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The first Avengers film was an awesome film. It lived up to all
expectations, and fans filed out of the cinema generally very happy and
excited about the superhero extravaganza they had just seen. This
sequel therefore had a much bigger fan expectations to fulfill. Now
that the novelty of having all these heroes together has already
passed, it now depends on a great story to pull this second installment
through. My verdict is that while it is still a larger-than-life,
visually- impressive action film, it did not exactly inspire the same
level of adulation that the first one so handily developed.
The adventure starts in a fictional European country of Sokovia where the Avengers were attacking the Hydra lair to retrieve Loki's scepter. The blue stone in that scepter contain powerful artificial intelligence technology which Tony Stark and Bruce Banner uses to create Ultron, the ultimate peace-keeper for the world. Ironically however, Ultron believes that humanity needs to be eradicated in order to achieve peace.
Ultron recruits the powerful Maximoff twins, super-speedy Pietro and telepathic Wanda, who have an axe to grind against Tony Stark. The action reaches a peak back in Sokovia where Ultron develops a machine to lift a huge segment of the city up to the sky with the intent of dropping it down to cause global annihilation. Together with new allies they pick up along the way, the Avengers have to regroup and gather their forces together in order to foil Ultron's twisted quest for human extinction.
While the requisite bad-ass fight scenes and humorous zingers are still there, but there was something I can't exactly put my finger on that affected my enjoyment of the film overall. Maybe it was the sheer number of characters we need to focus on so the storytelling can be messy at points. Every character had their own personal issues to address, such that some parts of the film tended to lag down. Maybe it was how Thor seemingly became the unexpected comic relief for the film. Maybe it was how I was not used to seeing Natasha as a hopeless romantic or as a damsel in distress. I don't know, I enjoyed the film for sure, but there was just something amiss somewhere.
I did like the part where we see Clint Barton's home and meet his family. We get to see the super-archer in a much different light and these scenes gave Jeremy Renner his moment to shine after being underused in the first film. Strangely for a film with so many characters, Hawkeye is the ONLY one in whom you can connect emotionally.
I liked the new characters this film introduced to us. The Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is a very powerful heroine with awesome abilities. It should be interesting how her character will develop future films. The scenes building up to the birth of Vision are positively sublime -- so well done! Paul Bettany transitioned from being the voice of JARVIS to his personification as Vision very fluidly. The main antagonist Ultron was voiced with buttery calm by James Spader. I admit I felt there was some disconnect between the coolness of the voice with the expectation of pure nefariousness for this villain.
There was a short extra scene in the middle of the end credits featuring an Infinity Gauntlet and one character whom we last saw in "Guardians of the Galaxy". I thought I would see more though. And no, to the disappointment of fans who patiently waited, there was no second extra scene at the very end of the credits. There was only the promise that "The Avengers will return". That return is reportedly going to be in May 2018.
Overall, this is still one big bang of a film. Those dynamically blocked and executed sequences where all the Avengers were fighting side-by-side were a joy to watch. Writer-director Joss Whedon tried his best to weave together a fan-friendly, action-filled film with more than 10 superheroes, yet still managing to maintain some sort of story coherence, while connecting to past and future Marvel films revolving around this universe.
But I think the decision to relinquish the directorial reins of the next Avengers films to the Russo Brothers (who did an excellent job in "Captain America:The Winter Soldier") may be a good idea in order to inject some fresher ideas before more signs of franchise fatigue start to show. 8/10.
The film begins with a shot of feet walking barefoot in the mud and
rain while men are watching a bloody brawl as nightly entertainment.
These were very artistically and aesthetically shot with innovative
camera angles. We knew by then that we are going to watch a Filipino
film of outstanding quality. The opening sequence alone already
portends that this is not going to be an ordinary biopic.
Coming into the film, we already knew that this film was going to be about the "National Fist" Manny Pacquiao and his rise from abject poverty in a war-torn Mindanao to a world-renowned multi-billionaire champion boxer. Back in 2006, there was once a biopic by Joel Lamangan which starred Jericho Rosales as Pacquiao. Just last year, we witnessed an excellent documentary "Manny" where the actual real-life characters told their stories. We already have an idea about his inspiring story of hurdling incredible odds to achieve impossible dreams. This film tells the familiar life story again, but Director Paul Soriano manages to tell it again in a gritty and realistic style which will connect with most audiences.
The grittiness and realism of this film is rooted in the casting of an relatively unknown young actor Buboy Villar, who actually looks like one of those lean sinewy amateur pugilists we see in undercard fights. Villar's acting skills were impressive as they have a raw unforced quality. His athletic ability was also evident in those shadow boxing scenes, hauntingly executed so that it looked as if we were watching Pacquiao himself. He was also excellent in those recreations of Pacquiao's early fights -- very excitingly choreographed and edited.
Alessandra de Rossi continues to impress with her acting prowess. Fresh from her award-winning performance in "Bambanti", de Rossi takes on the character of Pacquiao's equally iconic mother, Dionisia. Though this may fall into caricature in the hands of a lesser actress, de Rossi was more subtly funny as we see in her young Dionisia the beginnings of the brash and feisty Dionisia we all know now. And you know how de Rossi can really kill those dramatic scenes.
Alex Medina plays Pacquiao's negligent father Rosalio. Cesar Montano plays Sardo, Pacquiao's uncle and first boxing coach and manager. Jake Macapagal plays Dizon, Pacquiao's trainer who helped him win bigger local competitions. These actors make the most of their screen time in effective and nuanced performances. Teen star Khalil Ramos plays Eugene, another promising boxer and Pacquiao's friend. I felt though that his matinée idol looks somehow distracted from the realism of his performance, especially beside Villar's vivid performance.
The corny-sounding title may be a little off-putting for those who do not know that this was actually Pacquiao's first fighting alias. The name comes from his uncle's favorite drink Vino Kulafu, which was a very popular Chinese wine in Mindanao, a contemporary of Sioktong. However, this film should not be judged by its title alone. This is actually a very well-made, first-rate inspirational sports movie that is well-worth the price of its admission. It will move you. 8/10.
The first SpongeBob Movie (2004) was the first time I was formally
introduced to the zany undersea world of SpongeBob Squarepants and his
crazy friends. The complex plot recounted SpongeBob and Patrick
accepting a mission to recover King Neptune's lost crown, while
Plankton was hatching a diabolical mind-control plot to take over all
of Bikini Bottom. It featured guest voices from Alec Baldwin (as the
hit-man Dennis) and Scarlett Johansson (as the cute Princess Mindy),
and a hilarious cameo by David Hasselhoff (as himself). I loved it as
much as my kids did for its quirky sense of humor and memorable
one-liners. We would watch it over and over again on home video.
It was with so much anticipation that we watched "Sponge Out of Water," only the second SpongeBob movie for cinematic release in 10 years. Alas, I think we may have set our bar of expectation too high. My kids and I were rather disappointed with how this one turned out.
A pirate named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) reads a story written in a magically self-fulfilling book to his seagull audience. It was about the mysterious disappearance of the Secret Formula of the Krabby Patty that caused Bikini Bottom falls into wild apocalyptic disarray. Once the gang discovered the magic that made the formula vanish, SpongeBob and friends use it to launch a super-powered Avengers-like attack to recover that precious piece of paper and restore their beloved Bikini Bottom back to normal.
The trademark SpongeBob sense of wacky silly humor is still there and all, but I cannot help but compare this film with the first film and feel let down. For me, the problem is the very simplistic plot that was stretched out beyond its reasonable limit. Several side plots were employed to prolong the events, like time-traveling via a photo-booth and meeting Bubble the cosmic dolphin, which did not really lead anywhere. The funny parts only elicited smiles and snickers from us, not all-out guffaws we had with the first one. The superhero personas of the Bikini Bottom crew, which was the climactic fun highlight of this sequel, had too short of a screen appearance. The live actor guest star Antonio Banderas was no David Hasselhoff when it comes to self- deprecating humor.
Overall, it was still a good time in the movie house for the whole family. I just wished the ten years that passed between the first movie and this sequel could have given creator Stephen Hillenburg and director Paul Tibbitt to come up with an original story with more sophisticated plotting, rather than this one with a conveniently easy "magical" device that lazily drove it towards the happy ending we all expect. 5/10.
"Furious 7" follows the same adrenaline rush formula that fueled the
first six film in the franchise to box-office success. The barely-there
story just functions to string together some of the most memorable and
impossibly spectacular stunts involving the most muscular cars ever
captured on film. As the stunts get more and more complex and
incredible, there is a dramatic real-life twist that would challenge
the filmmakers further for this seventh installment, and that is the
death of star Paul Walker in, as fate would have it, a race car
accident. How they deal with Walker's death in the film will be a
matter of curiosity among fans of this franchise.
The plot here follows right from FF6. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a Black-Ops savvy brother of a former fallen enemy, is out for revenge big time. Striking a deal with a secret government agent code-named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his posse rescues Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a hacker who had been kidnapped by Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), a terrorist with military-grade firepower. Ramsey had developed God's Eye, a powerful tracking system which can use all available digital devices around to locate any subject.
On the action front, this film is on adrenaline overload as the gang goes from Los Angeles and Tokyo, to Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi.. The cars here don't only look great, they also do the most amazing things. I'm sure it was really very hard to top the already over-the-top stunts we saw in FF6, but the insane stunts we see here in FF7 could definitely match them. Cars jumping out of planes ( a major stunt dubbed "air drop"), cars hurtling down cliffs, cars jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper -- they have got it all here!
With Jason Statham there in the mix as the main antagonist, there would not be a dearth of heart-stopping, bone-crunching mano-a-mano fights. Right off the bat, Statham would engage Dwayne Johnson in a hard-hitting brawl that destroys an entire office. Of course, there will also be a climactic Aston Martin-smashing face-off with Vin Diesel himself at the end. Paul Walker had his own breathtaking fight inside a moving van against Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa. Michele Rodriguez had her dynamic fight scene in full evening gown regalia vs. MMA star Ronda Rousey in an elegant penthouse suite.
The FF series is as much about family as it about action, and this is not forgotten here. Toretto is dealing with the amnesia suffered by his wife Letty. Walker's character Brian is trying to quietly settle down as a family man with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).The much- anticipated final send-off and goodbye to Paul Walker was touching yet very manly.
Director James Wan takes a break from his horror films and successfully orchestrates these visually spectacular out-of-this world vehicular stunts with his crew. They were also able to give Paul Walker a fitting and dignified farewell. The scenes where Paul's real life brothers Caleb and Cody stand-in for him were not obvious as the editing was very well done.
Of course, they made Toretto and company virtually superheroes the way they can emerge from all those incredibly dangerous situations unscathed. It does seem absurd, but isn't this really how fans consider them? The "humor" of Tyrese Gibson's character Roman can be groan- inducing, especially in that party scene, but I'd say it's tolerable.
Overall, I would say that this particular installment of the FF series definitely achieved what it set out to do. This is a very entertaining film indeed. The Lykan HyperSport and Nathalie Emmanuel look fantastic. When put side by side with the other FF films I've seen though, I think Fast 5 and FF 6 were still better than this. 7/10.
When I first saw the trailer of this new DreamWorks animated film last
year, I felt I might not like it. The title was indistinct, the alien
character looked corny and the girl character had zero charm. But I had
made wrong first impressions about previous DreamWorks projects before,
like "Shrek", "How to Train Your Dragon", and "The Croods" which all
turned out to be very enjoyable and heartwarming films despite the
"unattractive" animation styles. Even "Spirit", "Megamind" and "Turbo"
turned out much better than what I expected them to be from the
trailers. So, not wanting to judge this book based on its cover, we
also gave "Home" a chance.
The Boov were a cute alien race who prided themselves with being cowardly and indifferent. Running away from their sworn enemy the Gorg, the Boov, under the leadership of their dictator Captain Smek, occupy Earth. One particularly odd Boov was known as "Oh" because of the exasperated groans of other Boov who could not stand his sunny friendly ways. Oh just wanted to send an e-invitation to his "warming of house" party but he inadvertently sends it to the whole universe, including the Gorg. Because of this costly mistake, Oh becomes a fugitive.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Tip apparently escaped the vacuuming machine which extracted all humans from their homes, including her mother Lucy. She and her fat cat Pig were constantly on the run from the Boov which had overrun New York City. When Tip meets Oh, she pleads with (or coerces) him to help her find her mom. From there, the two go on an adventure that brings them around the world from Paris to Australia, developing an unusual friendship and saving the world.
Initially, the very bright color palette and cute marshmallow-like alien design make this very attractive. The visual comedy did not always come off successfully, like the globes of toilet bowls and garbage cans, or the landmarks with Smek's face. Unfortunately, the story did not really develop into something memorably funny or interesting. The friendship that bonded Oh and Tip together seemed shallow and forced, not very well-developed in the storytelling. The final resolution of the problem with the Gorg was an overused plot point. There was only one scene that I could call truly touching.
Jim Parsons voiced Oh like he was playing his signature Sheldon character on his hit TV show "Big Bang Theory". It was occasionally cute, occasionally annoying. Many of his jokes in broken English actually felt flat. Aside from the dancing scene (which we already saw in the trailer), I cannot recall any other really big humorous moment from him. The voicing of Tip was okay, but it was made more remarkable when the end credits came up and you see that it was pop star Rihanna who did it. Steve Martin unfortunately did not get to do anything distinctive as Captain Smek's voice. Jennifer Lopez's very short stint as mom Lucy could have been done by any other voice actress.
For me, the film itself was just mildly entertaining at best. Not the worst film by DreamWorks, but not one of their best. 6/10.
The whole back story of this British sci-fi family film was summarized
in a few frames flashed at the very beginning. "Three years ago... the
Robots invaded Earth." "The war lasted just eleven days." Then a
strange robotic being with an adult female face, a little boy's body
and a disembodied voice declares that they mean Earth no harm. After
their study of humanity, they will leave and never come back. They only
have one strict rule for the earthlings to follow during their
occupation: "Stay indoors!"
The story follows a group of teenagers led by Sean Flynn (Callan McAuliffe) who defy the robots, venturing out of the safety to his home to search for his lost father. Hot in pursuit is the ruthless Robin Smythe (a hammy Ben Kingsley), a human who had allied himself with the aliens. But Smythe is distracted by his attraction to Sean's mother Kate, (and I do not blame him as Kate was played by Gillian Anderson).
When we first saw the trailer for this film, I had no plans to watch it because it looked like a low-budget B-action flick with robots and unknown young actors. Indeed it was juvenile and very old-fashioned sci- fi, like something we could have seen on TV years back. The story could have been interesting, but the execution was not good, even cheesy. The corny title alone is a red flag that this is strictly for young teens, yet even they might find the technological aspects of this film too retro to be cool.
I only watched this film when I found out that Gillian Anderson would be in it. And yes, despite twenty years that passed since she gained me as a fan as Scully in "The X-Files," Ms. Anderson never looked better. She looked so good that it was not believable that she was the mother of McAuliffe. It was just too bad that her role here was too weak and insubstantial to merit her beauty and talent.
I would have rated this film lower, but only because of Gillian Anderson, I will be a little bit more generous and give it a 4/10.
"Insurgent" picks up right where the first film of this series
"Divergent" left off. The tense peace inside the walls of dystopian
Chicago is shattered when the Abnegation faction was invaded and
destroyed. Tris and Four are rebels on the run, seeking refuge among
the other factions. Ruthless Erudite leader Jeanine needs a perfect
Divergent in order to unlock a certain box which contains an important
message about their current existence, which Jeanine wants to suppress.
This special Divergent is, of course, is Tris.
The first film "Divergent" was a pretty good film interpretation of the book. I found this second film to be even better than the first film. I did not get to read the second book so I could not assess its faithfulness to the original material. We get to see better the rest of the other factions, like Amity (with Octavia Spencer as their leader Johanna), Candor (with Daniel Dae Kim as their leader Jack Kang), and the Factionless (with Naomi Watts as their leader Evelyn). I can see the same limitations of the first book here, especially with the unusual behavior and decisions of Tris, but hey, she is a special girl, the chosen one.
I thought Shailene Woodley did very well to play Tris, with her guilty conscience, disturbing nightmares and the reluctance as a heroine. Theo James though is less noticeable here than before, as Four is seemingly relegated to be Tris' consort in this installment. Ansel Elgort looked very ill at ease and awkward in his scenes as Tris' confused younger brother Caleb. Making more of an impact were Miles Teller as the snake- like turncoat Peter and Jai Courtney as the vicious Dauntless officer Eric. Kate Winslet owns every scene she is in with her strong screen presence.
A new director Robert Schwentke (known for previous mainstream hits like "Flightplan" and "RED") took over from Neil Burger (who directed "Divergent"). Schwentke guides us through the criss-crossing web of events, building up effectively to the climactic five Faction simulation that Tris had to hurdle. The simulations in this film looked more sophisticated and complicated, with over-the-top visual effects, especially in that exciting Dauntless "sim" where Tris had to rescue her mom from a burning house hurtling in the air.
This film is rated PG, but there are pretty intense violent scenes, including point-blank shooting of defenseless people, and a character pointing a gun at his temple. There was also a scene which had the young kids around me uncomfortably covering their eyes showing prolonged kissing between the leads, with clothes being removed.
I think this film fully satisfies expectations for a second episode of a franchise. It was visually grand with mind-blowing special effects. It stands very well on its own, even if you have not yet seen the first film. It tells a complete story, with a defined resolution of events. It ends with a cliffhanger which makes you anticipate the next film. The last book in the series "Allegiant", in true Hollywood style, will again be split into two parts to make more money. Schwentke is already on board to direct Part 1, due out next year already. 8/10.
Max Simkin is a shoe repairman in New York City, the latest of many
generations of cobblers in his family. Aside from their old shop, he
also had an old shoe stitching machine that had been handed down from
his father and his grandfather before him. One day, Max discovered that
this family heirloom had magic that enabled him to be transformed into
any other man he liked. After having some goofy fun with his new
powers, Max decided that he could do something good with his ability.
This is a film starring Adam Sandler. But this is not a typical Adam Sandler film. Sandler has been on a continuous slump in his comedy career in recent years with clunkers like "Jack and Jill" and "Grown Ups 2". This movie is not really what he needed to recover, but he did it anyway. "The Cobbler" is not a slapstick comedy like those that made Sandler famous, like "Happy Gilmore" or "Billy Madison". Nor is it one of the romantic comedies that were a hit at the box-office for him, like "The Wedding Singer" or "50 First Dates."
In fact, it is hard to identify what kind of film "The Cobbler" really is. It starts as a family drama, then it was a fantasy, then a crime action drama, then a light romance, then a social drama. In fact there is no comedy worth talking about. The attempts at humor were pathetic and even disturbing. all of them falling desperately flat. The fantasy angle was interesting with so much potential. However, I felt it was wasted on shallow situations. The best part of this film is the family drama angle. Those touching scenes with Max's mother and father were very well-done.
"The Cobbler" could have been a fascinating film, but unfortunately, the execution was spotty and boring. I don't think it was Adam Sandler's fault this time. Writer-Director Thomas McCarthy made Max do some really odd things that did not seem to be consistent with his character's personality -- an introverted loner who lived with his mother. The side tracks to violent and sexual situations were misguided. I enjoyed the supporting performances by Dustin Hoffman and Steve Buscemi, but I wished they had more screen time. Overall, this was an uneven film experience that could have been better. 4/10.
The Disney studio had a long tradition of mining the trove of fairy
tales and turning them into animated films which have been childhood
classics for several generations. Lately, it is now mining its own
trove of beloved animated classics and turning them into live action
feature films. This year, one of Disney's most iconic princesses gets
the live action treatment, "Cinderella."
We see young Ella growing up in a happy family with the virtues of courage and kindness deeply inculcated in her. We see her orphaned and left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother Lady Tremaine and her two lazy foolish stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia. We see how Fairy Godmother magically help Cinderella go to the ball. We see how she danced with the Prince at the ball, but had to run off by the strike of midnight, leaving one of her glass slippers behind. We see how the Prince uses the slipper to find her and live happily ever after. We see everything as we knew it by heart, but Branagh managed to bring it to spectacular life with vivid imagery and touching emotion.
The script was written by Chris Weitz faithfully follows the well-known animated Disney version of the tale released in 1950. As directed by Kenneth Branagh, there was very minimal re-imagining done here, compared to Tim Burton's version of "Alice in Wonderland" or Angelina Jolie's portrayal of "Maleficent". This film is so unabashedly targeted for the ladies and girls of the romantic type. This is a major big-production chick flick that goes all out for the all the sweet moments it can squeeze out of the story. The charisma and chemistry of the young leads were more than sufficient in this regard.
I thought Lily James perfectly embodied Cinderella with her delicate face, long flowing hair, kind demeanor and natural elegance, even as a kitchen maid. Unlike when I thought Lily Allen and Kristen Stewart were totally wrong actresses when they played Snow White in two separate movie versions of that other fairy tale, I totally accept Lily James as Cinderella. Since I did not know she was in "Downton Abbey," I am seeing her as a totally new actress breaking through with a successful portrayal of a very iconic character.
Prince Charming has a name here, Kit, played by Richard Madden, Madden is clean cut and totally charming here, complete with that princely twinkle in his eyes, not immediately recognizable as his previous character of Robb Stark from the popular TV series "Game of Thrones." Fortunately for Madden, the character of the prince was also expanded from how we know him from the cartoon, so we get to meet him even before the ball itself.
The scene-stealing role of Lady Tremaine was portrayed by the always scene-stealing Cate Blanchett. With her over-the-top haute couture gowns, Blanchett is definitely an eye-catching sight. The bitter cruelty of her character was given a lot more depth than how the cartoon stepmother was portrayed. Blanchett played the role with wicked delight.
The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is so vibrant with a bright color palette that pops out of the screen. The production design of Daniel Ferretti was so opulent and grandiose in scale. The costumes of Sandy Powell were so richly designed and meticulously detailed. The musical score by Patrick Doyle envelops the film and brings us to a fairytale time and land. The visual effects of the magical transformation of pumpkin and animals to the coach, horses and staff were delightfully done (with the ever-quirky Helena Bonham-Carter as Fairy Godmother). The remarkably beautiful moment where Cinderella danced with the Prince is a perfect scene which highlights all these masterful and award-worthy technical aspects. 9/10.
Jason Statham is the only active movie star these days who ONLY does
action films and nothing else. Whenever we watch a Jason Statham movie,
we only expect to sit back and be regaled with his martial arts skills.
We certainly do not expect any deep story or insightful conversations,
just raw and bone-crunching action.
"Wild Card" is set in Las Vegas. Jason Statham plays Nick Wild, a jaded bodyguard who has a gambling addiction problem. The whole film is just a series of encounters of Nick with various Vegas characters about a variety of random topics. These anecdotal scenes were tenuously connected together by a thin story about Nick helping a prostitute Holly avenge the sadistic assault she suffered under the hands of gangster Danny DeMarco.
There are still those awesome fight scenes we all want to see. There are some pretty interesting fights where Jason uses unlikely everyday objects from a spoon to a credit card to inflict considerable bodily harm on his enemy. The choreography and execution of these fights were breathtaking. We can feel the impact of every punch and wince with every bloody stab we see.
I felt there were fewer of these fight scenes though. Statham got to do more dramatic acting here. The script after all was by no less than William Goldman (Oscar Award winning screenwriter in the 1970s for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men") adapted from his own novel. Several name character actors make short appearances to interact with our hero, like Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara and Michael Angarano. There were a lot of blackjack scenes, which in fairness, were quite exciting. It was actually good to see Statham attempting to add some more depth and variety in his acting range.
However, since we do look for more violent fight scenes in Statham films, "Wild Card" may disappoint hardcore action film fans who may not have patience to sit through some of these serious talky scenes. Jason Statham is not exactly Liam Neeson or Sean Penn yet at this point in his career to credibly pull off the drama. 5/10.
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