Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"Transformers: age of extinction" review : a thrilling yet overblown sequel

A bit more cinematic justice for the autobots this time around
"Transformers: age of extinction" is exactly what you would expect from a Michael Bay directed "Transformers" flick. A loud, most of the times overblown sequel with stellar special effects, almost no plot and cool shots. However, much to my surprise, this is by far the best sequel in the franchise. This time around, Michael Bay learnt from the previous mistakes and seemed  more restrained here (not on action) when it comes to misplaced humour, racist stereotypes, too many human characters that add nothing to an already empty plot, souless autobots and weak villain characterization - elements that so gracefully were seen in the previous films.

First of all, Mark Wahlberg is a way more interesting choice thatn Shia the Douche. While, Sam Witwicky was a teenager we could relate to in the original movie, in the latter proceedings he became a whiny (overacting) bitch that has no reason to frankly bitch about. Therefore, by shifting the attention towards the far more charismatic Wahlberg was the right thing to do. In addition, the whole father-daughter dynamic is cliched and terrible predictable but at least is a winning formula that has worked for ages. This is a "Trasnformers" film. Better to have formulaic narrative rather try to shoehorn a billion subplots that go nowhere and contain zero intrigue (see Dark of the moon). The other standout here is Stanley Tucci - where clearly he is having a ball with the role and comes close to a solid performance than anybody else. His inventor character has a surprising depth(!) and avoids the trap of one dimensionality towards the climax. Everyone else is doing just ok for what they are supposed to do - looking badass, goofy or scared - and there are no annoying characters. Shame for Li Bingbing as I think she is a talented actress (and gorgeous to look upon) who gets limited screentime and for Kelsey Grammer portraying a rather blunt human villain . So acting part has been fixed at the blockbuster medium range.
As for the autobots here themselves, they are presented nicer with redefined character models and more personalized moments as their number is shrunk down from 10+ to only 5. This allowed the screenwriter (the who) to focus on more what-cool-stuff-this-robot-can-do rather than show generic gun firing and surrounding explosions. Particularly fan favourite Bubblebee steals the show with his child-like persona something that was solely missing in the previous trilogy.

The plot itself is still difficult to understand; the why's and the how's are inexplained as we are taking a leap of faith after 4 years since the battle of Chicago took place with a McGuffin concept called "the seed". Interestingly, the proceedings have a more sinister and serious tone that plays in favor of this installment. There are real stakes here and a proper badass robo-villain with tones of equiment, moves and minions. Sure there are funny moments (most of them do hit the spot) but there is a more menacing atmosphere as the Autobots are being hunted down by Decepticons, humans and alien bounty hunters. No place is safe. There are tones of ? during the film's running time and sense of geography (going from Beijing to Hong Kong by car in the same day?!) but to be honest, do I need to care?
One of the thrilling set pieces in AOE
Which brings me to the main attracting point of "T4". The action. I personally love Michael Bay. Nobody stages mayhem the way he does and his camerawork is fantastic. Despite some quick edits during the chase scenes, he cleverly utilizes the slo-mo during inventive car crashes or destructive set pieces powered by long steady shots. Assisted by 3D, the Imax presentation was simply mesmerising and it is a shame really that he does not get the recognition he deserves. He is one of the few filmmakers that does not go overboard with the CGI when it comes to stunts and chases and there is tone of breathtaking stuff. From a skyscraper escape through suspended cables, to a showdown in the overcrowded apartment complexes of Hong Kong to a Texas car chase, Bay throws cars upside down packed with explosions, loud special effects and moments of picture clarity. So much mayhem is impossible not to be appreciated, and with each action scene Bay goes bigger and bigger reaching such an overblown assault in all senses towards the end that would make your ear drums shutter and your eyes feasting on all these disasterous sequences (the ships falling from the sky is a set piece that has to be seen to be believed). The Chicago battle is tiny in comparison with the action in here. Yes, it is brainless but in contrast to the former films, it is not overly insulting with terrible gags or dialogue but towards a step to the direction that made the first one such a good film.

Bay's films have always excelled in performance when it comes to technical stuff but the production design has more character here than the entire (rather generic in this field) previous trilogy. Lockdown's ship should be considered for the respective awards giving a completely alien vibe and it is shot with exquisite cinematography. And speaking of the cinematography, I think by far this is the best looking film of Bay. The capture of sunsets, the swooping shots of the Texas desert, or the crowded streets of Hong Kong are wonderfully lighted by Amir Mokri.

The way I have written this review could imply that I consider the film a masterpiece. Hardly. At least half an hour with the human element could have been left in the editing room and the rather long running time of 3 hours can be quite exhausting even for a fan of the series (like me). While certainly it did not bore, I did think in some occasions that the carnage and mayhem is too much! And again Galvatron has been reduced to a limited screentime (ultimate blasphemy) with a one dimensional personality who shouts a lot of orders but does nothing. Finally, the much rumoured appearance of the Dinobots although it does include certain "awesome" scenes, it has pretty much no depth or any sort of background whatsoever.
Optimus Prime gets an update
And pretty much that summarizes AOE. If you like any of the previous films, then you will probably think this one is the best. The cast is way better, the satellite characters have stopped to exist - both humans and Transformers - and the serious tone is more than a plus. Despite the long running time and the overstuffing of action, T4 did not disappoint me. Perhaps because my expectations dropped significantly after T3 and here I found more redeeming values than in the other two. Bay won me over with the fourth installment and made the Autobots look cool again in exquisite action set pieces. Because this is a Trasformers film. If it fails in action, there is no point.

+ breathtaking action
+ great stunts
+ gorgeous cinematography
+ likable although typical main characters
+ Mark Wahlberg, an update in good protagonist
+ great camerawork
+ technical aspects are state of the art: brilliant special effects, production design
+ Bubblebee is cool again
+ sinister tone 
+ humour hits the spot
- long running time, easily cut half an hour
- rather blunt human villain
- climax - either will send you away with such an assault or keep you in your seat
- Galvatron - still Megatron has not been seen as awesome


Saturday, 5 July 2014

"Edge of tomorrow" review: a fun and forgettable fun ride

Good casting choice for TC and a bit different characterization as well. 
"Edge of tomorrow" comes with the premise of "Groundhog day" with a sci-fi twist. Althought, at the beginning, it seems intriguing to see Cruise's coward! character keep reliving the same battle every time, the final pay off is inclining towards disappointment. Doug Liman used to handle action scenes surprisingly well ("the Bourne identity", "Mr and Ms Smith") but here it seems that he has lost his mojo. A theoritically thrilling Normandy-style battle between humans with exo-skeletons armed with lots of weapons and matrix-like squids is a blurry mess with lots of quick cuts and fast pacing edits that you do not know who is shooting who. Additionally, during the final segment of the film, the cinematography is so "dull" that you can barely see anything exciting on screen.

The film is not supported by the fact that a huge amount of defying physics heroics exist and while everyone should be dead, they are not. The filmmakers desperately try to do and show a realistic, modern take on the alien invasion but the way the exposition is being handed over by a scientist starts to get upsetting as movies with the same context have performed the same trick in the last couple of years.

On the positive side, the cast is surprisingly good and especially Cruise playing a character with a complete disregard for the lives of those around him besides well, his own. It is good to see him portraying against type and I have to admit, in the first half of the film he does it really well. Emily Blunt is severely underused as the ultimate badass soldier against the Aliens and it would have been great if she had any character development besides being at the end the love of the hero's life. Among the rest, Puxton and Gleeson are having a blast with their small roles but they do not have enough material to do something.
Emily Blunt is stunning as the most badass soldier in the alien-humans war - shame she does not have a scene to shine.
Much to my surprise though, EOF is surprisingly funny. There are many scenes where you will caught yourself giggling and laughing with the unexpected outcomes of Cage's actions on screen trying to get through this busy day. Clearly, this is a segment where the writers are not taking things seriously (in contrast with the ending) with the implications of Cage dying and suffering horrible fates only to avoid them the next time and anticipate some worse ones. This is by far the best moment in the entire film and the most creative. Nevertheless, as we witness people exploding, impaled and crushed, there is not a single drop of blood. This probably to capture a wider audience decision hurts the film's intentions, and makes the movie even more unrealistic with no real feel of actions or gravitas.

It is such a shame then that the aliens lack any personality, the supporting cast are reduced to one dimensional characters and the happy to the point of honey ending comes out of nowhere with no stakes or significant consequences. Perhaps if the film had more focus to the journey of Cage from the ultimate coward douchebag to a fearless hero, it would have been way more interesting. Instead, we get a mix of intriguing but underdeveloped ideas and a triumphant return of Cruise to the blockbuster. But others have done it better before hand anyways.

+ Cage's tactics to get through the day like a videogame
+ supporting cast
+ interesting concept
- poor execution
- uneven tone
- terrible alien designs
- quick cut and shaky cam editing in the action scenes
- PG-13


Thursday, 22 May 2014

"X-men days of the future past" review: worthy of X2's awesomess, this is the sequel you have been waiting for

"X-men days of the future past" is what the "wolverine", "origins wolverine", "first class" and the lame "last stand" should have been! Some where not really pleased with the way Bryan Singer handled the famous mutants but from my perspective his superhero films are literally flawless. They do not contain bombastic special effects, cheesy costumes and loud sound design but rely on interesting character dynamics and coherent plots, avoid overfitting traps and Hollywood-isms. But let's take the clocks 8 years back. When "Last stand" was announced everyone was ecstatic. You had perfect casting and the story of the Dark Phoenix would be presented in the big screen! However, things went sour when Singer left the project to pursue his passion for Superman, Matthew Vaughn came on board but left and then last minute choice Brett Ratner delivered the finished product.
Quicksilver steals the show
"X-men the last stand" was such an underwhelming movie that ultimately held lots of potential. The mutant cure, the conflict among X-men to choose to live like theywere born or cured, the overstuffing of superfluous and boring characters and elaborate but frankly unimaginative action scenes were among the issues that threw the film into a cinematic abyss surrounded by fan hate and despair. While not all was bad - the casting of Kelsey Krammer as fan favourite Beast including the amazing make up still sends chills towards my spine every time I see him - the X-men franchise needed a boost of energy. Many thought it would come through the spin off Wolverine (everyone was dead wrong) and while First class and The wolverine were decent efforts, they felt a bit rushed and kinda underdeveloped.

Here though what is really fascinating is the fact that Singer and his team of screenwriters tried to correct all the mistakes of the previous films. "Origins" is not acknowledged at all - thank god - and every single mistake that the last stand displayed here is patched, particularly towards the fantastic ending that ties everything together and would make every single geek cry from too much awesomeness. *** SPOILERS *** The cameos, the original X-men theme and intro/outro and the ability to see finally the mansion filled with students again is terrific *** END OF SPOILERS.
The chemistry betwen McAvoy and Fassbender is still great
So DOTFP feels totally coherent in style and setting with Singer's previous efforts and it is fantastic to see him in top form here. Perhaps his absence almost a decade from the franchise has energized him to deliver potentially the best film regarding our favourite mutants. With a frenetic style around the action sequences, brilliant cinematography - particularly in the future, Singer get loose to the time travel storyline injecting vividly with humour too. There are quite a few inventive action shots with the most memorable involving Quicksilver who steals the show with his Ramona Flower-ish appearance - everything looks so slow for him and tied that with a seventy's soundtrack at the backdrop, it is a joy to witness him going in normal speed when pretty much the whole world progress in slow motion. Additionally, a skirmish with the sentinels at the beginning is enough to make your heart pumping as heroes and heroines do anything they can to stop this overwhelming new threat.
Michael Fassbender continues to be a revelation even in comic book films
Surprisingly, the action is relatively limited in fist fights with a small dose of special effects when you take into consideration that other blockbusters these days have a city been wiped out from the face of the planet - The avengers, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Man of Steel, GI JOE retaliation, Transformers 3, etc - with an overabudance of CGI. Where DOTFP feels like home is in the quiter scenes and the verbal exchanges of the main characters. James McVoy is doing a fantastic job as the broken Charles and his interaction his Fassbender's Magneto (who oozes coolness) are the highlights of the film. Clearly both of them are having a blast with their roles, but they bring a poetic gravitas in these comic book counterparts pretty much the same way that Stewart and McKellen did 14 years ago. Mystique is getting lots of stuff to do this time around (by far my favourite mutant) besides looking badass and participating in elaborate choreography and the whole film plays a battle for her soul between Xavier and Magneto.
Jennifer Lawrence humanizes Mystique even more and gives her more character (finally)
Another interesting aspect is the recreation of the 70's and any other political tones of that era - the Vietnam war, JFK's assassination, Richard Nixon (!) - are used for backdrops regarding the mutant rights avoiding to make a political statement and cross the point of bad taste. The colourful production design along with some nifty costumes give the film a more convincing look that some of his cousins superhero flicks bear.

Is something I did not like? Not much really as I really dig the world that Singer and co have created with care and lots of heart. The characters feel more like real people, their decisions are not flawless and their heroics not the best thing in the world. Having said that though, due to the presence of so many mutants, those involved in the future storyline are not getting enough screentime besides participating in the action sequences - Warpath, Bishop, Iceman, Colossus, even McKellen's Magneto! - feel like filler for the intro and outro of the film. Holly Berry is especially wasted :( Finally, Peter Dinklage as Bolivian Trask is a great casting choice but he does not have anything to play with. While Dinklage does anything he can in his power to bring some gravitas to his role, the script does not allowing him to evolve as a character or at least offer any interesting backstory regarding his motivation and expectations and it is a stepdown really from "First class". 

So this is "X-men: days of the future past". It is a blockbuster with heart and brains and stands way up than most of the blockbusters in the last couple of years. Restrained, not overstuffed with special effects but with intriguing characters, bringing back the awesomeness that the mutants deserve with excellent performances, witty action scenes and a care that so much lacks these days. Highly recommended. In all honesty, cannot wait to see where Singer will takes us afterwards with "X-men: Apocalypse"


"Pompeii" review : Paul WS Anderson has done better

The special effects and the cinematography are top notch
I have been a fan of Paul WS Anderson for years. Yes that is right. Say what you want about him but for me, this is the director that did "Mortal Kombat", my favourite film of all time and "Event horizon", one of the scariest movies ever. Having said that, I do acknowledge that he has lost his way through the years particularly when it comes to compelling stories and interesting characters. When you listen him talking about each film, he oozes passion. However, it is a different thing to be passionate about a project and another to be able to showcase that type of energy on the big screen. Unfortunately for Anderson, although he tries desperately to display cinematic awesomeness, he mainly remains good on visual levels and nothing more.

In particular, his films have strong visual flares and to his credit, he does utilize the 3D into great effect. Nobody can take that away from him. He has a keen eye for nice and vivid visuals through relatively small budgets and does not overwhelm the viewer with bombastic special effects and explosion arrays. No matter how cool all the above may sound though, there are not enough to make me invest in the story around "Pompeii". The plot contains recycled threads taken from other (better) films, mainly "Gladiator" and the characters are no more than one-dimensional. It is rather upsetting to witness three screenwriters coming up with this uber cliched epic that holds no surprises or dramatical substance whatsover while including so many "modern" day dialogue. First Milo gets zero character development or backstory besides the driven by revenge motive. Where did he learn to fight so good? Or how to be that tough? What is it like to live as a slave? These may sound quite familiar questions but by existing, they help build up the universe and the persona of the main hero. Although it may not be Kit Harington's fault, he still ends up looking like John Snow in the film.
Costume and production design are excellent
Same logic applies for the satellite characters also. Emily Browing's Kassia has little to do besides seen troubled, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (always awesome) is more thin than a piece of paper and Jared Harris and Karrie Anne-Moss are totally wasted. As for the villain of the piece, when you think of a Roman Senator, do you imagine a hummy Kiefer Sutherland on that role? Although he clearly is having a blast with the material, he is not particularly that evil and frankly any interesting just like everyone else. And this is where the biggest problem of "Pompeii" is. The whole natural disaster can be used for a backdrop even for a period romantic story. But you require basic cinematic ingredients for that. Here, the setting is intriguing, well presented but it lacks any emotional value due to the lack of motives and sharp characterization. To make matters worse, the whole movie is taking place within 2 days - kinda hard to buy that our duo has fallen in deep love and Sutherland has developed a fuming hate for our doomed? couple.

And in all that, the whole "Gladiator" aspect in this sword and sandal epic comes more like a cheap knock off in its execution and action. While Anderson keeps foreshadowing the upcoming catastrophy (and its execution has been indeed handed well), the action scenes are anemic and the swordfights lack intensity and awe. Surprisingly, they contain lots of cuts and fast sword play and do not reveal any memorable stunt or move (unlike the swordfights in Anderson's "Three Musketeers"). The lack of bloodshed is a bizarre choice for this kind of film as we tend to see glimpses of wounds but not during the fights and it has a tremendous impact in the overal realism. Is this an epic "Twilight-ised" for a new generation? Perhaps.
Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery in every scene he appears as a total miscast
Anderson's direction is absorbing in every possible angle the ancient city of Pompeii and its thundering volcano allowing to witness exquisite visuals and glorious cinematography - especially in the destruction scenes in an eventually, empty dramatic vessel. Anderson seems to be busy to carry on fast not allowing us to experience the circumstances. Remember in MK and EH where he used to have static, circular or even steady cam shots giving each movie a distint pace? Here just like the "The three musketeers", and "Resident evil retribution", he acts as if he is hurrying to finish the film. There are no acting face offs between his cast, no build up towards the volcano explosion, no cathartic climax. Even the final fight has the sign "let's wrap it up quickly". 

Similarly to his musketeers adaptation , "Pompeii"'s saving grace are the costume design and the sets. You truly feel you are actually there and it is nice to see the effort being put on the big screen for the accurate representation of these times. But as I mentioned earlier, visuals do not make a film alone. Now you could argue that in other movies, I have given a high score just for that. Yes, that is correct but their setting and purpose (e.g., "The crow", "Kill Bill volume 1", "The cell") aim for stimulate our eyes not our brains. "Pompeii" wants to be a dramatic epic with a swooping story and serious moments and on that field, it fails. It is not a terrible film, it is just average and the final act when the special effects are unleashed barely make it any memorable or entertaining. Besides that, the characters are disappointing if they can be classified as such, the plot cliche from screenshot one and the performances range from OTT (Sutherland) to reading-the-script-loud (Harington). Shame for this being Harington's first solo outing, he should choose the second one more carefully. Assuming there is one.

+ exquisite visuals
+ disaster bits of the film are very good
+ cinematography
+ production and costume design
+ the talented cast
- ... that does nothing in the whole film
- one dimensional characters
- Sutherland totally miscast
- cliche and recycled plot
- lack of blood
- quick cut action scenes...
- with nothing memorable


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review "Calvary": powerhouse perfomance by Brendan Gleeson

"Calvary" deals indirectly with the sexual abuse of kids/teenagers that so many catholic priests have gotten away with. However, it is not the drama that you think it is. John Michael McDonagh is using the unfamiliar backdrop of black comedy, similarly to what the Coen brothers did in their earlier works. At the centre of the plot, we meet Father James Lavelle, a likable priest of the catholic church in a remote Irish town who at the later stages of his life decided to be a representetive of god in order to deal with his own issues (alcoholism and being recently widowed). The interesting part of the plot is that a familiar face from his environment due to years of sexual abuse by another priest decides to kill him (despite having nothing to do with such horrific acts) and gives him a week (only).

What follows is fairly intriguing as we are introduced to a variety of characters that surround Father James and his feisty yet alienated from him daughter of various sociaeconomic statuses - doctors, trophy wives, jobless men, bartenders, etc) each one having their own reason to despise the tactics of the modern church (and thus being the prime suspect). As we progress through the final? week of Father James life, storylines are interconnected, revelations are being made and dodgy characters take centre stage with their eccentricities and bizarre pyschological attributes. A who-is-going-to-do-it plot gets infused with more hostile acts towards James blurring the lines of much clearer suspicious people and introducing others. 

No matter how cruel the whole subject can be, McDonagh is not focusing to make a statement against a powerful organization that happens to shelter and protect its predators. This is known (unfortunately). No, he is interested in extracting a powerhouse performance from Brendan Gleeson and superb supporting turns from the rest of cast while defusing the situations with one liners ("killing a priest on Sunday - that would be a good one") and out of the blue comedic acts. You see the point here, is the rather short travel of a man in a small forest of familiar faces and his relationships with them after particular incidents. It brings to memory lots of similarities with the Danish "The hunt" but it is less stressful and frankly more optimistic. Genuinely Father James is a good man, not a perfect one, but a good one, trying to bring as much as hope and peace to those around him who still make the wrong decisions no matter how moral support and advice they seek to receive. 
Brendan Gleeson gives the performance of a lifetime - I wish he gets lots of awards for his work here
In a world where blockbusters and stupid intelletual films reign with nothing to offer, it is nice to see a simple character story with the jaw dropping landscapes of Ireland as a rainy setting (the beach shots are incredible). While "calvary" does not reinvent the wheel of cinematic productions, it certainly offers plenty of imagery for thought while certain points are left ambiguous for those of us who desire a more insightful analysis of movies.

+ mesmerising landscapes
+ brilliant cinematography
+ Brendan Gleeson is fantastic
+ the supporting cast
+ interesting plot
+ with sharp social characterization
+ some parts are actually really funny
- perhaps an issue such as serious as this should not be treated lightly?


Friday, 18 April 2014

Review "The amazing spiderman 2": a disappointing sequel

"The amazing spiderman 2" is probably a borderline disappointment. While Marc Webb's does have some solid eye for exquisite camera work (the 3D in the New York web slinging scenes is spectacular) and handles well the romance scenes, it seems that the bigger the film gets, the less focus he displays. The posters and the trailers have warned us about the greatest battle that the spider is facing in this installment. Yet, it does not feel like it as Peter Parker never really reaches his limits (mental or physical).
Too much CGI
The story is a mess. In particular, Spiderman is just slinging through the sequences in an incoherent plot where important elements come and go as the vast number of screenwriters (and that is felt) desires. You have a trio of villains - excluding other ranking officials of dodgy nature, a relatively long running time, multiple plot threads and still their development leads nowhere. As if Webb is not entirely sure on what approach he should follow. There is an uneven pace even in the romantic scenes that after their first 30 minutes, they recycle similar circumstances that we have seen in the previous film as well as trilogy and outstay their welcome.
Garlfield owns the role more than Maguire did
As aforementioned above, the various plot threads existing to delay the plot and further advance the possibilities of sequel and spin offs movies. While some do get partially resolved, the majority of them are just hanging left and right, tighting the cinematic ropes of an already over-crowded ship. Most of the characters have little to work for and they do not evolve (e.g., Colm Feore, Normal Osborn), and those that have somehow enough, are still not that intriguing (e.g., Harry Osborn). 

The biggest selling point perhaps was the casting of Jamie Foxx as Electro. I do think that JF is an amazing actor but he still has to show the awesomeness and dedication of "Ray". Buried under extensive amounts of prosthetic make up, his Electro is a bastard child of Dr Manhattan and Mr Freeze and frankly not that scary or tragic enough. As the film reaches its climax, he becomes more of a minion than a key player with a personal agenda and comes off as ridiculous and unsatisfying. This era of cinematic villains reveals really sinister or tragically poetic characters that play a dominant role at the film proceedings (Joker, Loki, Anton Sigur, Raoul Silva, Bane, Bill, Hans Landa, Magneto). Their constant presence is what moves the hero forward sometimes with concience for their salvation (Thor for Loki), with justice for their crimes (Batman for the Joker, Bane), with vengeance for their acts (Bride for Bill) or with comprehension for their hatred (X-men for Magneto). Electro belongs to none of these pairings, and feels like a throwback to the 90's where each film had to have an origins story followed by an action sequence and a final (usually unsatisfying) stand off.
Dane Deehan is especially well casted as Harry Osborn
The rest of the cast are quite solid and Andrew Garlfield shares a particularly strong chemistry with Emma Stone. However, their scenes together are so monotonously on and off and carry the repetiveness of the first movie. Deehan is very good as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin although towards the end, any motivations for his villainy are barely understandable. Paul Giamati hams it up to 11 in a glorified extended and potentially unnecessary cameo but he is fun nontheless.

Still, the action here is not particularly good either. The relevant scenes are mostly anemic with only the Times Square (electrifying) face off kinda standing out from the not as many as you would expect in a blockbuster scenes. However, it has been used as a selling point in a gazillion trailers and promotion materials that lessen its (final) impact towards the viewer. Other fights including a power plant showdown are so much infused with CGI, that its gets repetive and boring to watch two cartoons fighting each other. In addition, the Green Goblin fight lasts a solid minute (it is not bigger in length than the one in the trailer!). Oh well, perhaps we might get that in a sequel.

So is "the amazing spiderman 2" terrible? Definitely not. But it is ultimately disappointing considering the amount of talent behind it and the wealth of screenwriters. It is a shame that Sony pretty much has shown the entire film in trailers and tv spots and messed the biggest surprises - Green Goblin and other foreshadowing events. Perhaps, they might fixed that in the 3rd film but the only saving grace of "The amazing spiderman 2" is frankly its (talented) cast.

+ Times Square stand off 
+ The cast
+ strong chemistry between Garlfied and Stone
+ 3D New York city - great
+ Jamie Foxx as Electro
- although the role is not worthy of his talents
- multiple unresolved plot threads that add nothing new to the mythology or the story
- underdeveloped characters
- uneven pace
- anemic action sequences
- overuse of CGI in the fight sequences
- too much romance that repeats itself


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Review "Noah": a flawed but thoughtful epic

Russell Crowe being Russell Crowe
Darren Aronofsky is one of the few directors these days that not only I respect (despite not liking the genres that he is working on) but one of those that keeps me intrigued with each film. After the massive success of "Black Swan", he was (finally) able to do his passion project - Noah's arc. While it may sound boring and uninspiring choice for his next movie, "Noah" actually is more than just an updated version of the classic tale. This is Noah for the 21st century, filled with such modern ideas like evolution and environmental conservation that makes me wonder about the bravery that Aronofsky and co are showcasing here.

Yes it has been told a billion times but not this way. The script incorporates all the important issues that we as a race face today: environmental destruction, the decline of ideals and the fall of civilization justified by our choices to survive. There are a handful of meaningful lines to provoke religious or not thoughts regarding the decisions that man has taken (represented here by Ray Winstone's king) while Noah is shown as an extremist of god's vision that may start losing the bigger picture of His plan. Surely those who follow closely religion might object to the (a bit controversial) liberties for both the characters and their surrounding environment. These are some heavy stuff due to their nature, the pg-13 rating seems like a bad joke as quite a few scenes are horrific, and violent.
Wish this scene was more than a minute..
However, due to its big ambition and incorporation of various themes, "Noah" does not feel focused and although it is justifiable (this is the first truly big film of Aronofsky), this has a rather significant impact at the story. Sure we all know what happens and pretty much how the story ends. Despite solid work from (the relatively small cast), we never get to see any crucial character development besides well...Noah. The less screentime the cast has, the less important scenes it is in it, which they are passed relatively fast. And this is a fundamental problem with "Noah". The movie pretty much reaches its climax middle way through and what we get afterwards feels like an extended edition that tries to infuse and showcase the consequences of the great flood while describing the lives in the arc. Although it does not fail, it does no reach any cinematic awesomeness either. The confusion of Noah regarding the message of the Creator, the emotional conflict of his younger son, the family fear towards him are all there but are not given the appropriate sentimental gravitas. In addition, the watchers are more used as a deux-ex machina plot device twice and reveal not a single drop of character.

Like expectation, Russell Crowe is just Russell Crowe which is enough but he never gets any more expressive that he was in "Gladiator". Jennifer Connely has only one pivotal scene to shine but it feels a bit short. Ray Winstone is particularly wasted as the human king who gruffs and screams his (limited) way through the screen and it is a shame that he does not have a proper acting face off with Crowe. Despite some interesting jabs regarding his character - he is fighting for the survival of the now doomed human race! - he does not go beyond the one dimensional bad guy, especially towards the end. Noah's second son (portrayed by Logan Lerman) is just a cliche teenage rebellion boy that feels totally misplaced and mishandled with a partial role that comes into play when the plot requires to. Finally, an exceptional Antony Hopkins as Methusala has a mere 5 minute presence - as if the film was lacking crucial scenes. Much to my surprise though Emma Watson - by far the most interesting career out of the wizard trio - cannot only definitely act but elevates her (mostly dramatic) scenes, and it is great to see her playing roles that are not necessarily cute or related with magic anyways.
More of Antony Hopkins please!
Despites all its aforementioned flaws, this is visually an impressive film that deserves the price of admission just for that. Aronofsky, no stranger in almost surreal visuals ("Requiem for a dream", "The fountain") and subtle yet disturbing imagery ("Black Swan") delivers some truly iconic sequences - a rendering of the creation of the universe by god is infused with the theory of evolution and Darwinism in a truly astonishing scene that utilizes animation in fast forward with multiple cuts and exchanges of the environment and has almost a visually poetic hand painted quality - or the travelling of a pigeon pair towards the arc through vast almost apocalyptic and deserted landscapes reveal a rare talent behind the camera. It is like if Tarsem had a huge budge to work on and it is great to see an uncompromising filmmaker making the most out of the money that he has at his disposal to adapt such an old-school tale.

Credit has to be given to the astonishing cinematography and I already predict glorious awards in the next season. The sweeping landscapes are breathtaking with more than one screenshots resembling a live cart-postal. Strictly from visual perspective, "Noah" is a 10 out of 10, a rarity among blockbusters and expensive Hollywood pictures that puts thought and (less) spectactle in equal proportions. The special effects truly compliment Aronofsky's vision with fallen angels showcased as stone monsters, thousands of animals arriving at the arc and when the foreshadowed flood happens, you truly sense the wonder of destruction that occurs.

Noah” certainly feels long, and sometimes the emotional scenes do not hold ell enough for us to care. There are interesting dynamics and liberties in order to bring this tale to the 21st century and keep it fresh through Aronofsky's passion, but the loss of focus and the relatively empty characters drop the levels of intrigue. Nevertheless, the visuals make up for everything with stunning landscapes and poetic almost surrealastic sequences that simply annihilate any competion that this year might reveal.

+ breathtaking visuals
+ incredible cinematography
+ auteur direction from Aronofsky
+ solid cast
+ great work from Emma Watson
+ interesting ideas and ...
+ characterization
- but not enough scenes that fully fleshed the characters and their thoughts
- feels rushed and studio cut
- ...with an early climax
- followed by an extended edition running time
- Antony Hopkins in an extended, glorified cameo
- wasted opportunity for Ray Winstone