2012 Movie Blitz: Part 2

July 23, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

21 Jump Street (2012)

21-jump-street-poster__span

You can be forgiven for thinking that a movie version of 21 Jump Street, the iconic 1987 TV series that made Johnny Depp a star, would be lame. Few movie reboots of old TV series are successful for a multitude of reasons. But this one, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, is a surprise hit — mainly because no one actually expected it to be funny.

Strictly speaking, 21 Jump Street is not a reboot of the TV series at all. It’s more of a homage/spoof that takes the basic concept of police officers going undercover as students to catch bad guys and drug dealers. Hill, a geek, and Tatum, an underachieving jock, are high school classmates who become best friends at police academy. They are idiots but look kind of young (well, Hill at least) and are assigned to the “revived” division at 21 Jump Street to go undercover as brothers, though a mix-up has them picking up each other’s assigned identities.

The reason the film works so well, apart from the amazingly effective chemistry between Hill and Tatum (whose acting isn’t all that bad here), is because it doesn’t take itself seriously and delivers much amusement making fun of the whole ridiculous premise and idea.

One of the running gags, for example, is that Tatum used to know what was cool 10 years ago (such as how to wear your backback, how to treat people and issues), but now those things are frowned upon. Another one is how old Tatum looks to be a high school student. Stuff like that.

Not all the jokes worked for me but enough of it was consistently funny for this to be one of the better comedies of the year. The film also had some excellent surprises, especially towards the end, although as usual the running time of 109 minutes felt like it dragged on a little past its welcome. A sequel, 22 Jump Street, has reportedly been green-lit, but I am sceptical that it can rekindle the magic the second time around.

4 stars out of 5

Contraband (2012)

contraband-poster_354_500_80_s2

Contraband is a crime thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Foster. Marky Mark is an ex-smuggler who has given up the rough life for the sake of his wife (Beckinsale — can’t blame him) and two kids. But his brother-in-law is still in the game and gets in trouble, and Marky Mark becomes embroiled in the mess and has to go to extreme measures to keep his family safe.

Contraband dark, it’s moody and it’s violent, but it also comes across as generic and average. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just feels like there are so many of these types of movies every year and after a while you just can’t remember anything about it. To be fair, the plot is intricate and well thought out, though I found it unnecessarily convoluted. But the core problem is that there’s not much to make Contraband stand out from the rest of the pack.

Marky Mark has done what feels like a dozen similar roles and feels exactly the same as he does in those films, and Kate Beckinsale is somewhat underused. Ben Foster is effective with his trademark wide-eyed maniac routine, and the supporting cast of Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and JK Simmons is solid. But the performances can’t save Contraband from being the forgettable film that it is.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Grey (2011)

the grey

I wanted to watch The Grey because I like survival thrillers and I wanted to watch Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face.

Neeson plays a depressed, suicidal dude who protects an oil drilling team from wolves in Alaska, and on his way out of there their plane crashes. They are in wolf territory and he must lead the survivors (including a virtually unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney) to safety. Time for Liam Neeson to channel his inner Bryan Mills (Taken), Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins), Zeus (Clash of the Titans), Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars), John “Hannibal” Smith (The A-Team) and Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List).

Over the last few years, Liam Neeson has emerged as the one dude you never want to mess with, and that applies to wolves too. The Grey is a solid survival thriller that has plenty of close calls and Neeson doing what he does best. Many have compared it to the 1997 film, The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, which is about surviving a bear in the woods. I think The Edge is probably the better film, but The Edge doesn’t have Liam Neeson. Strangely, another film it reminded me of was Frozen, a 2010 survival horror about a bunch of kids stuck on a ski lift and then being hounded by wolves.

One problem I had with The Grey was all the philosophical and religious mumbo jumbo that was probably trying to add for meaning to the film but for me just slowed it down unnecessarily and disrupted the tone. The ending was also a little anti-climatic, though there is a nifty little post-credits scene everyone should stick around for.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I know technically this is a 2011 film but it was released in 2012 in most places I know.

The Cold Light of Day (2012)

The-Cold-Light-Of-Day

If you want to be mean about it, The Cold Light of Day should have been a straight-to-DVD movie. If it had been, the film probably wouldn’t have gotten such scathing reviews.

I suppose this was a star vehicle for Henry Cavill, who would go on to become Superman. Cavill plays Will Shaw, a struggling advisor who doesn’t get on too well with his dad, played by Bruce Willis, who unbeknownst to him is actually a CIA agent. Will’s family suddenly disappears after an boating incident, and when he tries to track them down he finds himself in mortal danger as shady characters start coming after him.

The pace of the film is frantic but for some reason there is little excitement or a sense of real danger. Cavill runs around, gets shot at and must do everything he can to survive while trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It’s one of those films where a lot happens but everything feels bland, lifeless and cliched. I could stomach the stupidity of it all but when an action film starts to bore you know something is seriously wrong.

Cavill looks pretty good but he struggles mightily trying to carry the film. I presume Bruce Willis picked up a nice paycheck for this movie but that was about it. The man has become a walking caricature of himself. And Sigourney Weaver…sigh…I don’t know what’s happened to her but this is a performance that lines up nicely next to her role in that Taylor Lautner movie, Abduction.

Having said all that, The Cold Light of Day is not that bad, and certainly better than the 5% it got on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just a fairly average B-grade movie that wasn’t supposed to be one.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) (2D)

June 23, 2013 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

man-of-steel-poster

Every Superman movie comes with unreasonable expectations. We already saw how the 2006 Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh (whatever happened to his career?) turned out when it tried to reboot the franchise with a more serious, thoughtful take on the Superman mythology. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was, but no matter which way you look at it, the film was a bitter disappointment.

And so I was somewhat apprehensive about yet another reboot, the long-awaited Man of Steel headed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen, two flawed films  I really enjoyed. Snyder is supposedly a massive Superman geek who knows the universe inside out. Coupled with his unique visual flair and penchant for relentless action, it seemed like a good fit. Indeed, the initial trailers and the pre-release word of mouth were promising.

Having now watched the film and given some time digest, I have to admit I still found Man of Steel a disappointment — albeit one that was very interesting (especially in the first half) and had a lot of positives going for it.

One of the biggest positives is Henry Cavill, formerly the unluckiest man in Hollywood (having just lost out on the lead role in Superman Returns to Brandon Routh, Casino Royale to Daniel Craig, and Twilight to Shovelface Pattinson),. Cavill is perfect as Clark Kent/Superman. Apart from being superhumanly handsome and buffed out of his mind, he exudes a vulnerability that at times reminded me of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Nolan, by the way, served as a producer on Man of Steel.

Secondly, a problem with any Superman movie is that everyone knows the plot, so kudos to Snyder for making an origins story that covers some things we have not seen before, or at least not done in a way we’ve already seen before. I’m no Superman expert, but I understand there are quite a few subtle adjustments to the story, characters and narrative progression that made the film feel familiar but fresh.

The best parts of the film, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), are where Superman is out of his suit (which made the controversial decision to keep the underwear inside this time), the bits where he is learning who he is and how to control his powers. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a magnificent job as Clark Kent’s parents, stealing the show with the most human and emotional portions of the movie.

So the first half of Man of Steel is brilliant, dare I say almost Nolan-esque. The second half, when the villain, Zod, played by the brilliant Michael Shannon, arrives on Earth — well, that’s when things start to unravel and the film morphs into your more conventional superhero affair…except that it goes on for far too long and the carnage is so overboard that it all becomes numbing and dull. OK, maybe “dull” is taking it too far, but the tension and excitement was certainly not commensurate to the number of buildings being blown to pieces.

That said, the special effects were very good, and it wasn’t easy distinguishing between what’s real and what’s CGI. Some of the Krypton technology was pretty cool too, a clever divergence from the typical alien technology you might have seen in the past.

I like Amy Adams, but I never really liked Lois Lane in this one. Her relationship with Superman didn’t feel close enough to warrant some of the interactions between them. It was like we had to accept that there was chemistry between them (when there wasn’t) just because she’s Lois Lane. Adams is good, but the character felt lacking.

As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, I have to admit he is pretty good in a “I’m Russell Crowe, the greatest f*&%ing actor in the world!” kind of way. I didn’t expect he’d have so much screen time either.

I sound more negative about Man of Steel than I should be, but only because my expectations were so high. The cast and the first half of the film were super but for whatever reason the storytelling in the second half lacked the emotional depth that would have made it a great film. And it was unnecessarily long. All things considered though, it is a solid Superman flick that is clearly better than Superman Returns, but not quite what I believe it was trying to achieve — ie, Dark Knight territory.  Perhaps the planned sequel(s) can get there.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Immortals (2D) (2011)

November 17, 2011 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

Immortals, the bloody, ultra-violent fantasy action film loosely based on Greek mythology, is widely mistaken as a Zack Snyder film (ie, the guy behind the epic 300).  I overheard no less than two couples make the erroneous connection when exiting the movie theatre.  It is easy to see why, given the similarities in content, styles, themes and incoherent shouting between the two films.  Besides, there is an overlap in producers (a fact they keep reminding us).  But unfortunately, Immortals is no 300.  Yes, it is also visually arresting and the action — when there is action — is blistering, but at the end of the day, Immortals impales itself on its laboured storytelling, rendering it plodding in comparison and ultimately forgettable.

In fact, Immortals is directed by Tarem Singh, an Indian director who was previously at the helm of The Fall and The Cell (yes, the infamous J-Lo clunker) and built his CV on music videos and commercials.  His visual style is slick, fast and brutal, with long, clear fight sequences and well-placed slow motion emphasis — rather Snyder-esque — but Immortals does not attempt to emulate 300‘s monochrome colour scheme or its comic book presentation.  I’d actually say that Immortals is closer to a mix of Clash of the Titans (for its Greek mythology and fantasy elements) and Centurion (for the excessive brutality last seen in this 2010 ultra-violent Michael Fassbender Roman conquest film).

The plot is straightforward — Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on Olympus, turning the world upside down to seek the mystical Epirus Bow in order to release these demi-god creatures called Titans to destroy the Gods.  Theseus (Henry Cavill) is an ordinary man chosen by the Gods to save humanity and gets caught up in the destruction.  He is assisted by a hot virgin oracle priestess (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) and a strangely-loyal-for-no-reason thief (Stephen Dorff).  Let the carnage begin.

Immortals does have a lot going for it.  There are some highly entertaining action scenes, all of which involve bone crushing, blood splattering, head exploding (and according to some, excessive and unnecessary) violence and most of which involve an agile, sword/spear wielding Henry Cavill and his impressive 6% body fat.  Watching Cavill (the man whom Stephenie Meyer expressly envisioned as Edward Cullen in Twilight before he got too old for the role, and the guy who was almost James Bond) on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t a massive star already.  He looks fantastic, oozes charisma and has reasonable acting chops.  Immortals won’t make him that massive star, but the upcoming Superman reboot (again?) Man of Steel, in which Cavill plays the titular character, most probably will.

Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are underused as Cavill’s companions, but that’s more the fault of the script than their abilities.  Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) is solid as Zeus, and Kellan Lutz (Twilight) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2) are semi-believable as Poseidon and Athena, respectively.

However, it is Mickey Rouke’s Hyperion that dominates.  Rouke is phenomenal and seems to relish playing these complex and unforgiving characters.  The film would not have been the same without him.  Big call, but I reckon it was his best performance since Wild Orchid (just kidding!).

So Immortals was exciting when people on screen were killing each other, but sadly, everything in between was kinda boring.  The storytelling really struggled after the opening third and never picked up any steam.  The characters remained stagnant and stopped developing, and when you think about it, the story doesn’t really go very far.  That would have been mildly acceptable had there been simply action, action and more action (like 300), but for for me it felt as though too much of the 110 minute running time was wasted on the boring stuff.

This makes Immortals an average and somewhat forgettable movie at best, but my bias for exciting battle scenes and visual flair probably boosts its rating a little higher than it should be.

3.25 out of 5!

PS: When I first saw the trailer for Immortals, I was very excited by the obvious allusions to 300.  I know that film polarised some viewers but I loved it — it was as close to a comic book or video game (I’m a big fan of both) as any film I had ever seen.

The Immortals trailer also reminded me, unexpectedly, of one of the best video game franchises of all-time, God of War, and in particular God of War III on the PS3.  If they’re ever going to make a God of War movie, I’d imagine it to be like this (at least visually).

Amazingly, I found the storytelling in God of War III, told through a series of cut scenes, to be superior to the storytelling in Immortals.  Now what does that tell you?

PPS: Forget about 3D.  It never even crossed my mind.

Farewell, Smallville!

May 17, 2011 in Entertainment, Misc, Reviews, Shows

The Season 10 Poster

The other night I watched the series finale of Smallville, a show I stubbornly kept watching deep into its 9th and penultimate season despite steeply declining quality.  But eventually it got so bad that I was falling asleep and realising that I was wasting my time.  So I stopped watching it altogether, even though I knew I had to come back to watch the final episode — the episode where Clark Kent finally takes off to the air and becomes Superman.

Amazingly, despite having missed around 25-30 episodes, it wasn’t all that hard to pick up again.  Clark and Lois were engaged and about to get married.  Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow, was still around (I seriously thought Justin Hartley, the actor who played him, would have gone off to bigger and better things ages ago), as was Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), Clark’s friend right from the first episode.  The final bad guy, I gathered, was this smokey fella called Darkseid (pronounced ‘Dark Side’) with red eyes that can control/possess people, and the ultimate crisis was a massive armageddon-inducing planet (Apokolips) on a collison course with Earth.

Those returning for the final bang included Annette O’Toole and John Schneider as Clark’s parents, even though the latter has been dead for like 5 seasons.  And of course two of my favourite characters from the show over the years, the villains, Lex and Lionel Luther (played by Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover).  The quality of the series really nosedived when these two went MIA, and it was great to finally get them back.

Curiously missing, however, were Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk — boy has she disappeared since the series…well, she was in that Chun Li Streetfighter movie…) and Clark’s old best friend Pete Ross (Sam Jones III, who has since gone on to become a porn star and is currently facing up to 20 years prison for dealing drugs).

I can still remember the first time I watched Smallville on TV, which began in October 2001.  Even though I wasn’t a Superman fanatic I still had to watch it.  After all, how could anyone not like Superman?  Tom Welling was still a fresh-faced 24 year-old playing a teenager and the show was set in high school, with your typical Superman mythology arc spliced with your ‘monster of the week’ (or Chloe Sullivan’s ‘Wall of Weird’) episodes.

The original Season 1 Poster

The series was fresh and it was exciting.  For some reason this Clark Kent was more of a bumbling fool and tool rather than the highly intelligent Man of Steel we have come to know, and Tom Welling did an excellent job of an often thankless role.  Michael Rosenbaum was the real star of the show for me as the confused, destined to be evil Lex Luthor, and with the outstanding John Glover as his father Lionel it was easy to picture his eventual transformation.

The soundtrack was also always very good, featuring a collection of popular hits and trendy up-and-comers.

But as with all long-running series (apparently Smallville is the longest-running sci-fi show in US history), there comes a time when the writers run out of ideas.  For me the show still retained a certain level of quality when Kristin Kreuk departed because Erica Durance made a wonderful substitute as Lois Lane, but unfortunately they could not make up for the losses of Rosenbaum and Glover.  Even with clever ideas such as introducing the Green Arrow and having arcs involving members of the Justice League, things quickly started to get stale.

Personally, the show hit rock bottom when they started the film rip-offs (from about the 8th season onward), taking ideas from feature films such as Saw (even with a masks and puppets, I think) and getting really lazy and predictable with the progression of each episode (always ending with Clark coming to save the day).

And when the show started to dig really really deep into the Superman mythology vault for the complicated, convoluted stories in its final two seasons, that’s when I really switched off.

That said, on the whole, Smallville is still a fantastic series with a finale that didn’t disappoint like I thought it would. It was more of a ‘personal discovery’ episode that tied up all the emotional loose ends as opposed to an action-packed one, but that was perfectly fine with me.  I was amazed to see how much everyone had aged throughout the years from the various flashback sequences.  Clark Kent really did grow up into Superman.

From day one, the show was all about its finale, and I don’t think anyone expected that to be 10 years away from the pilot episode.  When Clark donned THE suit (I believe borrowed from Brandon Routh) and rocketed up in the sky at last, as we knew he would, he finally fulfilled a 10-year prophecy.  Watching it sent tingles up and down my arms.

Farewell, Smallville!

PS: Now we await the new Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel movie (and Christopher Nolan produced) with Henry Cavill (the guy from The Tudors and who Stephenie Meyer originally wanted as Edward Cullen) as Superman, due for release in December 2012.

Henry Cavill is the new Superman

 
%d bloggers like this: