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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

London Has Fallen (2016)

London Has Fallen is a mediocre, yet acceptable sequel to the 2013 movie, Olympus has Fallen. It follows the same formula (actually Die Hard's formula) beat by beat and delivers an entertaining experience (that would be expected by the fans of its predecessor).

Gerard Butler has not had much luck in the past few years (Gods of Egypt, and a slew of romantic comedies); the role of Mike Banning in Olympus and London is his saving grace. I wish James Bond producers (Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli) would see these movies and take them as Butler's audition for James Bond - more on this in another post.

The director (Babak Najafi) does a respectable job in his first major Hollywood blockbuster. The effects are decent and the pacing is good. The dialogue is really cheesy at certain points - particularly the scenes at the Situation Room in White House - which is scriptwriters' faults, not the actors or director.

This is a short movie, and there isn't much to be said about it. Just to reiterate my earlier points: it is Die Hard in London, the story and dialogue do not make much sense, but the action is good. With low expectations, one could enjoy this as a mindless popcorn movie. As a movie in the said category, I give it 7/10.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman is a spectacular movie that was spoiled by the trailers, and also tried to cram in too many storylines in its 150-minute runtime. The result was the ultimate fan-service with a predictable plot for hardcore fans of DC, and a confusing experience for casual fans of comic book movies.

I will try to keep the review spoiler free; that is I would not discuss anything that was not already shown in the trailers, except for one short paragraph near the end of the review that will be marked with the *SPOILER* tag.

Okay, let's get down to the nitty-gritties: Zack Snyder is a master of spectacle. I never thought I would see certain panels from comic book pages on the big screen, but Snyder managed to create another faithful adaptation (as he had done in Watchmen and 300). However, the script was not on par with the visuals. There were too many storylines and plot-holes, and the screenwriters (Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer) overwhelmed the audience with the number of characters introduced here (who are supposed to appear in future movies).

I consider myself a hardcore DC comics fan. Seeing the Trinity on the screen (although it was already shown in the trailers) gave me goosebumps. Also certain visual nods and easter eggs from influential stories from DC canon made my heart skip a beat a few times. But after a split second, I realized I knew what was going to happen next... These verbatim translations of plots from some famous storylines and also the plot-points that were already spoiled in the trailers made the movie predictable to me.

But for casual fans, those revelations, easter eggs, and climactic moments had no or little significance, and probably felt unearned; seeing Wonder Woman in her armour for the first time, and also the way the fight between the titular characters ended are examples of this.

Some fans also criticized the darker portrayal of Batman and Superman. We had already seen Superman kill General Zod in Man of Steel (2013), and in this movie, we see a more violent version of Batman. I fully realize that some of the things that these characters do is in violation of their respective moral codes in the comics, but I found this creative licence to be as valid as any other interpretation of these modern mythologies. While on this, I was already a fan of Henry Cavill's Superman, and this film made me a fan of Ben Affleck too. I remember back in the day when he was cast as Daredevil in 2003, people were saying that DC missed out, but when Batfleck was announced at the SanDiego Comic Con in 2013, same people freaked out... I'm really happy that Snyder and Affleck proved them wrong. Affleck was perhaps the best Bruce Wayne that we have seen on the screen (a close second might be George Clooney in the universally-hated Batman and Robin 1997); for his Batman, the credit also goes to Snyder for showing us the most brutal and efficient Batman. Of course the Batman interpretation was heavily influenced by Rocksteady's Arkham universe, and the costume by Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. I just hope they redesign the cowl for the next movie and make the ears a little longer, and also show a little more of Batman's jawline...

*SPOILER* Another major issue that people have with the film is about how Batman and Superman stop their fight and become allies: When Batman is about to pierce Superman's heart with a Kryptonite spear, Superman says "save Martha"; Batman suddenly stops and becomes friends with Superman because their moms have the same name. This may sound silly, but I'd like to be the devil's advocate and put myself in Bruce Wayne's shoes for a second; witnessing parents' death might be one of the most traumatic experiences in a person's life. Batman hearing his father's last words would trigger a lot of emotions and perhaps paralyze him for a second... Psychoanalysis aside, this a comic book movie for god's sake. People had no problem when Tony Stark's PTSD was triggered every time someone said New York in Iron Man 3 (2013)... Okay, while we are spoiling things here, I'd like to give shoutouts to Darkseid's Parademons in Batman's dream sequence, which was also a vision from the future brought by Flash (as he had done in Final Crisis and Flashpoint storylines), and also to panels taken from Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman (Batman on top of the crane holding a rifle, Batman escaping from Doomsday using his grappling gun and thunder striking in the background, and also a torn piece of cloth on a pole right before Superman delivers the final blow to Doomsday). *SPOILER*

To wrap up, I just think if Lex Luthor was the only villain of the film (and we didn't have the last act in which they all fight Doomsday), perhaps the story would have been more coherent and less confusing for casual fans. But regardless, the movie has sold pretty well ($800 million at the boxoffice as of this writing)... I had a great time watching this movie: I had goosebumps, my heart skipped a couple of beats, do not remember  blinking too many times, and I didn't look at my watch even once. But at the same time, I acknowledge the shortcomings of the movie and understand why some people may not like it as much as I did. Seems Marvel is doing a better job at pleasing the casual fans... Overall, I give this movie 9.5/10.