American Mary: Movie Review

american-maryI’ve been meaning to watch American Mary for a while now. It has been in my TBR pile for a couple of months but I haven’t gotten around to it except to scan a few scenes which seemed dark and twisted. It had great promise, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to catching up on my backlogs, I’m happy to report that that the promise totally paid off for this gruesome gorefest.

Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is a promising medical student who is behind on her student loans and bordering on broke. To pay for her bills and continue with school, she answers a wanted ad for a stripper. During her interview, she suddenly gets roped into performing an emergency medical procedure on a bleeding criminal and this opens a window of opportunities for her surgical skills in the underground world. When she is abused by one of her mentors in med school, she exacts revenge in the most painful way possible with the help of her newfound friends.

From the first scene, American Mary gave plenty of opportunity for squeamish members of the audience to turn back. The turkey being repeatedly sliced and sutured in extreme close up was a reliable indication of what was to come for non animal members of the cast.

True enough, the film involved a lot of cutting, a lot of blood, a lot of abuse and depravity and its really not something for people with weak stomachs.

The film tackled the world of body modification in great detail. While it did not elaborate on the psychology of the people who get under the knife for uncanny procedures to change how they look, it did give the audience a different perspective on the industry without being judgmental about it. Still, it earned its fair share of squirms and cringes of discomfort from the people who watched the movie for sure.

What I appreciated about the approach of the Soska sisters, who penned and directed this movie, was their instinct in knowing just where to push and when to pull. Sure, there was a lot of gruesomeness depicted in the film but the filmmakers did not rely on the graphic too much to shock the audience. They did just enough and implied just enough to tickle the imagination of the viewers to let them fill in the blanks.

Another great thing about the film was that it used practical effects and no CGI for the horror sequences. Its a novelty nowadays to be able to do it completely old school but the film managed to pull it off successfully.

On the part of the characters, I loved the character of Mary. Aside from being super gorgeous, she was tough as nails even though there seemed a point in the movie where she seemed to develop a taste for torture. I got a kick out of the giant bouncer Lance giving her a pep talk about harboring remorse about killing people.

It seems weird but I thought Billy’s (Antonio Culpo) crush on Mary was quite endearing. Cute seems like an out of place description about anything this dark but I really thought Mary and Billy would’ve made a cute couple. I couldn’t get over the fact about Mary’s jealous fit against one of Billy’s ‘girls.’

All in all, American Mary had a great story to tell. More than the gore, the film had an underlying message about feminism, body image and self confidence. While the lead character Mary went a little overboard in exercising girl power, it still said something about not becoming a victim. It was graphic, it assaulted the senses, it stirred up the audiences sensibilities by pulling old tricks from old school horror. And these are the reasons why the movie is different and cool.

Avengers Age of Ultron: Movie Review

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterEver since the epic Avengers movie helmed by director Josh Whedon, which was by far, the best movie released by Marvel Studios IMHO, it comes as no surprise that fans of all ages have been waiting with bated breath for the sequel. This time around, however, instead of squaring off directly with Thanos as the Avengers aftercredit implied, the second film focused on the Ultron project, one of Tony Stark’s pet projects to beef up the Earth’s defenses against future threats.

After the Avengers successfully recovered Loki’s scepter from Hydra, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) convinces his buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to unravel its secrets in the hopes of harnessing its power for his Ultron project. Unknown to Tony, his compulsion was due to the influence of Wanda Maximoff, a woman with a unique gift for for warping reality. Wanda, along with her twin brother Pietro (who has the gift of extraordinary speed) are results of Hydra’s experiments (They joined the group because of a grudge against Tony Stark and the Avengers). Unfortunately, Stark’s good intentions backfire and Ultron literally takes a life of  his own. Now, the Avengers are left to deal with a super powerful self righteous AI set on annhilating the human race.

Avengers: Age of Ultron takes a very different approach from the first movie, despite having the same director. While the first movie was all about building rapport among a group of strong characters, the second movie seemed hell bent on destroying that rapport to build the tension for the future films. Whereas the first movie was all about comic book fun, the sequel took on a more serious route, delving into the characters’ deep seated internal issues, giving the viewers a glimpse into what makes them tick.

Its fairly difficult to balance out the star power in this movie, better yet juggle the entire thing with a very complicated plot that unfolded layer by layer. There was the part about Ultron, there was the introduction of new characters to the Avengers universe — Vision (Paul Bettany), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The film also had the task of setting up elements that would connect Age of Ultron to the next movies in the franchise. Scarlet Witch will appear in Captain America: Civil War. As will Tony Stark, while the Infinity Stones storyline could very well introduce a Guardians of the Galaxy crossover.

Some of the audience may get confused because the Maximoffs (Marvel fans know Pietro and Wanda as Magneto’s children) were represented not as mutants but rather as Hydra experiements nor were they referred to using their superhero names (this was due to licensing issues) but credit should be given to the casting of these new characters — I admit I had reservations about Aaron Taylor Johnson after Godzilla but he proved me wrong. The old cast also delivered on what the script called for. There was no competition for the spotlight. And that’s very cool especially this time around, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) were given their fair share of limelight despite not having superpowers.

In terms of the story, there was a lot of drama involving the perception of what is right and doing what is right. The parallelisms between Stark and Ultron was one of the major conflicts of the film. Same thing with Thor and the Cap, which was further illustrated by Cap’s almost successful try to lift Mjolnir. In essence, it challenged audiences to look at the Avengers using a different lens — one the considers their flaws and imperfections. What’s good about the approach used by the movie was that it did not go overboard like they did with Man of Steel, so it didn’t bore the younger audiences to death.

What I’m trying to say is that filmmakers did a marvelous job of balancing out all of these considerations to make a movie that works. Its totally crazy — the amount of character build up, the set up for the Avengers expansion team, the battle scenes (my favorite was Hulk vs Iron Man), and of course, the ultimate signature scene with the Avengers theme music. Considering, the final battle scene was almost identical to the New York scene in the first movie, except instead of being swarmed by Chitauri, they were being overwhelmed by hundreds of Ultron mini mes. And yet, despite or because of the familiarity, it felt right.

My mind was totally blown by the amount of fan service this movie provided. I was feeling totally overwhelmed while watching the film, as a matter of fact, there were tons of easter eggs littered all over the movie which could keep fans busy (and happy) for days, weeks, months and maybe years ahead. And the best part about it is that all of the openings the film provided will be continued in future Marvel releases and its awesome.

All in all, the best part about Avengers: Age of Ultron was the possibilities it presented. Its biggest success was in exciting fans about what’s to come. It offered a perfect transition and tied the worlds together in a seamless fashion. Sure, it was a lot to take in, but it was cool, it was pretty wholesome save for the explosions and back to back fight scenes (loved the quip about language as a nod to younger moviegoers). True, I still liked the first one better. But the sequel was a whole different animal. It was awesome it its own right. Now, to process all the nuggets this bad boy hinted at. Oh, and by the way, don’t believe rumors that this film doesn’t have an aftercredit. It totally does. Think Infinity Gauntlet. What a perfect way to geek out.

Furious 7: Movie Review

Furious 7I wasn’t able to watch Furious 7 in its first week, when cinemas were jampacked with people itching to see the late Paul Walker’s final ride in the franchise he started with his bestie Vin Diesel. Indeed, no matter how hard core this franchise is with the cool cars and the hot girls (who are badasses in their own right), it wouldn’t have been as successful without this duo. Being a fan of the franchise, I too, wanted to give Paul a proper sendoff by watching him on the big screen, along with the rest of the fandom. Better late than never, right, and what’s important is that I actually made it. I actually made it to see Paul’s last movie. His real and fitting final ride.

After taking down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in London and getting amnesty for past crimes, Dom (Vin Diesel) and and his crew are finally able to return home to the US. Bryan (Paul Walker) is living peacefully with Mia (Jordana Bewster) and their son Jack while the rest of the team are chilling out in different parts of the country. But it seems the idyllic life never sits well with the team as they are haunted by the events of London, when Shaw’s big bad brother, Deckard (Jason Statham) starts to hunt them down to avenge Owen’s death. But Deckard is a shadow, a former CIA Black Ops who remains always one step ahead of them. When a CIA boss (Kurt Russel) approaches the crew to give them a mission that would help them turn the tables on their enemy, they grab the opportunity without question. The next thing they know, they are involved in the rescue of a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and going after a highly evolved surveillance device called the God’s Eye. When their common enemies join forces, chaos ensues in the streets of LA.

First off, let me just say that Furious 7 was not a perfect movie, nor was it the best installment in the franchise. It had a lot of inconsistencies storywise and some of the characters’ actions just did not make sense. It could have been a lot different if they were not restricted by the fact that one of its lead actors suddenly died in the middle of filming and I’m quite sure that the script underwent some major revisions along the way to accommodate the handicap but at the end of the day, Furious 7 did remain consistent with the general theme of the franchise and stayed true to delivering what the fandom was expecting from the movie. I was kind of bummed to realize though that so little was left of the original team, not until they planned their next mission and the table was so far less crowded than it was for the Rio heist.

One of the issues I had with the movie was the script. In the beginning, there was a lot of talk about family and brothers (perhaps to underscore the parallelisms between Shaw and Dom or maybe because it was a shoutout to Paul whom the crew thought of as family) but towards the middle, it became kind of tedious. True, there were superb action stunts, car chases and gunfire in between but there were really times that it felt overdramatic and depressing. The brooding, nostrils flaring showdowns between baldies The Rock vs Statham, and Statham vs Dom, while on paper, seemed like pretty kickass fight scenes (which they were, up to a certain degree), the amount of time devoted to them circling each other like sharks and posturing for battle at times seemed comical, add to the fact that despite all of the damages they sustained physically, they always survived it. I mean, come on, where’s the realism in that? Leave us not forget the semi cheesy scene with Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) towards the end. (I say semi cheesy because with Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in a scene, it could never be entirely cheesy)

Speaking of realism, the order of the day for the the final FF movie seemed to be “think of the impossible and let’s just do it.” And the stunts in this movie were definitely in that category. I’m not complaining because if audiences suspend their disbelief for one second, it will help them appreciate the scenes for their genius. It was such a rush to see all of these amazing action sequences happening simultaneously and yet, each scene is given its own spotlight without being rushed or slo mo-ed too much, unlike in other movies of the same genre. It really gives the audiences an appreciation for cinema magic. My mind was blown by the amount of creativity it took to think up of things they did in this movie. And as a viewer, I really, really loved it. I liked the lighter part of the script, mostly those delivered by Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) which were more in line with the general vibe of the franchise.

I’m actually super glad that I refrained from reading spoilers or clicking on materials that had to do with Paul’s CGI or Paul’s tribute in Furious 7 before I saw the movie. It made me appreciate the efforts of the entire team in giving Paul the ending that he deserved. The CGI was so masterful that I didn’t know which scenes were CGI and what weren’t. I’m glad that the filmmakers brought Paul’s brothers on board for the project.

Check out how they pulled off Paul’s CGI here:

As for the tribute in the end, I loved it for its meaning. The approach was very subtle but the sincerity in the words reflected the type of relationship the FF family had developed from the beginning of the franchise. It wasn’t about creating drama. It was about sending off a person whom the franchise held dear in their hearts. And this is what made it matter.

If you want to check out the tribute, here’s the youtube version of the official music video:

And here’s Vin singing See You Again for his buddy. This may be one time you hear him break out into song aside from the Peter Panda dance.

All in all, I’m glad that this movie became Paul Walker’s swan song. It was the franchise that brought him to stardom and it was right that his final movie was made with the people he loved doing what he loved. For all its faults, Furious 7 was entertaining, and delivered on fans’ expectations. Sure, it could have been more. But it was still a good movie which accomplished what it set out to do, which was to end (?) the franchise with guns blazing.

You’re My Boss: Movie Review

you're my bossFresh from the success of her sleeper hit indie flick, That Thing called Tadhana, screenwriter/director Antoinette Jadaone returns to the big screen, this time to helm a romantic comedy for mainstream studio Star Cinema, starring two of the most bankable stars on both television and cinema — Coco Martin and Toni Gonzaga.

Georgina (Toni Gonzaga)  is the assistant vice president for Marketing of an airline company. She is driven, ambitious and is known for her bitchiness by her friends and co-workers. Reeling from a scandal borne from a broken heart, she is given the opportunity to rebuild her reputation when she is tasked by her boss (Freddie Webb) to take charge of a major partnership with a Japanese firm while he is on a two-month leave. Along with the responsibilities, her boss leaves her in charge of Pong (Coco Martin), his good natured assistant of many years. When the partnership is threatened by an unforseen circumstance, Georgina initiates a ruse to save the deal wherein Pong has to play the role of boss, and she assumes the role of assistant.

When the trailer for this movie was released, I knew I was definitely going to watch it. It’s story was not original and reeked of a Hollywood ripoff, but then again, I decided to see it for three reasons. a) It had two talented actors in the lead roles, b) It had Antoinette Jadaone directing and I was curious to see how she would fare post Tadhana and c) It seemed like a legitimate feel good romcom and I am not one to shy away from such a movie.

I don’t regret my decision. You’re My Boss, despite the corny title (seriously, they should have thought about something else) delivered on its every promise. First off, the cast was great. There was little else to do for the supporting cast but everyone gave the movie their all, in whatever capacity they could.

Kudos to the actors who played the Japanese dudes. They were hilarious especially in the basketball scene, which was my favorite scene in the movie — the extras who played the tambays not only looked the part, they played their roles really well. Toni and Coco were awesome as the main characters, but that’s nothing to be surprised about. What’s surprising was the seeming role reversal of the two. While Coco is better known for being a dramatic actor, and Toni the comedienne, Coco totally shone in the movie, bringing every scene to life with his charm and his killer smile. He had great comedic timing and his enthusiasm in embracing his role balanced out the rather severe personality that Toni was portraying in the beginning. Toni was tasked to do more of the dramatic scenes for the movie but because it wasn’t a hard core drama, no real heavy lifting was needed. This worked for the movie because the scenes just felt like they belonged in the movie. They didn’t feel forced but rather helped with the character development.

I also loved the fact that Coco, despite being known for not being as proficient in English in real life, was game enough to use this to the film’s advantage. The scene where he was being coached by Toni on how to act, dress and speak like a boss were so goofy I didn’t hear half of what was being said because people were laughing so hard at the scenes. Another favorite of mine was the texting scene. Totally LOL. You just have to see it for yourself to appreciate its genius.

The film had a lot of sponsors,I mean A LOT, but surprisingly, filmmakers were able to incorporate the ad placements into the scenes with subtlety and taste that it didn’t turn off audiences from the plug, or ruin the effect of the scenes. I liked also that it was able to advocate local tourism, and integrate the value of honesty into a very light movie to make it more substantial at the end of the day.

Simply put, it tells audiences that love works in mysterious ways and that it doesn’t matter what standards you set for the person that you want to love. What’s important is if you are willing to set those standards aside if the one who will love you is right in front of you.

All in all, You’re My Boss was an entertaining watch. It was very character driven but still had the presence of mind to incorporate some lessons about love and relationships (and even family) along the way. It was funny, thought provoking, and also surprisingly, effective in an emotional level. And for the price of the movie ticket, I could very well say that it was worth every penny.

Don’t believe me? Here are some choice scenes from the trailer to convince you. PS JM de Guzman has a cameo in this flick.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Movie Review

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day  movie posterAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a mouthful for a title. Truth is, I had to refer to IMDB a couple of times to make sure that I got the title right because it was just so long. But my only complaint about the movie ends there. I absolutely loved every minute of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day — every cheesy over the top second of it. This movie is indeed proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is the middle child in a family of six. Things haven’t exactly been the same since since his baby brother Trevor was born. He feels different from the rest of his family, because things always work out for them — his aerospace engineer dad (Steve Carell), his powerhouse career woman mom (Jennifer Garner), his popular big brother Anthony (Dylan Minette), his actress sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey), even little Trevor (Elise and Zoey Vargas). He feels like they lead a charmed life, as opposed to his cursed one, so on his 12th birthday, he makes a secret wish that they would get to understand what a terrible, horrible, no good, very dad day (a.k.a. his everyday life) felt like and a series of unfortunate events ensue.

If there ever was a movie that would absolutely guarantee that your bad day would turn around, it would be this one. Typical of a Disney family movie, it starts out with a simple yet fantastic premise, but one with an underlying depth that connects deeply with the audience. Such is the magic of Disney and this film delivers the good vibes in spades. Screenwriter Rob Lieber did a great job in adopting the Judith Viorst children’s book to the big screen, updating the material to a suit modern audience. There was great dialogue and flow to the film as it transitions from the misfortunes of one family member to another. Credit also to director Miguel Arteta for nailing the execution.

The cast was absolute perfection. Steve Carell was funny and dorky without being too slapstick, Jen was adorable, and even the kids worked out and portrayed the reality of siblings in a typical household. The timing was spot on and the cast had great chemistry as a unit and even as standalones. What I loved about the characters, was mainly their loyalty to each other — that despite constant insults and ribbings, at the core of all things, they loved their family more than anything and when push comes to a shove, they had each other’s backs.

All in all, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was a total exaggeration of a simple premise — a bad day, which everyone has once in a while. While the execution was outrageous (in a good way), it was totally relatable and hilarious and leaves audiences with an exhilarating feeling of embarking on a great adventure with the Coopers. Despite all of the negatives in the title, the film inspired a lot of positive feelings, and a message that despite the bad things that happen, there can always be something good to come out it. And sometimes, it takes a bad day to make us appreciate the good ones even more.

Insurgent: Movie Review

Insurgent Film PosterI was very impressed by the film adaptation of Divergent in 2014, that it came naturally for me to wait for the sequel with bated breath. Besides, after reading the book, I was sure that it would be just as badass as the first one.  After all, it was the most action packed of the three volumes so to say that I had great expectations about Insurgent would be an understatement.

After the attack on Abnegation and the division of Dauntless, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and the rest of their group seek temporary sanctuary from Amity, but they’re not fitting in as well as they should seeing as the group has their own internal issues to deal with. It doesn’t take long for Erudite to assume control within the walls, seeking out Divergents and using them for an experiment to unlock the message left for society  by the founders. As chaos ensues within and outside the walls, Tris wrestles with her own demons – dealing with the death of her parents and her friends, trying to get her act together as war looms among the factions.

Its been a while since I’ve read the book and I think it was a good thing for me because I didn’t dwell too much on the comparisons between the literature and the adaptation. I still noticed though that filmmaker Robert Schwentke (Flight Plan, R.E.D) and writers Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback took a lot of creative liberties in trimming down the Vernica Roth’s novel to accommodate the film viewers’ shorter attention span.

In a way, it was a good call because the book really delved into the backstories, but on the other hand, I felt like the filmmakers edited too much, and left too little to develop the characters and the story as a whole.

While the execution was good, I felt like the movie dwelled too much on Tris alone that the other characters served as mere backdrops for her personal battles. Don’t get me wrong. I love Shailene Woodley and believe that she is a charismatic and talented actress. I may have even mentioned in my earlier posts that I actually prefer her acting to Jennifer Lawrence (No offense, J-Law), but without a substantial establishment of her relationships with fellow Dauntless members, or Amity, or Candor, it felt like a huge disservice to the story of Insurgent, which really highlighted the roles of the characters, what drives them. The book also depicted a clear picture of the bond that was established among the Dauntless warriors and their loyalty to one another, their friendship and their fragile alliance with the Factionless.

In the movie, what’s left of Dauntless were depicted as mere warm bodies needed to win a war while the Factionless were illustrated as a bunch of thugs who enjoyed bullying people because they hated the world.

Unfortunately, it seemed like there was a rush to get from Point A to Point B of the story — as if filmmakers were excited to get to the simulation part, because it felt so proud of its technically sound CGI rendering, which I’m sure the graphics team worked hard on. Still, I felt like it took too much of the film’s time.

Still, there were standouts. Managing to break through the limited wiggle room was Miles Teller as Peter. Let me just say that this guy is so talented. When he wants people to hate him, he can make audiences curse him to the ends of the earth but when he wants to show vulnerability, he can turn on the charm that one can almost forget what despicable thing he did in the first place. Theo James needs no further effort to be cool. He just needs to appear on screen and smolder and all is well in the world. His chemistry with Shailene is one of the most consistent strengths of the franchise. While Kate Winslet stepped up her game as the villain Jeanine, Ansel Elgort got the short end of the stick with Caleb’s short presence. His arc had better development in the book and made better impact. He got robbed of opportunity, in my honest opinion.

The film also overdid the graphics in this one, no matter how well executed they were. It seemed like most of the time, the scenes were part of Tris’s simulations even when they were not. Kudos though to the action sequences. They were not just cool, they were well thought out and executed, especially the brutal hand to hand combat scenes.

All in all, I think filmmakers oversimplified Insurgent and the film was poorer for it. It relied too much on pizzazz over investing in character and story development which would have helped the franchise for the remaining two movies. It was such a waste because there was a lot of material and a lot of potential to explore but these opportunities were squandered by the decision to put style over substance. While I wouldn’t say that I hated the film, I didn’t love it either. And that’s such a shame because I should have.

The Guest: Movie Review

the-guest-poster-exclusive
The Petersons are still mourning the loss of Caleb, the family’s eldest son, when a stranger arrives at their doorstep claiming to be a soldier and Caleb’s good friend. He ingratiates himself with the family and manages to get their confidence but under his good manners and southern charm lurks something dark and dangerous.

From the opening scene of the movie, I felt something familiar about the filmmaking approach. The editing felt like a throwback to the 80s, with the simple transitioning to the techno 80s scoring. I wasn’t surprised to find out that the team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett was behind this thriller which stars Dan Stevens as the mysterious stranger with an uncanny set of skills.

First off, the story was not very original. Actually, a couple of films have explored the idea of having a weird uninvited houseguest and then learning later that he is not who he claims to be. Wingard and Barrett made no secret that there was something definitely wrong about David (Stevens) from the first moment he was left alone.

For those wondering how in the heck the prim and proper Downton Abbey’s Lord Matthew Crawley fared as a disturbed, ultra violent, poseur or if he made the right choice in leaving the popular UK show at the height its glory, have no fear, Dan Stevens was able to lend credibility to his role with a quiet intensity and charm, yes, charm, that won over the audiences, even though he was kind of nuts. I liked the dimensions in his character and the contrast in his two personas.

I liked the subtlety of David’s character. For somebody who does as much as he, he hardly broke into a sweat. I also liked his relationship with Luke (Brendan Meyer), especially when he stood up for the bullied kid. Even in the end , he was in big brother mode with the younger guy and I was really sold on that.

Actually, the characters’ actions, if scrutinized further merits a lot of questions, like , why would they let a complete stranger into their home? Why would the dad, originally opposed to the idea of having David under their roof, suddenly become friends with him just because of a couple of beers, or why Luke would be more concerned about David despite what his sister suspected about him? Or why antagonize a man you suspect to be dangerous?

Personally, I would have liked for the film to simply have been about David being a psychopath and I’m not quite sure if the backstory added value to the film as a whole, but if its an excuse to bring in Lance Reddick( Agent Broiles from TV’s Fringe), I’m all for it. However, it would have been better if they explored that side of the story some more instead of taking Luke’s theories as a fact.

By the way, kudos to the guys who did the set for the dance. It was awesome. Better than any horror house I’ve ever been to and it made the final confrontation so much cooler.

All in all, I felt that a lot of elements of the film was just included to make it more complex. But while I would’ve preferred for it to be simpler, I thought the filmmakers did a kickass job with the execution. It was cool, it was sleek and it had an edginess to it that made it work. It was a great watch, all things considered.