Transformers: Age of Extinction Movie Review

Transformers_Age_of_Extinction_Poster.jpegMichael Bay pretty much screwed himself when he made such great Transformers movies and finishing the trilogy with such a bang in 2011. Now that he has returned to the franchise to set off a fresh saga a la George Lucas in Star Wars, people are using the bar he set for himself to compare his latest offering starring action superstar Mark Wahlberg , Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer. My take — Transformers: Age of Extinction was a great movie given Michael Bay’s expertise in delivering blockbuster style popcorn movies but while it had its strengths, it was nowhere as good as the first three movies in the franchise.

Years after the war in Chicago where the Autobots helped the humans preempt the invasion led by Sentinel Prime and Megatron, all aliens are being hunted down by the government, with the alliance with the Autobots severed as they are now seen as a threat to humanity. In order to effect this extermination , CIA lead agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has allied himself with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown, who wants Optimus Prime as part of his collection. To hedge his bets, Attinger has also entered into a secret deal with billionaire visionary Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), head of research facility KSI, where Joyce is initiating a program to develop his own Transformers using an element called Transformium, the same metal the Transformers are made of. Meanwhile, an injured Optimus Prime disguised as a rustbucket of a truck is bought and found by amateur inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) in Texas, who eventually helps him reunite with the other Autobots to stop Attinger from his plans to extinguish their race.

From the beginning, Michael Bay was pretty consistent with his style of directing in all of the movies of the franchise. Even his formula remained the same. There was a requisite hot chick Tessa (Nicola Peltz), Cade’s 17 year old daughter, her Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Raynor), a main villain (Grammer) and a main hero (Wahlberg). It was admittedly a stretch for Mark Wahlberg to be playing a geek of any sort but somehow, he sorta, kinda make it work in his own way. Besides, his backstory as a high school jock sort of justified why he was able to pull off a lot of physical stuff. Mark is a great actor and can play pretty much anything – action, drama and even comedy so the way he played Cade was pretty fun, especially when he was being a protective dad butting heads with his daughter’s suitor. I was pretty annoyed with the daughter across the board because she was basically just in the way of everything but I can’t really say I blame her because the only reason she was written in the movie was just to look pretty and wear skimpy outfits.

SINGLE EXPRESSION. This was the extent of Nicola Peltz's acting in Transformers: AGe of Extinction. Yes, she was perfectly made up throughout the movie.

SINGLE EXPRESSION. This was the extent of Nicola Peltz’s acting in Transformers: AGe of Extinction. Yes, she was perfectly made up throughout the movie.

What’s different about this edition of Transformers was that there was no clear direction in the narrative. It seemed like the filmmakers wanted to open up different storylines all at the same time to establish the beginning of a new trilogy and this made  it  hard to focus on what the more immediate problem was. And because of this, the relationship between the humans and the Autobots were not as effective, unlike in the first Transformers movie where Bee clicked wit Sam straight off the bat and the movie proceeded from there. In my opinion, what drove the first three movies was the combined struggle of humans and Autobots against the Decepticons. There was a common enemy and there was an emotional connection that made the robots seem human. This was also the key why audiences loved the Transformers — because they shared the same connection to the characters and felt like the Autobots were their friends.

AUTOBOT RESISTANCE. Aside from the Dinobots, only five Autobots remain -- Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, Bumblebee and Prime

AUTOBOT RESISTANCE. Aside from the Dinobots, only five Autobots remain — Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, Bumblebee and Prime

There is a fresh batch of Autobots introduced in Age of Extinction. Only Bee and Optimus remain from the original batch, giving the conclusion that all of the Autobots have been killed by the humans and scrapped for parts. It was a heartbreaking thought already but Bay milked that idea and included one heartbreaking scene where a beloved Autobot was executed. It was quite brilliant because it elicited the same emotions as that scene in Dark of the Moon where Doc was killed mercilessly.

This scene kind of justified how embittered Prime has become in this installment. While the leader of the Autobots was once selfless, patient and calm, this time around, he was obviously on a quest for blood against those who hunted down and killed his friends. He seemed unrecognizable for a bit but not entirely alien to the audiences who loved him from the start.

The new Autobots were really cool, especially Hound, voiced by John Goodman. I liked his toughness and scrappiness even backed against a corner. For the part of the humans, Stanley Tucci and Mark Wahlberg did great in their characters. Since this was indeed a popcorn flick, they had fun with their roles and delivered really solid performances. They were really entertaining to watch, and for a couple of guys lugging around an alien bomb that has the potential to level an entire major city, they were pretty cool about the whole thing. On the other hand, the father-daughter thing was a hard sell throughout the movie, seeming to create an Armageddon type scene between Cade and Tessa but it didn’t work quite as well because Nicola Peltz pretty much has one expression in all of her scenes. Li Bingbing, on the other hand, started out so subtly and came out in the movie as someone to really watch out for.

DINOBOTS. Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle.

DINOBOTS. Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle.

Despite the film’s flaws, one thing that totally made up for it was the appearance of the Dinobots. These dudes were totally badass. They were huge, they were awesome. They didn’t look much like the cartoons, but none of the Transformers actually looked like their animated counterparts. The design for Grimlock (T-Rex) and Strafe (Triceroptops) were very cool.  It was a shame that they were in the film for only a short portion but having been introduced to the franchise, there is always that new possibility of reappearance in the next installments. I am confident that there would be new films because of the open storylines. And the Transformers’ connection to the extinction of the dinosaurs, priceless.

Its hard not to geek out watching a Transformers movie, and if there’s one thing this film is not short of, its action, great CGI, and really marketable characters. This film just kept on pushing its boundaries. After it perfected its CGI on the robot design and transformation, it kept things fresh this time around with a more fluid transformation sequences with the Transformium on Galvatron and Stinger. There was no shortage of intense car chases, gunfights, battle sequences and heart pounding action scenes to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

All in all, audiences won’t notice that Age of Extinction ran for two hours and 45 minutes. There was a lot going on, as is expected from a franchise trying to establishing a new chapter and at the same time trying to keep it as far away from the original trilogy as much as possible. I think that this sequel should be considered a transition movie, and as such, it should be cut some slack because it did a pretty decent job. With a film of this length and magnitude, there’s a lot of room to go wrong, and Transformers was far from perfect, but what it managed to get right, it did so brilliantly that these are what the audiences will remember after leaving the theater. If it managed to accomplish one thing, it was to blow the door wide open for new movies in the Transformers universe. And with the success of this installment in the box office, I think that was what the studios were gunning for.

Much Ado About Nothing (2012): Movie Review

MuchAdoIn the same year director/screenwriter Joss Whedon released Marvel’s The Avengers, effectively cementing him as one of the best action/adventure filmmakers of all time (in my opinion, anyways), he also directed an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and shot it for 12 days in his home in Santa Monica.

The plot basically follows the love stories of two central couples, the flippant Senor Benedick (Alexis Denisof, Angel) and the razor tongued Beatrice (Amy Acker, Dollhouse), who share a failed romantic history and hide their feelings for each other with barbs and character attacks; and the young Count Claudius (Fran Kranz, Dollhouse)and Lady Hero (Jillian Morgese, The Avengers/waitress from the restaurant) whom he fell for at first sight. As Hero’s father Leonato (Clark Gregg, The Avengers) and Don Pedro, the Prince (Reed Diamond, Dollhouse) play cupid to them, the Prince’s jealous bastard brother Don John and his cohorts, seek to put a wrench on the two couple’s happy endings. Nathan Fillion (Firefly) also  stars as Dogberry, the constable in charge of Messina’s night watch.

I must admit that at first, I had trouble reconciling the contemporary setting with Shakespeare’s prose. I felt like the weight of Shakespeare’s words, which spoke of wars and the the lords and ladies, and the majesty of old Italy, were undercut by the setting, which was a house party with a bunch of friends hanging around and enjoying wine. It seemed very different from Baz Luhrman’s modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which starred Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes which made an effort to really adopt the words with the environment.

It seems like an unfair comparison because Luhrman’s movie obviously had a bigger budget to work with while Whedon’s movie seemed like a laid back art project performed by a bunch of friends whom he worked with in his different projects. If one is familiar with Whedon’s work, they will immediately recognize actors from Angel, Buffy, Dollhouse and The Avengers in this movie and it gets pretty fun to identify which project with Whedon they were in.

But what’s really striking about this Whedon adaptation is his ability to bring all of these great actors together and cast them perfectly in a classic story so that they can make these characters thrive in a modern day setting, all within the confines of a Santa Monica summer home.

I think Alexis Denisof is a standout in this film. While he does not exactly strike people as a Hollywood leading man type, the personality he injects into the character of Benedick makes him shine as the most likeable character in the bunch. Amy Acker as film’s central heroine does not give an inch, answering each of Benedick’s line with a barb of her own.

The cinematography is marvelous. Every shot is framed perfectly to showcase the relaxed environment and Whedon’s beautiful home and the black and white treatment gives the film a distinctive sophistication identified with vintage Hollywood movies. I also liked the scoring in Hero’s funeral service and while I don’t really get how somebody could easily forget such as public shaming as she suffered out of love in the snap of a finger (this is entirely Shakespeare’s fault), it makes sense that a happy ending should happen in an intimate celebration among friends and family.

All in all, it was a refreshing watch for me, knowing this was the same director who helmed my favorite sci-fi, fantasy, action adventures on film and television. It was artistic but not too highbrow. It was fun when it needed to be and somber when the story commanded it. Basically, the film did well enough given its limitations. For me, the film’s greatest strength is the familiarity of the actors and the directors with each other that producing a quality film, even on a shoestring budget is just a given. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if these actors were working pro bono in deference to their respect of Whedon, who placed his confidence in them to shine in their movie/TV projects. At the end of the film, I’m still weirded out by the house party setting for this Shakespeare adaptation but it definitely made me want to grab a glass of wine and hang out by the poolside (unfortunately, there is none nearby. Bummer). That’s just a good feeling.

Snowpiercer: Movie Review

SNOWPIERCER_LE-TRANSPERCENEIGE-Affiche-defHad I not checked what was showing on the cinemas the other day, I might never have found out about Snowpiercer, a South Korean production starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans, along with other Hollywood A-listers Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris and Jamie Bell. Had I missed it, it would have been a great shame because it was one finely executed movie.

Snowpiercer is an action thriller inspired by the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige which director Boon Joon ho read in a comic book store in Korea. The film chronicles the events 17 years after a failed experiment called CW7 screwed up the Earth’s weather resulting in a new ice age that killed all life on the planet except for a precious few who managed to board the Snowpiercer, a train that is built to run non stop throughout the year. The train is self sustaining and equipped with all the facilities needed for its occupants to survive. However, it operates on a class system wherein the rich and privileged occupy the front of the locomotive in luxury while the poor are cramped in the tail living in inhumane conditions and subsisting only on disgusting protein bars that the train’s owner Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris) provides. When the abuse continues to worsen, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), aided by cues from a mysterious ally from the front, forms a plan with tail end elder Gilliam (William Hurt) and his best friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) to take the engine. In order to get past the doors leading to the different compartments, they enlist the help of Namgoon Minsu (Song Kang Ho), a prisoner who designed the train’s mechanism and his clairvoyant daughter Yona (Go Ah Sung).

CAN'T CATCH A BREAK. Rebels realize that getting to the engine is not as easy as they imagined it to be.

CAN’T CATCH A BREAK. Rebels realize that getting to the engine is not as easy as they imagined it to be.

The performance of the cast is already a given. The strong Hollywood cast, coupled with top Korean actors made for an explosive combination that that made the story more compelling and effective. From the beginning, the film took its time to lay the foundation for an interesting plot. Each segment of the train held an unexpected challenge that surprised not only the characters but also the audience resulting in a lot of facepalm moments when the characters find it hard to catch a break. But the brilliance of the film really lies with its ability to use the segments as building blocks that gradually add to the story. Characters talk in riddles, leaving clues for audiences to follow. Towards the beginning, the filmmakers were leaving crumbs about him not being who people thought he was, but when his backstory is unraveled, it was just so gutwrenching that its really hard not to be torn between dismay or sympathy for the rebel leader.When Curtis finally reveals the events that led to the revolt and how his character is connected to other people in the tail, the audiences will feel like they have been through the journey with Curtis himself.  But just as Curtis unburdens himself and audiences think everything is over, yet another plot is revealed and this one is more mind boggling and shocking.

TOTAL TRANSFORMATION. Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Mr. Wilford's quirky lieutenant Mason is creepy but entertaining.

TOTAL TRANSFORMATION. Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of Mr. Wilford’s quirky lieutenant Mason is creepy but entertaining.

Koreans are known for their excellent cinematography and film style and Snowpiercer does not disappoint. The style in which the movie was executed  was magnificent and very consistent with the graphic novel itself. Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of the quirky Mason added to the sense of the overall unreality of the film as well as the over the top mind conditioning in the front of the train.

All in all, I would venture to say that Snowpiercer, despite its relative lack of promotion, is one movie that deserves to be seen. It is intelligent and methodical. It is visually arresting and stunning. It deals with characters that are multi-faceted and engaging. It affects audiences on an emotional and intellectual level. At the end of the film, audiences will continue to marvel at its execution and this is a mark of its pure awesomeness.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Movie Review

the-secret-life-of-walter-mittyAfter 16 years of service as a negative asset manage at Life Magazine, 42-year old Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), who has spent most of his life on the sidelines daydreaming, finds that the negative for the last print issue’s cover by elusive photojournalist Sean O’ Connel (Sean Penn) is missing. With his job on the line, Walter tries to track down Sean all the way to Greenland, Iceland, Los Angeles, the Himalayas, Yemen and Afghanistan, with only Sean’s last photographs as clues. Helping him in solving the mystery is his colleague and secret crush, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), who inspires him to take action and do the things he never thought possible.

Actors, especially comedians, often reevaluate their career paths after doing the same thing for a long time. And while Ben Stiller has had great success in developing really funny characters in the past, it did not come as a shock that he would want to eventually take a different direction for himself as an artist. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben takes on the role of director, producer and lead actor, a difficult feat to balance and accomplish – and somehow pulls it off.

Perhaps it was because the story in itself inspires awe in people. First of all, it connects immediately to the average Joes — millions of audiences who work hard day in and day out doing their normal routines, not venturing on anything else because adventures are too dangerous, or travelling is too expensive. Second of all, the story is just so sweet and whimsical that it immediately inspires positive feelings.
In my opinion, the style in which Walter Mitty was executed was very well done. The cinematography and long shots covering the vast landscapes, capturing the magnificent colors, were truly breathtaking. The treatment of Walter’s dream world and reality were on the other hand, were very well transitioned, given the contrast in their presentation styles. I also liked the development depicted in Walter’s life where his daydreams eventually fade because he was already living out the adventures in real life.

Ben Stiller is a very charismatic guy. He gives life to Walter’s everyman so effortlessly and the wonder in his realization that he is actually accomplishing something and getting somewhere from the small clues that Sean left was a joy to behold. Walter had great chemistry with Sean, the photographer even from the time that they have not yet met. Sean’s fondness for Walter was so evident that that when they finally came face to face, their rapport was already very strong. Kristen Wiig (SNL, Bridesmaids), on the other hand, is a crazy talented actress. She does comedy, she does drama, she does girl next door, she sings and does crazy stunts and she always nails it. She just brings sunshine into this film.

In terms of pacing, there was a lot of changes in the pace of the movie. Its speeds up and slows down at different points of the film so it wasn’t monotonous. I would have wanted the action to kick up more after Walter’s first trip but a part of me also understood the need to ground him first before he jumpstarted his next adventure. I liked that despite Walter’s wallflower tendencies at work, he was loved by his family not just because he was a good provider and a responsible son/brother but because he was a good person. Many films make the mistake of making the lead characters’s homelife miserable on top of his problems at work that it gets easily depressing.

All in all, Walter Mitty accomplishes to deliver a feel good movie that inspires people to live in the moment. It inspires people to be brave, get out of their shell, build relationships and experience life. It is also a homage to the regular people who do their best everyday despite the lack of recognition, yet continue to do so quietly because they want to make other people happy. The final scene when it was revealed just what was in Life’s last cover was just so touching it would be close to impossible not to tear up. Ben Stiller did a great job with this movie. It was an inspirational movie that that did not take itself too seriously. Rather, it worked hard at establishing the main character’s relationship with the audience so that he brings them along for the ride the entire time. Its message: There’s a Walter Mitty in all of us and we are just as important and as capable of doing great things just as he did.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie Review

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_theatrical_posterThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the continuation of Bilbo Baggins’ journey to help the dwarves reclaim Erebor, their kingdom in the Lonely Mountain, which was conquered by the dragon Smaug, who lives stop the castle amid the bounty of gold that the dwarves amassed in a time of great prosperity for their people and their environs. In this movie, aside from a short flashback from the time Gandalf met with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to set him off on the quest to defeat the dragon, the story progresses straight ahead to next part of the adventure, assuming immediately that the audiences did their homework and read the book or better yet, saw the first movie.

There were many great things about this sequel — one of them being that it was a lot of fun to follow the dwarves get out of plenty of close calls — I must say that seeing the kin of Thorin running around all irate and scared our of their wits at the same time was a lot of fun to watch. Seeing them battle ugly and mean orcs three times their size — and succeed at it, was awesome. The special effects for this movie was excellent  – the rendering of Smaug in CGI was so fluid, and this, coupled with the texture and the detail for the dragon was truly magnificent. Adding to this the menacing voice of Benedict Cumberbatch and the dragon made for one badass villain. Seeing Orlando Bloom reprise his role as elf price Legolas was a treat. Sure, the make up guys may have had a heavy hand with the foundation (perhaps to match Bloom’s complexion with his younger self in the LOTR series which was supposed to happen after The Hobbit trilogy) but despite his obvious aging (which is natural since the first movie came out more than a decade ago), he still performed his stunts flawlessly. It was great to have him back on board. I don’t think that the romantic link with Tauriel, the character of Evangeline Lilly took on too well because she had better chemistry with the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). I did like the meeting between Legolas and Gimli’s father Gloin (Peter Hambleton) — he looked so alike with Legolas’s eventual BFF that I thought for a while that they were played by the same actor. Turns out Gimli was portrayed by John Rhys-Davies.

The Desolation of Smaug also introduced audiences to a wider cast of characters from Middle Earth  – the Elvenking of the Wood Elves and father of Legolas Thandruil (Lee Pace), and Benedict Cumberbatch (who I was looking for the entire time), who lent his voice to the dragon Smaug. There was also Bard, the bowman (Luke Evans), descendant of the former lord of Dale. I must say, the casting choices were spot on and the new characters totally made the franchise stronger. Bilbo Baggins was the MVP for this movie though. Martin Freeman totally brought his A-game and made sense of why Bilbo brought real honor to the hobbits of Middle Earth. More than being the possessor of the One Ring, he totally rocked as a sword wielding, barrel riding, wily and courageous hero that totally saved the day for his hotheaded companions for 90 percent of the movie. While I was Team Thorin for the entirety of The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, this time around, there were times that I wanted to strangle him for being a jerk. In the end though, he was able to redeem himself and prove why he deserved to rule his people and reclaim his kingdom.

The downside to Peter Jackson’s fifth LOTR movie for me, however, was that it was too long. While the LOTR franchise managed to edit out scenes from the book that could have been done away with, The Hobbit seemed to be doing the exact opposite, and as a result, the scenes were being dragged out for too darned long. It was perhaps the first time in seeing all five movies that I felt moments of boredom and noticed that I was getting sore from sitting too long. (Do you get the feeling that I thought it was too long?) It also did not help that this was a prequel and scenes where Gandalf or Legolas would have been mobbed by Orcs does not really put them in danger in the minds of the audience because had they not survived Bilbo’s journey, they would not have been part of the subsequent LOTR movies.

All in all, The Desolation of Smaug was a strong movie as a standalone but it suffered greatly from the bar set by its predecessors. Audiences were expecting too much from the franchise but I’m not sure this second installment to The Hobbit franchise knocked it out of the park like the other ones did. The ending, though, did leave me excited to see what will happen in the next one.

Check out my review of the prequel — The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey

Catching Fire: Movie Review

the_hunger_games_catching_fire_movie_2-1920x1080Straight off the bat, I should say that Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is one of the best books I have ever read, the Hunger Games Saga being at the top of list of Young Adult fiction. This book has everything — romance, action, tragedy, drama — its a little light on comedy but laughter is mostly in short supply in dystopian novels. Catching Fire is really perfect to be picked up for screen adaptation mainly because it has a very progressive plot that continues to build until the grand finale — or rather the grand finale for the meantime until 2014 and 2015 when Mockingjay finally concludes the series.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) leave the Cornucopia as victors of the 74th Hunger Games but their act of defiance in refusing to kill one another unwittingly became the inspiration of oppressed people in the lower districts to rise up against the Capitol. President Snow finds it hard to stomp the rebellion without blatantly harming Katniss, who on the one hand is the darling of the wealthy and on the other, the hope of the poor. So, with the help of new gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he devises a clever plot to bring the two, along with 22 other Victors from the 12 districts in the line of fire again as tributes to the 3rd Quarter Quells (75th Hunger Games), where he seeks to tie up the loose end he left in letting the District 12 tributes live in the previous games.

At first, I was on the fence about some of the casting choices. I had no problem with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee but my reservations were more for Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. I thought of Finnick more as a tall carefree charmer and Sam was more of a quiet brooding type. I did not think he looked the part, especially after he bulked up in the past year, with his neck sticking out like a trunk. I pictured Finnick differently, that’s all. When the movie started however, I found my fears laid to rest because apparently, director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I am Legend) knew whet he was doing. Everybody played their part and the movie progressed without a hitch.

SMOLDERING, Katniss and Peeta's flaming costumes are load better than their get up in Hunger Games.

SMOLDERING, Katniss and Peeta’s flaming costumes are load better than their get up in Hunger Games.

Catching Fire had a different feel to it. From the set to the acting, everything was better. It was more subdued but it had more of an impact than its predecessor. While in the first movie, Jennifer Lawrence bordered on manic in some of the scenes, director Lawrence knew how to reel her in and choose moments to make her shine, making her dramatic sequences more pronounced. While before, it was one level all the way for Katniss, this time around, Jennifer Lawrence was able to showcase her Academy Award winning acting arsenal, making Katniss a more relateable heroine, despite being a twit and going back and forth between Peeta and Gale. Supporting actors Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth also deserve applause for their excellent performances — Liam despite his limited appearance. Generally, there was really a vast improvement in the portrayal of the characters and its great that the movie benefits from the actors’ growth and maturity. A shoutout to Stanley Tucci for pulling off the flamboyant host Ceasar Flickerman. I loved the way he laughed.

AN ENVIABLE DILEMMA. Katniss's problem of choosing Gale or Peeta is one that most girls would kill for.

AN ENVIABLE DILEMMA. Katniss’s problem of choosing Gale or Peeta is one that most girls would kill for.

The screenwriters — Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt also deserve credit for their excellent use discretion in editing out and modifying the book to suit the film audience. While I would have liked for them to flesh out some of the backstories, I appreciate the fact that they stuck with the important stuff and wrote the characters so that they will shine like their literary counterparts did even with less screentime.

I especially loved the scene in District 11, the home of Rue and Thresh and thought that the teary eyed goodbye of Effie Trinket was a nice touch. The set and the effects were also much more fluid than the first movie, and the use of gaelic scoring in some parts with the slow motion made the film feel more epic.

All in all, with a book as good as Catching Fire, its pretty hard to measure up to one’s imagination. Most of the time, movies  fail to fulfill the expectations of book fans leading to anarchy — okay scratch that — violent reactions online that eventually affect the movie’s blockbuster hopes negatively. They often fall in the pit of doing too much or too little. Catching Fire did neither. It relied on instinct and common sense, and a grasp of its source material to guide them through the development of the movie. Catching Fire, for me, was still not at par with the book, nor my imagination, but dang, it came really close. I really enjoyed this movie. It was well made and the effort and care that came with the film really shone through. And as a fan of the franchise, that’s really all that I could hope for. Can’t wait for Mockingjay.

Related articles:
The Hunger Games: Movie Review
Destination Panem: The Hunger Games Trilogy Review 

Thor: The Dark World Review

thor the dark world posterOne of the biggest blockbusters to watch out for in 2013 was Thor: The Dark World, which was a sequel to the film that launched Chris Hemsworth’s career in 2011. A lot has changed since then. The Avengers movie came out really great where both Thor and Loki appeared and the hype for the Thor sequel just kept getting bigger. It was well deserved because it was good, although it had a different charm from the original.

Two years after Thor went home to Asgard and the bifrost was destroyed rendering him unable to return to Jane Foster, a scientific anomaly piques the interest of Jane’s team in London, where the laws of physics go haywire inside an abandoned factory. Unknown to the humans, the event is connected to the alignment wherein for one particular moment, the nine realms are completely aligned, opening the door for the Dark Elf Malekith to take his revenge on Asgard and all the of the realms it reigns. When Jane unwittingly steps into one of the portals and becomes the host to the powerful dark force called the Aether, she becomes part of the new battle and Thor must do everything to save the woman he loves — and the rest of the realms, of course.

From the get go, there is a significantly different feel to the movie. The characters seemed to gel better this time, with their rapports well established by the first Thor and the Avengers movie. Chris Hemsworth seemed to be in full command and embraced his role as the God of Thunder with an authority that was not as established in the first movie.

While before, there seemed to be an underlying tentativeness in the portrayals, this time around, everything was smooth as silk. Anthony Hopkins as Odin was the main star to watch out for in the first movie but now, Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who plays his cunning brother Loki, are also on an equal level. The casting for these two were perfect, and I, for one, am a big fan of Hiddleston’s Loki. He stole the show in every scene he was in because he has that ability to make audiences wonder what he was up to in every moment. My favorite scene was when Thor sought Loki’s help and his vulnerability was revealed beneath the illusion. Dude has mad acting skills. Seriously.

NO MORE ILLUSIONS. Loki reveals his true state beneath the illusion.

NO MORE ILLUSIONS. Loki reveals his true state beneath the illusion.

Speaking of casting, I was not a big fan of Zachary Levi as Josh Dallas’ replacement for the role of Fandral. Levi’s goofy charm does not really come though for the ladies’ man appeal that was needed for the role. Bring Dallas back, please.

Storywise, Thor: The Dark World was very consistent with the original movie, where Thor talked about the nine realms and what it entailed to keep all of them safe from Asgard’s enemies, and this was a good thing for the movie because it provided a sense of consistency, despite the fact that a different team was in charge of the second movie. My big question throughout the movie though, was how Asgard was able to protect itself from its enemies for so long when its warriors all seemed outclassed by all of the realm’s foes, depending solely on Thor’s power and that of the skills of the Warriors Three. The ease in which Asgard was besieged was truly comical.

In terms of special effects, The Dark World seemed more effects heavy and there were noticeably Star Wars elements injected into the design of the Dark Elves’ spacecraft but it was well executed. As for the set design, considering the amount of colors that it utilized, it could have easily gone south and made the movie’s background cartoonish if it was not used properly. Luckily, the designers retained that edge that made it work.

One of my biggest complaints from the first movie was the costumes, and the good news  was that the filmmakers seemed to agree and minimized the use of heavy velvet capes and made the Asgardian’s outfits more lightweight.

All in all, director Alan Taylor, who also directs for HBO’s Game of Thrones did a great job with the movie, injecting a sleekness to the film that made The Dark World a great sequel. It upped the ante from the first movie and made Thor’s adventure all the more suspenseful and exciting. I’m looking forward to Benicio del Toro’s appearance as The Collector (he appears in the after-credits) in the next Thor sequel or the second Avengers movie (where Thanos was revealed in the after-credits) as the storylines for the Infinity Gauntlet (the Tesseract and the Aether are Infinity Stones) could both be related to the two characters. And, before the marvel geeks get a heart attack, whatever happened to Odin?

Insidious Chapter 2: Movie Review

Insidious_–_Chapter_2_PosterAfter the success of Insidious in 2011, it seemed like a sensible decision to go for a sequel since the first movie was kind of open ended anyway. Insidious Chapter 2, produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame and directed by James Wan, who also helmed great horror films like Dead Silence and The Conjuring, explores Josh Hamilton’s past, uncovers the mystery behind the black woman, and ties up loose ends left by the first movie.

When Josh (Patrick Wilson) returns from The Further after successfully saving his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins)  from evil spirits seeking to inhabit his young body, something changes in the Lambert household and its patriarch. The supernatural entities haunting the house have also become more aggressive, to the alarm of Renai (Rose Byrne) and her mother in law Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). What becomes more puzzling is that Josh seems to be in denial about the danger lurking in the house and the threat it poses to his family. While Renai tries to figure out what is happening to her husband, his mother reaches out to paranormal investigators anew to get to the bottom of the evil that is plaguing her family.

While Insidious is a continuation of Josh’s story from the first movie, I could not help but feel like its an entirely different film because the approach is so drastically different from the first movie. The first Insidious relied on ominous music and a a lot of psychological mindplay to scare audiences but the sequel was more straightforward. James Wan knew how to scare people and straight off the bat, he didn’t mess around. His ghosts were so in your face and judging by the amount of screams he generated as a response from the audience, he was fairly successful in this endeavor.

I also liked how Wan managed to prolong the Lambert family’s story yet not make it obvious that the sequel is merely a ploy to cash in on the franchise. The sequel was smartly written although not all that original but he really entertained the audience with the right blend of up-tempo suspense and sinister creepiness that was the trademark of the Insidious movies. Actor Patrick Wilson is seeming to establish himself as the go to guy for these types of paranormal horror films and I must admit that he has the face and the acting chops to pull it off. As for the rest of the returning characters, kudos for not missing a beat and providing a fluid continuity for the two movies.

If you ask me, Insidious was a pretty decent movie but I thought that it was highly overrated. I liked the sequel much better although content wise, the two movies could have been incorporated into one. The sequel made me a fan of the franchise in totality and that is something of a success.

All in all, I think everybody pulled in their weight but writer/director James Wan and Patrick Wilson are the MVPs of this film. Great job.

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

the-odd-life-of-timothy-greenSo finally, I was able to catch The Odd Life of Timothy Green on video. I didn’t catch this Disney  movie, originally released in August of last year on its regular run but because of its premise and because it  featured two of my favorite actors, Jennifer Garner (Alias, Elektra), and Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) who play the parents of a unique little boy that enter their life like a dream, I decided to catch up. I loved it.

Jim and Cindy Green have been trying to have a child for the longest time but because of a medical condition, this proved to be impossible. Depressed, husband and wife get the idea of writing of all the characteristics that their “child” would have had and placed it in a box, which they bury in their vegetable garden. The same night, following a heavy downpour, the couple wake up to find their house invaded by a little boy caked in mud, calling them mom and dad. What’s more unique is that the boy, who introduces himself as Timothy has leaves on his legs and seems to have the very same traits that both Jim and Cindy wrote on their list. As Timothy began to transform the lives of the people in his community, the couple begin to wonder what it was that their child was keeping from them.

I love Jennifer Garner. This woman can kick ass just as well as she can do comedy and drama, and as a small town artist who is earnestly wanting to have a child, she conveys natural emotions of joy, anguish, wonder and love and communicates these so well with her co-stars. Joel Edgerton, in my opinion is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood today. As a tormented aging mixed martial artist in Warrior to the down to earth factory worker in this movie, Edgerton is equal parts goofy and determined to raise his weird new son as a good father. The young CJ Adams who nabbed the titular role was also fun to watch.

The story was very light and simple. Yet, it walloped a punch and heads straight for the gut. Timothy Green was someone anyone can relate to, someone people wish they had in their own lives and in this sense, the movie connected to its audience successfully.

I liked the message of family that the movie conveyed. The magic is just a bonus but the movie carries the trademark of Disney from the first frame up to the last. The Odd Life of Timothy Green was a heartwarming children’s movie that even adults can enjoy. It reminded me a bit of Big Fish but less surreal and more kid friendly. My only complaint perhaps was that it was too short to go for a deeper emotional impact.

Olympus Has Fallen: Movie Review

405px-Olympus_Has_Fallen_posterWith the number of blockbuster movies to watch out for this year, Olympus Has Fallen seemed undermarketed compared to expected hits like Iron Man, The Hunger Games, Oblivion, The Host and the like. However, looking closer into this movie. One would find that it has a pretty solid cast, a rather ambitious premise and a potential to be one wicked action thriller. On most counts, i believe it delivered.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the lead Secret Service agent detailed to the White House but more than that, he enjoys a close relationship with President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his family. But when an accident makes the President lose confidence in his friend, Mike is exiled to the Treasury Office, where he still keeps one eye out for his commander in chief from a distance. When tension reignites in the Korean peninsula and the the South Korean Prime Minister visits the White House to seek the help of the United States against the North, the White House is blindsided by a daring assault in which its top officials are caught in a compromising situation. With the top brass at gunpoint, all that stands between the fall of Seoul and the future of the United States is the Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Mike Banning.

If one would ignore the glaring loopholes in the story (e.g. lapses in security protocol, the ability of the main antagonist to infiltrate the government without anybody doing a background check, the slow response time of the military and the sheer idiocy of the Secret Service strategy), it would be very easy to enjoy this movie. Directed by the dude who helmed Training Day and The Replacement Killers (Antoine Fuqua), this movie was not short of  amazing strategy, thrills and cool action sequences.  It had sort of a Die Hard vibe going for it but on a larger scale because never have I seen a movie in which the White House decimated on such a level so strategically and so efficiently. Hats off to the writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt for the sheer brilliance of the material.

Olympus is the type of movie that will have audiences on the edge of their seats because of the suspense and those with weak stomachs to head for the door for the sheer brutality of the scenes. More than the violence, it gets audiences to think about what’s going on in the world today, especially since North Korea is cast anew by Hollywood as the villain of the piece. It makes audiences think about what would have happened if United 93 had hit its target on September 11 rather than crashing into a field in Pennsylavia because of the heroic acts of its passengers. It also gives an insight into the suffering of the people in the North and what drives them to act as they do.

What I loved about the movie was that it did not have a one dimensional plot. Just when one thinks that they have the entire thing figured out, the villains will reveal a new motive in which a new strategy is revealed. And the action will take off again. It did have a formulaic approach to the movie but it really worked out. Superb cast by the way. Their performances played off each other really well.

All in all, one man saving the world is still a long shot, but I thought Olympus has Fallen was great. Plus, with Morgan Freeman as acting head of state, how can one go wrong? Kudos to everybody involved in this film. A $70 million budget well spent. I had a lot of fun watching it but I’m afraid some of my hair may have turned gray in the two hours it took to finish the movie because of tension. That and a couple of my nails bitten to excess, but these were sacrifices well worth it.