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Monday, October 2, 2017

Transformers Age Of Extinction (2014) movie review

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The one that got much darker and much longer

The Good: Flawless special effects, focused narrative, decent character development, darker tone, memorable cast, epic action sequences, embraces more outlandish elements of Transformers comics, beautiful use of 3D

The Bad: Underdeveloped supporting cast, too much fan service, disappointing soundtrack and score

No mere trilogy could contain the hulking money making juggernaut of the Transformers franchise. Determined to strike while the iron is hot, Paramount and Michael Bay return for the start of Not just a new series of films, but an entire cinematic universe based on the transformers franchise. Enter TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, a darker entry that seeks to expand the scope of the story beyond earthly conflicts. The crass jokes, dirty humour, borderline offensive stereotypes and other flaws of past movies have been swept clean. Unfortunately, any sense of continuity has also been swept clean. Other than vague references and the fact that Optimus Prime is being played by Peter Cullen, there is little else to tie this to the previous trilogy.
Two factions of transformable sentient robotic Aliens, the autobots and deceptions, brought their war to earth and laid waste to Chicago. Though victorious, the benevolent Autobots are now fugitives wanted by the government black ops force "cemetery wind". With the assistance of an intergalactic transformer bounty hunter Lockdown, transformers are hunted and and mercilessly executed. Humans suspected of harbouring a transformer are also severely dealt with.
Into this world of fear and suspicion comes Cade Yeager, single Father of a hot rebellious teenage daughter and struggling inventor. He discovers a wrecked truck which turns out to be Optimus Prime, former leader of the autobots. In no time, Cemetery Wind comes after Cade and his family, forcing Optimus Prime out of hiding. Now on the run with new human allies, Optimus must once again gather what is left of the Autobots to foil a sinister plot orchestrated by a higher power.
What is immediately apparent is the much more serious tone of this sequel. No more toilet humour, no quirky antics, no Shia le beouf stammering. This is a Witch hunt going on here and it is portrayed with all the weight of one. We see our characters taken to he brink of despair and the once upright and pure Optimus is forced to take on a more violent approach to protect those he cares for. Not many may take to this darker portrayal of Prime but I for one saw it as a very natural development of his character, affected by events of the past movies, continually betrayed by former friends, mentors and allies. 
Speaking of development, AGE OF EXTINCTION is both an Optimus Prime story and Yeager's story. While Prime faces enemies and is forced into actions that challenge his moral beliefs, Yeager's is a tale of that any parent can relate to: hold on or let go. Mark Wahlberg's character is over protective of his only daughter. Like the typical rebellious teen, she had gotten a Boyfriend, and basically done everything daddy told her not to, all while Yeager was too busy chasing his own aspirations of being an inventor. Now with everyone's lives at stake, Yeager would have to step up and be the parent he should have been from the start.
Wahlberg brings an earnestness to the role of Yeager, perfectly embodying the "deadbeat dad" stereotype who has to rise to the occasion and give up his initially selfish attitude. Sadly, everyone else is reduced to either comic relief or eye candy. The same goes for the Transformers themselves. Other than Optimus Prime and his teetering at the edge of darkness, everyone else seems to be little more than obvious symbols of male machismo. One has a giant sword, one dual wields guns, another has an endless arsenal strapped to his body. How do you get more macho than that? At very least, they are memorable and do exhibit a little more distinct personality in one movie than the supporting Autobots did in the first 3 movies. Our robot heroes are pit against mindless drones now called Vehicons; man made transform to who do not transform and instead melt into pixels to transit from vehicle to robot mode.
This new transformation gimmick comes courtesy of a never before referenced in-story excuse and looks cheap in comparison to the otherwise spectacular special effects. ILM really pushed the envelope yet again. Every scene with the titular robots is beautifully done with a careful attention to detail. Michael Bay's typical style of frantic close ups and quick cuts seem to have given way to a more relaxed style of wide lingering shots and slow motion sequences; it is a style that presents the special effects in their full glory and contributed to a near perfect 3D experience.
If there was ever a movie that can be considered "big", AGE OF EXTINCTION fits the bill. At a whopping 2 hour and 45 minutes, this film will test even the strongest bladders. Even so, it never feels bloated or draggy with its multiple sub plots that anyone can follow. The snappy dialogue and intriguing story was enough to hold my attention for the extended duration of the movie. It's grand scale and epic feel is only let down by some generic music in the score. Composer Steve Jablonsky seems to have taken a step backwards, replacing many the dynamic orchestral sounds of his past movies with noisy digital droning.
With a closer focus on the transformers, a well developed arc for our protagonists and a better (or at least less irritating) main human character, AGE OF EXTINCTION does manage to bring back the thrills of the first transformers movie and improve on the nadir that was REVENGE OF THE FALLEN and its follow up. It is unafraid to embrace the franchise's more outlandish elements and feels more true to the comic books than ever. Definitely a step up in quality and with a very welcome sequel hook that opens the franchise up to cosmic level adventures.


Entertainment: A
Story: B
Acting: A-
Characters: B+
Music: C-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": C+

Friday, August 11, 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016) movie review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The one where Godzilla returns to his roots as an unstoppable force of nature set against scathing sociopolitical commentary

The Good: naturalistic cinematography, explores sociopolitical themes, well written satire, top notch acting, decent special effects for its budget

The Bad: some questionable camerawork and framing, inconsistent effects in scenes of destruction, jerky movements of CGI creature

Japan is back in the game with their very own new Godzilla movie SHIN GOJIRA. Where Hollywood revived Godzilla as a tribute to his more heroic role in the late-showa era “versus” movies and the Heisei era, Toho Japan has gone back to the roots of the 1954 original Gojira and crafted a modern thriller about the horrors of mankind’s misdeeds, the inaction of a government embroiled in bureaucracy and the impotence of a military in the face of this fiercer, meaner, force of nature Godzilla. .
SHIN GODZILLA is likely the first Godzilla movie to focus squarely on the political scene within the government when a giant monster attacks. Past movies have always involved Scientists, soldiers, or civilians focusing on the chaos on the ground. This movies looks into the chaos at the top as we follow young civil servant Yaguchi, deputy chief cabinet secretary (the first in a long list of designations to come). 
A regular day in the government is interrupted by the collapse of the Tokyo bay aqua line tunnel and mysterious attacks off the coast of Japan. While the aged officials hold fruitless meeting after meeting in an obvious parody of real life bureaucratic process, Yaguchi theorists that the disasters are caused by a living creature. 
No sooner is his theory shot down than an enormous tail rises out of the water. As the government scrambles but always falling a step behind the escalating disaster, Yaguchi forms a task force of unorthodox civilian experts to figure out how to stop this creature. 
As the government's tried and tested efforts become increasingly futile, USA sends a special envoy Kayako Ann Patterson with the promise of military aid and insider knowledge to this mysterious creature dubbed "Godzilla". 

The creature is growing, mutating, and taking on increasingly dangerous characteristics. Yaguchi's team is forced to think outside the box for a new way to halt its rampage before the UN deploys nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.
Contrary to the trailers, this is not the dark depressing disaster movie that was promised. Instead we are treated to one of the smartest and most biting social and political satires in modern cinema. Right in the crosshairs is the inefficient bureaucratic processes of the government and their obsession with trivial minutia which results in a complete mishandling of the crisis posed by the constantly evolving Godzilla. 
The satire comes in the fact that the film does not overly dramatize anything; what you see is as close to reality as one can get in an old fashion parliamentary government like Japan's. Each ministry out for itself, passing the buck wherever possible, defending only their own interests. Standard procedures take precedence over unconventional methods. 
Scenes of the prime minister making an announcement of Godzilla not being able to come ashore, intercut with the revelation that not only has the creature made landfall but has started trashing the town, hearkened back to the perceived mishandling of past real life disasters in Japan.
Yet the message underlying this movie is not a strict criticism of the government but an affirming call to action aimed at a new generation of leaders to unite a nation. Where the traditional methods fail, innovation and initiative will be the true weapons of the future. Yaguchi and his team represent this perfectly; outcasts from their respective fields because of their unconventional ideas. 
Their tenacity in the face of hopeless defeat soon inspires fellow citizens from all walks of life, engineers, mechanics, construction workers and other blue collar roles typically overlooked by a status obsessed people, to come together and stand against a God incarnate.
The titular monster is unlike any incarnation ever seen. It's keloid looking skin, seemingly torn in places, gives the impression of pure suffering. Yet his inhuman all staring eyes betray a being devoid of soul. It is as it was back in 1954; a soulless unstoppable force birthed from mankind's sins. The military is powerless, though not for a lack of trying. 
Where previous Godzilla movies have shown the military in a less than flattering light (cowardly, incompetent, or unable to hit such a massive creature), SHIN GODZILLA shows a military force truly giving their all, only hampered by slow indecision from the top.
The special effects used to bring this colossus to life is arguably good. No where near Hollywood blockbusters but amazing once you consider the comparatively tiny budget Toho had to work with. The naturalistic direction an camerawork courtesy of Evangelion creator Hideki Anno and his crew give the movie an almost "documentary" type feel. 
It is devoid of filters, using very natural looking lighting wherever possible, which enhances the realism of the events taking place. Though the cuts can be a bit distracting at times, alternating between rapid fire jump cuts to scenes that look as if Anno left his camera running and forgot about it. Equally distracting is some of CGI compositing on Godzilla and some of his movements which end up more jerky than a puppet's. These are just minor faults though and only an issue to the more OCD of viewers. 
Perhaps the only thing it does lack is the element of human drama. It is unafraid to show the horrible consequences of a monster’s rampage through a macro view of a country's key decision makers but in doing so it does not leave opportunity to get the audience invested in any particular character. 
More than just a monster movie, SHIN GODZILLA is a smart political thriller that satirizes an inflexible system. Those expecting a brainless action blockbuster will no doubt be disappointed. But as long as one is willing to turn in the brain and appreciate this movie for the deeper more complex themes it tries to tackle, you will find a refreshingly novel giant monster movie which the industry definitely needs.

Entertainment: A-
Story: A-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": A-

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Godzilla X Megaguirus: G Extermination Strategy (2000) movie review

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The one where Godzilla is green and purple, fighting a giant bug (no not mothra)

The Good: Impressive monster designs, engaging lead character, well crafted miniatures

The Bad: overall cheap look, sub par special effects, serviceable directing, uninspired camerawork, boring battles, more style than substance, lacks any deeper themes in the narrative
With the success of Godzilla 2000, Toho green lit a new Godzilla movie which for some reason is not a sequel to Godzilla 2000. Despite featuring the same Godzilla design, albeit painted a bright green with purple spikes, GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS serves as another reboot in the millennium era of the franchise.
Godzilla's many attacks on Japan across the years led to the formation of the G-Graspers, an elite tactical unit tasked with fending off the attacks. By 2001, Japan has invented the Dimension Tide, a weapon capable of opening miniature black holes which can consume anything in its path, and they plan to use it on Godzilla. A test run accidentally transports ancient mutant dragonflies into Japan which take refuge in the sewers.  During this time, a "moby dick/Ahab" style relationship develops between Godzilla and the vengeful Major Tsujimori who is obsessed with taking down the giant beast. 

At first she finds an unlikely ally in the dragonflies, dubbed meganula, who attack Godzilla and drain his nuclear energy. However, unknown to the humans, that energy is used to empower the meganula queen, Megaguirus.
As can be seen by the lengthy synopsis, GXM has many sub plots to resolve. There is the issue of illegal plasma energy experimentation which attracts Godzilla, there is major Tsujimori's journey of revenge, there is the Monster dragonflies, there is the sub plot of professor Yoshino and the Dimension Tide. 
I found Tsujimori's arc of vengeance to be the easiest to follow. She was made out to be a rather sympathetic character despite her tough exterior and it is easy to become invested in her tale. Other than that, the film does drag its feet in many of the human scenes with all the sub plots intertwined nicely but resolved hurriedly. The movie is paced as if the Creative team forgot about the "Megaguirus" in the title and then had her come out only in the third act.
While impressive in design, Megaguirus is essentially Mothra and Battara all over again; an insectile giant monster who is fragile but uses speed and cunning to fight Godzilla. Sadly the tangling between the two titans is quite disappointing. Megaguirus is a puppet on strings and Godzilla is an intricately designed but very stiff suit. 
Do not expect the savage, up close and personal, tooth and claw type duels. These are overly choreographed affairs, complete with a samurai sword duel homage with anime-style visual cues. The fight easily degenerates into distinct formula thanks to the limited movements that the stiff suit and puppet can do. Then the director chooses to have half of the fight done in this choppy jerky slow motion style that too many tv directors abuse.
All this and more give the movie a very cheap "tv episode" kind of feel, barely doing justice to the painstakingly crafted monsters. While GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS boasts decent special effects, decent acting and a well written though one dimensional human protagonist, it establishes itself as a mere middling entry into this rich franchise due to uninspired directing, cheesy Monster fights, and a an unevenly paced and shallow narrative.

Entertainment: C
Story: B-
Acting: B-
Characters: B-
Music: C-
Replay value: C+
"Brains": C-

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Mummy (2017) remake review

Generic Tom Cruise action movie about Tom's hot stalker

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Comedic timing between Cruise and Johnson, incredible performance by Russell Crowe, genuinely eerie creature designs and effects, decent action, sets up greater shared universe with other films.

The Bad: uninspired directing, dark murky cinematography, not scary, shallow narrative, lacks any deeper themes, convoluted plot that is not resolved well, underdeveloped antagonist, bland protagonist

The Mummy heralds the genesis of Universal Studio's very own shared cinematic universe, christened the "Dark Universe". And boy they weren't kidding! Directed by writer Alex Kurtzman in his directorial debut, has coated the entire movie in a murky light dimming filter. Daylight scenes look muted and dull without strong shadows, serving no conceivable thematic purpose other than to have a darkness filter over everything. Kutzman's barely serviceable directing style, with its constant shaky cam, close ups, tight shots and slightly off focus action scenes, all point to a director acting off a checklist of "typical action movie shots". To make matters worse, most of the action scenes are set in dark underground locales or at night, which requires much strain to make out what is going on.
Not that it is entirely a bad thing. This darkness does serve the horror element of the movie. After all this is a remake of the classic horror movie franchise "The Mummy" which saw one remake by Stephen Sommers done in more of a classic swashbuckling adventure style. The big twist this time is that the mummy is a lady.
Ahmanet was an Egyptian princess who was denied her rightful place as ruler of ancient Egypt. She made a pact with the God of chaos, Set, to get revenge on her family and in turn she would bring Set into the world through a chosen individual so she could rule by his side. She was found out and mummified alive as punishment, far away from Egypt. Five thousand years later, rogue soldier Nick Morton and his pal Chris unwittingly discover Ahmanet's tomb in the middle of the war torn Iraqi desert. Unknown to Nick, Ahmanet is still alive in her sarcophagus and uses her arcane magic to manipulate events and people into bringing her body to London. There she hopes to find an ancient weapon belonging to Set, and Nick is the key to her plan.
Unfortunately it is a stretch to call this a horror movie. The darkness of the footage does attempt to convey the look of a horror film, and the effects are hauntingly good. The scenes immediately after Ahmanet resurrects as a desiccated anatomically twisted mockery of humanity are particularly effective as is the look of the zombies. But other than that, this movie has more in common with an action comedy than a horror. 
Though the make-up and effects are meant to be scary, the way scenes are set up, shot and scripted end up more hilarious than horrific. A shocking moment where forgettable love interest Jenny accidentally barges in on Ahmanet straddling a captive Nick, surrounded by rotting minions and about to perform an arcane ritual on him, is scripted as if she barged in on a couple making love. Or when Chris is cursed and haunts Nick as a disembodied spirit bearing the scars of his death, it is played less like a spooky spectral encounter and more like one of those Scary Movie parodies.
Nick himself is a standard morally ambiguous, selfish,arrogant, snarky, action movie protagonist and his sarcastic partner is the standard comic relief. Tom cruise and Jake Johnson as Nick and Chris have great chemistry making the action very fun to watch. Simplicity seems to be the order of the day and any character who was not a monster is portrayed as a one dimensional archetype. In a grave misstep, the script decides to try and develop the already uninteresting Nick and this takes time away from developing the titular mummy Ahmanet. Only Russell Crowe's Dr Jekyll was able to hold my attention and be an interesting addition to the dark universe.
A part of that intrigue comes from Crowe's performance and the stark contrast in the Jekyll and Hyde characters. Unlike past portrayals, Jekyll and Hyde here do not look much different aside from some CGI details. Crowe's performance gets the credit for selling this contrast and comes off as genuinely unsettling. I had hoped to see more of his character in this movie or future ones.
I also liked the gender flipped premise of a dude in distress chased by a female undead necromancer as well as the amount of world building that went into crafting this shared cinematic universe. And perhaps that is where the problem lies: this movie succeeds in being enticing for what is promised rather than what is delivered. Too funny to be a horror, too bland to be a comedy, THE MUMMY succeeds in setting up a new shared cinematic universe but fails to exploit its full potential and fails in delivering a professionally made movie that stands on its own.


Entertainment: B-
Story: B
Acting: B+
Characters: C-
Music: C-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": D