Sunday, June 30, 2013

White House Down

Year: 2013
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, Jason Clarke

Plot: Off duty cop John Cale, who just had his application to join the Secret Service rejected, is the only one who can protect the President when a paramilitary group attacks the White House.

Review: Inevitable comparisons have been made between this film and Olympus Has Fallen which was released a few months ago, but I can assure you that White House Down is a lot of fun to sit through.

Thing is, Roland Emmerich loves to blow stuff up in a big way, based on his track record. It's always silly and over the top, but at the same time it's always entertaining. While the threat here may not be as big as alien invasions or end of the world scenarios, it's quite believable, which is the key to having a good time with it. Compared to Olympus Has Fallen, Emmerich's film is lower on the violence scale, with minimal blood and gore. But thankfully, this doesn't make the film any less watchable.

As in his previous films, Emmerich puts an everyman in the protagonist's shoes, and here it's Channing Tatum. Tatum plays a cop who takes his 11 year old daughter on a tour of the White House, after he fails an interview to join the Secret Service. When the bad guys break in and start killing everyone, Tatum has to man up and protect the President and save his little girl. Tatum may not be the best actor in Hollywood, but he's a great action hero and he's real easy to root for here. Jamie Foxx plays the President with a mix of seriousness and humour, which the audience will no doubt love. I sure did. Maggie Gyllenhaal slips into the role of the Secret Service agent guiding Cale from the outside, a role which is customary for films like this, but she pulls it off nicely. Richard Jenkins and James Woods, two old hands in the game, do well in their supporting roles here too.

If I could think of any downsides here, it would be certain plotholes or things that don't make sense, like why does it always look so easy to break into fortified places like this? Or why an 11 year old kid would have a great interest in politics? Not to mention the fact that some of the action sequences here, including a car chase sequence around the White House Lawn looks absolutely ludicrous, but for the record, I kinda dug it anyway.

To sum it up, White House Down is loud, explosive, silly and ridiculous. But it never stops being fun. I wouldn't mind seeing it again, actually. (4/5) 

Monday, June 24, 2013

World War Z

Year: 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena

Plot: When a zombie epidemic turns the world's population into the undead, former UN investigator Gerry Lane is forced to go back to his old job to find the cause.

Review: When one thinks of zombies, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comes to mind. If you've seen the trailers to this film, the zombies are running, so they ought to be like the ones in 28 Days Later, right? Thing is, World War Z is nothing like either of these, and certainly not as good.

While The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later perfectly balances a zombie thriller with a social impact commentary, World War Z is just a zombie thriller, period. We get an outbreak, people start dying, others start fleeing, our hero gets working, they get a breakthrough, and the story goes on. There are some cool action set pieces here courtesy of director Marc Forster, which includes a sequence in Israel at the wall between them and Palestine (yep, you heard me) and the opening outbreak sequence, where people in Philadelphia run like heck as the zombies start rampaging. This one looked good because it was chaotic and realistic, even though Forster made many quick cuts which spoiled any attempt to see the zombies up close (but since it's chaotic anyway, one could imagine themselves being right there and feeling what they feel). The best part was a zombie attack onboard an airplane, which is as real as it gets.

But the film needs to be more than just an action thriller. It needs to deliver a meaningful message about how the world would change in circumstances like this, and it doesn't bother to touch on this at all. On top of that, despite the solid action sequences, there's very little real suspense throughout the film. Our protagonist Gerry Lane travels from place to place trying to find answers, and though he gets himself into plenty of dangerous situations, we never get the feeling he's in any real danger. This in turn makes the story rather predictable.

Brad Pitt, whose production company Plan B is involved in bringing this film to life, does all right as Gerry. I do feel that the script didn't really challenge him, he could have done this role in his sleep. The supporting cast are okay, but they don't get that much to do compared to Pitt, though Daniella Kertesz sort of stands out as an Israeli soldier who accompanies him.

I hear that a trilogy of films were planned for World War Z, and the best parts of the story have yet to come. If so, I hope they buck up, because there's plenty of potential here, and this instalment kinda wasted it. As of now, it's just a decent thriller and not more. (3/5)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Man Of Steel

Year: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer

Plot: The epic story of Kal-El from Krypton, who grows up on Earth and calls himself Clark Kent, and becomes the hero Superman when a cruel general from his former planet comes over to cause havoc.

Review: Everyone knows the origins of Superman, right? The alien from another planet who makes Earth his home and protects it from evil has been immortalised in film many times, and on TV as well.

Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan, with a script by David S. Goyer, tells a whole new epic tale about Superman, and unlike the usual approach of focusing on Clark Kent, they focus on what it is like being Superman. Through a series of flashbacks, Snyder develops Superman's character on his struggles in fitting in at school, the debate with his father on keeping his powers a secret, and ultimately his identity. In other versions usually we see Clark Kent and how he turns into a hero when the situation calls for it, but here he already is the hero and we see him fight his way to become the Clark we know from the Daily Planet. It's a fascinating approach which is a fresh attempt at the story, though it is not without flaws.

The performances of the top notch cast are mostly spot on. Henry Cavill certainly has the look to play the man of steel, and manages to bring the character's humility and honesty to the fore. Amy Adams is pretty good as Lois Lane, she is tough and very likable as she should be. Michael Shannon, despite getting some pretty cheesy lines as the villain General Zod, is quite solid in the role, though I must say that Antje Traue is a bit more interesting as his lieutenant Faora. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfect choices as Clark's human parents, the Kents, the former being protective and inspirational, the latter being loving and supportive. Laurence Fishburne gets too little time as Lois' boss Perry White, while Russell Crowe is awesome as Jor-El, being every bit as commanding and gentle as Superman's father ought to be.

The film does suffer a bit from pacing issues and occasionally shaky camerawork, and the final third of the film flip flops between being exciting and being overdone. The carnage on display overwhelms most of the stuff you'd see in a Michael Bay film, and that's saying something. When it was over, I didn't know if I was supposed to cheer or not.

Overall, Man Of Steel is a somewhat solid attempt at retelling a familiar story, and it deserves a sequel just to see how far it can go. (3.5/5)

Sunday, June 09, 2013

After Earth

Year: 2013
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Zoe Kravitz, Sophie Okonedo

Plot: In the future, Earth has become uninhabitable, forcing humans to move to a new planet, Nova Prime. A thousand years later, a general named Cypher Raige brings his son Kitai on a training expedition, but their spaceship crashes on Earth, which has evolved into a dangerous planet filled with deadly lifeforms and a deadlier climate. With his father seriously injured, Kitai is forced to get help by going through the dangerous terrain alone.

Review: Looking at the people involved in this film, from director M Night Shyamalan to the father and son team of Smiths, you would be tempted to stay away from it. After all, Shyamalan hasn't had a hit in years (the last being the awful The Last Airbender), and we've seen Will team up with his kids one time too many, either as a co-star or a producer, or something.

But I admit, I am curious about it. It looked decent on the surface, and I love adventure, so why not? The good news is, it's not as bad as everyone claims it is. But it certainly isn't mind blowingly good.

So basically, the film follows Jaden's character Kitai, who has to travel on foot to the tail section of their ship which separated during the crash, since his father broke both his legs, and there are no other survivors. Earth has a fluctuating climate, much less oxygen than before and filled with killer animals. So Kitai has his work cut out for him, especially since he is struggling to live up to his father's expectations.

What's good about it is that it's better than The Last Airbender in many ways. It's a straightforward plot, the acting is decent enough and the CGI isn't bad at all. Yeah, some of it still looks fake, but I can overlook that. Will's character is also well written, and he plays it well too. I like it when he's serious the whole time, even though he has a natural flair for comedy. This film requires seriousness from him, and he delivers.

What's bad however is having to rely on Jaden to carry most of the film. Now, Jaden is by no means a bad actor, he had some good moments here, the best of which is when he argues with his dad over his sister's death many years ago. But as good as he is, he's not quite ready to lead a film of this kind yet. I'll give him some credit for trying though. 

The plot, as simple as it may be, is also predictable to a fault. You can tell how this film is going to end once it gets rolling, and thus you never really feel like Kitai is in any real danger as he races to his destination. The pace is uneven at times too.

In summation, After Earth is a decent adventure flick, but nothing more. M Night is gonna have to work harder to return to form, and Jaden needs to grow up a bit more. My advice to Jaden: don't work with your dad too often, okay? (3/5)


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