Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review of THOR: THE DARK WORLD: Sparked by Humor

October 31, 2013

In the beginning, there was a all powerful dark force called The Aether. The powers on Asgard contain this force and keep it hidden for thousands of years, only to be found by none other than astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). When The Aether takes possession of Jane, of course, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes to her rescue. 

However, as Asgard and the Nine Realms face the resurgence of the Dark Elves led by the diabolical Malakith (Christopher Eccleston), a catastrophic planetary alignment threatens to end the existence of the whole world. Thor was forced to solicit his incarcerated renegade brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to help him with his elaborate plan to save Jane and the Realms. Can the two estranged brothers actually work for one common noble goal?

Honestly, the first hour of this new Thor film was so dark it was almost dull. The special effects looked so fake and unimpressive, very obvious excessively cartoonish mayhem. The acting can be so hokey and corny, so serious and heavy-handed despite the shallowness of the story. The plot itself is very familiar, and reminiscent of many other superhero films. The romantic scenes of Natalie Portman wearing a gown felt like scenes in a "Star Wars" prequel.

But there was that sudden turn around midway in the film when Thor and Loki joined up that the film snapped into place and never looked back up to the very end. The second half came alive because of its quirky sense of humor, thanks largely due to the characters of the eccentric Dr. Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Jane's cute intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), and Darcy's own dorky intern Ian (Jonathan Howard). I feel these funny moments saved this film from wallowing in self-seriousness. These scenes may seem so out of place, yet they were still so laugh-out-loud hilarious.

However, are these funny scenes really what director Alan Taylor wants us to remember this movie for?  The brotherly interaction between Thor and Loki should have been the main focus, but this can be buried under so many other less-important computer-generated details that tend to overwhelm this production.  

In any case, overall, this film turned out very entertaining superhero action film that audiences will enjoy. You may not really be able to fully understand how the fight action went from realm to realm in the climactic battle but these were exhilarating to see.  The artwork in stark red and black with broad brush strokes over the final credits were awesome to look at. Don't leave right away as you know there will be extra scenes to whet your appetite for more adventures to come.   7/10.

PS:  My review of the first Thor film is posted HERE.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review of MAE NAK: Worst Version of Thai Ghost Tale

October 26, 2013

This version of the Thai ghost legend was released in local theaters this week. This was after the success of "Pee Mak" here earlier this year. I have also seen "The Ghost of Mae Nak" (2005). There is an even earlier film version called "Nang Nak," which was acclaimed world- wide during its release in 1999.

Mak and Nak get married. Just when Nak discovers she is pregnant, Mak gets conscripted to join the army. After the war, Mak comes home to see his wife and their infant child. However, oddly, everyone in town scared of his house and wife. He eventually realizes that the Nak he sees was just her ghost. It turns out Nak and her baby died in childbirth, and she was now trying to keep her family intact even as a spirit. When the townspeople try to exorcise her spirit away from Mak, she becomes a terrorizing, angry, vengeful ghost.

"Pee Mak" was wildly successful because of its light-hearted comedy- horror approach and its charming and delightfully comic set of actors, led by Mario Maurer. The earlier 2005 version takes the legend into the context of a modern-day romance of a young newly-married couple haunted by Mae Nak's vengeful spirit with some shockingly innovative scenes of gory deaths. The 1999 version "Nang Nak" is by far the best of them all with gorgeous cinematography, sensitive storytelling and charismatic acting by the actors who played Mak and Nak.  "Pee Mak" is clearly inspired by "Nang Nak," as their overall look is the same.

This particular "Mae Nak" is only about the legend itself, stretched and bloated out for more than one and a half hours. There was nothing original nor exciting about this version at all. The lead actors playing Mak and Nak looked good, but were dull and flat in their acting. The supporting actors were not any better. 

The main reason for this movie was the 3D.  This was Thailand's first 3D horror film. However, since this was not shown in 3D locally, this was not a factor. Unfortunately, the ghostly visual effects (including the ones obviously meant for 3D) were trite and terribly executed. The attempts at comedy were very lame and amateurish.

There is nothing much to write about this awful film. My one-star rating says it all. 1/10.

My ratings for the other Mak-Nak films are as follows:  Nang Nak (1999):  9/10.  The Ghost of Mae Nak (2005): 6/10.  Pee Mak (2013): 7/10.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review of THE FAMILY: Dull Gangster Salad

October 24, 2013

This movie has big names like Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones, yet it inexplicably had absolutely no buzz about it at all. This is certainly not a good indicator of a film worth looking into. However, curiosity got the better of me so I still went on and checked it out. Now I understand why we are not hearing much of this film.

"The Family" is about gangster from Brooklyn, Giovanni Manzoni, who had turned to testify against his mafia colleagues. He and his family had been herded off to Normandy in France as part of the witness protection program. There, this family tries very hard to live and integrate into this totally alien society, usually with terrible results given their violent tendencies. But the bigger problem remains, can they really escape the Mob that Giovanni had betrayed even as they crossed the Atlantic? 

The main story with Robert de Niro's character Giovanni/Fred was so predictable and uninteresting. This was only saved by one scene when a film being shown at a community event with Giovanni in attendance was actually one of Robert de Niro's real-life gangster dramas! De Niro was not even showing any effort in his portrayal. He is so used to this character, just going through the motions. He can do this role asleep, and he probably was.

Michelle Pfeiffer, I don't know why she is not getting better film projects than this. She still looks pretty good. I do not understand why her character Maggie goes from so cool (at the supermarket) to so hysterical (at the climactic gun fight). I thought her character was so poorly developed and this was disappointing.

De Niro and Pfeiffer play dad and mom, but it is more of their children and their stories that caught my attention more. Dianna Argon (of "Glee") plays Belle, a teenager with a crush on her math tutor. John D'Leo plays the youngest kid Warren who was able to corner the black market at school. Unfortunately though, these are mere minor subplots of the film, that were not picked up anymore towards the end. 

Tommy Lee Jones is as grouchy, glum and taciturn as before playing the FBI agent protecting the Manzoni family. Dry as toast as ever. I am beginning to think that he cannot play any other type of personality but this.

Overall, this film was a let-down given the promise of its cast. Director-writer Luc Besson is clearly better at actions films ("La Femme Nikita," "Transporter," "Taken," among others) than for comedy. While the action scenes can be exciting, the comedy scenes were strained, OK, mostly unfunny. The whole thing with all its subplots never really gelled as a whole. Everything felt scattered around aimlessly like a tossed salad. But this salad just tastes so-so and forgettable. 5/10.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review of CARRIE (2013): Victim of Its Own CGI Overload

October 18, 2013

The story of "Carrie" is by now is a very well-known story. It was first a best-selling novel in 1973 by master of horror fiction, Stephen King, his first novel. It had already been given a film treatment in 1976 by another master of suspense, Brian de Palma, with Oscar nominated performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Locally, there had just been a musical theater version of the same story which just closed last weekend, with Mikkie Bradford and Menchu Lauchengco (my review posted HERE). 

Carrie White is a teenage girl severely sheltered by her fanatically religious mother Margaret. She is a victim of bullying at school, especially by Chris Hargensen and her gang. When Chris goes overboard with her cruelty, her good friend Sue Snell felt very guilty. Sue asks her boyfriend Tommy Ross to take Carrie to the prom. Carrie defies her mother's prohibition and accepts her prom date. Of course, Chris will not let Carrie have her fun. Little did they know the powerful telekinetic abilities that mousy little Carrie possesses!

My main interest to see this film is for the performance of Chloe Grace Moretz in the title character.  It was brave of her to take on the very memorable, star-making, signature performance given by Sissy Spacek in 1976. But Chloe manages to hold her own with her own spark of innocence.  Chloe gives us a very sensitive performance as the troubled Carrie.  Her face is extraordinarily expressive even with the minimum of words she says. 

Julianne Moore gives an over-the-top yet sympathetic portrayal of Margaret White with her Biblical mumblings and self-mutilation. Compared to Piper Laurie's portrayal of Margaret in 1976, Moore was more miserably anguished in this version, while Laurie was more raving mad in the original.

Gabriella Wilde and Ansel Elgort who play Sue and Tommy respectively, are both very attractive, and do well enough in their roles. Portia Doubleday and Alex Nolan, who play the villains Chris and Billy, do alright, though they did not have a good enough screen presence in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if any of these young stars will achieve the career status of their 1976 equivalents, namely Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen or the biggest eventual star of them all, John Travolta. That does not seem too likely now, but we'll never know, can we?

If you compare this version with the 1976 version, you can recall scenes done almost exactly alike with practically similar lines.  You can see similarities in little details of the production design, like the ruffles on the tux Tommy tries on, or the stars decorating the prom venue ceiling.  There is none of the nudity seen in the opening credits now, nor are there the "Psycho"-like musical cues whenever Carrie uses her powers.  

What I thought this production did wrong was unduly going overboard with computer-generated special effects. The director Kimberly Peirce seemed to have had too much fun with these new "toys" to the detriment of her film. This advanced technology should have been this film's distinct advantage over the 1976 version, but the blatant lack of subtlety is jarring. Carrie can fly. Carrie can cause an entire street to break open with a single stomp. I guess you get the picture.  Brian de Palma was able to create a tenser and scarier atmosphere at the prom and the house at the end with much less technology in the original film.

This 2013 film version is no means really necessary, but here it is.  Still I think it is still worth the time to witness the acting of Moretz and Moore. It is just too bad that the overwhelming unrestrained CGI extravaganza did them all in towards the end. 6/10.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review of PASSION: Versus the Original "Love Crime"

October 17, 2013

Brian de Palma is the director of such memorable films of the 70s to the 80s like "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "Blowout," "Scarface," and "The Untouchables."  After "Mission: Impossible" in 1996 though, his output had been few, far between and unremarkable.  

"Passion" is de Palma's first film as director and scriptwriter since 2007. It is his own interpretation of the 2010 French film by Alain Corneau called "Crime d'Amour" (with the English title "Love Crime"). De Palma certainly had the right idea, the plot, with its stylish mix of sex and crime, is classic de Palma material.

In both films, Christine is a highly-successful executive of an advertising agency. Isabelle is her talented apprentice. When Isabelle's concept on an ad gets attention and admiration from clients, Christine grabs the credit. When Isabelle raises a fuss, Christine humiliates her in public. Incensed, Isabelle plots to murder Christine with an elaborate plan.  Can she do it?  Can she get away with it?

As a departure from the original, de Palma goes further to develop the role of Isabelle's assistant Dani. In "Love Crime," this character is a male, with only loyalty in mind. In "Passion", Dani is an attractive female who had her own obsessive infatuation and plot, giving the end game an additional twist.

I liked the acting in "Love Crime" more. Kristin Scott-Thomas was a realistic ruthless boss Christine, while the innocent-looking Emmanuelle Sagnier was realistic as the naive Isabelle. In "Passion," de Palma does the opposite, casting the younger, fresher-faced actress Rachel McAdams as Christine, and the older, intense-looking actress Noomi Rapace as Isabelle. I think this experiment did NOT work. Both actresses were miscast, making the entire movie suffer as a consequence.

Overall, the original "Love Crime" was the better movie because of the better casting. If de Palma had reversed the casting in his film, it may have worked better. I realized he probably meant to be unpredictable, going against stereotypes, but I think this decision worked against him. I do admit that very last scene of "Passion" sure packed an extra punch that the original did not have. 

Fans of crime dramas with intricate plotting will like this film, especially those who have not seen "Love Crime" yet.  Remember though that this is a European production, so do not expect Hollywood polish and pace.  6/10.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2: Deeper Into The Further

October 16, 2013

I watched the first "Insidious" when it was released three years ago, and honestly I do not remember much about it. In fact, I recall that did not really like the film that much back then. My review of "Insidious" is posted HERE.

About "Insidious 2", at first I read many bad reviews about it. Therefore, I did not feel compelled to watch it. However I noted that three weeks after its local release last September 18, there are still a lot of mall theaters showing "Insidious 2". I felt I must have misjudged it since there are still a lot of people watching it up to now.

I decided to watch the first "Insidious" again before watching "Insidious 2". I must say, on second watching I thought the first "Insidious" was actually the excellent horror movie that it was touted to be back then. I must have watched it when I was not in the mood or something before, hence my lukewarm reaction at first. I liked it a lot better this time on re-watching. 

Then, I went on to watch "Insidious 2" right away. Lo and behold, I now think this second chapter is actually a very good sequel after all. And this franchise is actually worth all the hype it has generated.

"Insidious 2" starts with a flashback to when young Lorraine was consulting young Elise about young Josh's bad dreams. We already know these events from Part 1. Then after the creepy opening credits, the story picks up from how the story ended in Part 1, with the aftermath of old Elise's murder and the possession of adult Josh by the Bride in Black. Now that Elise is dead, how can the Lambert family get rid of this pesky and increasingly malevolent spirit from tormenting their family?

The story will go as you may probably predict already, but there are several twists and turns that will still keep you at the edge of your seats and make you jump. I particularly like the fact that spirits in The Further could do time travel and affect events from the past. Of course, like all time travel devices, there will be plot questions that may arise. However, in this case, I thought this gave it a unique aspect that was very interesting. 

Overall, "Insidious 2," though now lacking the freshness of ideas from the first "Insidious," still manages to give us the jumps and scares we crave for in watching films like this. It will also give us a lot of haunting and disturbing images and moments. Patrick Wilson (Josh), Rose Byrne (Renai), Barbara Hershey (Lorraine), Ty Simpkins (Dalton) and Lin Shaye (Elise) all reprise their roles creditably, with additionally richer dimensions.  Scriptwriter Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson also return as ghost hunters Specs and Tucker to provide welcome comic relief, and they were funny.

James Wan, just fresh from his success with "The Conjuring" earlier this year, comes up with another winner horror film. Now I understand why "Insidious 2" has a longer-than-expected shelf life in theaters. I am recommending this one for horror film fans, but definitely re-familiarize yourself with the first "Insidious" film first. This is one of those sequels that really require you to watch the first one in order to enjoy it adequately.  7/10.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS: Experiencing Actual Piracy

October 15, 2013

"Captain Phillips" is the Hollywood retelling of the true-to-life 2009 story of an American container vessel Maersk Alabama (with Captain Richard Phillips at the helm) being held hostage by armed Somali pirates. The screenplay by Billy Ray was based on the novel "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea," which was written by Captain Phillips himself.  We expect then that the story will all be told in Phillips' point of view. 

Playing the titular character, Tom Hanks is what this film is all about. He starts off simply, playing Capt. Phillips as a regular family man and seasoned seaman on a routine delivery. However when the pirates came, you see him transform into a cool-under-pressure leader and shrewd tactician, matching wits with these desperate aggressors. In the last five minutes, Hanks would give us an unexpected display of emotion which may well deliver him another Oscar for Best Actor.  A nomination at least is practically in the bag.

The Somali-American first-time actors playing the pirates are a very realistic bunch. They portray their characters with wild-eyed and feral intensity, really scary. Barkhad Abdi plays their foolhardy leader Muse.  Gaunt and skinny, he fearlessly engages Phillips in a tense chess game, toe-to-toe. There is actually Oscar buzz brewing for his raw portrayal.  Faysal Ahmed plays the hot-headed Najee, who was the loose cannon of the group. Barkhad Abdirahman plays the young recruit Bilal, getting himself a baptism of fire on his first time out.

When I saw the name director Paul Greengrass in the credits, I understood why the sense of tension and urgency of this desperate situation were so well-conveyed. This was that familiar sense of excitement we felt in his previous films, like the last two Jason Bourne films or that suspenseful 9/11 drama "United 93". He really knows how to make military operations exciting on screen.  What he did for the Army in "Green Zone," he does again with the Navy SEALS in this film.

I have to admit I was on the verge of getting seasick as the camera was shaking with the waves, but luckily I held on despite the two-hour length of the film set at sea. 

Overall, this is a different sort of adventure drama, with a topic not too commonly tackled in a mainstream film. We hear of these events on the news, but this film brings us right in the middle of one in progress. We will feel the tension building as the pirates were approaching their ship. We will feel the fear of the crew when the pirates were on board. We will feel the desperation and the frustration of being trapped in the middle of the open ocean with no help immediately forthcoming. If you are up for such a realistic harrowing experience, then this film is for you.  7/10

Review of ARTHUR NEWMAN: Dreadfully Boring

October 15, 2013

"Arthur Newman" is the new name taken by depressed guy Wallace Avery, who was divorced, estranged from his son and trapped in a dead-end job. He faked his own death and created for himself this fictitious persona, hoping to recapture his spark for life as a golf pro somewhere in middle America.

Along his way, he meets another depressed soul in the person of a quirky young woman named Mike. They hook up, and drive aimlessly around. They stalk couples who go on vacation, break in and live in their abandoned houses. Until one day comes, and they realize the uselessness of what they were doing.

It is sad for me to write that a movie starring very talented and likable stars like Colin Firth and Emily Blunt had actually been a dreadful bore. The characters these two play have absolutely nothing good nor charming in them for the audience to root for, or even simply to like. There is nothing to care about them.

Overall, this movie is an insipid waste of time. This film will be forgotten immediately after you have seen it. The combination of Firth and Blunt may have sounded exciting on paper. However, no amount of talent or charisma of these two stars can save the bleakness and wretchedness of the script. 2/10

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2: Food Comes Alive!

October 14, 2013

In the first "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," young scientist Flint Lockwood invented a wondrous machine he called the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, or FLDSMDFR, that created gigantic pieces of food which later rained on and destroyed their island town of Swallow Falls.

In this sequel, Flint gets conscripted by his idol Chester V, the CEO of Live Corp Company, for a mission to locate the FLDSMDFR and insert a "BS-USB" to deactivate it before newly-evolved vicious creatures on the island learn to swim out and destroy the rest of the world.

When Flint and his friends get there, they discover that the FLDSMDFR now creates "Foodnimals", food turned animals with eyes, arms and legs. They range from the cute and lovable Strawberries, Marshmallows and Pickles, to large and formidable Cheespiders (cheeseburgers with french fries as legs and spin cheesy webs) and Tacodiles (tacos turned crocodiles that spew lettuce at the mouth).

As conflicts arise between Chester V and Flint's meteorologist girlfriend Sam Sparks, can Flint figure out the right thing to do before he does something which would destroy not only his friendships, but also a whole new fascinating world of new creatures? 

The writers were able to come up with one hilarious one-liner food puns in practically every other line. I recall "There's a leek in my boat!" and "I will cut the cheese!" to mention a couple. They must have exhausted every food pun in the book, and then some. 

The animators of CWACOM 2 really ran wild with their imaginations creating these delightful "Foodnimals" from the simple to the complex. They turned shrimp into chimps, bananas to ostriches, potatoes to hippos, onions to brontosauruses! This is a very visually-stimulating film. The images, the colors and the 3D was fantastic! 

There are some take-home messages about family, friendship and caring for wildlife and are well-appreciated. There was some word too about bullying. However, these moral lessons were presented in a funny, most entertaining fashion. This is truly a light and breezy film to be enjoyed by the whole family. 7/10

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review of ALAGWA: A Visceral Punch

October 12, 2013

"Alagwa" is a word I have never heard of before and I do not know what it means. I had no idea what this Filipino indie film is all about when I went in. However its reputation already precedes it as a winner in various award-giving bodies before, both here and abroad, both as Best Picture and Best Actor for star Jericho Rosales. This then is a must-watch film.

Robert Lim is a financially-strapped, harassed single dad to his spirited young son Brian. When Brian apparently gets kidnapped in a mall one day, Robert's world stopped in its tracks.  He never stopped looking for him, even if this quest led him straight to the dark sinister underbelly of Chinatown, into the lair of a child-smuggling syndicate, or the streets of Hong Kong. Will father ever get reunited with his son?

Jericho Rosales really acts up a storm in this film as the exasperated and desperate father. As a father myself to a boys of Brian's age, I really felt everything he is feeling and definitely hit no false notes in his flawless performance. You can really feel an emotional connection with his character. It did not matter that he does not look a bit like a Chinese guy or mestizo as his family name would suggest.

Bugoy Carino is really a very charming and natural actor as the mischievous Brian. His chemistry with his screen father Jericho was so effortless. This really made his disappearance midway in the film more painful for the audience to watch. 

Leo Martinez plays a police chief whose assistance may have done more harm that good. Smokey Manaloto plays a pimp who was Robert's entry ticket into the underworld. It was good to see the beautiful Singaporean actress Ms. Carmen Soo as the daughter of Robert's boss and Brian's godmother sympathetic to Robert's plight.

The director Ian Lorenos used some pretty innovative techniques in his story telling.  The seemingly meaningless scenes showing Robert roaming the streets of Hong Kong which interrupt the main story being told will gain its significance later in the film. The frightfully chilling view this film gives us from inside that disgusting child trafficking syndicate was the visceral punch of the film, and Jericho's reaction in that hellhole is our reaction.

However, I thought the script was marred by too many convenient and contrived coincidences to be a truly realistic drama.  Some scenarios set up to push the story forward, like the mall rest room, the sleazy Chinese gay guy or the dropped cell phone, strains credulity.  The ending sequence suffered a bit from the poor choice and performance of supporting actors.  I am not really sure how the choice of title (either the local, or its international name "Breakaway") fits into the story.

Overall though, this movie is all about Jericho Rosales's performance. His acting definitely definitely rose above the limitations of the script. He is clearly the best part of this film. 7/10.

Review of METRO MANILA: How the City Corrupts

October 12, 2013

The first hour of "Metro Manila" was about how Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal), a poor farmer from Banaue, decides to bring his wife Mai (Althea Vega) and two daughters to Manila so he can find a better job in order to escape their poverty. It turns out that Manila is not at all the paradise that it is cut out to be, as the Ramirez family continues to wallow in abject squalor. The major portion of this first half of the film are a series of sad images of Metro Manila with its polluted environment and overpopulation.

In the second hour of the film lies is the main story. Oscar gets a job as a courier of an armored car service, facing danger daily as they transport safety-deposit boxes containing large amounts of money and other valuables around the city. He is partnered with the more senior and jaded guard/driver named Douglas Ong (John Arcilla). Initially, Ong overly showers Martinez with kindness and generosity. But Oscar will soon find out that Ong would have favors of questionable integrity to ask of him. As problems of criminal and ethical nature arise, what would Oscar do next?

Jake Macapagal really disappeared into his role as Oscar. It was like he was not acting in his scenes. He became this faceless provincial everyman trapped in the wiles of the city. We deeply feel his frustration and confusion as a father who desperately wants nothing more than being able provide for his family. 

John Arcilla was over-the-top in his characterization of the gregarious Ong.  He really exuded that dangerous sinister vibe about him. The tension was so thick whenever he is around. 

Althea Vega was affecting as Oscar's wife who had to use her body to augment the family income.  She tends to have a blank look on her face in some of her scenes but she is much better here than her lead role in "Amor Y Muerte" earlier this year. 

Theater actress Ana Abad Santos made a solid impact even only with her two short scenes as Ong's wife, Dora.

I was expecting this to have English subtitles since this is a British film about Manila.  I heard that the script was originally written in English and was just translated by the Filipino actors into the local language.  I was interested to see how certain words and phrases would be translated. Unfortunately, the print I watched had no subtitles.

As a resident of Metro Manila, I was very excited to see this film made by a foreigner about the city I live in. But upon watching, I admit I was not very happy at the sordid way Manila was depicted in an acclaimed, probably even Oscar-bound, international film like this.  Those unflattering scenes about the streets and slums of Manila may have been an incomplete picture of Metro Manila, yet they are an undeniable reality. That montage may have been too melodramatic but it establishes the bleakness of Oscar's situation very well.  

Overall though, the film succeeds to present its main plot about the corruption of the innocent rural folk in the wild jungle of the big city and their their descent to indignity. I did like its setting of a security/armored car service, which I found to be novel and interesting.  The set-up and revelation of the ending was wonderfully written and executed by British director/writer/cinematographer Sean Ellis, very effective and poignant, easily the best part of the whole film. 7/10.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review of ESCAPE PLAN: Unexpectedly Smart and Entertaining

October 11, 2013

I went in to watch "Escape Plan" with very low expectations, not knowing anything of the plot, prepared not to like it. But surprisingly, this film turned out to be very engaging and fun to watch after all. 

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is a Houdini of jails, having the ability to escape even the highest of high security enclosures. He finds himself locked up in The Tomb, an unofficial prison facility whose problematic heinous inmates are meant to "permanently disappear". In this technologically advanced and remotely isolated prison, Breslin's escaping skills will be put to the ultimate test.

Sylvester Stallone still delivers his lines as garbled as ever, but he looks good for his age, and has not lost his charisma as an action star. He managed to be quite credible in playing such an incredibly-skilled individual. We are ready to suspend disbelief and accept that he can do the impossible. Hey, that is Stallone on that screen!

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a German inmate named Rottmeyer, who befriends Breslin and becomes his escape partner. Arnie plays it light here, with his acting so typically awkward and actually funny, but we know and love him in this tongue-in-cheek style of his.  

Jim Caviezel is very intense as Hobbes, the warden of this special prison, as well as its proud designer. He will go to all extremes to prove that his prison is escape-proof. Caviezel's career seemed to have taken a dip after "The Passion of the Christ" and that is unfortunate after the limits he pushed with that memorably emotional performance. He is sadistically good here in a potentially one-dimensional antagonist role.

It was very good to see Sam Neill on screen again, also after what seems to be a long absence. He plays the prison physician here faced with a moral dilemma.

The story telling by Swedish-born director Mikael Håfström is well-paced and actually quite exciting. The set design of the prison was very high- tech, and well thought of. That version of solitary confinement was harsh! The escape sequences seemed logically planned and were thrillingly executed. The revelation scenes are very well-staged and that is only how far I'm going to describe them so you won't be spoiled with the many surprises this film has in store for you. 

Recommended for those looking for a good, entertaining and unexpectedly smart action film. You may think you already know how it all ends, but the road it took to get to that ending is quite an enjoyable ride. I had a really good time watching this. 7/10.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review of GRAVITY: Incredible Lost-in-Space Adventure!

October 5, 2013

"Gravity" tells of the unenviable situation experienced by medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her astronaut mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) when an accidental disaster caused by a shower of satellite debris destroys their space station, leaving them floating in deep space.

Director Alfonso Cuaron has created a masterpiece that knows when to move for excitement and when to stop for meditation. We enjoy the breathtaking ride through the dangerous outer frontiers. We also get to look inwards to the essence of our own minuscule humanity in stark contrast to the vastness of the universe. We will feel agoraphobia and claustrophobia at the same time while Stone and Kowalski struggle to keep themselves alive.

"Gravity" is not much of a story to be told by mere words, but a story that needs to be experienced best via the medium of film, and all its modern abilities. This film employs the best of cinematographic technique (by Emmanuel Lubezki), editing efficiency (by Cuaron himself and Mark Sanger), top-of-the-line 3D visual and eerie sound effects to re-create the harshness of outer space. The musical score by Stephen Price can be both soaring and quiet as the scene called for it. I truly see ALL the technical Oscars going to this fantastic team that created the most convincing atmosphere for this film to come to life.

There may be some scientific principles amiss as some incredible coincidences arise to move the story forward. However, we so care so much for our two characters that these minor details done in the name of artistic license can be overlooked with no big deal. The film successfully makes us feel emotionally connected with them. We really feel we are out there with them, and we want to escape this scary and hopeless situation with them. Just allow yourself to be immersed in this unique milieu.

Sandra Bullock comes up with a precious performance of a lonely person desperately confronting the biggest fears of her life in the bleakest of situations ever. Her range of emotions ran the gamut from fearful despair to hopeful determination. She is front, center and everything this movie is about. She did not lose her sense of humor when we also needed it. This has got to be a Best Actress performance of the highest merit. 

Supporting Bullock is George Clooney as that believable voice of calm and reassurance we all need. With him there, Ryan felt she can overcome any adversity she faced. His wit and charm carried Ryan through her ordeal, and this was palpable enough to carry the whole audience along the ride with her.

"Gravity" might as well be declared the Best Picture of this award season already. As of now, it can already be considered a lock for the big prize because of its audacity of scope, its technical excellence, its memorable performances, and above all, its images full of artistry and symbolism. This film needs to be seen on the big screen for the best effect.  Watching this in 3D (and most likely, IMAX) will actually further enhance your viewing experience. 10/10.