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)


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