Sunday, March 30, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Year: 2014
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp

Plot: While struggling to adapt to a world he doesn't recognise, Steve Rogers discovers treachery amongst SHIELD's ranks. With only a few people he can trust, he has to stop a plot that will radically change the world for the worse. At the same time, Rogers faces an enemy who was once his best friend he thought was dead.

Review: After seeing Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World ignore SHIELD's presence and influence, it's nice to see them back here. But then again, it's only fitting since Captain America is a man who fights for freedom, which in turn is related to SHIELD's worldwide peacekeeping activities.

In this sequel, Steve Rogers is a man out of time, trying to adapt to things he didn't have back in his day. But a bigger problem arises when Nick Fury tells him of SHIELD's latest project, which involves eliminating threats before they occur. This doesn't sit well with Rogers, who believes in freedom and not fear. But there's more to the project than what it seems, and Rogers discovers a long gestating plot within SHIELD's ranks that will be bad for everyone if left alone. On top of all this, he runs into someone he thought was long dead, and if you've been reading up on plot details or the comic book arc this film is based on, you'd know this person is his old friend turned foe, Bucky Barnes.

Joe & Anthony Russo deserve plenty of credit for their awesome work here. Along with scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Russos successfully blend a superhero film with a spy thriller, so there's a nice balance of action and intrigue overall. Having Robert Redford, the face of 70s spy thrillers in it surely doesn't hurt either. Speaking of the action, word has it that most of it was done without CGI, so I'm guessing they only used it for the grand final sequence involving three helicarriers, which makes this film all the more awesome.

Chris Evans once again steps into the role of Captain America / Steve Rogers, and he's certainly grown into it. He looks in great shape and hasn't missed a beat at all. Scarlett Johansson also returns to her Black Widow role, and does a great job with it. She still excels in the action sequences, though she stands out more in her quieter scenes with Evans, with a little insight on her character. Anthony Mackie makes his Marvel debut as Sam Wilson aka The Falcon, Rogers' sidekick, and is pretty much the funny guy in the film. Sebastian Stan reprises his role as Bucky Barnes, only this time he's a much meaner guy as Rogers' foe, and is pretty capable of matching him blow for blow. Stan doesn't get a lot of lines here, but makes good on becoming a tragic villain.

Also making a comeback are Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders as Fury and Maria Hill respectively. Their presence almost makes this another Avengers film to be honest, and both fill their roles well, especially Jackson. Finally, Robert Redford, who doesn't look as old as he really is, lends his great screen presence as Alexander Pierce, Fury's superior. This is actually a key role as you will discover, and he does it effortlessly.

As far as post Avengers films are concerned, this is actually the strongest one to date. I can't think of anything bad about Captain America: The Winter Soldier right now, it's pretty damn good. I'm thinking it's even better than the upcoming Spider-Man sequel, but we'll see. Highly recommended.

P.S.: As usual, stay for the post credits scenes. The mid-credits one is especially exciting, if you're a comic geek like me. (4.5/5)   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

300: Rise Of An Empire

Year: 2014
Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Rodrigo Santoro

Plot: As King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans battle the Persians at the Hot Gates, General Themistokles rallies all of Greece to unite against the Persians at the Aegean Sea.

Review: I loved the original 300 film. Yes, it was a dumb action film, with lots of corny lines and mindless violence, but it was so much fun.

Zack Snyder now moves from the director's chair into the producer's chair and lets new helmer Noam Murro present a sidequel, if you will, that centers on the other cities of Greece battling the invading Persians at sea. The Greeks, led by Themistokles, are outnumbered by the Persians, just like Leonidas and the Spartans, but thanks to the smart general, they hold their own very well. The Persians are led by Artemisia, a former Greek woman who now serves Persia, and she is as ruthless as they come.

Murro, to his credit, does not differ very much from Snyder's formula and loads his film with tons of violence. There are some pretty neat action scenes too, mostly taking place on floating ships. Murro also includes a few back stories for the principal characters like Themistokles, Artemisia and Xerxes, which helps us understand their characters better.

But as good as Murro's attempts are, it somehow pales in comparison to the original 300. It's not entirely his fault though. 300 was an awesome film, and it's pretty tough to follow up with something just as good. Thing is, the characters here are just not as fascinating as Leonidas and the Spartans, even if some may say that they hold more appeal due to them not being bulked up heroes like the Spartans. The above mentioned back stories, good as they are, just aren't enough to make them stand out.

Sullivan Stapleton is more than decent as Themistokles, but doesn't quite have the screen presence of Gerard Butler from the original. Eva Green fares slightly better as Artemisia, playing her somewhat similar to her character from TV's Camelot. Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro make short appearances as Gorgo and Xerxes respectively, to somewhat connect this story to the first 300.

Overall, 300: Rise Of An Empire is pretty good on its own. From the way things ended, there might be a follow up, so hopefully it'll be better then. (3.5/5)

Sunday, March 09, 2014

American Hustle

Year: 2013
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Plot: An overzealous FBI agent forces a con man and his female partner to help him nab a politician and other powerful people for cheating and bribing.

Review: I read somewhere that David O. Russell is not so high on plot and more focused on characters. It certainly reflects his work on The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but none more so than American Hustle. But in my humble opinion, he overshot his mark here.

American Hustle is set in the 70s, where Russell talks about Abscam, the supposed scam by a fake Arabian sheikh involving politicians in the US. The lead characters here are based on actual people involved. Basically it follows con man Irving Rosenfeld and his lover Sydney Prosser, and how they're forced by FBI agent Richie Dimaso to take down the Mayor of New Jersey, Carmine Polito, who seems like a real stand up guy, but whom Dimaso suspects to be corrupt.

I'll tell you what I like about it first. I like the look of the film. It's authentic and over the top at the same time. I mean, can you imagine Bradley Cooper putting on curls? He literally did it to get that permed curly look on his head, it's crazy but kinda awesome. Then there's the costumes and the soundtrack, very retro and fitting for the era. Some of the punchlines here are pretty good too, I'll give them that.

But man, Russell not only made this a character driven piece, he decided to let each of them go off the deep end on histrionics. Nearly every character (except maybe Robert De Niro's character) goes on and on yelling and arguing like they're all having PMS. Some of it is quite entertaining, sure. But at some point I found it too much and not moving the story along at all.

I'm man enough to admit that all of the lead actors did well in their roles despite the above flaws. Christian Bale is cool as a cucumber, and fitting as con man Irving. Amy Adams is sexy as hell as Sydney. Cooper is charming and likable as Richie, and you gotta love Jeremy Renner's Elvis perm (and his screen presence) as Carmine. I didn't love Jennifer Lawrence as Irving's wife Rosalyn though. She was basically playing her Silver Linings Playbook character all over again, except she yells a lot more here. Plus she isn't an integral part of the whole FBI scheme, so she seems to be here just because Russell wanted her here.

As I said, the character driven attempt by Russell isn't appealing to me, I can't speak for everyone. To me, this only lengthened the film's runtime unnecessarily. I would have preferred Russell to have a tighter hold on his script's flow overall.

It's not a bad film, some of you might just like this more than me. But all the same, I think I'd rather go back and watch The Fighter again. (3/5)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Anson Mount, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Corey Stoll, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache

Plot: While on a flight from New York to London, an air marshal receives a text message from an unknown passenger on board that he/she will kill someone in 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to an offshore account. The marshal has to find this person before more people get killed.

Review: Liam Neeson, director Jaume Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver reunite after giving action fans a solid thriller called Unknown a few years back. Like that film, Non-Stop centres on a mystery that needs solving, with a slightly higher sense of urgency.

Neeson is Bill Marks, an air marshal who ironically hates flying and has his own personal demons to deal with. During a flight from New York to London, he gets text messages from one of the passengers who says that he/she will kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless Bill finds a way to transfer $150 million to an offshore account. As Bill tries to find the passenger behind this, people start dying and the culprit continues to elude him. To make matters worse, Bill's actions start to unsettle the passengers who eventually think he's a hijacker.

Collet-Serra, directing a script by John W Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engel, successfully keeps the audience guessing as to who the hijacker is. We learn at the same time with Bill as to everything he discovers, and every twist and turn puts the viewer back at square one quite often. Some of you may find this tiresome, but I thought it was cool being confused an unsure as the story moved along.

The action only truly kicks in in the final third of the film, though there is a well filmed fight scene in a plane lavatory that deserves mention. In my opinion, this film is like watching Jodie Foster's Flightplan, which becomes Passenger 57 as it enters its climax. Even with those similarities, Non-Stop is more entertaining than not.

Neeson is of course the perfect choice to be the film's hero. If you've seen him in Taken and Unknown, you'd know there's no one else that can do it like him. Julianne Moore plays a passenger that Bill relies on (and at some point suspects) in finding the hijacker, and she makes a great team with him, even if her character isn't totally likable at times. The supporting cast playing the other passengers are all great too, as well as the ones in the roles of stewardesses; Michelle Dockery and recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, though the former is given more camera time than the latter.

The film does fall into certain cliches at times, like the hijacker's reasons for doing this besides the money, and Bill's tragic past which I felt wasn't wholly necessary to be revealed. But it isn't enough to ruin this reviewer's enjoyment.

It's a solid action thriller that keeps the viewers guessing and glued to the end. Recommended. (4/5) 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...