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Return to Sender (2015)
Puzzling "Therapy" for Rape Victims
Miranda (Rosamund Pike) is a nurse who's got it all it seems -- her own nice house, a loving supportive Dad (Nick Nolte), a stable career about to go the next level. One day, a lecherous stranger William (Shiloh Fernandez) gains access into her house and rapes her. As her neat little world comes crumbling down around her, Miranda embarks on a novel form of "therapy", in the hope of recovering from the brutal trauma she suffered.
A rapist is not only a sexual assaulter, but also the ultimate bully and power-tripper. A rape victim is violated not only sexually and physically, but also psychologically, mentally and even spiritually. What may be a few minutes of torture will haunt a victim for a lifetime.
Powerfully rich in dramatic pain and torment, rape and its aftermath had been the topic of thousands of films and TV shows. Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950) and Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" (1960) are both Oscar-winning classics of World Cinema. "Johnny Belinda" (1948) and"The Accused" (1988) have won Best Actress Oscars for Jane Wyman and Jodie Foster respectively. But no, before you expect too much, this film definitely does not have Oscars in its future.
Lead star Rosamund Pike shot "Return to Sender" BEFORE her Oscar- nominated turn in "Gone Girl". There is a lot of her "Gone Girl" performance here as well -- the subtle mysterious boiling under her cool-as-ice exterior. The strange script makes her do a lot of illogically unexpected, supposedly therapeutic activities, and Pike does them with her game face straight on. Seeing her make these puzzling decisions, we are as frustrated as her father Mitchell was in the film.
Shiloh Fernandez was clearly up to no good the moment we see him on screen. He has got a raw roguish look about him that makes him work as this vile character. Nick Nolte is now all grandfatherly and Santa Claus-like with his white beard and body heft, playing MIranda's father Mitchell. This is so unlike how I last remember him during his prime in the 1990s in film like "Cape Fear" or "The Prince of Tides."
Watching "Return to Sender" felt like watching three different short films which were just tenuously connected to each other. The final act was so predictable yet still so maddening because it never really showed us clearly what happened. We will be expected to interpret the scene in our own way. I am sure those who have invested time to follow the movie to this point may not exactly relish this disappointing ending. 4/10.
Jurassic World (2015)
Badass Chris Pratt and Dinos!
In 1993, we were all awed by the first "Jurassic Park" film by Steven Spielberg. We remember that moment when our jaws dropped when we saw that first Brachiosaurus appear on screen. We definitely felt the fearsome terror of the T-Rex and the Velociraptors as they went on their rampages. Everything looked and felt so real, fully deserving of all the technical awards it won.
Now, 22 years later, "Jurassic World" brings us back to Isla Nublar where it all began. John Hammond's vision is now a very popular theme park, with interactive rides and activities with the dinosaurs. Claire Dearing is the park's uptight all-business operations manager. She is having a particularly hectic day when her nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive for a visit. Serious problems arise concerning the park's latest, largest and most vicious hybrid creation, the Indominus Rex. Claire calls on Owen Grady, the park's onsite Velociraptor trainer, to save the day.
Despite the existence of "sequels" "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" (1997) and "Jurassic Park III" (2001), "Jurassic World" is THE true sequel to the first "Jurassic Park." It is set in the same Costa Rican island where the first film was set. We see numerous references about the first film here as characters stumble into the ruins of the original resort in this film. We still see Dr. Henry Wu (B.D.Wong), the park's chief geneticist, the only human character from the first film in this one. And of course, there is the T-Rex.
Now under the ownership of Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the dinosaurs of the park have become mere commercial assets of a big business. The initial scenes show us the shallowness of what the park has become: kids riding baby Triceratops in a petting farm, boating and safariing among the plant-eaters, watching the gigantic Mosasaurus performs like a dolphin in a pool.
The stuffy Claire, in her stiff hairdo, designer outfit and stilettos, represents this cold corporate philosophy. It is this philosophy of wanting to be constantly ahead that led to the ill-advised splicing of the DNA of various dinosaurs and other species creating the ultimate high-IQ killing monster, which would later be the park's own undoing. Practically all the adult human characters in this film are unlikable: greedy, petty, heartless.
Lead star Chris Pratt plays probably the only likable character in this film. His Owen is the only one we all rooted for as he badass-ly led his posse of Velociraptors on a motorbike. He basically plays his charming "Guardians of the Galaxy" character, but a smarter, less goofy, no- nonsense version.
That her high heels get more attention than her acting does not speak too well of Bryce Dallas Howard's annoying performance as Claire. I guess her character was really supposed to be annoying so she is probably doing it right, yet she was blandly uncharismatic as a leading lady.
The original timeless theme music by John Williams effectively evokes a sense of nostalgia as it gets played. The story telling by Steven Spielberg in the 1993 original though, remained superior over this one by newcomer Colin Trevorrow, riddled with some illogical close calls and questionable dinosaur psychology. The brotherly bonding between Zach and Grey was used as an emotional core, but it did get a bit too unrealistically sweet in the end (predictably so). Owen and Claire's love affair did not really seem to be necessary, yet they also put that in for some romance angle. The ethical and political issues about genetic bioengineering are touched on once again, just as the first did, with a bit less sting this time.
Overall, the main highlight are still the dinosaurs. The awe we felt during the first film cannot be replicated, but the thrill is still there. Every time a giant meat-eater approaches a human character, the fearful tension created is heart-pounding, as it was before. The visual effects are first rate as ever, made even more realistic by updated technology, as are the sound effects that accompany the action. We all felt we were those kids riding that cool glass gyrosphere gazing up in wonder as the vestiges of a lost world roamed around us. 7/10.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
The Evolution of Elise
The first two "Insidious" films were about how the embattled Lambert family was helped by one Elise Rainier to fight the ghosts that had latched on to them. This frail-looking, soft-spoken elderly lady is a psychic who uses her gift to help people communicate with the dead by being able to enter the spirit dimension called "The Further". Here in "Insidious: Chapter 3", we get to know Elise more as she becomes the central character and we learn how she had evolved into the demon fighter we know.
In this present episode, we go two years before the events of the first Insidious film. Elise Rainier had already retired from contacting spirits because a malevolent female ghost had been threatening to kill her whenever Elise made spirit contacts. Young Quinn Brenner sought her services to talk to her recently departed mother Lilith. After initial resistance, Elise relented and tried to help Quinn make contact.
However, in that session, an evil spirit dubbed The Man Who Can't Breathe, a wheezy old man with an oxygen mask, seemed to have latched on to poor Quinn causing the teen to experience serious physical injuries and various other eerie manifestations. As the ghostly activity in their apartment escalate, Quinn's father Sean sought Elise's assistance again to help Quinn out of her ghostly predicament. Can Elise conquer her own ghosts in time to help Quinn conquer hers?
After having known Elise Rainier from the previous two Insidious films, I have grown fond of this brave woman. With her kind face and gentle voice, veteran actress Lin Shaye imbues Elise with a serene grandmotherly demeanor which audiences can easily root for when her character experiences adversities. Her climactic spirit battle scene here in Chapter 3 drew positive audience response when Elise uncharacteristically displayed her own brand of badass bravado.
I enjoyed the part where they showed the origin of the Spectral Sightings team of mohawked techie Tucker and nerdy writer Specs, played by Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell. Like in the two previous films, these two guys effectively provide the humorous relief in the proceedings. As the victim of the ghostly attacks, Stefanie Scott was very natural and likable in her portrayal of Quinn. She was adequately supported by Dermot Mulroney as her harassed single father Sean.
Writer Leigh Whannell also tries on the directorial gloves for the first time for this film. Certainly he drew a lot from the original director James Wan's style to keep the distinct "Insidious" atmosphere intact. Plenty of the horror here were jump scares -- those long silent pauses that were shattered by loud blasts of music and a sudden spooky image on screen will jolt you. Despite being a prequel, Whannell also effectively injected elements which tied in with the first two films like the Bride in Black and the Red-Faced Ghost, whose unexpected appearances surely excited "Insidious" fans.
Overall, I would suspect that fans of the first "Insidious" films will appreciate this film more. I think this sentimental attachment we feel towards Elise and the other continuing characters contributed much to my appreciation for this third chapter. Part 4 is such a welcome prospect. 7/10.
San Andreas (2015)
This Roller-Coaster Was Relentless!
Because watching at the 4DX Theater at the Bonifacio High Street is twice the price of the usual movie, we need to decide well which films will be best seen in such an all-involving manner beyond sight and sound. The first time I decided to watch there was "Into the Storm," a film that recounted the violent effects of a massive tornado in the American Midwest. Today, for my second time to watch there, it is yet another disaster movie, this time about a massive earthquake. I guess in my book, a disaster movie would be one genre of film that would work well in 4DX, and certainly this time I am not wrong.
At the risk of betraying my age, I recall in my childhood that there was a famous film entitled "Earthquake" (1974) which was a big deal back then because it was shown in theaters with a special soundtrack effect called "Sensurround." My vague recollections of that movie experience was very loud and heavy bass sound effects made audiences feel like they were shaking along with the action on the screen. Of course, with one disaster film being released after another over the years, audiences would expect the new one to supersede the previous one in terms of special visual effects of mass destructiveness. "San Andreas" definitely does not disappoint in that aspect.
Professor Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his team at CalTech had perfected a method of predicting earthquakes. Just when they were testing their system at the Hoover Dam, a very strong earthquake strikes. However, their equipment shows that that that Nevada earthquake was just the precursor of a bigger, more destructive as their indicators light up the whole San Andreas fault line from Los Angeles all the way to San Francisco!
Meanwhile, we meet Fire and Rescue chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) had to rescue his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) trapped somewhere in LA, and then rush off by all (and I mean all -- land, sea and air) means of transportation possible to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) trapped somewhere in San Francisco with her two new British friends who helped her, the charming architect Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his perky younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). Will Ray reach Blake in time to rescue her, or will he be reliving a past tragedy from which he had never really moved on?
We all know that story is not really the big selling point of a film like this. We can all somehow predict how the family drama would go in the end, don't we? We know that Ray Gaines, being the "Rock" that he is, would be a super-dad who just happened to know how to do EVERYTHING. It was so good that Dwayne Johnson nailed both action and dramatic scenes with aplomb and sincerity. He provides both muscle and heart to this film. We know we will be seeing lucky characters, narrow escapes, coincidental encounters, last-minute saves, and yes, these incredible scenes are there aplenty. Oh, cheesy romantic scenes? It had those too. No, we do not really watch films like this for the story.
People who watch this film are there to watch the best special effects used to recreate the most realistic disasters. "San Andreas" spared nothing in its span and scale of disaster. You have seen the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed in other films, but I bet you've never seen it destroyed this way before. Watching this in 3D+4DX is worth the extra ticket price because this really brings us more into the midst of the massive earthquake. Our seats are shaking with the quake, as well as the motors of the cars, planes, copters or boats we see on screen, with the wind blowing around us. It is literally breathtaking as we are taken on a relentless roller- coaster ride, with adrenaline on a constant high.
Odd as it may seem, while this film fully captures the terrifying power and fearsome wrath of a massive widespread earthquake, with our hero Ray and his family to root for, this film is also becomes quite entertaining to watch as well. Director Brad Peyton was able to strike that perfect balance to keep us at the edge of our seats with the sense of imminent (and potentially real) danger, and still have an exhilarating fun time. You may also pick up some quake survival tips along the way. 7/10. With the 3D+4DX, 8/10.
The Age of Adaline (2015)
Love of an Eternal Lifetime
Adaline Bowman was an ordinary woman born on New Year's Eve 1908. When she was 29 years old, her DNA was altered by a combination of hypothermia and electrical shock, freezing her at that age for the rest of her life (a scientific phenomenon yet to be explained in the year 2035). Fearing discovery by authorities, Adaline was forced to live on the run, changing identities and residences every ten years. She shunned all forms of human relationships as much she could avoid, with only her daughter Flemming knowing her secret.
However, on New Year's Eve 2014, under her current name of Jennifer Larson, Adaline meets the charismatic young man named Ellis Jones. As Adaline falls for his charms, her deep-seated fears once again surface. Will she abandon Ellis again as she did several other men in her past and deny herself happiness? Or will she finally abandon her apprehensions and settle down with a man she loves?
This is a film about a woman with eternal youth. Thankfully, this is NOT about a vampire again. The approach of this very charming film is dramatic romance, with fantasy as its fanciful embellishment. The production design, costume and hair/makeup people have their work cut out for them as they had to painstakingly recreate each and every decade in Adaline's life. Their meticulous work deserve awards consideration as these were of excellent quality, enhancing this film's timeless theme.
Blake Lively portrayed Adaline Bowman as a strong, refined, dignified lady, not prone to hysterics. She has to convey all her inner turmoil with her eyes and her beautiful face. I believe she pulled it off very well, and she brings us along with her charmed life with its difficult decisions. This film rides on her shoulders and she carries it with grace and confidence. It also helps that she has a timeless beauty that fit in any of the time periods her character was in. She must have been a dream-come-true for those costume and makeup guys as she can carry any look gorgeously.
Playing the wealthy and cultured philanthropist Ellis Jones is Dutch actor Michiel Huisman. I know this actor as the new Daario Naharis, the Khaleesi's consort on Season 4 of "Game of Thrones." He projects a goofy charm about him. His chemistry with Blake Lively was not immediately electric, but it steadily developed as the film went along. When he gratuitously appeared on screen only clad in a towel with his chest and abs exposed, you knew that this film was primarily targeted for the ladies.
Harrison Ford plays Ellis' father William, an astronomer who is celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife Kathy (Kathy Baker). Ellis brought Adaline (as Jennifer) home with him to celebrate his parents' life milestone. But when William sees Adaline, ... I will not say more. Suffice it to say that Harrison Ford gives the best and most memorable performance of his recent career in this film since his star dimmed in the past two decades. I hope his work here will not be forgotten come awards season.
Ellen Burstyn is delightful as Adaline's daughter Flemming in her senior years. When daughter began to look older than mother, they were forced to live apart. Her best scene was that when Adaline introduces her to Ellis for the first time. Her face spoke volumes of emotion pent up through the years and it was so beautiful to witness.
As told by director Lee Toland Krieger, Adaline's story was shown as a series of flashbacks intercutting with present-day scenes when memories were triggered by current situations. It employs a voice-over narration which sounded very much like what you would hear on an old documentary film reel. The effect was a bit confusing at first, but you would get used to this voice as it interjects itself to explain odd circumstances.
I liked how it mixed in historical facts and places in San Francisco to drive the story along. The pseudo-scientific jargon explanations were inventive, fanciful as they were. There are some funny lines subtly delivered here and there to lighten up the mood. Best of these was when Flemming was commenting how very few photographs Adaline had, and Adaline quipped, "You've seen one, you've seen them all."
I am not really a fan of romance films. However, this one caught my attention because of its time-bending theme and historical touches in its storytelling. Ladies will like this love story and its heroine quite instinctively. Their dates will also have interesting things to see, the lovely face and striking silhouette of Blake Lively not being the least of them. 8/10.
Overwrought Optimism, Disappointing Dream
In 1964, Frank Walker was a child genius who bravely showed up at the World's Fair, bringing a crude jetpack he had invented by himself. In 2015, Casey Newton uses her own mechanical inventions to try and delay the dismantling of NASA platforms at Cape Canaveral. A mysterious little girl named Athena chooses both of them to receive a pin inscribed with a letter T, a touch of which brings them to a magical futuristic wonderland. With Athena's intercession, Walker and Newton cross paths in the present day in an effort to emancipate this "Tomorrowland" from the negative forces which control it.
From the trailer alone, we know "Tomorrowland" would be an extravagant visual treat. And that it really was. From meticulously recreating the 1964 World's Fair with its retro fashion and quaint technology to imaginatively envisioning a metropolis of the future with its outlandish architecture and snazzy hovercrafts, this film is a masterpiece of production design. An old wooden farm house becomes a high-tech ironclad fortress. A store in Houston becomes a treasure trove of pop culture memorabilia, a true blast from the past. And best of them all, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris becomes a sparkly and spectacular rocket launch station!
Visuals alone though do not a great movie make. The way director Brad Bird tells it, the story goes through 130 minutes of convoluted loops and elaborate turns. The first act was slow and long-winded, with so many fancy stunts that led nowhere. The second act when Franky and Casey get together was the best and most exciting part of the film. I forgot my dissatisfaction of the first act, and felt the rising tension so effectively built. Disappointingly, whatever momentum was created by the second act got eroded away by an overlong and even tediously anti- climactic third act. I could not wait for it to end, but the end was not coming soon enough.
Since his two main co-stars are relative newcomers, the talent and experience of George Clooney were essential to bind this whole rather messy bundle together, and he does so effectively. Clooney plays his disillusioned genius character as a gruff curmudgeon, and he was charming and funny.
Britt Robertson has been acting for 15 of her 25 years and this lead role is her biggest break. I do not know if it is her acting or the way her character was written, but she did not succeed to have me rooting for her Casey. She came across as too sassy and smart-alecky for comfort. Aside from optimism, what exactly is Casey's dream? We were not clearly told. Her closeness with her father is only implied but not elaborated. It seemed too easy for her to just run off to another state without seeking her father's permission. This was bothersome from a parent's point of view.
Child actress Raffey Cassidy fares much better in her role as Athena. We had seen her delightful pixie face before as the young Eva Green in "Dark Shadows" and the young Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Here she had good chemistry with Thomas Robinson, the actor playing the young Frank Walker, as well as with Clooney as the old Frank. It is just too bad that her character was not developed too clearly. When her climactic dramatic moment came at the end, we fail to emotionally connect with it
Hugh Laurie was given the thankless role of Nix, the leader of Tomorrowland whose motivations are unclear and do not really make any sense in the final analysis. This underwritten antagonist character was certainly one of the factors why the story did not fly.
Since his auspicious animated feature film debut "The Iron Giant" (1999), Brad Bird had consistently given us top-notch films: "The Incredibles" (2004), "Ratatouille" (2007) and the live action "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011) are all excellent. Audacious as it may seem on the surface, "Tomorrowland" is Bird's most disappointing project to date.
Of course, as this is a Disney movie, we are expected to approach this film with childlike idealism, flawed as the underlying message may be. Optimistic dreamers are the ultimate saviors of the world. For me, "Tomorrowland" was not able to sell that idea too well. It concentrated too much in developing grand images guaranteed to awe and amaze us, hoping that the poorly-told story will not matter so much. Young kids will stop at the visual feast and not really understand what is going on. Most adult audiences will see through the smoke and mirrors and feel oddly empty after the final (supposedly inspirational) scenes. 5/10.
Melissa McCarthy Marvels!
Since she started working for the CIA, homely and obese Agent Susan Cooper has been content to be the unseen and unheralded desk support partner of superspy Bradley Fine. In one operation gone wrong, Raina Boyanov, a ruthless international nuclear arms dealer, takes down Fine and threatens all the known CIA field agents. Knowing her anonymity is the CIA's best option, Cooper volunteers to track Boyanov down. From there, Cooper awkwardly and fumblingly goes around Europe disguised as frumpy matrons in order to stop Boyanov and her evil plots.
Melissa McCarthy totally owned this film as her own. In her previous films, her characters were very brash,loud and quite unlikeable. But here in "Spy", you immediately take a liking to her delightful Susan Cooper and you will be rooting for her for the whole film. Make no mistake, the familiar foul-mouthed McCarthy persona does make an appearance. But here, it is in line with her undercover spy duties.
Even if the marvellous physical comedy skills of Melissa McCarthy is front and center on display here, you also cannot ignore the comedic talent displayed by the other actors in the cast, many of whom are more known for dramatic roles.
Rose Byrne was so on point as the mega-snooty Raina Boyanov, so funny in her straight-faced over-the-top alpha-bitchy mode. The rich comedic rapport McCarthy and Byrne had with each other as mortal nemeses certainly buoyed the middle act. It was so surprising that this glamorous actress is not averse to physical comedy, as evidenced by Byrne's comically painful scene as her character was pinned down under two heavy-set men while her private plane was having anti-gravity issues.
My unexpected favorite in the cast is Jason Statham and his uncharacteristic portrayal of abrasive CIA Agent Rick Ford. We usually see him as the strong and silent macho hero taking up the cudgels of the oppressed in his many action films. He is still strong and macho, but whoa, Statham is definitely NOT silent here! This must be the first time I have heard him deliver lines in mile-a-minute speed as he proudly relates his many incredible career exploits. Never thought Statham could ever be funny. I really enjoyed his scenes.
Jude Law was right in his element as Bradley Fine, a suave, tuxedo-clad secret agent and charming ladykiller. Allison Janney plays Cooper's no- nonsense boss Elaine Crocker. Gangsterish Bobby Cannavale plays the glamorous terrorist De Luca. Tall and mousy-looking Miranda Hart plays Nancy, Susan's supportive friend and co-worker in their rat-infested CIA basement. Roguish-looking Peter Serafinowicz plays Aldo, Susan's overly amorous Italian backup agent. All of them stood out in their respective portrayals, helping McCarthy generate more laughs in their scenes together.
This is the third time writer-director Paul Feig is working with his favorite actress Melissa McCarthy. In "Bridesmaids", McCarthy was funny as part of an ensemble of comediennes. In "The Heat", she was funnier, sharing the screen with Sandra Bullock. In "Spy", McCarthy is the funniest she has ever been. 8/10.
Schwarzenegger Can Be Subtle!
A global viral epidemic was turning its victims into cannibalistic zombies. Marguerite "Maggie" Vogel was recently diagnosed with this dreaded disease. Against all odds, her father Wade brought her home, stood by her and protected her as the virus gradually and cruelly takes over her body and mind.
Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger is headlining this, zombie fans may be expecting something exciting and grand scale like "World War Z" here. Quite the contrary though, "Maggie" takes a languidly-paced and low-key approach to this genre. While it may have some gruesome images, "Maggie" is not a horror film by intention. It is driven not by scenes of mass mayhem and explosive war, but by the relationship of its two main characters, an intimate family drama about the father and daughter bond.
Ever since he hit the Hollywood big time as "Conan the Barbarian" back in 1982, Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been known as an action star - brash, loud, invincible. "Maggie" is remarkable because we see a totally different Schwarzenegger. He is quiet and sensitive here, almost contemplative. His best scene here did not even have a single word, punch nor gunshot. Schwarzenegger shows that he does have a wider acting range than what we give him credit for. Who would have known he had subtlety in him before this?
For her part, Abigail Breslin has been impressive since she debuted as Mel Gibson's daughter in "Signs" (2002). Her young career was already rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance in "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006). Here in "Maggie," under all her grim zombie makeup, Breslin was able to effectively convey the conflicting emotions of a young teenager facing a certain deadly fate, keeping a brave front outside while screaming from the inside.
As a whole though, the film itself may be too slow and depressing for the mainstream audience. In his feature film directorial debut, Henry Hobson opted for a relentlessly maudlin mood as all color had seemingly been washed out in favor of grays. Despite the heavy and potentially oppressive gloom, the project still remains watchable mainly because of the commendable acting performances of Schwarzenegger and Breslin. Their powerfully restrained climactic scene together in itself makes the whole film worth watching. 6/10.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I have only a fleeting memory of the Mad Max films from 1979-1985 directed by George Miller and starring Mel Gibson. These were set in the dystopian future in Australia, where energy is a critical commodity. Max was a man mad with revenge after his wife and child were brutally murdered. This setting is all the background you need to know about the previous franchise in order to enjoy this present incarnation, 30 years after "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome", the last film of the first trilogy.
In the massive Citadel, a skull mask-wearing tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules, cruelly withholding precious water from his impoverished subjects. Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has been captured to become a blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe's War Boys. Elsewhere, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a female War-Rig driver, helps Joe's five wives escape to the fabled "Green Place" of her childhood. Nux, with Max still attached to him, joins Joe and the other War Boys to pursue Furiosa. This chase leads to a major explosive battle-royale in the desert, one that would cause an upheaval of the balance of power in the outback.
The screenplay by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris was rich and complex, with deep emotional moments. The cinematography of John Seale, with his orange-tinged day scenes and yellowish-hued night scenes, was breathtaking to behold. The magnificent action sequences with 90% actual (not CG!) vehicular stunts with gigantic monster trucks were so perfectly planned and executed. These were edited with precision by Margaret Sixel, with awesome sound mixing to boot. I thought the eye- popping 3D effects for those exhilarating car chase scenes are very much worth the extra in ticket price.
Tom Hardy was impressive in both his athletic ability and his facial expressiveness as the quietly macho Max. He was required to underplay his role since Max is a strong and silent type. But to his credit, Hardy was able to come up with a relatively silent but memorably strong performance. His final scene was very haunting even without any words being spoken.
Despite being totally bald, one-armed, with black grease on her face, Charlize Theron never loses her elegant screen presence for a moment. Her performance, so rough and physical and yet so warm and moving, was the very heart of the film. Truth to tell, she was riveting every time she is on screen, even stealing the thunder from the title character himself. Rare as it may be for an action film, I feel Theron is definitely in serious contention for a Best Actress award.
More than anything else, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is one gorgeous-looking film. Director George Miller was able to mine cinematic beauty from the vicious violence and badass brutality amidst the dirty and dusty dystopian setting, and that is no mean feat. I am looking forward to the coming installments of this new and improved Mad Max franchise. 9/10.
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
I was late on the first "Pitch Perfect" bandwagon when it was first shown back in 2012 and became a sleeper hit. I did not rate it too highly when I wrote my review about it, giving it only a 6/10. I cited that I did not like the lead character of Beca as played by Anna Kendrick. I thought the singing scenes were hit and miss, with the climactic final number ruined by a pitchy solo by Kendrick. However, with repeated viewings with my kids, I confess that I eventually warmed up to the movie, and the Bellas. The whole family was very excited to watch this sequel the first chance we had.
In Part 2, we see the Barden Bellas on a roll after winning the Nationals three years in a row. However during a fateful command performance in front of the President of the USA at Lincoln Center, Fat Amy had a wild wardrobe malfunction disaster which plunged the Bellas into major shame and competition suspension. In order to redeem themselves, they enlist to join the formidable World Acapella Competitions, which no US team has ever won. This film shows how they try to recover the group harmony they lost, as they face graduation and welcome a talented new Bella in their midst.
Since we all know these girls very well already, it was really great to see them all again. Anna Kendrick's Beca Mitchell is again her dour self, but she is more tolerable now than in the first film. She secretly enters an internship in a recording company in pursuit of her dream to become a record producer. This gave her a chance to interact with a very funny Keegan-Michael Key as her boss. I liked the guesting stint of Snoop Dogg in the scene where Beca got to show her boss her mixing skills.
Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy is wilder than ever, even getting herself a big solo number and an official boyfriend in this one. Brittany Snow's obsessed Chloe is still my personal favorite, deliberately flunking a required subject just to remain a Bella. The rest of the girls, butch Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), sexy Stacie (Alexis Knapp) and mysterious Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), are all still there, though not as much as the first film. We meet a new Bella in the person of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who has a knack for writing original songs. I was more excited to see "Married with Children" Katey Sagal as Emily's mother, but too bad her part was too short.
Their rival boy group the Treblemakers, including Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Benji (Ben Platt), were pretty much in the background only this time. Annoying former Treblemaker leader Bumper (Adam DeVine) returns to Bardem as a security guard, and gets a bigger part here as Fat Amy's love interest. The main antagonist in this film are the ruthless and joyless German team, Das Sound Machine, led by two towering Aryan bullies Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg) and Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).
Getting much more exposure and more grating and potentially offensive racist and misogynistic remarks are the competition commentator duo of Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberg (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith (John Michael Higgins). Higgins in particular was really given very sharp and controversial lines to deliver, which could be very funny -- but only if you are not in the demographic he is dissing.
The best singing scenes in this sequel was still the Riff-Off part, just as this was my favorite part in the first film. The mash-ups were seamless and the singing was dope. The first such sing-off with the category of songs about butts was made even more hilarious by the guest appearance of buff and burly football players, the Green Bay Packers, singing "Bootilicious" of all songs! You have to see and hear it to believe it. In the international competition at the end, we see Pentatonix representing Canada and Fil-am group Filharmonic representing the Philippines, which were nice surprises.
If you liked the first Pitch Perfect film, I think you will like this one more. I thought the acapella song numbers were much better arranged and executed here than the first. I liked the throwback reference to "When You're Gone", the "Cups Song" which was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Anna Kendrick long after the film had left the cinemas. The original song featured in this one, "Flashlight," is promising potential hit as well.
The story had the right balance of comedy and drama to delight and touch fans, told pretty well by first time director Elizabeth Banks, on triple duty here as producer and star as well. In spite the occasional shallow senseless jokes or race- and gender-insensitive comments, I'd call "Pitch Perfect 2" THE feel-good good-time film for this summer of 2015. 7/10.