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 Chloƫ 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.