Monday, February 23, 2015


Year: 2014
Director: Angelina Jolie
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney

Plot: The true story of Louis Zamperini, a former US Olympic athlete and military bombardier who survived 47 days on a raft in the ocean after a plane crash, only to be captured by the Japanese during WWII.

Review: Being the humanitarian that she is, a story like Unbroken is pretty much expected to be right up Angelina Jolie's alley. In fact, it's no secret that this film is her pet project.

Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, a US bombardier who survived on a raft in the ocean with two other crewmates for 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp, where he was tortured by an officer nicknamed 'The Bird'. The film also explores Louis' troubled childhood, until his brother finally convinced him to be a track runner, which led him to the Olympics in Berlin.

For the most part, Jolie's direction is steady. She sort of divides the film into three sections: Louis' childhood and training for the Olympics, his ordeal at sea and his time at the POW camp, with flashbacks here and there. Each section is well handled and near seamlessly put together to tell his story thoroughly. I thought that his experience at sea was the best part of the three.

The cast themselves put in competent performances overall, with Jack O'Connell and Takamasa Ishihara aka Miyavi standing out the most as Louis and The Bird respectively. O'Connell is capable enough to display the right emotions while telling Louis' harrowing experience at sea and at the camp, with Miyavi doing an equally good job being sadistic and cruel in the shoes of The Bird.

However, despite all that, the film doesn't quite say enough about the man. Jolie and her cast do all they can, but they can't quite tell the audience what makes the man tick. They also can't tell the audience exactly why The Bird loves picking on Louis at the camp. Jolie keeps the man beyond an arm's length from the audience, and thus we're only scratching the surface on the man's true story here. It's a great story for sure, but not very comprehensive on the man behind that story. His real motivations remain hollow to me, at least as far as this film is concerned.

As far as being an incredible true story goes, Unbroken hits most of the right notes, but it needs more meat in that story to really stand out. (7/10)

Jupiter Ascending

Year: 2015
Directors: The Wachowskis
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton

Plot: Jupiter Jones, a janitor from a family of janitors, discovers that she is the reincarnation of an alien matriarch to a powerful alien family that owns Earth, and thus is the heir to the planet. This puts her in the crosshairs of the family's children, who want the planet for themselves to continue making youth serum and live forever. Her only hope of survival is an intergalactic hunter who exceeds his orders.

Review: Based on the trailers alone, this film seemed to have a ton of potential. Everyone loves a space epic, right? With loads of special effects and colorful characters, Jupiter Ascending could have been almost as good as Star Wars or Star Trek. Sadly it does not come close to either.

The Wachowski siblings wrote a pretty good story here, actually. But their execution of the plot is quite poor, and the over reliance of visual effects up to the point where you can't see who's shooting who or what's going on really brought the film down. The plot itself had potential, but the siblings overcomplicated it too.

So let me try to break it down for you as best I can: Jupiter Jones lives a mundane life of cleaning houses with her family. She discovers that some aliens want her dead because she is the reincarnation of an alien matriarch and thus has the power to take away their inheritance i.e. Earth. The aliens seeded the planet thousands of years ago so that they can harvest mankind to make youth serum and live forever. Her only savior is a spliced man wolf who was hired to capture her, but eventually learns how important she is.

If not for the many twists and turns and lack of explanation of motives, the film would have made more sense. Thanks to the poor direction by the siblings, the audience is either left trying to catch up or bored while waiting to see where it ends. The film does pick up by the final third, but by then it's a bit too late.

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis do the best they can with the material given as Caine the hunter and Jupiter respectively, but never really rise above mediocrity. Sean Bean fares a little better as Caine's buddy but doesn't get a heck of a lot to do. Eddie Redmayne hams it up extremely as Balem Abrasax, the eldest child of the alien family after Jupiter and the chief villain. While his performance may seem hilariously over the top at times, it's quite entertaining to watch him go off the rails like that, which is more than I can say for the other actors.

In the end, I can't say I hated this movie, but I can't say I liked it that much either. I'm just disappointed over the wasted potential. It's just barely good, I guess. (6/10)  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Still Alice

Year: 2015
Directors: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

Plot: Alice Howland, a linguistics professor and mother of three, discovers she has Alzheimer's, and struggles to keep her life together as she and her family deal with it.

Review: Still Alice talks about the kind of thing we would never wish upon anyone, not even our worst enemies. While there have been many characters on screen that suffer from debilitating diseases, there hasn't been one quite as tragic as Alice. We're not talking about Stephen Hawking or anyone who rises above their condition at the end, or offers some glimmer of hope despite the odds. This is someone who is suffering from something awful, and all we can do is watch it unfold.

Julianne Moore plays Alice, a happily married linguistics professor with three grown children who starts forgetting things like words, appointments and names. After seeing a specialist, she discovers she has Alzheimer's despite being too young, and worst of all, not only is there no cure for it, she may have likely passed on the defective gene to her kids. The film focuses on how she and her family deal with her condition, which ranges from getting used to her forgetfulness, to making sacrifices they're not ready to make.

I won't lie, directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland did not make it easy for the audience to digest this. Alice's rapid decline from being a successful career woman to someone who can't find the bathroom in her own house is difficult to watch. On the flipside, it can get tough at times to see the movie drive home its point over and over, but thanks to the cast's fine performance, it doesn't get old often enough to make it nauseating.

Speaking of the cast, Julianne Moore is pretty much the main reason to go see this. She gives Alice the perfect mix of fear, vulnerability, strength and heart to justify her presence in nearly every scene in the film. In fact, she is the centre attraction up to the point that the supporting cast can't quite hold a candle to her, though not for lack of trying. Alec Baldwin is solid as her husband and Kristen Stewart is equally effective as her youngest daughter Lydia, who is portrayed as the black sheep of the family, but ends up empathizing with her the most.

The one weakness of the film is as mentioned; the over focus on Alice. This robs the chance for the other family members to show how they deal with the problem amongst themselves, which would have made the story a bit more interesting.

Overall, Still Alice is a sad and tragic film, but one you shouldn't avoid watching. Recommended. (8/10) 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Imitation Game

Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear

Plot: The true story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who successfully cracked the unbreakable Enigma code used by the Nazis during World War II.

Review: Hot on the heels of Stephen Hawking biography The Theory Of Everything comes The Imitation Game, based on the true story of the man who broke the Nazi's Enigma code that led to the Allies' victory in WWII, Alan Turing. Unlike the former, which focuses on Hawking and his wife Jane in equal measure, this film centres mostly on Turing.

Director Morten Tyldum presents his movie adapted from Andrew Hodges' book about the man, which flips back and forth from his time spent with MI6 trying to build a machine that can crack the Enigma code, to 1951 where he's being investigated by the police on suspicion of indecent behavior, with occasional flashbacks to his younger school days where his homosexual tendencies first surfaced. Tyldum and Graham Moore's adapted screenplay gives an even account of Turing's private and professional life, thus giving viewers a fair and detailed look into the man's genius and awkwardness around people.

The best parts of the film, in my opinion, is his work in building what is basically the world's first computer, in order to crack the ever changing Enigma code. Turing's struggles with his colleagues, superiors as well as the frustration of failure after failure before finally hitting paydirt, is excellently shown here.

However, the film needs a great actor to portray Turing, and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the role. Cumberbatch plays Turing as a difficult man to understand, who values his work above anything else, and seems unable to socially mingle with others, which puts him at odds with his teammates and superiors. But his genius is undeniable, and even as he proves himself to everyone, he still struggles to hide his dark secret from them. Cumberbatch is excellent here, and truly deserves his Oscar nomination. Keira Knightley puts in a strong performance as Joan Clarke, Turing's colleague and one of the very few people who connect with him. Other supporting cast members such as Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and the ever reliable Mark Strong also turn in great work here, but it is Cumberbatch's film, without a doubt.

The only drawback to this film is the scenes taking place in 1951, where police detective Nock (played by Rory Kinnear) is investigating Turing, suspecting him of espionage. I felt that this part of the story wasn't really necessary, even though it is executed mostly well. It's just that Turing's work during the war was far more fascinating and the film slows down a bit whenever it goes away from it.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Imitation Game as both a historical film and an interesting biography of a man finally being recognized for his triumphs after being unjustly punished due to his sexual orientation. Recommended. (9/10)

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Year: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Plot: The life of Mason Evans, from age of 5 to 18.

Review: Boyhood has already gained lots of Oscar buzz heading to the ceremony in a couple of weeks, mostly due to Richard Linklater's unique decision to film this over the course of 12 years, taking about a week per year. It's a very bold move indeed, since anything could have happened in that time which can potentially derail such an ambitious project.

Linklater basically takes the same actors for about a week each year and shoots the story as it goes along, so the audience gets a unique experience of watching the film's characters grow old over time. The focus is on young Mason, who lives with his mum and sister, and occasionally meets his dad from time to time, and how he learns the lessons of life, from moving to a new place, getting a new family when his mum remarries and later divorces, making new friends, picking up bad habits from them, getting a girlfriend, taking up photography and finally graduating and going to college.

It must be said that this story, while unique and yet still hits most of its dramatic beats, isn't quite easy to sit through. For one thing, Linklater avoids the usual Hollywood cliches of making a kid's growing pains to be full of drama and tragedy, instead opting for a subtle and mostly normal journey. While it's different, it can get a bit tiring and by the time you get to the final third of this 165 minute epic, you may just want it to get to the point, and even then, you might not get it if you don't feel it.

To their credit, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are excellent as Mason's parents. Watching them grow old as they raise Mason in their own way is interesting. Arquette is the hardworking mum trying her best to take care of two kids while pursuing the job she needs, and successfully makes you feel for her during her highs and lows. Hawke is also solid as the father who imparts good wisdom on his kids despite not always being there for them after splitting from their mother. He is clearly not the perfect dad but he is essentially a good man, a fact that Hawke nails perfectly. Lorelei Linklater is all right as Mason's sister Sam, but the focus is mostly on Ellar Coltrane of course. While he nails the young Mason very well, his performance starts to sink when he becomes a teenager. Now, I don't know if it was intentional, but he seemed to be putting on the same expression all the time and looking aloof at this point, which didn't really work for me. 

I will give credit though to Shane Kelly and Lee Daniel for the great cinematography, and some great choice music by Coldplay, Gotye and others that reflect the specific times in the film. Also, great original music by Ethan Hawke which he performed in the film.

So what I can say is Boyhood is very ambitious and one-of-a-kind, even though this reviewer didn't feel it working so well at times. But it's a film that everyone should give a shot watching. (7/10)

Monday, February 02, 2015


Year: 2014
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan

Plot: A washed up actor attempts to revive his career by directing a play on Broadway.

Review: Birdman is a surprise gem, namely because it's one of those films with not much of a plot but manages to deliver what David O'Russell's last few films couldn't, and also because it's a brilliant satire on Hollywood, acting and celebrities.

O'Russell's American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and yes, even The Fighter didn't have much of a plot, but none of them are as good as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman, which centres on Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor known for playing a comicbook character called Birdman, who now wants to stage (no pun intended) a comeback by directing in and starring in a Broadway play. The film focuses on the first few nights of previews and the opening night itself, and everything that happens in between as Riggan has to deal with his volatile co-star (Edward Norton), rebellious daughter (Emma Stone) and a voice in his head telling him not to go through with the play.

Inarritu, who directs and also co-wrote the script, brilliantly keeps things flowing and throws every joke you can think of in regards to being a celebrity and actor in today's world. He resorts to filming long takes and making almost the entire film look like one unending take, which is superb since he seamlessly blends the scenes with each other, so even if time has passed between one scene and the next, you'd know it, yet welcome it too. The music score, which is mostly drum beats by Antonio Sanchez, also fits the film perfectly, though it can get tiresome at times.

The entire main cast throw in excellent performances here, though the lion's share of praise goes to Keaton for making Riggan a funny, flawed and sympathetic guy. He's not the nicest guy to be around at times, but you will like him nonetheless. This is pretty much Keaton's best role ever. Norton also impresses as Riggan's crazy and unpredictable co-star Mike, whose presence is a threat to the play's success. Stone is also great, moving away from the goody two shoes Gwen Stacy, as Riggan's daughter Sam, with whom he is trying to reconnect. The others are awesome in their own way; Naomi Watts as Riggan's struggling co-star, Zach Galifianakis as Riggan's producer, Andrea Riseborough as Riggan's girlfriend and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife. All seven of them work wondrously with each other, showing great chemistry in every scene. Needless to say, this is one of the best casts ever put on screen.

I have nearly no complaints about Birdman, except maybe the ending, which seemed strange. But overall, I'm pleased with the film, which allows movie fans, from the regular to the cynical, see what it's like behind the scenes of stage plays and how actors view the world, which is now saturated with the invention of social media.

Birdman is hilarious, heartfelt and exciting all at once. Recommended. (9/10)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Water Diviner

Year: 2014
Director: Russell Crowe
Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney

Plot: Four years after his three sons were killed at the Battle of Gallipoli, a man travels to Turkey to locate their remains and bring them home.

Review: The Water Diviner marks the directorial debut of Russell Crowe, which he also stars in the lead role. While his direction may not be perfect, he is still able to tell a story well.

Crowe plays Joshua Connor, a water diviner in Australia who has lost all three of his sons at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. When his wife commits suicide over her grief, Joshua decides to travel to Turkey and locate his boys' remains. The quest is however easier said than done, as both the Australian army seeking collection of their dead and the Turkish people trying to rebuild their country after the fall of the Ottoman empire, provide obstacles in his path.

Crowe deserves praise for one thing; despite his lead character being Australian, the focus on this film is more towards the Turkish people. Viewers get to see their customs and culture, and all of the Turkish characters, save for one, are sympathetic, kind and reasonable towards Joshua. I loved how Crowe pays attention to their culture, as something as basic as a traditional dance or a song turns out to be quite intoxicating for the viewer to behold.

The cinematography and pacing are also good, the former most visibly obvious during a sandstorm scene. Crowe keeps the story moving smoothly, never including any scene that has no purpose to the story, and for that he should be commended. There are also a few battle scenes that were well shot, even though it isn't overly bloody but intense enough to satisfy war fans.

However, I found his performance as Joshua to be rather subdued. It works more often than not, but one gets the feeling that he put more focus on his directing duties than his acting here. Olga Kurylenko turns in a good performance as Ayshe, a Turkish hotel owner who assists Joshua despite disliking him at first. Olga doesn't quite look Turkish though. Yilmaz Erdogan is quite memorable as Major Hasan, the Turkish commander who tries to help Joshua in his quest. It's odd though that fellow Australian Isabel Lucas was cast as Ayshe's Turkish friend, though it's not a major part.

While Crowe's direction is steady enough, I would have liked him to put more detail into certain things, like the passage of time in the story or how a scene moves to the next one. Granted, it's his first film as a director so he can learn from this experience.

Overall, The Water Diviner is a solid attempt at directing by Russell Crowe. It has its flaws but it's a good story well told, and it deserves a watch. (7/10)


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