Friday, February 1, 2019

Polar (2019) - Netflix Original - Review

A comic book movie with hyper stylized violence that brings to mind Kill Bill (2003-4) and Shoot 'Em Up (2007)... What's not to like?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Black Kaiser, an aging assassin who is two weeks from retirement. His agency owes him $8 million, but instead of paying up their debt, they make the grave mistake of trying to eliminate him. What ensues is a two hour non-stop battle. The film is well made, and the pacing is just right. Again, viewers need to set their expectations to a comic book movie, not an artistic film.

The cast were great, except for Vanessa Hudgens who over-acted her scenes. It was like watching a highschool play where the lead is trying way too hard to impress.

As a genre movie, Polar easily earns a 9/10!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Red Dead Redemption II (2018) - Video Game Review

The best video game of all time! Nuff said!

A prequel to the original game from 2010, excels in every regard on top of an already perfect game. Acting, storytelling, and computer effects don't get any better than this. I acknowledge that it is a slow burn. It took me 70 hours to finish the game and some of the more fun side activities. The first 20-25 hours were at a slower pace. I have heard from some gaming personalities that they felt the game was pushing them away with a friction force. Again, I concede that it is a slow burn. Also, for fans of the original game, accepting Arthur Morgan as the protagonist may take some time.

I, however, had complete trust in Rockstar games and the Houser brothers to offer another masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II is their magnum opus (up to this point at least). I am also a fan of the Western genre, so I admit that I was biased.

The game has received countless perfect 10 scores from the game media and 97% score on metacritic. I also echo their opinion and give it a 10/10. Red Dead Redemption II is a game that I will revisit and relive again and again.

Black Panther (2018) - Review

Black Panther is a significant cultural breakthrough in the comic book genre, but besides that, the characters and effects are seriously lacking!

It is yet another superhero origin movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; so, you can expect the tried and true formula to be replicated again: the hero is recovering from a tragedy (loss of his father in this case), finds his stride and puts on his costume, but then is challenged by an antagonist that is a carbon copy of our hero. This is the same plot that we have seen in Iron Man, Ant Man, and Dr. Strange. Seems Marvel is going with the old adage of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And, well... it works!

What doesn't work is the character of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), or the Black Panther himself. He is depressed by the weight of the world on his shoulders, seems to be constantly constipated, and is simply boring. The movie also ignores the development of the character in Captain America: Civil War. T'Challa is hundred times more interesting in Civil War or in Avengers: Infinity War. The antagonist, Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan), has somewhat genocidal goals, however, his character arc is better developed, and he captured the attention better whenever he was on the screen.

Besides the character development issues, the computer effects were another weak point of the movie. Particularly, the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger next to the underground trains was as primitive as a PlayStation 2 game circa early 2000s.

Going back to an earlier post that I had about the three pillars of a good movie, Black Panther fails in the first dimension, but story logic and pacing are done well. Bottom line, the film left me desire for more, and for that I give it 4.5/10.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Review

Six short stories by the Coen brothers that make everyone (well, at least me) envy their creativity and smooth flow of story telling!

Trying to stay spoiler free, these six stories take you for a ride with each protagonist for a few hours up to a couple of days. I am a huge fan of the Western genre, so, the escapism was much appreciated. Besides, the protagonists were interesting enough that I enjoyed my time watching them. The stories were dark and some anticlimactic. Also switching from one point of view to another every 20-25 minutes may be a little cognitively taxing. However, Joel and Ethan Coen are masters of their craft, and it is always a pleasure experiencing one of their stories.

If it is not clear already, I loved this masterpiece and I give it a 10/10! Although, I acknowledge that this work may not appeal to the majority of the audience the way it did to me.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) - Review

The true story of an undercover African American police officer in Ku Klux Klan is stranger than fiction. The premise of this story is fascinating, and the boldness of that officer defies expectations and beliefs. The movie's message is that KKK is a racist organization, and race prejudices of the past are still with us today. These, sadly, are facts that are widely known already...

I also found some of the matters were handled heavy handedly. Again, we know that those issues from 60's and 70's are still persisting. Putting today's political slogans (e.g., build a wall, and make America great again) in the mouth of David Duke - the leader of KKK - is a little too on the nose. Okay, we get what Spike Lee (the director) was trying to say. But the overemphasis on these parallels felt like Spike Lee was trying to force feed his message.

I personally subscribe to liberal views, however, I raise this issue because I prefer nuance in story telling. For example, George Orwell's Animal Farm was a social commentary on its contemporary socio-political situation and Marxism in particular; however, the allegories were used delicately and hence, made a stronger impact.

Props to acting and soundtrack, however, the movie neither entertained nor informed. I'd give it a 4/10.

The Favourite (2018) - Review

The Favourite is about historical figures, and somewhat historically accurate, that relies more on its style than substance.

Yorgos Lanthimos, the director, certainly made a movie unlike anything else out there. From the camera angles to music and wardrobe, everything is unconventional. The acting is perhaps the most traditional aspect of the movie, and is of course of highest quality. I cannot call Lanthimos an auteur as I still do not see occurrence of similar patterns in his movies. However, his movies are different. Different doesn't make it a masterpiece though.

The movie is about the rise of Abigail Masham (played by Emma Stone) and fall of Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). I liked the camera angels that Lanthimos chose to reflect to status of players in their pursuit for power (or favour). In the beginning, when Abigail was on screen, the camera was almost at knee level and it was looking up. With her rise, the camera moved to the somewhat regular shoulder height.

The other unconventional touch was the music, which made me nauseous. At points, there was just one instrument (violin in one instance, or a church organ in another) played aggressively that almost deafened the dialogue between actors.

Overall, the acting was superb, the pacing was okay, but the story was predictable, and the music was unsettling. Similar to Roma, if it weren't for 10 Oscars nominations, I would have quit the movie (just because of the score). It is a borderline good movie though, and I'd give it a 6.5/10.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Roma (2018) - Review

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited the story of his family's live-in maid from his childhood. This semi-autobiography compares and contrasts the lives of people from different social classes in early 1970's Mexico City.

Roma is a very slow film. The first hour and a half of the 135 minute runtime goes at a snail's pace. It shows the day-to-day routines of a working class maid and the upper middle class family (or as the Mexican call them, the rubios) that she works for. Shopping, eating, cleaning, children playing, adults driving and going to work are activities that are too boring for a youtube vlog, let alone a cinematic experience...

The lives of these two groups hit road bumps around the same time (in the last hour of the movie), and it shows that life is not easy, regardless of social class. The problems are of course different, but as Kurt Cobain once said: "nobody dies a virgin ... life f**** us all".

I would have quitted the movie many times over, but soldiered on only because it had received 10 Oscar nominations! I acknowledge that the movie was beautifully shot. The same still frames would have looked amazing at a museum though. I also enjoyed how Cuaron compared and contrasted the lives and problems of the two classes, but the same comparison could have been done in a two-page article.

I have a hard time giving a score to Roma. As mentioned, it is slow (particularly in the first hour and a half), and the beautiful shots and social commentary could have been presented elsewhere to greater effect. But having forced myself to watch till the end, I respect the director and actors (particularly, Yulitza Aparicio who truly deserves her Oscar nomination based on some of her scenes in the last hour of the film). This is one of those situations where you enjoy the destination despite the boring and steep journey. Of course, that is what life is, but I prefer to escape from the daily challenges when I'm watching a movie.

Some filmmakers called it the best movie of the year or decade, but to me, it was a 7/10 at best.