Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Year: 2016
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter

Plot: 18 months after Superman's battle with Zod destroyed Metropolis, the world is still reeling from the man of steel's presence. Bruce Wayne, who lost several employees in that disaster, sees Superman as a threat. Conversely, Clark Kent sees Batman's vigilante tactics in combating crime in Gotham as dangerous. The two men are slowly finding their way towards one another in an epic battle, but they are unaware of two people taking a great interest in them: a devious millionaire bent on destroying Superman, and an Amazonian princess thousands of years old.

Review: The hype machine for this was huge, and it kept stirring even when the not so positive reviews came rolling in a few days before I wrote this. Everyone wants to know: Is Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice awesome? Well, yes. Sort of.

It begins the same way most Batman films do: the visualization of Bruce Wayne's main motivation in becoming the hero he is i.e. the death of his parents, which was well done actually. Then we move on to an adult Bruce watching Superman destroy Metropolis while battling General Zod at the end of Man Of Steel. As Bruce contemplates ways on getting even with Superman, Clark Kent sees Batman's vigilante style as violent and wants to put it on the Daily Planet's news, despite objections from Perry White. Then Lex Luthor, the eccentric yet brilliant millionaire takes measures to destroy Superman by getting his hands on Kryptonian technology left behind by Zod. And who is that stunningly beautiful lady watching Bruce Wayne? But of course, if you're well versed on DC storylines, you'd know what I'm referring to. And even if you're not, director Zack Snyder tells the story quite thoroughly.

One of Snyder's main strengths is his eye for action. He films action sequences quite well, and the long awaited scrap between Batman and Superman looks the best out of all the fights here. With the rain effects, it's reminiscent of Neo's fight with Agent Smith in Matrix Revolutions, minus the aerial nonsense. Coming a close second is the big battle sequence at the end involving our three heroes vs Luthor's creation, Doomsday, though it does look over-the-top at times.

Snyder also deserves credit for giving both Wayne and Clark equal focus in the film. Wayne's story involves him finding ways to neutralize Superman as his loyal assistant Alfred tries to dissuade him, while Clark starts to wonder if his actions in saving people do more harm than good, as more and more people, including a justice seeking senator, start blaming him for indirectly causing destruction.

Acting wise, Ben Affleck makes a good Batman and an even better Bruce Wayne, accurately reflecting a hero who has had enough of losing good people and has grown weary of the world. Henry Cavill looks the part of Superman and Clark Kent, but his performance is inconsistent at best. At times he nails the part, other times he seems wooden. Gal Gadot certainly plays Wonder Woman to a tee, though this isn't her film so she only gets one real moment to shine at the end. The supporting cast are solid here, with Jeremy Irons making a strong Alfred and Amy Adams being equally good as a likable Lois Lane. The weakest cast member would be Jesse Eisenberg, who as always chooses to be more like himself than his character, in this case Lex Luthor. While his eccentric attitude lends a suitable air of evil to Lex, those repetitive ticks in his movements and speech patterns were much too over the top for me to take him seriously. And yes, I'll say it again, he's still being Jesse.

As good as this film is though, Snyder fails to condense his film properly. It seems like he and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer came up with a ton of ideas and couldn't decide which ones to use, so they ended up using all of them. Because of that, the first half is filled with plenty of exposition (some of it is good, but exposition nonetheless) and the ending feels like it used all the ideas they came up with. There were a handful of dream/nightmare sequences that weren't necessary and could have been edited out. Snyder could have easily put these in the DVD later. As a result, the film feels 20 minutes too long.

But still, watching the two biggest icons of DC in the same movie, assisted by their most famous female ally is something no movie fan should miss. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is merely a stepping stone to something greater, and the seeds of the Justice League have been planted. This film is a spectacle indeed, so do go check it out. But you'll need some patience to sit through it though. (7/10) 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

Year: 2016
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Costabile, Peyman Moaadi

Plot: Based on a true story. On September 11, 2012, the residence of the US Ambassador in Benghazi, Libya is attacked by militants. Six private defense contractors working for the CIA went against orders to stand down in order to respond and save lives, and subsequently they defended the CIA outpost from the militants until reinforcements arrived.

Review: Believe it or not, it's nice to see a Michael Bay film that isn't over-the-top in terms of destruction. Not that I minded watching his Transformers films over the years, but it is good to see him do something on a smaller scale, and something less surreal.

13 Hours depicts the true story of how six men, former military officers now turned defense contractors for the CIA went against their boss' orders and chose to come to the aid of the US Ambassador whose home in Benghazi, Libya was being attacked by militants on the night of September 11, 2012. Their act subsequently put their CIA base at risk, and the men were forced to defend the base against waves of attacks by the militants until reinforcements arrive.

The one thing that never fails to impress me about Michael Bay is how he is able to get military advice and assistance to make his film look good. From the Transformers films to Pearl Harbor, he always depicts the American military forces in very good light, and I mean that in a positive way. Speaking of Bay, his usual Bay-hem style of action is still present here, but done on a lower level of chaos. In this sense it works quite well and a welcome change from what we've seen him do in the past. I also liked how Bay staged a handful of tense situations where either the men can't tell whether they're about to face hostiles approaching or not, or they are facing armed men who could shoot them at a drop of the dime. The opening sequence where two of the men face off against a group of angry armed Libyans blocking their path to their base is a perfect example of the latter.

The cast all perform well enough, and being only six men it's not hard to distinguish them from each other. The best of the lot are John Krasinski and James Badge Dale. Krasinski plays Jack Silva, the newest addition to the team while Dale plays team leader Tyrone Woods. Both men succeed in portraying men who are willing to risk their lives but at the end of the day they're just regular joes who want to go home to their families. David Costabile is also good as the CIA boss reluctant to send the men out, and Peyman Moaadi (A Separation) shines in his small role as a Libyan translator.

However the film suffers from being a bit too long. Some fifteen minutes or so could have been edited to tighten the pace. The camerawork during some of the firefights were also too shaky, and oftentimes I couldn't tell who was shooting at who.

Overall, 13 Hours is a solid action film, and while it isn't as memorable as Black Hawk Down or Lone Survivor, it does match those films in terms of intensity, and is worth checking out. (7/10)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3

Year: 2016
Directors: Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni
Voice cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston

Plot: Kai, a former ally turned enemy of Master Oogway, escapes the spirit world with a quest to rob every kung fu master in China of their chi. Po is the one destined to stop him, but in order to do so, he must rediscover himself, with the help of his long lost father.

Review: At the end of this film, it almost felt like the adventures of Po aka the Dragon Warrior has finally come full circle, yet I hear that they plan on making three more Kung Fu Panda flicks. While that piece of news might sound encouraging, I sure hope they make it better than this one, because it feels like the quality of the films are slowly going down.

The formula hasn't changed much. There is a villain, usually a pretty formidable one. The villain takes out several martial art masters, which includes some of the Furious Five. And Po will have to learn something new to stop said villain. Now, I don't have a problem with the formula because it works. But the execution needs to hit its mark and they miss it in certain areas. As the story goes, the villain is Kai, an ox from the spirit world who takes the chi from all the great masters including Master Oogway and travels to the mortal world to do the same. Meanwhile, Master Shifu puts Po in charge of teaching the Furious Five, which turns out poorly. But the panda suddenly runs into his Li, his long lost father, much to the chagrin of his adoptive father Mr. Ping. When word of Kai's arrival reaches the valley, Po realises that he must rediscover his origins by returning with Li to his roots at a remote panda village.

As far as the plot goes, the filmmakers have done it right. Po once again has to learn a lesson or two to beat the enemy, and it doesn't always mean a new kung fu move. The film has its heart in the right place, as Po learns how to teach and reconnect with his own past, while his two fathers learn a lesson of their own.

But the film's humour is where it is left wanting. The first part of the movie works perfectly, and it is only when Po arrives at his father's village when the jokes start to take a juvenile turn. While watching Po perform physical comedy in the last two films seem like fun, watching a bunch of similar looking pandas of all sizes and ages do the same thing isn't. And the sequences keep coming one after the other, and it gets tiresome real quick. The kids will probably love it though (there was this kid four or five seats to my right in the cinema laughing continuously at this, so there). The final fight scene between Po and Kai was also a letdown as it takes on a supernatural level of combat. Now, I don't have any issues with the use of chi and how that plays into this battle, but seeing this is like seeing Neo vs Agent Smith in Matrix Revolutions when they start doing aerial battles. I like fights that obeys the law of physics more than those that don't, even if this is a cartoon.

But it's really not a bad film, as Kung Fu Panda 3 goes in the direction it has to go. And the dramatic beats of the film still hit the right spots every time. There was also a segment involving Crane and Mantis away from the main cast which is a nice touch, otherwise the Five aside from Tigress never get enough screen time.

To sum it up, Kung Fu Panda 3 is watchable indeed if you've been following the franchise so far. But they need to raise the level of comedy to appeal to the older generation as well. Let's hope they do that for number four. (6/10)

Sunday, March 06, 2016

London Has Fallen

Year: 2016
Director: Babak Najafi
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Aboutboul, Charlotte Riley, Angela Bassett

Plot: President Benjamin Asher and his loyal bodyguard/friend Mike Banning travel to London to attend the British Prime Minister's funeral. However things turn ugly when terrorists strike, killing major world leaders and destroying iconic parts of the city, forcing Banning and the president to flee and avoid becoming the next casualty.

Review: Olympus Has Fallen was a solid action movie despite its flaws, but its success allowed the studio to make this sequel, which follows the same beats but sacrifices even more logic than before. More on that later.

London Has fallen takes place three years after Olympus, with Mike Banning still by President Asher's side and Speaker Trumbull now promoted to Vice President. When the British Prime Minister dies, Asher and Banning head to London with many of the other world leaders to attend his funeral, and that's when terrorists strike. Aamir Barkawi, notorious terrorist and arms dealer, who was presumed dead after a drone strike at the beginning of the film, is taking revenge for his daughter's death during that strike. His men kill the other world leaders and target Asher for capture, planning to execute him publicly. Banning has to keep Asher alive while the city reels from the chaos caused by Barkawi.

Relatively new Iranian director Babak Najafi takes over from Antoine Fuqua, and manages to keep the film coherent and moving briskly, with a few good action sequences, the best being the initial attack that wipes out the other world leaders followed by a suspenseful car chase sequence.

The cast however seems disengaged for the most part. Other than Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart returning as Banning and Asher, the rest of the returning cast deliver phoned-in performances. Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell and even Morgan Freeman look like they have no enthusiasm coming back for this sequel. Robert Forster, Melissa Leo and Sean O'Bryan make up the rest of the recurring cast but barely get enough screen time to matter. Jackie Earle Haley is a new addition as White House Chief Of Staff but doesn't get much to do. The only supporting cast member that stands out is Charlotte Riley as MI6 agent Jax, who assists Banning during the film's second half. Alon Aboutboul is decent enough as Barkawi but doesn't seem threatening enough beyond a few scowls.

Another problem is the script, which makes Mike Banning seem like a super agent, much like Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt. Banning is depicted as a one man wrecking crew, especially in the film's climax as he storms the terrorists' stronghold and takes them out video game style. There's also the big plothole as to how the world leaders were killed so easily, putting a big question mark on how poor their security detail really is. For instance, why was the Japanese Prime Minister stuck in traffic on a bridge? Doesn't he have a motorcade? Finally the script makes room for subplots like Banning's wife expecting a child and Asher ordering Banning to kill him if he gets captured to prevent propaganda execution, which has no effect on how the film eventually plays out.

All in all, London Has Fallen is a decent action film, but not as good as its predecessor. (6/10)   

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Gods Of Egypt

Year: 2016
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brendon Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Courtney Eaton, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Geoffrey Rush, Rufus Sewell

Plot: Horus, god of the air, is about to be bestowed as King of Egypt when his uncle Set, god of the desert, crashes the party and kills Horus' father Osiris, defeats Horus in combat and seizes the throne. Under Set's rule, the people of Egypt suffer. Hope rises in the form of Bek, a young human thief who must help Horus regain his power and his rightful place on the throne.

Review: By now you must have read or heard of the numerous poor reviews of this film, and director Alex Proyas' disdain for those reviews. His anger is quite understandable, as I feel most of these critics have been too harsh. I won't lie though, Gods Of Egypt is no masterpiece, but it isn't the awful film the critics made it out to be either.

The film centers on Egyptian gods who live side by side with mortals, and Horus, god of the air, is about to become king of the land when his uncle Set shows up, kills Horus' father Osiris and takes Horus' eyes after a scuffle. The other gods fear Set and do not oppose him. Horus lives in exile as Set rules Egypt with an iron fist, turning people into slaves. Bek, a young thief, is persuaded by his lady love Zaya to steal Horus' eye from Set's vault and help him regain his power so that he can take the throne. But it's easier said than done since Set is hunting them and the unlikely duo have to survive each other first.

Gods Of Egypt is basically Clash Of The Titans meets The Mummy, having the imagination of the former and the campiness of the latter, but not quite as fun as both films. It's quite an ambitious film judging by the $140 million budget, but the CGI does look dodgy at times, especially when Horus and Set transform into animal creatures. But more importantly, the film is coherent enough and never gets dull, not for me anyway. Proyas deserves credit for that, at least.

What's also noteworthy are the action sequences, most of which look good and were choreographed well. I also liked the Egyptian fantasy elements featured, like how the world is perceived to be flat, and Ra's continuous battle with the demon Apophis above it, and how the trip to the underworld looks like. These few little things help elevate the film above average quality.

However Gods Of Egypt suffers from poor casting. Now, I don't mean that whole controversy about casting Caucasians over Egyptians thing, I don't care much for that. I felt that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a bit too old to play Horus, as he's only a year younger than Gerard Butler as his uncle Set. He's good for the role otherwise. Butler on the other hand seems to enjoy playing the bad guy here so that's a positive. Brendon Thwaites and Courtney Eaton are also poor choices for Bek and Zaya, as neither of them possess adequate acting chops to be convincing in their roles. Elodie Yung fares slightly better as Hathor, goddess of love and Horus' lover, but isn't endearing enough to be memorable. Chadwick Boseman's effeminate approach as Thoth, god of wisdom seems strange and a bit annoying at times. Other than Butler, only Geoffrey Rush as Ra is a spot on casting choice.

The two love relationships in this story are also unconvincing or uninteresting. Bek and Zaya's romance is underdeveloped and I wasn't convinced that they would die for each other. As for Horus and Hathor, they argue far too often which is a turn off for me. Some improvement was clearly needed in this aspect.

Overall I'd consider Gods Of Egypt forgettable, but quite fun if you let yourself enjoy it and not think too much of its flaws. (6/10)  


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