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.