Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jack Reacher

Year: 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Jai Courtney, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall

Plot: A military sniper framed for shooting five civilians dead calls Jack Reacher, an ex-military investigator to help clear his name.

Review: Jack Reacher is a literary character created by Lee Child, with this film being based on his book One Shot. What's interesting is that in the books, he's much taller and heavier than Tom Cruise. 

But as we viewers realise soon enough, that's okay. It's Tom Cruise after all. As the titular character, Cruise slips pretty easily into a role which requires him to be instantly likable and yet difficult at the same time. For the most part, Cruise doesn't seem like the huge movie star that he usually is.

The plot revolves around an apparently random sniper shooting in public that leaves five people dead. The culprit is caught quickly and it seems like an open shut case, until Reacher comes into the picture. As someone who knows the accused from a previous case, Reacher himself is convinced he's guilty, until defense attorney Helen Rodin sets him on the right path. 

Christopher McQuarrie, directing only his second film to date, isn't too bad at all. Doubling as screenwriter, McQuarrie does a good job giving each of his characters ample time to stand out, defining their roles in the film properly. Reacher of course, is the focus, and as a military man who is capable of disarming bad guys swiftly, gets a handful of chances to show the audience what that means, which is the main highlight of this film.

As mentioned, Cruise is solid in the role, and is well supported by Rosamund Pike as Helen Rodin. I wouldn't have imagined Pike in this role, but she does well enough here. Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney are pretty awesome as the antagonists, while veterans Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall make themselves memorable in their roles as Helen's father and a shooting range owner respectively, despite not getting much screentime.

The film though could use a bit of trimming on the runtime. The plot was engaging enough to keep me interested throughout, but it still feels long overall. Then there's the minor issue of some of Cruise's lines sounding really cliched, but it's not enough to ruin the fun.

As an action thriller, Jack Reacher is pretty solid entertainment. I sure wouldn't mind seeing a sequel somewhere down the line. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Plot: Gandalf The Grey recruits Bilbo Baggins on a mission to assist the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield and his brethren to reclaim their homeland from a dragon.

Review: When I first heard of this film, my first thought was "cash in". I mean, was it really necessary to make more movies about Middle Earth after Lord Of The Rings? Like that trilogy, The Hobbit will also be a trilogy of films, and each instalment will be just as long.

To be honest, after seeing this film, a return to Middle Earth doesn't seem like such a bad idea. The source material has always been strong and the characters are still as memorable as ever. But to say this matches up to the Lord Of The Rings may not be so accurate.

In this film, we go back 60 years before Bilbo Baggins celebrates his infamous 111th birthday and passes on the ring to Frodo. Back then, Bilbo is pretty much the same hobbit. He loves peace and quiet and enjoys smoking his pipe in his free time. And then Gandalf shows up on his doorstep with a group of dwarves, trying to recruit him to join their cause in reclaiming their fallen city of Erebor. It is this adventure where Bilbo learns a thing or two about courage, much like Frodo and his friends eventually will on their quest to destroy the ring later on. Bilbo also has his fateful meeting with Gollum and his first encounter with the ring.

Peter Jackson should be commended for having the tenacity to do this all over again. To his credit, Middle Earth looks as stunning as ever, from the beautiful Shire and Rivendell to the dark caverns of the goblins. From a technical standpoint, Jackson scores full marks, be it cinematography, costumes, visual effects, props etc.

Martin Freeman plays the younger Bilbo with a mixture of the older Bilbo's reluctance and the young Frodo's sense of honor. It helps that Freeman has a slight resemblance to Ian Holm, who returns for a short period at the beginning narrating the story. It is Ian McKellen though who continues to command presence as Gandalf, looking a bit older than the last time we saw him. Hugo Weaving impressively hasn't aged a day and looks every bit like Lord Elrond from the previous trilogy. Andy Serkis returns as Gollum and for once he didn't get on my nerves. His riddle sparring segment with Bilbo is one of my favorite things about this film. Not to be forgotten is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf prince who leads his fellow dwarves on this journey. Unlike Aragorn, he is a proud leader but a very capable one too.

As good as this film is, it is simply no match for Jackson's previous attempt in bringing Middle Earth to life. The scale from a technical and storytelling standpoint is vastly different. The original films had a very engaging plot and richer characters, whereas here, only Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin stand out, while the other dwarves are barely distinguishable from each other. Storywise this film is weaker too, as it starts to drag after the half mark, unlike the original films that kept you invested in it as long as it was still running.

Still, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fun watch and a welcome return to Tolkien's world. Perhaps the future two instalments can pick up the slack here and be really awesome. One can hope. (3.5/5)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Rise Of The Guardians

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Ramsey
Voice cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Dakota Goyo

Plot: Jack Frost has been chosen to join Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Sandman as a member of the Guardians, spirits who safeguard children all over the world. Together they must stop Pitch a.k.a. the Boogeyman, who wants to spread fear among the children.

Review: This film is based on William Joyce's book series The Guardians Of Childhood, about how the childhood myths come to life to protect children all over the world. In this film, we are introduced to Jack Frost, a young boy who doesn't remember anything about himself before he became a spirit capable of freezing everything around him. His mischievous exploits causes kids everywhere to have fun in the snow, but they never see him.

Then the Guardians are tasked to recruit him in order to fight Pitch, who, like Jack, has remained unseen by kids and now wants to be feared and acknowledged. But Jack isn't so easy to convince to join their cause, since he sort of enjoys being a carefree spirit who enjoys pulling pranks wherever he goes. But as we all know, that will change soon enough.

The animation level on this film is pretty good. Some of the characters may seem stiff at times, but the filmmakers more than make up for that by injecting tons of colours into nearly every scene and making all the magical sequences come alive. Sandman's powers are probably the best ones rendered on screen, with the golden sands flying everywhere like it had a life of its own.

But Rise Of The Guardians also benefits from a solid story, which is told very well. Sure, the story of an unlikely hero finding his purpose isn't exactly new, but director Peter Ramsey makes the audience care about his characters while making them likable at the same time. Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny are the best depicted ones, with their friendly rivalry inducing a lot of laughs here.

If there's a flaw in this film, it probably would be the fact that it caters more to the younger crowd. There were a lot of "Whoa, look what I just did" moments all over the film, as Jack, the Guardians and the kids fly, slide, jump and fall over and over again, which would be awesome for a kid to watch, but may be taxing for an adult. So if you're the kind who has trouble connecting to your inner child, you may not like this.

But for what it's worth, Rise Of The Guardians is a pretty solid animated film which all kids will love. If you like having fun, you might like it too. (3.5/5) 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Breaking Dawn Part 2

Year: 2012
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning

Plot: Bella is a vampire now, and her daughter Renesmee grows at a rapid rate, with Jacob as her protector. The Cullens and Jacob seem to be happy together, until the Volturi learn about the child.

Review: Not only am I aware of it, but I'm also rather proud that I'm one of the few people in this world that is able to give the Twilight films a fair judgment. Most people would either scoff at the idea of seeing it, or walk into the theatre with a large amount of hate for it. The thing is, these films may not be considered as classics in the years to come, but they certainly aren't the worst kind of movies out there.

So in this final instalment, director Bill Condon tries his best to make it count. He has the main cast members (the Cullens in particular) have close to equal amount of time on screen (though Rosalie could use a bit more), and does a great job introducing the other vampires around the world that arrive to help them face the Volturi. Their assembly is reminiscent of The Avengers, each of them having a unique gift of their own. When they finally fight the Volturi in the film's climax, it is pretty good too, probably the best fight sequence in the series.

However, like most of the Twilight films, it has its drawbacks. The Bella-Edward thing still lingers about, which makes for some cringe inducing moments. Then there are some under or over the top performances, like Michael Sheen's bombastic portrayal of Aro. And they used a CGI baby for Renesmee. Oh man. But the thing that got me riled up the most is the way they ended the final fight, which is a cop out of what would have been a monumental climax. All that build up, and they dropped the ball right there. I know that Condon had to balance his film with the book, but a detraction here would have been wise.

As for performances, Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner do their best with what they have, which isn't much. I refuse to say their acting sucks, because I still believe it's the material they have which affects their performance. Some of the other supporting cast members are interesting but do not get enough screen time, like Joe Anderson as rogue vampire Alistair.

So in closing, I have to say that this finale isn't as epic as it could have been, but it does a decent enough job at appreciating what has come before it and ending it in a way a storybook would. (3/5)


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