2013 Movie Blitz: Part 1

February 17, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I’m trying my best to get through as many 2013 movies as I can so I can complete my best and worst lists for last year. And since I’m scheduled to be a consultant again at this year’s TTV Oscar’s broadcast, I better get a move on and finish watching the last few movies outstanding on the Best Picture nominee list. Don’t worry, it’ll be done. In the meantime, here is the first batch of my 2013 movie blitz!

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

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Guess what? One of the biggest flops, not to mention most-panned films, of 2013, The Lone Ranger, is actually a fairly decent film. I don’t know why critics hated it so much, whether it was the well-publicized budget cuts, the high expectations or weird Johnny Depp fatigue, but to be honest I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the same director, Gore Verbinski.

Armie Hammer (both of the Winklevii in The Social Network) is John Reid, a scrupulous lawyer who would eventually become the titular character. His sidekick is the more famous and higher-billed Johnny Depp, who plays a Comanche Indian by the name of Tonto. Together they try and take down a notorious outlaw played wonderfully by William Fichtner. Strong supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Stephen Root and James Badge Dale.

Now I know the film’s name does not make sense considering the Lone Ranger clearly does not act alone, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid piece of entertainment fuelled by the chemistry of the two charismatic leads.

I can understand if people are sick of Depp playing these oddball characters, but he’s funny as Tonto in the same quirky way that people love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, the entire film has that same adventurous, them-park-ride vibe running through it like the Pirates franchise, and it baffles me how people can love that but hate this.

The action is extremely over the top as well, but it’s done well in a surreal kind of way, and my main complaint is the bloated length of 149 minutes, but I said the same thing about all the Pirates movies too.

It’s nowhere near one of the top movies of the year, as Quentin Tarantino rated it, but The Lone Ranger is definitely a lot better than what most critics would have you believe. I enjoyed it for what it is – a light, comedic action popcorn blockbuster.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2 (2013)

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Grown Ups was yet another new low for Adam Sandler, one of the worst films of 2010 and the nastiest comedy I had seen in years. It was basically just a bunch of dicks (I mean, comedians) being mean to people less fortunate than them, and it wasn’t funny.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I ended up watching Grown Ups 2, which brings back Sandler and his group of friends such as Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, with Salma Hayek and Mario Bello playing two of the wives.

And make no mistake, Grown Ups 2 is a horrible movie – something I knew from the opening scene when a wild deer pisses over everyone in Sandler’s family – BUT you know what? It’s actually better than the first one.

I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, despite the fact that Grown Ups 2 has not discernable plot and simply follows Sandler and his buddies around as they carry on with their daily lives back in Connecticut, where they grew up.

There are some puerile and downright awful attempts at comedy as expected, most of which are pee pee, poo poo and lame sex jokes. Having said that, this time around the characters are not as mean-spirited as they were, and are in fact more the butt of the jokes than the ones dishing them out.

There are two reasons why laughed a few times. The first is the always legendary Steve Buscemi, who has a slightly meatier role this time after a light cameo in the first film. The second is the surprisingly comedic Taylor Lautner (of Twilight fame), who is perfect as the douchey fratboy alongside a nearly unrecognizable Milo Ventimiglia (from Heroes).

Grown Ups 2 is still a crap movie, but fortunately, and sadly, it’s better than its predecessor.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

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He’s talented and charismatic and not afraid to make fun of himself, but he’s still Justin Timberlake, so I need to dislike him on principle. Throw in Ben Affleck, one of my favourite directors but least favourite actors, and I knew the chips were stacked against Runner Runner from the beginning.

Timberlake plays this college kid called Richie Furst, a genius with numbers (yeah right) whose greed gets him into trouble and leads him into the world of online gambling. I’ve always been sceptical of these online gambling sites, and fair enough, Richie discovers that he’s being cheated by the system. However, instead of going to the authorities he takes his find to the web casino’s owner Ben Affleck, who ends up taking Richie under his wing and introduces him to the high life.

As these stories typically go, Richie discovers that not everything in the high-roller world is roses and must find a way to redeem himself while fleeing the inevitable danger. To add to the cliché is the potential love interest played by Gemma Arterton, who just happens to be Affleck’s ex-lover.

It’s not that Runner Runner stinks (okay, maybe it does a little), it’s just that we’ve seen this type of story so many times that nothing comes as a surprise. Paranoia, which also came out in 2013 and stars Liam Hemsworth instead of Timberlake, is pretty much the exact same movie but with a slightly different setting. You know there will be an initial high but then everything will fall apart and things will look hopeless until a “twist” involving a stroke of genius allows the protagonist to escape unscathed. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, of course.

It’s better than Paranoia, which was even more boring, but RunnerRunner is at best a barely passable DVD rental if you have nothing else to choose from or if you really like Justin Timberlake.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

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I love Ryan Gosling a lot. Maybe not as much as some heterosexual women, but he’s up there in my list of favourite actors, plus he seems to keep churning out excellent, edgy films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. I was hoping that Only God Forgives, a crime flick set in Bangkok written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who also directed Drive), would be more of the same, but unfortunately I have to tell it like it is and admit that this was a terrible misstep for Mr Gosling.

Brutally violent, deliberately paced, surreal and downright bizarre at times, Only God Forgives treads a fine line between art and pretentiousness, and in my opinion falls to the side of the latter.

Gosling plays Julian, an American ex-pat who runs a muay thai kickboxing gym in Bangkok that is really a front for a family drug smuggling operation headed by his sadistic brother Billy and his even crazier mother Kristin Scott Thomas. When Billy rapes and murders a local prostitute, it sets of a series of bloody events driven by revenge and Julian is unwillingly caught in the middle of it.

It’s a strange film that mixes sexual fantasies, violent visions, extended karaoke performances, gun fights, fist fights and swinging sword decapitations. There is a certain stylishness and visual flair about Only God Forgives that brings back memories of the brilliant Drive, but it’s also far more confusing and far less gripping. We get bursts of emotion from the characters but they don’t feel anything like real people, and their interactions are too minimal and deliberate to come across as genuine drama.

The result is a film that is very difficult to describe and understandably polarizing. Because of Drive I will always remain interested in what Refn has in store for audiences next, but on this occasion I think he missed the mark with Only God Forgives.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (2012)

November 19, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

The world must really be coming to an end soon because — I can’t believe I am saying this– Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II is GOOD.

How the Hogwarts is this possible? I have followed the films from the very beginning and read 2 of the 4 books (the first and third), primarily out of curiosity, and all they have done is bewilder because, let’s face it, they’re crap.

But inexplicably, this final film somehow manages to be by far the best of the lot and is a rewarding conclusion to an otherwise lackluster series.

The love story between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) picks up from the end of the last film, where Bella was finally turned into a bloodsucker after dying during childbirth. For the first part of the film, we get to see the world in her new red eyes as she learns to deal with her newfound powers and desires. Oh, and there’s of course also her freakish hybrid baby daughter, Renesme (what the hell?) who is growing up so quick she belongs at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

But things aren’t all roses in Bella’s world. There’s finding a way to tell her father (Billy Burke) without really telling him anything. And there’s the Volturi, led by Michael Sheen and Stewart’s bandmate from The Runaways, Dakota Fanning, the vampire’s version of the Vatican, who are also evil and abuse kids. The Volturi (I’m assuming its plural for the “Voltura”) say baby vampires can’t be controlled and must be destroyed, but they aren’t the best listeners. Blah blah blah; get ready for an epic battle.

It’s actually the same formula that the Twilight films have followed since the second film, where the majority of the running time is spent waiting and training for some all out vampire fight. The big difference this time is that the dreaded and embarrassing love triangle between the lovebirds and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is finally broken, so we no longer have to be subjected to that cruel and unusual punishment.

There is also a whole heap of new characters from all over the world.  They may be forgettable, horrible and unoriginal stereotypes — but at least they each have awesome powers that will make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Heroes (back when it was still a good show).

You’d think they would have figured it out by now, but unfortunately, the special effects did not improve. The werewolves still look kinda weird, though nothing could compare to whatever they did with the baby, who was the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Was it really that hard to find a real baby for the role?

Despite all its problems, for the first time ever, the storytelling in Twilight is efficient (it’s a “compact” 116 minutes when recent trends suggested it could have been 146), the performances even and the action exciting. Granted, the are still moments of cringe that will make even the strongest bellies prone to violent bouts of projectile vomiting, but having put up with it for the first 4 films already I had become surprisingly immune. I trust there are others in the same boat.

As a vampire, Kristen Stewart gets to do a little more than heavy breathing and looking anxious this time, at last displaying a little of the range she’s capable of. Taylor Lautner remains relatively strong, although Robert Pattinson still has that “this is all so stupid” look plastered across his face for most of the movie. Michael Sheen makes the most of a ridiculous role that would probably would have completely failed if it went to a lesser actor, and actresses like Dakota Fanning and Maggie Grace seemed happy to just be part of the fun.

If you’ve followed the saga from the beginning as I have, you might find Breaking Dawn Part II to be a grand finale that delivers. There are pretty vampires and buffed werewolves, very good guys and extremely bad guys, wry humour and decapitations; and there’s love — a whole lotta love. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there is not a dull moment in this one, as director Bill Condon (who captained Breaking Dawn Part I) appears to have finally figured out how to make things work. Better late than never, I suppose.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: By the way, there is a really — and I mean REALLY — cheap shot in this film. I won’t spoil it by saying what and when, but it’s quite typical of author Stephenie Meyer and the entire series. Let’s just say there were a lot of audible groans, and none louder than mine.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part I) (2011)

November 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Why God, oh why do I keep watching the Twilight Saga?  Nevertheless, I do, and I just did.  I’m not a Twilight fan and I don’t really get the obsession with vampires and werewolves and the boys who play them, but I remain fascinated by this amazing global phenomenon.

Today I watched Breaking Dawn Part I, based on the first half of the final book in the saga.  Breaking Dawn follows the footsteps of Harry Potter and the Death Hallows in that the final book of the series is unnecessarily split into two films in order to maximise the big fat dollars.  Of course they would.  The first three films in the Twilight series have made $1.8 billion worldwide, and the decision was proven correct by the fact that Breaking Dawn Part I has reeled in over $300 million in a week.  (Hey, at least they didn’t make the movie 3D.)  But what does that mean for the average moviegoer?

Well, for starters, a slower pace and a feeling that stuff is happening when nothing is really happening.  Breaking Dawn Part I pretty much picks up where Eclipse concluded (as far as I can remember), with the long-awaited wedding between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire loverboy Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  Bella’s best friend, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is still in love with her, but he has basically accepted the fact that she will never be with him.  It’s hard to go much further than the honeymoon without divulging crucial plot points, but most people who go and watch Breaking Dawn Part I would have read the book.  Even if you haven’t (like me), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it’s heading.  Besides, the trailers and previews essentially show everything, as usual.

I didn’t expect much from Breaking Dawn Part I, especially after hearing about the early lukewarm reviews, so I must say it was better than I thought it would be.  Sure, it was slower than the other films in the series (which weren’t exactly blitzing to begin with), but I never found myself bored.  As with the earlier films, the film was strewn with atrocious, cringeworthy dialogue that made me literally squirm in my seat.  I doubt Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro could have pulled off those lines, so that didn’t leave much hope for the likes of R-Patz and Taylor “Abduction” Lautner (who only had a brief shirtless scene this time round).  Plus you know with Part II looming, things are going to remain unresolved by the end of Part I, so there’s definitely an empty feeling when you walk out of the cinema.

Let’s face it.  The real reason these Twilight movies are killing it at the box office is because readers fell in love with the books’ characters, and then the actors.  And Breaking Dawn Part I’s biggest selling point is well advertised — you finally get to see R-Patz and Stewart “get it on”, so to speak.  After all, the sexual tension is what has been driving the films all this time, so it was kind of a reward for the audiences who stuck with it until now.

Unfortunately, after sitting through basically six hours and three films worth of sexual tension, the pay off is disappointingly tame.  There were rumours of perhaps a nipple but for the most part the honeymoon scenes are strictly PG-13 (which is the film’s US rating).  Whatever.  People who love the books, the characters and the actors will lap it up nonetheless.  And they will unreservedly flock to Part II when it is released in November 2012.  At the end of the day, Breaking Dawn Part I was made for the fans and will be enjoyed by the fans.  For a non-fan with an interest in the series, the film was barely passable.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: The scariest thing about Breaking Dawn Part I is that apparently it utilises two-thirds of the book, leaving only one-third for Part II.

Movie Review: Abduction (2011)

September 29, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Taylor Lautner’s Abduction ought to come with vomit bags.  The concept is interesting and the action is actually pretty good, but this film contains romance and dialogue so cringeworthy that it would make even Stephenie Meyer blush.

Now, before you label me a Lautner ‘hater’, I’m not.  Far from it.  I’ve been ‘Team Jacob’ all the way throughout the Twilight fan wars and I’ve even singled him out as the star performer of the last two Twilight films.  However, I’m not sure if it’s because of the overall calibre of acting in Twilight (that made him stand out) or the poor writing in Abduction (that he couldn’t avoid) but Lautner isn’t very good here at all.  Physically, he is impressive and gets to show off his martial arts skills (did you know he was a former junior world champion?), but emotionally his repertoire is limited to not much more than blank faces and heavy breathing.

Let me back track a little.  Abduction is not that bad — if you can ignore the worst offending aspects.  It tells the story of Nathan (Lautner), an athletic (and unnaturally ripped — yes, he does have a couple of gratuitous topless scenes) teenager who has a seemingly normal life until he discovers a photo of a kid that looks curiously similar to him on a missing person’s website.  Nathan begins to question who he is, and before long the CIA and deadly assassins are after him as he tries to piece together the mystery of his life.  It’s a great premise and it’s not hard to understand why the spec (ie unsolicited) script written by Shawn Christensen was sold for $1 million after it started a bidding war.

The action scenes may be unrealistic (they’re all practically indestructible in hand-to-hand combat) but they are occasionally exciting.  Lautner looks comfortable running around and punching things like a young Jason Bourne (is it blasphemous to compare?) and the choreography is fairly solid.  It’s a few notches down fromn Taken territory (most films are) but by the current standards of action films Abduction holds its own.

Super cast as well.  Maria Bello is the mother and Sigourney Weaver is the shrink.  The always welcome Alfred Molina plays a CIA agent and the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Michael Nyqvist) is the big bad baddie.

Unfortunately, Abduction is an obvious Lautner vehicle co-produced by Lautner’s family’s production company, and as such, the filmmakers felt they had to work extra hard at appealing to Lautner’s fan base — ie, teenager girls living in the Twilight dream land.  This meant a corny, persistent romance between Nathan and his neighbour/childhood friend/destined love interest, Karen, played by Lily Collins (the daughter of music legend Phil).

Apart from a pair of crazy eyebrows, Collins doesn’t offer much by way of interest or excitement.  She’s merely there so girls can picture themselves in her place when Lautner goes mentally overprotective on her (like Edward and Bella) and so Lautner’s teenage character can save her from highly trained assassin baddies.  She’s a hopeless character and is cursed with some of the worst dialogue in the film.  I am not kidding when I say I was writhing in agony in my seat during a couple of their conversations and I had to look away during one of the worst make-out scenes of all time.

And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies and continuity errors.  If even I could spot them then surely everyone could (how hard is it to maintain a limp?).

At the end of the day, while Abduction isn’t a good movie, it achieves some of the goals it set out to achieve.  Lautner got to be the main guy and the guy who gets the girl for once, he got to show off his bod and his martial arts skills, and as far as action is concerned, the film is more than adequate.  It’s all the other crap that drags Abduction down.

2.25 stars out of 5

PS: Personally, I’m happy for Mr Lautner.  He seems like a good kid who worked his butt off after he was almost replaced on New Moon by this guy and soared to become one of the hottest stars in the world.

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

June 18, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Entertainment, Exercise, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

Read the rest of this entry →

 
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