Sunday, June 29, 2014

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Year: 2014
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver

Plot: Five years after the battle of Chicago, Transformers are now being hunted by the CIA's black ops team, who are in collaboration with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown. Optimus Prime, now in hiding, is forced to rely on struggling inventor Cade Yeager to survive and find the remaining Autobots.

Review: I'm certain you've all heard the worst things there are to say about this film. Quite honestly, I can't blame the critics for slamming this film. But in my opinion, is it bad? Nah, not really. If you weren't a fan of Michael Bay's Transformers before this, then this fourth instalment isn't going to change your mind. But if you have no problem with it, you'd probably enjoy it all the same.

First of all, it is Bay we're talking about. That means lots of explosions, lots of destruction, lots of over the top nonsense. If you're willing to sit through that, then why the hell would you complain? You've seen the first three, so you know what to expect here. But Bay does improve on a few things, like replacing his human cast completely. No annoying Sam Witwicky and his equally annoying parents. New protagonist Cade Yeager, played by a very game Mark Wahlberg, is definitely a step up. A struggling inventor trying to raise his teenage daughter and pay the bills, he's easier to relate to than a silly kid trying to pick up girls using his Autobot car. 

We also have a solid pair of villains, in the form of Lockdown, who is a bounty hunter not loyal to either Autobot or Decepticon, and CIA agent Attinger, played very well by Kelsey Grammer. While the former basically wants to bring Optimus Prime back to his "creators", the latter is a self proclaimed patriot doing what he thinks is best for his country. Then there is Stanley Tucci, who plays Joshua Joyce, a corporate inventor trying to harness Transformer tech for his own gain. He turns out to be the humor source for this film, and he's not so bad overall.

Now, I won't mention too much about the CGI and action sequences and all that, you know what to expect, as I said. I will say that it's mostly great, especially when the Dinobots show up in the final half hour of the film. But the film suffers mainly from editing issues. 165 minutes is a lot to ask for from any movie fan, even for a Transformers movie. There were definitely some scenes Bay could have left out that would trim at least 15 to 20 minutes off the total runtime. Scriptwriter Ehren Kruger could also have made the Autobots less human. I don't know why there's a need to make the robots talk and act like humans do. They've done that for four films now and I'm sick of it. Why can't they all talk like Optimus Prime?

So in closing, I'll recommend this film if you liked Bay's Transformers and love watching lots of shit getting blown up. If you don't like Bay, then don't go see this. For my money, it's worth one watch. (3.5/5)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Rover

Year: 2014
Director: David Michod
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy

Plot: Set in Australia ten years after a global economic collapse, a man pursues three men who stole his car. A young man, who is a former accomplice and brother to one of those men, is his only lead to finding them.

Review: This film is set in the Australian outback ten years after a global economic collapse (the cause is untold) and begins with Eric, a quiet man but not to be messed with. His car, his only possession, is stolen by three men who crash their truck nearby. Eric pursues them but loses them after a confrontation. He then runs into Rey, brother to one of the men whom they left behind, and forces him to lead the way to where they're headed.

Director David Michod, who co-wrote the screenplay with well known actor Joel Edgerton, presents what might look like a road trip film, but is more of a character study mixed with a futuristic western. Credit must be given to the production designers for creating a convincing look of the dusty and lawless outback, where deserts and highways stretch for miles, and nearly everyone carries a firearm. 

The film is mainly carried by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson as Eric and Rey respectively. Pearce is awesome here, giving Eric a potent mix of intensity and desperation, with a quiet demeanor on the surface. He is a man of few words, but Pearce makes every moment on screen count. Pattinson is great as well, being a character which is not like Edward Cullen at all. Rey is a somewhat simple-minded young man who constantly tries to connect with Eric, but doesn't quite succeed. The duo seem to be moving together out of mutual need more than anything else, which makes for fascinating occurrences.

The film however suffers from a slow pace, which might be taxing for those who have a problem with waiting for something to happen. Any questions regarding social and economical themes are not focused on here, though it was probably what Michod wanted as he explores his two lead characters throughout the film.

Overall, The Rover is quite a gem of a movie, but a flawed one. It does answer one question at the end: why does Eric want his car back so badly? (3.5/5)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Year: 2014
Director: Dean DeBlois
Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Kit Harington

Plot: The Vikings of Berk and dragons now live side by side thanks to Hiccup. However, a reunion with his long lost mother and the appearance of a deadly adversary may force the young lad to finally take charge of his life and shoulder the responsibility he thought he wasn't ready for.

Review: The sequel to the highly successful How To Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) turned out to be a nice surprise, because it's usually hard for a sequel to follow up and be as good as its predecessor.

Dean DeBlois, co-director of the first film and Cressida Cowell, writer of the HTTYD books, have come up with a winner here, especially in terms of plot and characters. Where the first film dealt with father son relationships and the idea of not judging a book by its cover, HTTYD2 focuses on friendship, family and responsibility.

Hiccup and his dragon Toothless are as tight as ever, living happily on Berk with his father Stoick and the rest of the Vikings. One day, he unexpectedly runs into his long thought dead mother Valka, whom he learns is an excellent dragon rider like him. While the boy is glad that his family is complete at last, he doesn't have time to celebrate when a bad man named Drago Bludvist, enters the picture. Drago captures dragons with a purpose: to turn them into an army, and he has his sights on Berk.

As before, the animation here is pretty good. This is most evident during flying sequences with Hiccup and Toothless, with the movements looking smooth and the background sky looking beautiful. The scene where Hiccup finds his mother's location amongst the dragons is also cool, the scenery is just lovely.

But the story and characters are where the film thrives the most. Hiccup, still a stubborn believer, learns a thing or two as the film progresses, about his mother, about dragons and how he must grow up whether he's ready or not. The villain Drago is also an inspired creation, being one who is dead serious and not the kind prone to comedic attempts like most animated films out there. Drago's resolve and dangerous skills make him a formidable opponent for our hero, and I welcome that.

There are a couple of things that I didn't dig, like Hiccup's girlfriend Astrid and his friends being either underused or misused. For example, one of the Viking twins has a crush on Eret, a dragon trapper, and they milk this joke one time too many. Then there's the brief song and dance number in the middle of the movie which I didn't care for, but I understood the reason for it being there. Some of the dragon sequences can be hard to follow too, since there can be too many dragons flying in the same frame at once. But these are minor complaints.

I had a lot of fun with HTTYD2, which continues the momentum generated by the first instalment. There will certainly be a HTTYD3 coming up, and it would almost surely be great too. Recommended. (4/5)

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Year: 2014
Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley

Plot: The back story of Maleficent, the evil fairy of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, is revealed.

Review: There have been many fairy tales adapted to live action films in the last few years, and the best one for me is still Snow White & The Huntsman. Maleficent, while being a good attempt at retelling a fairy tale in a different way, just doesn't work so well overall.

With a title like that, you'd expect the antagonist to be portrayed in a different light from what we all know of the Sleeping Beauty story, and that's what we get. Director Robert Stromberg presents the audience with Maleficent's history, how she befriended the boy who wanted to be king, and how his ambition drove him to betray her, turning her into the villain we all know. She then curses his daughter Aurora to fall asleep and never wake again on her 16th birthday, unless someone gives her true love's kiss.

So the entire story maintains the main key points with several changes here and there, where Maleficent will instead become the hero we wouldn't expect. The problem is, the execution of this version is somewhat poor, with many wasted opportunities to take it a step up.

Maleficent ought to be a dark character, even if she can be good in the end, but she got to be evil for all of five minutes, which was during the christening scene. This was the only time Angelina Jolie got to have some real fun with the character and show some menace. After that, she softens up considerably, removing any possibility of being cruel. Sharlto Copley plays King Stefan, formerly the boy who betrayed her, as an obsessive man who is so driven to kill her that he doesn't care about anything else, which eliminates any development of his character as it relates to Aurora or the queen. Speaking of Aurora, her character is developed by way of her relationship with Maleficent, who in this version, is the one that looks after the girl, and not the three fairies assigned to raise her in the original story. Like I mentioned above, this negates Maleficent's darkness a lot. And don't even ask about the poor lad they chose to be the supposed prince charming, as he is even more insignificant here than the CGI fairies in Maleficent's kingdom.

But there is some hope though. Sam Riley is solid as Maleficent's servant Diaval, and Elle Fanning fits the role of Aurora just nicely, though she smiles quite a lot, but then again it's part of her character. The CGI is rather beautiful too, which is a plus point. And of course, Jolie is born for this role, she is perfect.

Basically, Maleficent is made by Disney, and thus it is tailored to suit the younger ones more than adults and those looking for something more grim. If you have kids, take them to go see this, but you probably wouldn't like it that much yourself. (3/5) 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Edge Of Tomorrow

Year: 2014
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

Plot: A soldier fighting an alien invasion finds himself reliving the same day again and again every time he dies, and the only way to stop it is to learn how to beat the aliens and save the world.

Review: The old time loop story is most well known to movie fans through Groundhog Day and the much newer Source Code, though my fonder memories of this comes from an episode of The X-Files as well as one from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Basically it involves a person reliving the same day over and over, and the person has to find a way out, usually by doing things differently.

In this film, based on the novel All You Need Is Kill, Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a soldier forced into the front lines of an alien battle. Having little to no combat experience, he gets killed pretty quick, only to find himself back at the start of the day before. Try as he might, he can't get himself out of the battle, nor convince anyone about what's happening to him, except one. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the military's star soldier, believes him and tries to help him, telling him that he holds the key to beating the aliens.

Thanks to Doug Liman's kinetic pace and Cruise's charisma, there is never a dull moment here. Liman moves the film along with action sequence after action sequence, with bits of humor in between as Cruise gets himself killed over and over, a lot of times in hilarious or unexpected fashion. It's also really cool to see the battle suits the soldiers use, even though it makes them look like a cross between Robocop and that machine Ripley uses in Aliens. The battle itself, that takes place on a beach, is reminiscent of Normandy in WW2, so if you liked Saving Private Ryan, you'd know what I'm talking about. Even the aliens look different from the kinds I've seen, so that's another plus.

Cruise is great in the role, being the guy who has to learn how to fight instead of a general ass kicker for once, though he predictably gets better as the story moves along. He makes a great team with Blunt, who in reverse, has to be the skilled fighter which she usually isn't in her other films. Scenes of Blunt training Cruise over and over are rather entertaining, you'll get what I mean when you see them.

The only complaint I have is a tiny feeling that perhaps someone younger than Cruise would have suited the role better. Don't get me wrong, Cruise is great as he always is, and his near ageless looks give him an edge. But even so, he is noticeably older than the members in his squad, whereas someone a little younger would have fit right in. And maybe another complaint would be the too perfect ending, but these are miniscule overall.

Edge Of Tomorrow, despite its cheesy title (All You Need Is Kill sounds much better), is great entertainment whether you like Tom Cruise or not. Recommended. (4/5) 


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