Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review of GET HARD: Offensively Outrageous

April 30, 2015

James King is a very wealthy stockbroker who gets wrongly convicted for fraud. Desperately scared of being molested in prison, he thought of hiring the black guy who ran the nearby car wash to harden him up so he can survive behind bars. Against James' perceived statistics though, Darnell never spent a day in prison himself! From there, the film goes through every conceivable racist, misogynistic, or homophobic stereotype jokes they can come up with, until the inevitably predictable ending.

Liking a satiric comedy film that feeds on these politically-incorrect, potentially offensive jokes is a matter of personal taste. I do not belong to any of the demographic the film trained its comic claws on, so I was not personally offended by the crass humor. I found most of the jokes flat and unfunny, only mildly amusing at best.

Maybe it does not help that I never really liked the comedy style of Will Ferrell even from way back. The film opens with the unfortunate scene of Ferrell bawling so fakely it set a decidedly mediocre tone for the rest of the film. His delivery of jokes were not effective, or his material itself was not written very well. Most of his "funny" scenes had no words, with just his awkward body movement or stupid facial expressions doing the "fish out of water" job better.

I only knew Kevin Hart from his recent film which was showed only earlier this year, "The Wedding Ringers". There, Hart effectively achieved chemistry with his partner Josh Gad and that that made the film really work well. Here though, Hart does not really gel very well with Ferrell. I liked Hart's character better, but the performance of this up and coming black comedian was hampered by the limitations of the script.

So if you like your comedies brash, loud and peppered generously with filthy language, then "Get Hard" is the film for you. For those of you who prefer more cerebral comedies then it would be okay to give it a pass. 4/10. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Superhero Saturation

April 23, 2015

The first Avengers film was an awesome film. It lived up to all expectations, and fans filed out of the cinema generally very happy and excited about the superhero extravaganza they had just seen. This sequel therefore had a much bigger fan expectations to fulfill. Now that the novelty of having all these heroes together has already passed, it now depends on a great story to pull this second installment through. My verdict is that while it is still a larger-than-life, visually-impressive action film, it did not exactly inspire the same level of adulation that the first one so handily developed.  

The adventure starts in a fictional European country of Sokovia where the Avengers were attacking the Hydra lair to retrieve Loki's scepter. The blue stone in that scepter contain powerful artificial intelligence technology which Tony Stark and Bruce Banner uses to create Ultron, the ultimate peace-keeper for the world. Ironically however, Ultron believes that humanity needs to be eradicated in order to achieve peace. 

Ultron recruits the powerful Maximoff twins, super-speedy Pietro and telepathic Wanda, who have an axe to grind against Tony Stark. The action reaches a peak back in Sokovia where Ultron develops a machine to lift a huge segment of the city up to the sky with the intent of dropping it down to cause global annihilation. Together with new allies they pick up along the way, the Avengers have to regroup and gather their forces together in order to foil Ultron's twisted quest for human extinction.

While the requisite bad-ass fight scenes and humourous zingers are still there, but there was something I can't exactly put my finger on that affected my enjoyment of the film overall. Maybe it was the sheer number of characters we need to focus on so the storytelling can be messy at points. Every character had their own personal issues to address, such that some parts of the film tended to lag down. Maybe it was how Thor seemingly became the unexpected comic relief for the film. Maybe it was how I was not used to seeing Natasha as a hopeless romantic or as a damsel in distress. I don't know, I enjoyed the film for sure, but there was just something amiss somewhere.

I did like the part where we see Clint Barton's home and meet his family. We get to see the super-archer in a much different light and these scenes gave Jeremy Renner his moment to shine after being underused in the first film. Strangely for a film with so many characters, Hawkeye is the ONLY one in whom you can connect emotionally.

I liked the new characters this film introduced to us. The Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is a very powerful heroine with awesome abilities. It should be interesting how her character will develop future films. The scenes building up to the birth of Vision are positively sublime -- so well done! Paul Bettany transitioned from being the voice of JARVIS to his personification as Vision very fluidly. The main antagonist Ultron was voiced with buttery calm by James Spader. I admit I felt there was some disconnect between the coolness of the voice with the expectation of pure nefariousness for this villain. 

There was a short extra scene in the middle of the end credits featuring an Infinity Gauntlet and one character whom we last saw in "Guardians of the Galaxy". I thought I would see more though. And no, to the disappointment of fans who patiently waited, there was no second extra scene at the very end of the credits. There was only the promise that "The Avengers will return". That return is reportedly going to be in May 2018.

Overall, this is still one big bang of a film. Those dynamically blocked and executed sequences where all the Avengers were fighting side-by-side were a joy to watch. Writer-director Joss Whedon tried his best to weave together a fan-friendly, action-filled film with more than 10 superheroes, yet still managing to maintain some sort of story coherence, while connecting to past and future Marvel films revolving around this universe. 

But I think the decision to relinquish the directorial reins of the next Avengers films to the Russo Brothers (who did an excellent job in "Captain America:The Winter Soldier") may be a good idea in order to inject some fresher ideas before more signs of franchise fatigue start to show. 8/10.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review of KID KULAFU: The Passion of Pacquiao

April 17, 2015

The film begins with a shot of feet walking barefoot in the mud and rain while men are watching a bloody brawl as nightly entertainment. These were very artistically and aesthetically shot with innovative camera angles. We knew by then that we are going to watch a Filipino film of outstanding quality. The opening sequence alone already portends that this is not going to be an ordinary biopic.

Coming into the film, we already knew that this film was going to be about the "National Fist" Manny Pacquiao and his rise from abject poverty in a war-torn Mindanao to a world-renowned multi-billionaire champion boxer. Back in 2006, there was once a biopic by Joel Lamangan which starred Jericho Rosales as Pacquiao. Just last year, we witnessed an excellent documentary "Manny" where the actual real-life characters told their stories. We already have an idea about his inspiring story of hurdling incredible odds to achieve impossible dreams. This film tells the familiar life story again, but Director Paul Soriano manages to tell it again in a gritty and realistic style which will connect with most audiences.

The grittiness and realism of this film is rooted in the casting of an relatively unknown young actor Buboy Villar, who actually looks like one of those lean sinewy amateur pugilists we see in undercard fights. Villar's acting skills were impressive as they have a raw unforced quality. His athletic ability was also evident in those shadow boxing scenes, hauntingly executed so that it looked as if we were watching Pacquiao himself. He was also excellent in those recreations of Pacquiao's early fights -- very excitingly choreographed and edited.

Alessandra de Rossi continues to impress with her acting prowess. Fresh from her award-winning performance in "Bambanti", de Rossi takes on the character of Pacquiao's equally iconic mother, Dionisia.  Though this may fall into caricature in the hands of a lesser actress, de Rossi was more subtly funny as we see in her young Dionisia the beginnings of the brash and feisty Dionisia we all know now. And you know how de Rossi can really kill those dramatic scenes. 

Alex Medina plays Pacquiao's negligent father Rosalio. Cesar Montano plays Sardo, Pacquiao's uncle and first boxing coach and manager. Jake Macapagal plays Dizon, Pacquiao's trainer who helped him win bigger local competitions. These actors make the most of their screen time in effective and nuanced performances. Teen star Khalil Ramos plays Eugene, another promising boxer and Pacquiao's friend. I felt though that his matinee idol looks somehow distracted from the realism of his performance, especially beside Villar's vivid performance.

The corny-sounding title may be a little off-putting for those who do not know that this was actually Pacquiao's first fighting alias. The name comes from his uncle's favorite drink Vino Kulafu, which was a very popular Chinese wine in Mindanao, a contemporary of Sioktong. However, this film should not be judged by its title alone. This is actually a very well-made, first-rate inspirational sports movie that is well-worth the price of its admission. It will move you. 8/10.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review of FURIOUS 7: Activated Adrenaline

April 6, 2015

"Furious 7" follows the same adrenaline rush formula that fueled the first six film in the franchise to box-office success. The barely-there story just functions to string together some of the most memorable and impossibly spectacular stunts involving the most muscular cars ever captured on film. As the stunts get more and more complex and incredible, there is a dramatic real-life twist that would challenge the filmmakers further for this seventh installment, and that is the death of star Paul Walker in, as fate would have it, a race car accident. How they deal with Walker's death in the film will be a matter of curiosity among fans of this franchise. 

The plot here follows right from FF6. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a Black-Ops savvy brother of a former fallen enemy, is out for revenge big time. Striking a deal with a secret government agent code-named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his posse rescues Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a hacker who had been kidnapped by Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), a terrorist with military-grade firepower. Ramsey had developed God's Eye, a powerful tracking system which can use all available digital devices around to locate any subject.

On the action front, this film is on adrenaline overload as the gang goes from Los Angeles and Tokyo, to Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi.. The cars here don't only look great, they also do the most amazing things. I'm sure it was really very hard to top the already over-the-top stunts we saw in FF6, but the insane stunts we see here in FF7 could definitely match them. Cars jumping out of planes ( a major stunt dubbed "air drop"), cars hurtling down cliffs, cars jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper -- they have got it all here! 

With Jason Statham there in the mix as the main antagonist, there would not be a dearth of heart-stopping, bone-crunching mano-a-mano fights. Right off the bat, Statham would engage Dwayne Johnson in a hard-hitting brawl that destroys an entire office. Of course, there will also be a climactic Aston Martin-smashing face-off with Vin Diesel himself at the end. Paul Walker had his own breathtaking fight inside a moving van against Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa. Michele Rodriguez had her dynamic fight scene in full evening gown regalia vs. MMA star Ronda Rousey in an elegant penthouse suite.

The FF series is as much about family as it about action, and this is not forgotten here. Toretto is dealing with the amnesia suffered by his wife Letty. Walker's character Brian is trying to quietly settle down as a family man with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).The much-anticipated final send-off and goodbye to Paul Walker was touching yet very manly. 

Director James Wan takes a break from his horror films and successfully orchestrates these visually spectacular out-of-this world vehicular stunts with his crew. They were also able to give Paul Walker a fitting and dignified farewell. The scenes where Paul's real life brothers Caleb and Cody stand-in for him were not obvious as the editing was very well done. 

Of course, they made Toretto and company virtually superheroes the way they can emerge from all those incredibly dangerous situations unscathed. It does seem absurd, but isn't this really how fans consider them? The "humor" of Tyrese Gibson's character Roman can be groan-inducing, especially in that party scene, but I'd say it's tolerable.

Overall, I would say that this particular installment of the FF series definitely achieved what it set out to do.  This is a very entertaining film indeed. The Lykan HyperSport and Nathalie Emmanuel look fantastic. When put side by side with the other FF films I've seen though, I think Fast 5 and FF 6 were still better than this. 7/10.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


April 5, 2015

The first SpongeBob Movie (2004) was the first time I was formally introduced to the zany undersea world of SpongeBob Squarepants and his crazy friends. The complex plot recounted SpongeBob and Patrick accepting a mission to recover King Neptune's lost crown, while Plankton was hatching a diabolical mind-control plot to take over all of Bikini Bottom. It featured guest voices from Alec Baldwin (as the hitman Dennis) and Scarlett Johansson (as the cute Princess Mindy), and a hilarious cameo by David Hasselhoff (as himself). I loved it as much as my kids did for its quirky sense of humor and memorable one-liners. We would watch it over and over again on home video.

It was with so much anticipation that we watched "Sponge Out of Water," only the second SpongeBob movie for cinematic release in 10 years. Alas, I think we may have set our bar of expectation too high. My kids and I were rather disappointed with how this one turned out.

A pirate named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) reads a story written in a magically self-fulfilling book to his seagull audience. It was about the mysterious disappearance of the Secret Formula of the Krabby Patty that caused Bikini Bottom falls into wild apocalyptic disarray. Once the gang discovered the magic that made the formula vanish, SpongeBob and friends use it to launch a super-powered Avengers-like attack to recover that precious piece of paper and restore their beloved Bikini Bottom back to normal.

The trademark SpongeBob sense of wacky silly humor is still there and all, but I cannot help but compare this film with the first film and feel let down. For me, the problem is the very simplistic plot that was stretched out beyond its reasonable limit. Several side plots were employed to prolong the events, like time-traveling via a photo-booth and meeting Bubble the cosmic dolphin, which did not really lead anywhere. The funny parts only elicited smiles and snickers from us, not all-out guffaws we had with the first one. The superhero personas of the Bikini Bottom crew, which was the climactic fun highlight of this sequel, had too short of a screen appearance. The live actor guest star Antonio Banderas was no David Hasselhoff when it comes to self-deprecating humor. 

Overall, it was still a good time in the movie house for the whole family. I just wished the ten years that passed between the first movie and this sequel could have given creator Stephen Hillenburg and director Paul Tibbitt to come up with an original story with more sophisticated plotting, rather than this one with a conveniently easy "magical" device that lazily drove it towards the happy ending we all expect. 5/10.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review of ROBOT OVERLORDS: Retro Robots and Gillian Anderson

March 31, 2015

The whole backstory of this British sci-fi family film was summarized in a few frames flashed at the very beginning. "Three years ago... the Robots invaded Earth." "The war lasted just eleven days." Then a strange robotic being with an adult female face, a little boy's body and a disembodied voice declares that they mean Earth no harm. After their study of humanity, they will leave and never come back. They only have one strict rule for the earthlings to follow during their occupation: "Stay indoors!" 

The story follows a group of teenagers led by Sean Flynn (Callan McAuliffe) who defy the robots, venturing out of the safety to his home to search for his lost father. Hot in pursuit is the ruthless Robin Smythe (a hammy Ben Kingsley), a human who had allied himself with the aliens. But Smythe is distracted by his attraction to Sean's mother Kate, (and I do not blame him as Kate was played by Gillian Anderson).

When we first saw the trailer for this film, I had no plans to watch it because it looked like a low-budget B-action flick with robots and unknown young actors. Indeed it was juvenile and very old-fashioned sci-fi, like something we could have seen on TV years back. The story could have been interesting, but the execution was not good, even cheesy. The corny title alone is a red flag that this is strictly for young teens, yet even they might find the technological aspects of this film too retro to be cool.

I only watched this film when I found out that Gillian Anderson would be in it. And yes, despite twenty years that passed since she gained me as a fan as Scully in "The X-Files," Ms. Anderson never looked better. She looked so good that it was not believable that she was the mother of McAuliffe. It was just too bad that her role here was too weak and insubstantial to merit her beauty and talent. 

I would have rated this film lower, but only because of Gillian Anderson, I will be a little bit more generous and give it a 4/10.

Review of HOME: Corny Confection

April 1, 2015

When I first saw the trailer of this new DreamWorks animated film last year, I felt I might not like it. The title was indistinct, the alien character looked corny and the girl character had zero charm. But I had made wrong first impressions about previous DreamWorks projects before, like "Shrek", "How to Train Your Dragon", and "The Croods" which all turned out to be very enjoyable and heartwarming films despite the "unattractive" animation styles. Even "Spirit", "Megamind" and "Turbo" turned out much better than what I expected them to be from the trailers. So, not wanting to judge this book based on its cover, we also gave "Home" a chance.

The Boov were a cute alien race who prided themselves with being cowardly and indifferent. Running away from their sworn enemy the Gorg, the Boov, under the leadership of their dictator Captain Smek, occupy Earth. One particularly odd Boov was known as "Oh" because of the exasperated groans of other Boov who could not stand his sunny friendly ways. Oh just wanted to send an e-invitation to his "warming of house" party but he inadvertently sends it to the whole universe, including the Gorg. Because of this costly mistake, Oh becomes a fugitive.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Tip apparently escaped the vacuuming machine which extracted all humans from their homes, including her mother Lucy. She and her fat cat Pig were constantly on the run from the Boov which had overrun New York City. When Tip meets Oh, she pleads with (or coerces) him to help her find her mom. From there, the two go on an adventure that brings them around the world from Paris to Australia, developing an unusual friendship and saving the world.

Initially, the very bright color palette and cute marshmallow-like alien design make this very attractive. The visual comedy did not always come off successfully, like the globes of toilet bowls and garbage cans, or the landmarks with Smek's face. Unfortunately, the story did not really develop into something memorably funny or interesting. The friendship that bonded Oh and Tip together seemed shallow and forced, not very well-developed in the storytelling. The final resolution of the problem with the Gorg was an overused plot point. There was only one scene that I could call truly touching.

Jim Parsons voiced Oh like he was playing his signature Sheldon character on his hit TV show "Big Bang Theory". It was occasionally cute, occasionally annoying. Many of his jokes in broken English actually felt flat. Aside from the dancing scene (which we already saw in the trailer), I cannot recall any other really big humorous moment from him. The voicing of Tip was okay, but it was made more remarkable when the end credits came up and you see that it was pop star Rihanna who did it. Steve Martin unfortunately did not get to do anything distinctive as Captain Smek's voice. Jennifer Lopez's very short stint as mom Lucy could have been done by any other voice actress.

For me, the film itself was just mildly entertaining at best. Not the worst film by DreamWorks, but not one of their best.  6/10.