Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Venom (2018) - Review

An uninspired movie filled with computer generated images (CGI), that is merely an okay watch!

After Sony loaned Spider-Man - its crown jewel comic book property - to Disney, it had to settle for side-characters from that universe. Venom, a member of Spider-Man's rogue gallery, is not a standalone character in my opinion, but Sony gambled on Tom Hardy, and the box office data shows that they won (with over $850 million gross worldwide as of the writing of this review)!

The movie revolves around the alien Symbiote (the black goo that gives a human host super powers) family that want to take over the earth. As the trailers show, there are a few Symbiotes in play, and that makes the movie a little too heavy on CGI.

I have never been a fan of Tom Hardy, but I have two positive things to say about his performance in Venom: i) I got to understand him in this movie without the need for subtitles, cause his mouth wasn't covered (see Bane in Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max in Fury Road, and his character in Dunkirk), and he was speaking with a North American accent, and ii) he was unintentionally funny. I say unintentionally, because I think Hardy, as a supposed character actor, wanted to show the internal struggle between his character (Eddie Brock) and Venom (the Symbiote), and he was constantly fighting with himself.

Bottom line, it's a somewhat humorous movie and an easy watch for a Sunday afternoon. I'd give it a 5.5/10.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Aquaman (2018) - Review

A fun ride from beginning to end! Aquaman is visually stunning, particularly the underwater scenes. The story is rather predictable, but I think is completely fine. Not every comic book movie needs to push the boundaries of the genre.

We had seen Jason Momoa's Aquaman in Batman v Superman (2016), albeit briefly, and also in Justice League (2017) before. Props to Zach Snyder for this inspired casting. It is obvious that Momoa loves every second of being in the role.

The events of this solo movie happen after Justice League (2017), and we also get to see Arthur Curry's (aka Aquaman) origin story in a series of flashbacks. The main story is adapted from Geoff Johns' Throne of Atlantis story arc from the comics, which might be familiar to hardcore DC fans. I think the main beats should be predictable to non-fans as well...

The movie's colour palette, costumes, and visuals are the best that I've seen in DC movies. James Wan, the director, should be commended for the spectacles as well as the pacing of the movie - it hardly wastes any time on non-value added expositions. The film borrows from a myriad of genres, including adventure (with homages to the Indiana Jones series - set pieces as well as the puzzles), horror (the end of second act), and of course comic book action. There are some slow motion shots that make you feel you are looking at a cover of a comic book (with all those heroic poses). Speaking of action, the fight choreography is top-notch. This interview with the director made me appreciate it even more:


In short, Aquaman is a beautiful and entertaining movie, with likeable protagonists, that helps you escape from your daily routine. I'd give it a 9.5/10!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Bad Times at El Royale (2018) - Review

A fantastic cast of characters in the hands of a writer/director who doesn't know the difference between homage and imitation, led to one of the biggest wasted potentials of the year (even before Creed II).

The poster itself was enticing enough for me: the promise of that star-studded cast in a movie set in the 70's... It had all the makings of a classic. The first 30 minutes out of the 140-minute run time was actually well-made. The characters were meeting one another for the first time, and the audience had no idea about the characters' intentions. One by one they were ravelling, and it was interesting to see your expectations subverted. After the first act, style and substance both took a huge dip.

Some of the characters were evil, just for the sake of being evil. And, some were virtuous, just for the sake of being virtuous. There was no character development whatsoever - it shouldn't be confused with what I said in the previous paragraph about the intentions. You may know what a person wants, but the movie fails to tell you why or how they came to want that particular outcome. 

Overall, I think my time was wasted. I would've given it 6/10 (because of the cast and the first act), but one factor makes me deduct two points and that was the over emphasis on the singer. Nobody has come to that movie to hear 15 minutes of soul/church solos by one of the characters.

Bad Times at El Royale translates to bad times for the audience as well, and I give it a 4/10.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) - Review

It's truly rare when something exceeds your expectations, particularly when you've already had high expectations because of all the hype. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those cases!

At the time of this review, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has won the Golden Globes and many other accolades. Critically, it has scored 87% on Metacritic, 8.7/10 on IMDb, and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. The story is known to comic book fans, as it is an adaptation of the spider-verse saga from the comics. The execution, though, is absolutely breathtaking!

Using 3D models on 2D panels, incorporating a hand-drawn pig (i.e., the Spider-Ham) in a 3D space, the drop in frame rate every now and then, and recreating the look and feel of vintage comic books from 1960's and 70's (blurred edges and dotted textures) make this movie look different from everything else that has ever been done before! And, these are just the stylistic choices. The visuals that the movie delivers - while avoiding any spoilers - make you think that you have experienced a trip to the multiverse!

The story is not flawless, but I found myself grinning for the majority of the movie (mostly in the first half). It definitely deserves the Oscars, and I just hope that the creators pay as much attention to detail in the inevitable sequels.

Again, it's not flawless, but nonetheless, it's a masterpiece worthy of a 10/10 score!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) - Review

Continuing on with Disney's not-so-perfect track record for sequels, Mary Poppins does make a comeback in a step-by-step retread of the original that ends up trailing in every aspect.

The original Mary Poppins came out in 1964, and was the technological marvel of its time; it used the sodium vapor process - a yellow screen technique - to superimpose live action onto animation. It was the first live action Disney movie nominated for an Oscar in best picture, and the incomparable Julie Andrews won the best actress award (over competition from Audrey Hepburn's role in My Fair Lady). Sherman brothers also well-deservedly won two Oscars for best song and score for their timeless masterpiece.

After 54 years, Mary Poppins returned in 2018. Emily Blunt in the titular role is the highlight of the movie, although, I was not a big fan of her accent - wish she had used her own regular English accent rather than the gimmicky one that is supposed to be reflective of the time. Blunt has stated in the interviews that she based her character on the books rather than Julie Andrews' portrayal. Emily Blunt managed to pull off the more strict personality that she was aiming for, but whenever she smiled, the drill-sergeant facade fell down and she showed a sweet and giddy little girl. Maybe that was intentional... The dissonance was confusing to me though.

The rest of the movie is just a copy of the original. Lin Manuel Miranda is a lamplighter that substituted for Dick Van Dyke's Bert the chimney sweep - with an equally ridiculous cockney accent. Other copied elements are: an animated sequence, a cruel banker as the antagonist, a visit to one of Mary's wacky relatives, a sad slow song that's supposed to be profound, a choreographed street dance with 20+ dancers, and a dramatic resolution to the conflict at the 11th hour.

Other than the subpar imitation of the original, perhaps the biggest sin of Mary Poppins Returns (2018) was the forgettable music. As I left the theatre, I found myself humming the tunes from the 1964 original rather than the movie that I had just seen!

I hope Disney does a better job if they want to make more sequels to Mary Poppins in the future. I'd give it a 6/10, although it deserves a lower score, just because Mary Poppins Returns made me reminisce my childhood memories from the original.

What Makes a Good Protagonist?

After the release of James Bond's first movie, Dr. No (1962), critics attributed the success and popularity of the Bond character to one simple assertion: men want to be him, and women want to be with him.

I think that statement could be applied to determine the appeal of other characters too. I have a minor amendment or clarification to add: wanting to be with a character may not necessarily be romantic or sexual. I would like to consider it as spending time with the character and chatting over coffee or drinks.

I have found myself rooting for protagonists that were nothing like me (neither their physical appearance, nor their personalities), but they could have been fun people to hang out with; hence I found their characters appealing. Deadpool is an example that comes to mind in demonstrating this point: I don't think the majority of the fans want to be Deadpool or see themselves in Deadpool's character with his hundreds of psychological issues. I also don't think that the fans desire Deadpool in a romantic way. However, he's one hell of company to share a drink with and hear his stories. In other words, audience wants to be with him (in a social setting). Other examples out of the left field could be E.T., R2D2, C3PO, and so on...

What I'm trying to say is: if a character looks, sounds, moves, and acts like me (or in a way that I aspire to), then great! I'd want to be that character and would be able to see myself in them. But if the character has a different skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, height, weight, dietary preferences, favourite colour, or whatnot, I can still root for them as long as they are cool characters that I'd want to be with (whether socially or romantically).



P.S. This post follows up on another opinion piece about the three pillars of a good movie or tv show.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Creed II (2018) - Review

The Rocky, or better say, Creed saga continues with an underwhelming entry to the series by wasting the high nostalgic potential that it had.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) starts the movie by becoming the heavy weight boxing champion of the world, while Rocky Balboa is sitting ringside. The happiness doesn't last long, as a blast from the past hits them hard in form of an exiled Ivan Drago - the Russian boxer from Rocky IV who brought Apollo Creed (Adonis' father) to an early demise. Rocky, however, had avenged Apollo by defeating Ivan in Russia. After Ivan's defeat by Rocky (in Rocky IV), Ivan was shunned from the society and was forced to seek refuge in Ukraine. There, Ivan trained his son Viktor and made a 'mean machine' out of him. Viktor sees Rocky and Creed as the reason for his family's misery. So, he wants to right the wrongs done to his father...

Creed II had me excited by the promise of another chapter in the endless vendetta between Drago and Creed/Balboa family. The movie, however, failed in a major way in my opinion. Going back to an earlier post that I had about the three pillars of a good movie, Creed II made me dislike Adonis Creed's whiny boring character (i.e., the protagonist), and root for Viktor Drago (i.e., the intended antagonist). Viktor was the underdog who was a victim of circumstances and was seeking glory and recognition.

Tessa Thompson returns as Creed's love interest. The focus on her singing career and her performance before Creed-Drago match felt forced in the plot of a boxing movie. Has anybody ever watched a sports movie in the hope of seeing the rise of a struggling singer (regardless of gender)?

The saving grace of this whole movie was Sylvester Stallone. He owned every second of screen time that he had. It's sad that he said goodbye to this role of a lifetime.

Overall, this was a mediocre movie at best. I give it a 5.5/10.