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Out of curiosity, what would be your favorite live-action DC or Marvel universe movie? You can answer in the comments at the bottom. For me, it would be Spider-Man 2 for Marvel (X-Men 2 and Iron man completing the top 3) and Superman Returns for DC (although Superman 1 and 2 were my favorites for a very long time). Superman was one of my first movies in the theater and I think it was a big influence on my life. Nostalgia colors our perception, but then why not indulge a bit in it ;)
They are in no particular order. Some have links to reviews written by me. Useful votes are always welcome and very much appreciated. It would also be interesting to see any film suggestions you might have based on my preferences. I might have already seen them but who knows? Thank you.
Power Rangers (2017)
Power puttering out after a promising start
I'm a guy in his early forties who usually loves (good) superhero movies. I've only caught a few episodes of Power Rangers here and there over the years, found it campy, predictable fun, but wasn't really a fan. I write this so you know where this opinion comes from. So after a promising start in the distant past and some high-school hi-jinks with a bunch of misfits/rejects, something strange started happening. As more and more fantastical elements were introduced, the more I felt underwhelmed and doubtful. Not quite sure when it started, but it was particularly obvious with the introduction of the Zorgs (robot-dinosaur vehicles) that was very lacklustre. The Zorg designs might have been too "detailed", but I even had trouble making out what dinosaur they were supposed to be. To be fair, I love the new Ranger outfits although, once again, their first appearance was kind of muffed.
The plot that seemed not so bad at first with actual character building got stupid and corny pretty fast with dumb decisions from both the heroes (yes, let's all jump) and the lame main villain (let's end all life on Earth with me on it, because, uh...). The actors certainly tried hard, were probably better than standard TV actors, but they didn't sell the touching or dramatic scenes to me. Then again, I also blame the script. However, the highlight acting-wise was the young black man called RJ Cyler in an autistic role (despite too much makeup). But beyond the plot and acting, kind of secondary in that type of film, there should have been a building sense of wonder and excitement that wasn't really there for me. The visual effects were hit (Zordon on the wall) and miss (the Zorgs). The fights that should have been thrilling seemed mostly unexciting and uninspired to me, especially the last one. So without the nostalgia factor in its favour, this big-budget remake didn't make a Power Rangers fan out of me.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (mediocre)
P.S. A really obnoxious product placement actually got some of the few good laughs.
Obscure title hides a decent vampire flick
I thought Byzantium would be some kind of period piece set in ancient times, but such was not the case. We follow the "lives" of two female vampires (mother and daughter but passing as sisters) in modern times with some flashbacks to the 18th century explaining their origins. Today, the mother, Claire, (Gemma Arterton) is a stripper/prostitute to make ends meet while her daughter, Eleanor, (Saoirse Ronan) mostly stays at home and writes. An incident happens, the mother gets pursued by a mysterious guy (exciting pursuit), and the duo has to flee town. In a decrepit coastal town, the mother befriends a desolate man whose mother passed away leaving the Byzantium Hotel as heritage. And as far as I know, it's the only reason the film was called that. Clara decides to open a brothel in it while a young man tries to befriend Eleanor.
I found it rather unconventional and a throwback at the same time. I found very quickly that it had a kind of moody "Interview with a vampire" vibe. No wonder, because I learnt later it was made by the same director, Neil Jordan. I liked the story, how it progressed and how it ended. Basically, most of the later conflicts hail from Eleanor, who cannot bear to live in secret anymore, trying to change her "life", while her mother is ready to do anything to survive and stay hidden. I liked how the vampires were different by not having fangs and being able to go in the daylight (among other things). I liked how the mother/daughter vampires were characters with diametrically-opposed personalities and sometimes showed kindness and compassion, especially Eleanor who was like a death angel initially only taking people who were ready to die. The performances were very good, but for me, Saoirse Ronan who showed a lot of emotion even when she was not talking, was stronger than her costar, Gemma Arterton. I was also impressed by the young redhead man, Frank, who tried to befriend Eleanor. The relationship between him and Eleanor was somewhat touching and fascinating to me.
Directorially, there were interesting choices like, for example, the characters who were sometimes in the same scene as their "doubles" from the past. Take also any scene where blood was present, especially when Frank injured himself and how Eleanor reacted (the cloth! :). The waterfall scenes with the water turning red were also memorable. Byzantium was not a particularly action-packed or gory film (far from it), but it fit well here since the vampires were so "human". A few things bugged me such as a couple of coincidences (how Eleanor ran into Frank the second time) and a few plot points (such as young Clara just going with that military man and just staying a prostitute). I didn't particularly like "Interview with a Vampire" or "Only Lovers Left Alive", but I strangely liked "Byzantium", although they're all in the same vein. It's something to watch on a dark night when you'd like a decent drama with a different flavour of vampire.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
Gods of Egypt (2016)
Entertaining and spectacular despite the whitewash casting
Let's get this out of the way first: most Egyptian gods and the main character should not have been played by Caucasian (white) actors. I tried my very best to get beyond that, but it was jarring throughout and hurt suspension of disbelief. Most of the actors were fine though, especially Nicolaj Coaster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) playing Horus with sincerity and gravitas, but they simply didn't fit the place and the mythology (especially Osiris and Ra). Gerard Butler (Leonidas from 300) was playing the kind of role he's a natural for, warrior-leader in ancient times, but evil this time. As for the main hero couple - Bek, a blond human thief, and Zaya of the ample cleavage - I'd just say they were mediocre and could have been easily played by many other young actors. I did particularly like the role of the ambiguous goddess Hathor who, as a bonus, also looked more Egyptian than the rest of her pantheon.
So enough with the casting controversy. Story-wise, it made the mistake of having an older main character narrate, which basically removed any suspense regarding his fate. In an ancient time before history, the Egyptian gods live among humans and rule. The benevolent king Osiris is about to hand over reign of the kingdom to his son Horus. Set, another god, arrives at the coronation, bad stuff happens, and everything is thrown into disarray. Bek, the previously mentioned thief, tries to steal something important (neat traps), loses something precious to him that he wants to regain, and eventually journeys with an exiled god or two. Unfortunately, plot-wise, I felt as if focus groups or someone somewhere ruined parts that could have been more memorable, especially the ending.
The gods were shown a bit bigger and taller than mortals, and could transform into humanoid animals. It might seem a silly thing, but I liked the size differences, which made them instantly recognizable and more impressive. As for the creature forms, those of Horus and Set looked CGI, but I liked their design anyway. As for the other creatures, be they giant snakes or Anubis, they looked and moved great (with the exception of the scorpions). This movie reminded me of a throwback to the big and good adventure/fantasy movies of the 80s and 90s. It wasn't too complicated, it kept you entertained and looking forward to the next incident or encounter. Weirdly, even though "Gods of Egypt" sometimes had the nostalgic appeal of a film made in another decade (with modern special effects though) and went through familiar tropes, it also sometimes felt fresh (like the sand magic or the afterlife). It had a few clever touches (like the assistants of the god of wisdom) but also a few dumb elements ("good" idea to leave your companion alone with a bad guy on a platform elevator going up while you decide to climb the side of the pyramid instead).
Most locations looked very good (for example the "ship" in the sky) and were quite varied. Visually, I found it marvellous, and I didn't mind or notice too much the computer roots . I loved the costumes and armors, certainly not historically-accurate, and the gods looked more than mortal without going over the top (despite the terrible casting). With a couple of exceptions (the chariot escape), I found the action scenes above average, even exciting. The fights were well choreographed, but I liked more when the fights involved the human actors somewhat, instead of just the metallic creature forms that kinda took you out of the setting.
In that kind of movie, I want to vicariously travel to a different land, experience some wonder, and forget the real modern world for a little while. I also want to meet interesting, unconventional characters and be kept involved in the adventures even if they're not the most original. It especially needs some heart and sincerity to make the proceedings relatable, even if it's awkwardly done. For me, Gods of Egypt mostly succeeded in doing those things making it a decent entry in the maligned fantasy-adventure genre. It shouldn't be judged as a pure comedy, drama, action or romance film. I quite expect this movie to be savaged by the critics for casting (mostly), camp, lack of originality, CGI and what have you, but you know what? Overall, I had fun watching it and I would watch it again at home some time in the future. Not a lot of competition, but one of the better recent mythology-inspired films.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Better and fresher than its (zombie) parts
I've never read any Jane Austen novel, but I have watched a few traditional adaptations of her work including Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley that I really liked. Without the zombie aspect, this mash-up would be a mostly respectable and respectful adaptation of the novel in terms of tone, characters and plot if the Knightley adaptation was anything to go by. However, it does "dirty up" the original classic story with undead so it could be blasphemous to Austen purists. Those who consider her writing sacrosanct should definitely steer clear unless they have a strong sense of humour. The story hit the major points and had some beautiful lines, but it veered off in the last part. The whole bridge thing also confused me.
The zombie aspect fit surprisingly well, was not too jarring (except at the start with Lady Featherstone), but it was not great, although I found original how some zombies still had enough brains to talk and even infiltrate society for a while. I also liked the facial makeup on some of the zombies. The zombie parts were also the catalyst for a lot of the humour. The contrast between the prim, well-spoken, 19th-century British society and the out-of-their-normal-environment zombies provided amusement. The action parts were somewhat disappointing. As an example, the first time you saw the 5 sisters jump into action, you would have expected something glorious and exhilarating, but it kind of fizzled because the moves weren't thrilling or convincing enough. Although the editing tried to hide it somewhat , you could guess that the actors were chosen more for their acting skills than their martial-arts skills (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Exceptions to the lacking action would be the human-only ones, especially the "confrontations" between Elizabeth and Darcy.
I suppose the film is by definition a parody, but it was played very straight, and I don't think it would have worked so well otherwise. Sam Riley, the actor playing Darcy was excellent in his role. Lily James as Elizabeth didn't fare so well, lacking presence and charisma, especially at the start. She paled in comparison with Keira Knightley (in the same role), but she improved later on. The zany Matt Smith (former Doctor Who) stole almost every scene he was in, playing an unconventional Pastor Collins. By re-watching Pride and Prejudice (Knightley version) after this film, I noticed how much the characterization of the secondary characters was cut (especially the 3 younger sisters) and how much the ballroom dancing, dining and conversation was replaced with zombie shenanigans. I'm not convinced this was an improvement, but it was certainly different.
I watched this at a sneak preview in a full theatre. The laughs mostly came in the first half. Personally, I smirked relatively often but never laughed out loud (I rarely do). I was entertained throughout though. What about the romantic aspect you ask? It is still there and Darcy's letter is still awesome, but it's often overridden by comedic or horrific elements. What about the gore? It can be surprising and a bit disgusting (the makeup mostly) but it's limited and over quickly. None of the parts of the film were particularly strong (except acting that was overall better than expected), but as a fun mash-up, I think it worked. For those curious, I consider the Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice superior in every regard and I don't recommend watching it too soon before this film because the latter would suffer too much in comparison.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)
The Call (2013)
A man kidnaps a young woman (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine all grown up), stuffs her in his car trunk and rides away to somewhere. Unbeknownst to him, the kidnapped woman still has her cell phone and can communicate with a 9-1-1 operator (played by Halle Berrie). Despite the fact that logic-wise, this doesn't work - how could the maniac fail to search for a cell in 2013 - I found this to be a very good thriller. The whole portion with the car was tense, exciting and splendidly filmed. In fact, I was impressed throughout by the camera work using, among other things, unusual zoom-ins to create claustrophobia and dynamic unconventional cuts to ramp up the tension. I also liked how for the longest time, the kidnapper's face wasn't shown. The Call could have been filmed in very standard, boring fashion but it wasn't and for me that makes the director, Brad Anderson, someone to watch out for.
That whole mid-film section was pretty great. However, the last tier, at the final location, despite some good, creepy moments didn't seem as strong although it was still good. I had trouble with a decision made by the heroine although it could be justified by the urgency of the situation. I'm not talking about the "twist" ending here. Acting-wise, I thought it was pretty strong all-around with Halle Berry being quite credible in her emotions. It might be a tiny thing, but what hurt my sense of disbelief was the amount of times "sweetheart" and "honey" was said by her. It was just too much, especially with a stranger. Overall, I found it a captivating thriller with great camera work. Better than expected as long as you don't get stuck on what the characters should have done.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Besides short segments taking place in the Middle Ages and another on a plane, this supernatural flick takes place in modern New York. We have Vin Diesel's character, Kaulder, a man who lost his family due to witches, still alive after 800 years and still hunting them. One would think that Kaulder would be a stereotypical stoic, somber, asocial killing machine, but such is not quite the case. I was pleasantly surprised to find Vin Diesel more smiling and "human" than usual. In fact, on more than one occasion, his hero actually showed restraint and compassion, which was quite refreshing. After that Middle-Ages intro, I thought all the witches would be evil, despicable, one-dimensional creatures (which would have been boring) but then again, I was fooled as we actually delved more into the modern witch community.
As far as story goes, despite the seemingly cliché setup, I'd say it was stronger than usual for that kind of supernatural-action film with a few good twists I didn't see coming. The special effects were rather good and I especially liked how the magic was so nature-oriented (as it should be for witches). One of the neatest places was that bar with the subtle light magic. I also liked the design of the old witches and that bone sentinel. There was visual stuff there I hadn't actually seen before or at least a dozen times over. Unfortunately, I found the action scenes somewhat weak in general. I know that close-in fighting is supposed to be messy and chaotic but the cuts here were sometimes so poorly done I had trouble knowing what was happening. Thankfully, it's never as bad as in that first fight in the past, and it does get better as the film goes on. So don't go in expecting to be thrilled too much by the quality of the action.
Surrounding the more-emotional-than-usual Diesel, there's actually a pretty decent cast including Michael Caine (always classy), Elijah Wood (amusing and solid) and Rose Leslie, that redhead wild woman from Game of Thrones. For me, she was the highlight acting-wise and elevated everything up a dramatic notch. As for the directing, besides the poor action and annoying flares, it was competent but not particularly memorable. The "dream" visions were nice, but then they usually are. I saw this at a preview screening and there wasn't much crowd reaction, however it should be noted that the film kept my (very) jaded interest throughout. I didn't have trouble with the pacing or story confusion as other reviewers did. I actually found the world of the Last Witch Hunter somewhat intriguing and enjoyable.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (good)
Ninja the Monster (2015)
Not your usual ninja flick
I saw the world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. We're in Japan at the end of 18th century and ninjas, once commonly used, are being hunted down and executed. A princess must reach Edo to ask help from a lord there. She's escorted by a half-dozen soldiers and one bodyguard who's actually a ninja. They'll have to cross a dangerous forest where a strange watery creature lurks and kills people. So let's get this out of the way first: this is not the typical ninja you might be used to seeing with dark costume, hood and almost supernatural skills. It's closest to what ninjas were probably like: good fighters hired by lords to do covert missions. Also, if you're expecting fights between a monster and a ninja, you're gonna be disappointed. This movie subscribes to the "seeing-less-is-more" philosophy or, in this case, "hearing-more-is-better-than-seeing". It means that most often we see the hidden princess while the actual fight (or slaughter) is conveyed through sound effects and screams. Think of the black smoke creature in the first season of Lost. The sound might have been very loud in the theatre but I thought it did create excellent tension.
The few fights were mostly between humans and they were adequate although not very memorable. The darkness didn't help but didn't detract too much. The actor playing Denzo, the ninja, had an expressive face although his role of a reserved man did not demand much emoting. Choemon, the main bodyguard and samurai, was a bit more over the top but not overly so. The princess played a good damsel in distress. As for story, it was simple enough with a clear objective. It did add interest with the unclear motive of the ninja, although that wasn't explored enough in my mind. However, near the start, it did bug me how abruptly Choemon accused Denzo of being a ninja. That was so out of the blue that part of the audience laughed. I think the director might have wanted us to wonder if ninjas were really "monsters" or if so-called monsters were really monsters after all, but I'm speculating. I liked the special effects for the distinct gelatinous-water look of the creature, but I was disappointed by its final fate. It seemed too obscure and it was as if the protagonists' actions didn't really matter, i.e. the monster would have ended up the same with or without them. As a somewhat intimate suspense movie with a fantastical monster, it kind of works. For action and thrills, you might want to look elsewhere. At the end, the audience applauded politely.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good)
Short review for a long film
I'm glad I saw this in Imax as it was really worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. The epic story was well told and sometimes gripping. Cinematography was very good except for overuse of that one angle where you see the prow of the lander ship. Space vistas themselves could have been more impressive as it seems digital effects were intentionally limited. The surfaces of planets and phenomenas compensate. Excellent acting all-around with McConaughey the highlight, except he was sometimes hard to understand. The sound effect work and especially the stirring music were awesome. It was more emotional than Nolan's previous films, yet I didn't tear up. Your final appreciation will likely depend on what you think of the ending.
Battle of the Damned (2013)
Average b-movie action with killer robots and fake zombies
We've seen the same concept before, of a bad-ass going into a dangerous quarantined city to save someone (in Escape from New York for one), but this time, there's "zombies" and robots. The "damned" of the title are actually the people stuck in the city as the "zombies" are not really dead, just people sick and rabid. Other than that, they act just like the running zombies from 28 days later. This movie was more action than horror with minimal frights, suspense or gore. At least for me. The actions scenes were usually cut in rapid-fire fashion, seemingly as to avoid lingering on the moves or faces of the Thai extras playing the infected who were probably just dirtied up instead of having actual horror make-up. I didn't much care for the editing of the action scenes. I suppose the sequences where Dolph dispatched enemies one by one with a knife were fine. Most of the up-close or shooting scenes were disappointing. Dolph Lundgreen is unfortunately getting older as he obviously has trouble running, and his punches and kicks are not as vigorous as they used to be. For an action film, it matters as I kept thinking that Dolph was going through the motions instead of actually fighting.
The CGI robots were done nicely enough (although recycled from Robotropolis), but they took too long to appear, had no personality and seemed underused to me. There were some nice shots by the director, especially in the luxurious house hideout and the ruined building at the end with the reflections in water. Dolph was his usual stoic self except when doing grimaces while fighting. For characters other than Dolph, the acting wasn't horrible but it wasn't memorable either. Duke, the older guy, was a bit better than the others. As previously stated, the story wasn't that original and, in execution, I never really found it gripping, but it was watchable. The role of the robots might have been a surprise if it hadn't been ruined in the movie's description. Coincidental convenient meetings in that big city also bugged me (Max and the girl, the soldier, etc.) I wouldn't recommend paying too much for a rental if the subject matter interests you.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (average)
The Punisher (1989)
I don't like the Punisher character and this was from the time before Marvel made good movies, but it turned out to be quite acceptable. I found it pretty entertaining. I thought Dolph Lundgreen in the main role was just an imposing figure and an impassive face. It turns out that his expressions while shooting were hilarious (especially when he shoots up a clandestine casino) and that action-wise, he held his own, perhaps even better when fighting hand-to-hand. I read that they took real martial artists and that Dolph was a former karate champion, so although there's no elaborate fight choreography, it works anyway. The scene where he shoots a crossbow in a guy's chest and rappels down a rope while shooting bad guys made me laugh out loud. Of course, he has an apparently fake beard that distracts and sometimes awkward, yet enjoyable, lines, but his physique makes up for it. He looks the part despite the lack of skull emblem. The story involving the Japanese mafia trying to take over the Italian one could have been worse despite involving the kidnapping of kids.
Other scenes of interest were Dolph taking down guys silently one by one at the start, him against a bunch of Yakuzas in a carnival house, and the brawl near the end when the lights go red. Yeah, the Punisher is unbelievably lucky in not being shot so much, especially the way he moves while shooting instead of taking cover, but I didn't mind. What impressed me perhaps the most was the acting by the 2 main bad guys, especially the mafia boss Franco. They were serious, not campy at all and they were credible in their roles. The Italian mobsters were more corny, while the Japanese were just expressionless fighting machines. So for an 80s action movie, it's far from the top, but it deserves a better reputation than it has. Of the 3 Punisher movies, I still prefer the second one with Thomas Jane though.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (good)