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.

HIMYM: A bittersweet end to a nine season wait

How-I-Met-Your-Mother-Season-9-Episode-12From the minute that it was announced that season 9 of How I Met Your Mother was going to be its last, fans of the show, including myself have gone sentimental, because really, it was hard to say goodbye to a show that made your weeks complete for nine years. And there was only one word that came to mind to describe these final 24 episodes — it was bittersweet.

Season 9 basically revolved around Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) wedding weekend at the Farhampton Inn, with flashbacks of the gang’s antics from the first eight seasons mixed with some stories that related to Barney and Robin’s wedding. It was also revealed how Ted (Josh Radnor) finally met the kids’ mother Tracy (Cristin Milioti), and how Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and the rest of the gang met The Mother in separate incidents way before Ted finally mustered up the courage to go up to the girl with the yellow umbrella at the train station.

From the first episode of the season, it already felt like a farewell. Ted was already packed to go to Chicago where he would start afresh without having to deal with Barney and Robin’s wedded bliss in New York. Of course, he has never completely gotten over Robin, and his sacrifice meant that he would be able to keep his friendship with the gang without things getting weird. Marshall and Lily have their own fresh start to look forward to, as with the newlyweds. The weekend is filled with a lot of legendary antics and the final season is a mix of the humor that made HIMYM such a guilty pleasure from the beginning — and sentimentality for having to let go of this group of people that seemed like a regular part of each week. Because everything happened in a space of two days, the format seemed different, yet familiar, which is a credit to director Pamela Fryman, who has been with the show from the start.

The flashforward to the future where Ted finally finds the girl of his dreams and how it is interwoven into the story was a great reward for all of the heartbreaks that Ted had to go through in the season’s nine year run. The fact that the mother was just as goofy as he was was an added bonus. When Cristin Milioti was first cast as The Mother, I had reservations because she wasn’t exactly what I had pictured for Ted after meeting all of the girls that he got involved in. But when she gelled so well with the gang, I knew she was going to blend well with the group’s chemistry. When she sang La Vie En Rose, she totally got my seal of approval. See, in the show’s nine seasons, one can’t help but root for Ted because he is such a pure soul. He loves his friends and he loves completely. The innocence in which he falls in love with women and the pureness of his belief in happily ever after connects him to the viewers so well that they feel like he is their brother — or in Barney’s case, Best Bro. I’ve always been Team Barney and Robin though just because there is no one in the world who gets Barney like Robin does so when they decided to get married, I was over the moon. Lily and Marshall also got their fair share of closure. The issue of Marshall’s judgeship and Lily’s dream job in Italy totally made viewers take a look at their own marriages and deal with their own imperfections.

I liked how HIMYM closed out the stories gradually — especially Marshall and Barney’s Slap Bet, which has been a running storyline for many seasons (and one of my favorites). I liked how everybody seemed to get their happily ever afters, despite the fact that they were going to be apart. And just when I thought that everything was going well, the last two episodes had a major bombshell waiting for me (and the millions of fans). It was filled with heartbreak.

In a way, I would have wanted the series to end on a happy note for everyone, and I would have been happy if they had just stopped at that. But HIMYM, despite its silliness, is a series about the realities of life and friendship, and love. And while it didn’t exactly end the way I wanted, the ending totally made sense. And it ended with a hint of hope, which is the core of the show after all. In the end, it went full circle and everyone ended up where they should be — happy to have been part of each others’ lives. As for me, I can always watch the gang on DVD anytime I want to revisit their adventures, and that makes me happy too. It was a legendary nine seasons, and I would not have missed a minute of it.

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.

Starting Over Again: Movie Review

Starting Over Again Movie PosterAfter two weeks, people are still lining up in the cinemas to catch this Toni Gonzaga-Piolo Pascual starrer, the Valentine offering of film giant Star Cinema about finding love, losing love and moving forward. This film, helmed by award winning director Olivia Lamasan, has been hailed by critics for Piolo’s acting prowess and Toni’s excellent comedic timing but if viewers are expecting a light romantic comedy, they will be in for a surprise.

Architecture student Ginny Gonzales (Toni) has harbored a crush on History professor Marco Villanueva (Pascual) for four years, pursuing him relentlessly and shamelessly for the duration of her stay in the University. When finally, she convinces Marco to allow her to do her thesis on their ancestral home, Marco begins to see a different side to the persistent student and soon enough, he begins to return her feelings. After three years of being together,Ginny ends their relationship without any explanation and Marco is left to pick up the pieces alone. Yet another four years pass and their paths cross again when Marco’s business partners contract Ginny to design the site of their new venture. But Marco now has a girlfriend Patty (Iza Calzado), and Ginny grows more confused when her feelings for Marco resurface.

A lot of people can relate to this movie, and perhaps this is the reason why it sells itself to the audience so easily. The story has depth but it balances out the seriousness with comedy. It tackles relationship issues and is a wealth of quotable quotes for the brokenhearted. But on the other hand, the romantic moments are totally swoon-worthy. The movie proceeds at a steady pace, revealing pieces of the story slowly so the audiences can understand the characters better.

My favorite part of the film is actually the manner in which the flashbacks were presented. They were not done sequentially so audiences don’t get to root for only one particular character and hate the other one completely. While it shows heartbreaking scenes for one party, in the next few minutes, another flashback that happened much earlier than the first one will be shown which will make viewers understand why the character acted the way he/she did.

While there were parts that felt like an exhibition of great dialogue, or an excuse to show just how great an actor Piolo Pascual is, the film still managed to pull it all together with an ending that would make audiences happy, despite not being what they expect. On the one hand, its great that Filipino films are doing the unexpected rather than go with the formula even though it doesn’t do justice to the story.

All in all, Starting Over Again felt more realistic than most Valentine movies. Its about finding the right person and loving them completely. Its about loving oneself and achieving one’s dreams because nothing is wrong with that. Its about forgiveness and friendship, success and failure, its love evolving into a different form. Its about starting anew and finding the strength to do so.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Book Review

The Fault in Our StarsSixteen year-old thyroid cancer patient Hazel is living on borrowed time, and the last thing she wants to do is spend it in Support Group, listening to the struggles of sick kids against the disease. But Support group is where she meets Augustus Waters, a osteocarcinoma survivor, who shares her acerbic humor and love for literature — a guy who gives her hope that her remaining days may not be so bleak after all. At first, Hazel tries to resist Augustus’s charms, to no avail as she continues to be intrigued and drawn to him the more she gets to know him. When they embark on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive writer Peter Van Houten, the author of their favorite book, their budding romance is faced with new challenges that are not so easily overcome.

I’ve seen this book in the bookshelves for quite some time but I’ve tried to steer clear of Nicholas Sparks types of novels (because someone always dies). The premise of this book, is a deadly disease after all.  But after I found out that they were releasing a movie, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a chance. I didn’t even watch the trailer for fear of spoiling myself. Good call for me because I was able to appreciate the literature more.

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.

The book talks about cancer and tackles the subject so matter of factly from the point of view of Hazel. Considering that this is part of the main plot, the book should have been depressing from the start. Surprisingly, Hazel’s first person narrative is done with so much honesty and candor that audiences will see beyond the disease and focus on her as a character. In so doing, readers see cancer patients with her eyes and understand their reality and that of their loved ones – their fears, their torments, their simple pleasures and their frustrations at being physically limited by their illness.

Unlike other books that tackle cancer, this book focuses not on the disease but rather the journey of people who are experiencing the disease – their attempts to live a normal life, their disgust against being coddled, their fear of becoming part of the statistic and their struggle to not let the disease take over who they really are.

The Fault in Our Stars trains the spotlight two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, but their relationship is so much more than puppy love. What they share is sweet and innocent, and is grounded on something much deeper than the prose which they both share great passion for. There are times when the depth of the literature may seem overwhelming (especially when they share correspondence with Peter Van Houten) in contrast to their personal exchanges but this is quickly processed by their quick witted and ever entertaining banter.

Augustus is a charmer, as the book will repeatedly (but not tiresomely mention, whether from his own mouth or another character’s) and he has such a positive attitude. He will steal readers’ hearts from his very first appearance at the Literal Heart of Jesus. As his friend Isaac described, he had a heart as figuratively good as his literal one sucked. Its hard not to like him.

And Hazel, despite all her attempts to maintain a strong and tough façade, will inspire deep admiration among the readers. She is wise beyond her years, despite her addiction to reality shows like ANTM. Augustus’ description of his love for her pretty much sums up the depth of her character.

There were a lot of sweet moments in this book, a lot of humor, even despite the characters’ fragile mortality. Their interactions with each other, their families, their friends and the beauty of each dialogue, delivered with such simplicity brings tears to one’s eyes. I particularly loved how Hazel’s dad described his feelings for his daughter on page 278, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

All of the supporting characters are all so well written that readers will feel like they personally know these people. Hazel and Gus’s parents, Isaac, nutless Patrick, Peter van Houten and his assistant Lidewij. Heck, even the extras are interesting.

Logically, The Fault in Our Stars should have been a downer because its about cancer, not just cancer but kids with cancer. But somehow author John Greene manages to overcome the direness of the situation with excellent and entertaining writing technique. Instead of fearing who might die in the end, readers look forward to more encounters between Gus and Hazel. And this is what makes their story so great. The pureness and honesty of their relationships, even with their imperfections, the wonder of discovery and their acceptance of the inevitable.

The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, pure and simple. But it talks about love in its many forms, and what it all entails. It talks about endings, beginnings, and what lies beyond. It is about oblivion and the afterlife and a bunch of other philosophical questions.

Like Hazel and Gus, who felt cheated by the non-ending of An Imperial Affliction, I wanted to read more after reading the end to this book. But alas, it was not to be.

All in all, an awesome read. I wish I had Hazel, Gus or even Isaac’s sharpness to articulate how great an experience it was to spend hours reading this book but it’s a journey that one needs to experience on their own. Highly recommended for young adult readers and beyond.

Robocop (2014): Movie Review

robocopI was seven years old when I first saw the original Robocop movie and when I heard that studios were going for a reboot, I was immediately skeptical, seeing as remakes of other popular blockbusters like Total Recall, Nightmare on Elm Street and Dredd added nothing new to the franchise. The trailer did not spark any interest whatsoever seeing as there was a bevy of A-listers who signed up for the project. At first, I saw this as a sign of overcompensation, but curiosity still got the best of me and I finally went to the cinema myself to see how it fared against its predecessor.

The storyline was pretty similar to the 1987 Sci-fi. Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, The Killing), a Detroit cop was seriously injured after an attempt on his life by corrupt policemen in the pocket of powerful crime lord,left him with serious burns, amputation and blindness on one eye. With his wife trying to save what’s left of her husband, she agrees to enlist him in the Robocop program, in an attempt by Omnicorp, a multinational conglomerate involved in the supply of robot drones to circumvent the law and put their robots in the streets for law enforcement purposes. But when Murphy’s humanity gets in the way of mechanically functioning like the droids, Omnicorop CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) orders Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to do whatever it takes to make Alex as good as the robots, even if it means deactivating the essence of his humanity.

I must admit that despite my initial reservations, this Robocop reboot was not too bad. The style was much different from the original, as were the designs, which were now understandably sleeker and minimized compared to the original Robocop’s bulky robotics. The action sequences also seemed like video game segments, lighter, faster and scored with cool background music, but there was always that nod to the original with the way the droids looked and functioned. Even Robocop himself was presented in his classic costume, (but later upgraded to tactical) so there was an obvious attempt to win over the fans of the original movie while introducing Robocop as a hero to a new generation. Alex’s partner in this version was also named Lewis like the original but Lewis in 1987 was a woman named Anne and 2014 Lewis was a black guy named Jack. Anne played a bigger role in the movie than her 2014 counterpart.

What I felt was lacking in this version of Robocop was a main villain that would totally get audiences on the side of Robocop. Aside from Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), there was really no real competition or challenge for Robocop, mainly because the movie focused too much on the ethics behind putting a man on the machine and the politics surrounding it that it became more of a weird family drama than a Sci-Fi action movie. I wanted 2014 Robocop to be a badass from the start but I must admit that it took him a while before he was able to figure out what was going on and override his program. And what was it about Omnicorp’s power to shut him down anytime? Totally unfair, and uncool. If it were me, instead of a biased news anchor, I would have cast Samuel L. Jackson the main antagonist, or set him up to be the bad guy in a potential sequel. That would have upped the cool quotient of this reboot.

All in all, Joel Kinnaman managed to pull off his first big ticket starring role, and Director Jose Padilha managed to come out with a passable reboot. Its always a challenge to surpass a classic but in this case, I think Robocop did well enough as a solid standalone. And for me, not ruining the franchise is already considered a victory for all concerned.


Medical Top Team: Kdrama Review

Medical Top Team Episode 1 (RAW)Its been a while since I saw a Kwon Sang Woo drama and when I saw that he was starring in Medical Top Team along with Ju Ji Hoon (Princess Hours), Jung Ryeo Won (Which Star are you from?), and Choi Minho (To the Beautiful You), I immediately had high hopes for this medical drama starring an all star cast.

Kwon Sang Woo stars as maverick doctor Park Tae Shin, a skilled general surgeon with impeccable commitment to his patients. During an event, he crosses paths with cardiothoracic surgeon Seo Joo Young (Ryeo Won) for an emergency case which sparks off a relationship of mutual respect and rivalry between the two, especially when they are both recruited by Han Seung Jae (Ji Hoon), the chief of Kwanghye University Hospital’s Internal Medicine Unit to become part of the Medical Top Team, a group of elite doctors whose aim is to make medical breakthroughs in patients suffering from diseases with less than 50 percent survival rate. But politics gets in the way as the hospital’s Vice President Shin Hye So (Kim Young Ae) starts a power struggle with Chief Han over the operation of the Top Team. Things take a turn for the worse when family ties become involved in the struggle.

The powerhouse cast behind this drama is enough of a reason to tune in. But I was surprised to find out that the drama did not fare too well against strong competition during its airing. Perhaps, it was because Medical Top Team failed to establish its genre early on, a problem that seemed to persist through the series’ entire run. It started off strongly as a medical drama and set the stage for a possible romance between main stars Kwon Sang Woo and Jung Ryeo Won, but as the drama went further, it seemed that the writers had a change of heart, and paired off Ryeo Won with Ji Hoon instead with Sang Woo shifting to Oh Yon Seo, who played Choi Ah Jin, a resident doctor who was also part of the Top Team. I had no problem with this development because it made sense given the storyline, plus Kwon Sang Woo’s character was very flexible and charming that it did not seem off putting to pair him up with a slightly younger character. The problem with MTT was actually its failure to make up its mind about its focus. There was stuff about family. There was stuff about politics. There was bromance, which was my favorite part of the series and some backstory elements that seemed to be aborted sometime into the series. It seemed like a hybrid of sorts, dabbling at various elements that made it confusing for the viewers at times.

The doctors of MTT, at first seemed like they were inspired by characters from American TV series like Grey’s Anatomy and House. During the first episodes, it seemed like Dr. Seo was being groomed to be the Korean version of Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) but as the series progressed, she lacked the tenacity and feistiness of Grey-Sloane Hospital’s cutthroat heart doctor. Dr. Park on the other hand, seemed like a version of Dr. House but as the series progressed, it was revealed that he was too emotional and attached to the patients to think clearly when things got tough. Doctors seemed to focus more on the politics, responding sluggishly to emergencies, which was a shame and negated their top team status.

Acting wise, this series was top notch. Episodes 6 and 17 which showcased Dr. Park and Dr. Han’s torment truly tore at my heart and affected me, and this level of acting made me stick with the series despite some of its lapses. And this alone, is certainly worth spending hours to watch the series. It also alances out the funny and the serious adding characters like Kim Ki Bang as romatically awkward neurosurgeon Dr. Jung Hoon Min, and Park Won Sang as veteran anaesthesiologist Jo Jeon Hyeok with their respective love stories and bromances with radiologist Dr. Bae Sang Kyu (Alex) and Dr. Park. Oh and did I mention how adorable Choi Minho is in this series. You just want to give him a big hug whenever he appears on screen.

All in all, Medical Top Team is still a series to watch if only for the great chemistry among its stars and the cliffhanger medical cases that the Top Team handles throughout the series. The ending is a bit open ended but it can be interpreted as an opening for the next step of the Top Team or the actual end to the series. Whichever the case, its still a good watch at 20 episodes.

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