Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iron Man 3

Year: 2013
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall

Plot: After the events that took place in The Avengers, Tony Stark has a personal crisis which quickly escalates when he takes on two threats from an old acquaintance and a terrorist known as The Mandarin.

Review: Iron Man part three will go down as being the most different of the trilogy so far. Heck, it's not even in the vein of last year's Avengers blow up fest. So if you walk into this expecting a slam bang actioner, you're not going to like it that much.

That being said, Iron Man 3 is awesome. The entire film, scripted and directed by Shane Black, works like a comic book story arc, where we don't just watch our hero fight every twenty minutes. We get to see what exactly makes him tick, when he is most vulnerable, who are his enemies and why they want him dead, and more importantly how he's going to overcome the odds when he doesn't have what he needs the most. To that end, Black's film works more like a semi slow burn thriller, which is most evident during the middle third of the film when Tony Stark seeks help from a young boy to fix his armor and attempt to make a comeback.

Actionwise, there are four that stand out the most: the attack on Stark's house (which you've seen in the trailers), an aerial rescue of falling people, Stark fighting his enemies without the armor at the boy's neighborhood, and the memorable final sequence (I won't spoil it for you, except to say it's kick ass). Some may say that it's not enough because of the long delays in between those sequences, but it works for me.

Once again, Robert Downey Jr proves why he's the best guy to play Tony Stark. Out of the three films and The Avengers, here's where he gets to show the most about who Tony Stark is, and not about who Iron Man is. Downey's ability to show vulnerability while laughing and occasionally stumbling in the face of danger is a sight to behold. Gwyneth Paltrow gets a bigger role here than before as Stark's long suffering girlfriend Pepper Potts, so much more that it happens at the expense of Don Cheadle's character Rhodey, who becomes little more than Stark's sidekick. Guy Pearce as usual makes a commendable villain in Aldrich Killian while Ben Kingsley hams it up as The Mandarin, and with great effect. Iron Man comic fans will notice a huge difference in the way Black handles The Mandarin here, and I suspect it will have a mixed reaction. I personally thought it was cool. Ty Simpkins gets a special mention as Harley, the young boy who helps Stark.

The downsides would be the abovementioned reduction of Cheadle's screen time, as well as the subplot involving the President and Vice President, which is a mere distraction at best. Other than that, the film is solid overall.

I'll warn you again: Iron Man 3 isn't what you may expect it to be, but I think you ought to give it a try. I sure loved it, you might too. (4/5)

P.S.: Wait till the credits finish rolling for one final scene.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Broken City

Year: 2013
Director: Allen Hughes
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper

Plot: Former cop turned private detective Billy Taggart is hired by New York City mayor Nicholas Hostetler to spy on his wife, whom he thinks is having an affair. However nothing is what it seems.

Review: There have been thrillers where what you see isn't really what's going on, like The Recruit and the recent Side Effects. Broken City is in that same vein, but unfortunately doesn't quite measure up.

Allen Hughes directs this film based on a script by Brian Tucker, which is not without intrigue, but frequently seesaws between being draggy and being vague. It would potentially build some momentum, only to squander it by losing itself into the plot and veer off course. Worse still, most of the characters here are hard to like, except maybe Taggart's assistant Katy, played by Alona Tal (previously seen on TV series Supernatural).

To be fair, the cast perform well enough. Mark Wahlberg plays yet another blue collar character with huge problems. He seems to excel at playing these guys. Problem is, this time around he's not likable. I just couldn't root for the guy, not that he's bad or anything, he's just poorly written. Russell Crowe puts on a somewhat bad American accent with a politician's haircut to become the devious mayor, and he seems solid enough, yet as much as I respect Crowe, I can't help but wonder if George Clooney would fit this role better. The rest of the cast, from Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper are convincing in their respective roles, but again, they don't give the audience much reason to care about them and how they fit into the film, the script just doesn't give them the chance. So yeah, Alona Tal actually redeems a bit of the film, and you know that's not good when a minor character actually stands out.

With a tighter script and even tighter direction, Broken City could have been something. Thrillers like this, along with the solid cast would have made for an edgy piece that would keep you guessing. But the film drags itself at an uneven pace to its anti-climactic ending.

I know I haven't given you much about the plot here, instead opting to tell you why you shouldn't see this. But really, you're not missing much. It's not a horrible film, but it's something you ought to catch on cable or rental instead of the cinema. (2.5/5)

Monday, April 15, 2013


Year: 2013
Director: Joesph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Plot: In the future, Earth has become a wasteland after a war between humans and invading aliens destroyed the planet. Most of them have moved to Titan, Saturn's moon. Jack and Victoria are two people still on Earth, fixing drones and helping machines collect whatever resources there are left before leaving to join the rest of their people. However, a falling ship carrying survivors forces Jack to question the truth about what really happened to the planet.

Review: There have been many post-apocalyptic films and series over the years, so many that it would be impossible to come up with a completely fresh idea that taps into this genre. Oblivion comes pretty close to being fresh, and that's a good thing.

Director Joseph Kosinski, who helmed the underwhelming Tron: Legacy, also co-wrote the screenplay for Oblivion, and it is quite fascinating. His version of Earth is a vast empty desert with only a few reminders of humanity's greatest buildings left behind, which isn't really groundbreaking in theory, but still awesome to behold. The visual effects, production design and cinematography are top notch all around, combining perfectly to give the audience a stellar journey into a future wasteland.

Tom Cruise is always solid in any role he takes, and as Jack, the technician who constantly questions things that don't make sense, he is pretty convincing, and it's easy to root for him. Olga Kurylenko, who plays one of the survivors of the falling ship, puts in an understated performance, but it works well. Andrea Riseborough makes a good partner for Cruise as Victoria, being the colder, by-the-book half of their partnership. Morgan Freeman on the other hand, doesn't show up until the half mark but still excels with his indomitable screen presence. If you've seen the trailers, you'd probably be able to guess what's his role here, but I won't spoil it if you haven't.

The film does drag at times, though the engaging plot ensures that it doesn't stray too far from its course. The part about Freeman's character should have been expanded as it wasn't given enough focus in my opinion. But these are minor complaints.

On a whole, Oblivion is a solid watch, certainly better than Tron: Legacy. (4/5)

Monday, April 08, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Year: 2013
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Ray Park, Lee Byung-Hun, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona, Channing Tatum, Ray Stevenson, Jonathan Pryce, Elodie Yung

Plot: The President, under the impersonation of Zartan, orders the G.I Joes terminated and puts Cobra in their place. With only a handful of their number left, the Joes have to regroup and stop Cobra from destroying the world.

Review: A lot of people hated the first G.I. Joe film. With Stephen Sommers at the helm, it's to be expected, after all he is pretty good at hamming things up. The thing is, I thought it was pretty fun to watch. Yes, it was over the top and the dialogue was cheesy to a fault. But it was fun and well shot.

Before going in to watch Retaliation, I've heard plenty of comments saying it's better this time around. So I had my hopes up. But darn it, it's not as good as I wanted it to be. Granted, it had potential. But it may have shot itself in the foot when the release was delayed from June last year, pending 3D conversion and rumoured reshoots. I think the final editing process suffered because of this and the whole film felt quite disjointed.

Director Jon M. Chu put in some cool action sequences here, which is the film's main strength. However he messes it up by filming them up close (like most weak action directors do), and a lot of his shots were shaky. The one scene that stood out was Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting a group of ninjas on the side of a mountain. For me, this was the only scene that looked awesome. There was a cool close quarters gunfight between Dwayne Johnson and Ray Stevenson at the film's climax, but the weak camerawork spoiled it.

But that's not all. Compared to the first film, the characterisation here was bad. The so called budding friendship between Johnson's Roadblock and Channing Tatum's Duke was funny but didn't feel real. Then they tried to explain Storm Shadow's past actions, which involves a couple of scenes with a blind master played by RZA (I almost burst out laughing seeing him), and though it follows the comic book (from what I've heard), it just didn't seem plausible to me. And speaking of plausibility, the Joes from the first film were supposed to be an elite international team, but here they look like a regular bunch of marines, who get wiped out by a single airstrike. Makes no sense.

So what's good about it then? Well, Dwayne Johnson is always cool. He's built to be an action hero, and especially as a Joe, so he did pretty good with the material given to him. Bruce Willis has some good lines and makes his screen presence felt, but doesn't get much to do overall. Lee Byung-Hun and Jonathan Pryce do well in their roles as Storm Shadow and the President respectively, as does Ray Stevenson as Firefly. The rest of the cast are either cliched or forgettable.

I wanted to like this film really bad. It's not god awful or anything, but after making us wait for nine months, I expected better. I know they'll make another one, and they better step up. (2.5/5)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Side Effects

Year: 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Plot: A psychiatrist finds himself in hot water after one of his patients, a depressed woman, commits a crime as a result of side effects from a drug he prescribed to her.

Review: Steven Soderbergh is a unique filmmaker who knows how to make a point without being over the top or flashy. You could almost say he has a somewhat quiet and subtle way of doing things.

With Side Effects, you don't really know what you're in for till you get to the second half of the film. The first half plays out like a medical drama thriller, until an abrupt left turn at  the halfway point turns it into something else. In the third act, the real plot starts to show itself and it becomes a crafty movie. It's a very clever approach on the part of Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns.

To his credit, Soderbergh's film is never boring. He paces the film well, not allowing any dramatic moments to dwell too much and drag the film down. His unique camerawork and editing style also helps, which include close up shots and neat sequencing of events. Put them all together and you get a well made thriller.

Jude Law is once again awesome here as the psychiatrist Dr Banks. Law has the gift of making himself very likable no matter what role he's playing, and he not only makes a great impression of a man trying to get to the bottom of things after the shit hits the fan, but also gets us to root for him the whole time. Rooney Mara is also amazing as Emily, the depressed woman in question. Mara is very convincing playing a clinically depressed person and you can't help but feel sorry for her at times. It also helps that she is beautiful and thereby easy to like. Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to excel being the antagonist here as Emily's former psychiatrist, she has that look. Channing Tatum is alright as Emily's husband but doesn't get a lot of screen time overall.

If there is a drawback here, it would be how convenient certain things play out. I won't go into details in order to not spoil it for you, but suffice to say that I've seen quite a bit of TV dramas where things like this aren't so clear cut.

All in all, Side Effects is a solid thriller with great performances and an unpredictable plot. Recommended. (4/5)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Warm Bodies

Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco

Plot: A zombie falls in love with a human girl, which sets off a chain of events that changes the world of the undead.

Review: You wouldn't be far off the mark if you thought that Warm Bodies is like the zombie version of Twilight, except this is a comedy and in some ways, more entertaining.

In this world, from the mind of Isaac Marion (who wrote the novel), there's been a zombie apocalypse, not unlike The Walking Dead TV series. Humans barricade themselves behind a huge wall while walking corpses scavenge for food. The story is told from a zombie's point of view, R. R narrates his thoughts as he walks aimlessly around the airport where he lives, pondering his fate and what his undead life is like on a daily basis. It's pretty much ho hum until he meets Julie, a young girl whom he takes home to protect her from the other zombies and grows to like her. But how do you connect with the living if you're dead?

Director Jonathan Levine successfully brings the audience into this world by not trying too hard to explain stuff and letting the plot flow gradually. He lets R show how human he can be despite being a zombie, like listening to music (mostly cool 80s tunes) and constantly thinking like a living person despite knowing he's dead. The plot has to lead to a bigger picture of course, which involves Julie's father being keen on believing the dead are a constant threat, while the Bonies, skeletal like zombies, begin becoming more hostile to both humans and zombies alike.

Nicholas Hoult does better here than in the recent Jack The Giant Slayer. As R, he doesn't get to say much (other than his narrations) beyond a few words at a time, at least till later when things start to change, but he remains a very likable lead and one you'd have no problem rooting for. Teresa Palmer also makes a likable love interest as Julie, sharing great rapport with Hoult. Malkovich doesn't get much to do here as Julie's dad unfortunately. Rob Corddry lends some solid support though as R's zombie friend M.

The film does suffer a little in the credibility aspect at times. It's quite apparent if you've seen zombie films, and how they differ from what you see here. Of course, the rules have to be different in order for Warm Bodies to be appreciated as a comedy, so you may have to watch this with a pinch of salt.

All in all, Warm Bodies is a fresh approach to the zombie genre. It's a bit simplistic by the time the film ends, but it's entertaining nonetheless. (3.5/5)


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