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Year: 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field

Plot: The supposed untold story of how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man.

Review: For the longest time, I thought Spider-Man didn't need a reboot. After seeing this, I realized that a reboot isn't such a bad idea after all.

Sam Raimi's original trilogy was entertaining, but there was always something about them that didn't sit well with me. Raimi had a tendency to go overboard with certain things. It's kinda like his style to do so. It wasn't just the Spider-Man films, it was also obvious in his other films (Drag Me To Hell, I'm looking at you).

To his credit, Marc Webb has successfully struck a balance of comedy, humour and action in his version. The story isn't that much different here, as you'll see plenty of familiar things Raimi had already covered (Peter getting beat up at school, Uncle Ben's death, Peter exploring his powers across the city skyline etc). But what's awesome is that Webb has improved on these things, making them count emotionally and as a result, the audience is able to truly believe in and root for Peter Parker.

Andrew Garfield makes good on his potential as one of the most promising young actors today, giving Peter Parker the right amount of awkwardness, vulnerability and courage. He's definitely better in this role than Tobey Maguire ever was. Emma Stone shares good chemistry with Garfield in the role of Gwen Stacy, Peter's love interest. Like Garfield, Stone is an improvement over Kirsten Dunst as she doesn't scream all the time. Rhys Ifans' portrayal of Dr Curt Connors aka The Lizard is reminiscent of past Spidey villains, in that he's a sympathetic bad guy, more flawed than being truly evil. Ifans is great in the role, by the way.

Martin Sheen and Sally Field make a great Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Sheen makes good on his short appearance here while Field's Aunt May is again, better than Rosemary Harris' version, but probably because of the way the character was written.

The action is pretty good. Spidey's battle with The Lizard at the school is probably the best out of all their fights in the film. And unlike Raimi's organic web making wrists, Webb has Peter use an actual web shooter.

However, the film could use a bit of editing. The last five to ten minutes or so was a tad unnecessary, there were a couple of scenes here that Webb could have done away with. The plot also got lost somewhere in the middle third of the film, if you weren't paying attention you might have missed something.

The Amazing Spider-Man is truly amazing indeed. The fact that it's better than the original trilogy is reason enough to go see it.

P.S.: Stay during the end credits for an extra scene. (4/5)  

Sunday, July 08, 2012


Year: 2012
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell
Voice cast: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julia Walters

Plot: Merida is a young princess who yearns to be free from her obligations to her kingdom, much to the chagrin of her mother, Queen Elinor. In an attempt to change her fate, Merida gets a witch to cast a spell for her, but things don't go according to plan.

Review: Brave is a first for Pixar in a few ways, being a film that puts a female in the lead role, and also one that is much darker than their previous works.

That's not to say Brave isn't humorous, as it has its fair share of laughs. But the subject matter is presented in a mature way, and I wonder if the younger kids can totally accept the story here, or be bored over something they find hard to understand.

The story is basically a focus on the relationship between mother and daughter, and how they both must find a way to reconcile their differences before catastrophe strikes. Giving the story a Scottish setting is brilliant as it gives the film a mystical and historical quality. You might say that Brave is reminiscent of Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon, but much darker. The final action sequence is certainly proof of that.

As far as the animation goes, it is probably one of the best I've seen yet. Merida's long, red curly hair is absolutely striking, and almost a character on its own. The humans here are better depicted than Pixar's The Incredibles, looking very lifelike and yet maintaining its animated quality.

However, as good as Brave is, their sacrifice of a more entertaining plot for a more serious one means it ends up being less fun than Pixar's other works. There is comedy here, no doubt, but the quality of the comedy could use some fine tuning. As far as Brave is concerned overall, it isn't as good as say, Up or the Toy Story films.

But I have to hand it to Pixar for their brave attempt at coming up with something different. Despite its flaws, Brave is a great feature that deserves at least one watch or two. (3.5/5) 

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Year: 2012
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon
Voice cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Chastain, Martin Short

Plot: Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo head to Europe to get the penguins to help them return to New York. But after they cross paths with a relentless animal hunter, they are forced to seek shelter with a travelling circus.

Review: The Madagascar movies have always been entertaining, ranking just behind the Ice Age films. The banter between the four animals, the zaniness of King Julien the lemur and the psychotic penguins all add up to great humour and adventure.

The story this time around is a slight improvement from the previous instalment as the animals do their best to get home, not without getting themselves into trouble of course. There is still plenty of laughs here, with a nice helping of drama and a revelation for the four animals towards the end, which isn't as unexpected as you'd think. There are also more new characters here, including circus animals Vitaly the tiger, Gia the jaguar and Stefano the sea lion, who all play their roles well. But I have to say, Stefano reminds me of Luigi from Cars.

But none of the new animals stand up in significance to Captain DuBois the animal hunter, who is perfect as the animals' nemesis. The thrilling chase sequence in Monaco between DuBois and the animals at the beginning of the film is easily the best part, and she comes off looking like the Terminator.

The film isn't without its flaws though. The subplot involving King Julien's crush on a circus bear didn't really work for me, and only looked like it was added in so that the lemur would have something to do. The penguins, as entertaining as they are, never really reached the peak they were at in the first film. And even though Katy Perry's Firework was a great way to enhance the animals' circus act, using that song the second time at the end was one time too many.

Overall the film is good enough to be entertaining without overstaying its welcome, and it's still better than watching another Shrek movie. (3/5) 


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