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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