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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Jamie Foxx Show
If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would have turned out as bad as the opening soap opera and the following mess of an action scene indicated, I would have probably titled this review "Emo Man" or "The Amazing Shaky Cam Man" (I even wished I could see the new Seth MacFarlane Western comedy instead, how's that). Is it too much to ask for some well-choreographed action in these so-called action films, not the camera men having a seizure in the blue room, or whatever? And let's have some real storytelling too, that's not a contradiction you know, not some teen television show clichés that not even self-respecting chick-flicks use anymore (the sequels of the previous franchise, I'm looking at you )
But here's the good part. Luckily, among the ruins of this a too-much saccharine party, Jamie Foxx shows up and gently convinces the audiences to stick around. There's some heavy caliber acting involved, to make this all too familiar-seeming "Electro" storyline get your attention. It does, and soon we're chilling with some dark imaginary and industrial sounds that are just what the doctor (I mean mad scientist) ordered. And a fight at a clock tower. Some clichés can never go wrong.
The script plays fast and loose with the details, but at least there's not too much exposition (that usually serves just to underline the plot holes). The cinematography gets better towards the end, though Zack Snyder handles the slow-mos better than Marc Webb, at this point. By the way, did I see a nod to Hachi: A Dog's Tale? You'll have to see the film to get what I mean, if even then.
I'll be back for the third one, I suppose. We'll get some more of Felicity Jones? Maybe they'll even bring a tripod for the action scenes, it's always good to hope.
Man of Steel (2013)
Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is everything you'd expect it to be, but is it more? Not exactly. This is very much playing it safe, and the director of Legend of the Guardians and Sucker Punch needs a sure-fire hit. I very much like Snyder's previous films, so I understand. Just think for a moment how this would be had Nolan directed it; there'd be lots of exposition, and I daresay the action scenes wouldn't be as organized. Pick a director to do a Superman reboot and Zack Snyder is your man, nobody gets as close in turning a landscape where sky isn't a limit into a psychedelic, grounded brainstorm, where some inconsistencies in the story will never bother you. We'll just ignore them, like we should.
Henry Cavill looks the part, and I'll be the first to say Clark Kent as an adult handles himself like Chuck Norris (except for mishandling private property). The character was an annoying kid, though. The supporting players do a good job, and the threat from outer space, led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), is introduced quite skillfully. The action is quite fun, but I'm not sure how suspenseful this would be on small screen.
We see a Lexcorp truck getting mistreated during the final fight. This would foreshadow Lex Luthor, obviously. Let's hope Supes has his personal problems in check for the sequel; this is where a character like this can potentially shine. It isn't the main character that has to do backflips and contortions, there's so many people he could help and not turn the franchise into what Spiderman sequels became.
I think Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) had a thing for Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni). There comes to show the most interesting dynamics in these stories don't need to be underlined.
The Hangover Part III (2013)
Not That Funny But
Let me start by saying I haven't seen the previous Hangover films. I do gather this wasn't quite like them, since who doesn't know the premise; there isn't much partying in this the third episode, or even an actual hangover (apart from the end credits scene). Zach Galifianakis plays the same "character" he played in Due Date, except he's rich, and the rest of the guys are like the collective Robert Downey Jr. Then there's Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) who's the driving (or hang gliding) force of the narrative, the mischievous entity they must stop both literally and metaphysically. Themes of entering real adulthood, letting go of the past, merge with the caper involving jail break, kidnapping and missing gold.
Some of the people in the audience chuckled throughout the film, but what I thought some of the jokes were "technically" smart, not LOL. What I liked was the pacing, the songs and the few shall I say suspenseful action scenes (you don't need much realism for that, necessarily, just a professional film crew who like what they do). So it was a comedy that didn't make me laugh, but didn't bore me, either. Weird. I give it a 6/10.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
They Got It Right This Time
I was going to see The Expendables 2 nonetheless, thanks to the addition of Chuck Norris, but this one is a real winner in all respects. They got everything right that they got wrong two years ago: mainly (proper 80s competent) action cinematography, coherent, kick-ass action and a story that goes forward, not back to the gang's watering hole just when things get rolling. The premise is mainly the same: there's a mission, the mission goes wrong, and then it's personal.
The film starts with an awesome vehicle driven action scene, which concludes with the (self aware) dialog mentioning about making a statement. It was a statement regarding how you don't need shaky cam, and it was well made. Then it's back to the familiar New Orleans bar and all the soap opera that follows, except this time it's actually fun to hang out with these guys. I once said Jason Statham should play The Hobbit, and guess what, Sly jokes about his small feet. He does play well with knives, though.
Chuck Norris is, interestingly, introduced to the sounds of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Makes sense, Chuck as eldest and toughest of the bunch can do whatever he wants, including using a Morricone score. We a get a Chuck Norris fact, and his Lone Wolf status is mentioned. Similarly Arnold gets to say his "I'm back" a couple of times. If you think the catch phrase is wearing out its welcome, so does Bruce Willis. This is a very tongue-in-cheek, "remember the old times" get together, yet with nothing apologetic about it.
If I had to say something negative, there are times during the film when "nothing happens". However, it's all forgotten when the next ammo is shot, and who's to say the slowing down at times didn't help the big picture. Oh, the music department. I would have liked to hear some more of those R&B oldies instead of the generic strings, but there's always the next time. I can't see why this franchise shouldn't continue with new additions to the all-star cast each two years well into the next decade. Mr. Stallone, if you're reading this, consider adding a cool gimmick: for each new film another big player is eliminated "and then there were none" style. Start with the younger characters, of course. We want you old legends sticking around. Oh, you thought of it already?
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Best Of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy?
It's been 4 years on Earth, and 8 years in Gotham City. No Avenger has taken the place of Batman as the most prominent superhero. He must return to take on Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked nuclear terrorist, and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), the foxy cat burglar. Both are introduced with style and ease, and so is the older but not wiser Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). It's like visiting old friends with Alfred (Michael Caine), Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Too bad the legacy of Harvey Dent, the bore of the previous installment, still manages to figure in the story, and so does a picture of Rachel Dawes (puh-lease).
Luckily this time Nolan has let his guard down and decided to add some genuine humor, one liners and twists that could be from a comic book (imagine). Add some better than before action scenes, and what we have is what could be the best of Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy. Where I'm coming from as a Batman fan: The Batman (1989) is the bees knees, the only superhero film I keep revisiting, with my favorite Jack Nicholson performance. The Dark Knight Rises now is my second favorite. I've never read the comic books / graphic novels.
I had fun, but will this become a film I'll revisit? Let's see. The negatives are no Jack, no Kim Basinger, and as much as I like Anne Hathaway, there's still no Catwoman in full leather (just boots and that spandex thingy). Another one: Batman may have a bad knee, but Nolan's Achilles' heel seems to be choosing quantity over quality, ever since the well paced The Prestige (which remains my favorite Nolan film: a good, imaginative adaptation of a mediocre novel). In the case of The Dark Knight, the last 30 minutes were too much. Not too much of a good thing, just too much. The Dark Knight Rises is even longer, but this time the momentum that starts to die around the same time manages to pick up for the finale. I give 9/10 for the first half and 7/10 for the second. Sounds fair?
The Dictator (2012)
Not Just A Collection Of Gags
How do you parody a jihadist dictatorship? Since truth is stranger than fiction, even to try seems futile. It's impossible to shock anyone in a film any more. Sacha Baron Cohen seems aware, and instead tells us almost an escapist story of The Dictator who everyone wishes to see in a good light, in spite of the contrary evidence he himself is more than ready to gather for them. Some of the satire works, for example the oil fueled international news media's real life attempt to whitewash each hostile act / speech any certain person makes, as long as that person has a certain connection.
By "not just a collection of gags" I do not however mean the film has a deep message. At heart it's an almost apolitical rom com, a love story between Aladeen and the lesbian midget who does not shave her arm pits, who Aledeen first mistook as a boy (if this depiction offends you, the film will as well). You could hear a pin drop during the first gags, that seem a rehash from each similar gag seen on talk shows, but as soon as our protagonist gets to America, the story kicks in and the gags get funnier. Having "Waadeyan" versions of well known pop songs adds a nice touch.
The Dictator owns a lot to Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), completed with doubles and (semi) good hearted end speech (don't think for a moment he learned his lesson). While The Great Dictator seems naive this day and age, when the true life atrocities of nazi Germany have been revealed, The Dictator seems a feel good comedy. With all sources around these days, don't expect to get your education from a comedy film.
Call it wish fulfillment if you like, but I wanted to see something of a modern version of Woody Allen's Bananas (1971), and it's pretty much what I got (and I'm not just talking about the false beards and bananas). It's a good sign a comedy works when the most innocent gags make you laugh as much as the "adult" oriented material. Ben Kingsley as Aladeen's not-so-trustworthy ally is doing exactly what a supporting player should do, support the story. Well done, Sir. Same goes for the other players.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Scooby Doo, Where Are You!
There's a cabin in the woods where stereotypical young adults go to play truth or dare, roll funny cigarettes and fight for their lives (and maybe solve a mystery). I wasn't hyped about this basic story that promised a twist, so therefore I wasn't disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing some quality horror and that I did. I'd say the film started on a high note, with good cinematography on display, but then, ironically, when the action started the mood went down. What a bland snoozer the music score was, I tell you. Well, at least it wasn't annoying.
For my money Chris Hemsworth gave the best performance, a real good performance. In Thor (2011) his two note, angsty gimmick got old real fast, but he's not doing it in this one (though he's obviously doing it in Snow White And the Huntsman (2012), to which's trailer the Cabin In The Woods audience were introduced). Hemsworth's character, Curt the jock, is the glue that keeps the narrative and especially the dialog together. When he's not around the limitations of the others are highlighted. This has to do with writing as well. As long as things weren't (or didn't appear to be) horror/sci-fi, the characters acted like real people. When the zombies came out, it seems the writers put the breaks down to avoid "bloopers" from anyone but Marty the fool. Too self conscious? Not surprising, the Japanise "sub plot" got the biggest laughs, not the stoner gags.
As for influences, apart from the usual suspects, there's a couple of similarities with my favorite sci-fi actioner They Live! (1988) and I also picked up a slight resemblance with The Osterman Weekend (1983). No, I won't go explaining these in a spoiler-free review. Mentioning them won't certainly spoil anything, quite the opposite, since I'm not going for the obvious. Why did I call for Scooby Doo so loudly? I wanted to call for something extra (not necessarily Scoob because it wouldn't be safe for him in this film). What we got was just OK. Instead of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and try to play the horror fiction encyclopedia, they could have utilized one aspect to its fullest (like the trick mirror) and go easy on the theory.
The monsters weren't scary, which is a big minus come to think of it. There's a creepier atmosphere in the 70s Hammer films that brought Dracula to modern times. I also prefer I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Imagine 90s Jennifer Love Hewitt in Kristen Connolly's role. Now you get it. Action? You came for the slasher action? It's there, arriving just a wee bit late and then not delivering all it could. Not the best of CGI. Mainly it doesn't deliver sense of danger. Some of the action in the last round had something else going for it, though, a dreamlike quality that will probably not transfer on DVD (or Blu-Ray).
Buddy Film Of The Year
The extroverted super sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) engage in a deadly game of chess while their shadow puppets, including Dr. Watson (Jude Law), fresh off his unconventional honeymoon, act as their pawns. No less than world peace is at stake. The criminal mastermind, boxing champion and crafty business man Moriarty aims to make profit with bullets and bandages after the nations have been led to the inevitable war. Can it be stopped, or at least postponed? Is there a way of having fun while at it?
A Game Of Shadows is the second entry in buddy movie director Guy Ritchie's revamped Sherlock Holmes franchise. Two years ago Ritchie surprised many, not only by turning Holmes into a genuine action hero, but by finding a way to keep his gray cells occupied with the well-crafted story. In other words, best of both worlds. In a way the mood, the witty landscape is more John Dickson Carr than Arthur Conan Doyle, which works great for me.
Like the first, A Game Of Shadows includes a series of nicely visual mysteries. It's even bigger and faster than its predecessor, offering more explosions and hilarious antics, but is it better? Given the marvelous solution in the peace conference overlooking the Swiss Alps, I'm inclined to say yes, though I don't think the action scenes were all as swell. The punch packing music score makes it feel an operatic cartoon.
Everyone familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle's creation will find similarities and differences. This is no run of the mill action film. I liked it plenty. The story takes us over Europe with a bang and a sizzle, by train, horses and a pony. Noomi Rapace sure likes to eat, by the way. She has good table manners, so this is not a complaint. It's a season to be jolly so I round my rating to 10/10.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Ultimate Boys' Adventure
The ever young Belgian journalist boy Tintin, his courageous little dog Snowy (Milou) and his drinking buddy I mean buddy who takes to drinking Captain Haddock are so familiar to us Europeans, anyone from Hollywood was in for a great challenge to do them and their adventures justice. Like other reviewers, I had my doubts. Luckily, Steven Spielberg turned out just the right director to take on the challenge. Though still in print, and not likely to go out any time soon, Herge's stories are over half a century away, not only in years, but thematically and culturally, so only someone who truly celebrates that adventurous era, as shown through Indiana Jones, was fit for the bill.
This adaptation integrates the separate story lines of The Crab With The Golden Claws with the double feature The Secret Of The Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, with the emphasis being on the treasure hunt from the latter two, but much of the action, including how Tintin met Haddock, from Golden Claws (slightly altered). There's plenty of action that could never be fully depicted on paper, and the mystery unravels in satisfactory manner. Unlike some comic book adaptations, The Adventures Of Tintin is very cinematic in storytelling.
The reason for choosing the motion-capture animation technique as the platform became evident. The action is too wild to be taken seriously in live action, and the story is too complex to suite traditional animation. Therefore the hybrid, if you will. But was it necessary to include the nose hairs of the characters? Well. I do compliment Spielberg for keeping Captain Haddock's drunken antics an integral part of the story. He may cut down a notch for the sequel, but then we'll be introduced to the nutty Professor to keep things interesting.
Instant Action Classic
Have we run out of superlatives yet? Everyone on IMDb - and real world - seems to love this film, and I'm happy to confirm they are absolutely correct. Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive is an instant classic, a film that hopefully influences future action thrillers as much as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction did. Now is Drive's time. The storyline of a loner mechanic / stuntman / getaway driver is not unique nor brings anything new to the genre, it just does everything better than its competition from recent years, especially when it comes to the cinematography. Finally a film that is a homage to the 70s and 80s that actually utilizes the shaky-cam free aesthetics. This is what it actually looks and feels to drive a car.
And the action scenes, not too many but enough to make this a genuine action film, look so good you wonder who in their right mind spends 100 million on shaky cam trash when you can get a much better, old school film for mere 15 million. There's nothing missing and nothing lost. The tension is built and it pays off. The story is no nonsense, and in a story like this it means no flashbacks and no forced back stories that amateur critics seem to crave for. I'd also like to mention the slow-mos that I've always enjoyed from Sam Peckinpah to Zack Snyder. Now we have a new name, Refn, who knows what it's about.
Ryan Gosling's character is not a typical action hero, but neither is he a metro sexual wimp like someone like Matt Damon's. To quote Bobby Heenan, no waste of motion in this young man. He brings a weapon to a fight, and fights to death. Though his behavior is more refined than Travis Bickle's, there's clearly a small screw loose, though. An anorexic looking mix between Bobby DeNiro and Steve McQueen, how's that sound for a compliment? The rest of the cast is good as well. It's a nice bunch of characters. They're multi dimensional, they're funny, and sometimes their fate is even a bit tragic. Seeing who survives is part of the fun. Do yourself a favor and see (and hear) this on big screen.