Sunday, May 25, 2014

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Year: 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult

(credit goes to Richard Davies for the poster)

Plot: In order to prevent a dark future where mutant hunting robots called Sentinels destroy all of humanity and mutantkind, the X-Men send Wolverine back in time to prevent an assassination that triggers the robots' invention.

Review: Before I had a chance to watch this, I had read many positive reviews on it, and I was still skeptical about it. Now that I've seen it, I realize that the movie fan in me likes it, but the comic fan in me still holds that skepticism strongly.

Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg adapt the well known Days Of Future Past storyline from the comics, about sending an X-Man back in time to change the past and avoid the robot Sentinels from destroying everything. In this case, Professor X and Magneto asks Kitty Pryde to send Wolverine's consciousness into his 1973 self so that he can seek the help of the younger Xavier and Magneto to stop Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask, the man who created the Sentinels.

Singer starts the ball rolling well enough by having the X-Men fight future versions of the Sentinels in the opening sequence. It doesn't quite match the intensity of the action in the first three X films, but it's cool to see Iceman, Bishop, Sunspot and Blink using their powers. Then we move to Wolverine getting sent back in time, and this is where the film lightens up a bit as he tries to get Xavier and Magneto to work together, which is easier said than done. The last third of the film is probably the best part as both the future and the past X-Men find themselves in dire straits.

The good parts are Jackman, McAvoy and Fassbender in their roles as Wolverine, past Xavier and past Magneto. McAvoy in particular gets the most chances to show his dramatic skills. Jennifer Lawrence is good also as Mystique while Peter Dinklage makes good of his screen time as Trask.

However, as good as all this is, as a comic fan, I found the entire film falling a bit short of expectations. Firstly, the film focuses more on the First Class cast than the original cast, which makes it feel uneven. Secondly, at the end of it, I realized that the whole history changing exercise was meant to "wipe the slate clean" so that both X-Men casts and storylines can co-exist. Many people thought this to be a brilliant move on Singer and Kinberg's part, but to me, it felt lazy and convenient. Are we supposed to simply ignore Singer's work on the first two films now? That does not work for me.

Another thing that bugged me was the depiction of Quicksilver here. I wouldn't put all the blame on Evan Peters in the role, as Kinberg and Singer ought to shoulder some of it too. Again, I've heard many people say his inclusion was cool, but it felt like Singer had an idea for a scene and he thought Quicksilver would look cool being in it. Why do I say that? Because this isn't the Quicksilver I know from the comics. This guy here is nothing like him. And most of the X-Men from the future get way too little screen time. Even Colossus, who had one of the best debuts in X2, gets shafted here, again. And poor Anna Paquin was cut from the film, when she could have provided some much needed drama with Wolverine. In fact, most of the original cast didn't get a proper chance for dramatic scenes.

So in closing, I'd say DOFP is a somewhat worthy inclusion into the franchise, but it doesn't quite match the awesomeness of Singer's first two instalments. It's still good entertainment though. (3.5/5)

P.S.: Stay for the post credits scene, and remember that name.    

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn

Plot: A couple of prehistoric monsters come to life, triggering the return of Godzilla, a huge monster that is a force of nature in its own right, to combat them, leaving mass destruction in their wake.

Review: Nearly everyone condemned Roland Emmerich's 1998 version of Japan's beloved iconic hero, though I liked it for its entertainment value. This newest version attempts to stay as true as possible to the original Japanese version, and in that sense, it succeeds, but not without flaws.

Director Gareth Edwards successfully creates a sense of awe of the creature in question by showing scenes of the aftermath of the carnage it causes, as well as the carnage caused by the two monsters it is fighting. Edwards cleverly teases the appearance of Godzilla for the first half, showing parts of the monster and making it look too huge for our eyes to see, until he finally lets us see it in its full glory when the action kicks in. And sure enough, when Godzilla faces off against the two monsters, it is a sight to behold.

However, even a monster movie like this needs a good script, and this is where Godzilla trips on its tail. Edwards tries to make the human characters relatable, but only succeeds in the first half or so. Other than Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ken Watanabe, most of the cast have very little to do or say, and even if they had a good scene, it wouldn't matter that much in connection to the plot. Elizabeth Olsen in particular is wasted as Taylor-Johnson's wife, while Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche make rather short appearances as his parents. From the trailers, it looks like Cranston has a huge part, but he does not. Taylor-Johnson and Watanabe themselves spend a lot of time looking tense, hence making this film almost humorless.

The other thing that bugged me is Edwards' habit of cutting away from a scene just as Godzilla is about to kick ass. It happened at least three times and I wondered why. I get the idea of teasing the audience into wanting to see more of the monster by doing this, but he needs to pick his moments better. Like I said above, it worked in the first half, but after that it got a bit tiresome.

Borrowing a quote from a review I read, when it works, it works well. Godzilla has some of the epic feel a film of its ilk should have, but needs a better script to make it memorable. I still enjoyed it though. (3.5/5) 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Year: 2014
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti

Plot: Peter Parker continues to balance his heroic adventures as Spider-Man with being with Gwen Stacy despite promising her late father to stay away from her. But there's a bigger problem at hand when electrical engineer Max Dillon becomes a supervillain after an accident at his workplace. To top things off, Peter's old buddy Harry Osborn is looking for Spider-Man, and Peter learns more about his father's secrets.

Review: I've always had a problem with relating to Spider-Man. Even though Sam Raimi's previous trilogy was fun (the third one not so much) and Marc Webb's reboot was pretty damn good, I can never enjoy this as much as say, Captain America and The Avengers.

So anyway, this sequel to Webb's reboot focuses on Peter's relationship with Gwen, and how he's torn between wanting to be with her and keeping his promise to her dad. In fact, this instalment spends more time on this aspect than anything else. The other things include Spidey doing battle with Max Dillon aka Electro, learning about his father's secret research and dealing with Harry Osborn's obsession with Spider-Man, whom he believes can help save him from the same disease that killed his father Norman.

The film can get messy at times with so many subplots fighting for attention but Webb manages to hold it together fr the most part. The action sequences are quite good, though the battle Spidey takes part in at the film's climax is the best one, the other sequences are just average. Webb puts a lot of effort in building Peter's character and his relationship with Gwen, and thankfully doesn't make it too mushy.

Andrew Garfield is once again on point as Peter, though I might prefer his initial stint in the first film a bit more. Emma Stone, Garfield's real life girlfriend, unsurprisingly shares great chemistry with him as Gwen. Sally Field's great as usual in the role of Aunt May, being the mother figure we're all familiar with.

And now for the bad. I'll start with the villains. They're just poorly written and conceived. Electro's all right once he starts wreaking havoc, but poor Jamie Foxx has to play him as a nerd who gets looked over by most people. I don't know if this follows the comic book, but this kind of tragic villain just doesn't work for me. Then there's Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn / Green Goblin, whose physical transformation looked quite lame. Where Foxx was better after the transformation, DeHaan's the reverse. DeHaan is great as the rich kid who wouldn't listen to reason, but once he became the monster, he looked like a caricature. And oh God, Paul Giamatti as The Rhino. Why Paul? Webb could have picked any guy for this role, considering how badly Rhino and the dude before he got the suit (which is a far cry from the comic version) was written here. It's a huge disservice to a great actor like Paul. Oh, and all the bad guys' lines were cliched (I'll take away your hope, They'll know what it's like to live in a world without Spider-Man etc). And yeah, there's this Dr Kafka character played by Marton Csokas which really wasn't needed here, he isn't even the least bit interesting. It also doesn't help that the film ended in a semi-cliffhanger way, like we're supposed to expect something more in the next sequel.

Thing is, I'll give any film credit if it can entertain for the majority of its runtime. At a lengthy 142 minutes, TASM2 hits more than it misses, despite the flaws. So if you haven't seen it, go right ahead. You might enjoy it. (Oh, and ignore that X-Men sequel trailer during the credits, it's just a promo. No connection whatsoever to this film) (3.5/5) 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

That Demon Within

Year: 2014
Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Daniel Wu, Nick Cheung, Christie Chen, Andy On, Liu Kai Chi

Plot: After a cop inadvertently saves a robber's life by donating his blood to him, he is determined to nab him and his gang. But he struggles with his own inner turmoil caused by a past traumatic event, threatening his sanity.

Review: After hearing good things about this film, I decided to give it a try.

That Demon Within focuses on Dave, a cop who is so emotionally troubled, one can tell just by looking at him. One day, wanted robber Hon, injured from a car crash, walks into the hospital. With his blood type supply low, Dave, who is stationed there, donates his blood to save him, much to the chagrin of the investigating officer, who has lost several men because of him. Dave intends to make up for that mistake, but he suffers from emotional trauma in his past, and Hon seems connected to it somehow. 

As director, Dante Lam has managed to make his film both gritty and artistic, by showcasing blood and violence accompanied by great camerawork and use of colors. The film is essentially a study on Dave's state of mind and daily life, and Lam uses the above tools very well to present his lead character's inner demons and how it affects his choices and actions on the outside. Even something as basic as watching water go down a sink drain looks cool in Lam's hands.

But Lam's film wouldn't work without Daniel Wu's solid performance as Dave. Even from the first introduction of the character, Wu nails the part. He looks lean and slightly off in his head, which is perfect. Wu also hits all the right notes in depicting Dave's emotions, fears and anger. You fear him but pity him as well. Nick Cheung is also great as Hon, using a memorable evil smile to intimidate the audience while being ruthless in dealing with anyone in his way. 

However, the film suffers a little from editing problems. Lam stretches some scenes causing them to drag, while quick cutting other scenes that would have benefited from being shown in its entirety. The CGI used for scenes involving fire, especially in the climax, looked dodgy, but that's no surprise. The ending is also a bit weak and too long.

Overall That Demon Within is a solid psychological thriller which would have been better with a few tweaks here and there. Thanks to Daniel Wu, the film is worth checking out. (3.5/5)


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