Transcendence: Movie Review

transcendence-nuove-clip-del-filmI’ve had my heart set on watching this Johnny Depp starrer since I saw the trailer despite reading of not so favorable reviews from critics. I must say that after seeing this techno thriller backed by the powerhouse cast of Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall and Cillian Murphy, I was more confused than convinced at the direction of this film.

Dr. Will Castor (Johnny Depp) is a brilliant researcher at the brink of making a breakthrough in developing artificial intelligence technology that possesses sentient and collective intelligence. With this “transcendence”, Will and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) believes that technology can be used to help solve the world’s problems with pollution, nanotechnology, food production, among others. However, anti AI extremists who are afraid of Will’s technology stage an attack on Will and his company, and uses radioactive poison against him, leaving him with only little over a month to survive. In order to save Will, or part of Will, his best friend Max (Paul Bettany) helps his wife migrate Will’s consciousness to the powerful AI technology he developed and pretty soon after his actual death, he helps his wife go underground to begin building his city of dreams where technology is king with Will in full control of everything.

From the trailer, it seemed that the film was pretty much cut and dried. Man tries to transcend the boundaries of technology and becomes mad with power once he is able to achieve it, but the movie itself seemed unclear on its message. At first, it seemed to tackle the moral issues behind artificial intelligence and wrestled with this dilemma for the better part of 30 minutes. But then it shifts its focus on the motives behind Will’s actions, seeming to want to fake out audiences into believing Will’s nefarious end goals, with the love of his life even questioning what has become of her husband.

The problem with the movie is that Johnny Depp’s effectiveness as a tortured hero negates the premise that he is a powerful machine set out to conquer the world. Despite being an transient AI being, his humanity and vulnerability shines through his every interaction with his wife and his inability to touch her and “be with her” was obviously the main gist of his frustration.

Another thing that seems really stupid in this film is the AI extremists’ narrow-mindedness brought on by fear of technology that they are blinded by whatever good it brings to humanity. Paul Bettany’s character Max seemed to be the only one smart enough to understand the fine line between the proper use of technology but he too, became clouded by the faulty judgement of those who feared what they did not understand so it was a shame.

But the biggest shame was in casting an actor like Morgan Freeman and sidelining him for the better part of the movie.I would have thought that Freeman would have been given a bigger part in the plot but nothing much happened to his character until the end.

In terms of presentation, there was good CGI employed in this movie, but there was just too much dialogue about the same issues, over and over again. It seemed like an endless question of right and wrong, perception and reality, and the lack of a compelling musical score did not help make the movie more interesting.

All in all, at the end of the movie, audiences will feel tired rather than awed, from thinking too much about who the real villain of the piece really was. In most cases, accomplishing this is actually a good thing for a movie but not when the entertainment factor is completely neglected by the filmmakers. At the end of the day, the actors turned up excellent performances but they could have done more had they been given proper direction. It is because of them that the movie was not completely horrible. As for the rest, I completely blame director Wally Pfister.

Divergent: Movie Review

divergent-poster-1-21Even before the release of the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s young adult dystopian novel, the film already had a lot to live up to. Not only was it being compared to The Hunger Games, which released its second movie Catching Fire to almost absolutely positive reviews in late 2013 (a well deserved praise), but outspoken lead star Shailene Woodley was reportedly talking smack about film franchises like Twilight even before the tills opened for her first major movie. Luckily for her, the books did have some solid following, resulting in great numbers in the opening weekend, which continued on for the next couple of weeks leading to the greenlighting of the second movie in the franchise. Heck, its been showing in Philippine cinemas for a month now and yet, the theaters were still turning up decent numbers when I watched it yesterday.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is part of a society where its members are segregated into factions according to virtue — Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Abnegation (selfless), Candor (honest) and Dauntless (brave). On their 16th birthday, each member of society undergoes as assessment exam which determines their outstanding characteristic but they are still given the choice of which faction they would like to spend their life with. With the motto: Faction over blood, the choosing ceremony is truly a big deal because once the choice has been made, there is no going back. When Beatrice’s (later shortened to Tris) aptitude test proves that she is a Divergent, meaning she possesses not only one specific quality and thus, is a danger to society because of free thinking and refusal to conform — her tester (Maggie Q) tries to protect her by hiding the fact. On the day of the choosing ceremony, Tris chooses to be part of Dauntless, where she meets Four (Theo James), who begins to admire Tris for her stubbornness and determination. As they unravel a plot to overthrow the government, they become allies against the Erudites, whose ambitions to lead society have pushed them to do the unthinkable.

There have been a lot of bad reviews about Divergent, pinpointing a general lack of substance in the film, but I kind of liked it. I think the dissatisfaction is actually rooted from Divergent’s comparison to The Hunger Games, which is one of the best YA trilogies ever. Hunger Games has the advantage, because  it has a really solid material to explore for the movie adaptation. I haven’t read Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy but after seeing the movie, I must say it piqued my curiosity enough to pick up the book to see what happens next.

I think the reason why some of the critics became disappointed was because Divergent became more of a chick flick  than a SciFi action film they were expecting. This was actually a good thing about the movie because the chemistry between Shailene and Theo is just magnetic. The tension between the two lead stars is just so effective that even one lingering glance or the simple act of holding hands conveys their connection to the audience. Its the type of “you and me against the world” vibe that kind of makes the film center on the two of them as a team rather than just one heroine against all odds. Shailene Woodley is an amazing actress, and her natural sassiness off camera is evident in her performance, making her projection of a strong minded female character so effective. She is just so full of personality that it makes sense for the film to revolve around her. She is also very beautiful. She is more telegenic than photogenic and she is just a joy to watch, even when she is being beaten up by guys. And Theo James? Perfect casting. This dude is smoking. I’ma chick so forgive me for my lapses.

Another thing about the movie. The film shows no mercy. Gender plays no favorites in this society because girls are treated just as roughly a boys and initiates need to work equally hard to deserve a spot in Society’s army. Aussie actor Jai Courtney is truly moving up the Hollywood ladder in bagging parts in high profile movie franchises. He now plays the ruthless and jealous Dauntless mentor Eric and he is just perfect for the role of throwing around initiates and making their lives miserable. I liked the action scenes and the stunts and appreciated the fact that the actors really shaped up to step up their fight scenes.

While it is understandable that the film would revolve around Tris’s training as a Dauntless soldier, being the first installment in the franchise, what is lacking in this movie is a really sinister villain that audiences could hate. Hunger Games had Donald Sutherland and the District system to rally against. For Divergent, despite the politics and the enforced order, there is really no powerful figure that commands fear. Being an Erudite, Kate Winslet seemed less dangerous, relying merely on her intellect to implement the most ruthless underhanded coup. I know Kate Winslet is an amazing actress but as a villainess, she was sadly ineffective. All she did was walk around and talk to Tris, and imply that she was cooking up something big. And that is not enough to hate her. Its such a shame because every good movie needs to have an evil villain. I think the lack of such actually took away from the full impact of the movie. It could have been great if it went that extra mile.

All in all, I would say that Divergent was a pretty solid start to the franchise. Despite its dystopian origins, it stayed young and cool, not depressing at all, despite the odds stacked against the main hero and heroine of the tale. It had great musical scoring and good pacing. Its strong cast and direction from Neil Burger made the movie an entertaining watch. Despite its familiar premise, it still managed to make itself unique enough to be memorable. And in the age where dystopian and post apocalyptic material is king, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

By the way, Ansel Elgort plays Caleb in this movie, Tris’s older brother. The same actor will be playing opposite Shailene Woodley in John Green’s bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. It will be interesting to see these two in a more romantic dynamic.

Gossip: Movie Review

gossipI originally saw Gossip in late 2000, when I was in college and working part time for a video store. I often got it confused with another Joshua Jackson movie Skulls because come on, it was in the era of Dawson’s Creek and I was all about Joshua Jackson, although admittedly, he took more of a supporting role in this one. I caught Gossip again on HBO and I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover that the random supporting cast actually consisted of present day television’s most badass actors — Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones) and Daryl (Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead).
There is a reason why teen movies in the 90s to the early 2000s were the best. In the 80s, it was all about teenage angst and coming of age, but in the 90s, RomComs, slashers and teen dramas seemed to have arrived. It spoke to Generation Y, and what was sweet and rebellious evolved into something cool and badass. Gossip is part of this evolved landscape.
Communication students Derrick Webb (James Marsden), Jones (Lena Headey) and Travis (Norman Reedus) are living typical college life when they come up with a plot to spread nasty gossip about popular girl Naomi Preston (Kate Hudson), who is believed to be saving herself for marriage. At first, it was out of curiosity about how far the gossip would go but pretty soon, the rumors spin out of control and her boyfriend Beau (Joshua Jackson) is being accused of rape. When police begin to investigate, new motives surface and more details are revealed about Derrick and Naomi’s past.
What’s great about Gossip is the number of twists and turns the story takes. It starts out really simple and begins to become complicated as more layers are revealed to the story, and more dimensions are unveiled about the characters. I liked Derrick’s character, in particular despite the fact that he was obviously a jerk because for a person who was gunning for character assassination, he was very concerned about his own reputation. There were times that I was actually feeling sorry for him despite his flawed logic because James Marsden was able to communicate effectively the fragility of his character’s self esteem. Lena Headey and Norman Reedus were just starting out when this film came out and despite their meaty roles, the natural grit that they now command in their performances were missing from their portrayals for the movie. This is not to say that they did a pretty good job, still.
The thing that makes Gossip stand out, even 14 years after it originally came out was the fact that there were so many questions raised in the story. Questions like who was the real victim? What was the real motive? Did he or didn’t he? — that it gets the audiences so confused yet on board to know the answers to these questions. Most movies nowadays start laying out the foundations to ambitious complexities yet fail to see their stories through, leaving a lot of plotlines unanswered. Gossip started small and stretched the story like a rubber band, but brought it back before the band snapped so that all of the questions that they set out to conclude were done.
And for the characters who were caught in a whirlwind of lies, their humanity shines through in the tough situations they encountered and the fact that they responded in different ways made the movie more interesting.
Gossip is a movie that makes people doubt their theories and makes people suspect even the most innocent character. Its a movie that keeps its audiences on their toes. The fact that director Davis Guggenheim (Training Day, Alias, The Inconvenient Truth) was able to accomplish all this and present the movie as a cool teen flick, with smart dialogue and an amazing soundtrack is a mark of pure awesomeness.

happythankyoumoreplease: Movie Review

happythankyoumoreplease81wcj-r96pl--aa1500-jpg-187d42dd0fef498aI’ve had the indie film happythankyoumoreplease, on my TBW pile since last year because I didn’t have much time to catch up, but yesterday while browsing through my files, I had a hankering to see How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) in his directorial debut in a movie that he also wrote and starred in, and so I spent my lazy Sunday afternoon getting enthralled in this film, which incidentally won the audience award for favorite US drama in the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.

New Yorker Sam Wexley (Radnor), is a budding novelist who is trying to get published. He writes great short stories but he is informed by the publisher that they can’t use his novel because his hero lacks the qualities to make audiences root for him. Just like Sam, his hero is living his life on the fence. Sam thinks that its because of his lack of pain and suffering while growing up that’s the problem but then, he gets stuck with a little boy named Rasheen (Michael Algieri), whom he meets in the subway one day after the boy gets separated from his foster parent. As the child refuses to leave Sam’s side, he learns more about Rasheen’s hardships and develops an affinity for the boy. Meanwhile, Sam’s best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), an alopecia patient and “cousin” Mary Katherine (Zoe Kazan) deal with their own personal issues and learn to accept their own imperfections and their worthiness to be loved.

Straight off the bat, a story about a man looking for something missing in his life and a boy who has had his fair share of suffering despite his young age is nothing new. A kid idolizing his new friend, just as Rasheen does with Sam is similar to the premise of About a Boy and Big Daddy but the message and its interpretation through happythankyoumoreplease is really sweet and beautiful. Radnor deserves praise not only for directing this piece but also for writing it. The manner in which he crafted the dialogue for the characters, who are all dealing with their flaws is so realistic that they become so identifiable to the audience. Unlike his big screen counterpart Sam, Radnor was able to create characters in different stages of giving and accepting love, nearing the point of realization that all they really need to do is go out and grab the opportunity that life is presenting to them. Its the when and how that makes the film truly interesting because Radnor obviously invested a lot of thought in the process.

Radnor also had great chemistry with his young co star Michael Aligieri and the kid is just so adorable that viewers will immediately fall in love with him even before he even says a word. He just has a sort of vulnerability in his look that makes him relateable from the first moment he appears on the screen.

All in all, happythankyoumoreplease used a very indie approach to the movie (because it is, after all, an independent film) but unlike some indies, it did not set out to be profound and overarching to prove a point. It just set out to deliver a simple message — be happy, thank the universe and ask for more of the positive things. Its a simple formula, much like Eat, Pray, Love, but it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? And that is the reason viewers will finish this film with a smile on their faces and a nice feeling in their hearts.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-2014_100650After the events in New York, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans)  is still trying to adapt to the modern world where technology and data are indispensable. He is also constantly butting heads with Director Nick Fury for his unorthodox way of getting things done at S.H.I.E.L.D. But when somebody attacks Fury, severely wounding him, he somehow ends up at the Captain’s house, and his last words “Do not trust anyone,” haunts Steve. But more than the puzzle left to him by the superspy, Steve is intrigued by the masked assassin, whose super strength and speed matched his own at every level. With Fury out of commission, he is subjected to a massive manhunt by the very agency he is helping and he begins to wonder what conspiracy lies beneath Fury’s cryptic words and the secret government program called Insight, which seeks to rid the world of terrorist threat even before it happens.

I must say that The Winter Soldier was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing this year. Despite the studios wanting to keep TWS’s identity a secret, even going so far as having him wear a mask for all of the trailers until the first half of the movie, its really an open secret among Marvel fans that (spoiler ahead) Bucky Barnes became the Captain’s arch nemesis for a short while, a side effect from the experimentation done to him by those creepy evil scientists from Hydra before Steve rescued him and the gang in the original movie. I loved the rapport between Steve and Bucky in the first movie and I wanted to see how they reacted to seeing each other on opposite sides of the law this time around.

The Winter Soldier sure did take its time before the two besties came face to face. Basically, the movie spent the first hour just establishing how strongly principled the Captain was, which was weird because everyone who saw the first movie, plus The Avengers were already being told something that they knew all along. While there were some cool stunts and a lot of witty comments, I still felt that the banter was not enough to make the first half of the movie really interesting or compelling. The pace does kick up a notch when S.H.I.E.L.D comes after the Black Widow and the Captain and the action picks up from there.

Surprisingly, for a movie entitled The Winter Soldier, the movie hardly shows much interaction between Steve and Bucky. I would have wanted to see more of a struggle on Bucky’s part in reconciling his memories with the brainwashing but it only ever happened in one scene and then it was all Winter Soldier mode again. It would have been nice if there was a more profound bromance moment between the two, in my opinion, because they really had good chemistry and they’re both good actors.

What’s good about the story is that it remained faithful to the source material, making TWS flow consistently from the first film. Personally, I loved the fight scene where Bucky wielded Cap’s shield (in the comic books, Bucky eventually became the new Captain America when the original was assassinated. I’m not saying it will happen in the movies but you’ll never know). In terms of what’s bad about it, the plot wasn’t very original. World leaders wanting to keep an eye on terror threats and launching a massive offensive against said threats even before they happen? Its been done countless times before and TWS doesn’t really serve it any much differently. The only distinction TWS has from other movies is that its a Marvel movie and it has really cool superheroes to boast of. Of course, UFC champ Georges St. Pierre takes on a bit part for this film so its kind of cool, and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) are always assets to any movie. Anthony Mackie as Falcon, a newbie to the franchise, held his own as Steve’s sidekick. But after seeing The Avengers, TWD was a bit underwhelming.

All in all, Captain America The Winter Soldier was a really fun Marvel flick but it could have done with a bit more editing. There were some scenes that could have been trimmed down or replaced by more action packed scenes — after all, this is a movie about superheroes. Compared to the original, I felt that the first Captain America movie was stronger because people connected to the characters — all of them and not just the Captain, plus it told a more complete story. Don’t get me wrong.  The sequel was not bad. It had its moments but I felt like they sold the Captain’s dilemma a bit too hard for this one. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo should have had more fun with it like Joss Whedon did with The Avengers.

300: Rise of an Empire Movie Review

300-rise-of-an-empire-movie-poster-2When 300 came out in 2007, I really didn’t expect to like it because it was a guy’s film through and through. Blood, guts, and basically a bunch of guys showing off their toned bodies in skimpy outfits screaming for violence and mayhem. But director Zack Snyder truly stepped up and made sure that the characters came to life. This was after all, the movie that launched Gerard Butler to superstardom in his role as King Leonidas.When it was announced that there was going to be a sequel, I was a bit skeptical because 300 was so well done that hoping to equal or even top the first movie seemed like an impossibility.

Rise of an Empire is basically set during the Battle of Salamis, opening with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling the Spartan troops that the war between the Greeks and the Persians started as long as ten years ago when a soldier by the name of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) kills King Darius, the father of the God king Xerxes during the Battle of Marathon, the first Persian attack on Greek soil to rid the Athenians of the notion of freedom. The victory set off a chain of events borne of vengeance — the king’s ruthless naval commander Artemisia, against the Greeks who violated and killed her family then left her for dead, and Xerxes, whose hatred for Themistocles fueled his quest to make slaves of all Greeks. The film tackles the events before, during and after the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and the brave 300 held the Persians at bay, only to be betrayed by the hunchback Ephiliates.

The film held a lot of promise, and but it was also burdened by the the bar set by its predecessor. It had a template which to follow and follow it did, with the results not being quite as successful as it would have hoped. It had the unique visual styling  and effects utilized by the original. It had the sleek sophistication of the cinematography of the film. It had the kick ass scoring that turned 300 into an instant cult classic. But somehow, it was not enough to save this film, which spent too much time trying to emulate its predecessor and less on developing its own story.

In terms of action, no doubt that the film was full of different battle scenes. The setting was a war after all. Not just one war but three, as compared to the first movie’s focus on one. However, the style that was so effective in 300 failed to take in the sequel mainly because of the colors. Yes, the colors. While the crimson red capes of the Spartans complemented the semi noir style of the original, depicting each movement and each blood infested scene gloriously, the Athenians unfortunately were garbed in blue capes that looked quite flat and didn’t quite have the same impassioned effect of the Spartan uniform.

Another issue is the casting. I don’t know how the filmmakers decided on casting Sullivan Stapleton in the lead role but it was a mistake, in my opinion. The role of Themistocles was supposed to be the new Leonidas, true, with a different personality but this new hero looked too much of a nice guy to be a real threat to the legions of Persians attacking Greece. Come on. He held his own in the fight scenes and there was no shortage of moments given to him in this film but really, Queen Gorgo had more grit in her little finger than Themistocles had in his whole body. His men weren’t much better. They seemed like watered down versions of their Spartan counterparts. True, it was explained that none of them were actual soldiers unlike Leonidas’s band of 300 but personality doesn’t really require wielding a sword well. And none of this crew were memorable enough to be attached to.

Number three in my list of complaints was the amount of battle scenes at sea. While it was understandable that Artemisia was naval general, the sea somehow limits movement and therefore potential in the film’s battle scenes. And because of the noir style of filmmaking, the sea simply appears as dark waters that serve as a dark background for dark colored sea vessels, bearing darkly clad soldiers. The original at least had sharp golds and reds to balance the darkness but this one had nothing.

One bright ray of sunshine in this film is Eva Green as Artemisia. She was the only villain menacing enough to command a degree of caution if you ask me. Writers were correct in providing her a profound backstory because it just makes her portrayal of a cruel, scheming no nonsense general effective with so much more intensity. I wish they would have pitted her against Queen Gorgo because they were the only two characters really worth anything in this entire film. Because of Queen Gorgo, at least the last two minutes of the film were memorable. Thank you Lena Headey for signing up for this film.

All in all, what’s sad about this film was the wasted potential. Had the filmmakers only bothered to make the story more substantial rather than focus on the style, it would have been a better film. If they weren’t sure how to make it work, they should have hired consultants from the hit series Spartacus because that show had more substance in one episode than this entire hour and a half long sequel/prequel, or whatever it wants to be called. Overall, a substandard disappointment. Instead of Rise of an Empire, it should have been entitled The Fall of a Franchise.

Need for Speed: Movie Review

need-for-speed-movie-poster1-550x412As a bona fide fan of Breaking Bad, it should come as no surprise that I was very excited about Aaron Paul’s first big screen leading role. I loved him as Jesse Pinkman on the gritty AMC show, for which he won two Emmy awards and I was sure that he was going to bring his A-game to his first movie.

Need for Speed is the big screen adaptation of the most successful racing video game ever created. That’s a lot of hype to live up to. While I have never played the actual game in any of its forms, I have learned that the gameplay was pretty simple and revolved around racing cars whether on the side of the police or the felons. To be honest, I was expecting the film to be a bit more violent but since there was little in the line of the video game plot, it gave director George Gatins and screenwriter John Gatin more room to develop the story.

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is an excellent mechanic, but he is an even greater racer, if DJ Monarch (Michael Keaton), the organizer of the De Leon underground race is to be believed, he is the best driver in the world — ever. But when his shop runs into financial trouble after his father dies, Tobey and his crew are forced to enter into a deal with Dino (Dominic Cooper), a rich arrogant S.O.B. and his ultimate racing rival, to complete the build of the infamous Shelby Mustang that “the” Caroll Shelby himself  was working on before he died. The deal pushes through but Dino, who has always felt threatened by Tobey’s skills, challenges him to a race for his share of the profits. The race ends in disaster and lands Tobey in prison. When he gets out, there is hell to pay as he tries to seek vengeance in the De Leon arena. But first, he must secure the elusive invite in order to participate.

I must say that despite critics panning this movie as a wannabe version of The Fast and The Furious, I quite enjoyed this 130 minute feature. It may sound long but it was really entertaining throughout. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the balance of laughter and seriousness in this film. Aaron Paul did not disappoint as a leading man, working with the limitations of the material as well as he could. There were times that I really thought that he could do a lot more than what was given to him and it was a shame the script didn’t push him further, but he pulled it off with his great flair for drama and his boyish charm. His supporting cast — Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, Twilight) as Finn, Scott Mescudi as the hilarious pilot Vinny/Maverick, Ramon Rodriguez as Joe, Tobey’s bestie, and Little Pete, the baby of the group — provided very solid performances. The guys were awesome and worked together so well that it was always super fun to watch their extended interactions. Imogen Poots (28 Days Later) also made her mark as the spunky car dealer Julia, who somehow ended up in the middle of all the action. Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia) did his best as the film’s villain but he wasn’t really scary or annoying.

The car chases were great but not at the same level of FF, The Transporter, Death Race or Days of Thunder but it was obvious they weren’t really trying to be, and this is something that is both positive and negative about the film.

To a point, it made sure to entertain the audiences not only with the parade of high end cars, but also with the continuous pace of the action, but on the other hand, it lacked the edge and the intensity of the aforementioned racing movies. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that it is produced and distributed by Dreamworks and Disney, two of the largest, most wholesome film companies in Hollywood so it was important to keep the story, the violence and the destruction at a PG 13 level. Come to think of it, even the dialogue was pretty mild, considering the ferocity of the rivalry of Tobey and Dino’s rivalry.

Otherwise, the soundtrack was kick ass, the stunts were cool, and the cinematography really showcased the beauty of each individual car so mission accomplished.

All in all, while I appreciated the totality of the Need for Speed movie adaptation, I was really hoping it would have pushed the envelope further in terms of story and character development. The cast was awesome albeit in some parts underutilized. And for all intents and purposes, it was a great movie, very fun and engaging. But if it is compared to the level of other movies of the same genre, its achievements are somehow dwarfed by the bigger than life portrayal of the world of racing. That was the only thing that was missing to make this film truly epic. These days, that is the level that films should be gunning for. Put those big budgets to good use.

Vertige (High Lane): Movie Review

vertige-movie-poster-2008-1020488809Vertige (High Lane) is a French film about five-long time friends – thrill seeker Fred (Nicolas Giraud), his girlfriend Karine (Maud Wyler), depressed nurse Chloe (Fanny Valette), her ex-boyfriend Guillaume (Raphael Lenglet) and her current boyfriend Loic (Johan Liberau), who embark on a mountain climbing adventure in Croatia to take their friend Chloe’s mind off an incident at work. However, they get more than what they bargained for when they discover that on top of surviving the dangerous trail, they must also get past a psycho living in the mountain, whose main purpose is to hunt and kill trespassers.

From the get go, Vertige showed a lot of promise as it started off as an adventure/survival film. The first part of the movie had me on the edge of my seat, as the friends encounter one mishap after another, the next one being more dangerous and suspenseful than the one before. The first 30 minutes or so of the film is surely not for the faint of heart.

One of the film’s strengths is its success in establishing the relationships of the characters from the beginning – the love triangle, the friendship so audiences understand the motivations for their actions as the film moved forward.

Loic, not exactly an outdoorsman, stuck out like a sore thumb in the group no matter how hard the others tried to help him and include him, but this was understandable because of his obvious jealousy with Guillaume. Still, he was a whiny wimp who had no lick of sense because he basically did not understand the concept of mountain climbing and the dangers that went with it if one was not careful. His agreement to go on a mountaineering venture when he was clearly acrophobic perplexed me to no end. As a result, he immediately became my most hated character, while Fred wowed me with his great rock climbing and easygoing personality.

Props to director Abel Ferry and his crew for the excellent cinematography. The great scenery helped audiences appreciate the beauty of the outdoors and at the same time establish the dangers of climbing as a hobby or as a sport.

Things took a weird turn when the survival film suddenly shifted into a horror film a la Wrong Turn or The Hills Have Eyes. While it had its suspenseful moments and was on track in its pacing, revealing the traps set out by the deranged Anton, I felt like there was nothing new in the presentation and there wasn’t much to get excited about. There weren’t much clue about the villains’ motivations and Chloe’s flashbacks just popped out in weird segments of the movie. Except for that one scene with the boy, being played over and over again, there wasn’t much explanation behind the incident.

It also seemed unbelievable that even when the survivors joined forces, their efforts never seemed to be enough to take on the villain when he was clearly not a mutant but a regular person, psychotic, yes, but just a person. Go figure.
In all fairness, the movie attempted to provide closure in the end by wrapping up the movie with texts about Anton’s possible origins and relating the incident to over 3,000 mysterious disappearances in the Balkans. I don’t think it worked out as well as the filmmakers expected.

All in all, Vertige was a passable movie as it stands but it would have been better if it stuck with the earlier premise of being a survival movie plain and simple. There was a great attempt to take the action further by adding a crazed villain to the mix but in my opinion, it took away from the gains already set in place by the first part of the movie, which was the coolest part. Also, it was a shame because my favorite characters were the first to go, leaving me unsympathetic to the fate of the remaining survivors halfway through. Unfortunately, instead of fulfilling its potential as an outstanding survival movie, it reduced itself to a formulaic horror flick.

The Great Gatsby (1974): Classic Review

Great_gatsby_74Before the Baz Lurhman/Leonardo DiCaprio version in 2013, M. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby already received the film treatment in 1974 via Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the novel starring no less than Academy Award winner Robert Redford and fashion model Mia Farrow. I chanced upon this last night while channel surfing and decided to stick with it.

The Great Gatsby is the story of a wealthy but mysterious businessman named Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) who lives in a lavish mansion in West Egg, Long Island. He unfailingly throws soirees every fortnight but surprisingly stays in the shadows to observe his upper class guests instead of mingling with them. He lives next door to the story’s narrator Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston), a war veteran and bond salesman who is cousins with socialite Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow) with whom Gatsby shares a romantic past with. Unfortunately, Daisy is unhappily married to the rich and arrogant Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern), who is both inattentive and unfaithful to his wife. As Gatsby locates Daisy and rekindles his affair with her, he develops a friendship with Nick. But Tom, who is not a man used to losing, exhibits a mean streak and jealous frenzy upon learning of the affair, vowing to destroy Gatsby by whichever means necessary.

I did not read the book, so I had no basis to compare this classic. But what struck me about this film was how tragic the story was. Gatsby is the type of character that audiences are drawn to because of his resolve and and strength of character. Despite his humble beginnings and experiences, he was able to make something of himself to be worthy of the love of a woman he believed was waiting for him after eight years, only to find her wed and basically at the same maturity level as she was when he met her at 18 years old. It was really sad that Gatsby, blinded by love, was not able to see through Daisy’s weaknesses because he deserved so much better. Gatsby’s tenacity and resolve was the exact opposite of Daisy’s shallowness, immaturity and indecisiveness, and Mia Farrow’s portrayal was very disappointing, not giving her character the dimensions needed to explain to the audiences why Gatsby fell for her in the first place. In all of her scenes. she appeared cloying and blank — a flat character compared to the presence of Redford’s Gatsby. While Daisy’s character was annoying at best, Farrow compounded this fault by her monotonous delivery of her lines. She did a great job in getting the audience to hate her but in terms of connecting with Gatsby and the audience, I am completely at a loss. It seemed like she was on drugs and floating on air the whole time.

On the other hand, supporting characters that deserve much praise is Nick Buchanan and Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles) because of their commanding presence in the scenes they are in. Chiles’s Jordan was supposed to be a careless socialite like Daisy but her character seemed stronger because she used her brains and not simply let herself be swept away. I think if she played Daisy, it would have been better for the movie. Nick, on the other hand, by the way he stood by Gatsby until the very end, advising him with sincerity and giving him the biggest compliment by saying that Gatsby was worth a thousand of the rotten bunch (rich people) he was running around with, and the way he said he was Gatsby’s friend was the perfect person to narrate the tale. He was actually the smartest character in the bunch providing an everyman’s perspective of the story.

The film focused on Gatsby’s love story but it would have been interesting to learn more about how he got his money to emphasize the extent he had to go through to earn Daisy’s love. There were a lot of mention about his illegal activities and shady deals but it never quite got the traction it deserved.

All in all, The Great Gatsby is a great social commentary on the difference between rich and poor people at the time. The callousness in which the poor were treated and the overblown concern for status, the lack of remorse for wrongdoings and the general air of entitlement that the Buchanans, as well as the partygoers’ lack of respect for propriety in order to have a good time — and the fact that in the end, they still got away with what they have done unscathed was the biggest injustice that would linger in the minds of the audience and in a sense, its a good thing. Its just very very sad.

Non Stop: Movie Review

non_stop_poster-620x356-620x336When  troubled Air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) boards a plane to London, he had no inkling that his flight would become the target of a malicious terrorist who has vowed to kill a passenger every 20 minutes if his demand of $150 million is not met. When the TSA tries to track down the account number he has given Bill, however, they find that the account is under Bill’s name. As Bill is suspected of staging the threat, and evidence continue to surface against him, the passengers must choose whether to trust the Air Marshall or figure out who the killer is before the entire plane is blown to smithereens.

Non stop asks the question: What do you do when someone screws with you 35,000 feet in the air? For Liam Neeson, the answer is quite simple. He deals with a*s using the type of skills he has become known for since Taken. Non stop is an apt title for this film, not because of the non stop action in the movie but rather because of the non stop guessing game that audiences must go through while the movie progresses. And this is something that I love about the movie because it gets audiences to think. There is no shortage of suspects in this movie — 150 of them to be exact. Heck, even Liam is not exempt from suspicion, and this draws people into the story. Of course, there are a lot of attempts to mislead viewers but in watching this film, one must be sharp and not miss even the smallest of clues lest they be convinced that the usual suspects are responsible for the chaos.

The action scenes are brilliant. Because there is limited space, fight choreographers maximized the use of hand to hand combat, which Liam Neeson performs so effectively that it gets tough to picture anyone, not even a group of able bodied men winning against him.

Non stop starts off a bit slow in order to establish the story but the 20-minute window for the killings seems to be just enough time for Liam to do his thing in between. But when the climax kicks in, it leaves no doubt that Non stop is a movie that means to entertain and deliver.

All in all, Unknown director Jaume Collet Serra did quite well in his second time to work with Liam Neeson. Non stop separates itself from other flight inspired movies by treading quietly but surely with a story that is interesting and intelligent, even going so far as to question  how secure the US’s security policies are — and utilizing great actors who deliver performances that keep the audiences guessing if they are in fact, heroes or villains for the entire 106 minutes of the movie. Oh, and did I mention that Julianne Moore (Hannibal, Game Change) and Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Crawley herself Michelle Dockery are in this movie. Well, that just about upped the coolness quotient of this film, didn’t it?

As a moral lesson: Whether he’s on the side of good or evil, never mess with Liam Neeson. He played Ra al Ghul, Qui Gon Jinn, Jesus Christ, Oscar Schindler and Brian Miller for a reason. After seeing this movie, you will know why at his age, he is still one of this generation’s most formidable action heroes and badass extraordinaires.