Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue One (2016)

Disney plans to release one Star Wars movie every year. So far, they have hit the bullseye two out of two!

Rogue One's story serves as a prologue to Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). So if you've seen Episode IV (well, who hasn't?), you already know that Rogue's One objective is going to be achieved. This makes it similar to a historical drama (e.g., you already know which side won WWII). But an effective filmmaker can still make you excited and thrilled about what's going to happen!

The team behind Rogue One - directed by Gareth Edwards, and written by John Knoll, Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz, and Tony Gilroy - do a magnificent job of making you care about the characters as well as the outcome! The story makes a lot of sense! It even elevates Episode IV by giving sound explanations to some of Episode IV's plot holes. Rogue One also shows how the rebel alliance came to act as a unit in the New Hope. In short, the alliance had good leadership, but they were disjointed. The empire's deployment of the Death Star gave the alliance a common cause to put aside their differences and act together. This little plot development is analogue to many events in the past as well as recent history! But I digress...

The film is 134 minutes long. It paces the story pretty well. The first half is spent on character building, and it takes a while for the story to pick up. But the second half delivers in spades! I don't remember if I blinked an eye during the second half! Well, of course I'm exaggerating, but there were three battles going on at the same time (similar to the third act in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)!... The slower progression of the first half was perhaps necessary to build up to the second half and make it this much better!

Rogue One doesn't have a main character. One could argue that Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has the most amount of screen time; thus, she is the star! But, in my opinion, Jyn was merely a plot device to tell the story. The other members of the ensemble were as integral to the plot as Jyn was. The connection that you make with the new droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and Baze Maibus (Wen Jiang) is on par with what you felt for Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewy. Of course the characters from the original trilogy had names that were easier to remember! Other that this, Rogue One's characters are developed magnificently!

I should commend Disney for two reasons: first, they didn't spoil the movie during their marketing campaign (unlike Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). The trailers didn't give away much of the plot - they had scenes that were not even in the movie! Second, Disney and LucasFilm were really bold with how they developed this story and let it come to fruition.!You expect these companies to milk a property till the last drop, but Disney let Rogue One to be a unique chapter within the Star Wars universe!

Hardcore and even casual fans of Star Wars (I'm actually in the latter category) would love this movie; the story is beautiful and complements the original trilogy really well! In addition, some of the small references (e.g., Red Leader) are really nostalgic! Newcomers to the Star Wars saga could also enjoy Rogue One immensely. It is a well-told story, with likeable characters, and beautiful cinematography and action! The score doesn't rise to John Williams' quality of work, but that is a small gripe...

For the sheer entertainment value, and out of respect for Disney for their leadership, I'd give Rogue One a 10/10!

Monday, December 19, 2016

WestWorld (2016) - Season 1

WestWorld is the must-see TV show of 2016! Although it is considered an adaptation from a movie by Dr. Michael Crichton (of Jurassic World fame), it is one of the most original scripts on TV! Of course one could argue it's not TV, it's HBO!

WestWorld takes place in the near future, where artificial intelligence and robotics have become so advanced that it is impossible to tell the difference between code and human brain, or between synthetic and organic tissue. WestWorld is a theme park set in the wild west era (late 19th century), and is filled with robots (or "hosts") that are indistinguishable from humans. The guests can pay $50,000/day to enter the park and take part in different quests - similar to role-playing video games that people play online.

WestWorld is an ensemble show that focuses on multiple story threads at the same time. These threads happen within the same geographical location (i.e., the WestWorld theme park), but during different time frames. Some of the interesting twists and reveals of the show are about deciphering the timelines and chronological order of events!

As an ensemble show, particularly within the first season, it might be hard to make a connection with individual characters. WestWorld, however, rose to the challenge and made us care about most players of the game. Credit goes to writers, as well as the actors.

Speaking of actors, the casting is magnificent! Sir Anthony Hopkins delivers a flawless and nuanced performance that could be studied for ages! Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, and Ed Harris also did great jobs with their respective characters. But as I mentioned earlier, perhaps the real stars are the writers. Not only they managed to tell an engaging story, they also put a lot of depth and symbolism in the narrative of the show.

I can think of three philosophical issues that WestWorld incorporated in its story - they didn't necessarily give definitive answers to these questions/issues, but I think it was a faithful representation. Okay, the first one is about the moral fibre of the society. It shows what people would do when there are no (legal) consequences to their actions! Guests can simply do whatever they want in the park with the robots. They can play the hero and save the damsel in distress, or they can become an outlaw and commit heinous acts (e.g., steal, rape, or murder). Although there is no impact on the real humans, the intentions are still the same - ethic scholars talk about morality of consequences vs. morality of intentions. WestWorld is an interesting case study of this debate (consequences vs. intentions), and shows what people would do when they are not limited by the consequences of their actions.

The second important issue that WestWorld covers is about awakening! As I mentioned earlier, the artificial intelligence has become so advanced that the robots are almost sentient. The robots (or hosts) in the show have started asking questions about their own existence and their creators. They began to refuse the bans and restrictions, and seek objective facts. This might be analogue to what humans went through during the renaissance era!

Finally, the third topic is about what it feels to be a (or "the") god in the world! The creators of the theme park have ultimate control over everything that goes on in WestWorld. They can control weather, events, settings, and even beliefs! Sir Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Robert Ford, brilliantly shows what godhood feels like!

I praised the story a lot, but it is not without flaws! There was one particular storyline that simply didn't make sense! I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible: in this thread, one of the robots managed to manipulate the human technicians and turned herself into a god! Her arc was interesting and her character was sympathetic, but the progression of her status defied reason and logic! The show tried to imply that it was all part of the plan, but it was too coincidental! The other "miss" that the show had was perhaps about playing with different time frames. Most of the story arcs were happening within a span of months, expect for one that covered a few decades. That little disparity did not mesh well with the rest, in my opinion...

The creators of the show, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams, have developed a story that has the potential of going on for many seasons, and having multiple spin-offs (e.g., Shogun World)! I, however, hope they don't overstay their welcome and conclude the story before they have to jump the shark!

The first season was 9.5/10 for me. I cannot wait for the next season (probably in 2018?) to see how deep the rabbit hole goes!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Moana (2016)

The latest movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios is targeted at younger audience and tries to position itself in a rather untapped setting/culture. The results are mixed!

The big names behind the movie are Ron Clements and John Musker (the directors who were also responsible for classics like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (voice of Maui), and Lin Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame, who wrote the songs).

Don't expect Moana to enter the stable of Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin, or even Frozen. I'm not fully sold on the message of the movie either. It tells the story of a young girl whose father is the chief of the tribe, and she is next in line to be the chief. Moana feels that the ocean is calling her. The father/chief, though, is against the idea since he himself lost people chasing that dream. Considering this background, the father's reason seemed rational to me. But the film tells audience to defy the authority, even when they have good reasons.

Other than the initial motivation for embarking on the adventure, the movie suffers from a weak villain, or lack thereof. I wasn't sure who the antagonist was until the last 10 minutes of the movie, and then I found out that the villain was not actually a villain!

As for entertainment value, Moana suffers in the first third, but then after the introduction of Maui (voiced by The Rock), it changes significantly! The Rock delivers in spades, and he deserves all the praise that he gets these days! As for the other big player (Lin Manuel Miranda) I only liked two of the songs that he wrote - one sang by Maui, and the other one by the crab! The rest of the songs were some of the weakest that you could find in the Disney animation catalogue!

So, if you are going to see the movie with a young person, it wouldn't be the worst experience! But more adult fans of animation should perhaps skip this one! The saving grace of the movie is the visuals. Well, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and a Disney cartoon set in Hawaii should also look beautiful. Overall, I'd give Moana a 6/10.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Allied (2016)

The Oscar season has come again, and with it, some of the more mature movies with great direction and acting! Allied is still a Hollywood movie, but written and directed by masters!

The star of Allied is Robert Zemeckis - the director who is best known for Back to the Future franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump. Allied is not on par with Roger Rabbit or Forrest Gump as auteur movies of this generation, but still, it is a convincing yet unpredictable story that keeps you on the edge of your seat!

Allied belongs to the genres of action, thriller, and romance, but manages to juggle between them seamlessly! The ticking clock makes you anxious, the fight scenes make you excited, and the personal scenes make you care about the characters! All of that takes place during the 124 minute run-time of the film, and I do not remember looking at my watch more than twice!

Brad Pitt deserves a shoutout for his understated performance!There was nuance in the poker face that he showed during those stressful times. I'm not sure if it was an Oscar-winning performance, but he sure deserves a nomination! Marion Cotillard (who has already won the Oscar once) delivered an intriguing performance. She does such a magnificent job that makes it hard to believe that her real-life personality is different from her character in the movie!

Allied is one of the best movies in theatres at the moment, and deserves to be enjoyed by many. I'd give it a 9/10!

Accountant (2016)

Accountant is a self-contained action thriller with franchise potential!

Ben Affleck plays a math savant (read autistic) hero-for-hire. His acting was understated and engaging. Props to the screenwriter and director for believably developing this character and putting him in a techno-thriller-corporate-espionage movie for the 21st century. They also left the door open for sequels, but I commend them for telling a cohesive three-act story - unlike some other entries this year.

By no means I could say that this is a must-see movie. But it sure is entertaining with interesting characters and story, and also a very well-choreographed fight between Ben Affleck and Jon Bernthal  - or Batman vs. Punisher!

As one of the few good action movies of the Fall season, I'd give it an 8/10!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

This prequel to the Harry Potter films takes us back to J.K. Rowling's wizarding world. But it seems the only purpose of this movie was to build a franchise instead of telling a stand-alone story!

I enjoyed the Harry Potter books and read them all within the first week of their release dates. J.K. Rowling is a master storyteller - there's simply no other writer that could make you turn pages faster than Rowling! I, however, was not a fan of Harry's character! Of course I sympathized with him and wanted him to succeed, but I was irritated by his stubbornness and obnoxiousness - which were the cause of many of the problems, including the death of Sirius Black. Harry's characterization aside, the pacing and storytelling in the books were simply perfect.

These strengths did not completely transfer to the movie adaptations though! It was nice to see the characters come to life, but the films couldn't capture the magic of the books! The movies were filled with cheap-looking CGI, and were rushed to fit in 600-page books into two hours.

Revisiting that movie franchise is bitter-sweet. It is of course familiar, and hearing the Harry Potter theme at the beginning of the Fantastic Beasts was nostalgic. In addition to the music and aura, the ridiculous CGI has come back too!

Looks aside, characters are not fleshed out either. Newt is a neutral character (forgive the pun), but I prefer him to Harry since I didn't find Newt insufferable! Kowalski as the comic relief was hit or miss. Tina Goldstein - the disgraced auror - was perhaps the best developed character in the film. Also hats off to Colin Farrell's Percival Graves.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the movie fails in telling a complete story. It just tries to set the table for the next four sequels that are already planned! In case you desperately miss the wizarding world, then perhaps Fantastic Beasts is worth the price of admission. Otherwise, I'd wait for it to come to streaming services. I give it a 6.5/10.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Tom Cruise is the ultimate action star of this generation. Having the Mission Impossible franchise as his ultimate offering, perhaps it made sense to him to have an entry-level brand in this genre in the name of Jack Reacher. Now that Tom Cruise involved in the Mummy and Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, Jack Reacher may get pushed down to even a lower status in his repertoire.

The second film in the Jack Reacher franchise does not reinvent the formula, nor does it improve on the first entry. It tries to incorporate elements such as romance (with Cobie Smulders) and fatherhood into the action. The problem is that the action or plot don't go beyond the standards of some of the high quality TV shows such as 24, Homeland, or even Banshee!

Tom Cruise is a superstar and he knows how to deliver one-liners with a straight face! I consider myself a fan, and I managed to enjoy the movie because of his performance. There's not much to be said; just try to lower your expectations, and you could enjoy this movie on a Sunday afternoon. I'd give it a 6/10.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Luke Cage (2016)

Netflix original's Luke Cage takes a beloved Marvel character and delivers an experience that, at best, is lukewarm (forgive the pun)!

Netflix's attempts at the superhero genre have been all hits. Particularly the second season of Daredevil. Luke Cage drags the story too long - particularly half-way through the season, it puts Luke Cage out of commission for almost three episodes. In other words, the dearth of material was visibly apparent!

Comparing with Daredevil season two, in which we had three superheroes (Daredevil, Punisher, and Elektra), Luke Cage didn't have much to offer. Instead of story or character development, the showrunners decided to address the recent issues in the society. But they didn't use any finesse in their approach. Many of the speeches felt like texts written by highschool students in honour of Martin Luther King. So, things were a little on the nose!

The season's ending was also ambiguous. That's mostly the problem with universe-building rather than telling a cohesive story. Actually, the shared Universe between the shows worked both in favour of and against Luke Cage. I personally would have skipped this show after the second episode if it weren't for the shared universe - so this way, it helps the show gain and also maintain audience. But on the downside, the show had to just lay the grounds for the Defenders. We also had to listen to references to "the green monster" (i.e., the Hulk), and the "guy with the hammer" (i.e., Thor) at least once in every two episodes.

I'd give it a 4.5/10 due to slow pace and weak story.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

Keeping Up with the Joneses wastes an interesting cast on an action-thriller-romantic-comedy that doesn't do justice to any of those genres!

Let me start with the positives: the movie is fast-paced and you don't feel the passage of time that much. The characters played by Gal Gadot and Zach Galifianakis are likeable, but Jon Hamm (as much as I'm still a fan of his Don Draper in Mad Men) couldn't pull off the action hero, and was barely okay. Isla Fisher's character was just a suburban mom, and didn't have much depth.

The screenwriters and the director tried to cover four different genres, but failed to deliver a cohesive presentation. If I break the movie into three parts, the first 20-30 minutes was a comedy, then thrills and action sequences for the second part, and finally romance and a little action to cap off the movie. Keeping Up with the Joneses was trying hard to emulate the success of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), or even Killers (2010) with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. Let me just briefly talk about the genuine article: Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Brangelina managed to deliver action, romance, and comedy throughout the film at rather high quality. Keeping up with the Joneses, on the other hand, had a hard time deciding on its tone and identity.

To sum up: it's not the worst way to spend your time. It actually goes by quite fast. But it's a pity to see such talent not used to its potential. I'd give it a 5.5/10.

Side note: the score of the movie was ridiculous.
Side note 2: we had another action comedy in 2016 called Grimsby. Save your time and money and go watch that superior movie.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange lives up to the Marvel brand! It is another easy-to-watch superhero origin movie with psychedelic visuals and good acting. Although I dislike the 3D format in general, Doctor Strange needs to be seen in 3D and preferably IMAX!

First, I gotta say that I'm not an expert in Doctor Strange comics. My only exposure to the character goes back to the direct-to-DVD feature that was released back in 2007. But as a casual fan, I enjoyed both the 2007 animated feature, and the 2016 live action movie! But now let's just focus on the latter: Benedict Cumberbatch is a true leading-man, and as expected, he did a fantastic job. His performance helped a lot with my immersion in the movie and suspension of my disbelief - Cumberbatch's commitment to the role should be commended! The rest of the cast were great as well. Tilda Swinton's casting as the Ancient One became a little controversial, but apparently that was a necessary decision in order to secure screening rights in China. Had the studio gone with the more accurate version and portrayed the character as a Tibetan monk, they would have lost a lot of money from the Chinese box office. As for the non-human cast, the Cloak of Levitation deserves a shout-out! The cloak reminded me a lot of the magic carpet from Aladdin (1992)!

The weakest point in most of the Marvel movies in the villain. Mads Mikkelsen plays the antagonist - whose name I refuse to even look up! He is not much different from the villains in Thor: The Dark World (2013) or the Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). He has made a deal with the devil, and our hero needs to save the world from darkness. The final confrontation between the hero and the villain deserves credit though, as it went against the exceptions; Doctor Strange's strategy was simply original.

As for the plot of the movie, many people have compared it to Iron Man (2008). Of course both titular characters are successful, rich, and arrogant New Yorkers. But that's were the similarities end! I found Steven Strange to be a self-made man who was doing good deeds for the humanity - unlike Tony Stark who inherited everything from his father and was selling weapons! What I'm trying to say is that Dr. Strange's arrogance felt somewhat "earned"... The movie doesn't waste much time to show us his fall though. After the crash scene (that is also shown in the trailers), the rest of the movie focuses on Dr. Strange's journey to self-discovery and growth.

The pacing of the movie is pretty good as you do not feel the passage of time. However, it makes you feel that Dr. Strange's abilities grew overnight! The gold standard for superhero origin movies that show how the character becomes a capable superhero is Batman Begins (2005). Doctor Strange (2016) is of course far from that gold standard.

I mentioned the visuals earlier. The computer animations that show different realms (magic, mirror, dark dimension, etc) are superb! This alone makes the movie worth the price of admission to an IMAX 3D showing! 

To sum up, Doctor Strange is a fast-paced movie, with psychedelic visuals, likeable characters, and a relatively smart plot. Overall, I'd give it 8.5/10.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Deepwater horizon (2016)

Yet another disaster movie based on true events! Deepwater Horizon is well-made and is worth your time - not sure about your money though! Comparing to the other disaster-movie-based-on-true-events movie that came out recently (i.e., Sully), Deepwater Horizon is the clear winner!

If you followed the news, you must know the story. Also being based on a true story, no one can question the chain of events! So what we can judge the movie on are characters and pacing.

The actors do a good job. Kurt Russell is amazing in his role as the site manager. You'd think Russell has been doing that job all his life! Deepwater Horizon cast also includes Mark Wahlberg, who stars as Mark Wahlberg on an oil rig! Well, Mark Wahlberg is always playing himself - whether he's scientist on a Transformer, a soldier, or a police detective!

The director of the movie (Peter Berg) is heavily influenced by Paul Greengrass (Jason Bourne). Almost every scene is filmed with a hand-held camera. It is a nice technique to use in action sequences as it helps audience immerse in the scene. But when two people are talking face-to-face about safety issues, shaking the camera does nothing but making you nauseous!

As someone who followed the actual events when it happened, I found the movie to be quite faithful to the reality. The pacing of the movie was pretty good - except for the last 15 minutes, where some of the characters where so annoying that I felt time had stopped.

In a season where there's a dearth of good movies, Deepwater Horizon is a decent option. I'd give it a 7.5/10.

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory is an educational film for parents who have children with some learning disability. The movie tugs at your heart strings, but it's hard to forget it's not just an infomercial!

Riding on Ellen DeGeneres' celebrity status, Finding Dory keeps reminding the viewers that Ellen is a superstar. Particularly in the beginning of the movie, she keeps saying "Hi, I'm Dory!" with the exact same level of emotion (i.e., line delivery) as she would in an interview with another celebrity. There's no secret that the force behind this sequel was Ellen herself. But if you bear with her, after the 30-minute mark, she morphs into the character and delivers a heartwarming performance.

As a fan of the Fatman on Batman podcast, Marc Bernardin's story about how his autistic child was in love with the Dory character was repeating in my brain as I was watching Finding Dory. The movie is for sure a response to that community. It educates parents on how they should treat their children, and also encourages the said children to believe in themselves - just as "what Dory would do?".

The pacing is pretty good; the side-characters are funny (particularly the sea lions); and the visuals are amazing. As an educational video, it's a must see, especially for parents of autistic children. I'd give it a 7/10.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Masterminds (2016)

"Based on true events" is not necessarily a tag line that you would expect to see before a comedy. Masterminds is all stronger for it though!

Masterminds tells the story of the $17 million heist back in 1997. The movie is not filled with laugh-out-loud moments, but it still was very entertaining. I laughed quite a lot, not because of the story, but because I was a fan of most of the actors; Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon have done amazing jobs on developing their characters. So if you're a fan of them, you'll appreciate the nuances in their performance. Audience members who are not familiar with these actors may have a harder time enjoying this movie. Well, the critics' ratings and box office sales are evidence that support my hunch!

Besides being a comedy with some thrills, Masterminds is a deep character-study. It depicts what happens when people are given opportunities beyond what they deserve. The movie's treatment of those characters was quite poignant.

Overall, Masterminds is an entertaining movie, and worth your time on a Sunday evening. I'd give it a 7.5/10.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Narcos (2016) - Season 2

After the much acclaimed first season, now we see Pablo Escobar's fall from grace in the new season of Narcos on Netflix. I found season 2 slightly better than the previous one, which means I really enjoyed it!

The first season took place over a span of more than two decades (early 1970's to 1990's) and told the story of Pablo Emilio Escobar Gavirilla's rise to infamy and notoriety. Season two takes place in a year and depicts the last days of the Medillin cartel. So there is a dissonance in the story coverage between the two seasons, but season 2 still manages to fill it with excitement and thrills! I even liked the pacing better in this season, and literally binged the whole show in two days - a feat that I couldn't do for the first season!

Another improvement over the previous season (which might seem very nit picky) was the colour composition; this is particularly important for a show like Narcos that requires you to read the subtitles to understand the Spanish dialogue (which is almost 70% of the whole show). The first season had white backgrounds in many scenes, and reading the white subtitles over a white background was really difficult. This season they had probably taken that into account, and it made my experience much more enjoyable.

Wagner Moura did an exceptional job as Escobar. His presence on screen is not comparable to any other actor on TV (or even most movies). I also liked Pedro Pascal's Javier Peña - he had an interesting arc throughout the season. Boyd Holbrook's Agent Steve Murphy was the least interesting character, as he was in season 1 as well.

I know Narcos has been renewed for seasons 3 and 4, but I am not invested in the remaining characters to return to the show. But of course it is too soon for passing that kind of judgement.

Season 2 was a 9/10 for me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sully (2016)

In a season where there is a dearth of good movies, a rather okay one seems impressive! The real-life story on which the movie is based is a miracle indeed. Instead of this dramatization, a documentary about the event and its aftermath would have been a better product.

At 96 minutes, Sully is not a long movie by any stretch of imagination. The event on which it is based on - the miracle on the Hudson - took place in 208 seconds. So the adaptation is almost 28 times longer than the source. What I am trying to say is that at even 96 minutes, Sully (2016) had some fluff which needed to be cut out; the phone conversations between Sully and his wife were cringeworthy, and if I am not mistaken, the movie showed the crash landing maybe five times (at least three times more than we needed)! In short, I believe Clint Eastwood (the director) could have cut to movie to 70 minutes and still hit all the notes! Of course, nobody would go to the movie theatres to see a 70-minute movie - so maybe he had no choice but to fill it with fluff! 

Having said the negatives, Clint Eastwood captured the claustrophobic atmosphere of the cabin really well. The evacuation scene was also shot beautifully. I felt I was there, and it made me nauseous!  In addition to direction, Tom Hanks needs to be commended on his performance. I felt he really was a pilot in real life. 

I have seen Captain Sullenberger's interviews on talk shows. He is a modest man and has a charming personality (which I didn't see in Hank's performance, but maybe the real Sully was as tense after the event...). Captain Sullenberger, in addition to telling the story of his miraculous landing, also likes to shine light on the humanity of the New Yorkers int he aftermath of the event. The movie tried to do that too, but most of the focus was on trying to vilify the aviation committee - Clint Eastwood tried to turn the aftermath into a courtroom drama, rather than humans helping their own kind!

When I left the movie theatre, I didn't learn anything new, and I didn't have a positive/enjoyable experience! Overall, I'd give it a 4/10. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

We had to have a movie in the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise (the second longest running movie franchise after James Bond). It's fast-paced, the story is Trekkie-friendly (I guess), but it doesn't invoke any feelings in you.

The Enterprise crew returned for the third outing in the rebooted franchise - well, everybody except for JJ Abrams whose absence was visibly apparent. I do not consider myself a Trekkie by any stretch of imagination. I have seen a few episodes of the original show from the 60's, and also the first two movies in the rebooted franchise. I found myself caring for the characters in the 2009 movie; they were well-developed, and the movie spent time introducing them to the audience. Into the Darkness (2013) had good performances and exhilaration action. Beyond (2016), however, lacks both.

Justin Lin (the director) jumps right in to the action with little time spent on the characters themselves. Maybe he's not to blame. People are expected to be familiar with these characters. I, of course, remembered them all and their roles, but had forgotten why I should care for them. The movie did little to remind me why. There are many action sequences, but the green-screen effects were distracting, and I did not get excited or thrilled even for one second.

I saw it on the Barco screen format. More specifically, there were three screens at the auditorium, and they were supposed to give the audience a much wider field of view. Almost 1/3 of the movie utilized the wider screen. It was obviously a different and also pleasant experience; but at the same time, constant switching from one screen to three disrupted my immersion into the movie.

Star Trek Beyond ends with what felt like a backdoor pilot to a new TV show. I actually felt the last 20 seconds of the movie did more damage than good... Anyhow, Trekkies have probably seen it. Non-Trekkies won't lose anything if they skip this one. Overall, I'd give it a 6.5/10.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

War Dogs (2016)

Neither a comedy, nor a serious crime-drama, War Dogs struggles to find its identity. It's an entertaining movie, and will make you think about the reality behind the not-too-distant history. Overall, it's worth the price of admission.

War Dogs is based on the true story of two nobodies in their 20s who end up winning a 300 million dollar contract with the government. Of course this was out of their depths, but surprisingly they managed to somewhat handle the situation. This being a true story, you should expect some measure of comeuppance for the lead characters at the end.

The director of the movie, Todd Phillips, has made a reputation with comedies such as the Hangover trilogy (2009-13), Old School (2003) and Road Trip (2000). His directorial skills transferred to this movie as well, and made the pacing and visuals of the movie pretty good. I don't know if it's the director or the screenwriters who should be blamed, but War Dogs suffers from an identity crisis. It is not a comedy in a true sense - contrary to what the trailers will lead you to believe. It is not a serious drama with a strong social commentary either. It's just somewhere in between the two. There are a few chuckles throughout the movie - all owed to Jonah Hill's great performance. You'll also leave the movie theatre thinking about the ridiculousness of government workings and how these two schmucks ended up handling a 300-million dollar contract. If this movie was made by someone like Oliver Stone, I'm quite sure the tone of the movie would lean more towards the latter (i.e., crime drama) and would have had a much stronger effect on the audience.

Speaking of Oliver Stone, War Dogs makes abundant references to one of Stone's earlier works. I'm talking about Scarface (directed by Brian DePalma with a screenplay by Oliver Stone). From the poster of the movie, to set designs and mannerisms, War Dogs strives to be like Scarface. Of course this causes some laughs and maybe shows how out of depth the characters are, as they are just two kids trying to act like Tony Montana.

I briefly mentioned how great Jonah Hill's performance was. He was the only comedic factor about the movie, and at the same time he managed to be menacing when needed. Miles Teller on the other hand, played the same obnoxious person that he has played in Whiplash (2014) and Fantastic Four (2015). Bradley Cooper also had a cameo role that could have been played by almost any A-list celebrity. His presence in a non-Hangover Todd Phillips movie was appreciated though.

Overall, War Dogs is an entertaining movie and even just for the sake of it's real-life true story, it deserves to be seen. I'd give it 7.5/10.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Warcraft (2016)

Film adaptation of the famous video game franchise had a convoluted story and looked cartoonish. The box office numbers show a strong correlation with the games' popularity and the movie's sales in certain regions. So if you're not a fan of the games, maybe you should skip this one!

The Warcraft games belong to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) genre, and I have never been a fan of them. However, I am a fan of medieval fantasies like Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Given this background, I could not connect with the film at all. I tried hard and failed to remember the character names, and to figure out which side I should root for. I was so lost that I looked up the plot summary on Wikipedia halfway through the movie...

I could tell that the production team spent a lot of time and money on the effects. They, however, looked more like an animated feature than a video game - let a lone a movie! A few of the battle scenes were somewhat interesting though... The actors also seemed invested in their roles and did the best they could. In particular, I think Vikings' Travis Fimmel did a commendable job!

If you've never played the game, save your time and money and watch something else!
For me, it was a 2/10!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Grinder (2015-16)

Grinder was a hilarious new sitcom that, unfortunately, was cancelled to soon! A new intellectual property of this calibre somewhat reminded me of the Arrested Development... The short run of this show - all 22 episodes of it - should be cherished!

Writing a review for a comedy is difficult - mostly because sense of humour is truly subjective; this makes judging a comedy significantly harder than a drama. The writing of the show, particularly the double entendres, was consistently good throughout the season. The two leads, Rob Lowe and Fred Savage, have great chemistry with each other. Rob Lowe's deadpan delivery cracked me up almost every time. He plays the titular character, Mitchard Grinder, who is a smart yet oblivious character-actor trying to transfer what he learned on TV to real life. His younger brother, Stewart Sanderson, is a small town lawyer who is the polar opposite of Rob Lowe's character. These two play off of each other brilliantly. The rest of the cast are interesting too, but of course do not shine as bright as Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

The writers need to be commended as well. They played the long game - somewhat similar to the Arrested Development. There were simple plot points that payed off after 5-6 episodes, which made the payoff more gratifying.

Seeing this brilliant show cancelled is really upsetting. I sincerely hope that Netflix or Amazon would pick it up for more seasons. Even if they don't, this single season is self-contained. I would give it a 9/10.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Get Down (2016)

Baz Luhrmann strikes again! The Get Down (Part 1) is a musical collage, and also a history lesson in the genres of Hip Hop and Disco. The show is cast well, the characters are likeable, the story is engaging, and the music is exhilarating!

I wish Baz Luhrmann produced more movies and tv shows. The man has a unique taste in music. Quoting Kinda Funny's Nick Scarpino, Baz Luhrmann's films are like two-hour music videos! Luhrmann mixes songs that I never thought would go that well together and creates a dialogue with the lyrics! I loved Moulin Rouge (2001), The Great Gatsby (2013), and the 2009 Academy Awards ceremony in which Lurhmann directed the medleys performed by Hugh Jackman. Luhrmann knows what appeals to the common person; not just ears, but also eyes. All his movies are beautiful. He simply creates the most beautiful visual and musical collages!

The Get Down's heart and soul is Justice Smith who plays Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero. Justice Smith sold me on Hip Hop (even though I was not a fan), and his delivery of those beautiful lyrics pulled at my heartstrings! Besides Zeke, the show also tells the story of Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) - the former is a DJ and the latter is an aspiring disco singer. The cast is round by other fantastic characters that can certainly pull their weight!

Baz Luhrmann directed the first episode and defined the identity of the show. The pilot (at 90 minutes) stands above the rest, simply because of Luhrmann's direction. My only gripe is with the first third of the pilot, because it was musically busy - there was a new song playing in almost 10-second intervals... Although slightly overwhelming, the music meshed together perfectly. One third through, the episode became almost flawless. I remember not being able to sit down during the last 15-20 minutes of the pilot - it was that exciting!

The directors who helmed the remainder of the season could not replicate the ethereal quality of the pilot directed by Lurhmann, but they still did a fantastic job and delivered a more grounded vision.

To wrap up, I loved the music, visuals, story, and characters. I cannot think of any element that could have been improved. And this all comes from someone who was not a fan of hip hop or disco! Maybe it was the Luhrmann-factor! Anyhow, I give it a 10/10.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

DCEU's latest entry is a hit! Most of the actors are perfectly cast, action is great, pacing is smooth, and the soundtrack is phenomenal! The villain is the weak point of the movie, but thinking objectively, that was one of the only options that the writers had (in order to have such violent action scenes - more on this below).

David Ayer is a unique filmmaker and has a distinct taste. He also knows how to get the best performance from his actors (e.g., Christian Bale in Harsh Times!). He failed in getting a good performance out of Cara Delevinge though! Delevinge's Enchantress is written and acted poorly. There is a two-second sequence in which she does a weird voodoo dance; this sequence is probably the most awful thing that I have seen on screen in the last decade.

Delevinge's acting aside, the character is shallow with ridiculous motivations. She summons her brother (which according to Wikipedia is called Incubus - but I don't remember that name being mentioned in the movie), and they want to disarm every country on earth. Task Force X is called to deal with this supernatural event, and also act as scapegoats for the government in case things go wrong.

In the comics, Task Force X is usually sent to deal with more earthly threats, such as foreign dictators or street gangs. The magical threat of Enchantress and Incubus, is within the expertise of Justice League Dark whose members have included characters such Constantine, Etrigan, Zatana, Frankenstein, and Swamp Thing, who all have magical powers.

I'd give a free pass to the movie for using a mystical villain just for one reason, and that is for rating. Let me elaborate: In the movie, Enchantress and Incubus used their magic to create undead zombies and sent them after the Suicide Squad. Since our squad was dealing with zombies, they were allowed to decapitate them, line head-shots after head-shots, and and still get a PG-13 rating for the movie. If the Squad was sent to topple a foreign dictator with such excessive force, the film would have become as violent as a Rambo or Expendables movie with an R-rating; thus, limiting the chance of recovering its huge production and marketing cost at the box office (of course Deadpool is the counter example to this argument - but that is a conversation for another time).

The rest of the characters are cast perfectly. Margot Robbie stole the show as Harley Quinn with amazing lines and her flawless delivery. Robbie's performance is so good that many fans will hear her voice in their heads when they read the comics - I, however, still hear Arleen Sorkin's voice from the Batman: The Animated Series... The film also provided the ultimate fan service by showing Harley in her Batman: TAS costume, recreating the beautiful cover drawn by Alex Ross.

Jared Leto's Joker is great too. Leto does not redefine the character the same way that Heath Ledger did, but he still makes Joker his own. Ledger's Joker was a more calculated villain who had a cause - which was to act as an agent of chaos and prove a point about human values (or lack thereof). Jared Leto's Joker, however, is a self-serving, sadistic, psychopathic gangster who is impossible to predict. I cannot wait to see his chemistry with Ben Affleck's Batman in future entries in the DCEU.

Speaking of, Batfleck makes an appearance (as we had seen in the trailers), and proves again that he is the best Batman that we have seen on screen yet! Batfleck had a great scene with Will Smith's Deadshot. I wanted to see a whole movie only with these two characters... Coming back to Suicide Squad's cast, I was extremely happy with Will Smith's performance. His Deadshot was understated and simply the heart of the movie. Deadshot had a good chemistry with Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag too. Kinnaman's performance was best when he was dealing with Deadshot - in other scenes, however, he was weak. Perhaps it was Delevinge who brought him down...

Rounding out the cast: Hats of to Viola Davis for her portrayal of Amanda "The Wall" Waller. She was strong and menacing in an effortless way. Davis' performance was on par with C.C.H. Pounder's from the Justice League show. The last shoutout goes to Jay Hernandez and Jai Courtney; their characters (El Diablo and Captain Boomerang respectively) were not well-developed, but they still managed to bring them to life and make them memorable.

To wrap up, I do not think the choice of villain was the most appropriate one for this Squad, but it gave the filmmakers the perfect sandbox to play with their toys (or characters) in it. The movie made me interested in almost every character, and I cannot wait to see them again in the sequel or other movies in the DCEU. For entertainment value, and also being so faithful to the root of these characters, I'd give it a 10/10.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Jason Bourne (2016)

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returned and delivered another chapter in Jason Bourne's story that looked and felt identical to the previous ones, beat by beat - which is not necessarily a bad thing!

The latest entry in the franchise looks like the "greatest hits" album of older musicians. It repeats the best parts of the previous entries without adding much to the legacy of the franchise. The fight choreography is amazing, the car chases are thrilling, and the pacing is engaging, yet it is a rehash of what Bourne had done before.

The first entry, Bourne Identity (2002), broke the mold of the spy genre with its nitty-gritty atmosphere. It changed the game to the extent that the producers of the Bond franchise decided to reboot the series and discard the rich 40-year history of their already perfect legacy. My frustrations with this decision to make Bond a faceless brut, although besides the point in the current review, have been documented in my reviews of Spectre and Skyfall.

Going back to Bourne, I had higher expectations from this movie. After almost a decade from the last entry, Bourne Ultimatum (2007), I thought it would change the game once again - but it didn't! The movie is still great, raises your adrenaline levels, and makes you lose track of time, but it just doesn't rise up to the challenge.

The other issue that I had with Jason Bourne (2016) was using personal issues as a storytelling device. Here, Bourne (or better say, David Webb) realizes that his father was responsible for the inception of the Treadstone program, but he was against using his own son as a recruit. Thus, the agency sends an assassin (or "asset" according to the Bourne lingo) to eliminate him. Later on, during the Bourne Ultimatum events, the same "asset" is captured due to revelations made by Bourne. Now, defying all the odds, the very same "asset" is back and assigned to tail Bourne. Both of these highly trained agents (i.e., Bourne and the "asset") have personal vendettas against each other; Bourne wants to avenge his dad, and the "asset" wants to punish Bourne for the years that he spent in captivity.

I really miss the good old days of the genre where an agents was simply assigned on a mission to go save the world, without having any personal stakes in the matter. The old James Bond franchise was like this. The objectives in the current Mission Impossible movies are also impersonal. But I see the trend of making things personal to the protagonist in the more recent movies; in Spectre, James Bond had to fight his evil step-brother, who also claimed responsibility for the events of the three previous movies. And now, Bourne is back to avenge his dad.

My last issue with Jason Bourne (2016) is the cinematography. After Paul Greengrass took over the franchise with Bourne Supremacy (2004), he brought the shaky handheld camera to the franchise. In more action-oriented sequences (e.g., hand-to-hand combats and car chases) that may give a sense of immersion to the audience. But in a regular conversation, or when a character is reading something from a computer screen, the shaky shots do nothing but make the audience dizzy and sick!

The tropes of the shaky camera, "asset", and Bourne trying to piece back memories of his past are old news, but for the entertainment value, I'd give it 7.5/10.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

The source material is still a masterpiece. This adaptation is on par with it on many aspects, except for direction and pacing This post focuses more on the book, and discusses the psychology of these characters. I will also talk about the movie near the end.

Alan Moore and Brian Bolland gave us the best Joker story of all time in 1988. In a one-shot comic, they managed to tell a three-act story of Joker's life within 48 pages. Joker's origin-story (his first act in life) was compelling, but what made it the definitive origin-story was something Joker said later to Batman: "If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!". This one particular line demonstrates Joker's shattered psyche. It has been adopted by other storytellers in Batman's history; most notably, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm incorporated this multiplicity factor in "Mad Love", in which Joker confides in Dr. Harleen Quinzel and triggers her transformation into Harley Quinn... Batman later on tells Harley that it is one of the many different versions of Joker's past. We also see this element in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight (2008); it manifests in Joker telling a different story every time he talks about the way he got those scars.

Going back to The Killing Joke: We see a plausible version of that "one bad day" that made Joker break. We know his past is multiple choice - maybe what we heard was the correct version, or maybe not... Regardless, he had "one bad day". Just like Bruce Wayne when his parents were shot in the Crime Alley after they left the movie theatre (showing The Mark of Zorro)... What I'm trying to say is that the book draws many parallels between Batman and Joker. They both had one bad day; the both were taken to the edge of the abyss, "the place where you don't care anymore; where all hope dies" (taken from Batman and Batgirls conversation earlier in the movie):

On that day, Batman was born, and Bruce Wayne died. Batman made his life mission to make sure that no other kid would go through what Bruce Wayne experienced. He became a symbol of justice. Joker, however, became an agent of chaos. He snapped when he looked into the abyss (or blinked, as Batman tells Owlman in Crisis on Two Earths). Joker snapped because he believes there is "no sanity clause. There's always madness. You can just step outside and all those dreadful things that happened ... you can lock them away. Madness is the emergency exit".

Joker, in order to prove his point, tries to create "one bad day" for Commissioner James Gordon. I won't discuss how (as the book fans already know, and the newcomers need to see it in the movie), but he wants to practically demonstrate that everyone can snap. If you think deeper, you might even feel slightly sorry for the Joker. He is ashamed of himself. He wants to show that that reaction wasn't unique to him. He wants to prove to others - or maybe more importantly, to himself - that anybody would behave the same under similar conditions. And that is the second act in Joker's saga.

Gordon goes through this experiment, but he doesn't break. He is the bigger man. Gordon still wants to bring in Joker "by the book"... Gordon is incorruptible. He is much better than Joker. He's even better than Batman. Both Joker and Batman were changed when they went to the edge of the abyss. Of course, they are coping with it differently. Joker's coping mechanism made him take the emergency exit of madness, while Batman's coping mechanism killed Bruce and turned him into an obsessive compulsive introvert who has nothing on his mind but vengeance and justice... There is no doubt that Batman's reaction to the situation is a million times more noble than Joker's, but they are similar in the sense that they both have gone to the extreme.

The book also tells us the third act in Joker's life: In the end of the book, Batman offers to help Joker rehabilitate. But Joker is for once wiser than Batman; (i) he knows it's too late, and (ii) Batman needs rehabilitation himself - he is no shape to offer it to someone else. Joker draws an analogy between the two of them and the story of the two guys who want to escape from a lunatic asylum with each other's help. Batman and Joker are like those two guys: there is no escape, and they are not able help each other.

Batman sees the wisdom in Joker's story, and realizes that he has only one course of action left. I confess that I did not realize this when I read the book. The light bulb went off when I listened to the legendary Grant Morrison's interview (on Kevin Smith's Fatman on Batman). To avoid spoilers, I won't discuss it. But if you've seen the movie or read the book, or don't care about spoilers, you could listen Morrison's interpretation at the link below:

The book is simply a masterpiece. It has depth, character, and story, on par with any classic novel (let a lone a comic book). I have read Alan Moore's interviews and how he downplays the importance of the book. But I still think it's a masterpiece. Not because I think I know more than Alan Moore about his work (not even for a single second!), but maybe because I connect with the theme on a personal level.

Now let's get to the movie. As I mentioned, the book is a 48-page comic. The movie also spends around 45 minutes on the material from the book. The producers (Bruce Timm and director Sam Liu) added 28 minutes of new material to the beginning of the movie. The intro focuses on Batgirl and her relationship with Batman. Well, they needed to make the movie longer in order to charge the price that they are charging. But they changed the ending of the movie - the dialogue or action didn't change, but Batman's motivation did. In the book, the decision that Batman makes is a calculated one. He logically chooses that course of action. But the movie, implies that Batman was emotional and impulsive. Speaking of the ending, the director did a very poor job in the last 30 seconds of the movie. The way he framed (or didn't frame) the last sequences, and how he showed a mid-credit scene with Barbara Gordon made the ending anticlimactic.

While we're talking about the direction, I was also disappointed with Joker's singing number. The animation and frame rate were subpar. DC Animation needs fresh blood. We need someone other than Phil Bourassa design the characters, and someone other than Sam Liu to direct. The movies look and feel similar to the previous entries in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Not only they are similar, but regretfully the quality is declining with each entry.

There are two things that the movie did impeccably. First, the voice acting was unbelievable. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamil, and Tara Strong (the same actors from the Batman: The Animated Series) return and they give flawless performances. I mentioned that we need fresh blood in the previous paragraph, but in voice acting, I think nobody is even close to them, and these guys are outdoing themselves every single time. I couldn't imagine it was possible to hear a better performance from the trio after Batman TAS, but they proved me wrong in the first Arkham game (Batman: Arkham Asylum 2009). They proved me wrong again in the subsequent entries. Particularly, Mark Hamil's Joker in Arkham Knight was mesmerizing. Yet here in The Killing Joke, they upped their game again... The second thing that I want to commend the movie on is about the colour pallet that they used: The adopted Brian Bolland's 2008 colour themes (from the 20th anniversary edition of the book), and I enjoyed the colour composition in almost every scene.

The book is a 10/10 (or more accurately, 100/10), but the movie is an 8/10 - mostly because of the last 30 seconds, which ruined the movie for me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia is another Disney masterpiece of heart, humour, and spectacle. At the same time, it is also a social commentary on issues such as stereotypical discriminations and prejudice. The mastery of storytelling is in the fact that you can sympathize with almost every character.

I wanted to start this review with a few words about diversity in Hollywood - I'll leave that for another time. Just suffice to say that I managed to relate to many of the characters in this movie - not because there were any similarities between me and those characters' appearance, gender, race, sexual orientation, or political views. What I am trying to say is that if the characters are rich enough, you'll be able to connect with them, even when they do not resemble you in any shape or form. In other words, diversity for the sake of diversity is not necessary for audience engagement.

Going back to Zootopia; the animation and story are both top-notch. It is a buddy-cop comedy, with a layered noir detective story. These are complemented by a display of the intricacies of managing a society with diverse members - in case of Zootopia, predators and prey. The characters are developed so well that you can sympathize with almost every one of them. As they say, the best characters (whether they are protagonists or antagonists in the movie) are heroes in their own minds. In Zootopia, every character had a clear rationale, thus, one could understand what made them tick.

It's a must-watch, and for this, I'd give it a 10/10.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Seth Rogen and Zac Efron recreate the first movie almost beat by beat. I didn't find the original copy funny, so you could guess how I felt about the clone!

I am a fan of Seth Rogen. He puts so much of himself in his roles; he's usually the slacker/stoner everyday man who has to deal with some small challenges that happen to be beyond his control. Seth usually surprises you by sneaking in a couple of smart social commentaries here and there. The saving grace of Neighbours 2 is also a few of those comments. This time, Seth and other characters talk about sexism and feminism. References to reverse-sexism, jumping to the other extreme for course correction, and "discrimination not being equivalent to sexism when it is against men" were the highlights of the film.

These comments, however, do not justify the price of admission. The only parts that put a chuckle on my face were a few (less than a handful) instances of slap-stick comedy. So if you are a fan of Seth Rogen - which was the only reason that I watched this movie - you might be better off looking up some of his interviews online with late night talkshow hosts. It would be free, with more funny jokes in a much shorter time period!
Overall, I'd give this movie a 3/10.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Marco Polo - Season 2 (2016)

Netflix's second season of its epic foray into medieval times does not live up to the standards of the first season. The acting, set pieces, and direction are still great, but the plot and pacing were at points disappointing.

The reasons I enjoyed the first season of Marco Polo were the scale of the show, its (relative) historical accuracy, great fight-choreography, acting, compelling side-characters, and the lean story - in other words, it did not waste time. The plot revolved around the conquest of the last remaining province of China by the Mongols. The titular character (Marco played by Lorenzo Richelmy) was actually a secondary player in the show. The main story revolved around the politics within the Mongol Empire (court of Kublai Khan - Benedict Wong) and the intricacies of the relationship between the last emperor from the Song dynasty and his chancellor (Jia Sidao - played by Chin Han). The characters were as physically fierce as they were mentally and politically strong. Some even considered this show to be Netflix's (worthy) contender of Game of Thrones - which is high praise indeed!

The second season, however, lost most of the intrigue. The main antagonist (Ahmad) did not have the same flare that Jia Sidao had, nor the stakes were as high. The show also followed some unnecessary story lines - namely, Blue Princess's hallucinations and identity crisis that lasted for the whole season, and Kaidu's mother who was holding a grudge for what happened generations ago, and because of those petty reasons, she manipulated her own son and pushed him to his doom. In other words, some of the story lines needed to be trimmed, and also the intrigue was gone from this season. The most significant addition to the show, who received very limited screen time, was Lotus - played by the magnificent Michelle Yeoh (the Bond girl from 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies). She lit up the screen whenever she was on. One of the reasons that I look forward to season three is to see more of Lotus with Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu) and Mei Lin (Olivia Cheng).

Still, it was an enjoyable experience and a good way to spend a weekend, particularly after the excellent season finale of Game of Thrones that left most craving for more medieval carnage. Although the season ended abruptly on a forced cliff-hanger, I was mildly satisfied. Overall, I'd given it a 6.5, but because of the new character introduced, a 7/10 may be appropriate.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys is a detective noir / black comedy that in a sense is the spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2006). Both films are written and directed by Shane Black, and of course, share many thematic elements. As a fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and noir movies in general, I immensely enjoyed The Nice Guys.

Movies and books in the noir genre usually start with a simple case that escalates into something a lot more complicated, and then gets resolved rather simply at the end. This transition from simple to complicated and back to simple again, makes the second viewing of the movie (or reading of the book) quite rewarding.

The Nice Guys covers this plot path to a tee. On top of that, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is amazing and they managed to deliver some of the funniest lines/scenes of 2016. The breakout star is Angourie Rice though. She could be the next Dakota Fanning or Chloë Grace Moretz.

Shane Black has delivered two nearly perfect noir comedies within the span of a decade. I hope his next movie in this genre gets made rather sooner - whether a direct sequel or spiritual one.
I would give this movie a 10/10.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grimsby (2016)

Sacha Baron Cohen delivers another comedy gold. Of course it is not as memorable and quotable as Borat or Ali G, but Brothers Grimsby has been the best comedy of 2016 (so far).

Calling a movie the best comedy may cause some questions. By no means I consider Grimsby to be a trendsetting movie to be set as the new standard of comedies. What I mean by best is that it just made me laugh more than any other comedy that I have seen this year. Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius and he does anything to get a laugh from his audience. Mark Strong also does an amazing job playing the stoic hero of the story.

Brothers Grimsby is not a spy spoof in the same vain as Johnny English, Austin Powers, or the Naked Gun series. It has a serious plot (more so than Hitman: Agent 47, Transporter: Refuelled,  or Terminator: Genisys that came out last year) with a serious cast. All the comedy comes from the presence of Nobby (Baron Cohen's character) who is the fish out of water in this story. Nobby is portrayed as the idiot, but by the end of the movie, you think that he may be smarter than others since he knows what matters most in life.

Again, Brothers Grimsby will not be another classic like Borat, but it is highly entertaining. For the sake of entertainment value (and good laughs), I give it a 9/10.

Friday, June 10, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

The ninth entry in the X-Men franchise is the weakest yet. Introduction of new characters was supposed to reinvigorate the series, but poor casting and storytelling tropes made Apocalypse fail.

I am not feeling superhero fatigue yet, but after Dark Knight, Deadpool, even the first two X-Men, I have higher expectations of comicbook movies. Gone are the days that the audience would be sold just because the costumes looked right, or the effects were fancy. We are used to taking those as a given in 2010s. Story needs to engage and make sense to the audience. Apocalypse, the titular character, himself is not clear about his motivations. Based on my familiarity with the comics, I know that he believes in the survival of the fittest, and in a hunger-games-style ritual wants to find the best. The movie alludes to his motivations implicitly. But one thing I still do not know, is what Apocalypse going to do after he finds the fittest? More importantly, why he needs to find the fittest? I could ask many more questions, but you get my point: Apocalypse is a one dimensional character that fails to intimidate nor command respect. Not to undermine Oscar Isaac's acting. I believe he did the best he could with the given material.

Speaking of acting, I am tired of Jennifer Lawrence playing Jennifer Lawrence - the cool, unrelenting, strong woman - in every movie. She was not Mystique. Her celebrity status has become so much bigger than the role that she even refuses to put on the blue makeup. In X2: X-Men United, Nightcrawler asked Mystique why she didn't stay in disguise all the time to look like non-mutants, and she replied "because we [mutants] shouldn't have to". So staying her natural mutant form (i.e., blue skin) is being true to herself and an empowering fact. But seems lady Lawrence does not like to stay in the makeup chair for too long. The other returning cast members, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, and particularly Michael Fassbender do a good job and stay true to their characters.

As to the new additions, I found the actors playing Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Nightcrawler poorly cast for their roles. These actors (not even going to look up their names) do not belong in a superhero movie. They look like terrified kids that should be in a horror film running away from Jason or Freddy Krueger. Sophie Turner also lacked the charisma of Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, but at least she could act.

It seems Bryan Singer needs a change of scenery. To be fair, he has been stuck with the same characters since the first X-Men that came out in 2000. If anybody played with the same toys for 16 years in the same sandbox, they would get fed up with them. The franchise needs a new voice - as Matthew Vaughn brought to the X-Men First Class in 2011. Somebody who is passionate, has something to prove, and could play with these characters in a different way. While they are at it, wish they would reboot the franchise and bring in a new set of actors and even other characters from the rich X-Men universe.

This movie was a 5/10 for me.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Rome - TV Series (2005-2007)

HBO's first attempt (before Game of Thrones) in epic storytelling delivers in spades! Rome, during its short two-season arc, felt at times rushed, but never lost its quality.

Rome is the story of Caesar, Mark Antony, Augustus, Cleopatra, and two common soldiers. All of these characters are developed exceptionally well! Their character arcs evolve from villains to heroes, and then back to villains again while you still care for each of these characters (unlike the characters on Boardwalk Empire for example). For the modern audience, Rome can be best described as the amalgamation of House of Cards and Game of Thrones - although Rome precedes both! Rome also serves well as the spiritual successor to Spartacus (made in almost a decade later, and reviewed here).

I had a small problem with the story, particularly in season one. Two of the integral characters, Atia and Servilia, take actions for petty reasons (such as jealousy or rivalry for attention), and manage to have a major impact on the Roman Republic. In other words, the consequences were disproportionate to the intention behind those actions. Of course, it is hard to write strong female characters. But the show found a much better balance in season two.

As for the looks of the show, the beautiful sets are designed with utmost accuracy and respect to the source material. These sets are also partly to blame for the short life of Rome, as the high production costs were the reason for its untimely cancellation. I have read online (on IMDb and Wikipedia) that Bruno Heller (the showrunner) had detailed the plot of five seasons; but midway through season two, he was told that it would be the last season. Hence, he crammed the plots for seasons three and four into the latter half of season two. Some say that this fast-paced storytelling negatively affected the quality of season two. I, however, preferred season two to the slower season one.

Overall, Rome is a beautiful show, perfectly cast (and acted), and surprisingly accurate to the history. It was a 9.5/10 for me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (2016)

The latest and (perhaps) final entry in the Uncharted franchise pushes the bar for action-adventure games higher with its spectacular vistas, lovable characters, and its decent gameplay mechanics.

It took Naughty Dog four and half years after Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011) to develop the sequel. Despite the internal conflicts and changes in direction (Amy Hennig being replaced by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley) during Uncharted 4's development, it is still a near perfect game.

I say near perfect because of a few major flaw. Of course, nothing is perfect; but if the flaws affect the experience, then they should be brought up. The gameplay and shooting mechanics in Uncharted series have never been at the pinnacle of gameplay design - Gears of War, Infamous, Grand Theft Auto, and other games have done it much better. But gameplay has always been decent and respectable in the Uncharted franchise. The highlights of this series were the set-pieces, environment design, and character development.

Uncharted 4 did not have as many exhilarating action set-pieces as its predecessors, but it almost doubled the gameplay hours. Previous Uncharted games could be completed in eight hours on normal difficulty, while Uncharted 4 took me 16 hours. Uncharted 4 is a magnificent game, but is too much of a good thing always good? Maybe not. I was at points frustrated with the repetitious climbing, having the ledge break under Drake's foot, hanging to another ledge, and then rinse, repeat... Particularly the last 6 hours of the game could have been condensed - these chapters happened on an island, with a terrain similar to the first Uncharted (2007) or Tomb Raider (2013).

The environments are spectacular and breath-taking. Suffice to say that Uncharted 4 could be the most beautiful game ever made.

The characters of Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher, and Victor Sullivan are the same lovable people from the previous games. Elena's personality - although unpredictable - was simply "perfect". In this fictional story full of fantasy elements, maybe believing that an Elena could exist in real world requires the biggest suspension of disbelief... Sully was also great, but it was a pity that you do not get to spend enough time with him. The companion for the majority of the game is Sam Drake - Nathan's lost brother. I neither liked, nor disliked Sam. I just found him a conduit for telling the origin story of Nathan Drake. Maybe writers failed in this regard as they obviously wanted to make Sam one of the main protagonists of the franchise.

To wrap up this review, I'd say Uncharted 4 is a must-play. People who have played the previous entries would get much more from this experience, but new comers could also connect with the characters. The game could have been shorter and leaner (with fewer ledges breaking). Undoubtedly Uncharted 4 is a better product than Uncharted 3, but I enjoyed my experience with Uncharted 3 more (due to fewer frustrating segments, and more exciting set-pieces). Overall, I'd give Uncharted 4 9.5/10.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Opinion Piece: Reviews, Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War

I plan to write more opinion pieces in the future, and I promise to make it flow better. Keep in mind that the current text was initially a part of my Captain America: Civil War review. After I saw it grow, I decided to dedicate a separate space to it... So without further ado, here it goes:

I consider myself a hardcore fan of DC comics. There was a time that I used to read 4-5 comics every week; now I read maybe four per month... So I cannot objectively compare Batman v Superman with Civil War. DC characters mean a lot more to me as a fan. Seeing the Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on the screen literally gave me goose bumps... Obviously I did not feel such excitement when I watched the Civil War.

I have a beef to pick with ; their ratings build false expectations for the viewers. They gave BvS a 28% rating, while Civil War got 91%. Maybe one of the reasons that I didn't enjoy Civil War that much was the ridiculously high expectation that RottenTomatoes had built for me.
A simple definition of satisfaction is when one's experience was better/greater than the expectation. My enjoyment of Civil War was definitely not on par with the 91% rating, thus I left the movie theatre unsatisfied.

RottenTomatoes uses a binary system for aggregating reviews; if it was a favourable review (e.g., 3/5), they code it as 100. If the review was a little less favourable (e.g., 2/5), it would be coded 0. This coding scheme is polarizing and surely has a high variation in the result.

Instead, I recommend MetaCritic. Instead of binary coding, they simply convert the review score to a percentage (e.g., 2.5 stars out of 4 is 62.5%). They also use multipliers (or weights) to reflect the importance of some reviews (e.g., Richard Roeper's reviews are given  more weight than some unknown reviewers'). Their approach is statistically sound (relatively), and perhaps gives a more accurate impression of the critical reception.

At the end of the day, reviews, statistics, and statistics do not matter. Maybe it's best to experience a movie/tv show/video game first hand, and then read others' impressions for additional insight... Just my two cents.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Avengers 2.5 is an entertaining "comic-book movie", with 12 superheroes and one underwhelming villain. I liked the Winter Soldier (2014) much better because it was not just a "comic-book movie"; it had elements from the spy movie genre and a 70's thriller (*). Civil War, however, is a stylized popcorn flick that depicts the ultimate fantasy of kids playing with their action figures.

(*) Of course the gold standard of a comic-book movie that rose to become a masterpiece (of film in general) was The Dark Knight (2008). I'm not even going to compare Civil War with it...

Russo brothers (the directors) have been truly successful in making Captain America (typically a two-dimensional character) interesting in the last two movies. The action choreography has also been breathtaking. I have no doubt that they will do a great job with Avengers Infinity War I and II. But the fault of the movie is mostly with the plot.

In the comics, the event that incites the Superhero Registration Act involves a team of untrained vigilantes whose actions lead to death of 600 innocent civilians. In the movie, Avengers fail to fully contain a situation in Kenya and because of that, the UN suddenly remembers the Chitauri invasion (Avengers I), Ultron's plan to destroy Sokovia (Avengers II), and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarriers (Winter Soldier), and decides to exert more control on the Avengers. In the comic, recklessness of the so-called superheroes was the reason for that loss and it made sense to put them in check. In the cinematic universe, however, the punishment did not fit the crime. Of course there was collateral damage, but even if the Avengers were controlled by the government, those events (e.g., Chitauri invasion) still would have happened... Long story short, I found the motivation weak.

Now let's put the comics aside and just focus on the cinematic universe: Based on the 12 movies preceding the Civil War, actions of Captain America and Iron Man were contradictory to their character and personality. I didn't expect Captain America - the super-soldier, war propaganda - to go rogue against the government, while the renegade "billionaire, philanthropist, playboy" becomes a puppet... Cap and Iron Man spent a lot of time discussing their points of view with each other (and they had some intersting points), but this 180 degree shift in character didn't resonate with me.

Besides the main two characters (Captain America and Iron Man), the writers put in 10 other heroes in their script and they managed to give each of them some time to shine (and set up their future movies). Among the supporting cast, Ant-Man and Black Panther were the breakout characters. Spider-Man was also great - some say that this interpretation is most faithful to the comics. But I never connected with Spider-Man (whether it be in the movies, cartoons, or comic books), and I know I'm in a minority on this.

The villain of the movie, Helmut Zemo, was a let down. The comic book version of Baron Zemo is a high-ranking Hydra leader with numerous underlings. Zemo in the movie (Daniel Brühl) is a former Sokovian special-ops agent who single handedly orchestrates some of the events that incite the conflict... In general, you need to take a leap of faith to enjoy superhero movies, but seeing this underwhelming version of Zemo be the puppeteer of 12 superheroes required a GIANT leap of faith! Particularly when you remember the first Avengers movie (2012) where only five heroes managed to stop the invasion of an alien race... Were 12 heroes really necessary to get involved with the right or wrongful conviction of Bucky Barnes? I don't think so.

Okay, I've been a little nitpicky, but overall, Captain America: Civil War is a very enjoyable movie. My ultimate measure for escapism (as I've mentioned in some of the previous reviews) is the number of times that I look at my watch during the runtime of a movie. I looked at my watch only once when I was watching Civil War; I thought it was 30 minutes into the movie, but my watch told me it was 75 minutes...

It was an 8/10 for me, and I highly recommend it.

*SPOILER* Obviously this movie is going to be compared with Batman v Superman countless times. I will post a short opinion piece soon on this. But there is one key plot point that both of them use: a son's love for his mother. In BvS, when Superman says "save Martha", Batman stops fighting and suddenly becomes rational. In the Civil War, after Iron Man sees the footage of Winter Soldier killing his parents, he says "you killed my mom", and then goes into berserker mode... In both movies, a character did a 180 flip for mother-love. It would be a double standard to brand one of them ridiculous and the other justified.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Voices (2014)

Voices is an underrated, dark, and twisted comedy - words simply cannot describe the nuances and eccentricity of this movie.

The main focus of Voices is mental health; while it does justice to and never undermines this important topic, it remains funny and unpredictable throughout the 104-minute runtime of the movie. Marjane Satrapi - author and director of Persepolis (2007) - does a phenomenal job switching gears from dark dramatic scenes to lough-out-loud moments in a span of seconds. The cast, particularly Ryan Reynolds and Gemma Arterton, are perfect in their roles. Ryan Reynolds' character is an innocent man-child who suffers from schizophrenia, and as a result, deals with 5-10 imaginary characters. This is by far Ryan Reynolds' best acting performance to date.

I accidentally stumbled upon this title while browsing the Netflix catalogue. It's a pity that this movie has not received the recognition it deserves. I'm not sure if it has a cult following, but it certainly deserves one... This is a movie that needs to be visually experienced (the ending number alone justifies sitting through the film). I give it a 9.5/10.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sleeping with Other People (2015)

Is it a remake (or as some say, rip-off) of When Harry Met Sally? I disagree... While acknowledging certain similarities, I found Sleeping with Other People to be a new, smart, and well-made romantic/comedy/drama.

Our two characters (played by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie) are in their early/mid thirties who met each other briefly at college. They both are stuck on some issues from their pasts that have lingered on till the present day. Through first and second-hand experiences, I have seen people go to certain lengths trying to resolve complex emotions shaped during formative years of their lives... So I found these characters realistic and relatable.

Sleeping with Other People's core is the emotional psyche of its characters and this is what differentiates Sleeping with Other People from When Harry Met Sally. Yes, the male characters in both movies have similar views on the relationship between men and women - namely, that they cannot be just friends. Both characters ignore their rule and become genuine and supportive friends for the female protagonists of their respective movies, but that's where the similarities end. Sleeping with Other People shows how these characters help each other overcome their issues from the past and break those shackles. In a sense, they help each other grow... This development is what made Sleeping with Other People a distinct movie for me.

The ending (particularly the last five minutes) was a little cheesy, but that aside, this was a 8.5/10 for me - in the rom-com-dram category.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Better Call Saul - Season 1

This prequel to Breaking Bad is almost everything you expect it to be; it has the same story telling beats, same scenic shots, same type of misleads and then reveals, and the list goes on... It is of course good TV, but not a much-watch like Breaking Bad.

As the name suggests, this is the story of Saul Goodman, or as he was known back then, Jimmy McGill. The show is set five years before the first season of Breaking Bad, which means six years before Saul meets Walther White for the first time. So the showrunners have a rather large window for telling their story until we catch up with Breaking Bad. And of course, they could show what happened to Saul after the finale of Breaking Bad. We only see a short glimpse of that in the pilot, but I found it pointless - why would they just show him for three minutes and then never do another flash forward? It's a cheap trick to assumedly keep the audience interested...

Coming back to the show itself: At the beginning of the season Jimmy is a lawyer who has recently started his practice. He is a shameless, opportunistic, down on his luck ambulance chaser... Through some flashbacks and dialogue with Jimmy's brother (Chuck), you learn that Jimmy used to be scheming charlatan back in Chicago. After an altercation with the law, he absolves himself of the "Slipping Jimmy" persona and tries to walk on the path of righteousness. But as we all know from Breaking Bad, Jimmy is one day going to become Saul Goodman the criminal lawyer.

If I want to summarize the arc of this season, and perhaps the whole show, in one sentence, I would say: Jimmy became righteous for a while, but then broke bad again.

The show is well made, but it is a little too similar to Breaking Bad. I wish it had a more distinct voice. They initially proposed it as a 30-minute comedy series. Wish they had experimented with that idea... As I mentioned, it is still good TV and perhaps in the 80% percentile of what is on TV, but I don't think I'd miss much if I had skipped this show altogether. Overall, I'd give it 7.5/10.

"Need a will? Call McGill"

Friday, April 29, 2016

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Eye in the Sky tries to tackle the tradeoff between politics, morality, and warfare. It has a stellar cast, but a rather frustrating story.

Seems there's a herd mentality among the production studios in Hollywood; in recent years we have had two Snow White movies (both in 2012), two movies about Steve Jobs, two on Jungle Book, and the list goes on... Lack of new ideas and dearth of creativity has been discussed in depth before, so I'm not going to spend more time on it. But the point of this "setup" was to say that Eye in the Sky was a weak imitation of an idea that was executed much better in the Good Kill  (2014) that came out a year earlier. Both movies revolve around drone warfare, the stress and trauma on the people directly involved, and the morality and justification behind the collateral damage.

The characters in Good Kill (2014) are believable and the progression of drama is natural. But some of the characters in Eye in the Sky are there just to artificially create a dichotomy of views. This superficiality is most evident in characterization of the drone pilot and one of the secretaries from the British government. I need to preface this argument by first saying that having a strong moral compass is a valuable virtue and anything (whether it be a movie, book or ...) that promotes it, should be celebrated! Coming back to this movie, I do not think people with such moral standings may even enter the army or politics... You would expect to see a rigid moral compass on a member of Doctors Without Borders or UN peacekeeping missions; they probably wouldn't enter the army or politics in the first place. So it's not plausible in this movie when all of a sudden a soldier and a seasoned politician become that conscientious! This made the drama and the dilemma artificial in Eye in the Sky. As a result, the dialogue, although though-provoking, ended up being agitating.

The actors do a magnificent job with the material they were given - Dame Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman shone brighter than the rest... Aaron Paul is an emotional actor he always plays the same emotional guy in different occupations.

Watching Eye in the Sky was a frustrating experience overall and I couldn't wait for the movie to be over. Hats off to the actors, but the movie was a 3/10 for me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Daredevil - Season 2 (2016)

"One batch, two batch, penny and dime, here I come"

Netflix and Marvel's Daredevil season 2 is the best superhero tv show of the 2015-16 season; this is a tall order, particularly for DC super fan (i.e., yours truly) to admit that it was better than Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Daredevil's sophomore season gave us new characters that were translated perfectly from the comic book pages and also managed to top the highly-praised first season of the show.

The fighting choreography in Daredevil is on par with movie standards; there is one scene in particular in episode 3 that tops the hallway scene from last year. I was amazed by the execution of these scenes on a tv budget and schedule...

In addition to the visuals, the cast and stories were also done amazingly well. New characters in this season were the Punisher and Elektra. Jon Bernthal's Punisher was sympathetic, scary, and likeable at the same time. But I'm not sure if I rank his interpretation higher than Thomas Jane's version from the 2004 movie of the same name (and also the "Dirty Laundry" YouTube video). Frank Castle is a troubled character for sure, but I prefer a Punisher with a crystal clear agenda who calculates his every move. Bernthal's Punisher was confused at times (and dealt with amnesia) and also he was manipulated a couple of times (by both good and bad people). At one scene, he reminded me of Rorschach from Watchmen... But nitpicking aside, Punisher was almost perfect, and I am hopeful that he will iron out those little issues in future seasons (or maybe in his own show) and give us the best live-action Punisher... Even in his first appearance, he was the star of the show.

Speaking of stars, Elodie Yung shone brightly as Elektra. She would have been the perfect Talia Al-Ghul in a Batman movie (*).... I believe the new showrunners did justice to Frank Miller's creation, and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. Considering Frank Miller's involvement, one cannot rule out the influence of Talia Al-Ghul in the inception of the character...

(*) Even though I had suppressed the memory of Dark Knight Rises and Marion Cotillard's terrible Talia, I couldn't help but compare the two...

As for returning characters, I have to say that I was not a fan of Foggy and Karen's storylines from the previous season. They had become relatively more interesting this season, particularly Foggy as he was integral to Punisher's storyline. Karen's investigative journalism on the other hand, was the weak-point of the show - people watch superhero shows to see superheroes in action, not follow an obsessive amateur who wants to become an investigative journalist. Although Deborah Ann Woll (the actress who plays Karen Page) is likeable enough to make that arc tolerable.

So to sum up, Daredevil, Punisher, Elektra, Stick and the Hand were true to the comics and were handled almost perfectly; the fight scenes, pacing, and visuals were great; but some side characters were boring, however, they didn't distract much from the good parts of the show. I simply cannot wait for season 3...
I'll give it 9.5/10.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jungle Book (2016)

Jungle Book is the latest entry in Disney's recent trend of making live-action movies of their classic animated features. In this movie, the vistas look gorgeous but the animals are visibly CGI and perhaps belong in a video game. If you just bear (pun intended) the first half, the second half redeems the movie.

Jon Favreau, after Iron Man 1 & 2 and Cowboys vs. Aliens, has proven himself to be a capable director for making blockbuster movies. He has done a commendable job here as well, but his only shortcoming was in directing the only live actor of the film, Neel Sethi (Mowgli). There are various points that I could sense Mowgli was looking at a green screen or a stand-in instead of those majestical creatures from the story - this made my suspension of disbelief a little more difficult.

It's a film made for young audiences after all, and perhaps they wouldn't have the same problems that I had... I found myself checking the time almost every five minutes during the first half of the movie, but as soon as Baloo (the lovable bear voice by the incredible Bill Murray) entered the story, things changed completely. Other than Bill Murray, hats off to Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) and Ben Kingsley (Bagheera). Overall, the voice acting was truly top notch.

So to sum up, the jungle scenery looked amazing; the voices on the animals were perfect but the animation looked fake at times; Mowgli's acting was weak; and the second half of the movie (i.e. after the introduction of Bill Murray's character) was the saving grace.
The first half was 3/10, while the second was 7.5/10. Overall, I'd take the average and give it 5/10.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Following Jason Statham's refusal to reprise the role, Luc Besson's EuropaCorp did a soft reboot on the franchise with Transporter Refueled. It has the same exact elements as the previous three movies; the only change in Refueled in anchoring the Transporter character by bringing in his father (Frank Sr.) and making the mission more personal than ever. Transporter Refueled doesn't reinvent the action genre (or the franchise for that matter), but it sure is a mindless, enjoyable, time-killer popcorn movie.

Ed Skrein does an admirable job filling Statham's shoes as the titular character. The new Transporter is the same stoic, disciplined, yet bland action hero that was first introduced over a decade ago in 2002. Those familiar with the other movies produced by Luc Besson (Fifth Element, The Taken franchise, Lucy, The Brick Mansion, and the Transporter trilogy of course) should have a clear expectation of what Transporter Refueled is going to be. The action scenes (i.e. numerous car chases and hand-to-hand combats) are executed well, but the plotting and story are definitely not the strengths of these movies.

The story follows four prostitutes who fancy themselves as the Three (or Four) Musketeer and quote Dumas' work in almost every scene they are in. The musketeers are organizing a coup against the mob boss who is running their prostitution ring. Success of this coup relies on the Transporter's cooperation - so to coerce Frank Jr. to help them, they kidnap his father, Frank Sr.... Obviously the plot is super cheesy (for the lack of a better term), but at the same time, it is mindless and doesn't require too much cognitive effort from the viewer.

So for a late Sunday evening when the blues have set in, Transporter Refueled could be good choice. I give it 7/10.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016 DTV)

Justice League vs. Teen Titans is the latest direct to video release from the DC Animated Universe in the continuity established by Justice League: War (2015). I think this chapter could be completely skipped, but if you are a fan of this continuity, wait for its release on Netflix.

Starting with the title: First of all, it is misleading because it is a Teen Titans movie, not Justice League - Justice League members only have a ceremonial cameo. And I seriously hope this is the last time that we see "vs." in the title of a release from DC (after Batman vs. Robin and then Batman v Superman). Another point just before delving into the story line: I am kinda tired of the character designs (by Phil Bourassa). We need a new look - that is exactly why we see so many different art styles in the comics.

As for the story: the two main characters of the movie are Robin and Raven. Robin is sent to Summer camp so that he would behave a little better, and Raven is on the run from her inter-dimensional demon dad, Trigon! I don't know if we see much character development for Robin, but Raven is in for big changes. She has to open up to her team mates and then confront her demon (intensional pun here). During this confrontation, Trigon possesses the Justice League members and makes them fight the Teen Titans. This reminded me of the finale of the first season of Young Justice (2010-13). Young Justice handled that scenario masterfully and I still revisit that episode every now and then, but the current release failed miserably in creating any suspense or excitement. I found myself cheering for Trigon at certain points...

I also didn't like how this movie handled the magic and fantasy elements of DC. Again, referring back to Young Justice (or Justice League Unlimited before that show), heroes such as Dr. Fate, Zatana, and Zatara were developed really well. On the other front, Marvel also managed to present the Dr. Strange character compellingly in the direct-to-video movie of the same name in 2007... I mentioned all these things just to say that I enjoy the fantasy element in comics, and the reason I didn't like this movie wasn't because of "magic". Because of loose plot, unlikable (or even antagonizing) protagonists, and boring pacing of the movie, I give it 3/10.