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.

Blindness: Movie Review

Blindness-Movie-PosterAfter watching Denis Villanueve’s take on Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s novel The Double with Enemy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal), which I appreciated way after I have watched it compared to when I actually was, I did a bit of research on Saramago and learned that one of the films I missed in 2008 starring Mark Ruffalo, Blindness, was actually adapted from one of his works — a novel of the same name. Of course, I wanted to see if it was just as strange as Enemy. It was, actually, but in a different way.

In an unnamed city somewhere in the world, a man suddenly loses his sight in the middle of traffic, but instead of going dark, he experiences a phenomenon where he is swallowed by light “as if he is swimming in a milky sea.” A bystander offers to drive him home but for far more nefarious reasons. The stranger ends up stealing his car. Later, the man’s wife arrives and takes him to an eye doctor and pretty soon, all of the people who grew in contact with man succumb to the same phenomenon. Soon, the city is swamped by the epidemic called white blindness and all those afflicted are sent to an old mental asylum, including the doctor’s wife, who has not suffered from blindness but pretended to do so to take care of her husband. But being the only person immune to the disease eventually takes its toll on her, and it becomes a challenge far greater than what she signed up for to deal with an entire facility of people who are suddenly plunged into helpless depression, abandoned by government and society because of fear and ignorance.

I must say that this movie was more horrifying than seeing the end of the world because of a zombie apocalypse, because it dealt not with monsters but the monsters within men. Director Fernando Meirelles, did a brilliant job of depicting the desperation and anxiety of a society unsure of what they are dealing with, deprived of one of the most vital parts of their being — sight. As the movie progressed, Meirelles clearly illustrated the difference between the doctor’s wife’s perspective and those of the blind inside the facility, her sacrifice and her ability to process fully the injustice and the inhumane conditions surrounding her because she could see. The chaos and the filth and the lack of compassion was both heartbreaking and disgusting so on that score, the film was able to establish among the audience an affinity for the blind. And because the characters had no names, just titles — doctor, doctor’s wife, girl with the sunglasses (Alice Braga), thief (Don McKellar), King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), man with eyepatch (Danny Glover)it became easier for the viewers to become more involved in the movie because they could just as easily subplant themselves with the characters they believe they could identify with the most.

There were times in this movie that I found it hard to watch the scenes — the utter depravity in some of the actions of the film’s villains turned my stomach to knots that I wanted to hurl. And the indifference of the government, the mishandling of the situation and the sheer thought of just sticking people in subhuman conditions, being treated like less than diseased cattle  was equally to blame as the evil inside the walls. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo were stellar in their roles as the film’s lead characters but the supporting cast were no slackers too, in delivering characters whom audiences can relate to or abhor.

I read somewhere that when this film was released, a group of blind people were so offended by the depiction that they criticized and boycotted the movie as  it damages the image of blind people everywhere, but I don’t really understand how the film put the blind in a bad light, because upon closer analysis, the film was not blaming the blindness or lack of sight per se, but rather then sudden lack of order and control and what this meant to people who are used to it.

All in all, the film was able to deliver the sense of terror, desperation and fear that the book obviously set out to do, but while it touched on the worst of humanity, it was also able to showcase the best of it — an indomitability of the human spirit, kindness, and an appreciation for beauty that needs no sight to reveal. My favorite part about this film was actually the words because they carried a very deep message that was so simple to understand. Truly, nothing beats the combination of a filmmaker who truly understands and appreciates the material and committing to deliver on it with artistry and quality. Ironically, a film that talks about blindness is one that opens the eyes of its audience to reality in today’s society and calls upon them to look inside themselves and their own humanity. A mass of contradictions, but a brilliant, profound and thought provoking film, and one of the best I’ve seen so far. I feel really stupid for not seeing it sooner.

I am Number Four: Movie Review

iamnumberfourBecause I was in the mood for some action and eye candy, I checked out by TBW files and pulled out something that I’ve been meaning to see in a while but haven’t gotten the chance to. Reading Young Adult novels of late has piqued my interest for more big screen adaptations and I am Number Four seemed like one that never quite got the follow up it was expecting. I know, because there are currently four or five other books in the series and no movie sequel in the works. I think this is weird because this franchise has plenty more material to explore, compared with other trilogies that are fixing to break up the last books into two parts to get two movies out of it.

Nine Lorien legacies have taken refuge on planet Earth, along with their guardians to gather strength and one day unite to defeat the Mogadorians who have decimated their home planet. But before they can do so, they must first survive from the Mogadorians who have tracked them down to hunt and kill them one by one. After the death of the third legacy, Four (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), flee to Paradise Ohio to build a fresh cover and at the same time discover the whereabouts of his friend, who is helping him find the other surviving Loriens. But unlike in other towns, John finds a connection with Paradise, particularly with a girl named Sarah (Diana Agron), and conspiracy theorist and school outcast Sam (Callan Mcauliffe), who happens to be the son of Henri’s friend. With the Mogadorians on their trail, Four tries to weigh the importance of his newfound powers and responsibilities against his yearning for a normal human life.

This movie has been ragged on by critics a lot, and for good reason. For one, while the actors playing the main characters are all nice to look at, the characters they play are really one dimensional and clichéd. Sometimes, Four’s lack of foresight and ill timed rebellion becomes really painful to watch. Henri seemed to be the only person who had any lick of sense and in the end, he was the one who had to make the sacrifice, which was really unfair. The fact that the movie chose to focus on Four/John and Henri’s disagreement about the latter’s strict policies may have won over the younger audience who themselves are rebelling against authority, but it was no secret and fairly understandable from from the beginning where Henri was coming from. They were in grave danger and he was being overprotective for a reason. Duh!

On the other hand, Sarah’s uniform expression in all of her scenes did not help matters and made me wonder if the hype from Glee was the only reason Diana Agron got the part. They could have gotten a mannequin to play the part and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I liked Sam (Callan Mcauliffe) and Six (Teresa Palmer),though. They added a touch of humanity and flavor in the otherwise robotic performances of the two leads. Oh, and I also liked the beagle who played Bernie Kosar. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was a friend or a foe but no matter what, he was still adorable.

Aside from the acting and the stereotypes that the film insisted on portraying (which limited the movie’s potential) it wasn’t a bad film at all. It had great cinematography, cool stunts and a really good soundtrack as well. If audiences can get over the oversimplified writing and the insistence into slotting every aspect of the film into a formula, it was quite passable. It had good CGI and a pretty solid source material, one that I have yet to read. I have a gut feeling that the book will be better than the movie and both Four/John and Sarah would be more likeable in their book forms. I certainly hope so.

All in all, director DJ Caruso and producer Michael Bay stuck religiously to the blockbuster formula for this one, and I would have liked for them to do something different. I felt like the movie kept a lot close to its chest, perhaps in the belief that they should keep the suspense to sustain the momentum for the following movies. The problem with that theory though, is that it runs contrary to the intention of every first movie in the franchise to blow the audiences’ socks off and leave them clamoring for more. As it stands, I would be content to just find out what happens in the books. If the movie franchise continues though, I would very much like for Sarah to die and for Four to just take up with Six. Who knows? She might rub off some of her personality and presence on him. Plus, she’s smart so maybe she could influence him out of lovesick puppy mode?  

Now is Good: Movie Review

now_is_goodI’m not a big fan of dramatic films. Seriously, I’m not. Usually, I steer clear of movies dealing with death because that’s a surefire recipe of spilling the waterworks. I almost didn’t see Now is Good because it was pretty up front about the death and the disease as the subject matter. But because I was curious to find out why Jeremy Irvine rejected the role of Peeta Mellark for this one, I knew I would not rest until I saw it.

In this Sony Pictures/BBC film production, Dakota Fanning plays 17 year-old cancer patient Tessa Scott, a girl who chooses to stop treatment and live out the rest of her life the way she wanted. In order to do so, she creates a list, which includes dancing all night, doing drugs, losing her virginity, getting a tattoo, among other things. Not all of her attempts become successful but when she meets her next door neighbor, sweet and sensitive Adam (Jeremy Irvine), she finds a renewed drive to live. Just when things are getting better, reality rears its ugly head as her disease threatens to take away her chance at happiness.

First things first. It was weird to hear Dakota Fanning with a British accent. It seemed ill fitting for her and at times, felt forced (but that could be just me). Despite this setback though, I believe she was the perfect actress to play the role of Tessa because this girl is just oozing talent.

As Tessa, she wore the depression and rebelliousness of her character like second skin until it felt so natural that audiences just needed to accept it. She gave audiences a perspective of how difficult it is to be sick with a terminal disease, and how challenging it is for the people around them to adjust, not just to thought of letting go but in dealing with the sick, as well.

There were times though, that Dakota’s acting was obviously classes beyond Jeremy’s and the portrayal took a sort of lopsided approach.

This is not to say that Jeremy Irvine is a bad actor. He has great potential but I felt like he was not yet ripe for a role that called for him to dig so deep into his psyche that he could translate his grief into his acting, much like Shane West did as Lander Carter in A Walk to Remember. There was something subdued in his portrayal when it seemed like the right thing would have been to completely let go.

I do understand now, why he turned down the Hunger Games’ iconic role for this tearjerker. Now is Good provided him with a good challenge as an actor and Adam is the type of role that audiences remember with fond feelings. And judging from his upcoming projects, his career didn’t seem to take too much of a slump from this choice.

I loved the scenes between Tessa and her dad, and at times, wanted to smack her in the head for being too callous about her dad’s eagerness to help her get well. It was also difficult to see her with her mother or her brother whose innocence was just heartbreaking.

This film had an indie sort of vibe about it that’s pretty typical for a British film and it worked for the overall tone of the movie, which was sad, retrospective and melancholy — most of the time. There were true gems of moments when the movie tackled family dynamics but real tearjerkers were in the realization of what her loss would entail. Audiences can’t help but cry in a movie like this one.

The only bright spots in an otherwise depressing movie were moments where Tessa and Adam were discovering their feelings for each other, and the sense of acceptance about what was obviously the next stop in Tessa’s story.

All in all, Now is Good is a good film that delivers on its promise. It may be depressing to watch but it has a certain sort of sweetness and innocence about it that connects the movie to the audience, and at the end of the film, allows them to let go and have closure.

The Following: Season 2 Review

season 2How can a series involving a group of psychotic killers get any more terrifying? Series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries)  knows the answer and he used every inch of his creative genius to set the new path for Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his new set of followers in the second season of Fox’s The Following.

A year after Claire’s death, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) seems to be living a normal life — staying healthy, teaching at University, making new friends and even reaching out to his family, more specifically his niece Max (Jessica Stroup), a New York police detective. On the surface, Ryan seemed on the top of his game, but this is only because he and Max are secretly working on weeding out the remainder of Joe’s followers, and even Joe himself, as Ryan believes that his arch nemesis did not die in the Lighthouse incident. When Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) is called in by the FBI to consult for a killing spree in a New York subway train involving perpetrators using Joe Carroll masks, Ryan is convinced that Carroll is up to his usual antics. What he didn’t see coming was the appearance of a much more powerful villain, with more resources, and just the same amount of crazy that Joe has.

I thought that the first season of The Following was awesome and thrilling but Season 2 upped the ante with double the amount of crazies, this time involving twin psycho killers Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood from Dexter). Underwood actually impressed me the most this season because of this kid has loads of intensity and portrays both of his characters with a sort of vulnerability and desperation that made viewers relate to him. However, he was still able to make them separate entities for the viewers. I really thought that there were actual twins playing the role at first but kudos to Sam for doing such a great job. Despite the obvious psychopathy, I actually liked his character so much I sometimes forgot that I was on Team Ryan.

I also liked the development of Mike and Ryan’s relationship this season and Mike’s evolution from a smart, by the book FBI agent to a dark and driven version of his old self after he suffered personal losses and started obsessing about his own nemesis. There were a couple of times Ryan and Joe mentioned that he was turning into Ryan and I liked  that despite the fact that he was going dark, he was basically the same dude. This was a challenging season for Shawn Ashmore, indeed and he stepped up the plate and delivered. Plus I liked his character’s chemistry with Max, specially in the last episode. They make a great pair and gave the show a breath of fresh air from all the mayhem and violence.

Speaking of character development, Joe and Ryan’s weird  bromance was one of the main highlights of this season. The last three episodes had Joe expounding on his connection with Ryan and how he was his best friend, which was weird but made a lot of sense considering the odds — how similar they were and how they were both obsessed with the other. It was creepy but it made a lot of sense. It was a defining moment that wasn’t there in the first season despite the constant taunting and it was a great moment to see.

At first, I was actually wondering how the second season would play out. I knew that the guy in the lighthouse was a very important component in building season 2 but the twist still surprised me. What surprised me even more was how Joe managed to build another set of followers, this time using religion as a base and abandoning the Edgar Allan Poe route. It was scary how Joe was able to easily manipulate and brainwash Korban cult members into believing that he was a prophet and that he holds the key to salvation, and that in real life how the possibility is also open. How easy to convert religious fanaticism into psychotic killer obsession was one of the most horrifying realizations this season presented.

Admittedly, this season was not perfect. There were a lot of facepalm moments for Ryan at the beginning when he stubbornly refused to involve Mike and went all maverick on the cops with his own investigation. His carelessness was astounding but so was the FBI’s inability to track Joe and his followers despite all of the resources available to them. I was glad when Ryan finally decided to let Mike in on his team and their trio with Max was complete. At least he had some solid backup. All I could say about this ragtag team is that they have the luck of the Irish. It seemed like there were close calls in almost all of the episodes. I was so tired worrying about them. It was exciting but very very exhausting.

All in all, Season 2 was definitely more violent and showed less regard for human (or animal) life, depicting them as disposable tools to build a legacy. Viewers will learn more about the motivation of Joe and Ryan and the ending seemed like it could work as a series finale as well. But it was also open for a third season, which according to reports will be helmed by a new showrunner Jennifer Johnson from Alcatraz. It would be interesting to see what she brings to the table when it seems that the Carroll/Hardy chapter (the strongest storyline of the show) has drawn to a close.

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.

Oculus: Movie Review

OculusAfter 10 years locked up in a mental institution for killing his father, 21 year old Tim Rusell is finally free and eager to see his sister, Kaylie, who has spent the last decade in a myriad of foster homes, building a career for herself and obsessing about the night that tore their family apart. Kaylie believes that an antique mirror in their old home possessed her parents into doing the despicable things they did and swears to prove her parents were not murderers. When she finally locates the mirror, she asks for Tim’s help in destroying it to put an end to its curse once and for all.

Oculus caught my interest from the very first moment because of the sheer mystery behind the events in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood. While Oculus was clearly going for a supernatural horror with its Sinister-inspired approach, there were always more questions raised as more details were unraveled about the events leading up to that fateful night in the Rusell household.

Initially, it will throw audiences off to learn that the brother and sister remember things differently. The fact that the two have tendencies of suffering from delusions compounds the mystery further. The psychological jargons that serve to justify what happened 10 years prior fuels the possibility that the events happened because of very real personal issues with no supernatural entity involved. But then again, there is also a very real possibility that the events were spawned by something elemental and a very real sense of danger ensues as the two unstable and traumatized siblings try to entrap a supernatural being preying on people for centuries.

With all of this confusion, one would normally think that Oculus would be a mess but it was not. Sure, the jumping timelines took some getting used to but as the story progressed and the siblings get more immersed in their mission, the transitions became more fluid, and so did the intertwining stories of both past and present.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

Personally, I loved the innovative cinematography of the film, leading to beautiful shots and not just the typical person looking at the mirror fare. The camera shots here were well framed, birds’ eye view, slanted in such a way that only a portion of the individual is seen through the mirror. I also loved the strong sibling dynamics which carried the overall effectiveness of the movie. The you and me against the world theme was executed flawlessly by both pairs of lead stars. Karen Gillan (adult Kaylie) and Annalise Basso (young Kaylie) consistently projected the intensity and courage of a protective big sister, while Brenton Thwaites (adult Tim) and Garret Ryan (young Tim) both showed the vulnerability and uncertainty of a younger brother overwhelmed by what’s happening to his family.

What’s great about Oculus is that it took its sweet time laying the groundwork for a mind boggling horror, reserving shocks in strategic moments but establishing a strong dramatic relationship between the lead stars, then basically just keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats with quiet deliberation. The danger lurks and rears its ugly head throughout the movie but audiences can feel that its always there whether in the form of a malicious supernatural being or a crazy sibling.

But what’s really brilliant about Oculus is that despite its simplicity, it manages to divert the audiences’ attention into thinking that what was causing all of the problems was something else when in fact, it was what it was saying all along. And what shouldn’t be a surprise becomes a great surprise with the ending.

All in all, a great horror movie. It felt long because it was so quiet but it managed to accomplish what it set out to do, which was keep audiences at the edge of their seats and not make them feel safe, even for a moment. For those who are curious to know what happened to Tim, director/scriptwriter Mike Flanagan developed a short in 2006 entitled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man With a Plan. I don’t know what happened in between though.

X-men: Days of Future Past Review

x-men-days-of-future-past-movie-review-7c45732e-abd3-4b64-b106-a0eb2b652606For a person who grew up watching The Uncanny X-men on TV and reading comic books about these marvelous mutants, its hard not to geek out whenever an X-men movie comes out. And just when we thought that the franchise ended  with X-men: The Last Stand in 2006, or the prequel X-men: First Class in 2011, it would seem that First Class only kicked off the reboot of the franchise, especially since it did so well in the box office.

In X-men: Days of Future Past, where mutants are being killed off by Sentinels and human sympathizers are being sent to prison camps, what remains of the X-men send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness to his past self (in 1973) in order to convince Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsher/ Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the designer of the Sentinel program, which is believed to set off the chain of events that made the Sentinels close to invincible. The assassination also signals the beginning of the government’s support for the war against the mutants. But Wolverine’s task is not an easy one as the once good friends have become bitter nemesis and they are far from changing their positions on the war anytime soon.

There is nothing better in reviving a franchise than to get the director who started it back on board. This installment welcomed back  to the director’s chair Bryan Singer, who helmed the first movie in 2000, and First Class director Matthew Vaughn, a self confessed X-men fanatic, who this time worked with Simon Kinberg and Jane Goldman in developing the story. An advantage on getting all of the guys who made the X-men universe come to life on the big screen is that it ensures consistency across the movies. And in this aspect, XDOFP delivered in spades.

XDOFP had a lot going for it. It had a lot of room to work with in terms of choosing an arc. After all, the movie dealt with X-men characters both from the future and from the past. XDOFP, in essence served as sequel to both the prequel and the last part of the trilogy. This means that audiences will get a kick out of seeing the new characters  — Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Bling (Fan Bingbing), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Bishop (Omar Sy) while familiar characters and A-listers  from the franchise make their returns in various capacities. Yes, even those from the first movie, although they have aged somewhat.

What’s good about this X-men installment is that it manages to tie together both generations of the franchise so that it exists in one single universe. Through some flashbacks, Singer also gives new fans a glimpse of the old school X-men movies (it was, after all, a decade ago) to give them a chance to catch up should they want to. But its also alright for those who want to stick to the reboot, because the story delves into the characters backstories to explain how they behave in certain situations.

The action may be a bit lax compared to the first couple of movies, but this one mainly delves into getting a sense of the characters. While Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mckellen were effortlessly amazing as the future Professor X and Magneto, I should also give credit to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who play younger versions of the two iconic characters. I sort of missed the intense bromance between these two from First Class but the older guys more than made up for it with their heartfelt rapport in the future.

Mystique is the central heroine for this installment and I couldn’t agree more because she is easily one of the more interesting characters in the X-men franchise. From the time Rebecca Romjin took on the role of the sexy (albeit scaly) blue mutant, until Jennifer Lawrence took over the reins, Mystique, formerly known as Raven has the clearest idea of what she is fighting for. She takes women empowerment to a whole new level.

Although there were a lot of good parts in the movie, my favorites were the ones with Quicksilver in it. Evan Peters was a perfect cast for this role because he just has a natural ability to exude coolness just by pasting on a mischievous smile. His scenes cracked me up and made the movie so much better — a perfect foil to all the bickering and self doubt between Xavier and Magneto. Its really interesting how they dropped hints about his parentage, which I should think the franchise will explore in the next movies.

I also liked the past/present action between the Magnetos, using their powers at the same time to achieve two completely opposite goals — one to lay waste to the humans and one, to protect the mutants. It was also interesting to see Wolverine pre-Adamantium. Quicksilver was right. His powers were cool but kind of disgusting.

I should commend the filmmakers for making sense of the time travel arc and even going so far as to connect the X-men movies to its spinoff franchise (Wolverine: Origins) but there were times when I felt like there were too many personal conflicts going on, especially with Professor X and Mystique that it was kind of a downer.

I liked the sleek design of the Sentinels, a far cry from the clunky purple giant robots from the comic books and cartoons. They kind of looked like downsized versions of the Destroyer from Thor, though.

All in all, I liked XDOFP mainly because of its consistency and continuity with the other movies. It wasn’t spectacular, not by a long shot, but as an ensemble, all of the actors did a great job with the roles they were assigned. The movie also drops enough crumbs and clues that connect the comic books to the movies to pique the interest of the fandom. What it actually manages to accomplish is swing the door wide open for the next the movies in the franchise. I’m sensing that with that aftercredit scene, fanboys have penciled in the next installment in their viewing calendar for 2016.

Bates Motel Season 2: Series Review

Bates-MotelAnd the plot thickens…

After the mysterious death of Norman’s teacher Ms. Blair Watson, Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) welcome new friends into their lives. Norma meets Christine, a socialite who takes an immediate liking to her, and Norman forms a bond with Cody, a troubled girl whose rebellious personality is the exact opposite of Norman’s uptight upbringing. While Norma continues to oppose the construction of the bypass by forming an unlikely alliance with Nick Ford, a dangerous man who holds real power in the town, Norma’s estranged brother Caleb makes an appearance that disrupts Norma’s fragile relationship with Dylan (Max Theriot), who is dealing with troubles in his own professional life. Apparently, the drug bosses are becoming frisky and combative with each other following the death of one of their own and its up to Dylan and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) to restore some sort of order in White Pine Bay’s drug trade.

I was very impressed with Bates Motel’s pilot season and I am even more astounded by its second season. The show just keeps getting better as more layers to Norman’s mental illness is uncovered. I think aside from the strong performances of the cast, the show was really able to explore the possibilities of Norman’s early life, his dysfunctional family, and his gradual descent into madness and this hooks audiences to the show, present company not exempted. What I liked about the progression of the story is actually the writers’ ability to leave audiences wondering about a question left as a cliffhanger in the final episode of last season — the death of Blair Watson. The question about whether or not Norman was responsible for it was not a main highlight of the storyline but it was always there, skimming the surface and ready to be brought out at any point of the season. The uncertainty of the answer made viewers obsess about it even as the Bates dealt with various issues that pitted them at the center of almost everything essential happening in White Pine Bay, and the manner in which the issue was resolved was absolutely brilliant.

The shifting dynamics in Norman’s family was also part of the show’s major draws. Whereas before, it was only him and his mother, Dylan — towards the end of the last season was already becoming the balancing factor in the dynamic, which was only torn down and rebuilt throughout this season. Dylan had a bigger role in Season 2 because much of the storyline revolved around him and his issues. The way he begrudgingly protected his family despite feeling like an outsider for the most part, was really sweet. Its a weird description for such a dark show but there were just moments where viewers would just want to give the characters a big hug. Sure, Emma was sometimes annoying in wanting to stick her nose in everything but she genuinely cared for the Bates so its not hard to forgive her. And I kinda liked her letting her hair down with Gunner, who was such a cutie. I’m a bit sorry that his character just disappeared.

I also loved the underlying sexual tension between Sheriff Romero and Norma Bates. These two were adorable in their encounters and I would very much like to see them get together in future seasons. It just worries me though when the characters I like get close to the Bates because a lot of them die. Seriously. But aside from the chemistry, these two actors were outstanding — Vera as the mother who would stop at nothing to protect her son and Carbonell as the lawmaker who is trying his best to bring justice to the crimes in his town.

All in all, Season 2 was much stronger because of the brewing distrust between mother and son as Norman learns about what he is and what he is capable of when he has his blackouts. As the series moves forward, it was cool to see Norman foreshadowing the Norman Bates of the 1960 Psycho, in which the series was inspired. The taxidermy in the living room, channeling his mother, and having monologues and the rage — all of it was excellently depicted by Freddie Highmore and while before he had an air of innocence about him because of his youth, there is no doubt that he is not normal, not by any stretch of the imagination everytime he flies off the handle. Its interesting to see how this show goes. There is just so much potential.