Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION: Lavishly Overblown

June 26, 2014

Director Michael Bay sets "Transformers: Age of Extinction", the fourth installment of the Transformers film franchise, further into the future after the Battle of Chicago from the last film. At this time, man is waging a war against all alien robots, including our friendly Autobots. In fact, all the Autobots have been destroyed except for five: the ever-dependable Bumblebee, the green paratrooper Crosshairs, the cigar-chomping and bearded Hound, the blue samurai-like Drift, and of course, everybody's all-time favorite, Optimus Prime.

For the human characters, gone are the Witwickys and enter the Yeagers. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is an down-on-his-luck engineer and frustrated inventor of household robots. He has a pretty (and irritatingly petty) 17-year old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), whom he guards like a hawk. But of course, she has a secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Raynor), who was a racecar driver.

When Cade bought a rundown trailer truck for $150 to fix up, little did he know that he was buying the damaged Optimus Prime himself, putting him and his family right in the path of the government people, led by the double-dealing Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar). Attinger seeks to destroy all Transformers for good, but has ironically connived with the ruthless mercenary robot Lockdown to do the job. 

The action brings the Yeagers and the Autobots from Texas to Beijing then Hong Kong, battling not only human soldiers, but also fantastic new robots created by the arrogant Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) and his company. These were made from a new programmable element called "Transformium" obtained from remnants of destroyed Transformers including Megatron, whose evil "spirit" has somehow entered the new leader robot Galvatron. 

You can see from the lengthy synopsis that there are many new characters, both human and robot, that go in and out of this story. It can get difficult to remember and follow all of them. The film makers themselves seemed to have difficulty taking inventory of all the characters at the end. I have not even mentioned the robot T- Rex Grimlock and the other Dinobots, which also make their spectacular debut in this film. 

The film runs more than two hours and a half. The story telling is very uneven, with a pace that was off-putting and even strangely boring at times. The introductory scenes at the Yaeger farm went on for so long. The lines were generally corny clichés with lame humor or sappy sentiment, like before. There were a lot of blatant product placement ads, most memorably Bud Light. Only when the Transformers come out and actually fight with explosive flair does the movie truly come alive. 

The film is generally entertaining with lavish special visual and sound effects, done Michael Bay style. The Transformers remain to be awesome robots which transform into the sleekest models of cars and trucks. It was fun to see OP act like Voltes V and fight with a sword and see Grimlock breathe fire. There are some very exciting car chase scenes and martial arts fight scenes (of course, they were in China!) for the human characters as well, not that they were all that necessary for the story. Stanley Tucci steals his scenes in his humorous take on an annoying character.

However, "Age of Extinction" simply tried to stuff in too much that it already felt bloated and tedious at several points. Even with all his physical ability, Mark Wahlberg did not seem to be a right fit to be the main human protagonist of this franchise. I can't believe I am saying this, but I think I actually enjoyed the messy Shia Lebeouf films more than I did this one. 6/10.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review of THIRD PERSON: Blurred Lines

June 6, 2014

Paul Haggis is best known as the director of the movie "Crash", which was the controversial winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 2006 over its closest rival "Brokeback Mountain." Haggis is also the first screenwriter to win Oscars for Writing for two consecutive years, "Million Dollar Baby" in 2005 and "Crash" in 2006. It was the name of Paul Haggis that drew me to check out "Third Person" without knowing anything else about it. 

Like "Crash", "Third Person" is also a film with multiple interlocking story lines. I have liked movies like this since I have seen "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams." I have admired how the scriptwriters of these films managed to clearly tell three or four separate stories and then connect them to each other with an overarching bigger story.

In Paris, Michael (Liam Neeson), an aging Pulitzer-prize winning author who left his wife Elaine (Kim Basinger), is having an affair with a much younger aspiring writer Anna (Olivia Wilde). In Rome, Scott (Adrien Brody), an American businessman, gets entangled with the shady financial problems of a gypsy-like local lady Monika (Moran Atias). In New York, Julia (Mila Kunis), a poor divorcée, lost custody of her young son to her estranged husband Rick (James Franco) because of an unfortunate accident with a plastic laundry bag.

It was good to see Liam Neeson again in a straight drama, not in another action vehicle that he is wont to do lately. Olivia Wilde is daring, gorgeous and smart, the perfect femme fatale. Mila Kunis stands out in a very serious dramatic role. Her brutally-emotional confrontation scene with James Franco was amazingly acted out. Casting Ermenegildo Zegna model Adrien Brody as a man who rips off designer clothing is humorously ironic. 

The underlying issue and conflict in all three stories was about trust. Anna's bizarre behavior is driving Michael nuts about her loyalty. On the other hand, Michael is using their stormy relationship as the subject of his book seemingly without Anna's consent. Monika's connection with a sleazy extortionist has Scott doubting her innocence. Rick cannot trust Julia anymore with even basic visitation rights to their son. 

Even when the stories were set in three different cities, you occasionally see the characters and things tangentially intersecting, adding mystery and confusion. At the two hour mark, the three stories seem to be slowly losing their steam and getting nowhere without any detectable connection to each other. 

However, just as I was losing hope as to this film's ability to end properly, suddenly a most surprising development comes up that actually manages to solidify the three disparate segments of this film into a single coherent whole. Paul Haggis has done it again to weave his magic with this inventive type of film story telling. 7/10.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review of 22 JUMP STREET: Mad Bromance!

June 20, 2014

"21 Jump Street" was a pleasant surprise when it was released two years ago. Instead of the lame comedy rip-off of a classic 80s TV series that it was expected to be, it turned out to be a rip-roaring action comedy delight. The comedic chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum was sizzling and carried the film through its absurd premise of adult cops undercover as high school students.

In this sequel "22 Jump Street", Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were sent undercover to college this time with the mission of uncovering the truth about the death of a coed involved with a new party drug called "Whyphy". 

As the investigation of the case got underway, Jenko meets a kindred spirit in Zook (Wyatt Russell), a frat jock who thought and acted exactly like Jenko did. Even as Schmidt hooks up with a pretty art major named Maya (Amber Stevens), he is majorly distressed that Jenko is getting more and more into his fraternity bros and his football and was steadily drifting away from their partnership. 

Action peaks in a wild spring break party on the beach where the "Whyphy" gang threatens to spread the drug big time to more college students. Schimdt and Jenko have to get their acts together in time to prevent that from happening and apprehend the drug fiends.

Again as with the first film, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum throw all shame to the wind and go all out in going for the laughs. Their chemistry together works as well now as it worked back then. The uncomfortably squirmy scene where Schmidt and Jenko are in session with a shrink is particularly hilarious.

Hill acts as he usually acts as the dorky misfit. He really can't go wrong with that funny face of his. He has a natural talent for physical comedy. But it was Tatum who steps up more in this sequel as he fearlessly makes fun of his "him-bo" image. Tatum's athletic skills are also highlighted in many exciting scenes. Ice Cube steals his scenes as their ill-tempered foul- mouthed boss, Captain Dickon. He would even figure in what I thought was the most jaw-droppingly awkward and outright laugh-out-loud moment of the film.

The humor of this film is very shallow and can even be offensive for some people, but truth to tell, it is really very funny. If you don't mind the mile-a-minute profanity-laden script with heavy sexual or drug- themes, you will be laughing from start to finish with the misfortunes and misadventures of Schmidt and Jenko. The laughs carry on all the way up to the closing credits where they mock their own possible future sequels in a montage that is a must-see in itself. 8/10.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review of THE RAID 2: BERANDAL: Bloody Awesome Action!

June 19, 2014

In 2011, an Indonesian film called "The Raid: Redemption" was released. In that, a group of elite policemen, including rookie Rama, conducts a raid on this dilapidated apartment building in Jakarta to apprehend a notorious crime lord. This film shocked the action film fans with its audacity for unbridled violence, and they erupted in unanimous praise. Its director Gareth Evans was already being hailed as a genius, with his innovative and realistic fight scenes, which did not let up on the gore.

This sequel is called "The Raid 2: Berandal." While the first film was over in a quick hour and a half, this second one was an hour longer in its running time. Compared to the first where the flimsy story seemed just a mere excuse for all the action scenes to take place, this sequel takes its time to tell a more substantial story of police corruption within rival criminal gangs. But similar to its predecessor, the fight action, violence and gore did not let up, from the very first frame up to the explosive finale. 

Rama is back, recruited to penetrate a bigtime local gang undercover to investigate policemen under its payroll. by gaining the trust of Uco, the son of the kingpin, Bangun. Uco is impatient to gain a bigger role in their organization, so he associates himself with a rival gangster, Bejo, to rile up conflict against another rival Japanese gang. As these criminals work under a constant cloud of mistrust and Uco's plans implode, Rama has to fight to free himself out of the violent web spun around him.

From the gun and knife fights we saw from the first film, this second film ups the ante even more. There are supporting killers who use the most outlandish weapons, like hammers, a baseball bat and scythes. There are big fight scenes in the very confined spaces such as a sedan or a train car, as there were in the streets of Jakarta and in a prison yard. Blood is generously splattering or flowing as usual, purposely made to contrast with the pale brown mud or a white kitchen floor.

The lead star Iko Uwais is as awesome a martial arts action star as he was in the first film as Rama. He was really put through the wringer in both films with all of the punishing superhuman routines he was made to do. He definitely pulls all of these exhilarating scenes off spectacularly with his impressive fighting skills. 

As the main antagonist, Arifin Putra does very well also. He was very cool there in that scene where Uco was slicing necks like it was nothing. His striking half-Caucasian features enhances his viciousness. Tio Pakusodewo was very good as Uco's father and gang leader Bangun. That scene where father and son were arguing about Uco's dishonorable behavior was very well acted out by both actors.

One of the most memorably long fight scenes in the first film was that of Rama with a character named Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian. In this sequel, Yayan again makes an appearance as another marked character Prakoso, a Bangun loyalist who was set up to be killed by Japanese gangsters. Again, Yayan's mixed martial arts skills were in full display.

"The Raid 2" is a very worthy sequel to an excellent first film. Conservatives might not approve of the brazen display of realistic violence, but hardcore action film fans will cheer for sure. Admittedly, a two- and-a-half hour film is not always easy to follow, but in this one, your adrenaline will be kept pumping by the relentless action scenes. A third episode is already in the works and so much anticipation is already brewing for that one. 8/10.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review of BLENDED: Team Sandler-Barrymore Does It Again!

June 13, 2014

Adam Sandler has been in a lot of film disasters of late like "Jack and Jill" and "Grown-Ups 2". He desperately needs a good one to recover lost ground. Reuniting with Drew Barrymore, his co-star in two of his biggest and most beloved hits of his career, "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates," is a great idea.

Sandler plays Jim, a widow with three girls. Barrymore plays Lauren, a divorcée with two boys. After a disastrous blind date in Hooters, by some contrived plot manipulation, Jim and Lauren and all their kids were forced by circumstances to spend time together on a luxurious South African resort vacation!

Of course, as most rom-coms go, after bonding over the ostrich rides, the jungle safari, the jeep para-gliding and couples massage, these two mortal enemies get to know each other and their kids more and more. Will they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after? What do you think?

Adam Sandler seems to be the same guy in all of his films, only he is much older now. He still has that signature lazy smart-ass vibe his loyal fans love. This is benign stuff for him, not as memorable as his breakthrough parts in Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore.

I confess I am a sucker for the charms of Drew Barrymore in most of her films. Here, she maintains her classy beauty and genuine kind-hearted image even as she goes for the laughs. She is the perfect foil to Sandler's crassness. My favorite Drew moment in this film is that scene where she sings a lullaby for the kids.

The five kids, who have distinct problems of their own borne out growing up with a single parent of the opposite gender, mostly do well without being too annoying. Standing out among the kids is Bella Thorne, who plays Jim's eldest daughter Hilary, who often gets mistaken for a boy because of her pageboy haircut and basketball skills.

The supporting actors share in the glow of the Sandler-Barrymore charisma, as stereotypically corny as their characters were. Jessica Lowe delightfully plays a kooky blonde bombshell who is the second wife of a much older man. Zak Henry manages to be funny as an Edward Cullen clone. It was fun to see Shaquille O'Neal again as Jim's co-worker at the sports store. Muscle-bound Terry Crews steals scenes as the sleazy lead singer of a Greek Chorus of sorts at the African resort.

Overall, this film gets by mainly by the comedic chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore. The jokes may not really be so original or smashing.  Somehow though, we still smile and chuckle because they are the ones delivering those jokes together. Though "Blended" does not exactly match their first two films together, but this is definitely a major step-up from Sandler's last two lame outputs, mostly thanks to Barrymore. 7/10.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reviews of Three Films from the 19th FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2014

June 13, 2014

The Embassy of France to the Philippines, the Alliance Française de Manille, and Institut Français hold the 19th French Film Festival from June 10 to 15, 2014 at the Greenbelt 3 cinemas in Makati City. Unlike the previous years though when admission was free, this year they are charging P100 per screening.

The opening film of this year’s festival is “20 ans d’écart” (“It Boy”). Others in the lineup are “La Vénus à la fourrure” (“Venus in Fur”), “Mon âme par toi guérie” (“One of a Kind”), “Une autre vie” (“Lovers”), “Amour et turbulences” (“Love is in the Air”), “Les beaux jours” (“Bright Days Ahead”), “L’Écume des jours” (“Mood Indigo”), “Quai d’Orsay,” and “Situation amoureuse : C’est compliqué” (“Relationship Status : It’s Complicated”). 

Here are my personal reviews of three of these films that I have seen:

1) La Vénus à la fourrure (Venus in Fur)

"Venus in Fur" is one mesmerizing film, the latest by controversial director Roman Polanski. This is despite having only one setting -- an old Parisian theater on one stormy night. Furthermore, it has only a cast of two -- Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. There is something so vital about their one hour and a half long conversation that that is simply compelling.

Amalric plays Thomas, a stage director conducting an audition for lead actress for his play entitled "Venus in Fur." Seigner plays Vanda, an down-on-her-luck actress who arrived very late for the auditions. Vanda convinces Thomas to still give her a chance to audition. Thomas will soon discover that he will get more than what he bargained for.

Amalric and Seigner worked very well together with an electric chemistry and erotic tension that transcends language barriers and subtitles. I would have imagined a younger actress to play Vanda, but I must admit that the 48-year old Seigner still manages to be as sexy and seductive as Vanda should be. Amalric's character was captivated by her allure, and so will you. Of course, director Polanski will not make his wife look bad.

This film is based on a play by David Ives, and this was obvious in the way the dialog of the characters went. It was fascinating, and at times confusing, how their conversations moved from within the play's script into reality seamlessly. For people who love the theater, this film that will grab them from the get go all the way to its unpredictable climax. 6/10

2) Quai d’Orsay (The French Minister)

Arthur Vlaminck is a fresh graduate from a noted university is hired to be a speech writer for the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Arthur would soon discover that his new boss is vainly self-centered and overly meticulous. Despite saying he wants a speech which is direct to the point, he has a speaking style that tends to be pretentious and rife with quotes from classic political texts.

The script brings us in the thick of the daily goings-on in the French foreign ministry, as the busy bureaucrats address this and that conflict. While the superpowers, US, Germany and France, are mentioned by name, the smaller countries they have issues with are hidden under fictitious names, like Ludemistan or Ubanga. There are generous references to NATO and the UN.

The elegant egoistic Minister Taillard is very well-portrayed by Thierry Lhermitte. He knows his character very well and the subtle style of comedy the role demanded. You will feel sorry and root for the harassed and toxic Arthur Vlamnick as played by Raphaël Personnaz as he not only deals with his difficult boss, but all the other big egos in the staff as well. Nils Arestrup provides that balancing force as he calmly plays the efficient Chief of Staff Claude Maupas.

From the start, you already get that this is written as a political satire as you witness Taillard address pressing issues with his strange idiosyncrasies -- how he orders a rewrite without even reading the draft, how he makes papers fly around by merely entering the room, or how he wildly wields his neon highlighter as he goes through his readings. This pattern unfortunately tends to be repetitive and will lose steam as the film progresses. 5/10

3) L’Écume des jours (Mood Indigo)

The basic story seems simple enough. Boy lives a charmed magical life with his outlandish inventions and talented friends. Boy meets the girl of his dreams and marries her right away. Girl falls ill with a mysterious ailment, and boy does everything in order to save her.

In the hands of noted French director Michel Gondry however, this tale is taken to surreal directions, fantastic and absurd. It was obviously going to be an art film from the get-go with the out-of-this-world imagery that gets weirder and weirder as the mood of the film turns from happy to somber. There were some very disturbing images of blood and gore, which felt misplaced in this film whose general mood was romance.

Audrey Tautou is of course a familiar name, playing the ill-fated Chloe. This role is somewhat reminiscent of her past roles. Romain Duris plays Colin rather unevenly, as you cannot really read his true personality of his character. Omar Sy, who was recently seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" plays Colin's faithful valet/friend with the flair for preparing fancy food, and dancing with his rubbery legs to blues music.

This will not be an easy watch for mainstream movie audiences. This is strictly for the art-house crowd. I read that this film was based on a beloved 1947 French novel by Boris Vian, and fans of the book liked how this film brought their favorite story to life. However, for those unfamiliar with the book, this film with its two hours plus running time will be unbearably slow and bizarre. 3/10.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of NOAH: Crowe's Waterworld

June 12, 2014

Writer and director Darren Aronofsky gives us his own interpretation of the familiar Biblical tale of Noah and his Ark. Whatever underlying message he has behind this very odd and unconventional version, I confess I can only guess at, and I do not like my interpretation of what Aronofsky is trying to say. I think his artistic imagination went too far for a story that many people have a definite idea for since childhood.

There was Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connely) and his three sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth. There was an ark and a flood. That is what they show in the trailer, which indeed looked good. But when you see the actual film, you realize that those trailer scenes are all that what this film has got in common with the Bible. Everything else that stretched this film to more than two hours is all from the dark imagination of Darren Aronofsky.

There were scenes of supernatural magic, but not from God. They were care of their miraculous grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who can cause an entire barren valley to become a lush forest with a river all from one single seed. He can also cause a barren woman to again have the capacity to bear children, with his mere touch. But that is not the oddest thing about this film.

My vote for the most absurd idea and imagery would have to be those robotic giants made of stone called The Watchers, who move and sound like the Transformers. They were supposed to be the fallen angels, whose only "sin" was wanting to help man. They were the ones who help Noah build his ark. This idea is heretical to the core. But even without going into religious beliefs, their presence in this type of film is ridiculous.

I do not get the look and costumes that Noah and the other characters were made to sport. There is a dystopian futuristic vibe going on that is hard to take, since this is supposed to be about the ancient past. Particularly with the villain character Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) you certainly feel that he lost his way into this film from the set of "Mad Max" or "Waterworld" with his leather duds and hairstyle.

The cast of actors looked excellent on paper, but unfortunately, they were all overacting to the hilt here. Russell Crowe portrayed Noah with his signature grit and passion. However, his Noah felt like a mad man, even giving off a psychotic killer vibe in parts. A role was created to accommodate Emma Watson as Shem's wife who will test Noah's will in the end, but she was made to act so whiny and annoying. Jennifer Connely and Anthony Hopkins do not seem to bring anything outstanding to their performances. Logan Lerman at least manages to give us something interesting with his rebellious middle-child character.

The single part of the film I really liked was when Noah told the story of Creation. The montage of imagery Aronofsky conjured up was magical. It evokes memories of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" imagery, but more accessible. Only for that inspired sequence alone do I award this film another star.

As a whole, I did not like this movie. If the intention was being artistic, it did not feel like a good art film. If you think too much into the nebulous references within the story, you may get the feeling that this film is sending negative messages about the Creator. It is too long, boring and pretentious for most movie audiences. Watch at your own risk. 2/10.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2: Exhilarating and Emotional

June 9, 2014

The first "How To Train Your Dragon" is one of the most delightful surprises I had in cinema. I went in expecting to hate the film because of its "unattractive" human and dragon animation. However, as the film unfolded, this story of how a boy Hiccup and his new pet dragon Toothless totally changed the history of human-dragon relationships turned out to be outstanding and endearing. Catching this sequel is a no-brainer. We all wanted to see the next chapter in the lives of the two inseparable friends.

Part 2 happens five years after the events of the first installment. Hiccup is now a young man of 20, already reluctantly being primed by his father Stoick to be the new chief of their village Berk. However, Hiccup discovers a plot of a scarred renegade named Drago to form a dragon army to control the world. While his father prepares for war, Hiccup decides to seek Drago out in order to settle the matter peacefully. In his quest though, Hiccup chances upon the secret icy lair of the legendary Dragon Rider, who turns out to be Hiccup's long-lost mother Valka.

The artwork is so much more improved than the first one. The play of the artists on texture is impeccable. The leathery black skin of Toothless, the stubble on Hiccup's chin, the thick hair and beard of Stoick, each little idiosyncratic feature of each of the countless dragons, the flames, the ice, the oceans -- the artists have outdone themselves. The acrobatic flying sequences and battle scenes are very imaginatively executed. The way the artist make us feel the wind currents as the dragons are in flight was unbelievable. The musical score by John Powell is very effective in evoking both the exhilaration of the action scenes, as well as the drama of the intimate scenes.

The voice acting of the actors behind each of the lead characters add so much to their personalities. Jay Barruchel's voice perfectly captures Hiccup as a fun-loving, earnest but lost young man, uncertain where his future really lies. Cate Blanchett's characteristically cool voice lends a lot of credibility to Valka, torn between her commitment to her dragons and to her reunited human family. Gerald Butler's commanding voice as Stoick as warrior can convincingly turn loving and gentle as the situation warrants. Butler will also surprise us again with his singing voice, which we have missed since his stint as the Phantom of the Opera years back.

Writer and director Dean DeBlois successfully tells us a story that is mature with a generally dark mood, with very serious themes of family, loyalty, selflessness and heroism. There will be tears, so get ready for that. For the very young kids, count on Dreamworks to spice things up with some comic moments with foolish kiddie pranks and cute dragon babies though. Overall this is one big emotional roller-coaster ride -- so fun and entertaining, yet complete with important lessons in life for all ages. 9/10.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS: Book vs. Film

June 5, 2014


I read the book by John Green in one morning. It was a quick read, but it was uncomfortable to read in its sadness. This novel was about the story of two cancer-stricken teenagers who meet and find love in a cancer-support group meeting. I am surprised it was a bestseller given the book's topic seemed so morose and upsetting for the young adults that it targets. 

This book is a must-read for people who take care of cancer patients because it gives you an insight into their mindsets. I thought it was well-researched as the the behavior of young people with cancer. That it was written in the first person point of view of a dying 16-year old girl struck a sad sensitive nerve. It was also written well enough to build up and highlight several key moments with romantic thrill and genuine emotion.

That said, I found the language of this novel rather indulgent as a whole. Too many of the words and metaphors used did not believably belong to the vocabulary of the age group of the teen protagonists. Do you honestly know a teenager who says things like "existentially fraught" to describe their basketball free throws? While the subplot should have been interesting, the situations that involved author Peter Van Houten made no sense, and were very unrealistically written. 


The script of the film version is a very faithful adaptation by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber of its source novel. It is so faithful that the faults of the book also become its faults. The film is two hours and ten minutes long. Given its miserable theme and slow pace, it felt too long, sometimes wallowing too much in its own misery. Luckily, the dialog in the film's script were more believably teenage than it was in the book. I enjoyed the delightful animation used to show us the text messages between the two lovers. The wonderful soundtrack consisted of cool songs by Ed Sheeran and several other indie-type musicians. This type of music highly complemented the film's youthful angst.

Also, the film benefits from the earnest performances from its main cast. Shailene Woodley has a malleable face, not too perfectly pretty or distinct, just right for portraying a wide array of characters. She was really very effective as Hazel Grace, given that this was such a difficult part to play, demanding both physically and emotionally. Ansel Elgort had the charisma required to play her ideal boyfriend, Augustus. The unbelievable perfection of his character as written becomes his limitation as actor. 

Ironically, for me the best parts of the book did not materialize that well on screen. These were their Dutch-motif picnic in the park and their heart-to-heart talk about the new PET scan result. The way Ansel Elgort delivered his lines in these two important scenes were not clear enough to create the welling dramatic impact they did in the book. The script did not even include that highly-emotional moment towards the end when there was dead silence after a recording of a beloved voice invited to leave a voice mail.

Locally, this was rated PG, despite scenes where breasts were being fondled and clothes were being removed. When I was reading, I was worried about how the scenes of premarital sex would be translated on screen since my daughter wanted to watch the film. The writers made the characters in the film older by a year compared to the book. But still, I wish the director Josh Boone could have been more discreet with this scene, since the book has a lot of very young fans. I think the appropriate rating should be at least have been PG-13.  

Overall, I think this film is good to watch depending on your mood.  It can give you a good cry if you let it, though I thought the book might be more effective a tearjerker than the film. The best thing about this film is seeing Woodley and Elgort together as Hazel and Gus. The both of them had captured so well the essential chemistry of these two star-crossed lovers as described in the book, and this saves the film from being too depressing. 7/10.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review of EDGE OF TOMORROW: Cruise on a Loop

June 3, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" shows us a different Tom Cruise. In contrast with his past heroic characters, all valiant and unafraid, his character here Major William Cage is a big coward, trying to weasel his way out of an order to be in the front line of battle against the Mimics, an unstoppable alien race about to take over the whole world.

However, as Cage kills and gets killed by different sort of alien creature called the Alpha, he wakes up to relive this day of battle and die over and over again. With every return engagement, Cage would meet, strategize and fight alongside war heroine Rita Vrataski in their mission to seek out and destroy the main alien creature called the Omega.

Tom Cruise gets to flex his comedic chops which we do not see often enough. His playing a coward at first was so unlikely of him, it was fresh and funny. Of course, his action and fight sequences naturally looked good for him, even though these scenes did come later on in the film. This was a very good performance from Cruise, very natural and charming. He certainly knows how to choose these projects which would ensure his career longevity in the A-list.

This is the first time I have seen Emily Blunt in an action film. She surprised me with her proficiency in the battle arenas, very realistic skills. She is both sexy and formidable as Rita. She has a palpable chemistry with Cruise, which was key to audience enjoyment in a film like this. This girl can really stand her own with the best of them.

This film brings director Doug Liman into the bigger leagues as he deftly handles the awesome computer-generated visual and sound effects on top of a potentially unwieldy "Groundhog Day"-like scenario. The complex script was by Christopher McQuarry of "The Usual Suspects" fame, based on the Japanese novel "All You Need Is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Liman brought the story to life without becoming tedious in its repetition of scenes, and without any obvious problems in the looping timeline of events.  

This film comes right at the heels of last year's excellent "Oblivion", also a futuristic sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise and a British leading lady. Both are entertaining in their own way, but the story and the treatment are from being the same. Where "Oblivion" is all white and sterile-looking with a very serious style of story-telling, "Edge of Tomorrow" is dirty, gritty and fun, with a sharp sense of humor, a true summer blockbuster. 8/10.