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Out of curiosity, what would be your favorite live-action DC or Marvel universe movie? You can answer in the comments at the bottom. For me, it would be Spider-Man 2 for Marvel (X-Men 2 and Iron man completing the top 3) and Superman Returns for DC (although Superman 1 and 2 were my favorites for a very long time). Superman was one of my first movies in the theater and I think it was a big influence on my life. Nostalgia colors our perception, but then why not indulge a bit in it ;)
They are in no particular order. Some have links to reviews written by me. Useful votes are always welcome and very much appreciated. It would also be interesting to see any film suggestions you might have based on my preferences. I might have already seen them but who knows? Thank you.
Mortal Engines (2018)
Human instruments, fatal mechanisms
I already know it's gonna get bashed for seemingly ripping off elements of Star Wars, but I think It's kind of an unfair criticism and I loved the film. Let's get that part over first: there are at least two main elements that might make you think Star Wars near the end. They're somewhat similar but not really the same and play out differently in a very different setting with different components.
So I thought the high concept of the movie - motorized cities rolling on land - might seem ridiculous, but I gotta admit it worked for me and made the movie feel fresh. That starting chase sequence between the two towns was original and memorable. There were other spectacular action sequences, including one involving buzzsaws, with great special effects, but I gotta admit the melee fights were weak as they were of the chaotic, frantic-cut variety, except perhaps those involving Shrike that were better. Regarding that undead cyborg Shrike, I loved pretty much everything about him: his look, the way he moved, his back story and his story arc. Probably my favorite character, but the others were interesting too, and the acting was solid overall.
The production design was excellent with several fascinating cities and/or vehicles with a certain steampunk design vibe. Special mention to the location where the giant London tank threads passed. Visual effects were outstanding with sights you might never have seen before. Music was very good and appropriately grand when called for. I liked the story despite feeling a slight déjà-vu in the last part. This future world creation based on the novels was very well portrayed and captivating to me, and I wanted to learn more about it. Overall, the film was a very nice surprise, quite different than the usual sci-fi/fantasy blockbuster, at least in its setting. To be honest, until the last act I was going to recommend this film without any real reserves, but then it felt as if had to explain certain things.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Remarkable)
Feels like a cash grab and a throwback
As other reviews pointed out, the tone was all over the place and the comedy didn't mix well with the darker parts. As a horror movie, it failed because there was poor tension, creepiness and no gore despite the potential. As a comedy it failed because it was not really funny for me even though some Venom fans laughed at his every line (why?). The action parts were too busy, chaotic and hard to follow, especially when Venom was involved. Tom Hardy really tried hard and emoted a lot, sometimes too much, but ended up looking goofy and dumb too often. The events of the plot felt rushed, and sometimes downright stupid. In fact, repeatedly, the behaviour of the characters didn't seem believable. Overall, this movie irritated me and reminded me of bad, older superhero movies (even though Venom is no superhero, I know). I watched this at an advance screening in a full theatre, and there was no applause at the end.
Rating: 3 out of 10 (poor)
P.S. For Marvel fans, there's no real connection to the rest of the universe, so you can easily skip it or wait for home viewing.
Excellent despite what you might initially think
After watching the trailer, reading the sypnosis and checking out the poster, I didn't expect much, but boy, was I surprised by how good and gripping it was. Despite a few far-fetched concepts, which you shouldn't think too much about, I was blown away by the story, the twists and especially how it was told. I especially liked how some of the most tense moments were some of the smaller ones, such as whether the "bad" guy would "shoot" or not, or how far he would go. Despite some great grandiose music at time, the director often knew when to cut off music to improve such moments.
The storytelling was no doubt helped by tremendous acting performances from the leads, the older man (Inuyashiki Ichiro) and the young man (Shishigami Hiro) who develop powers. I was made to feel sympathy for the kind but disrespected Inuyashiki even though he sometimes emoted too much in action scenes. I felt the menace from the usually stoic young man who sometimes showed glimpses of genuine emotion. Even felt sympathy for him sometimes. Those characters had depth, had a progression and were played so well. Even the secondary characters, such as the young man's best friend and the older man's daughter, were played believably and well. I'm often taken out of Japanese films by "exagerated" acting but such was not the case here.
As I was watching, I was struck that perhaps this wasn't a very expensive film after all, not because it looked cheap, but because there was a certain reserve used as for when and how to show special effects (witness the shooting, the analysis power and the use of screens). It probably worked in its favour as it showed story and directing ingenuity. The special effects were otherwise excellent, especially the creepy transformations and the spectacular final showdown worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. I've seen a ton of "superhero" movies, and I'm not even sure Inuyashiki would qualify as one, but the American ones could certainly learn something from it in terms of characters, suspense, sincerity and storytelling. For me, this film was refreshing, heartfelt and exhilirating despite a few silly elements. Bravo!
Power Rangers (2017)
Power puttering out after a promising start
I'm a guy in his early forties who usually loves (good) superhero movies. I've only caught a few episodes of Power Rangers here and there over the years, found it campy, predictable fun, but wasn't really a fan. I write this so you know where this opinion comes from. So after a promising start in the distant past and some high-school hi-jinks with a bunch of misfits/rejects, something strange started happening. As more and more fantastical elements were introduced, the more I felt underwhelmed and doubtful. Not quite sure when it started, but it was particularly obvious with the introduction of the Zorgs (robot-dinosaur vehicles) that was very lacklustre. The Zorg designs might have been too "detailed", but I even had trouble making out what dinosaur they were supposed to be. To be fair, I love the new Ranger outfits although, once again, their first appearance was kind of muffed.
The plot that seemed not so bad at first with actual character building got stupid and corny pretty fast with dumb decisions from both the heroes (yes, let's all jump) and the lame main villain (let's end all life on Earth with me on it, because, uh...). The actors certainly tried hard, were probably better than standard TV actors, but they didn't sell the touching or dramatic scenes to me. Then again, I also blame the script. However, the highlight acting-wise was the young black man called RJ Cyler in an autistic role (despite too much makeup). But beyond the plot and acting, kind of secondary in that type of film, there should have been a building sense of wonder and excitement that wasn't really there for me. The visual effects were hit (Zordon on the wall) and miss (the Zorgs). The fights that should have been thrilling seemed mostly unexciting and uninspired to me, especially the last one. So without the nostalgia factor in its favour, this big-budget remake didn't make a Power Rangers fan out of me.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (mediocre)
P.S. A really obnoxious product placement actually got some of the few good laughs.
Obscure title hides a decent vampire flick
I thought Byzantium would be some kind of period piece set in ancient times, but such was not the case. We follow the "lives" of two female vampires (mother and daughter but passing as sisters) in modern times with some flashbacks to the 18th century explaining their origins. Today, the mother, Claire, (Gemma Arterton) is a stripper/prostitute to make ends meet while her daughter, Eleanor, (Saoirse Ronan) mostly stays at home and writes. An incident happens, the mother gets pursued by a mysterious guy (exciting pursuit), and the duo has to flee town. In a decrepit coastal town, the mother befriends a desolate man whose mother passed away leaving the Byzantium Hotel as heritage. And as far as I know, it's the only reason the film was called that. Clara decides to open a brothel in it while a young man tries to befriend Eleanor.
I found it rather unconventional and a throwback at the same time. I found very quickly that it had a kind of moody "Interview with a vampire" vibe. No wonder, because I learnt later it was made by the same director, Neil Jordan. I liked the story, how it progressed and how it ended. Basically, most of the later conflicts hail from Eleanor, who cannot bear to live in secret anymore, trying to change her "life", while her mother is ready to do anything to survive and stay hidden. I liked how the vampires were different by not having fangs and being able to go in the daylight (among other things). I liked how the mother/daughter vampires were characters with diametrically-opposed personalities and sometimes showed kindness and compassion, especially Eleanor who was like a death angel initially only taking people who were ready to die. The performances were very good, but for me, Saoirse Ronan who showed a lot of emotion even when she was not talking, was stronger than her costar, Gemma Arterton. I was also impressed by the young redhead man, Frank, who tried to befriend Eleanor. The relationship between him and Eleanor was somewhat touching and fascinating to me.
Directorially, there were interesting choices like, for example, the characters who were sometimes in the same scene as their "doubles" from the past. Take also any scene where blood was present, especially when Frank injured himself and how Eleanor reacted (the cloth! :). The waterfall scenes with the water turning red were also memorable. Byzantium was not a particularly action-packed or gory film (far from it), but it fit well here since the vampires were so "human". A few things bugged me such as a couple of coincidences (how Eleanor ran into Frank the second time) and a few plot points (such as young Clara just going with that military man and just staying a prostitute). I didn't particularly like "Interview with a Vampire" or "Only Lovers Left Alive", but I strangely liked "Byzantium", although they're all in the same vein. It's something to watch on a dark night when you'd like a decent drama with a different flavour of vampire.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
Gods of Egypt (2016)
Entertaining and spectacular despite the whitewash casting
Let's get this out of the way first: most Egyptian gods and the main character should not have been played by Caucasian (white) actors. I tried my very best to get beyond that, but it was jarring throughout and hurt suspension of disbelief. Most of the actors were fine though, especially Nicolaj Coaster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) playing Horus with sincerity and gravitas, but they simply didn't fit the place and the mythology (especially Osiris and Ra). Gerard Butler (Leonidas from 300) was playing the kind of role he's a natural for, warrior-leader in ancient times, but evil this time. As for the main hero couple - Bek, a blond human thief, and Zaya of the ample cleavage - I'd just say they were mediocre and could have been easily played by many other young actors. I did particularly like the role of the ambiguous goddess Hathor who, as a bonus, also looked more Egyptian than the rest of her pantheon.
So enough with the casting controversy. Story-wise, it made the mistake of having an older main character narrate, which basically removed any suspense regarding his fate. In an ancient time before history, the Egyptian gods live among humans and rule. The benevolent king Osiris is about to hand over reign of the kingdom to his son Horus. Set, another god, arrives at the coronation, bad stuff happens, and everything is thrown into disarray. Bek, the previously mentioned thief, tries to steal something important (neat traps), loses something precious to him that he wants to regain, and eventually journeys with an exiled god or two. Unfortunately, plot-wise, I felt as if focus groups or someone somewhere ruined parts that could have been more memorable, especially the ending.
The gods were shown a bit bigger and taller than mortals, and could transform into humanoid animals. It might seem a silly thing, but I liked the size differences, which made them instantly recognizable and more impressive. As for the creature forms, those of Horus and Set looked CGI, but I liked their design anyway. As for the other creatures, be they giant snakes or Anubis, they looked and moved great (with the exception of the scorpions). This movie reminded me of a throwback to the big and good adventure/fantasy movies of the 80s and 90s. It wasn't too complicated, it kept you entertained and looking forward to the next incident or encounter. Weirdly, even though "Gods of Egypt" sometimes had the nostalgic appeal of a film made in another decade (with modern special effects though) and went through familiar tropes, it also sometimes felt fresh (like the sand magic or the afterlife). It had a few clever touches (like the assistants of the god of wisdom) but also a few dumb elements ("good" idea to leave your companion alone with a bad guy on a platform elevator going up while you decide to climb the side of the pyramid instead).
Most locations looked very good (for example the "ship" in the sky) and were quite varied. Visually, I found it marvellous, and I didn't mind or notice too much the computer roots . I loved the costumes and armors, certainly not historically-accurate, and the gods looked more than mortal without going over the top (despite the terrible casting). With a couple of exceptions (the chariot escape), I found the action scenes above average, even exciting. The fights were well choreographed, but I liked more when the fights involved the human actors somewhat, instead of just the metallic creature forms that kinda took you out of the setting.
In that kind of movie, I want to vicariously travel to a different land, experience some wonder, and forget the real modern world for a little while. I also want to meet interesting, unconventional characters and be kept involved in the adventures even if they're not the most original. It especially needs some heart and sincerity to make the proceedings relatable, even if it's awkwardly done. For me, Gods of Egypt mostly succeeded in doing those things making it a decent entry in the maligned fantasy-adventure genre. It shouldn't be judged as a pure comedy, drama, action or romance film. I quite expect this movie to be savaged by the critics for casting (mostly), camp, lack of originality, CGI and what have you, but you know what? Overall, I had fun watching it and I would watch it again at home some time in the future. Not a lot of competition, but one of the better recent mythology-inspired films.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Better and fresher than its (zombie) parts
I've never read any Jane Austen novel, but I have watched a few traditional adaptations of her work including Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley that I really liked. Without the zombie aspect, this mash-up would be a mostly respectable and respectful adaptation of the novel in terms of tone, characters and plot if the Knightley adaptation was anything to go by. However, it does "dirty up" the original classic story with undead so it could be blasphemous to Austen purists. Those who consider her writing sacrosanct should definitely steer clear unless they have a strong sense of humour. The story hit the major points and had some beautiful lines, but it veered off in the last part. The whole bridge thing also confused me.
The zombie aspect fit surprisingly well, was not too jarring (except at the start with Lady Featherstone), but it was not great, although I found original how some zombies still had enough brains to talk and even infiltrate society for a while. I also liked the facial makeup on some of the zombies. The zombie parts were also the catalyst for a lot of the humour. The contrast between the prim, well-spoken, 19th-century British society and the out-of-their-normal-environment zombies provided amusement. The action parts were somewhat disappointing. As an example, the first time you saw the 5 sisters jump into action, you would have expected something glorious and exhilarating, but it kind of fizzled because the moves weren't thrilling or convincing enough. Although the editing tried to hide it somewhat , you could guess that the actors were chosen more for their acting skills than their martial-arts skills (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Exceptions to the lacking action would be the human-only ones, especially the "confrontations" between Elizabeth and Darcy.
I suppose the film is by definition a parody, but it was played very straight, and I don't think it would have worked so well otherwise. Sam Riley, the actor playing Darcy was excellent in his role. Lily James as Elizabeth didn't fare so well, lacking presence and charisma, especially at the start. She paled in comparison with Keira Knightley (in the same role), but she improved later on. The zany Matt Smith (former Doctor Who) stole almost every scene he was in, playing an unconventional Pastor Collins. By re-watching Pride and Prejudice (Knightley version) after this film, I noticed how much the characterization of the secondary characters was cut (especially the 3 younger sisters) and how much the ballroom dancing, dining and conversation was replaced with zombie shenanigans. I'm not convinced this was an improvement, but it was certainly different.
I watched this at a sneak preview in a full theatre. The laughs mostly came in the first half. Personally, I smirked relatively often but never laughed out loud (I rarely do). I was entertained throughout though. What about the romantic aspect you ask? It is still there and Darcy's letter is still awesome, but it's often overridden by comedic or horrific elements. What about the gore? It can be surprising and a bit disgusting (the makeup mostly) but it's limited and over quickly. None of the parts of the film were particularly strong (except acting that was overall better than expected), but as a fun mash-up, I think it worked. For those curious, I consider the Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice superior in every regard and I don't recommend watching it too soon before this film because the latter would suffer too much in comparison.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)
The Call (2013)
A man kidnaps a young woman (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine all grown up), stuffs her in his car trunk and rides away to somewhere. Unbeknownst to him, the kidnapped woman still has her cell phone and can communicate with a 9-1-1 operator (played by Halle Berrie). Despite the fact that logic-wise, this doesn't work - how could the maniac fail to search for a cell in 2013 - I found this to be a very good thriller. The whole portion with the car was tense, exciting and splendidly filmed. In fact, I was impressed throughout by the camera work using, among other things, unusual zoom-ins to create claustrophobia and dynamic unconventional cuts to ramp up the tension. I also liked how for the longest time, the kidnapper's face wasn't shown. The Call could have been filmed in very standard, boring fashion but it wasn't and for me that makes the director, Brad Anderson, someone to watch out for.
That whole mid-film section was pretty great. However, the last tier, at the final location, despite some good, creepy moments didn't seem as strong although it was still good. I had trouble with a decision made by the heroine although it could be justified by the urgency of the situation. I'm not talking about the "twist" ending here. Acting-wise, I thought it was pretty strong all-around with Halle Berry being quite credible in her emotions. It might be a tiny thing, but what hurt my sense of disbelief was the amount of times "sweetheart" and "honey" was said by her. It was just too much, especially with a stranger. Overall, I found it a captivating thriller with great camera work. Better than expected as long as you don't get stuck on what the characters should have done.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
Besides short segments taking place in the Middle Ages and another on a plane, this supernatural flick takes place in modern New York. We have Vin Diesel's character, Kaulder, a man who lost his family due to witches, still alive after 800 years and still hunting them. One would think that Kaulder would be a stereotypical stoic, somber, asocial killing machine, but such is not quite the case. I was pleasantly surprised to find Vin Diesel more smiling and "human" than usual. In fact, on more than one occasion, his hero actually showed restraint and compassion, which was quite refreshing. After that Middle-Ages intro, I thought all the witches would be evil, despicable, one-dimensional creatures (which would have been boring) but then again, I was fooled as we actually delved more into the modern witch community.
As far as story goes, despite the seemingly cliché setup, I'd say it was stronger than usual for that kind of supernatural-action film with a few good twists I didn't see coming. The special effects were rather good and I especially liked how the magic was so nature-oriented (as it should be for witches). One of the neatest places was that bar with the subtle light magic. I also liked the design of the old witches and that bone sentinel. There was visual stuff there I hadn't actually seen before or at least a dozen times over. Unfortunately, I found the action scenes somewhat weak in general. I know that close-in fighting is supposed to be messy and chaotic but the cuts here were sometimes so poorly done I had trouble knowing what was happening. Thankfully, it's never as bad as in that first fight in the past, and it does get better as the film goes on. So don't go in expecting to be thrilled too much by the quality of the action.
Surrounding the more-emotional-than-usual Diesel, there's actually a pretty decent cast including Michael Caine (always classy), Elijah Wood (amusing and solid) and Rose Leslie, that redhead wild woman from Game of Thrones. For me, she was the highlight acting-wise and elevated everything up a dramatic notch. As for the directing, besides the poor action and annoying flares, it was competent but not particularly memorable. The "dream" visions were nice, but then they usually are. I saw this at a preview screening and there wasn't much crowd reaction, however it should be noted that the film kept my (very) jaded interest throughout. I didn't have trouble with the pacing or story confusion as other reviewers did. I actually found the world of the Last Witch Hunter somewhat intriguing and enjoyable.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (good)
Ninja the Monster (2015)
Not your usual ninja flick
I saw the world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. We're in Japan at the end of 18th century and ninjas, once commonly used, are being hunted down and executed. A princess must reach Edo to ask help from a lord there. She's escorted by a half-dozen soldiers and one bodyguard who's actually a ninja. They'll have to cross a dangerous forest where a strange watery creature lurks and kills people. So let's get this out of the way first: this is not the typical ninja you might be used to seeing with dark costume, hood and almost supernatural skills. It's closest to what ninjas were probably like: good fighters hired by lords to do covert missions. Also, if you're expecting fights between a monster and a ninja, you're gonna be disappointed. This movie subscribes to the "seeing-less-is-more" philosophy or, in this case, "hearing-more-is-better-than-seeing". It means that most often we see the hidden princess while the actual fight (or slaughter) is conveyed through sound effects and screams. Think of the black smoke creature in the first season of Lost. The sound might have been very loud in the theatre but I thought it did create excellent tension.
The few fights were mostly between humans and they were adequate although not very memorable. The darkness didn't help but didn't detract too much. The actor playing Denzo, the ninja, had an expressive face although his role of a reserved man did not demand much emoting. Choemon, the main bodyguard and samurai, was a bit more over the top but not overly so. The princess played a good damsel in distress. As for story, it was simple enough with a clear objective. It did add interest with the unclear motive of the ninja, although that wasn't explored enough in my mind. However, near the start, it did bug me how abruptly Choemon accused Denzo of being a ninja. That was so out of the blue that part of the audience laughed. I think the director might have wanted us to wonder if ninjas were really "monsters" or if so-called monsters were really monsters after all, but I'm speculating. I liked the special effects for the distinct gelatinous-water look of the creature, but I was disappointed by its final fate. It seemed too obscure and it was as if the protagonists' actions didn't really matter, i.e. the monster would have ended up the same with or without them. As a somewhat intimate suspense movie with a fantastical monster, it kind of works. For action and thrills, you might want to look elsewhere. At the end, the audience applauded politely.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good)
Short review for a long film
I'm glad I saw this in Imax as it was really worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. The epic story was well told and sometimes gripping. Cinematography was very good except for overuse of that one angle where you see the prow of the lander ship. Space vistas themselves could have been more impressive as it seems digital effects were intentionally limited. The surfaces of planets and phenomenas compensate. Excellent acting all-around with McConaughey the highlight, except he was sometimes hard to understand. The sound effect work and especially the stirring music were awesome. It was more emotional than Nolan's previous films, yet I didn't tear up. Your final appreciation will likely depend on what you think of the ending.
Battle of the Damned (2013)
Average b-movie action with killer robots and fake zombies
We've seen the same concept before, of a bad-ass going into a dangerous quarantined city to save someone (in Escape from New York for one), but this time, there's "zombies" and robots. The "damned" of the title are actually the people stuck in the city as the "zombies" are not really dead, just people sick and rabid. Other than that, they act just like the running zombies from 28 days later. This movie was more action than horror with minimal frights, suspense or gore. At least for me. The actions scenes were usually cut in rapid-fire fashion, seemingly as to avoid lingering on the moves or faces of the Thai extras playing the infected who were probably just dirtied up instead of having actual horror make-up. I didn't much care for the editing of the action scenes. I suppose the sequences where Dolph dispatched enemies one by one with a knife were fine. Most of the up-close or shooting scenes were disappointing. Dolph Lundgreen is unfortunately getting older as he obviously has trouble running, and his punches and kicks are not as vigorous as they used to be. For an action film, it matters as I kept thinking that Dolph was going through the motions instead of actually fighting.
The CGI robots were done nicely enough (although recycled from Robotropolis), but they took too long to appear, had no personality and seemed underused to me. There were some nice shots by the director, especially in the luxurious house hideout and the ruined building at the end with the reflections in water. Dolph was his usual stoic self except when doing grimaces while fighting. For characters other than Dolph, the acting wasn't horrible but it wasn't memorable either. Duke, the older guy, was a bit better than the others. As previously stated, the story wasn't that original and, in execution, I never really found it gripping, but it was watchable. The role of the robots might have been a surprise if it hadn't been ruined in the movie's description. Coincidental convenient meetings in that big city also bugged me (Max and the girl, the soldier, etc.) I wouldn't recommend paying too much for a rental if the subject matter interests you.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (average)
The Punisher (1989)
I don't like the Punisher character and this was from the time before Marvel made good movies, but it turned out to be quite acceptable. I found it pretty entertaining. I thought Dolph Lundgreen in the main role was just an imposing figure and an impassive face. It turns out that his expressions while shooting were hilarious (especially when he shoots up a clandestine casino) and that action-wise, he held his own, perhaps even better when fighting hand-to-hand. I read that they took real martial artists and that Dolph was a former karate champion, so although there's no elaborate fight choreography, it works anyway. The scene where he shoots a crossbow in a guy's chest and rappels down a rope while shooting bad guys made me laugh out loud. Of course, he has an apparently fake beard that distracts and sometimes awkward, yet enjoyable, lines, but his physique makes up for it. He looks the part despite the lack of skull emblem. The story involving the Japanese mafia trying to take over the Italian one could have been worse despite involving the kidnapping of kids.
Other scenes of interest were Dolph taking down guys silently one by one at the start, him against a bunch of Yakuzas in a carnival house, and the brawl near the end when the lights go red. Yeah, the Punisher is unbelievably lucky in not being shot so much, especially the way he moves while shooting instead of taking cover, but I didn't mind. What impressed me perhaps the most was the acting by the 2 main bad guys, especially the mafia boss Franco. They were serious, not campy at all and they were credible in their roles. The Italian mobsters were more corny, while the Japanese were just expressionless fighting machines. So for an 80s action movie, it's far from the top, but it deserves a better reputation than it has. Of the 3 Punisher movies, I still prefer the second one with Thomas Jane though.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (good)
Diary of a Hitman (1991)
The play was bad or the adaptation was bad
I have trouble believing this movie has so many good user reviews here, because for me it was rather poor. I understand that it's from a play, "Insider's Price", and its origins show. I usually like Forest Whitaker, the hit-man, but I think he was badly directed here. He overacts, a lot, and his narration was atrocious as in exaggerated and almost ludicrous. It wasn't even a real diary, it was a phone conversation and as such it worked even less. I get our hit-man isn't the sharpest tool in the block but the writing seemed weak with some lousy lines. The target, Sherilyn Fenn's, although looking fine, was arguably worse acting-wise, because her reactions often weren't believable or seemed emotionally fake. You see James Belushi and Sharon Stone in the credits, but they only have 5-minute cameos. Belushi's part could have easily been cut. Sharon Stone's was a bit more interesting but any actress could have done it.
The main part of the film was a confrontation between the hit-man and the target in her apartment. From the way it was shot, the confined space and the acting, it really felt theatrical there but not in a good way. I suppose some scenes would have elicited laughter in front of a audience (such as the pulling back and forth of the curtains or the cake scene), but here, they seemed out of place. I was more often puzzled by reactions than gripped by tension as to her fate and that of the baby. Also, very little action here, it was all very talkative. This film seemed very forgettable fare to me.
Rating: 3 out of 10 (poor)
The Forgotten (2004)
♪ Don't you forget about me ♪
First, if it's not already too late, please avoid the trailers, and I recommend watching the extended version with the alternate version. Why? One of the best surprises is spoiled in the trailer (lesser ones too) and the alternate ending is arguably better, definitely less simple and Hollywood-like despite the same final result. So, this was a very good thriller with an excellent concept I don't remember seeing done anywhere before in TV or film. What if your kid died in an accident but months later you were told by everyone he never existed? I appreciated how the subject was explored and how gradually that revelation and others were made. Is our mother delusional or is there something else going on? Of course, an option is more likely than the other, but the journey was suspenseful. At several moments in the film, there was an escalation of events that raised the stakes and made things more interesting and disturbing.
However, this thriller succeeds in part because it's grounded emotionally by Julianne Moore's intense performance. I felt for her ordeal and to be that believable, it's obvious she really is a mother who loves children. Of course, most mothers wouldn't be such great actresses. ;-) The other performances were decent and didn't detract. The directing also helped matters as the veteran Joseph Ruben obviously knows this genre. I appreciated the overhead shots, shots through obstacles and windows implying that our heroine might be observed. It wasn't the flashiest shots but they were well done. Of particular note to me were the accident and the captures, rather effective and shocking. I also liked how the color schemes differed from warm golden in flashbacks to cold bluish in the present. So, very neat "Twilight Zone" concept aptly executed with a great female lead. Your appreciation might depend on how open-minded you are, but for a critical cynic like me, I wasn't taken out by stupid behavior or illogical crap.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
The brave, the bold and the brilliant
I'm a fan of movies in general, super-hero films in particular as well as live theatre, and I loved Birdman. Birdman is not a super-hero film. It's a very intimate and talkative dramedy taking mostly place in a New York Broadway theatre where a formerly famous actor who played Bat-- Birdman many years ago is trying to revive his career by adapting, directing and starring in a serious play. Let's start by perhaps the most amazing thing about this film: an extremely long sequence-shot, without seemingly any cuts, lasting for around 100 minutes! The way it's filmed, it feels as if you're an invisible stalker or ghost. It also sometimes feels as if you're in there with the actors. There's one camera, the same camera, always following a character without breaks. It's not always the same character, and it's not always in the same location. In fact, it feels as if you're exploring the private underbelly of a theatre on the verge of a new production. It might sound boring and limited but it felt very dynamic to me. In fact, the lively characters (popping in and out) and the excellent cinematography made the experience fascinating. I sometimes wondered how they managed that exploit although I have ideas of where cuts were hidden (doors or dark places). Be warned though that some of us with shorter attention spans, now used to fast cuts in TV and film, could find this constant lingering tiring sometimes. Some, like me, might find the effort rewarding. I should mention that despite the very long take (without apparent cuts), that it takes place over a few days, not over a few hours.
I particularly liked how the Michael Keaton's character sometimes heard the critical, cynical voice of what we assume is his Birdman "persona". Well, it sounded like Bat-- Birman. Also very interesting to me was how snippets of super powers were shown as if there was more to him than meets the eye. They were not overdone, and they culminated in satisfying, yet short, outdoor sequences. This is not an action film though, very far from it. Don't go watching this expecting superhero shenanigans because you'll be sorely disappointed. This is about relationships and psychology. It's about a formerly popular movie star's desperate quest for respect and admiration, as well as about his theatre entourage. I admit that the parallels of Riggan, the main character, to Michael Keaton's life and how he might be adds a lot of interest that wouldn't be there if the role was played by anybody else.
The characters were played by great actors at the top of their form. Michael Keaton in the lead played the most complex and perhaps broken of them all, in a bold performance going through a wide range of emotions. He has my vote for best lead actor at the Oscars this year. Edward Norton as an eccentric method actor was a hoot. The women were dead-on and just sounded true. Was the movie funny? Sometimes, when it involved unexpected humiliations, interactions with Norton, or clever lines. It was also fairly dramatic sometimes, but it didn't come close to making me cry. I was constantly emotionally engaged though. Not only by the story, but by the characters and, of course, the technical and artistic wizardry on display. I've never seen a film quite like this and I've seen lots of films.
I forgot to mention the very peculiar soundtrack that mostly consists of drum solos, and a little classical music during plays. I'm not sure I liked it but kudos for being different and not totally annoying me. My only other personal criticism would be (to avoid spoilers) the flights of fancy. Sometimes, in amazement, I wondered how they did it without cutting and with people around; sometimes, it looked awkward. Anyway, it's not really important. This is a smart, original and surprising film that impressed me.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (excellent)
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Creepy, eerie and scary
This one came out of left field. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was gripping and fascinating. It was engaging emotionally and intellectually. Although things didn't always make sense, it was often surprising. In fact, the seemingly nonsensical stuff didn't bother me as it usually does; it even added to the allure of the mysteries. I enjoyed that it was a "new" mythology with a "creature" that hasn't been done to death before. Even better, it was ambiguous and intelligent. This is also a movie that's very stylishly directed with nice transitions, angle shots and filters. For such a gloomy film taking place mostly in a suburb, it sure looked pretty. The acting was top-notch with Richard Gere being impressive, and the other actors, especially the character actors, sounding true. Most of all, this movie was creepy as hell, not by being bloody and gory, but by creating atmosphere and scaring us with seemingly mundane stuff and revelations. The phone calls were particularly disturbing. I highly recommend this film if you're into psychological thrillers with supernatural overtones or loved the X-Files back in the days.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (remarkable)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
I didn't feel like cutting my wrists
I kept seeing this movie pop up on IMB in the "People who watched this also liked..." section of some of my favorite fantastical movies with romantic elements such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (not seeing it anymore), so after many years I decided to rent it. It didn't have much to do with those. It was obviously low-budget and it wasn't as good as I hoped. I loved the concept of suicides going to some kind of limbo, which is actually just like here, but a little worse. I liked the little fantasy touches such as the void in the car, people not being able to smile, matches flying up, etc, that showed some creativity. I liked the little suicide flashbacks that were sometimes darkly humorous. I liked the main actress with the dark hair that reminded me of a younger Angelina Jolie. I wasn't crazy about the road trip story, wishing more had been shown of the initial town and daily life. I didn't care for the music by Eugene. It didn't "suck" per say but better songs and soundtrack would have helped the mood. I didn't find the movie laugh-out-funny but it was amusing by moments. The romantic aspect was not so bad, I rooted for them, but it felt somewhat lacking and got torpedoed by the contrived ending. I enjoyed the movie much less than I should have considering the subject matter and themes I usually love.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good)
The Colony (2013)
A cold day in hell when logic ruins disbelief
So we're in a near-future, an ice age has come and small pockets of humanity survive in bunkers called colonies. Any disease is dangerous, survival is precarious and a distress call is heard from another colony. Three people go there, see that cannibals have taken over. Not that bad of a premise although with global warning, drought would be more likely. Still, I did like the start and I thought it had potential. It wasn't so bad until roughly the halfway mark after the bridge confrontation. Speaking of which, the ruins covered in snow were pretty nice looking, although looking a bit CGI, and the whole dilapidated bridge full of holes was memorable.
So the movie went wrong and threw logic out the window after that bridge collapse. First, since the cannibals would have had to make a huge detour and since it was snowing all the time, they could not have possibly tracked the hero back to base. Second, the more numerous besieged humans had firearms, home-field advantage, were warned beforehand with at least one man who was in the military, and they were up against less than 20 gun-less cannibals, those that survived the bridge. Those cannibals aren't zombies who can take lots of damage, they're feral humans probably malnourished. There's no way they could have posed the threat they did. Then again, if they didn't, there wouldn't have been much of a climax.
Laurence Fishburne's solid yet lacklustre performance did elevate things a bit until his heroic sacrifice that was basically pointless. I also liked Bill Paxton's character. The main actress with the blonde dreadlocks looked stunning but unfortunately her personality wasn't shown much. In fact, lack of personality and character development hurt everything else since I didn't really care for the protagonists. I did like the intensity and closeness of the final battle, but I thought the battles before weren't that good since they were cut too quick. As for suspense and atmosphere, first half was doing pretty well, but the second part kinda lost me turning into more of action movie. The cannibals could have been better. It felt as if only their bald leader was given enough exposure. I doubt I'll remember very much about this movie except the bridge.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (poor)
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
The best prequel/sequel it could have been considering the circumstances
If you haven't watched the great first movie, I would suggest stopping to read right now as I'll refer to it later on, so spoiler warnings, but only for the original movie. Let's start by saying it has a similar structure to the first Sin City: a few short stories linking up sometimes by locations or characters. There's Marv dealing with frat boys torching vagrants for fun in the intro; Dwight coping with the return of a lost love that betrayed him in the past; Nancy Callaghan wanting revenge on the father of the yellow bastard for what happened to her and Hartigan; and a new guy called Johnny, a great gambler, trying to win big at poker but there for personal stakes.
I was confused throughout by seeing Marv popping up everywhere still alive when he was supposed to be quite dead. It could not be explained by it being a prequel because one of the stories (Nancy Callaghan's) was an obvious sequel. I was also confused more than once by the timelines of certain characters that I thought shouldn't be there or shouldn't die (more on that later). Turns out I was wrong and everything fit chronologically. Here's a simple explanation: every story takes place, including Nancy Callaghan's (Jessica Alba) before Marv's story in Sin City 1. Dwight's story is a prequel to his story in Sin City 1. The only "sequel" is for Nancy Callaghan and Hartigan's main story that follows directly their story from Sin City 1.
This is the best Sin City movie prequel/sequel/whenever that could have been done considering several factors. First factor is that it was released 9 years later. Despite that, they did manage to get most of the same actors. The main problem is that Clive Owen's character, Dwight, was replaced by Josh Brolin because Owen had other engagements. It is really a shame that they couldn't get him, because it would have been really neat to see him after a certain event, not to mention surprising for those who didn't remember the same character was in the first film. Plus, Brolin's pseudo-Owen makeup and wig were lacking and hurt the suspension of disbelief. The other actor changes for Miho, Manute and Bob - because of pregnancy, death and unknown reason - didn't matter that much.
Very important factor to consider: it was mostly made by the same creative team including Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. It felt and looked like the first movie despite not having the novelty factor anymore. Another factor to take into account is that the stories are based on the Miller's stories, there's a limited number of them (they even used 2 unpublished here), and that arguably the best ones were taken for the first movie. Consequently, I didn't think the stories were as gripping or amazing as the ones in the original movie, yet they were very good and in the same violent noir/graphic novel spirit. They also had surprising moments, but a few were kind of ruined by the fact I thought a few secondary characters couldn't die if they were in the original movie since we were in a prequel part for them in Sin City 2, or so I thought. I was mistaken, confused, and it lessened my enjoyment a little. The stylized action was as well made as the first although it didn't strike me as being as memorable. The dialogues and narration, an highlight of the first movie for me, weren't as inspired, even lame sometimes.
Acting wise, Eva Green once again impressed me, this time with a smart, complex femme fatale role. I was sometimes gleefully smiling when she was using her devious wiles on the poor men. Perhaps because she's of French origin, nudity didn't seem to bother her and there was a lot of it here, mostly artistic. On the other hand, despite trying hard, I didn't particularly like Jessica Alba as Nancy Callaghan. She had a big character arc yet didn't quite convince me, nor move me emotionally. Also, you never see her nude, nor any of her colleagues, making this bar the lamest "strip" bar ever ;-) I particularly enjoyed the charismatic, cocky performance by Gordon-Levitt as Johnny. Marv didn't seem as great as in the first film, but you see more of him as he has a major role in more than one story. Weirdly, I liked his make-up and hair less. Josh Brolin was OK I guess, but lacked the presence and intensity of Owen. Powers Boothe doing Senator Roarke did a great villain. Everyone else did respectable jobs, although Willis had very little to do. If you liked the first film, I have trouble seeing how you could not be satisfied with this one too although it wasn't as good. It's also worth seeing in theatres and in 3D.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)
Good times with a Korean super spy and his oblivious wife
It was a very enjoyable and fun movie reminiscent of the old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies that was also a remake of a French Film called "La Totale". There are very similar elements between "The Spy" and "Trues Lies" but "The Spy" is far from a copy. In both, it features a super spy/counter-terrorism agent who goes on missions while his wife thinks he's just a normal man holding a boring, ordinary job. The wife eventually gets involved in a case. She's a flight attendant desperately wanting to get pregnant as apparently that's very important in South Korea. She's obsessed with that goal seeming one-dimensional even annoying at times, but she eventually turns out to be perhaps the best and funniest element of the film. The action mostly takes place in Thailand where, through sheer coincidence, or is it, the husband and wife are there at the same time. She doesn't know he's there but he keeps tabs on her as a tall, young and handsome man (actually a "terrorist") tries to subtly woo her for reasons unknown. The jealous and awkward reactions of the spy/husband make for some of the funniest bits. Very funny also are the reactions of a female agent at base regarding the handsome "terrorist".
It's a very dynamic movie with good action pieces and decent special effects that didn't really look computer-generated (as often happens in modern action/fantastical Asian movies). The plot itself involving a pretty North Korean nuclear scientist wanting to defect to South Korea is quite entertaining and full of twists, better than most action movie plots, as several agencies (from different countries) compete to get or keep her. Parallel to all that is our hero more interested in what his wife does than the mission at hand and having to secretly protect her because she keeps getting in the thick of things. I saw this at the Montreal Fantasia Festival. There were several laugh-out loud moments and I laughed too although I'm usually quite difficult when it comes to humor. I enjoyed the acting (except for all the Caucasian people who seemed bland and amateurish) but keep in mind it's played broader and sillier than what we're used to in North American movies, especially for the wife. The Spy: Undercover Operation was a very entertaining film from start to finish and I'd recommend watching it for a good time.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very good)
Space Station 76 (2014)
Disappointed but maybe it's just me
I find it strange and suspicious that I saw the so-called international premiere at the Montreal Fantasia Festival yesterday and that there were already 7 reviews up that had been there for months (all from March except 2), that were all roughly of the same length (one-paragraph long), that were all very positive, that were often the only review done by the reviewer on IMDb, and that 3 reviews were from people who joined IMDb at the same time. I'm not sure what to think of this but let's give the benefit of the doubt. (September 21 edit: Since writing this review, I learnt that the movie was actually shown at South by Southwest festival in March even though the Fantasia Festival website and program do say "International premiere". It's why I wrote "so-called" international premiere. I still find the early reviews suspicious but less so.)
Contrary to those other glowing reviews, I didn't like this movie and I'm still not quite sure why. I didn't really laugh except perhaps once. I might even have found it more sad than funny most of the time. When people in the public laughed, and they did laugh, I wasn't even smiling or amused. Keep in mind that the Fantasia festival audience is usually very generous and expressive. To be fair, 2 friends I went with thought the movie was good.
So what went wrong? Why was it that, apparently, a good portion of the people in the theater enjoyed this '70s sci-fi pastiche made today while I didn't?
Maybe it was because of my age and lack of familiarity/nostalgia. I'm way more familiar with sci-fi shows/films of the '80s and after, although I've seen a few of the '70s. Usually, I do love sci-fi comedies and I do love dark humor. Maybe it was because of the acting. Most actors - especially the captain (Patrick Wilson), the new first officer (Liv Tyler) and the "mechanic" (Matt Bomer) - played this very seriously and deadpan. Usually nothing wrong with that, it's supposed to be "drama" too after all, but here I found it sometimes jarring. It's like those actors weren't cast in the right film. I did enjoy the Misty character, the blonde Anna-Faris look-alike, that was a little more over the top.
Maybe it's because it was depressing or sad. Basically, all the characters were depressed and/or unhappy. Even the captain was suicidal. Usually, this is fertile ground for dark comedy but the pay-offs here seemed disappointing. A little girl here was very good but almost everything involving her just seemed sad, and not "ha-ha" sad. Maybe it's because I was spoiled beforehand. I did read the festival program entry, saw the trailer. Perhaps it ruined the better jokes, the effect of surprise. Maybe it was because most of the comedy bits weren't that funny after all. I do get how unacceptable behavior today (such as smoking around children) was more acceptable in the '70s and that the differences can be amusing. I do get that with pot, you find things funny that you otherwise wouldn't. I do get that cliché pop psychology advice can be amusing. However, this and other things seemed funnier on paper than how it was in delivery. It was all very deadpan. Again, this usually doesn't bother me, but it did here.
Maybe it was because of the decors and special effects. Actually no, those were better than expected. Even though the Fantasia festival program said the movie was "faithfully free of new-fangled CGI", I learnt recently the effects were indeed done digitally. To my eyes, they did seem to look vintage and made with models, but I was fooled. I thought the looks inside the station from space were especially well done. However, I thought the dingy toy robots distracted from immersion. They felt like props from the stage play this movie was based on. Yeah, the decors were repetitive, but it was like this back then, so not complaining there. Maybe I just wasn't into the right mood. All that being said, even though I didn't personally care for that film, a certain nostalgic audience having the references and in the right frame of mind might find it enjoyable. However, I do not think that it deserves those 9-stars and 10-stars ratings in the IMDb reviews made before the "international" premiere. I would give it around a 6 or 7 stars for most people because it was too hit or miss. Personally, for me, I have to rate it lower as I found it disappointing and mostly unfunny.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Poor)
The Search for Weng Weng (2007)
A win-win for fans curious about Weng Weng
Perhaps you're like me and were only aware of the midget Weng Weng from funny programs of shorts at festivals. To be fair, I've never seen a complete movie of this little guy playing a James Bond-type spy in a few 70s Fillipino movies. Beforehand, I found the little excerpts of his work hilarious and ridiculous so why not a documentary about this obscure, forgotten "star". This documentary told me everything I wanted to know about Weng Weng and more. It mostly takes place in the Philippines and interviews a lot of his co-workers of the time. It also tries to solve the mysteries of where he came from, what he was like and what happened to him. It also has plenty of footage, some never seen before, of Weng Weng in action so it could be worth watching just for that. All is not fun and funny as we learn more about his life and fate. It's also amazing when the director manages to hang around with and interview a very famous Filipino who I thought was dead. I thought the documentary was in danger of being derailed at that point by spending almost too long with that surprise guest star, but it eventually got back on track. Don't worry about not understanding the sometimes thick accents, because everything that needs to be subtitled is subtitled. I was pleasantly surprised overall and I think almost anyone with an interest in B-movies might enjoy this.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Very good)
Not so monstrous fare caught between drama and ridicule
I saw this at the Montreal Fantasia Festival. Before going in, I didn't realize that this was by the same director as the 2 Japanese "Ring" movies and the Japanese "Dark Water" or my expectations could have been too high. This is mostly a fantastical thriller with a little action. Not that much action since the antagonist often "freezes" people with his mind (think Professor Xavier in X-Men). In fact, this nameless man (I call him that way because it's a mystery) can control anyone he sees and make them do what he wants. Despite this amazing power, he seems not to abuse it too much (except to steal) and lives "outside" of society, isolated, with no friends. That is until he encounters by chance the one person he cannot control. His nemesis, the "hero" Shuichi, is initially unaware of this man and might have remained so if not for the nameless man trying to kill him (actually thought it was an accident at first) and later becoming obsessed with him. How could a man survive against someone who can have anyone else kill him? Well, there's more to the hero than just mind-control immunity.
We could only qualify the performance of the nameless man as intense, perhaps too much so. There was a cool, blue, swirling effect in his eyes when he used his power, but most of his emotions had to be conveyed silently. He was either extremely focused or what seemed to be terrible pain. I enjoyed his physical performance (he also limps) although his weird, child-like yet handsome face sometimes looked "constipated" provoking unintended laughter from the audience. The hero was more of an average, normal man, which was appropriate. Not a great performance, but OK. After a gripping intro in the childhood of the nameless man, there were a few very good moments where he froze lots of people, including the memorable end scene at a concert hall with people in danger of jumping down from balconies. How this was made was amazing. The scenes with less people (notably in the guitar repair shop) were less successful. Still, there was usually good dramatic tension because we often didn't know what the troubled nameless man might do and how the hero could possibly stop it. In fact, I liked the ambiguity of the nameless man very much although he did do terrible things. I kind of felt sorry for him sometimes.
The movie was perhaps at its best in the intimate scenes with his mother. In contrast, the scenes between the hero and the love interest didn't work for me and lacked chemistry. The worse thing though, and what turned a potentially very good thriller into something much less were the lame and "comic-relief" friends of the hero, including an effeminate gay caricature. Whenever they were around, they defused the suspense and turned the movie ridiculous. I understand the need for levity in such thrillers but this was too much. The scene with the friends at the sauna was particularly painful. Even when the friends weren't around, it seemed there was a fine line between dramatic suspense and campy ridicule that might be crossed depending on your level of tolerance. The "freezing" scenes were not done as well as X-Men or the TV show Heroes - it was obviously people standing still - but I think it was done as well as it could have been done. I liked how straining his powers seemed to really hurt the nameless man (rotting his parts black), but this was unfortunately forgotten in the denouement. Wasted opportunity if you ask me. Some have compared the movie to X-Men or Unbreakable, and there are a few elements of those, but Monsterz is weaker and not that similar. Do not expect actual monsters or creatures either, as the "monsterz" are metaphorical. I think it's worth watching provided you don't expect too much and don't mind too much the friends of the hero. You can't call it original either because it's a remake of a 2010 Korean film.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (good)
It's obviously very low budget but this was no excuse for such cheap schlock. This is mostly a succession of not-so-great stripping scenes at a strip club (where women only bare their breasts) cut with short, disappointing murders committed by a masked maniac dubbed Hatchetman because of the weapon he seems to use. This is also a festival of horrible acting headlined by the obnoxious, overacting building manager and by the biggest-breasted star stripper. The grieving scenes are particularly pathetic and fake. The only not-so-bad actors are probably the detective and the new curly-haired stripper. The writing is below soap-opera quality. The build-up to the murders is lame (except the first one) and the murders themselves are over in a flash with a splash of blood on a wall and a quick glance (or not) of the victim. There's no suspense, no horror. There's a pretense at a murder mystery but it quickly becomes obvious who the killer is. The characters act stupidly and unrealistically. The ending is beyond lame. This pathetic, oblivious, unoriginal and unfunny excuse for a B-movie film is not worth watching.
Rating: 2 out of 10 (terrible)