Sunday, August 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Year: 2017
Director: David F Sandberg
Cast: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee

Plot: A dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their home, years after they had lost their own daughter in an accident. Once there however, the girls start to sense an evil presence in the house, which is connected to one of the dollmaker's creations, Annabelle.

Review: John R Leonetti's Annabelle, made in 2014, was little more than to capitalize on the success of James Wan's The Conjuring, and simply wasn't scary. Thus, Annabelle: Creation, a film that goes back even before the first Annabelle, now arrives, hoping to do what its predecessor failed.

The story begins with Samuel and Esther Mullins, a dollmaker and his wife, who live happily with their beloved daughter Annabelle "Bee" Mullins, until she is tragically killed in an accident. Twelve years later, the Mullinses welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their large home. Soon after they arrive however, strange things start to happen, and it's all centred on a forbidden room in the house, where a porcelain doll in a white dress resides. It's possessed, and it wants a soul, and it has targeted Janice, the girl who walks with a limp.

Director David F Sandberg (Lights Out) has done a stupendous job in generating the scares, using darkness, creaky doors and floors, and of course, objects that move by themselves, from the Annabelle doll itself to a scarecrow and even lightbulbs. His style is quite similar to Wan's, but it works very well. Almost every jump scare here is well earned.

What this film also has is something that Annabelle did not have: a convincing relationship. Much like Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring films, Creation has a solid relationship here as well; a sister-like friendship between two of the orphans, Janice and Linda. Janice's handicap makes her an outcast among the other girls, except for Linda, who treats her like a best friend and always stays by her side. This connection is truly crucial as the audience can't help but care about what happens to these two girls as the story moves along.

Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson are the standouts here, giving believable performances as Janice and Linda respectively. Wilson, who last wowed audiences in Ouija: Origin Of Evil, is on the mark here, this time playing scared instead of scary. Bateman is also superb as the target of the evil spirit, displaying a palpable sense of vulnerability. Stephanie Sigman gets the token disbeliever role as Sister Charlotte, but much more likable than Ward Horton's John from the first Annabelle. Veteran actor Anthony LaPaglia also shines as Samuel Mullins, being emotionally cold for the most part, due to his personal loss, while Miranda Otto doesn't get much screen time as Mrs Mullins, but plays a crucial role in the third act.

As with most horror films these days, the downsides usually involves questionable decisions by its characters, like why do they go into a forbidden room, or why not run when something scary is coming etc. But the best way to enjoy this film is to just suspend disbelief a little bit and enjoy what unfolds.

All in all, I enjoyed Annabelle: Creation thanks to Sandberg's ability to scare audiences formidably, and tying this film to the other Annabelle film. Stay tuned till the credits finish rolling for another brief scene. (8/10)

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Dark Tower

Year: 2017
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Claudia Kim, Dennis Haysbert, Fran Kranz

Plot: In a parallel universe, warriors known as Gunslingers protect the Dark Tower, the source of protection of all realms from the darkness beyond. The last Gunslinger alive, Roland must now protect a young boy from Earth, whom a mysterious Man In Black intends to use to destroy the tower.

Review: I almost decided not to watch this film after hearing about the poor reviews it got. After seeing it, I have to say it's not too bad. Much like last year's Warcraft, The Dark Tower suffers from not making enough time to explore its universe, though compared to the former, it is at least more comprehensible.

It's basically the story of two men and a boy. Roland, the last Gunslinger, has given up his duty to protect the Dark Tower and only wants revenge against Walter a.k.a. The Man In Black, who had killed his father. Walter needs a special child with strong enough psychic abilities to destroy the tower and unleash hell on the universe. Jake, a boy from our world, is the child in question, and now Roland has to protect him from Walter at all costs.

If you're looking for a straightforward action fantasy movie, The Dark Tower pretty much fits the bill. The CGI is good, the action is well shot and the old fashioned tale of good vs evil is the film's centrepiece. In short, if you lower your expectations and just have fun with this film, chances are you'll enjoy yourself, just like I did. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the film with Akiva Goldsman and two others, does a decent enough job in pacing the film and keeping things coherent for the most part. A film where characters jump from one universe to another can get complicated but Arcel is up to the task.

Idris Elba is perfect as Roland, balancing perfectly between weary hero and father figure to the boy. He also excels in the action sequences; I gotta say, watching him shoot and reload his guns is the coolest thing about this film. Matthew McConaughey plays Walter with a mixture of devilish charm and cold calmness, and a worthy opponent for Roland. I only wish the film was a bit longer so we can see more of him. Tom Taylor is splendid as Jake, a boy who misses his late father and looks up to Roland as a friend and surrogate dad.

Apparently, test audiences didn't like the film and reshoots were done, so if you've seen the trailers, you'd notice a few missing scenes; even the climax of the film ended pretty abruptly. And, as mentioned, like Warcraft, you get the feeling there's a whole backstory to this that could have been explored or at least briefly explained, like Walter's origins, or why a child is needed to bring the tower down, or who made the portals that allow them to travel between universes. 

To sum it up, The Dark Tower is fun, but it's over way too soon. With a bit more time spent on its story, it could have been truly memorable. It is written by Stephen King, after all. (7.5/10)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, John Bernthal

Plot: A young getaway driver plans to break free from working for a crime boss after meeting the girl of his dreams, but his boss has other plans.

Review: Call me crazy, but I don't really enjoy a film when it has too much fun with itself. There are a few notable exceptions, like say Shoot 'Em Up or Con Air, being so silly that there's only one way to enjoy them. Baby Driver isn't quite like that, though it tries hard.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a young man constantly attached to his iPod who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss with a knack for planning heists. Baby is a tremendously gifted driver, thus his skills are really useful to Doc. He falls in love with Debora (Lily James), a cute waitress, and plans to run away with her once he squares his debt to Doc. But the old man will not let him just walk away, and hires him for a heist alongside three very volatile criminals; Buddy, Darling and Bats.

Edgar Wright, who wrote and directed this film, set out to do only one thing: create a fun filled action comedy driven by his favorite songs, and to a certain extent, he succeeds. The car chases are good (the opening chase is the standout, the others don't come close), the dialogue is funny (Jamie Foxx's lines are the best) and the acting for the most part, are spot on.

Elgort is reasonably charming as Baby, and makes a great pair with James as Debora. Spacey is just oozing cool and mean at the same time as Doc, while Foxx is just batshit crazy as Bats, with Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez being both magnetic and deadly as Buddy and Darling respectively. Foxx in particular is hilarious, even when he means business.

Now, here's my problem. I do not dig Wright's move to dictate pretty much everything in this film by song and song beats. I get it, Guardians Of The Galaxy was cool for the most part because of great music choices, but let's not get carried away. Wright doesn't just put in killer tracks in the background of nearly every scene, he also sets what happens on screen to the beat of the music, from Elgort's dancing and strutting (which I found quite annoying) to gunshots and action beats etc. It's overkill for me. It's like Wright is trying so very hard to make this film look and sound cool, when he really doesn't have to. I also felt that the editing could be a bit tighter and the third act was a tad messy for my liking.

With all that being said, Baby Driver is reasonably entertaining thanks to a fine cast and great dialogue, but after reading all the hype from reviewers everywhere, I have to say this film is quite overrated. It's fun, but much easier to run with if it was simpler. (7/10)

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, James D'arcy, Harry Styles

Plot: On May 26th 1940, British soldiers were trapped on the beach of Dunkirk by German forces. This is the story of how they made it back home.

Review: Only director Christopher Nolan can actually succeed at making a war movie that is both tense and compelling without resorting to violence and gore. But then again, Dunkirk isn't so much a film about fighting the war, but more of an escape from it.

Nolan's latest feature is seen from three different viewpoints: a British soldier and a French soldier attempt to flee Dunkirk by sea, though the lack of available ships make it almost impossible; an elderly man, his son and his son's friend set out by boat, answering Churchill's call to British civilians to bring their troops home; and a couple of RAF pilots do their best to shoot down German bombers in order to secure their comrades' safe evacuation. Nolan shifts between these three storylines seamlessly until they all come together by the film's end, but even on their own, each story is taut and gripping.

The tension already begins in the first scene as the British soldier dodges enemy fire on the streets of Dunkirk before reaching the beach, where he teams up with a French soldier and attempt to board a ship. Although their story is undoubtedly the most tense and interesting of the three, the other two stories have their own appeal. The elderly boatman faces problems as soon as he rescues his first soldier, one who is still in severe shock. The pilots engaged in aerial dogfights with the Germans have to stay alive while making sure they have enough fuel to return home. There isn't a dull moment at all as Nolan slowly raises the intensity and weight of each storyline right until they merge at the end.

As it is with every Nolan film, the technical aspects are well covered. Hans Zimmer provides what could be his best score yet while Hoyt Van Hoytema, who last did excellent work for Interstellar, turns in superb cinematography here by placing cameras in cockpits, underwater and wherever else necessary. Needless to say, Nolan's production team succeeds in doing everything humanly possible to make the audience feel as if they were in the film themselves.

Cast wise, Nolan opts for a combination of old and new faces. Mark Rylance puts in a subtle but memorable performance as Dawson, the elderly boatman while Tom Hardy is also solid as one of the pilots. Cillian Murphy, another frequent Nolan collaborator, is excellent as the shocked soldier Dawson saves, while well known British actors Kenneth Branagh and James D'arcy are also good as the superior officers supervising the evacuation. Fionn Whitehead, a rookie actor, shines as the British soldier while One Direction member Harry Styles is quite good as another soldier that Whitehead rescues.

I don't really have any qualms about this film, other than the fact that you won't see much war action here. But Nolan makes up for that by putting our heroes in one tense situation after another, the best of which is whenever a ship starts to sink, and there are at least three of those!

To sum it up, Dunkirk may be one of the least flashy of Nolan's films, but it may well end up being the most important, judging by how it ends. Recommended. (8.5/10)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Year: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna, Sam Spruell

Plot: Space agents Valerian and Laureline find themselves embroiled in a plot by one of their superiors to cover up the accidental destruction of a planet and its inhabitants.

Review: This movie is based on the French comic series Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. After seeing it, one can't help but compare it to director Luc Besson's sci-fi spectacle The Fifth Element.

The story focuses on two space agents, Valerian and Laureline, who are assigned to retrieve a tiny animal called a converter, but soon they find themselves in a middle of a plot that involves a cover up of a planet's destruction. At the same time, Valerian is trying very hard to propose to Laureline, who refuses, knowing that he has trouble committing to a relationship.

It is said that this is the most expensive independent film ever made, as Besson crowd sourced and funded the film himself. Visually, the film looks fantastic. It feels like Star Wars meets The Fifth Element, with a buddy cop element thrown in. Besson has certainly gone out of his way to create outstanding visual effects, which I'm certain involves lots of green screen and motion capture technology. It all looks incredible, and I'd be surprised if this film isn't up for the Visual Effects Oscar next year.

Besson also deserves credit for his slick direction, especially in the action sequences. It's reminiscent of the work James Cameron did for Avatar, where actors and motion capture actors have to seamlessly work together, and Besson pulls it off well. Save for a slow second act, Besson keeps things running smoothly for the most part.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play off well against each other as Valerian and Laureline respectively. Their chemistry is convincing enough as they bicker and fight, all the while trying to finish their mission. Clive Owen is slightly wasted as their superior while Ethan Hawke attempts to be flamboyant as a pimp here, but doesn't quite hit the mark though. Rihanna tries to be serious as a shapeshifting performer, but her poor acting skills are still quite obvious. In fact, I'd say Besson hired her so that she can pull off this flashy shape changing performance on screen in the second act, which was a waste of time in my opinion.

The romance between Valerian and Laureline also feels rather hollow since we're never told why he loves her, or how they were made partners in the first place. I would have also preferred a proper prologue for the story instead of a sequence backed by David Bowie's Space Oddity, followed by a pointless cameo by Rutger Hauer.

In the end, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a solid summer action sci-fi spectacle which is bound to entertain you, but not much else. (7/10)  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes

Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson. Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary

Plot: When a ruthless army colonel and his men kill a large number of apes including Caesar's wife and son, Caesar vows revenge. However he soon finds out that vengeance has a large price.

Review: The events of Rise and Dawn have led to this film, where the apes must now fight for survival against an army of marines who will not stop until they have wiped out every ape they find. While Dawn focused more on apes than humans, this one is actually even more so, as Caesar's journey from leader to vengeful patriarch takes place.

In an attempt to save his kind, Caesar plans on moving his community to the desert, away from the marines currently hunting them. But his personal quest to take revenge after his wife and son are killed leads him down a dark path, one that may cost him more than the last film's events. Along the way, Caesar meets two individuals; a mute girl and a clever ape that will play a part before the film reaches its finale.

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves pulls it off again as he gives audiences a thoughtful and dramatic story about two species and their quest to survive; one peaceful, the other desperate. The story, more than anything, focuses on Caesar and his journey, culminating in a thrilling climax (which I'll admit was a bit over the top) that more or less caps off his story that began in Rise. Here, even more so than in the past two films, the apes are shown to be more human than the vengeful humans themselves. The colonel who leads the marines isn't as two dimensional as I had expected, although for the first half of the film he seemed very much so. Other than him and the mute girl, not much is explored of what's left of humanity.

Andy Serkis once again does an amazing job as Caesar, not having lost a single beat. Woody Harrelson is a perfect fit as the colonel, playing him as a brutal man, but not totally without reason. Credit also goes to Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a talking monkey who assists Caesar and the young Amiah Miller as Nova, the mute girl.

If I have a complaint, it's a slight lack of tension in certain scenes. But despite its long running time at 140 minutes, War For The Planet Of The Apes scores many points in terms of plot, acting, CGI, cinematography and set design. Even Michael Giacchino, who turned in disappointing work in last week's Spider-man: Homecoming, comes good here with his great music score.

Needless to say, WFTPOTA is the sleeper hit of the year and a must watch. (8/10)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year: 2017
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier

Plot: After the events of Civil War, Tony Stark puts Peter Parker on standby in case he is needed, but Parker, in his eagerness to become a hero, is disappointed when the call doesn't come, and he is tired of merely catching small time crooks in his neighborhood. All that changes when Adrian Toomes, a disgruntled city employee who has amassed technology left behind by the Avengers' many battles, builds an arsenal of high tech weapons, one of which is a suit with wings, and plans to steal even more tech from Stark to sell at the black market.

Review: I'll give director Jon Watts and his five fellow screenwriters one thing: they set out to do a completely different version of Spider-Man and managed to do just that. The problem is, I could never relate to Spider-Man back in the day, and Homecoming doesn't change that. Don't get me wrong, the old Spidey films featuring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were quite entertaining (except maybe Spidey 3), but I never really put the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker and his alter ego at the top of my comicbook heroes list.

I'm gonna do something unprecedented as far as my reviews go, i.e list my pros and cons in point form. Here goes:

- Tom Holland makes a rather likable Peter Parker, even though his hyper eager to please attitude for the first 20 minutes of the film was grating on my nerves. Thankfully he matures quite well as the story moves along
- Michael Keaton is awesome as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture. Toomes is basically a sympathetic villain; a blue collar worker trying to make ends meet until Stark's rich and powerful team of white collar suits take over, thereby forcing him to do whatever it takes to level the playing field. Keaton never hams up his performance and always keeps things cool, making him that much more convincing. Don't be surprised if you find yourself rooting for him at some point.
- Robert Downey Jr is still cool as Tony Stark, even in smaller doses. I also liked the PSA videos from Captain America, Chris Evans rocks.

- The different thing about Homecoming as compared to previous incarnations of Spidey is the non origin plot, which means they skipped the Uncle Ben's death thing, which is fine. But in its place is the kind of story you would see in a teen movie, which involves pining for a girl in high school, trying not to get in trouble with your teachers, dodging questions from your aunt, trying to be cool at a party etc. I mean, after they all watched John Hughes' films reportedly before filming this, is this the best they came up with?
- Peter's best friend Ned is quite annoying, sorry. I know he's the sidekick and he is supposed to be that way, but he can be quite dumb, at least till the third act.
- Why are they trying to sell Marisa Tomei's Aunt May as being hot? Seriously? I know some of you feel she is hot, but I don't. Again, sorry.
- The inclusion of Zendaya as Peter's outcast friend Michelle adds nothing to the entire plot, other than providing variety to his social circle, which includes a poorly written Flash Thompson.
- The final action sequence was filmed in bad lighting, making it difficult to see what's going on.
- Other than Michael Giacchino's orchestral score of Spidey's theme song at the start of the film, the music here is pretty disappointing.
- How the heck does a talented actor like Logan Marshall Green end up getting a forgettable supporting role as Shocker #1? 
- There's a cameo towards the end which I totally despised, since it was not necessary at all and adds nothing to the film.
- Lastly, they spent a bit too much time making Peter look stupid tumbling all over the place while trying to figure out how to use his suit or land properly.

Overall, I don't hate Homecoming, just felt underwhelmed, kinda like how I felt after I finished Alien: Covenant. If you're a Spider-Man fan, I'm certain you'll like it, but if you're not, this won't change your mind. (6.5/10) 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

47 Meters Down

Year: 2017
Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

Plot: Two sisters vacationing in Mexico decide to take a trip in a shark cage, but things go south in a hurry when the boat's crane snaps and the cage plummets 47 meters to the ocean floor. The girls now have to figure out how to survive with limited oxygen and sharks surrounding them.

Review: This film was originally set to be released on DVD, but then a studio that bought the rights to the film decided to release it in theaters. One wonders if they were trying to capitalize on the success of The Shallows from last year.

As the film's story goes, two sisters, Lisa and Kate are vacationing in Mexico. Kate, being the more adventurous of the two, persuades Lisa to join her in a shark cage experience in the ocean. Lisa, still healing from a breakup, agrees. Then trouble ensues when the boat's crane breaks and the cage sinks to the ocean floor. The sisters are trapped at the bottom, with air running out and sharks circling them. What will they do?

Writer/director Johannes Roberts makes 47 Meters Down as simple as possible for his audience. Two victims, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, there are sharks and time is limited. Nothing complicated, which is how most survival horror flicks should operate, and for the most part, he succeeds. Roberts makes good use of his environment and manages to create a handful of suspenseful moments, and unsurprisingly it usually involves a shark getting too close. It does take a while for the action to begin as Roberts spends a bit of time introducing us to the sisters, but once tragedy strikes, the pace picks up considerably. 

Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are convincing enough as Lisa and Kate respectively while Matthew Modine is alright in his short appearance as the boat captain. Credit goes to Roberts for not creating a cliched scenario where the sisters blame one another for the mishap.

However, other predictable cliches do turn up, making the ending much too easy to anticipate. There are also other elements that could have been avoided, like the girls constantly checking their oxygen meter and saying out loud that their air is running out, or the script's flimsy excuse for Lisa's breakup. But thankfully, these are minor faults, and Roberts still succeeds in filming this tightly so it doesn't overstay its welcome.

47 Meters Down isn't quite as awesome as The Shallows for sure, but it's a little more than decent entertainment, and can be quite fun if you allow it. (7/10)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Despicable Me 3

Year: 2017
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda and Eric Guillon
Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

Plot: Gru has his hands full dealing with a new villain named Balthazar Bratt, and the discovery of his long lost twin brother, who tries to persuade him to become a villain again.

Review: So after discovering he is capable of being a surrogate father in the first film and finding love in the second film, what's next for villain-turned-hero Gru? This time it's finding out he has a twin brother.

Gru's twin brother Dru is not bald, wealthy and quite a charmer. Upon meeting Gru, Dru sees an opportunity to become the villain their late father was, and tries to persuade his elder brother to show him the ropes. But Gru, now a father and happily married to Lucy, isn't keen on it, especially after losing his job at the Anti Villain League due to failing to capture Balthazar Bratt, a villain obsessed with the 80's era. To make matters worse, his Minions throw a revolt and quit when he refuses to go back to being a villain again.

Director Pierre Coffin teams up with his Minions co-director Kyle Balda and character designer Eric Guillon to present another Despicable Me instalment that pretty much gives audiences what they naturally expect from these films. The theme of family is front and centre as usual, with Gru bonding with his not-so-good-at-being-a-villain brother Dru, while Lucy tries to bond with the girls as their new mother. Some of these sequences work, some of them not so much. Personally I found Dru to be a tad annoying and clumsy, and not in a good way. A subplot about Agnes trying to get a sighting of an actual unicorn is alright and might make you go awww, but it's always like that when it comes to Agnes.

The film works better when it focuses on Gru battling Bratt, with a nice mixture of humor and action thrown in, and some 80's dance music to follow as well, like Bad, Sussudio etc. And of course, the obligatory Minion segments are present, though most of them are pretty meh, save for the sequence where they break out of prison.

My main gripe however would be how quickly Gru and Dru resolve their differences in the third act, but it's a cartoon so it's more or less forgivable. The final sequence featuring a battle between Gru and Bratt while Lucy rescues the girls is quite entertaining, and is on par with similar final fights in the previous instalments.

All in all, the third Despicable Me film is solid entertainment if you liked the first two films, and a good way to spend 90 minutes. (7/10)  

Transformers: The Last Knight

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Isabela Moner, Santiago Cabrera

Plot: The Transformers' home planet, Cybertron is on a collision course with Earth. A brainwashed Optimus Prime is determined to help his maker destroy the planet. The only ones who can stand in his way are Cade Yeager, an Oxford professor, a young scavenger girl and the remaining Autobots.

Review: There's a first time for everything, I guess. In this case, it's the first time I'm unable to emphasise the good parts of a Michael Bay directed Transformers film. Most people say that Bay's Transformers movies are bad, and I can understand that. But I was always able to see the positive elements underneath the crappy parts and enjoy it as best I could. Well, not this time.

In The Last Knight, humans and Transformers no longer co-exist. The Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) now monitor and hunt any Transformers that exist and capture them. Meanwhile, Optimus Prime has found his maker, but Quintessa the creator isn't about to let him stop her from destroying Earth and brainwashes him into becoming her soldier. In order to save Earth, Cade Yeager, chosen by a dying Cybertronian knight, has to find Merlin's staff, given to him centuries ago by another Cybertronian knight, for it is the only thing that can stop Quintessa.

That plotline actually sounds good, right? For the first third of the film, The Last Knight wasn't too bad. Yes, the crappy comedy elements and the unfunny human traits of the Transformers still linger, with a few bad ideas added in, like the token black sidekick and baby Dinobots (seriously, the writers should just stick to what works). But for the first 45 minutes or so, I was okay with it. Then the second act went into the lengthy process of finding the staff and establishing the relationship between Cade and Laura Haddock's professor character, Vivian. Most of this section was a bore, except for the moments when Anthony Hopkins was on screen. His eccentric performance as Sir Edmund Burton, a descendant of King Arthur's knights, at least kept some sense of levity and genuine humor going. Outside of Hopkins' screen appearances, the script just failed to keep me engaged and I was just waiting for them to get to the point.

By the time The Last Knight gets to the final third, when Optimus Prime finally shows up and the destruction begins, I was too tired to care. There was a lot of stuff going on and I could barely make out what was happening. I know Bay made a humongous effort in filming this at the best quality he could muster, but the action sequences were just too hard to decipher overall. It's a pity, because underneath all this mess lies a probably decent movie that I would have enjoyed.

The human performances were mostly decent, from Mark Wahlberg to Haddock and Isabela Moner as the young scavenger, and even Josh Duhamel making a return as Lennox. But none of them are able to elevate the film above the bad script, poor editing (there were six editors overall!) and messy directing by Bay. At the very least, Optimus Prime still commands the screen when he appears, being the heart and soul of every Transformers film. 

Bay may have said this is his last Transformers film, but judging by how it ended, there will be more. It's just a matter of whether he will direct the next one too. If he does, I hope he listens to his critics for once. I really wanted to like this film as much as the other four, but I can't. Maybe I'll appreciate it more if I watch it again someday. (5/10)  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mummy

Year: 2017
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe

Plot: An American soldier accidentally discovers an Egyptian tomb in the deserts of Iraq and awakens an imprisoned ancient Egyptian princess inside, who proceeds to continue where she left off i.e. bring about the rebirth of Set, the God of Death.

Review: For the longest time, I can't recall Tom Cruise ever making a bad film, or at least one that fell below expectations. Well, looks like he finally did.

This certainly does not bode well for Universal Pictures' new Dark Universe franchise they're attempting to promote, with The Mummy as its first feature. One wonders how their future films, including Johnny Depp's Invisible Man, Javier Bardem's Frankenstein's monster and The Bride Of Frankenstein will fare. They will certainly have to be better than this.

Now, on paper, The Mummy has all the makings of a summer blockbuster. Action, horror, an exciting concept and Cruise, the world's biggest star in it. And for the first 30 minutes or so, The Mummy actually works. Then, right after the plane crash (which you've probably already seen from the trailers), things start to slide downhill.

Cruise's Nick Morton ends up becoming the object of Sofia Boutella's Ahmanet's affection, and thus starts getting nightmares and visions of his dead friend Vail. This leads to repeated false jump scares thrown at the audience, which becomes ultimately frustrating since it only serves as exposition and does not move the story along. And if this isn't happening on screen, we get to watch Cruise getting tossed around the screen over and over and over by mummies, rats and Ahmanet instead. Even Russell Crowe's Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde gets in on it, and it gets tiresome real quick.

All this made the entire second act really punishing to sit through (despite the fact that a lot of action was happening on screen) and leads to a rushed finale that makes little sense overall. While director Alex Kurtzman can be forgiven for his inexperience since it's only his second directorial attempt, experienced writers Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp were strangely off their game as their script is mostly uneven and dull. Their attempts at humor were very poor too, that even Cruise, with all his charm, can't make it work.

As for the cast, thankfully they're mostly on point, but they're unable to shine thanks to the above mentioned poor script. Cruise never has a problem being a leading man, but he doesn't quite click well with Annabelle Wallis' Jenny Halsey. Boutella makes a good villain in Ahmanet and Russell Crowe is actually perfect as Jekyll and Hyde. It's just unfortunate that you probably won't remember them after the film is over.

In conclusion, if you want to watch an entertaining Mummy film, go for Stephen Sommers' 1999 movie. It's pretty campy but at least it's never boring. Considering the huge expectations riding on Kurtzman's film, it's safe to say that a lot of moviegoers looking forward to the Dark Universe are gonna be disappointed. Let's hope the next one can deliver, as the potential is there. (5.5/10)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Wonder Woman

Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock

Plot: Diana of Themyscira was raised by her mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Sheltered from the outside world, she was trained to be a great warrior that will save mankind. When an American spy from WWI stumbles upon her island and tells the Amazonians of the great war, Diana leaves with him to join the battle where she seeks to kill Ares, the God of War, whom she believes is behind it.

Review: Here's an example where the movie lives up to the hype, and not a moment too soon. The DCEU is in dire need of a victory, no matter how small. I'm happy to report that Wonder Woman the film is indeed wonderful, pun intended.

This fourth entry into the DCEU is an origin story, much like Man Of Steel, Batman Begins and most of the MCU's Phase One entries. Since this story takes place outside of the DCEU's current storyline (being set in the WWI era), it has the distinct advantage of being its own animal without any ties to the rather convoluted mess that the first three entries have already caused. Thus, director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg are able to tell Wonder Woman's story without having to worry about continuity. As a result, Diana's tale of heroism is fascinating and inspiring as we see a young woman, riding on the back of the stories told by her mother, train hard to become a warrior and eventually take the fight to evil forces and save innocent lives, all the while not knowing a secret about her existence.

What I enjoyed the most was seeing Diana's view of the world. She sees it in black and white, even when it's clearly a dark shade of grey, but she still stands by the qualities she was raised with. This is best presented in a scene where she tells off a roomful of generals who understate the lives of their men in the field. Her naivete is obvious, but what she says to them is absolutely true, and she didn't care if they thought she didn't belong in that room. Diana's commitment to her principles is what makes her such a great hero, and that's the film's real trump card.

While Jenkins no doubt earns plenty of credit for steering the film steadily and telling a story filled with loads of action and thrills, it would not be great without the talents of Gal Gadot. This is truly a star making turn for her as she gives Diana the great presence a hero requires. Not only does she convincingly portray someone like a fish out of water when she arrives in the modern world, she truly embodies the character of a warrior who has dedicated herself to saving lives and doing good. In short, she makes you believe in her, and I don't think any other actress could have done better.

Chris Pine, who is more or less Diana's sidekick/love interest, also puts in a fine performance as Steve Trevor, as he attempts to educate and assist her as best he can. Pine and Gadot work well together on screen and it shows. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are also quite convincing as Diana's mother and aunt respectively (I'm impressed with Wright for excelling in the fight sequences). Lucy Davis lends some humor as Steve's secretary while Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock make up Steve's motley crew of war spies, each providing their own stories to tell.

The villains are played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya. While Huston's German general doesn't get much to do, Anaya's Dr Maru is an interesting baddie which I hope to see more of in the future. Finally David Thewlis pops up as a British spy, and is rather crucial to the film's third act.

As far as action goes, Gadot is phenomenal in every sequence. Watching her take down a group of soldiers in a room in the film's second act is so much fun. There are some great sequences in the first act as well when the Germans attack Themyscira. Compared to the first three DCEU films, the visual effects here are much better as it feels more contained and not overdone. Kudos also goes to the cinematography by Matthew Jensen and the superb score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

If Wonder Woman has any flaws, it would be Jenkins' decision to use a CGI generated villain at the end. It looks slightly better than the recent King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, but I still would have preferred something more practical. There are also a few incidents that seemed too convenient, and Jenkins relied on slow-motion a tad too often during a few action beats, but other than that, the film is pretty awesome.

So, is the DCEU redeemed? No, not quite. One film isn't enough to repair the damage that still lingers. I'd say redemption is earned if the upcoming Justice League film turns out to be great. But for now, movie fans can rejoice in the fact that the DCEU can make a good film. Wonder Woman is highly recommended. (8.5/10)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brendon Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, David Wenham

Plot: Captain Salazar, an old enemy of Jack Sparrow, cursed to be a ghost trapped in the Devil's Triangle for decades, finally breaks free and seeks revenge. To save himself, Jack has to find the Trident Of Poseidon, which gives its wielder the power to control the seas. In order to find it, Jack teams up with Will Turner's son Henry and a female astronomer named Carina.

Review: The POTC films are very similar to the Transformers films. They're both loud, lengthy, expensive, doesn't always make sense and not always smart. But it's pure summer entertainment for these two franchises, and that's how I usually approach them. If anyone ever expects them to do something different, they'll be disappointed.

That being said, Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar's Revenge depending on where you're from) is pretty entertaining as a whole. Just accept the fact that Jack Sparrow is on yet another crazy adventure that involves pirates, mystical artifacts, deadly foes and the British army giving chase and you'll be fine. Jack's nemesis this time is Captain Salazar, a ghost captain who had sworn to destroy pirates until he was lured into the Devil's Triangle by Jack many years ago. Now free, Salazar teams up with a reluctant Barbossa, now the chief pirate of the seas, to find Jack. Jack on the other hand, joins forces with Henry, Will Turner's son and Carina, an astronomer to find the Trident Of Poseidon. While Jack wants to save himself, Henry wants to break his father's curse and bring him home, while Carina wants to honor her long lost father's work.

Nowegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg keep things moving at a quick pace and manage to tell a solid story while making this the shortest Pirates film ever, which is no minor feat. While the film is not as charming as the Curse Of The Black Pearl, it still has a handful of neat moments, such as the chase sequence that seems inspired by the climactic safe dragging sequence from Fast Five, except it's not a safe but an entire building. There's also a well shot action sequence at an execution square, and another that involves ghost sharks (you'll have to see it for yourself). The script by Jeff Nathanson also allows for some dramatic moments involving Barbossa, Carina and an opening sequence with a young Henry and his father, which definitely adds some layers to the movie.

Johnny Depp easily steps back into the role he was born to play and he hasn't lost a step. Some fans may be tired of him already, but not me. The franchise was built on his back and he still is the key player. Geoffrey Rush scores a few key points here as he gives Barbossa a new side to him in a couple of scenes with Carina. Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are clearly this film's version of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and though they aren't as memorable as the latter two, they do try hard. Thwaites gives Henry the same enthusiasm that Bloom did for Will, while Scodelario is believable as the girl trying to prove her point when very few people believe her. These two eventual lovebirds don't gel as perfectly as Bloom and Knightley though. Javier Bardem is menacing enough as Salazar, but didn't quite get enough time to really make his character memorable, not in the way Bill Nighy did as Davy Jones. Last but not least, David Wenham's Scarfield is a poor substitute for this film's version of Norrington or Beckett, but it surely isn't Wenham's fault. There are a few cool cameos here, which you would know if you've seen all the trailers, but I won't spoil them for you.

There's a wedding sequence in the second act that just came out of nowhere and was unnecessarily played for laughs, which the film didn't really need and could have been left out. I wished Salazar and his ghost ship had more time to make an impact as well, as it is quite a waste of Bardem's talent here.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with this fifth and possibly final instalment. They ended it in a way that they can still make a sixth film (based on the post credits scene). If you're a fan of these films, there's no reason for you not to go see this. If you're not, this film won't change your mind. For pure entertainment, I'd say it's pretty solid. (7.5/10)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

Year: 2017
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Annabelle Wallis

Plot: Vortigen kills his own brother Uther using sorcery and seizes the throne of Camelot. Uther's son Arthur, ends up in the hands of prostitutes and is raised in the streets, until one day he discovers his destiny to raise his father's sword and reclaim the throne from his uncle.

Review: Guy Ritchie has a style that for me, only works in certain films. It's a mixed bag; the Sherlock Holmes films were good, but The Man From UNCLE was a failure for me. However, his fast paced, upbeat take on the legend of King Arthur feels quite promising.

As the story goes, Arthur is orphaned at the age of 2 when his uncle Vortigen makes a deal with a trio of syrens and kills Arthur's father Uther, and his mother, and seizes the throne of Camelot. Arthur is raised in a brothel and is trained in street fighting as he grows up. One day, he ends up pulling his father's sword Excalibur out of a stone, thereby making him a threat to Vortigen's power. Vortigen moves to execute him, but Arthur is saved by his father's old allies, and must now train under a female mage to embrace his destiny and how to use Excalibur to overthrow the evil king.

With Guy Ritchie, you can expect a few similar things in all his films: slow motion, quick cuts, flashback/flashforwards etc. This kinetic style actually works in his favor as it makes the film move at a steady pace, thus it is rarely boring. Ritchie also goes to great lengths to show the magic and sorcery aspect of the story, such as giant snakes, eagles and a humongous elephant that tramples everything in its path. There's also the power of Excalibur itself, which was like giving someone the power of the One Ring, and I thought it was cool. I also loved the music score, which has a heavy rock opera feel to it. It's one of the best things about the film. 

Charlie Hunnam hasn't exactly fully matured to become leading man material, but he definitely excels at being an action hero, which he does very well here as Arthur. Astrid Berges-Frisbey, whom I had last seen in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, is much older now, and quite effective as the mage who trains Arthur. Her rather cold exterior makes her perfect for the role. Jude Law is solid as the evil Vortigen, but honestly I felt he wasn't given enough time to really sink into the role. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen lend their veteran experience as Arthur's backup, but aren't given enough screen time to really stand out. And by now, you must have heard of a certain footballer's cameo, and it's not as bad as everyone thinks.

I do wish that the final fight between Arthur and Vortigen didn't involve a CGI monster. I would have also preferred Merlin to at least make an appearance here, since he is such an important piece of the legend. Ritchie should have also expanded on the story and supporting players a bit more.

Overall, I sort of enjoyed this contemporary take on the King Arthur legend. I hear there are more films planned for this story, but the supposedly lukewarm response at the box office might derail that plan. Anyway, it's an entertaining popcorn movie, bottom line. (7.5/10) 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Plot: After their ship is badly hit by a space anomaly, the crew of a colony ship head for a nearby planet to see if it can sustain life, only to fall into a deadly trap.

Review: Well, color me disappointed. With Ridley Scott continuing his Alien prequel story after the entertaining Prometheus, one would hope Alien: Covenant would be just as good, if not better. To be honest, Covenant is far from a bad film, but it certainly falls short of my expectations.

First, the story. The colony ship Covenant is heading to a distant planet, scheduled to arrive in 7 years. A space anomaly hits them and some casualties occur, including the captain (James Franco in a cameo). First officer Oram, shown clearly to not be ready for leadership, takes charge and orders them to head for a nearby planet that seems to have all it requires to start their new colony. Once they get down there though, shit happens and they realize too late that they've been lured into a trap by a familiar face if you've seen Prometheus.

Here's what's good about Covenant. As usual, from a visual standpoint, Scott scores full marks. Unlike the dark ruins and desert in Prometheus, Scott opts for desolate and quiet forests this time. The location is still scary as heck, which works in his favor. There's also more gore and blood this time around, and yes Alien fans, you will get to see the xenomorphs here. On top of that you will also see new versions of the aliens, which lead to some really gruesome kills.

But compared to Prometheus, Covenant's story is much weaker. While Prometheus is about the search for our creators and discovering weapons of mass destruction, Covenant is about betrayal and a certain character's quest to override his own creator, which is facilitated by the Covenant crew's own carelessness and stupidity. Yeah, I know the Prometheus crew made some dumb decisions in their time, but the Covenant crew were clearly unprepared for traumatic situations and succumb to their own panic really quick.

Secondly, Scott chooses to focus more on this particular character's development than the aliens or the Covenant crew themselves. When you get to the second half of the film, the crew suddenly become fodder for the aliens and their creator, right up to the predictable ending. The ending was what I hated most about this film, because even more so than Prometheus, it was obviously done to set up the next film in the franchise. Thirdly, Scott even tries to execute a space vacuum sequence in the climax, just like the first two Alien films, but the whole process was rather unexciting.

Michael Fassbender does double duty here, playing Walter the android for the Covenant and David from the previous film. Personally I felt he was better as the former. Katherine Waterston is alright as Daniels, who is modeled after Ripley obviously, but doesn't hold a candle to her thanks to the poor writing. Danny McBride does well in a serious role this time as ship pilot Tennessee, and Billy Crudup is solid as Oram. The rest of the crew, including poor Demian Bichir are much too disposable to make an impact.

All I can say is, I expected more than this. I really hope Scott improves on the story for the next one, because Covenant had a lot to live up to and dropped the ball here. For the record, it's still entertaining to a degree. I just wished there was more. (6.5/10)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Vin Diesel, Elizabeth Debicki

Plot: Peter Quill discovers that not only is his father alive, but he is a Celestial being as well. Elsewhere, thanks to Rocket stealing some valuable batteries from the people of Sovereign, the Guardians are now hunted relentlessly across the galaxy.

Review: GOTG Vol. 1 was a lot of fun, much like The Avengers were in the first film. Watching a bunch of misfits who can't stand each other eventually work together as a team is always entertaining. GOTG worked because like The Avengers, they didn't take themselves too seriously and balanced the comedy and humor well. In fact, GOTG had more comedy than The Avengers.

Now in Vol. 2, we pick up a few months after Vol. 1, when the Guardians take a job with the Sovereign, protecting a bunch of batteries from a giant alien. They succeed, but Rocket does the unthinkable and steal the batteries himself, thus angering the Sovereign, and get chased across the galaxy. They run into Ego, a Celestial being who reveals himself to be Star-Lord's long lost father. Ego attempts to make up for lost time, but Gamora senses something amiss. In the meantime, the Sovereign hire Yondu and his crew to track the Guardians down, but Yondu gets sentimental, and we the audience learn a thing or two about his past with Quill.

Writer/director James Gunn clearly intended to make this film bigger and more fun, and to that extent he succeeds. By expanding on Yondu's character, Gamora's strained relationship with her sister Nebula and the addition of Mantis, Ego's pet alien to the mix, Gunn needed more time to make sure everyone gets their spotlight. Thus it was extremely wise for him to divide the team in two in the second act, allowing everyone to have their moment to shine.

While Vol. 2 is chock full of action and laughs (there's a punchline in almost every other scene), there are some quieter, dramatic moments as well. While everyone I figure, would be touched by Yondu's backstory, I preferred Nebula's damaged relationship with Gamora and how much she hates her father Thanos, which will most certainly play itself out in future instalments.

The entire cast are all game for this sequel, and it shows. While Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana get to show their more serious side this round, it's the opposite for Dave Bautista, whose Drax becomes more of a comedic character this time. I gotta admire Bautista though. He's not a great actor, but Drax is a character clearly tailor made for him. Groot, now being Baby Groot, is portrayed as a cute and cuddly character. I honestly preferred the old Groot, who had more presence. Bradley Cooper still shines as the wisecracking Rocket while newcomer Pom Klementieff plays Mantis in the same vein Bautista played Drax in the previous film; a funny dumb character. Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan are outstanding as well as Yondu and Nebula respectively while Kurt Russell lends his solid screen presence as Ego. The Man From UNCLE's Elizabeth Debicki is a bit forgettable as Sovereign leader Ayesha, though to be honest, she isn't the main villain here. 

As with the first film, the soundtrack is one of its selling points, but this time around I felt Gunn overdid this part. He underlined every other scene with a song from the awesome mixtape, and by the half mark I was getting tired of this tactic. The final battle sequence suffered from a tad too much CGI as well, but the dramatic impact at the end kinda saved it.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed GOTG Vol. 2 despite a couple of hiccups and the fact that it doesn't tie in to the larger storyline heading into the upcoming Infinity War. Do watch out for a handful of cameo appearances and five post-credit sequences. (8/10)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery

Plot: A black photographer visits his white girlfriend's family in the countryside. Initially they seem really nice, but in reality they are anything but.

Review: I like it when a film keeps you on edge from the beginning till the credits roll. Get Out did just that, thanks to the genius of Jordan Peele.

Chris is a photographer who's about to meet the family of his white girlfriend Rose. At first, he's concerned that they might dislike him because he's black, but Rose assures him otherwise. At first meet, they welcome him with open arms, but as he and we, the audience discover, from the moment he set foot on their estate, something is terribly wrong about them and the whole place. These people are not friendly, in fact they are the exact opposite, and they won't let him leave.

Peele, known for being one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, wrote and directed this film superbly. The pacing is perfect, the cinematography is spot on, the dialogue is believable and the music is superb too (loved the opening Swahili number). While Get Out serves a great social message concerning racism, it also delivers a great horror story that would make Hitchcock proud. There is a ton of suspense to be had, with a few well earned jump scares. The entire film feels unnerving, thanks to a combination of the lonely countryside surroundings and weird stares from the people on the estate. To tell you more would ruin the fun, so I will not say too much.

Daniel Kaluuya is great as the protagonist Chris, who finds himself waist deep in something sinister and has to fight his way out. Allison Williams is also good as Rose, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener put in excellent work as her parents, who seem nice on the outside but clearly they're hiding something. Caleb Landry Jones is spot on as Rose's wayward brother Jeremy while Stephen Root impresses in a minor role as a blind art dealer. Lil Rel Howery plays the comic relief as Chris' best friend Rod, and gets the best lines in the film.

My sole gripe here is Peele's move to include a scene where Rod attempts to report Chris' disappearance to the authorities, which is played totally for laughs. It felt jarring for me since the film had been totally serious up to that point. But save for that, Get Out delivers a level of tension that just keeps building and building until its violent finale.

In short, Get Out is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. Recommended. (8.5/10)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Fate Of The Furious

Year: 2017
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood

Plot: When a cyber terrorist blackmails Dom into turning on his own family, Mr Nobody forces Hobbs, Letty and the gang to team up with their old nemesis Deckard Shaw to stop them.

Review: So how does the Fast & Furious franchise move on without Paul Walker? By doing what they do best i.e. more car chases, stunts and outrageous sequences. In other words, business as usual.

In this eighth instalment, Cipher, a female cyber terrorist blackmails Dom into betraying his own family, resulting in Hobbs landing himself in a cell right across from Deckard Shaw. Mr Nobody (from number 7) breaks both men out of jail and convinces them to work with Letty, Tej, Roman and Ramsey in order to stop Cipher and Dom, which is tough since Cipher is a brilliant hacker and Dom is the best driver on the planet.

Director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan pull out all the stops in making this film look and feel pretty damn impressive. I'd say The Fate Of The Furious is the best instalment since the fifth movie, and more memorable than the underwhelming sixth and slightly messy seventh films. Previously, we had giant planes, highway chases and car jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper. For this round, we have remotely driven cars and a big ass submarine. There's also a cool jailbreak sequence where Statham and Johnson take on an army of prisoners and guards, with them contrasting each other's approach (Statham uses martial arts and speed, Johnson just plows through everyone). I don't know how they do it, but they manage to make these films more and more outrageous every time. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, this is the one time where more is actually better.

Of the actors, mostly everyone performs well, with Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez being the most convincing. Dwayne Johnson is good too but there are too many scenes of him being really macho. I'm happy that Jason Statham gets more to do this round, this time as a good guy who has a score to settle with Cipher. Speaking of whom, Charlize Theron is alright but by now she is too obvious a choice as a villain and thus brings nothing new to those who have seen her body of work. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson bring the humor as always, with Gibson getting one standout badass moment at last.

But truly, one of the best things about this film is the surprise appearances, of which there are at least three. It's good to note that the franchise has built enough of a reputation that when you see a familiar face, it brings a chuckle or a smile to you and adds some intangible value to it.

The movie still feels a bit over the top in a ridiculous way at times, and one particular sequence involving Hobbs could have been left out (didn't really add anything to the film), but overall I had a blast watching this.

Overall, The Fate Of The Furious is a superb entry into the F&F series, and they managed to do it without Paul Walker, whose character gets a passing mention here (well done by the way). Recommended. (8.5/10) 

Monday, April 03, 2017

Ghost In The Shell

Year: 2017
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Juliet Binoche

Plot: A cyborg soldier discovers her past is a lie after an encounter with a cyber criminal who is eliminating people working for the same company that made her.

Review: First, an admission: I know nothing of the original Ghost In The Shell anime that this film is based on. This is actually an advantage as I can judge this film with no bias, and I really don't care about the whole whitewashing issue (noting that this matter is brought up by Asian Americans and NOT Asians.)

In the near future, humans and machines have merged their existences more than ever. Humans want to be more enhanced and thus more cybernetic improvements are sought. Our story begins with a young woman called Major Mira Killian, an agent working for Section 9 of the Department Of Defence, who is a cyborg built and trained to be the perfect weapon. Her investigation into a high level assassination leads her to Kuze, a mysterious hacker who is killing off scientists working for the same company that made her. The deeper she digs, the more she realizes that Kuze is connected to her and what she has been led to believe all this time may have been fabricated.

From a visual standpoint, Ghost In The Shell is superb. It may very well be the most beautiful film I've seen all year. The sets, costumes, makeup and tech all look brilliant. The city looked like a marriage between Mega City One in Judge Dredd and Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. I could look at this city all day. Credit goes to the production design, visual effects, costume and makeup team for creating such an astounding universe that manages to look gorgeous and cold at the same time.

Scarlett Johansson is of course, the best thing about the film, looking every bit the hero that the story requires, balancing innocence, confusion and toughness deftly. Her story as the Major is much like Kate Beckinsale's Selene in the first Underworld film, except here it has a bit more depth. Takeshi Kitano is also splendid as Aramaki, Major's boss, who is a complete badass, even when he's just talking. The man has undeniable presence indeed. Pilou Asbaek is great as Batou, Major's reliable partner and surrogate brother. Seasoned actress Juliet Binoche lends some good support as the scientist who created Major. Michael Pitt rounds up the cast as Kuze, managing to make an impression despite not getting much time to shine.

Ghost In The Shell does suffer from a few pacing issues, a somewhat predictable plot and the lack of a solid villain. But I really loved the film overall, which works as both an action film and a sci-fi one.

Verdict: Ignore the mixed opinions and whitewashing issues that clouded this film and just go see it for yourself. (8/10)


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