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The Transporter Refueled (2015)
Average but Promising
The first "Transporter" film was shown in the year 2002, followed by sequels in 2005 and 2008. The main character was Frank Martin, a mercenary "transporter" with mad driving skills whom people hire to deliver people or packages anywhere. This series made an action star out of then unknown actor Jason Statham, whose brawny heft and martial arts abilities fit the character like a T.
Now that a much older Statham is now doing films like "The Expendables", producer Luc Besson decided to resurrect the character of Frank Martin with a new unknown young actor. Will this reboot be a success like the original, or will this fail in comparison like many reboots of other old film series?
Frank Martin was hired by Anna and her gang of high-class prostitutes bent on revenge. They had come up with an elaborate plot to get back at Karasov, the man who made their lives a living hell for the past 15 years. After the first deal, the girls wanted Frank to help them with the next step of their scheme, but he declined. The girls abduct his father Frank Senior in order to coerce Frank Junior to do their bidding.
New actor Ed Skrein is the new Frank Martin. "Game of Thrones" fans will recall Skrein to be the original actor cast in the role of Daario, consort of the Khaleesi. He is of the same mold Jason Statham was cut from, tall, manly and well-built. However, Skrein, with his chiseled face and glamor posturing, felt too much like a fashion model to be convincing. Even if he gets disheveled by the action, he never really comes across as a genuine rough and tough action hero, like Statham did. He has got the suave and skills part down pat, but too bad he did not have the Statham charm to complete the package.
Whatever charisma Skrein lacked in the lead role was made up for by Ray Stevenson in the role of the dad, Frank Senior. This veteran character actor owned the screen whenever he was on because of his magnetic screen presence in this secondary role. He seems miscast as a retired water salesman, but in a good way. He exuded so much confidence such that the unlikely things his character was able to do were somehow made believable. I actually wanted to see more father-son scenes between Stevenson and Skrein, as they had good chemistry together.
French model Loan Chabanol played Anna. She was sexy and seductive as the role called for. Chabanol and the other three girls fulfill their roles as eye candy here. They were avenging angels one moment and damsels in distress in another. The acting may not have been remarkable, but that is not exactly why they were cast in these roles.
On its own, "The Transformer Refueled" had its moments of great action, like the brawl in the disco storeroom, or that frenetic airplane escape scene. It does have the Luc Besson touch, though the director here was Camille Delamarre, who has been promoted from being editor of "Transporter 3". Frank's Audi sedan looks great. The familiar story is not much to care about, and will probably be forgotten soon. Nevertheless I am not totally trashing this. I think I would likely watch the sequel should there be one. Without the Jason Statham shadow it finds itself under, it was actually passable as a crime action thriller. 5/10.
Gets Worse When Compared to Anime
I did not even plan to watch this film when I saw ads that it was going to be shown. However, I was surprised when a lot of young people were actually very excited to see it. Apparently it was a very famous manga turned anime series. They wanted to see how the story would be translated into a film with live actors. The film was locally rated R-16 and this actually got me curious as to what could be so adult about it. As the film started, I would not have to wait too long to find out why.
The film is about a dystopian world when what is left of humanity has been confined inside a huge walled city. The tall concrete walls were built to protect them from huge monsters they called Titans who ate human beings for fun. That has been the status quo for 100 years until one day when one particularly gigantic Titan suddenly showed up and kicked a hole through the ancient wall. This enabled the naked bloodthirsty humanoid giants to gain entrance and ravage the town.
The film follows the story of three teenage friends (the rebellious Eren, the mousy Mikasa and the smart Armin) as they first experienced first hand the horror of this new scourge, and two years later when they become soldiers to fight an impossible battle against the insatiable monsters. During one heated battle when he rescued a friend from certain death, Eren gets swallowed down by one Titan. However, it was also then that fortune began to favor the humans when a new, different and more powerful kind of Titan emerged whose enraged fighting was directed against the other Titans.
The film felt like a Japanese "Hunger Games" or "Maze Runner" with its young adult lead characters and dystopian setting. The special effects of the Titans were rather crude and unimpressive. There was perverse sense of excitement in seeing the Titans chomping down humans, but this eventually wore off after witnessing the first few bites.
The pace of the storytelling stalled somewhere in the middle such that the film became tiresome to watch. It was only until the action picked up again by the climactic battle in the end that the film became truly exciting. The way the main characters were portrayed was unlikeable, especially Eren and Mikasa. Something felt off about their characterizations. The story may be interesting, but the execution by director Shinji Higuchi was not entirely satisfactory.
My curiosity sparked, I decided to watch the original 2013 anime "Shingeki-no-Kyojin" online. The events in this first film were only in the first eight of the 25 episodes in the series. (The sequel is already set to be released by next month on Sept. 19 in Japan.) Even in the first two episodes alone, I already saw how much the filmmakers changed the way the anime told the story. I could understand why the filmmakers may changed the European setting (though the Western names for Japanese actors could be puzzling) or why they made the characters older. I also understand how it would be impossible to get all the backstory of the characters in more detail due to time constraints, but I felt they should not have totally ignored this very important aspect.
Eren in the film, as played by Haruma Miura, was immediately introduced as a cocky slacker who could not hold a job more than a few days. We do not know anything more about him at all. So the events that will happen to him in the course of the film would be totally head-scratching for the uninitiated. The painfully awkward Mikasa of the film, as played by Kiku Mizuhara, is really very different from the cool and confident Mikasa of the anime. This character was really very poorly portrayed in the film, even in the second act when she was already supposed to be an elite soldier.
Watching the excellent anime made me even more disappointed with the film version. The film was a dreary version, from the dim color palette to the cheesy special effects. The lacking character development in the film was even more blatant when placed beside the rich back stories in the anime. The voice acting in the animated version was even more compelling and moving than the rather lame live acting in the film version. That the film even took time to inject unnecessary scenes of a sexual nature (not in the anime) felt pathetic.
When I initially watched the film without having seen the anime yet, I already felt the film was not able to deliver the best from what could have been a very potent story. After watching the anime, I am even more disappointed with how the film missed to capture the interesting stories of the characters. It went for the obvious audience draw -- the visually gory thrill of seeing mighty Titans pulling apart or biting the head off puny humans -- without developing its main characters properly. When the novelty of those grim spectacles soon passed, the characters were left without enough heart for audiences to root for in the end. 5/10.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Slick and Stylish, But ...
2015 has been a great year for espionage films. From the beginning of the year, there was "Kingsmen: Secret Service". Just this past summer, there was "Spy" followed by "Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation." All of these were very successful, both commercially and critically. And now, another spy film is gunning to join that illustrious list.
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was originally a TV series from the mid-1960s developed by Sam Rolfe. It starred Robert Vaughn (as American agent Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin). U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a secret international counter-espionage organization, aiming to maintain worldwide political and legal order. This series lasted for four years from 1964 to 68, becoming a cultural icon of sorts at that time with its audacious theme of US-Russian cooperation at the height of the Cold War.
This reboot of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." for the modern generation retained the Cold War setting. American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin are forced to work together to prevent the nefarious plans of glamorous but ruthless arms dealer Victoria Vinciguerra. They connect with Gaby Teller, the daughter of a kidnapped German nuclear scientist, as a means of getting closer on Victoria's tail. But it would appear that Gaby also is not all she seemed to be, or is she?
Henry Cavill carries the film as Napoleon Solo. With his elegant chiseled looks, Cavill credibly portrayed the cool and capable spy Solo, as much as he was able to credibly portray Superman last year. He also succeeded in pulling off the smart-alecky personality of Solo, a man with a bristling sense of humor -- something we would not have expected from his deadly serious Superman performance. Henry Cavill was suave personified here. Considering George Clooney and Tom Cruise were the first choices for the role of Solo, I'd say Cavill did not do badly at all in this lead role.
Armie Hammer is quite a handsome actor himself, but he could not really lift his career off the ground after his breakthrough role as the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network." Forgettable films like "Mirror Mirror" and worse "The Lone Ranger" did not do his career any favors. Here in U.N.C.L.E., Hammer was able to hold his own against the charismatic Cavill in the charm and action fronts. However, since he is basically the straight man here, he often found himself behind Cavill's shadow.
I have been looking forward for the next big project of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander since I first saw her in "A Royal Affair" three years ago. Her Hollywood career is picking up with her turn as the enigmatic automaton Ava in the acclaimed "Ex-Machina" released just earlier this year. Now with her role as the mysterious Gaby Teller, she finally gets her biggest break. It is just too bad that she did not get as many slambang action scenes like that other Swedish babe, Rebecca Ferguson, did in "M:I Rogue Nation."
Elizabeth Debicki makes a good impression as the main villain Victoria, with her towering beehive, striking haute couture and naked ambition. Luca Calvani also registered well on screen as Victoria's husband, the debonair playboy Alexander. It was also great to see Hugh Grant again, playing British agent Waverley. I am thinking that if a franchise was ever made out of this film, we would see more of Grant since this character Waverly was the officer in charge of Solo and Kuryakin in the TV series.
Compared to "Kingsman", the technical hardware we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less spectacular. Compared to "Spy", the wit we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less riotous. Compared to "M:I Rogue Nation", the stunts we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less breathtaking. However judged on its own, this film version of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." as directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie is not at all bad. The 60s-inspired production design, hair and costumes were so fab. (Those huge yellow subtitles can be distracting and hard to read though.) Despite having tentative pacing in some scenes, it was still fun and entertaining to watch overall.
But do I dare say it, after Superhero fatigue, could it be that there may also be Spy fatigue setting in? 7/10.
The Good Lie (2014)
Affecting and Authentic
In the 1980s there was a major civil war in the Sudan causing several children to lose their families. Left on their own devices, these kids had to travel hundreds of miles in order to reach safe haven beyond the border. This film follows the story of one such set of displaced and orphaned children, dubbed by aid workers and media as "The Lost Boys of Sudan".
After their eldest brother Theo sacrificed himself to be captured by soldiers, Mamere and his sister Abital were able to reach the refugee camp in Kenya on their own, together with another set of brothers they met along the way, Jeremiah and Paul. Several years later, all four of them, now young adults, were luckily picked to be among those to be relocated to the United States.
In Kansas City, Missouri, the boys met employment counselor Carrie Davis, who helped them settle in their new home and find jobs. There, they discovered not only new comforts of life and new opportunities, but also new challenges they had to face. While Mamere worked hard to go to medical school, he constantly worried about his sister Abital who was separated from him at the airport and sent to live in Boston with a foster family. Deeper down, he also continued to be haunted by the sacrifice his brother Theo did for them to live.
Reese Witherspoon gets top billing, but she is not the main character of the film at all. Her Carrie goes out of her way to help the Sudanese boys get settled into their new lives. She helps them solve various problems by pulling some bureaucratic strings. But it is still the boys themselves, particularly Mamere, who make the big decisions in their lives. Despite her star status, Witherspoon never drew attention to herself in this role. She gracefully gives her African co-stars the spotlight they deserved.
Arnold Oceng plays the lead character Mamere with dignified restraint. It is his performance upon which the whole movie revolved around. He was able to gain our sympathy towards his plight and the various demons he had to face. The actors who played Abital (a radiant Kuoth Wiel), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) all suffered through the Sudanese Civil War in real life, thus accounting for the affecting authenticity in their performances. The young actors who played these characters as child refugees were similarly very effective in their portrayals.
Honestly I was not too excited to see this film thinking it would be another one of those "White Savior" films like "The Blind Side" or "Dangerous Minds", where a white man saves a poor person of color out of his miserable condition. At the end though, my fears were unfounded. This turned out to be quite engaging despite its very serious topic.
Aside from some awkward moment of humor in the middle as the brothers were adjusting to American life which felt forced, the rest of the film with its theme of brotherly devotion was heartwarming and inspirational. While its overwhelming positivity is wonderful, it may also be seen by some as its main drawback. 7/10.
Crazy Good Cruise Crushes It!
After four years, Tom Cruise and his crew comes up with yet another episode in the "Mission:Impossible" film saga. I thought it would be tough to come up with something to top "M:I Ghost Protocol" (My Review). That 2011 film directed by Brad Bird was simply too awesome, and so far my favorite of the whole series. This new one may have just matched that awesomeness.
Ethan Hunt and his IMF team come face to face with the Syndicate, a rogue terrorist operation led by the chillingly ruthless Solomon Lane. Equal to IMF in talent and resources, the Syndicate sends the mysterious female agent Ilsa Faust to obtain highly secure computer files from a highly secure location. The IMF team though gets caught right in the thick of this complex web that again brings them around the world from the US to Cuba, Austria, Morocco and England. Meanwhile, they also grapple with CIA head Alan Hunley who would like nothing but to see IMF dissolved.
Tom Cruise is visibly older now, but he can still pull this Ethan Hunt character off so well. He has got his strong action star charisma going on with the bravado he displayed in those death-defying stunts he did reportedly without a double for this film. His crazy plane-hanging stunt that we see in the trailer happens before the opening credits, so do not come in late. His car and motorcycle driving skills were so fantastic in those breathtaking chase scenes. He was said to have had training to hold his breath for up to six minutes to be able to do that long thrilling underwater sequence.
As the lead female in the cast, Rebecca Ferguson nailed the role of Ilsa Faust. (Her name was obviously a reference to Ingrid Bergman's character Ilsa Lund in "Casablanca", a major setting in this film.) She was the one character who had that subtle air of duplicity that makes you doubt whether you'd trust her or not. Her character was the key game changer in the story of this film, and Ms. Ferguson does not disappoint in this pivotal role. She had us on the edge of our seats in those spectacular action scenes of hers, especially that that incredibly vicious knife fight at the end.
The ensemble work of the cast behind Cruise and Ferguson was impeccable. Simon Pegg was perfectly droll as tech whiz Benji Dunn. This guy's comic timing was so daft, I loved it. Sean Harris was positively creepy as the villain Lane, so sinister without the excessive hysterics. Jeremy Renner (as Brandt), Ving Rhames (as Stickell), Alec Baldwin (as Hunley) and Simon McBurney (as British agent Attlee) were all on point in their portrayals of spies of various abilities and affiliations.
All those complex action sequences were executed faultlessly. The brilliant cinematography, fast-paced editing and the driving musical score (which had elements of the iconic M:I theme mixed with strains from "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot") all contributed to the success of these scenes. Among the memorable sequences this film will be remembered for are the opera house assassination attempt scene, the underwater data card-switching scene, the car chase scene through the narrow streets with Cruise driving a 2016 BMW, and the very exciting multiple motorcycle chase scene on a zigzagging road.
Perhaps having a new director for every film in this series has kept this franchise from becoming stale. After illustrious names like Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird at the helm previously, Christopher McQuarrie (who first gained fame as the Oscar-winning writer of "The Usual Suspects") writes and confidently directs "M:I Rogue Nation" as excellent cinematic entertainment with just the perfect mix of non-stop action, political intrigue, technological savvy and witty humor. 9/10.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Ian McKellen Gives an Acting Master Class
It is 1947. Renowned detective Sherlock Holmes was 93 years old, and had long already retired from solving cases. He was living in a remote English village where he tends some colonies of bees. Advanced in age and weak in memory, Holmes had a housekeeper Mrs. Munro who had a smart and spirited son named Roger to keep him company. Holmes' peace of mind was constantly bothered by incomplete recollections of a case involving Mr. and Mrs. Kelmot. This was about an overbearing husband who wanted Holmes to shadow his lonely and depressed wife. This was Holmes' last case before he retired, and his bothered conscience pushes him to write his own version of the story.
Sir Ian McKellen gives us a master class in film acting as Mr. Holmes. The physical transformation was so impressive. His aging makeup was very realistic as well as his subtle portrayal of impending dementia. His sharpness of mind was never in question, though there were already difficulties in motor capacities. Everything was portrayed with the dignity this iconic character deserved, despite lines which tend to break the myths about him (like about his deerstalker cap and his pipe). McKellen exuded the confidence and astuteness we expect from this ace sleuth, both .
Laura Linney was practically unrecognizable as the middle-aged widow Mrs. Munro, a proud working woman, not entirely amused by Holmes' eccentric habits. Her character though was not as well-written as that of her son Roger, played by young Milo Parker. Roger was Holmes' constant aide and apprentice, a grandson he never had. Parker, whom I recently saw in a sci-fi thriller "Robot Overlords," gave an impressively restrained performance, holding his own in intense scenes with his more senior and Oscar-nominated co-stars, McKellen and Linney.
This is a very British film in language and in gentility. As directed by Bill Condon, the film was told with a slow and sedate pace, which was just appropriate for its geriatric main character. While the case of the Kelmots was interesting, it was deeply psychological, not action-packed at all. The intervening scenes about Holmes' trip to Japan were beautifully shot (especially the one set in Hiroshima), but these may not be entirely necessary for story progression in the final analysis. These aspects may not sit well for those who prefer the faster pace of the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes or TV's Benedict Cumberbatch Holmes.
However, despite the seeming lack of a more exciting climax, the script by Mitch Cullin (adapted from his own novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind") sizzled with wit and pathos. The writing was simply so elegant, and these words were complemented by beautifully composed scenes, with striking cinematography, costumes and production design. While Holmes was demystified here, they did not miss out on showing Holmes' deductive process step by step, an interesting staple in all Sherlock Holmes films. Overall though, it is really Ian McKellen's magnificent and flawless performance that makes this film a must-see. 8/10.
Gyllenhaal the Great
Billy Hope is the light heavyweight champion of the world with a 43-0 record. One day, as a result of his uncontrollable violent temper, tragedy after tragedy hits him and his family until he is left with nothing -- not his fortune, not his career, not his family. Despondent and desperate to get his life back, Billy swallows his pride and seeks the assistance of trainer Tick Wills to train him back to fighting form.
"Southpaw" is an acting showcase for its lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Last year in the film "Nightcrawler", Gyllenhaal gave us all the creeps with his very realistic portrayal of sociopathic pseudo-video journalist Louis Bloom. He was overlooked at the Oscars of the Best Actor nomination he clearly deserved. With this meaty role, Gyllenhaal set out to prove that that his transformative performance last year was not a fluke at all.
His performance here as Billy Hope is another triumph of his very serious and committed method acting style. Here, Gyllenhaal again undergoes a total physical transformation into a grizzled prizefighter with a buff hardened physique, scarred face and swollen eye. We feel every ache of his weary body as he shuffles in his gait. His speech is already slurred with probable nerve damage. We see and sense the ravages of his vicious sport on him.
He captured the character of an impulsive man who was not too savvy in life, and easily driven to violently angry tendencies. As Billy's world collapses around him, Gyllenhaal brings us all down to his hell with him. We totally see the unraveling of a man until a mere shadow of him remained. Then we would witness how he humbles himself as he tries to bring the shattered pieces of his life back together again. This was in addition to all the pounding he had in the boxing ring itself. This was truly an acting tour de force by Gyllenhaal which simply cannot be ignored.
The actors in supporting roles all share in Gyllenhaal's shine. Despite her name being so prominent in the poster, Rachel McAdams appeared on screen only for a very short time. In that limited time, we clearly see the effect of her strong character Maureen on her husband Billy. Bespectacled little Oona Laurence plays their spirited daughter Leila. Gyllenhaal and Laurence share some pretty intensely emotional scenes together.
Forest Whitaker plays Tick Wills, the tough disciplinarian of a trainer whom Billy chose to bring him back on track. I thought it was clever how they even include Whitaker's left eye into the story. Curtis "50 Cent" Smith plays Billy's fair-weather manager Jordan Mains. He really has this sleazy vibe about him with his flashy smile and shiny suits.
Director Antoine Fuqua effectively wrung all the right emotions out of this story. The storytelling is well-paced and the camera work is compelling. The fight scenes were well-choreographed and executed on screen -- very brutal, bloody, all with high tension. The first person point of view during the fights puts you right in the midst of all the action.
The musical score contributes so much to the drama of this film. This is also the last film James Horner scored before his untimely demise in a plane crash recently. We also hear Eminem rap in the soundtrack. It is interesting to note that Eminem was actually the original choice to play Billy Hope.
Boxing is a common sport tackled in movies because of its inherent drama. "Rocky", "Raging Bull", "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Fighter" easily come to mind as among the best of them ever made. This is why we may feel we have seen this story In "Southpaw" told in another way before. However, the grippingly honest acting of Jake Gyllenhaal definitely set this film apart from others. He made "Southpaw" a most extraordinary boxing film to watch. 8/10.
Size Does Not Matter
I was not really aware of a Marvel character named Ant-Man until recently when articles and trailers about this film began coming out. I was not really that excited until I learned that he was actually one of the original Avengers, then that really got my interest piqued to go watch this one and learn about this previously unfamiliar superhero.
Hank Pym was a noted scientist who discovered how to reduce the distance between atoms, enabling objects to be shrunk. Pym suppressed his discovery because of its dangers, which led to the death of his wife. Obsessed, his protégé Darren Cross eventually develops his own shrinking technology but with less than noble purposes in mind.
In order to prevent potential disaster, Pym decided to recruit Scott Lang, an electronics engineer turned petty burglar, to steal Cross' Yellowjacket project. To be able to achieve this mission, Pym, along with his daughter Hope van Dyne, trained Lang to become a micro- superhero who can communicate and command ants to do his bidding -- the Ant-Man.
I did not know anything about the Ant-Man, his origin and abilities going in, but this film made me a new fan of this cool superhero. Director Peyton Reed only had mostly comedies like "Bring It On" (2000), "Down with Love" (2003) and "The Break-Up" (2006) in his resume. But with his first foray into the superhero genre, he totally made "Ant-Man" an exciting and riveting film that holds your attention from beginning to end with its excellent action and crackling humor. Reed took over from original director/scriptwriter Edward Wright, who dropped out of the project citing creative differences with Disney.
For me, the casting of 46 year old Paul Rudd in the lead role came totally from left field. Since his breakthrough role as Josh in "Clueless" (1995), Rudd was only relegated playing mainly supporting roles in small unmemorable comedies. However, like his "Parks and Recreation" co-star Chris Pratt's success as Peter Quill/Star Lord before him, Rudd actually fit right into character as Scott Lang. Rudd had that good-boy charm which was able to make us sympathetic to this small-time crook desperately wanting to do good for the sake of his daughter Cassie (played by Abby Ryder Fortson).
Evangeline Lilly proved that the action skills she showed as the elf Tauriel in the last two Hobbit films were no fluke. Her Hope van Dyne is fierce with attitude, with toned arms and shoulders to boot. I do take exception to her annoying hairstyle that was reminiscent of that worn by Dallas Bryce Howard on "Jurassic World". What's up with that "Dora"-do with the bangs and Hollywood nowadays?
The role of Hank Pym could have been dry and didactic in the hands of another actor, but Michael Douglas really made this character vital and interesting. His sense of humor was on point. His was the character that was connected with everyone else being the original Ant-Man, and he had excellent working chemistry with everyone: Scott, Hope and villain Darren Cross (played by Corey Stoll).
Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian and rapper T.I. played a comical trio of petty crooks with whom Scott hung around. They provide additional humor to the proceedings, especially when things get serious towards the climax. Bobby Cannavale played a clueless cop Paxton who is now the new husband of Scott's ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), and step father to Cassie. His character made Scott's life considerably more complicated.
The technical aspects of this film were top rate, particularly the amazing visual effects. I really liked the scenes of Ant-Man interacting with the different types of ants. The fight scene of Ant-Man vs. a special guest Avenger was also very well-executed. Those scenes in little Cassie's room where there was a carpeted play area with a toy Thomas train running on its tracks was way better than how it looked in the trailer. The expert film editing was seamless even as scenes (and the sizes of the characters) were shifting so quickly.
Aside from mentions of Stark, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, there were also two scenes in the end credits (one mid-credit, and another one at the very end) which reveal how Ant-Man will fit into the current Marvel Cinematic Universe situation. Unlike the rather disappointing, heavy- handed "Avengers: Age of Ultron" right before it, "Ant-Man" was entertaining beyond my expectations. Marvel does it again! 9/10.
Cute Alone Is Not Enough
Since the first "Despicable Me" film (2010) and more in its 2013 sequel, those cute little yellow sidekicks constantly stole the thunder from under the lead character Gru. This was reminiscent of how the cute side characters like Puss N' Boots or the Penguins stole scenes in "Shrek" and "Madagascar" respectively, and got their own solo movies. It certainly was not a surprise that these Minions got their own solo project also.
This film was a prequel that spanned from the beginning of time on earth. Minions existed even before the first land creatures crawled out of the water. Since then, they would follow the most evil creature around like the T-Rex, probably for commensal reasons. Eventually they moved on to serving evil men, Dracula and Napoleon among them.
Because of their klutzy nature, they could not stay too long under one master. They all just retreated into their own snow-covered community, becoming very bored. So one day, a tall long-faced Minion named Kevin thought of venturing out to look for a master for them. For his quest, he had with him Stuart, a guitar-playing, single-eyed Minion and Bob, an adorably short Minion with mismatched-colored eyes and a teddy bear.
The trio trek all over the world, finding their way to Orlando, Florida in the year 1968 for Villain Con. There they meet the super-villainess Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock), who just so happened to be looking for new henchmen. With hi-tech hippie age weaponry provided by her husband Herb (voiced by Jon Hamm), Scarlet sends the three Minions to steal Queen Elizabeth's crown for her. Will the Minions be able to pull off their big heist?
Despite some dips in the momentum, most of the film was action-packed and crazy fun. I especially liked the cultural references given the time period in the late 1968, as I am sure most adults will be. The Sydney Opera House under construction, the shows being shown on the black-and- white TV, the Abbey Road reference (although the crossing happened in 1969) -- I enjoyed these little tidbits of nostalgia the film provides. I also liked the musical soundtrack and how it complements the period when this film was set.
The story went in all directions in a rather scatterbrain way. It is also ironic and actually disturbing how a kiddie movie seemingly targeted for very young audiences had very dark and negative humor, like a bank robbery with kid accomplices or torturing Minions in a dungeon. That they made it look "cute" is not enough to erase the bad taste in the mouth. There were also some risqué humor in the mix. Really, having a Minion wear a thong?!
I did not really like the character of Scarlet Overkill too much with her over-hysterical personality. (Sandra Bullock's voice work was only at her best during her "Bedtime Story" scene.) Her husband Herb was a lot cooler, making him the more interesting villain.
All this prequel was riding on was the popularity of the cute yellow Minions. For me, they were hilarious as the sidekick of Gru in the "Despicable Me" films. Unfortunately, for the Minions to carry one whole film with cuteness alone does not cut it. Hearing their gibberish language for an entire hour and a half can be tiresome. In fact, I felt I was relieved to finally see the boy Gru at the end. (That is not really a spoiler, isn't it? You knew he would be in there somehow.) Gru and the Minions are a great comedy team TOGETHER, not apart.
The little kids around me were quiet most of the film, only laughing briefly during the slapstick scenes. When I discussed this film with my own kids after we watched it, they also expressed that they found the film underwhelming and disappointing as a whole. So I conclude that it was not only because of my age that I found it so. 6/10.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Inconsistent, Illogical, Yet Still Impelling
"The Terminator" (1984) is one of the best futuristic action films of the 1980s. Its sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) was even better with its Oscar-awards winning technical aspects. That is why even after two more not-so-good sequels, the franchise name is still strong enough to eke out a reboot thirty years after the first film.
The first part of the film echoes the first film very closely. The artificial intelligence Skynet is controlling the world, developing killer cyborgs called Terminators to eradicate humanity. John Connor leads the human resistance against Skynet, and they were actually winning. Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to the year 1984 to kill John's mother, Sarah Connor, before John even existed. John sends his most trusted soldier Kyle Reese back to protect his mother.
However, when Kyle meets Sarah, she was not the helpless waitress he was expecting. It turns out that the fabric of time had been altered so that since the age of 9, Sarah had been raised and trained in warfare by her own reprogrammed guardian Terminator, whom she lovingly called Pops. After defeating a T-1000 sent from the future to kill him. Kyle, together with Sarah and Pops, teleport to the year 2017, a year he heard in random clips of memory he had of his childhood. Their aim was to locate John Connor and destroy Skynet even before it gets launched.
The first part of this film was fun to watch for those of us who had seen the first film. We see the young Arnold T-800 teleport to earth, the punks, the department store, and the images of the first movie come flashing right back. We hear Sarah say, "Come with me if you want to live" again, and of course, Schwarzenegger will say, "I'll be back!"
Problems of logic start to crop up when we begin to hear about time travel issues which the writers explain with pseudo-physics jargon. I suggest to just sit back and stop analyzing these probable plot holes and errors which are really bound to crop up whenever time travel is used as a device in films.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was so good to see as Pops. His presence in this film prevents it from being forgettable. He is so iconic an actor that despite some cheesy lines he was made to deliver here, he remains to be cool and hip, old but not obsolete (in his own words). Only Schwarzenegger can pull off this role of the Terminator. No one could ever replace him in a future reboot and succeed.
If you have seen the first two films, then you can see some obvious problems with the casting of the rebooted Sarah and Kyle.
As a Game of Thrones fan, I was excited to see the Khaleesi Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor. However, while her acting was OK, her screen presence as action heroine is lacking. This is especially since they had already altered her history that she had already been training for battle since she was nine years old. Then by the time Kyle sees her, she should already have looked as buff as Linda Hamilton circa T2, shouldn't she? Ms. Clarke's arms do not have the muscular definition to convince us that she can even carry, much less fire, such high-power weaponry.
Jai Courtney, what can I say? I felt like he was miscast as John McClane's son Jack in "A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013). Now in this film, Courtney felt wrong as Kyle Reese. The Kyle we knew from the first film portrayed by the intense Michael Biehn was nothing like how Courtney played Kyle here. There was no connection, as if they were different people altogether. However, those viewers watching this film as their first Terminator film will probably find Courtney OK as well. Although, there is no real romantic spark that credibly developed between Courtney and Clarke at all.
Oddly, even if the CG technology for films should be much more advanced now, the breakthrough special visual effects of "Terminator 2" remain to be more impressive and memorable. The shape-shifting liquid metal T-1000 we see here is basically the same as what we saw back in 1991. Only this time T-1000 was portrayed by Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, instead of Robert Patrick.
So, overlooking these inconsistencies with the original films and the time travel illogicalities aside, "Terminator Genisys" is actually a fun and exciting futuristic sci-fi action film. The time-jumping storyline was actually not hard to follow if you just simply accept the premises they throw at you. Schwarzenegger is there to hold the whole thing together so the whole film still comes out in one entertaining piece for most audiences. An extra scene in the middle of the end credits actually promise another sequel. 7/10.