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Metro Manila (2013)
I decided to see this movie, in part, thanks the two very positive reviews that it had right here on IMDb. While I did see quite a few positive aspects of the movie, I was left feeling disappointed overall.
I won't discuss the plot at all here - you can get that from the IMDb page or the other reviews. I will, instead, look at what the film does well, and at what it does not do well.
What the film does well is create a very tense situation for our characters, where we spend a good deal of time on the edge of our seats. These characters have to navigate the very brutal world around them, trying to make ends meat. They are living in constant fear, they have no security, there are no social structures in place to help them (the kinds of social structures we take for granted in most first world countries). These aspects of the film are done very well.
Likewise done very well is the cinematography, where you will note the lack of excessive use of shaky cam or other annoying techniques. Finally, the acting is pretty solid overall, with a few exceptions.
The film does a few things quite poorly. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that it fails to create an engaging plot, the plot certainly leaves a lot to be desired. It seems as though it was glossed over rather than fully developed. Moreover, the writing is pretty poor throughout the movie. Some scenes play out laughably unrealistically, while others just leave too much up in the air.
Finally, I would mention that despite the fact that film is categorized as "action", you should not expect any real action scenes of any value.
I rate this movie 6 out of 10, and I don't recommend it for the average movie-goer, although those who have an inclination for one or more of the elements the film focuses around may find it enjoyable.
Only God Forgives (2013)
Slow, so slow
If you've seen Drive, then you should know that this movie is nothing like it, except perhaps in the fact that they are both beautifully shot. Drive had a pretty brisk pace, good dialogue, a plot that went somewhere, and a likable character.
Only God Forgives had none of that. This is a movie which moves along at a snail's pace, and even at a runtime of 90 minutes, it feels like many hours go by before even a single thing happens. Even the characters move and turn slowly.
The plot, such as it is, you would probably find worth watching, but Nicolas Winding Refn peppers it with pseudo-dream sequences and many pointless scenes that drag on for ever, so that the plot becomes hard to stay interested in.
Now, some things you might care about.
The acting. Ryan Gosling, of whom I was a fan in his earlier days, plays the same character from Drive, except that here he is indeed even more emotionless. He speaks about 5 lines during the whole movie, and has fewer different facial expressions. Kristin Scott Thomas is very good, although she feels underused. She is definitely the strong point of this movie. Vithaya Pansringarm, who plays a prominent role in the movie, is as expressionless as Gosling, although he is somewhat better, in my opinion.
Action scenes do exist, and they do resemble those from Drive, in that they are very matter-of-factly and visceral. Here, Winding Refn has really indulged in a lot of gratuitous gore, although overall, I found the action scenes quite entertaining. One particular one showcases Byron Gibson's acting talents, and it is particularly (and hilariously) cringe-worthy.
All the characters in this movie are unlikable. It is extremely difficult to get yourself to care for any of them, including Gosling's, who is arguably the protagonist here.
Aside from Scott Thomas' acting, the only other redeeming quality of this film is the excellent way in which most scenes are set up and shot. The sets, the camera movement, the placement of the actors, all of these make up for some truly gorgeous shots.
Overall, sad as I am to say it, I cannot recommend seeing Only God Forgives.
Iron Man Three (2013)
A lackluster, disappointing, cliché-ridden experience
I'm writing this review in the hope that you read it before you see this film, and that you do NOT see this film. As such, I won't spoil the plot for you.
I am not a comic book fan, so I had no expectations going into this movie, except what was promised by the trailers, and of course the previous Iron Man movies. I enjoy good movies of any genre equally, so I was really not prejudiced in any way. I thought the movie was pretty terrible, and very underwhelming and disappointing overall.
Let's start with the good.
Acting. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent as always. Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce are both predictably solid as well. The rest of the cast does not stand out, but overall the acting was a high point of the movie.
That's it. The acting (particularly RDJ) was the redeeming feature of the film. It's for that, and the good production value, that I rated this a 4/10.
Now, onto the bad.
The plot. It's convoluted, uninspired, and just plain boring. The movie is not about Iron Man being awesome, it's about the drama in Tony Stark's life as he tries to get over his near-death experience in The Avengers. The film plays out like a drama, with a bunch of weak sub- plots pulling at it from all directions. It's predictable at every step of the way, and it never really gets anywhere.
The dialogue. This movie strives hard to be funny. Tony Stark in particular is throwing one liners left and right throughout the movie. It works a few times, but more often than not it just falls flat. In any case, you've got a lot clichés again, especially when it comes to how Tony's inner struggle unfolds. Weak and very boring.
The action. There is little more action in this movie than there is in the trailer. In fact, I'd say the trailer makes the action look a lot better than it does in the movie itself. The action scenes themselves are OK, but very few for an "action" movie.
The trailers are selling this as a dark, almost Nolanesque look at Iron Man, but it's not that at all. It's just a pitiful mess that doesn't know what it wants to be. There's very little Iron Man in this movie. Whenever Tony gets into a suit, it breaks down or malfunctions right away, and it suddenly feels like his tech is being manufactured on a boat somewhere.
It's also worth noting that whereas Iron Man suit(s) were few and unique, in this movie he goes through perhaps 15 of them, making them feel more akin to pairs of sneakers.
To wrap this up, I would say that if you found what the trailers are presenting to be interesting, you will probably be disappointed. If you liked Iron Man 1, you will be disappointed. If you enjoy action, you will be disappointed.
This overly long movie will present you with seemingly hours of exposition. What's worse is that it's so predictable, that you feel like you've seen it all before even after the first few frames. Given another chance, I would never go to see this in the cinema again. It's just not worth the money.
An entertaining adventure through the Arabian desert
"Hidalgo" certainly is no Oscar winner, but this shouldn't deter anyone with a love for adventure films to watch it. Set in the late 1800s, the movie tells the story of a man and his horse, and their perilous participation in a long-distance horse-race through the Arabian desert.
It would appear as though the director (and/or screenwriter) was unable to decide if this would be a comedy as well as an action/adventure/drama, and I must admit I found the many the comic moments uncalled for, but it's certainly no comedy.
The acting is, I am afraid to say, quite poor from mostly everyone involved, save perhaps the performance from veteran Omar Sharif. In fact, it is the acting that is the biggest problem this film is faced with.
From all other aspects, I found this to be a highly entertaining movie, which, despite its quite long runtime manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, and may indeed even provoke a philosophical inner debate or two before the end.
I'd write more, but I'll let you judge the rest for yourselves! Unless you're very pressed for time or have a very low attention span, I highly recommend this beautiful adventure film, to be taken with a grain of salt.
A step up from most other Romanian movies
I have had the chance to watch this movie three times over the past two weeks due to certain circumstances, and even though I imagined what most of the comments here on IMDb would read, I was still surprised to read them as well as to see the rating that this movie has received from the voters.
The story of the movie is interesting, and drives the movie forward for some time, which is a definite improvement compared to most other Romanian movies. Sadly, however, the movie does not, in my view at any rate, make as much use of the story as it could have. I realize the movie is unfinished but I somehow doubt that rewriting the entire script was part of the filmmakers' plans.
Other positive aspects of the movie are the reasonably good use of flashbacks, the remarkably good sound quality compared to every other Romanian movie ever made, and the acting from one or two of the actors.
Where negative aspects are concerned, however, I fear the list is far longer: The screenplay was one of the worst parts of this movie. Some of the dilogue is horribly unrealistic and literally cringeworthy. Someone on the IMDb boards was saying that all the characters are meant to be stereotypes (save Doiaru), which is all fine, but creating a stereotypical character is not incompatible with dialgoue that is not boring, artificial drivel.
The acting from everyone involved except Alexandru Margineanu and Ion Sapdaru was atrocious. Armand Assante delivers each sentence to his men as though he was sending them into battle against impossible odds, with the fate of humanity at stake.
Overlooking some "plot holes" because it is my understanding this movie is based on true events (though I'm not sure to which extent), I find that the movie becomes very boring, very quickly.
The soundtrack was practically inexistent. 8 songs for a 155 minute runtime is pathetic. There was virtually no ambiance music at any time during the movie, it was mostly just street sounds and the sounds made by various objects. Scenes in movies like "No Country For Old Men" are able to utilize this properly and to great effect. This movie, and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" are not.
The hand-held camera "effect" employed but seemingly every Romanian moviemaker is becoming old. I get that you can be artsy, great, but can you be refined? The list could go on but I feel it is unnecessary.
I just have to say I was disappointed by this movie, as I had pretty high expectations (no, I was not expecting an Oscar-winning movie, and my expectations were definitely in tune with what Romanian movie-making is capable of).
It was very sad to see the movie exploiting a known formula for good reviews and perhaps an award or two - politically involved plot + movie revealing all the negative aspects of Romania + exploiting the political circumstances = movie with great reviews that "tells it like it is".
I was very sorry to hear about the death of the director, however I found it very distasteful to inform the audience of his death at the beginning of the movie, in what was clearly an attempt to gain the sympathy of the viewers. If they really wanted to account for the fact that the movie was unfinished, they could have said it at the end, so as not to have people watching the whole movie thinking of how sad it was that he died.
Overall, I rate this movie a 5/10, for all the reasons stated above, and find it to be a step up from a lot of other Romanian movies out there (of which I consider Filantropica to be one of the best if not the single best).
Death Proof (2007)
Very well made and a lot of fun to watch
"Death Proof" seems to be a movie that divides people into two categories: people who love it and people who hate it. I don't think I need to explain which category I belong to, but I will try to provide some arguments.
This movie is a homage to a lot of 70s exploitation films, having connections with such movies as "Vanishing Point", all of which is not to say you can't enjoy the movie as it is. In fact, this movie is amazingly fun to watch even if you've got no film culture background.
The acting was top class, especially from Kurt Russell, but even from the girls of whom, with the exception of Rosario Dawson, I had no great expectations.
The script is a classic Tarantino script, the dialog is wonderfully entertaining, and even though it takes up more screen time than the "action" scenes, it never once gets boring (for me at least).
The soundtrack is wonderful, with a lot of 50s and 60s classics, and definitely works very well with the rest of the film to form a harmonious experience.
If you happen to be a "Grindhouse" fan, then you'll probably get even more pleasure from watching this movie. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a problem with a little rough language and violence.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that not only did this movie turn out to be a homage to a lot of Tarantino's favourites, it was conceived to be that way to begin with - as such don't expect a totally serious attempt at a slasher movie, but rather accept that there's a degree of fantasy involved, and just enjoy it for what it is.
An average film at best
Take out all the hype around the film. Don't expect to like it simply because you're sympathetic to what people went through during the communist era. You'll notice it's a brave attempt at a powerful film, which sadly fails quite badly.
The acting was very poor, from everyone involved. The characters were all one-dimensional throughout the movie, never revealing anything "more" about themselves (probably because the writing didn't allow it).
The soundtrack was virtually inexistent. The storyline was bland. The best this movie can aspire to offer is a slice into communist Romania, which it manages to do, but just barely.
I did not go into this movie expecting much, but I was saddened to see that Romanian film making has not evolved at all over the past decade. The dialog was very artificial, the words barely discernible.
The movie gained much of its hype because of the political realities it tackled, but on its own, this is at best an average film.