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|7 reviews in total|
The "E.T." of the 21st century.
Growing up overseas, I never saw the original "E.T." But I had the pleasure of seeing the 2002's remake. "Super 8" is a reminiscence of that, with a homage to "Jurassic Park." I saw it a couple of weeks ago, but due to a variety of factors, I wasn't able to write a review around that time. It may not be an instant classic, but "Super 8" has a magical quality. It stays fresh in my mind as one of the best movies of the year.
If you're not a fan of "Cloverfield," fear not, "Super 8" is nothing like the shaky docu-style film. While both share the director, J.J. Abrams, that's where the similarity stops. It's also worlds beyond Spielberg's own "War of the Worlds" (starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning). Inspired by Spielberg (acting as producer here), "Super 8" has all the footprints of an old-fashioned kids' adventure, family movie.
Set in 1979 Ohio, the story opens with several kids (Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso), filming an amateur movie with a Super 8 camera in front of an old train station. They witness and survive the impact of a horrifically breathtaking freight train crash, which is derailed by a pick-up truck driven by a familiar face. Almost immediately the U.S. Air Force (led by Noah Emmerich) swarm in and sweep around the area, recovering tons of small white-cubed materials from the train. They continually roam around and even set up makeshift camps in town.
Not long after the town begins to experience strange occurrences. Pets running and found many miles away, people mysteriously disappearing, pools of blood streaming through, random power outage, electrical interference, neighborhood posts destroyed, loud scary noises in the dark. And during the Cold War era, suspicion gravitates toward the Soviet Union. Little did they know that something far sinister lurks in the background, threatening the lives of everyone. A pandora box has been opened.
The filmmakers did a super job in keeping "Super 8" under wrap and thus raises the "shock and awe" value. "Super 8" is a throwback to a nostalgic era - rotary telephone, walkman, camera film - filled with memories of childhood friendships and the wonders of exploration and discovery about the world. The kids are the true stars here. Relatively unknown, they're a talented bunch. Ellen Fanning is especially stunning. The natural interconnectedness yet underscored by distinct personalities create an authentic innocence and camaraderie.
The strength of "Super 8" lies in the execution. It's executed exceptionally well that every moment is precious... The ambiance is just right that you could literally feel the chill in the air. With spectacular cinematography, special effects, sound editing, it's tense and thrilling.
And the story is the draw. It's purely poignant, sweet and funny. It's a story about a boy's grief, coping with the loss of his mother, and dealing with his overprotective father and the town's sheriff (Kyle Chandler). It's also a coming-of-age story, interlinked with genuine interactions among friends.
Perfectly paced, the suspense builds gradually and keeps its momentum until its heartwarming ending. Stay through the closing credits roll for a special treat. "Super 8" is spellbindingly super.
The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com)
The original "X-Men" in 2000 propelled the meteoric rise of superheroes
into the next decade and beyond. The first installment was followed up
by a spectacular second, "X2." Unfortunately, the third, "The Last
Stand" (with the change of director from Bryan Singer to Brett Ratner)
fell flat. Crammed with too many characters, it's big on style and
nothing else. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" has its moments. Director
Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Kick-Ass") with Singer's return as a
producer brings back the "X-Men" that fans worship.
"First Class" is more of the origin story of the future Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). They're young men learning about who they are, what they're capable of, discovering their superpowers and others like them, and where they stand in the world.
The story opens in Nazi's concentration camp, where metal-bending Erik Lehnserr (Michael Fassbender, "Pride & Prejudice"), as a little boy, was separated from his family. Discovered as a mutant by a psychopathic doctor (Kevin Bacon), he's forced to mentally move a coin and fails, resulting in the tragic death of his mother. What follows is a terrifyingly powerful scene as Erik's power is unlocked by rage. He carries this deep-rooted anger to adulthood, turning into a vengeance-seeker and later a full-blown villain.
Telepathic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, "Wanted") grows up in a sprawling, remote estate. One day he finds Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape-shifting blue mutant, masquerading as his mother in his kitchen. Since then they live together like brother and sister. There's a glimpse of their university days, where Charles is quite a charmer with the co-eds and eventually becomes a renowned professor in genetics mutation.
A CIA agent, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon the existence of mutants while in pursuit of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), which turns out to be the same Nazi doctor who killed Erik's mother. Sebastian is also a mutant, with the power to absorb and release energy force. He's accompanied by diamond-encrusted Emma Frost, twister-spinning Riptide, tailed devil Azazel.
An underwater incident leads Charles to Erik, where Charles saves his life. From then on their friendship grows. Erik's intensity is balanced by Charles' calming influence. They travel together to track down the other mutants - wing-sprouting Angel (Zoe Kravits), ear-splitting Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), ape-like Beast (Nicholas Hoult), evolving Darwin (Edi Gathegi), fiery Havok (Lucas Till). Their relationships with the mutant proteges display their mentoring ability. The training at Charles' estate to control and manipulate their powers for good provides some of the lighthearted scenes.
Even with a common bond, Charles and Erik's ideological differences drive them apart. Charles believes that mutants and humans can co-exist peacefully, whereas Erik seeks to destroy for fear of being dominated.
With Sebastian playing the United States and Russian governments to start World War III, the world now discovers the mutants and their abilities during the showdown off the Cuban coast. Erik is most powerful with Charles' assistance when he can find that place mentally between rage and serenity. Sebastian meets his demise in a fitting fashion.
Once the missile crisis is averted, however, the humans, united by the fear of the unknown, turn against the mutants. With Erik out of control, Charles tries everything in his power to turn around the situation. Charles is struck and ends up paralyzed. The moment comes when the mutants, influenced by their own personal experiences, must choose side in determining the future of the human race.
The retro design and archival news footage provide "First Class" an authentic feel. It's unfortunate that it's missing a few of the main mutants; most notably Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Gray. If you blink, you'd miss a surprising cameo or two.
It's a thrill to see the superb special effects be put into exhilarating use; the interesting mix of superpowers, an anchor ripping off a ship, submarine and missiles suspended in the air. But that's not what makes "First Class" a real first class. It's a lot more than good versus evil. The dynamics of Charles and Erik's intense friendship, underlined by solid acting, is the strongest point. The genuine human emotions and implications - rage, pain, agony, fear, isolation and longing - to be "normal," to be tolerated for being different and be accepted in society are the pillars of the story.
An extraordinary blast from the past, "X-Men: First Class" will go down as one of this decade's best superhero movies!
The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com)
"Thor" strikes into theaters and starts off the summer blockbuster
Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V," "Hamlet") may seem to be an odd choice to direct a big-budget superhero movie. Some superhero movies translate well from comics onto the screen, but "Thor," the story of a golden-manned, hammer-hurling God could be campy or amateurish in the hands of the wrong director. Branagh has proved otherwise.
Thor (Chris Hemmsworth) is one hot-headed Norse God. The apparent heir to the throne of the realm of Asgard, he's brash and reckless. After a break-in incident by a few creatures of Frost Giants, Asgard's old nemesis, he defies the order of his father, the wise King Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Thor pushes his way through the galactic portal, watched over by its long-time guardian (Idris Elba), and ventures out to the frozen land of Jotunheim, along with quartet of his loyal fighters (Ray Stevenson, Tadanabou Asano, Josh Dallas, Jamie Alexander). By provoking and starting a fight, he breaks a truce that could lead to a war.
Furious and disappointed in his son, King Odin strips off Thor of his supremacy and banishes him to Earth to learn a lesson about humility. In darkness through the storm of clouds, Thor lands in the desert of New Mexico, where he's accidentally hit by the vehicle occupied by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist, her quirky assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).
There are developments in both worlds. In New Mexico, the S.H.I.E.L.D. government agents, led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), are tracking down the unusual atmospheric phenomenon and taking over Jane's research. In Asgard, King Odin falls into a slumber state and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's iniquitous younger brother, proclaims himself as the ruler of the realm. Loki's dark backstory and motivation is revealingly more complex than a sibling jealousy and deeper than greed. He's a multi-dimensional character and not your typical villain.
But no one steals Hemmsworth's thunder here; a star is born. Any doubt about him is erased; as a newcomer, he will make a fine addition to the cast of the all-star "The Avengers" (premiering next summer).
With his Shakespearean language and old-world manner, Thor is a fish out-of-water and hilarity follows. He gradually transforms from anger and confusion to comprehension and resignation as a mere mortal. For the first time in his life, he doesn't know what he's supposed to be or do. Even with his Godlike, muscular stature, there's a childlike innocence and gentleness about him, wondering around and interacting with humans in his exile.
There's a poignancy when Thor finds his hammer, Mjolnir, stuck in a rock, and realizes he could not pick it up even with all his might. Mjolnir is a war hammer forged out of a dying star and could only be held by a worthy warrior. Now this incredible brute strength looks more like a lost little boy. He softens considerably and understands his reprimand.
When Thor faces off with the Destroyer, a giant robot sent down by Loki, and selflessly offers himself to end the destruction on Earth, it's a turning point in his character. And when his almighty power is restored in its regal glory, Thor displays it wisely. The God of Thunder is now a dignified warrior.
"Thor" is an epic blend of mythology, action, adventure and fantasy. But underneath all the flash, it has a layered story, well-developed characters and human dynamics. Beyond royal rivalry, it's a story about familial betrayal and tragedy, self-discovery and growth. Yet it's lighthearted enough as a pure enjoyment. The only flaw here, surprisingly, is Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar win in "Black Swan." Supposedly an accomplished scientist, somehow her portrayal as a love interest comes off as a giddy school girl.
Last but not least, what a visual marvel! Asgard is celestially fantastic, fits for Gods - glittering gold spheres, lustrous palace and crystal bridge shimmering in a spectrum of colors. It shines even more luminously, in stark contrast with the dusty, humble Earth.
"Thor" was my most anticipated superhero movie in 2011 since I attended the Comic-Con panel and previewed the extended trailer last year. As an original adaptation, "Thor" has set the bar high for "Green Lantern" and "Captain America." Like "Spider Man" and "Iron Man" before it, Marvel has another star in its universe, primed for a sequel. "Thor" deserves a thunderous applause.
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A popcorn epic blockbuster fits for a prince (or princess). PoP has
Jerry Bruckheimer's signature all over it. BIG FUN! For me it's
"Pirates of the Caribbean" part 1 all over again, only without Johnny
Depp in it.
Jack Gyllenhaal more than makes up for it! Rogue and buff but agile and versatile, he looks and acts the part of a dashing prince, romantic hero, Dastan. As Dastan, he dexterously climbs up castle walls, leaps through rooftops, squeezes into tight spaces, gallops on horses through the desert, bungee-jumps, sword-fights with the best of them, not to mention outwits and outcharms the rest. He is the quintessential "good guy" and a parkour master to boot (for those of you who are not familiar with parkour, I'd suggest watching "District B:13" starring real-life parkour founders).
As a street kid, he was adopted by the King of Persia, who was impressed by his good heart and bravery. After deftly devising a strategy to conquer Alamut, a staggered village-city suspected for harboring a "weapon of mass destruction" (a jab at the previous administration), the king ends up dead and he's accused for the murder and going after the crown.
On the run for his life from his royal brothers and the Persian army and trying to clear his name, he and Princess Tamina (Gemma Arteton), the ruler of the conquered city and protector of the magical dagger, reluctantly end up on the rides of their lives together. Anybody who possesses the dagger has the potential to rule the world because it could reverse time if the jewel atop the dagger is pressed.
Honestly, I was surprised that the movie was an adaptation of a video game. The story works because all the elements are there. Fantasy. Action. Adventure. Humor. Romance. It's a "logical" fantasy with a sense of realism in a sublime set pieces and complemented with spectacular special effects. A heroic, dashing prince with a beautiful heroine, spirited princess working together for the greater good. A villain with a familiar face and familial ties to the prince (Ben Kingsley), along with snake-equipped dark forces. A sarcastic, shady sheik (Alfred Molina) in the business of ostrich racing as a sidekick with his knife-thrower sidekick. The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Arteton is incredible that the romantic banters look so believable. The way they challenge each other, fight with one another, and join forces together come out as natural as their mutual attraction.
Exhilaratingly entertaining, PoP earns a fan who will be one of the first in line for (hopefully) the next installments of a trilogy!
The MovieMaven http://themoviemaven.posterous.com
I went back and forth before finally deciding to go for it since I
heard it was "scary." The ever-supreme team of Scorsese and DiCaprio
swayed me in. I thought that it should be more than "jump in the dark"
kind of thing, right? And it's certainly not the kind of
throat-slashing gory since it isn't classified as "horror." Ah, was I
thrilled! Scorsese scores again... It's ingeniously jaw-dropping,
inventive, provocative filled with mystery, intrigue and psychological
terror (emphasis on *psychological*). And psychological terror can
actually be more terrifying.
While the first half is rather slow-moving during its suspense-building where some tortured-thought scenes tend to drag on or seem excessive, the last third shocks and awes. It makes your hair stand and question which one is the 'real' deal and what to believe. Where does the hallucinations start and end? The story expounds the profound power of the human mind. The setting, score, lighting, ambiance collectively sets a bone-chilling tone, but ultimately it's the story that seizes. Pay attention to the hints.
THIS is the kind of film that is made for mature audience - AND *messes* with your mind. "Shutter Island" shatters my expectations.
The MovieMaven http://themoviemaven.posterous.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Juliet' is simply lovely. It has all the romantic elements of a true
love that endures through time.
Amanda Seyfried, fresh off her lead role in "Dear John," is ever-effervescent with the girl-next door look. A fact-checker with the New Yorker and an aspiring writer, Sophie travels to Verona, the city of love, with her self-absorbed fiancé, Victor (Gael Bernal Garcia) on a "pre-honeymoon"/business trip where he's there to meet with suppliers for his new restaurant. Watching the interactions between the two, I had a hard time imagining what made them a couple in the first place. They have nothing in common and live on a separate page.
While sightseeing, Sophie arrives at Juliet's courtyard (a real tourist attraction) where women (and men) leave love letters. The "secretaries of Juliet" open the letters and answers them on behalf of 'Juliet.' Curiosity gets the better of Sophie when she stumbles upon an old letter hidden in one of the wall crevices. She joins the ladies and feels compelled to answer the letter. She ends up meeting the woman who wrote it... 50 years ago, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave). Claire was torn after leaving her first love behind, Lorenzo, and going back home to London to be married to another in order to avoid the disapproval of her parents.
The letter arrives at Claire's family home. Upon reading a thought-provoking response, with her grandson in tow, Charlie (Chirstopher Egan), Claire rushes to Verona on a quest to find her Lorenzo. And so the adventure of love begins. Even after the location parameter is established, there are multiple dozens of men bearing the name Lorenzo Bartolini. There are some humorous scenes where the men seem to be quite taken by Claire's charm and warmth. The lush landscape of the Italian wine country bathing in sunlight is a natural canvas for a romance. It reminds me of another movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" starring Diane Lane.
After an encounter with a tombstone of Lorenzo, hope is fading fast. Maybe this is crazy after all. Could this be her Lorenzo? And if not, what if he didn't remember Claire? What if he's gravely ill? Or what about a wife who might possibly fly off the handle? What if...
After an emotional blowout between Sophie and Charlie in that graveyard, the trio are turning around to leave when Claire spots a young boy working in the farm with a connection to the princely owner of the vineyard, Lorenzo Bartolini (Franco Nero, Redgrave's real-life husband). Her long-lost love, Lorenzo. A seemingly chance encounter leads to the reunion of the century. Can fate be evaded? Can destiny be denied? Can soulmates reunite against all odds? The eyes, whom some say are windows to the soul, reveal the genuine connection and depth of emotions. It will warm your heart and make you believe that when something is meant to be, it will be, at the time that is deemed "right." And interestingly, in real life, Redgrave and Nero had on and off relationships for many years before they were finally married several years ago.
In the meantime, friendship grows between Sophie and Charlie. Initially "hating" each other, something's blossoming during this road trip. As stuck-up Charlie as he seems in the beginning, they both connect through sincere interest and appreciation for one another and deeper connection through the loss on the family end. While the chemistry doesn't hold a candle to the older couple, it's cute enough.
This is one of those stories, while predictable, it's a journey worth traveling. And the destination is a beautiful ending.
The MovieMaven http://themoviemaven.posterous.com
"I.privatize.world peace" sums it all.
The novelty of "Iron Man" hasn't worn off on me. While it would never be the same as witnessing the first scene of Iron Man soaring into space and the joy of the trial and error, Iron Man is still the only one of its kind that is as grounded in future reality as it could be.
Tony Stark is one of the rare exceptions of being a publicly known superhero. And possessing the traits of a superhero, he does not. Robert Downey Jr. doesn't disappoint in the sequel wherein the world knows him not only as the billionaire weapon manufacturer extraordinaire, but more pivotally as The Man in armored suit.
RDJ is the brain, heart and soul of Iron Man. It makes me wonder whether the script was written to be specifically tailored to him. Bold and brash, he's got that smug and swagger that commands the world over. Naturally narcissistic and sarcastic, over-sized just doesn't cover it as far as his ego goes. Never known for subtleties, his flashy style and fast-paced lifestyle suits him just fine - even in his quest to discover the new energy source since the arc-core machine that keeps his heart beating is also slowly poisoning his blood.
RDJ's personality carries every single scene that he's in. Numerous outrageously riotous one-liners bring on continuous giggles and laugh out-louds. Be it frivolous or witty or sarcastic, Stark goes toe-to-toe with the newly minted CEO of Stark Industries aka love-interest Pepper Pots, newly appointed eye-candy secretary with an ulterior motive aka Black Widow, Hammer the competitor with an ambitiously ambiguous agenda, or Nick Fury from yes, the upcoming Avengers team (sidenote: the geeks in us would notice Captain America's shield and Thor's hammer). Everyone seems to have so much fun and it shows. I don't recall ever laughing so hard for so long in a non-comedic movie!
And Whiplash... what an entrance! I totally didn't expect the Monaco mayhem to happen early. With connected past through their fathers, he's a worthy adversary. The Grand Prix thrill of the peril where Whiplash faces off with Stark sans suit is the stealer of the movie (and the manner in which he ends up donning the suit is a real treat), even more so than the last sequence of dash, smash and blast of the battle of the war machines in the end. Although the mass zig-zag laser cut or the armed superobots is the incredible icing on the metal. If there's a "flaw" in all these, Don Cheadle as war machine is too flawless to be believable. Not anyone clad in the suit is "Iron Man."
One might argue that this "Iron Man" lacks heart, but I tend to think that it's just as it's supposed to be. "Iron Man" doesn't take itself seriously; it's a nonstop joyride starring a wisecracked eccentric atypical superhero, and it deftly delivers.
The MovieMaven http://themoviemaven.posterous.com