RUSH: Movie Review

rushIf I wasn’t waiting for the popcorn tub icon to make an appearance to enter the Star Movies Scare-a-thon last night, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch RUSH on cable TV, and I would have missed out. By the end of the film, I almost forgot that I didn’t intend to see it. I wanted to own a copy of the movie on my collection. It was that good.

Rush is a biopic about the epic rivalry of two legendary race car drivers — Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in the 1976 F1 racing season. The film chronicled the early days of the two drivers in the F3 racing circuit until they became world champions in the Formula One Grand prix.

First off, I didn’t expect to be blown away by this epic biopic but I truly was. And it was an awesome surprise. Not only did I learn about F1 racing as a sport from this movie but I gained a lot of insight about apparently two of the greatest figures in racing history. At first glance, it would seem that the biopic was about the rise and fall of James Hunt, with Niki Lauda as a supporting figure in his superstar lifestyle, but audiences have a surprise in store as Lauda’s character steals some of Hunt’s thunder as his backstory is revealed throughout the film.

I for one, thought that the best element of the movie was director Ron Howard’s ability to depict on screen the intense rivalry and the fierce competition between Hunt and Lauda, and how they pushed each other to their limits. Howard was able to depict the two characters as equals from beginning to end, and how one could not have been the person they were without the other. Howard was able to establish the opposite roads that the two icons took to become icons in the racing circuit, their polar opposite personalities and work ethics — James, who was a reckless, happy go lucky womanizer oozing with raw talent, and Lauda, a pragmatic descendant of a rich family of businessmen, who made his way in the sport with his talent, hard work, and analytical skills. It was interesting to see the two men face different struggles, make different choices, yet end up competing for the same prize — the world championship and the adoration of the racing industry in an epic battle culminating in the 1976 Grand Prix.

The movie was intense from beginning to end, on the racetrack or off it, and it was owing mostly to the realism in Hemsworth and Bruhl’s portrayal of two larger than life characters. While the rivalry and animosity between the two characters was apparent with each repartee and insult, they also had a fierce loyalty and respect for each other that drove their characters and it was what made this moment of racing history come to life. Its impossible not to empathize with these two characters as audiences will easily identify and respect these men’s journeys in their own right. They earned their place in racing history fair and square no matter what drama they faced in their personal lives behind the scene.

The final dialogue between Hunt and Lauda at the airfield in Bologna, summed up their relationship and differences clearly–  James believing that racing is all about the rush and living for the moment, Niki, firm on his convictions about taking calculated risks, yet there was an underlying acknowledgment in their words about a shared passion for driving. After all, the two men came a long way from the rookies they were in F3, and their shared experiences have brought them closer to each other than they expected. They motivated each other, they envied each other, they respected each other and became one half of the world’s most iconic racing duos in sports history.

Adding to film’s strengths were the raw and extreme scenes, shifting between long shots, close ups and POV shots from the perspective of the racers, coupled with a really strong musical score that accented the danger and drama of each moment. While my favorite race was of course, the one in Japan, the lead ups were equally thrilling and engaging.

All in all, Rush was a movie for the books. Excellently written, with edge of your seat action, a great story and a dramatic finish brought to life by great acting and a unique chemistry between the two lead stars. Its hard to believe that all these happened as is in real life. It was a great call to make a movie out of this because it was like fate wanted it to happen. My only gripe in the movie was that Chris’s accent sounded more Australian/Scot than English.

Life After Beth: Movie Review

Screen-Shot-2014-07-17-at-5.34.43-PMDevastated by the sudden death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) from a snake bite, Zach (Dane Deehan) has made a habit of visiting Beth’s parents Morrie (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon) to reconnect with his dead girlfriend. But after one particular bonding session that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, Zach notices that the couple are no longer as open to him. Wanting to find out the reason for the couple’s abandonment, he tries to get to the bottom of the matter but discovers something even better (or worse, depending on one’s perspective). Beth has risen from the dead and while Zach and her parents rejoice her resurrection, something weird begins to happen to their suburban neighborhood. People whom they have not seen for years suddenly show up out of nowhere and pretty soon, Beth begins to have mood swings and violent rages and Zach isn’t so sure that she is the same person he fell in love with.

Life after Beth is a strange movie, not only because its categorized as a zombie rom com but because it was pretty lopsided all around and riddled with plotholes. Writer director Jeff Baena certainly made the right choice in casting Dane Deehan as the male lead because the guy could really act. Deehan delivered as a mourning boyfriend, horny teenager, scared out of his wits lover and resistance leader and he’s one of the reasons the movie kind of worked. Aubrey Plaza was a passable lead. Being comfortable in comedy, she didn’t take the zombie thing too seriously and portrayed a character that connects with the audience, even when she is decomposing before their very eyes.

I liked that the approach was light and there were many funny moments in the film like Beth dragging a reluctant Zach to the attic to make out, Beth lugging an oven on her back on her “date” with her boyfriend, and Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s know it all big brother Kyle. His interactions with Deehan were great. I liked seeing this goofy side to both actors. The indie style seemed fitting for a soft core zombie movie too, but the jazz music was a weird background sound for the most part.

Plotwise, Baena was on point with the dead girlfriend thing. It had enough potential to work. But instead on focusing on the original premise –just starting and ending with the Beth dilemma, Jaena got carried away and opened multiple subplots. The problem was, he failed to close them, leaving questions and inconsistencies as the movie progressed. Among this were: What caused the zombie apocalypse? Why were the zombies obsessed with attics and jazz music? Did the Haitian maid know anything about the rise of the dead? And the resolution in the end seemed abrupt at best, seemingly forced and premature.

All in all, Life After Beth was an interesting movie owing to its strong lead characters. Production wise, it was mediocre at best. It generally flirted with a lot of ideas but never really went all the way with it. It was not dark or overly funny. It just was there in the middle, not wanting to push the envelope. For the most part, a ton of wasted potential in casting John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon with material that did not showcase their talents at all. Its a shame because there was some potential in this piece at the beginning but it all went down the drain when it chose to stick to a strong idea and instead opted for quantity (of zombies) over quality (Beth).

Bicentennial Man: Movie Review

Bicentennial_man_film_posterWhen the news broke out about Robin Williams’ death several weeks back, there was a flood of his movies on cable. There was a lot of press about his yet to be released movies as the world mourned the loss of an amazing actor — not just a comedian but a real actor, who gave real depth to his TV and movie characters and shaped, for the most part, most childhoods of my generation. I was one of those who mourned his loss.

During one of these television marathons, I happened to chance upon one of his movies, Bicentennial Man, which was actually one of his movies that I most remembered. Sure, most people would say that Dead Poet’s Society or Good Will Hunting were their favorite movies of his but I think he did real fine work with this film about an extraordinary intelligent android named Andrew (Williams) who develops an uncanny bond with this masters — the Martins, in particular the family’s youngest daughter Amanda (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). The story runs the course of close to 200 years (thus the term bicentennial) and tells of Andrew’s evolution from a regular NDR series robot to an android who has evolved enough to be called human.

I really loved this movie because it was really sweet and sentimental. Playing the lead role, Robin Williams did not use his signature madcap comedy but used dialogue (through Andrew’s basic cluelesness about how humans behave) and logic to draw smiles from his audience. Its a welcome change of pace for Williams, who is like an endless bundle of energy on screen (Flubber, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin — I rest my case) and this gives the audience a chance to appreciate a quieter side to his comedy.

What I really liked about it was the approach. The story progressed in stages, with the transitions so well integrated into the story that it flowed smoothly as the years went by, but it never lost its focus on the fact that it was Andrew’s journey. And Andrew, though he was basically a robot, showed an endearing quality about him that made him stick out from the rest(justifying what he was the central character).

Williams displayed great rapport with Sam Neill, who played Richard or “Sir”, the head of the Martin family and their interactions were mostly poignant and/or amusing. Williams also played well with Eisenberg who played Little Miss, and later her granddaughter Portia as their unique love story unraveled with time. The best part of the movie is actually in tackling issues about slavery, inequality and getting the audience to think about the definition of humanity. When Andrew was asking to be declared a human, I liked the argument that he made to the jury about the presiding officer, in having mechanical parts that Andrew developed, being partly a robot. The technicalities and the long drawn out case for Andrew’s final acknowledgement as a human being, and his choosing to give up his immortality so that he may join humanity was the most touching parts of the movie.

All in all, despite the length of time tackled in the movie, Bicentennial Man was not boring. It was sweet, well executed and it had great substance. It was something different from Robin Williams, and at the time of its release, until now, it was a refreshing and welcome change of pace.

The Fault in our Stars: Movie Review

NOW A BOOK, SOON A MOVIE. Ansel Elgort (Carrie reboot and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) snag the lead roles for the movie adaptation of this John Greene book.

NOW A BOOK, SOON A MOVIE. Ansel Elgort (Carrie reboot and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) snag the lead roles for the movie adaptation of this John Greene book.

Pain deserves to be felt. A statement that is totally applicable to The Fault in Our Stars but it was a pain that I was glad to endure for its 126-minute run.

Its one thing to subject yourself to a movie with one sick person in it, but its pretty much torture to sign up for a film with two sick lead characters. This is the reason why I steer clear of Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations (because somebody always dies) but after I read The Fault in our Stars by bestselling author John Green, I knew I couldn’t stay away from this film. I simply had to know how the movie versions of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters measured up to their literary counterparts.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), is a 17 year old suffering from thyroid cancer, whose existence revolves around getting medication, watching reality shows and obsessing over the ending (or non ending) of her favorite book, The Imperial Affliction, written by reclusive author Peter van Houten. She meets the charming one legged cancer survivor Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) in one of the support groups her mother forces her to go to and there begins their epic love story limited only by their numbered days on Earth.

I must say that adapting this book for the big screen was pretty tall order for director Josh Boone, not only because the material was so heavy but because of the hype and the rabid following of this novel. I can think of at least 20 people that I know of that couldn’t help yapping about how good the book was before I even cracked the first page (I agreed with them wholeheartedly afterwards). Luckily, the filmmakers actually did a good job with it.

There is no shortage of quotable quotes in this movie and it was no wonder that the script followed the book almost exactly to the letter. Still, it wouldn’t have been as effective if they had not cast the right people for the right parts. I think they did, for everyone but Isaac, because despite saying the same words as his literary counterpart, movie Isaac (Nat Wolff) always seemed a beat short of everybody else, emotion wise, acting wise. I always thought of Isaac as somewhat spunkier than Wolff’s characterization.

On the other hand, Shailene Woodley as Hazel was awesome. As an actress, she has an uncanny ability to establish a unique chemistry with her co-stars that allows her to connect the characters better. She did this with Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now, and now Ansel Elgort in The Fault in our Stars. Its uncanny because she stars with both actors in the Divergent franchise as siblings (with Elgort) and nemesis (with Teller) and it didn’t seem weird watching them play different roles. There is a certain level of comfort in seeing them together in various roles. Woodley is definitely an actress to watch out for. As for Elgort as Augustus Waters, who has captured the hearts of women and teens the world over in the books, he did a pretty decent job portraying the iconic character, which was pretty difficult because Mr. Waters is totally swoon worthy.

I liked the great soundtrack that the film used (credit to Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott for the score). The selection of songs that were cool and hip countered the rather sad atmosphere that the subject of death always provides. I realize that for these young adult novel adaptations, I always watch out for excellent music (like The Perks of being a Wallflower) because it dictates the tone of the movie and for the most park, its what makes or breaks them.

The Fault in our Stars was a beautiful book with beautiful words that got readers to think about their own mortality. Watching the movie was not as thought provoking as reading the literature but it still managed to evoke the same feelings of happiness and heartbreak. It felt real on another level and that could be counted as a success for the big screen adaptation.

All in all, the movie was an even mix of sweetness, innocence, sadness, hope and love. Its a love story but its also about family, and coping, surviving, and dying.  Despite revolving around death, it was able to evoke something positive out of the sadness as it was tempered with a message filled with meaning, that everybody gets a fair shot at their own infinity like Hazel and Augustus but it is up to them to reach out and grab it. I must admit that real teens don’t communicate as philosophically as these two, but at least the movie shows the reality of what its like to deal with disease and one’s own mortality. And also there’s the peace with the closure. Personally, that makes the film a great big okay on my book. Okay?

The Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman_2-_The_Legend_Continues83984You can’t win ‘em all, even if you are Will Ferrell.

After the success of The Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy which basically poked good-natured fun at the journalism industry as a whole, the same team of Judd Apatow (producer) and Adam McKay (director) came up with an idea for a sequel. Now, San Diego’s top anchorman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), now married, have hit the big time, reading the 6:30 news for a New York based station. When Veronica gets promoted,  making history as the first woman to read the news for primetime, Ron loses his job and self esteem, only to be brought in by a new network which seeks to deliver 24 hours of non stop news. Ron, who initially lands the graveyard shift, brings in his team from San Diego and turns the tides to rewrite history in the field of news reporting.

I actually think that Will Ferrell has built a niche for himself by making movies about “legendary” celebrities who really don’t deserve to be famous like Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy and for the most part, the comedy worked. I thought the first Anchorman was quite funny, and not much has changed for the sequel, except that the characters have deteriorated to the point that they were not quite as hilarious as they were in the original movie. They still played the same characters, true, but their material seemed to be running thin and ragged as they basically just recycled the gags they used before. It was not a pretty sight.

It was frustrating because Ron, who was simply a goofball with an inflated ego in the first movie, was promoted into a Class A jackass, stupid beyond belief, mostly landing on his feet because of pure luck. There was nothing charming about his self centeredness and nothing endearing about the things he did in this movie. It was quite frustrating because there was a pool of really great comedians on board, and even James Marsden, who played top anchorman Jack Lime, let go of his inhibitions and tried his best to deliver the laughs from his character. The only standouts for me in this movie were Steve Carell ad Kristin Wiig who played equally clueless and weird characters Brick and Chani.

It was weird because 22 Jump Street did the same thing (recycle material from the original and ran with it) but for Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, it worked because there was an obvious effort to breathe fresh life into the material. With the Anchorman sequel, it seemed like the gang was just going through the motions. They seemed to get lazy, believing that the leftover good vibes from their roles from the original would automatically carry over to the sequel.

I only found one scene particularly funny, and it was the showdown of the news anchors, a gag recycled from the original, but this time, it was leveled up due to the number of appearances by guest stars — Will Smith, John C. Reilly, Marion Cotillard, Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Sacha Baron Cohen and Vince Vaughn as a rival anchor from the first movie. I admit the scene was hilarious but unfortunately, it was not enough to compensate for the general lameness of the film.

All in all, I was quite frustrated by this sequel. Sure, I wasn’t really expecting much given that I have seen the first movie, but I was really disappointed by the weak material and was offended by the lack of effort by Grade A comedians to deliver on the laughs. I felt like a couple of my brain cells died sitting through this movie. In truth, I only sat through it to give it a fair chance. My advice — see something else.

The Purge: Anarchy Movie Review

The_Purge_–_Anarchy_PosterA sequel to the 2013 Ethan Hawke starrer, The Purge Anarchy operates under the same concept. Each year, for a 12 hour period, citizens in the new America are allowed to run free and commit the crime legally, including the most heinous — robbery, rape and murder, provided they do not use weapons above a certain classification. Unlike in the original movie where the story centered on one family like a glorified home invasion movie, Anarchy stepped up the action by introducing different characters who meet by coincidence on the street on Purge night — an avenging father, a poor mother and daughter, and a couple who got stuck on the highway on the most dangerous night of the year. Together, they must survive the Purge while they are hunted down by a menacing group of armed purgers on the one hand and psychotic teen hoodlums on the other.

Anarchy is a great addition to the franchise because it was able to pick up on the missed potential of the original and push the envelope on the concept. Anarchy depicted a society gripped by abandon, disorder and chaos, something that was what was missing from the first movie in its attempt to replicate Malcolm McDowell’s character in the Clockwork Orange with the Polite Leader (something that didn’t quite pan out). Don’t get me wrong, the original movie was not the most horrible thriller out there but it definitely lacked the edge it needed to establish the interesting idea of the Purge.

In contrast, Anarchy effectively depicted the sense of danger in the streets and what the situation was for the people who could not afford to protect themselves against the purgers. At first, Anarchy seemed to pick out some choice scenarios from other horror and action movies (stuck on a backroad, a father who wants to get even with his son’s killer), but then, it was able to weave the stories together to create a unit standing against people who want them dead either for sport, for money or vendetta. And because they were together for most of the movie, and were obviously underdogs in the hunting game, audiences are able to establish a connection with them and want them to survive the night. Because it was the second movie in the franchise, unfortunately, the shock factor about how people were treated like cattle on purge night has diminished somewhat.

Perhaps this was the reason the action was more intense and that challenge after challenge emerge for the group at each turn. It certainly made for an interesting ride. Also,  instead of the main hero developing feelings of the lead female character, he bonded instead with her daughter, who was sometimes too impulsive and too idealistic for her own good, which was good in the sense that it was not all that generic. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of stupid moves committed by the characters in this movie and at times, it would seem that Sgt. Barnes was the only person who had a lick of sense among the lot, much like Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey were the only smart characters in the original. It seemed that his companions were too lax in dealing with a night like the Purge. Nobody thought to arm themselves at the first opportunity, nor just maintain an awareness of the environment to feel out potential threats to their safety. Lots of facepalm moments right there. I would have blown the gasket were I in Sgt. Barnes’s oversized shoes. But eventually, there was some improvement, towards the end that is, but at least it was better late than never.

The ending was quite predictable, but overall, it was a vast improvement over the first movie. Basically, it was like watching the first Punisher (for the first Purge) and then following up with Punisher: War Zone (for the sequel) in terms of action and suspense. Despite the fact that it had lesser known stars (Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford, Carmen Ejogo), it was able to deliver solid performances and a coherent movie without trying too hard to be something its not. Its straightforward and its well executed. Plain and simple.  Kudos to writer director James DeMonaco for pulling it off.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Review

guardian-of-the-galaxy-poster1I aaaaaaaahhhhym… hooked on a feeling — and its a good one.

Honestly, I have never heard of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy until about a year or so ago when Marvel Studios decided to greenlight a movie starring a band of unlikely heroes destined to save the galaxy from one of  Thanos’s allies, Ronan the Accuser. After an extensive marketing drive and a super cool trailer, it easily became one of the movies I was most looking forward to see in 2014 and man, this movie did not disappoint.

Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), a petty thief affiliated with a band of space pirates called the Ravagers,  finds himself in a pickle when he steals an orb with one of the infinity stones, a weapon so strong that it gives the bearer the power to destroy an entire planet with just one contact. Unsure of what the orb contains and with Ronan the Accuser’s lackeys hot on his tail, Starlord crosses paths with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’s favorite daughter/assassin, bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically modified trigger happy raccoon, and his sidekick, a tree like humanoid named Groot (Vin Diesel). After they all get arrested and incarcerated by the Nova Corps, they stage a daring escape with the help of Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista aka Batista), who thirsts for vengeance against Ronan (Lee Pace), who wants the orb for himself to eradicate the entire Xandarian race. Now, the band of five misfits must find in themselves the courage to save the planet and prove that they are more than the losers the galaxy has pictured them to be.

I must say that Guardians of the Galaxy has immediately catapulted to my second favorite Marvel movie after The Avengers. The trailer promised a fun and entertaining watch but director James Gunn (who ironically won a Razzie as worst director in star studded ensemble Movie 43) was able to achieve so much more. It was really a challenge to make people care about characters that they are not familiar with and Gunn managed to do that and balance the exposure of these five strong characters and give the audience moments to connect with each one of them. Its really hard to handle an ensemble cast and somehow, Gunn was able to pull it off marvelously.

I’ve seen Chris Pratt play supporting roles before GOTG but he really stepped up his game in his his first major break. He put his great comedic timing and charm to good use as the smart alecky Peter Quill, leader of the Guardians, but made sure that he also delivered on the more physical aspects of his role. While Gamora and Drax were great in their respective roles, my favorites were the two purely CGI characters — Rocket the Racoon and Groot. Bradley Cooper’s voice acting had such attitude that he made his character larger than life, even when he is actually the smallest character of the lot. Vin Diesel as Groot had no other line but “I am Groot” but his character was easily the most endearing member of the cast. He was adorable and kind, and that was why audiences loved him. Oh, and leave us not forget Michael Rooker as Yondu. Anyone who has seen Rooker play Merl on The Walking Dead knows that he is not a guy to be messed with as the blue skinned head of the Ravagers, he did everything to uphold his image.

What’s great about GOTG is the balance that filmmakers were able to achieve in the action, drama and comedy aspects of the film. The transition from an action packed moment to one of drama (mostly Groot), or comedy (mostly Rocket or Peter) was so fluid that it did not at all seem forced. The great banter, owing to the smartly written script (James Gunn, Nicole Perlman) surely encouraged a bunch of audience to pick up a GOTG comic book on the way home to learn more of the group’s antics. Not to mention the dramatic parts were so well executed that I’ve read a couple of reviews comparing the film to George Lucas’s iconic Star Wars. My favorite scenes were easily the Nova Fleet locking together to form a protective shield against the Dark Aster, and Groot sacrificing himself to save the group. Those were definitely tearjerkers for me. Yeah, its embarrassing to cry because of a comic book movie but these were great pieces of cinema.

I also loved the soundtrack, which were really iconic songs from the 70s and 80s. I loved it so much that I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this. One thing I didn’t like as much was the limited exposure of Ronan the Accuser. I would have wanted him to be more badass to amp up the impact of the final showdown between him and the Guardians.

All in all, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy because it had heroes that had no great superpowers but had a lot of heart. It was actually the ultimate underdog movie made even cooler by the fact that all of the adventures were taking place in outer space. True, some of the characters had anger management issues but hey, they’re only starting to turn a new leaf and embracing their role as actual heroes. Mainly, I had a lot of fun watching this movie because I felt that the crew had a lot of fun doing the film. It makes me much more excited to see the sequel.