Friday, December 8, 2017

Justice League (2017) movie review


Overall verdict: 7/10
Feels like a mid season filler episode of an otherwise decent TV show

The Good: Generally well shot and choreographed action scenes, amazing visual effects, decent CGI, near perfect portrayal of comic book characters, great acting

The Bad: Inconsistent tone, over reliance on awkward humour, disappointing final battle, generic lighting that betrays the otherwise decent CGI, clash of different styles, reshot footage was painfully obvious


“The Seven  Samurai of Superhero movies”
This is what was promised in early interviews and teased through poster homages. The first big screen team up of DC Comic’s greatest heroes was already held to lofty expectations from the start. In an age saturated with comic book movie adaptations, it had to stand out. Unfortunately the studio took the easy route by catering to the lowest common denominator and sacrificing creative integrity for the illusion of a quick buck.

It is no simple task for a movie to introduce 3 new characters, present a narrative of these characters coming together, build camaraderie, flesh out the stakes, the threat, follow up on existing plot threads from past movies and give closure to the development arc of Superman all within a mere 2 hours (including opening and end credits). JUSTICE LEAGUE is brief to the point of absurdity and most of its problems result from the post production process of editing and incorporating reshoots.

Following the death of Superman, criminals have become emboldened, plunging the world into a state of terror. In London, Wonder Woman stops an extremist bomb Attack while back on Gotham City, Batman is investigating the appearance of flying alien creatures that seem attracted to intense feelings of fear. A close encounter with one of the creatures convinces Batman that the alien invasion he so feared was imminent and he proceeds to recruit the super powered individuals whom he discovered in the previous movie BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Meanwhile, the alien warlord known as Steppenwolf makes planetfall intent on stealing 3 ancient artifacts known as the Motherboxes in order to unite them and summon forth a power that will destroy the earth.

The first act is a hasty haphazardly edited sequence jumping around the world and from character to character. We start off with Wonder Woman, then suddenly cut to Batman. Barely a few minutes in we cut to The Cyborg, Vic Stone, who resents his Father for bringing him back from the dead as a mechanical mockery of a man. Of course this does not get much elaboration as we jump back to Batman as Bruce Wayne who is now in some Northern European country trying to recruit a burly (and definitely awesome looking) Aquaman and then 5 minutes later he is back in his bat cave meeting with Wonder Woman before appearing in Central city another 5 minutes later to recruit Barry Allen aka The Flash. Did we forget the threat of Steppenwolf? No we did not as here he is stealing one Motherbox from the Amazonian Home and then we cut back to Lois Lane? And Martha Kent? They are talking about how they miss Superman and suddenly Cyborg is finding out his dad is kidnaped and Diana is trying to locate him. Aquaman is up next as he returns to Atlantis where he faces Steppenwolf and is defeated then we cut over to Bruce and Barry arriving in Gotham........STOP!

Thereis hardly a sense of chronology or flow to the scenes! Perhaps if the movie was edited to focus on one character at a time culminating in the arrival of Steppenwolf at Paradise Island it would have flowed better. Instead it feels like scenes just end prematurely to cut to a wholly unrelated scene only to cut back minutes later. Arguably the flow improves once the team gets together for their first mission to investigate mysterious abductions in Gotham.
Problems of its truncated narrative aside, JUSTICE LEAGUE does a good job of establishing its characters and building the camaraderie. The chemistry between teammates is impeccable. Their unique personalities play off each other beautifully and there are tender emotional moments interspersed throughout the script. My only beef with the script is all the random moments of humour. It just does not mix well. This is an end of the world scenario and you have awkward slapstick, flat jokes and even traditionally serious characters like Batman trying to be funny.

With its laughable dialogue peppering even serious battle scenes, it feels almost as if the movie is trying to copy the whimsical comedic tone of superhero movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers. Well AVENGERS this movie is not. There is something lacking in terms of the scale of the movie that pales in comparison with predecessors like the superior MAN OF STEEL which culminated in a true world ending threat being averted. In cranking up the comedy, the stakes are trivialised and it becomes difficult to take their story seriously. This seems to be an issue plaguing more and more comic book movies these days.

The hodgepodge Of 2 very differing styles courtesy 2 very different directors is evident from the get go with character even changing appearances between scenes clearly giving away evidence of the insertion of reshoots. Even the overall look of the move was given an overhaul. Gone is the evocative colour filters of past movies replaced with a palette that highlights reds and flesh tones. Also in removing the filters, the CGI elements stand out more due to the lighting mismatch with the non-CGI elements. Basically, removing the filters and boosting up the colours ended up emphasising the flaws of the otherwise high end visual effects instead of masking them.

Thisis a huge pity as much of the action depends on visual effects. Even the villain Steppenwolf is a full CGI character. Thankfully he is a compelling threat. His limited screen time gives him an air of mystery like one of those traditional slasher movie villains and his twisted personality really comes through. The action is also masterfully shot for the most part utilising dynamic camera angles and slow motion to give the perfect resemblance to comic book panels brought to life. Only the final battle comes across as disappointing and generic (and very obviously a reshoot).

It pains me to have to counter every positive with a negative but there is something I have always enjoyed and it is when movies go beyond being mere stimulators of adrenaline and endorphins, and instead address and explore deeper themes in the narrative. Movies that get you thinking. Justice League was none of this and it is sad because there was a lot of potential to explore. Cyborg’s situation as an analogy for physical disability, Flash’s anxiety issues, Batman’s guilt over his past actions and more.
We are hinted at the more metaphorical aspect of a movie as a tale of reviving hope in the most hopeless of situations. We are hinted at moral conflicts and the ethics of Batman’s sudden proposal to revive Superman with an alien device. We are hinted at a much deeper narrative surrounding the individuals and their emotional baggage. Hinted hinted hinted but never explored or even addressed outright. Buried under the awkward humour sprinkled almost at random. Themes that were explored in past movies, the deconstruction/reconstruction of a savior archetype, the impact of super powered beings on international politics, the world’s reaction to such beings, and much more all abandoned.

The result is a truncated summary of an epic that could have been. A film that hints at greater things but never delves deep into them. Sacrificing thematic depth for levity robs the movie of any uniqueness it may have had in this day and age saturated with superficial superhero shows. It’s inconsistency is it’s greatest weak spot and seems to indicate that the studio had little interest in telling a compelling tale. The amazing action, the bombastic battles which showcase the extent of each characters’ skills, and the near perfect portrayal of each character show that this movie was meant merely as a primer: a means to instil an audience with a greater interest in its characters so as to get them on board for the many inevitable spinoffs. It may make you see superheroes as cool again in a most perfunctory way, but little else beyond that.


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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Transformers The Last Knight (2017) movie review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The one with King Arthur, a robot dragon, Anthony Hopkins and an evil Optimus Prime

The Good: Breaks the boundaries of CGI rendered destruction, incorporates even more fantastical elements of the cartoons, perfect special effects, standout performances

The Bad: barely serviceable soundtrack, chaotic camerawork, incoherent narrative, script filled with contrived coincidences, senseless humour

Just when you I thought a franchise had clawed itself out of the gutter, it dives right back in with a steaming pile of trash called TRANSFORMERS THE LAST KNIGHT. Continuity, a darker more serious tone, memorable characters, throw all that out the window. With this movie, we are back to borderline offensive cultural stereotypes, convoluted retcons that contradict past Transformers movies, inconsistent characterisation, and a plot that meanders its way from one logic defying plot hole ridden action sequence to another. No explanations are given for abilities that characters suddenly have and the entire movie feels like many movies crammed into one.
After the events or TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, nearly nothing has changed. Transformers are still being hunted, though only to be imprisoned rather than killed, the Autobots are in hiding and Optimus has not been heard from since he left for space. It seems logic caught up with Optimus and his rocket powered cosmic adventure has left him out of fuel right around Saturn. But no worries, a mysterious force captures Prime and turns him against his former allies. Back on earth, fellow Autobot Bumblebee has befriended a new ally, 16 year old Isabella. 
This spunky girl, orphaned in the battle of Chicago back in TRANSFORMERS DARK OF THE MOON has since been hiding out in the city ruins with her transformer pal Canopy. An unprovoked Attack by the “Transformers Response Force”(TRF) ends up with Canopy killed, Bumblebee and Cade Yeager from the previous movie rescuing Isabella, and the way too convenient discovery of an ancient “knight of cybertron” who just happens to be hidden and dying in the ruins of Chicago.
Before all that we are treated to some continuity wrecking flashbacks showing that Transformers had been active on earth, shaping history in medieval times, complete with an actual King Arthur and Merlin, and world war 2.
But I digress. Back to the present day, the authorities want to hunt down Yeager all of a sudden and recruit Decepticons to help them. In the meantime, an English gentleman played by Anthony Hopkins is seeking out Yeager as Yeager has conveniently come into possession of the Excalibur sword and it is somehow tied to ancient Transformers. Arthurian legend, fugitives in hiding, an unlikely partnership between humans and evil transformers, ancient conspiracy, and into all this comes a vengeance fueled Optimus Prime turned evil by a being known as Quintessa, who claimed to be the creator of the transformers.
Confused yet? Well remember cybertron from the third movie? It is back again and on a collision course with earth. Again. There is an underwater alien ship that surfaces to serve as a set piece for an anti climatic duel, people and robots in the sky (rhymes with robots in disguise) fighting on floating land masses, every battle a display of physics defying shenanigans all in a bid to outdo the craziness of every science fiction blockbuster up to this point! To call Michael Bay’s style excessive is like calling sea water salty. It’s pretty much a given for his movies where a giant robot dinosaur rolling across a junkyard of crushed cars can produce random explosions every time he touches the ground as if he rolled over a minefield. It’s all very crazy but not in the enjoyable sense. The wide lingering shots and clear cinematography from the previous movie has reverted to his more infamous jittery shots, tight close ups, and generally chaotic camerawork. To make matters worse, all this mayhem is accompanied by one of the dullest movie scores ever by Steve Jablonsky; a hodgepodge of electronic droning and deep bass groaning, devoid of any originality or energy.
Even to enjoy this as a sequel is rendered nearly impossible by the inconsistencies with last movies. How is Bumblebee suddenly able to divide himself into parts and then control his parts to combine back into a whole transformer? How is Galvatron suddenly back to Megatron again?? Where are the other dinobots??? This is all pittance compared to the humongous retcons extending all the way back to the very first movie as if to pretend that all of it never happened.
It does seem bad but to call this film a disaster would be a discredit to some of its redeeming factors. The actors are fantastic. Mark Wahlberg brings an earnest unlikely hero vibe perfect for the character of Yeager although Isabela Moner as Izabella was the breakout role of the movie, turning in a powerful performance as the strong willed orphan. The transformers are all given memorable personalities and voices, key of which is the portrayal of Decepticon leader Megatron. After 5 movies, he has finally come to resemble his cartoon counterpart in mannerism, appearance and voice.
A shame that a lackluster script courtesy of the Writers of the equally lackluster PUNISHER WAR ZONE movie, fails to do justice to the acting talent on display. Worse is how Optimus Prime is written, completely undoing the character development he had gone through so far. It is a script and story filled to the brim with forced, senseless humour, contrived coincidences and plot conveniences. With a plan to expand into an entire shared universe of spinoffs, the franchise had overstayed it’s welcome by one movie. This one.

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

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-