Tuesday, 21 July 2015

"Ant-man" review: another formulaic Marvel superhero entry

The latest of the Marvel canon - "Ant-man" comes with a promising cast, an interesting (although safer) choice for the direction and a rather unusual superhero at its core, is this film more of the same or a shot of re-invention for the now yearly superhero entry? 
Our protagonist trio.
Direction: Peyton Reed, a man who directed "Yes man" and "Bring it on" with a solid resume on comedies is a sufficient option for this rather lighthearted heist flick. Having said that, it is intriguing to see which original bits from Edgar Wright's script, Peyton decided to keep once the former parted ways with the studio due to creative differences. While Reed maintains a sense of awe during Ant-man's shrinking scenes and fully embraces the potential of 3D, there is a lack of personal stamp. Just like Alan Taylor, he is good although he does not carry around a strong visual flare for the proceedings that could concoct something mind-blowing or memorable.

Action: Conceivably smaller in scale that the "Avengers" and its cousins, "Ant-man" is at its heart a heist movie. Here you will not find (wisely) a large amount of digital explosions, catastrophies and an array of CGI-ed opponents for the hero to take down. The final fight with Yellow Jacket is rather impressive and more close quarters and contains probably the best scenes  injected with a nice dose of humor.
Evangeline Lilly, a feast for the eyes but the script does not allow her to become a full character
Plot: Despite a likable protagonist, the drama involving his life - stealing money from an evil CEO just to prove a point - costs him any future job, strains the relationship with his wife including his adorable daughter who considers him a hero and puts him in jail. Really guys? It is another attempt in the depiction of modern movie relationships that families have to be perfect no matter what and despite for what reasons you might have to do what others might not do, this is always a bad thing. In the addition of this pointless (and safe in terms of movie progressing plot) family drama, we have Hank Pym who equally shares a damaged relationship with his own daughter after the death of her mother. The screenwriters do their best to inject pathos in the proceedings but the cast is characterized very poorly - particularly Evangeline Lilly who is basically a dialogue generator that offers nothing to the plot or to the hero's evolution. Ant-man has to take down some evil corporation and in typical Marvel fashion, the storyline shares similarities with those of the first Iron Man that might produce a few yawns left and right with a rather very simple to execute heist at its core. 

Cast: Paul Rudd is actually pretty good, being cool and a goofball at the same time fairing better than Chris Pratt's overly exciting performance - inmo - in "Guardians of the galaxy". He has enough presence and a down to earth personality, that is simply not to be charmed. Michael Douglas - clearly having a ball - on the other hand destroys anyone that shares the screen with him, bringing enough gravitas to support his acting claim while making Pym a force to be reckoned with and a fun guy to work around. Besides these two however, the rest are one dimensional characters with Corey Stoll playing a by the numbers villain that oozes no menace or anything memorable at all. Evangeline Lilly continues the string of under-performing movies and it is a shame because there is an interesting story to be told about her character. 
Paul Rudd as the very likable Ant-Man
Comedy: While it is known that going to see an adapted version of your favorite superhero from Marvel/Disney, you will encounter intense action, a good cast and the off-key comedy that worked well in the first 3-4 entries but now has started becoming tedious and childish. The filmmakers (or I should rather say the producers) keep repeating the same jokes - someone being interrupted in the middle of a big speech, an intervention during an important moment from the main character who will leave like a crab sideways, etc. It is a tactic that got perfected unexpectedly in the first "avengers" film but after "Thor the dark world", "Captain America: the winter soldier", "Guardians of the galaxy" and "Avengers age of Ultron" it becomes really thin really fast. Therefore the saving grace of "Ant-man"'s is Peyton's insistence in visual gags particularly towards the climatic fight.

"Ant-man" is not Marvel greatest (or smallest) triumph. Instead it is a rather borderline efficient heist film with the superhero twist. It needs a more solid ground for it to work and a coherent script. But for now, "Ant-man" will have to wait.

+ inventive action sequences towards the end)
+ Paul Rudd is very likable
+ Nicely visual comedic touches (towards the end)
+ Michael Douglas, always awesome
+ not the tragedy I was expecting
- one dimensional characters
- lack of enthusiasm for the material
- needs a more involved director
- repeated jokes
- script has not time for relationships and gets muddled


Monday, 20 July 2015

"Terminator Genisys" review: a bloodless and pointless entry to the terminator canon

You have to hand it to the filmmakers of the fifth now entry of the declining in terms of quality Terminator franchise. They indeed try. They throw everything they have in their disposal into the mix so they can appeal to as many cinephiles as possible. But they forget the most important part of the cinematic formula. You need to have a goal. Without it, you are pointless and no matter how much flashy your product might look, you will not be remembered, at least not in the way that you want to. 
An angry pappy yelling all the time, Emilia Clarke is seriously miscast as Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton, your position is safe.
Direction: Alan Taylor of the "Game of thrones" and "Thor the dark world" fame takes the reigns but frankly he just does a serviceable job. Gone are the amazing shots that we saw in the first and second terminator flicks. Hell even the third entry has a number of redeeming qualities. On the other hand, Taylor is just a director for hire with no particular visual flair like let's say Del Toro's or even Cameron's. His fight sequences are edited nicely but lack a real punch while any effects heavy sequence - basically any type of action displayed on film - suffers from unconvincing CGI and unreal threat. But these are not the film's most biggest problems.

Cast: With the exception of Arnie and Lee Buyng-hun, everyone here feels miscasted. While at the beginning I was enthusiastic about Emilia Clarke's casting at the iconic now role of Sarah Connor, the end performance is totally subpar. Linda Hamilton transformed herself from a harmless waitress to a totally bad ass warrior woman - remembering those pull ups? - while Clarke does not feel like a soldier; a child who tries too hard to yell orders and opinions. Her supposed training at the hands of her personal terminator does not show on screen. Even body wise, she just seems capable of talking rather than handling guns and being badass. Hamilton's physical and emotional performance in the second (and best) terminator film was believable. You could see that this woman could snap your neck in an instant and despite being mentally unstable after all the things she has been through, at the end she reinvents herself as a mother to John Connor and the savior of humanity. However, the biggest setback of "Terminator: Genisys" is Kyle Reese portrayed here by Jay Courtney, who is at the same level like Sam Worthington;  clearly an eye candy and nothing more. He just cannot act. Horrible lines, terrible delivery while complaining and bitching all the way through is not a worthy addition to the iconic character that Michael Biehn played. There is some mumbo jumbo that John was sharing with him private moments regarding his mother?- again no reason why - and the whole thing backfires since we are getting background for a character that is so famous and frankly does not require any further psychoanalysis. Arnie is giving actually the best performance in years and feels right at home in the role of the (overly) protective terminator and his scenes with "Kyle" are among the best in the movie. Lee Buyung-huh is the closest thing that can genuinely create tension and threat in a bloodless film and it is really a shame that he exists for a mere 10 minute sequence that lefts you wondering what is the point of casting this phenomenal actor and give him so little to do?
The new John Connor portrayed here by Jason Clarkle who has no material to work with.
Action: But we would not be talking about a Terminator film unless there are no chase sequences here. While plenty and directed efficiently, they lack any sense of real threat since we all know that everyone survives due to the interconnected timelines and flashbacks. So the entire thing becomes a special effects extravaganza driven by constant explosions, action, gunfire and unconvincing digital palettes in the close ups. Frankly though, anything after "Mad Max Fury Road" is tiny in scope and scale and the standard has been set indeed very high. I think the days where we see digital cars flying and rolling with fake helicopters chasing each other may be gone. Personally, I am bored and tired when you implement CGI not to enhance the cinematic experience but totally and tonally replace it with something obviously fake. And this is why even by the MMFR standards, "Terminator: Genisys" fails. It fails not only because it cannot surpass its predecessor(s) - even T3's chase sequence is better because these are real cars and there is a genuine level of threat - let alone it cannot even reach their levels of frantic energy. The fights themselves are kinda better but after four films we have seen pretty much everything and despite well made, are just filler to the constantly expositioned plot.

Plot: And here things become so muddled that you are wondering what is the real deal of the script penned by Kalogridis and Lussier. There are interconnected timelines, flashbacks, present storylines, and alternative realities that bear no sense if you think about it. What worked as a clever idea in the franchise was the time travelling aspect of a robot trying to kill a woman and in the sequel her son. That's it. Here there is so much plot, that immediately after an action sequence, there is ex-deus machina plot god that will explain any potential queries regarding the outcome and the cause of the future and past respectively. It gets tedious very fast and amidst the chaos and the literally hundreds of references (and homages) towards the previous movies, the message gets lost. While the screenwriters try to shoehorn every possible trick in the book, they manage to create a douchebag character - hello Kyle, force a lovestory within 2 days!, butchered the role of John Connor while recreating similar scenes of  T1 and T2 that just pale in comparison. There is also a nice message regarding the constant human need of social media and attention that may lead to our destruction since we are unaware of other important things around us but this gets muddled and lost in these labyrinth of storylines. How many films of this magnitude we are going to see with a prologue of the Judgement day war and that 3 billion died, etc, etc. We have 4 films now with the same thread. Stop judgement day and in each one, nobody stops it and Skynet wins. Enough already!

Despite a relatively good cast, some decent fighting, a great Arnie and Buyng-hun and nice undeveloped ideas, "TErminator:Genisys" is not the film that should matter. In fact the whole setting of a sequel again is ridiculous.

+ Great Arnie
+ Lee Byung-hun - the man can make any material work in the big screen
+ some nice homages to the previous films
+ interesting ideas...
- that remain under-developed
- too many ideas!
- John Connor character butchered
- Kyle Reese is a douchebag
- Jay Courtney is a terrible actor
- Emilia Clarke miscasted
- bloodless
- lack of real threat or tension
- some very dodgy CGI


Monday, 15 June 2015

"Jurassic world" review: one of the worst films of the year

"Jurassic world". I was almost, ALMOST convinced that it could be good. But then, I saw the actual film and I can honestly say do not invest your time here. Instead choose something else. Go and see "Mad Max" or "Tomorrowland". I officially decided not to endorse your park.

Direction: Colin Trevorrow (the director) has no experience into handling big blockbusters, particularly those that happen to carry a (declining still important) cinematic legacy of a very memorable film called "Jurassic Park". Point is you knew where you were getting into so I will not hold back. From certain scenes it is evident that Trevorrow respects and likes the original entry but his direction is soulless and empty of creating any tension or suspense. Remember the first time the doors opened and the car went through? When the T-rex appeared? The storm? The setting? The characters? Here everything is juggled together - dinos, humans, hybrids, resorts, trained raptors - with an average pace that can't even lift my little toe from excitement. It's like "Alien Vs Predator": technically well made, but we do not give a damn. There is not even any set of groundbreaking - I know I ask too much - or memorable shots (I do not ask too much) - no steady cams, no personalized fit of direction, just empty and serviceable entertainment with slightly above middle ground cinematography. This should have been an opportunity to reinstate the quality of animatronics, go back to practical filmmaking - see Mad Max - and thrive on a traditional formula that many have abandoned for the sake of easy profit and lack of visual stimulating challenges.

Story: Sure, the first one was not an excellence in Oscar worthy material, but it was sufficient, adequate, clever enough, carrying proudly an important message about man messing with nature with a solid set of interesting and distinguishable characters that you COULD ROOT FOR. Here we get four generic stereotypes with everyone else achieving satellite plot material with no characterization whatsoever and the lack of common logic and a brain. The amount I facepalmed myself in the projected proceedings is quite astonishing - from people deciding that the park is SAFE after the dinosaurs are running wild, to "let's explore this restricted area with broken fences (by dinosaurs) particularly now that they are cancelling all the rides for safety reasons". The sheer stupidity that is being displayed is excruciating to say at least and frankly insulting. In the first film, the characters have to make difficult choices in order to survive or to protect the children. Nothing felt forced. In the fourth instalment, everything is stretching the event believability since no one is acting smart. Prerodactyls are close- so why not put yourself in the massive hotel next door to protect yourself? Why are you standing in the middle of a frantic crowd? Why you do not display any emotion of fear or agony when people are getting munched one by one? OH dear....very bad indeed. Try to say this line with a straight face: " we need more teeth!". On the other hand, there is a subplot involving InGen (which makes no sense, this company should have been broke after the last three fiascos!) and Vincent D'Onofrio's character that has been handled so poorly that if it was removed from the finished product, it could potentially increase the film's quality.
Trained raptors. Starts ok....then de-escalates to sheer stupidity
Characters: Story could be ridiculously stupid, but at least maybe, maybe the characters could be engaging to some degree. Well, not in "Jurassic World". Having stereotypes does not help either. This is the 21st century, and we have seen films with complex close to real life characters against stacked odds, complicated situations and fish-out-of-the-water scenarios and although I am not against women being portrayed more feminine - not every single woman in the films has to be tough - Bryce Dallas Howard's character come off as very poorly written indeed. Not only she is immediately annoying, she still wears heels even when a T-REX is chasing her (while she had plenty of chance to change into some more practical clothes). And she even outruns him. WTF? Nuked the fridge? Jumped the shark? Outrun the T-rex in heels is the new trend. Chris Pratt is ok, since his character is one dimensional, sprouting the usual "nature" philosophies, only this time it is coming from a far less interesting personality. Both actors are not to be blamed and it is such a shame because their casting is at least inspiring and could have been way more with a more focused and coherent story. The less we speak about the kids, the better. Whereas in the first, the dorky almost likeable actions of the kids were causing trouble, here we have two brothers: the teenager one looking like a bored 70 year old in a park filled with DINOSAURS and exclusive VIP access. Try to like this one! Other actors with smaller roles are literally dino-walking lunches and serve no purpose to the plot. Their somewhat grizzly demises are meant to be shocking but for someone who we just saw a few minutes ago, why we should care?

Dinosaurs: Some of the special effects are very good, but still the wide shots of the park can be seen as totally computer generated and instantly a point of realism is removed. At least they will make up for dinosaurs and those that we haven't seen before (like the underwater one). Well they are disappointing with not much of a screentime and when they appear they fail to cause any impact. Too much CGI and very few animatronics (who cost less!!!). The infamous Indominus Rex has one or two shining moments but most of the times it is acting as the primary villain with a scheme (I am not making this up) whereas the latter part of the film is populated by the fan favourites', the trained! velociraptors. Yes as the promotional trailers have suggested, the raptors now are fully trained to hunt down stuff. Despite being a ridiculous idea, in someone else's hands it could work (somehow), but its resolution and execution is so over the top that the movie at the end has what I called "dino moments". Dinos running in slow motion with triumphant music, dinos talking, dinos hunting, dinos socialising ( I seriously not making this up), and finally dinos parting ways (you have to see this to believe it)! It is so bad, it is good.
Not Howard's fault, but this character is making one idiotic choice after another and she can outrun a T-rex..in heels!
So this is "Jurassic world". A terrible attempt to capitalise on the "Jurassic park " franchise and so far it seemed that it worked. People would love to see another JP entry. But marks my words. The word of mouth will be bad. The cliched characters, the lack of surprises, the mediocre cinematography, the gigantic plotholes and the humanised dinosaurs make this park, a cheap touristic attraction.

+ well made (mostly)
+ good cast
+ kills are a bit grizzlier than I thought
+ Indominux Rex is not as bad as I thought...
- but it serves as the primary villain (!)
- characters are cliched, boring, unlikeable
- with serious gaps of logic in their brain
- unthrilling
- generic monster movie, rehashed
- dinosaurs are used as characters
- mediocre cinematography
- boring direction


Monday, 8 June 2015

"Tomorrowland" review: a flawed but optimistic sci-fi film

"Tomorrowland" came unfortunately in a month full of heavy blockbuster releases with a promising main theme, talented cast and a great director behind it. However, the likes of "Fast and Furious 7", "Mad Max Fury Road" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" prevented it to be the success that most would have hoped for. Having said that, is it possible the film may have its own share of faults? Let's examine...

Britt Robertston, my official crush and her Casey is a brilliant heroine!
 Theme: By far the best bits of "Tomorrowland" involve the conveying theme of optimism. Brad Bird - a charismatic director ("The incredibles", "Rataouille" and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol") wants us to feel like kids again when nothing bad really mattered or even dared to bothered us. Remember a time when the future was full of hope for better things and events? A place where technology is a sheer display of enjoyment, the surroundings are tall, flamboyant, overly the top designed buildings with a limitless array of air roads (just like the Jetsons) and everyone is happy to have their hands on such great technological ideas that they can improve their life time desires and dreams? Now, all we hear these days is how everything is bad, how the economy is collapsing, how the famine and hunger are wiping out nations, how much anger, fear, despair, hate and discrimination divide people, raise barriers and destroy the environment in process. "Can we fix it?" asks the naturally optimistic heroine one of her teachers in school with the entire film involving around that simple thought. Sure the future is not as we imagined it to be. But what can we do about it? And if we can, then why we shouldn't be optimistic about our improving visions? A very interesting premise for sure with the hack Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus"...:/) taking scripting duties (along with Bird). Nevertheless, can this interesting and philosophical premise generation satisfaction for a film of 2,5 hours?

Duration: unfortunately not. While it is admirable that the filmmakers have tried their best to create a different action-oriented film, far away from the superhero trends or clinically depressing realistic depictions of adventure and scientific phenomena, the movie does feel multiple times "light" and "heavy". Light because we are 20 minutes in with no actual plot and heavy due to the amount of exposition that are used as an excuse for special effects (but not in your face) while the plot the real plot is kicking in....only to stop again in order to experience a bit more of ...guess what? exposition cheese. It is like Lindelof and Bird are afraid to show but instead they rely on characters explain every single set piece to the audience. When the much awaited climax arrives, there is a feeling of numbness and a sentiment of "is it over" is floating in the air with the focus been shifted from our heroine to Mr Clooney's arc which I felt it was unecessary.
"Tomorrowland" features top notch visuals.
Cast: There is not a big cast here (surprisingly). Britt Robertson is undeniably one of the nicest characters that have ever graced the big screen. She nevers gets annoying or irritating (as you would have expected naturally optimistic characters to do so in the Hollywoodland) or feels forced to the point of stupidity. She gets to inject (probably) some of her own personality aspects as she makes an adorable heroine with the right sense of humour. George Clooney is less George Clooney-ing this time around - the savvy, clean and cut, well mannered playboy. Instead he is kinda following different footsteps as a bitter, reclusive and lonely ex-genius. The appearance of Hugh Laurie - ak Dr. House - could have been a highlight and despite a rather well scripted monologue that feels justified for the plot, he fails to make an impression or even to feel like a real character. Raffey Cassidy scores high marks as the ever faithful to her cause Athena - and not only she does shine in the action scenes, she actually holds up pretty well again her mature fellow actors with some pretty dramatic stuff.

Direction: Brad Bird is a masterful director, everyone knows that. From the final shot of "Ratatouille" to the marriage complexities of superheroes in the "Incredibles", he has been able to extract some interesting aspects and present them in a clear storytelling frame. Here, mainly because there is a limitation as to how many things you can show or do in a live action movie, "Tomorrowland" feels at times dis-coherent in terms of pace. Bird clearly loves his material - a tour around a geek store has so much wink your eye moments that requires multiple viewings - whereas a lengthy steady cam shot focusing on the wonders of "Tomorrowland" witnessed by Casey only reveals his young boy enthusiasm for his material. It is a shame though than when the cathartic moment kicks in, there is little room for emotional relation or connection - the subplot of Casey's father or even the motivation of the "villain" remain muddled at best and almost go nowhere besides their swiftly resolution at the end.
Les GC this time around and more into acting.
"Tomorrowland" asks some serious questions in a playful manner and Bird really wants you to start hoping for the future again and search in wonder among the technological innovations that have been created all these years. However, this interesting idea does not get the full exploration that it deserves (I am pretty sure Lindelof has something to do with that - see "Star Trek into darkness", "Prometheus" and "Lost" - since he was the primary screewriter). There is witt, funny jokes, good performances and action tantrums for everyone but as a whole "Tomorrowland" could have been so much more. A bad film? Definitely not. A flawed, yet entertaining one? Absolutely.

+ Britt Robertson's character, one of the best in the last couple of years
+ great ...
+ and original idea
+ Bird's direction
- Hugh Laurie wasted
-  not fully explored
- pace is all over the place


Sunday, 17 May 2015

"Mad Max Fury Road" Review: best action film of the last 25 years

"Mad Max Fury Road" had the same impact to me that "The raid" did back in 2012. It is not that it has a striking story line or presents itself as a masterclass of acting and good taste. It simply offers the thrills that films of this genre do in the most effective way.
If you villain looks like that, do you expect subtlety?
Story: All the previous MM films had a very basic plot. Lone hero goes (unwillingly) against a gang of rapists, scumbags and killers in the post apocalyptic desert wasteland of Australia while half way through makes a pact with other survivors. Max, a man of few words, at the beginning is a human being investing only to himself but at the end superior motives and a good heart leads him to the path of the hero. Here, we have the same story with a bit of extension. A dictator - Immortan Joe - presenting himself as a god on earth controls that last few remaining resources - water, plants - and brainwashes people to commit sacrifice for him if necessary. However, he wants an heir for this massive "city" and hence the plot begins. See the women who are supposed to give him an heir are being smuggled out by one of his accomplishes named Furiosa. While escaping they encounter Max and their sole purpose is to avoid the claws of Joe and his massive gang (army). Plot is in a few words, simple and effective without deviating from its main characters and theme of survival. Like "Dredd" and "The raid" not all films have to shoehorn thousands of subplots and complex ideas in order to satisfy the now have seen pretty much everything audience ("Age of Ultron" and "Prometheus" are the most recent disappointing examples).
Mad Max and Furiosa - one of the best duos on screen that get the job done with a love story. Thank god.
Characters: The most surprising aspect in the now classic survival and car-chase franchise are the characters. Yes, you heard me right. What could have been easily the single element that would have MMFR being slaughtered by the critics is actually the most enduring part. Besides MM, we have Immortan Joe, our villain and although he is roughly one dimensional, his scenes have enough characterization. Sure he is a bad guy, but considering his rich backstory - ill in need of an heir and a god among his (brainwashed) people - even when he has the chance to kill his women, he (reluctantly) hesitates because he considers them sacred. It is a bizarre twist in the typical vile villain. Then we get one of the toughest female characters ever in the face of Charlise Theron as Furiosa (excellent performance). As her name suggests, this is not the typical man-needy damsel in distress. Despite having one arm - the other is bionic - not only she holds up her own against much more intimidating foes but she also has a nicely incorporated emotional arc and she is not defined by her sex. Rest assured despite this being a film aimed at guys (like "Aliens"), it is very surprising that there is no context for gender based jokes or action. And instead of following the traditional route of tough female characters - hateful and resentful towards me because they feel scared or were abused by them and even when a man saves them they still despises until the plot requires them to do an 180 turn and trust the hero - here instead they act as genuine INDIVIDUALS. Furiosa does not have to prove to Max that she is tough. She is tough and we know it. Period. She works with Max and does not try to screw him over in the first chance she gets (despite Max doing that initially). The fact is that women are trying to save the world from the mad men unlike other cinematic depictions as weak and fragile minded caricatures. Besides Furiosa, there are the five wives of Joe, all of them gorgeous (since the plot requires them so). Still, there is not a single shot that pervs over them. None of them act and feel forced nor require saving every five minutes and they actually feel an important part of the simple plot. What they lack in deep development, they make up for sharp characterization and they all work towards the final goal - to escape Joe. No one is going on their own somewhere so they can be kidnapped or last (action) minute freak out and start crying while the villain is up close and personal in order to provide the hero the necessary and cathartic cliffhanger. Well done screenwriters, well done.

Mainstream: which brings me to the selling point of the film. MMFR is not following the mainstream rules at anything that Hollywood has produced in the last couple of years. Not. At. All. No love story, no bullshit like that. George Miller (the director) treats his characters as actual humans which sole purpose is to survive in this insane post-apocalyptic world, not to make out (or chase doggies). Therefore, I must express my happiness when I discovered that not only I cared about every single one of the few individuals on screen but this greatly increased the dramatic tension in the practical made chase sequences. There are things here that will surprise you, especially for a film of that marketing hype that usually aims to please the 13-year olds and the overall unfamiliar with it audience. No scrap that, MM aims for your head. You either like it or leave it.
That's a mad max vehicle. Seriously.
Action: And now the second selling point of MM. What made the first trilogy instantly famous was the car sequences and crashes, particularly the car themselves. The filmmakers opted out to create the cars from scratch - especially in that cinematic era where GGI was not available - see the disastrous "2 Fast 2 Furious" stunts. Now, we are 2015 and Miller chose to create the most insane vehicles ever  (there is a vehicle that looks like a rock stage!)being put up on screen for road mayhem in the dessert of South Africa. And oh boy not only he delivers the goods, he manages to make the entire "Fast and the Furious" franchise for pussies. Sure it can be described as excessive but when all the crashes, explosions and road fights are real with real people performing insane stunts in spectacular fashion, it is truly a sight to behold. People jumping left and right on moving vehicles and catapult themselves in over the top fashion without the slightest usage or help of CGI while at the same time vehicles are crashing and exploding at 100mpr in a gorgeous setting. And everything is presented in a wide and crystal clear frame. MMFR has pwned any single action film of the last 25 years and like the "Raid", sets the bar high now for future vehicular mayhem productions. FF8 has to really prove itself and now that I am thinking about it pales in comparison.

Direction: George Miller now at his 70's(!) directs with such panache and finesse with exhilarating rhythm. The film never (or rarely drugs) and it can be described as a two hour car chase (no really) with loud industrial music - provided by Junkie XL - that grabs you by the throat and never lets it go. I have not felt like that since "Gravity". Added by gorgeous cinematography, he stages his vehicular mayhem in such good taste (assisted by top notch editing too) that makes you wonder what a bad job filmmakers are currently doing now in action movies. This is a man who has not visited the world of MM since 1985 and in the meantime he performed director duties in family friendly flicks such as "Babe" and "Happy feet". Holy cow, try to top that.
The world of Mad Max. Amazing.
Mad Max: Played by Tom Hardy, Max is not a disappointment as douchebags have proclaimed him to be (because he assists Theron's character). He has his own moments to shine and at the end of the day he is the main hero. But his arc is not the film's emotional core (wise decision). Max is a character that has revealed all his cards in the previous movies. Having again to go through the same process will be a boring thing to do. Miller and co have thought it carefully and allowed this character to come and go as he should do. An enigmatic stranger, a man with a name but of few words, decides what to do when the right time comes. He is not the full blown hero but rather he follows the footsteps of Clint Eastwood's character in the Leone trilogy.

Anything I did not like? The film is an action masterpiece. Nothing annoyed me and everything has suggested a world that requires expanding (everyone is ready for a sequel). If I have to nitpick, it could be the relentless pace - combined this with the loud industrial music and the immersive car chases for 2 hours could be a bit tiresome for those who seek dialogue (very few bits). Also the insanity of the film might turn few people off so if you are not willing to experience this for 2 hours, I suggest do not bother to go. For those who seek high speed thrills and the BEST action thrills of the last 25 years, this is your chance.

+ action, THE ACTION
+ world building
+ cinematography
+ characters
+ no one does something stupid
+ brilliant music
+ Tom Hardy
+ strong but not in your face female characters for the sake of it
+ glorious direction
+ simple story, effectively executed


Saturday, 9 May 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" review: A disappointing overblown sequel

Finally the over hyped and much anticipated sequel to the third biggest film of all time is here. Joss Whedon retains the reigns of being the main creative force behind Marvel and returns for the second entry in the massively popular now cinematic universe of superheroes. Did it work this time around?
The design and effects of Ultron are flawless and the casting of Spader spot on
Direction: One thing is for sure. Whedon looks way more comfortable behind the camera that in the first "Avengers". When initially his name was attached to bring the (unnecessary) complex world of superheroes on the big screen, geeks did parades all around the world while the more sceptics raised their eyebrow since he has mainly credits as a screenwriter (of very good scripts) and nicely integrated TV series ideas. As a full blown director he still had not displayed  any cinematic awesomeness despite having "Serenity" under his belt. So how was the first avenging chapter? A critical acclaimed piece of celebrating comic pop culture that many enjoyed for its over the top action, witty one liners and nice interplay between its characters. With "Ultron", Whedon has to actually top himself and despite giving contradictory comments of making it smaller and more personal, he unleashes a destruction film of "Man of steel" proportions. He more confidently stages the chaotic action and fully embraces the breathless nature of superhero clashes. But in this CGI mayhem, there is no room to develop your character roster, especially one that has become so big...which brings me to the main problem of "Ultron".

Script: After the (huge) success of Tom Hiddleston's Loki both in terms of acting and character appeal, Ultron seemed an appropriate foe that steps up in the villain pantheon to kick some avenger butt. However, the character number is so vastly great that there is not enough space for development and any possible interaction is surpassed with the speed of Quicksilver to experience the next visual thrill. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver get a few lines regarding their (dramatic) backstory and there are mostly action material rather than real life threats for the avengers. But the biggest problem of the second outing is that characters come and go as the plot commands. Ultron appears and disappears whenever an explosion is required whereas some of the main heroes vanish for good - Thor - that get a line of explanation for their absence. Since the original cut of the film was 3 and a half hours, it kinda makes sense and an extended edition might vastly improved the pace and script. But currently it feels like a connection of action sequences with little characterization. The similarity to other Marvel's movies does not help either: the whole plan of Ultron is almost the same to Loki's: destroy the team from the inside. But when in the first film, the avengers were against one foe (played in flesh rather than mo-cap), the whole story felt more organic and vital. Here even after the encounters with Scarlet Witch who messes with their minds, the consequences are not that dire or devastating as the trailers suggest and are faced like a simple headache. Lame. In the writer's opinion, the first one worked so well because Whedon used many of his trademarks - witty one liners, pop culture references, out of the blue awkward situations ("This usually works", "make your move reindeer gamers", "Puny god"). Here there is nothing memorable besides a joke or two and feels like Joss has lost a bit of his appetite. Instead he feels more focused to set up future films in a similar way that "Amazing spiderman 2" did. 
Intriguing new characters but they do not have enough shining moments or interaction to the main plot
Forced love story?: A romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow is coming out of nowhere. We are meant to believe that after a great number of team efforts, these two have come close but the mistreatment of Black Widow chasing Banner romantically constantly for two and a half hours is a massive mistep for the strong-female-role screenwriter Whedon. Not only this is not a characteristic of the Black Widow but it is utterly unconvincing cinematically and feels rushed. 

Action: For those who loved the action in the first one, there is literally nothing different. Anyone who has seen all the Marvel films, should expect each sequence to be more bombastic than the previous one. Despite some really nicely done bits - one 360 shot of all heroes fighting Ultron's minions and an opening shot that follows each avenger through a snowy forest - the action has been infused with so much CGI that at one point it is either very difficult to follow the proceedings or you just go for the videogame vibe. When the original Marvel flicks were released, there were some serious restraints regarding special effects namely because they cost a lot and the films have already enough visual flair to back up their fictional backgrounds and stories. Here though, the CGI is unnecessary - particularly in a car chase in the streets of Seoul - that makes you wonder how much compromise did Whedon commit with "Age of Ultron". Therefore when we reach the climatic final battle, our heroes - much like "Guardians of the galaxy", "Thor 2", "Iron man 3", "Avengers" - face against who-cares goons augmented by CGI just like the battle of New York and the whole process is starting to wearing thin and display a label that reads boring. And this is coming from a massive comic geek. Marvel needs to re-consider the climax of their movies. 

Cast: One of the positives of "Ultron" is the cast. Get load of this: Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel Jackson, James Spader, Robert Downey Jr, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Andy Serkins, Paul Bettany! Everyone is spot on in their roles and it is unfortunate that they do not have a particular scene in which they stand out (unlike in the first film). Still the best thing in the movie is when the entire team interacts with each other, especially when they have heated debates that lead to catastrophic results! Wish we could see more on that, but Whedon is placing carefully the seeds for the upcoming Captain America Civil War story line.
Superhero films go the destruction genre route
Ultron: James Spader is an incredible actor. Not only he has an awesome voice but is a talented performer as well - checkout the TV Series Blacklist where he wipes out the floor with any person that happens to share the screen with him. So when he was announced that he will play Ultron, I was ecstatic and when the first design was shown Hallelujah! While his silky threat proves to be quite the antagonist we might expect and the delivery of his lines is juicy, he fails to make an impression due to the snappy script. His motivations are not entirely clear and the characteristic of having a part of Stark's personality does not get the necessary manipulation. There is no scene such as Loki's interrogation or his assault on the German party to showcase Ultron's extent of personality or power. Instead he aimlessly moves from one place to another claiming how much humans need to be removed from the equation. Maybe the much discussed extended version could shed some further light into his robo-synthesis.

So this was the "Avengers: age of Ultron". While not a bad movie, it still holds up tremendous entertaining value. Problem is that it is following one of the biggest films of all time that was justifiably so. It does have its moments (Hulkbuster fight), "Ultron" starts trembling under the weight of its characters and the overabundance of its action. With so much plot, it could have been "Empire strikes back" for superheroes but it is time to give the reigns of the universe to other filmmakers.

+ cast
+ James Spader's line delivery
+ some jokes bare the Whedon mark ("Sorry")
+ set up for future Marvel films
- too obvisouly
- romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner
- Ultron does not shine
- too much CGI
- similar climax to now four in a row!
- characters come and go
- not enough development about newcomers - Vision, Scarlett Witch, Quicksilver


Saturday, 11 April 2015

"John Wick" review: excellent action revenge movie

"John Wick" brings back to us Keanu Reeves in a modern ballistic and frenetic action revenge movie. Make no mistake as the trailer is misleading. This one man vs hundreds of noobs vehicle is far more clever and thoughtful than the promotional materials would have you think.
Adrianne Palicki makes a great second antagonist
Direction: Chad Stahelski has worked with Keanu before in the Matrix trilogy as his stunt double. What is quite exhilarating here is the fact that he confidently displays skills not only into staging the raging hand to hand combat sequences but into delivering lots of modern neo-noir atmosphere. 

Keanu Reeves: It is great to see Keanu back. I am always a fan of his work and I think roles like these suit him best. By far his finet work to date, "John Wick" provides Keanu Reeves an emotional platform to base his character. Unlike most action era films, we can related to John's psychological status as a raging pitbull that since it lost its handler-owner (see his dead wife), it does not know what to do with all that rage. There is particularly a great scene that showcases quite rarely if I might add the acting skills of Reeves when he reads the letter from his recently deceased other half. Perhaps, this role brings back something closer to his unfortunately real life (he lost his wife instantly in a car accident) and he sells it REALLY WELL. Besides this, the role of Wick requires a certain finesse and panache and at the age of 48 (when it was filmed) Reeves shines quite a physical proneness with excellent and convincing Jiujitsu throws and grabs that would make any 20 year old to cry (see also the excellent "Man of Tai Chi"). With the grace and the skill of a martial artist, Reeves throws himself from one set piece to another and carries the entire film on his shoulders despite solid support from everything else. Welcome back Neo. We missed you.
I want that poster
Cast: The rest of the cast are good with small yet intriguing roles that have sharp characterization instead of being mono-dimensional filler for the screentime. In particular, Michael Nyqvist is a joy with his deadpan mannerisms and lack of despair who happens to deliver one of the greatest "ohs" in the history of cinema. Ian McShane seems to be having a blast as the owner of the continental (more on that later) and Adrianne Palicki makes quite a solid impression as the lethal assassin-antagonist. William Dafoe, John Leguizamo and Alfie Allen are all solid support to small but key roles that advance the plot.

Story: At the surface, "John Wick" seems to the typical average ageing action vehicle. Total retired badass kills everyone in not necessarily convincing ways for both his age or movie proceedings and lack of creativity - thank you trailer. A closer look though can reveal much much more. "John Wick" has a heart and it is quite surprising that stunt people are behind this production rather than full known talents or even action filmmakers. The enganging touching story of a man losing his wife and getting connected emotionally through her parting gift - a puppy - only to lose it at the hands of Russian gangsters, makes for a compelling take to the much tired revenge thriller. John Wick requires emotional closure and grief and the way the director is handling these scenes is quite remarkable for his first time. With a rich variety of supporting characters and antagonists surrounding our anti-hero, "John Wick" emerges triumphant in the movie scene with a intriguing story.

Mythology: Not only the story does not lose any pace but it manages to establish an interesting mythology around a hidden world in a similar fashion to "Kill Bill" through an applied neo-neoir filter. Hotel like services -continental- for assassins worldwide to check in and out when travelling for "business", "cleaning" services for the reward of shiny golden coins and ambiguous moral codes - you never strike a fellow assassin in neutral ground much like "Highlander" - insert a rather curiosity attracting aspect to the chaotic proceedings and grab the attention of the viewer via clever world building.
The action is ballistic and Reeves sells its fantastially
Cinematography: As his most impressive work to date, the cinematography of Jonathan Sela is among this year's best. A wonderful dark blue, grey and black palette embraces the world of John Wick with sharp chromatic antithesis when it comes to nightclubs and indoor settings. The meticulous camera work and various angles only enhance the neo-noir effect in a similar fashion to that one of "Drive" although without the pretentiousness. Each environment oozes with character and the slick costume design simply compliments that further.

Action: The major selling point of "John Wick" are the staggering amounts of action. While starting as a slow burning movie, once the events occur that will spiral Wick out of his norn, the film never drops the bar. Plenty of fights infused with precise gunshots of a top form Keanu reveal a nasty and beautifully stage ballet of violence and blood. Less noisy than the gun-fu of John Woo and more accurate than Neeson's rampage, Wick begins his vengeance as a dog that shows no mercy, an unstoppable juggernaut that will use every breath of his body to annihilate his opponents till he is the only standing through a careful selection of movements, grabs and shots, lots of headshots. The nightclub sequence with the eclectic soundtrack from Le Castle Vania is sure to be remembered for the years to come as the body count is increasing at each heart beat.

Anything bad: Not really, but if I had to nitpick, I would have chosen the slightly downplayed finale and the rather short screentime of McShane and Dafoe. But I guess anything that follows that onslaught could be a bit underwhelming.

"John Wick" will be remembered as a great action revenge movie that never goes over the top with CGI bullshit or over-acting. A good script, a fast pace with great hand to hand combat sequences infused with thrilling cinematography, direction and the best performance in years from Reeves make "John Wick" a modern action masterpiece.

+ great performance from Keanu Reeves
+ fantastic action set pieces
+ that club scene.....
+ brilliant soundtrack
+ solid supporting cast
+ story is quite engaging
+ world building
+ mesmerizing cinematography
- a bit underwhelming finale
- not enough Dafoe and McShane