11
Dec
13

Movie Review: Ender’s Game

ender's-gameCAST: ASA BUTTERFIELD, HARRISON FORD, HAILEE STEINFELD, ABIGAIL BRESLIN, BEN KINGSLEY, VIOLA DAVIS, MOISES ARIAS, JIMMY “JAX” PINCHAK, SURAJ PARTHASARATHY, CONNOR CARROLL, ARAMIS KNIGHT, KHYLIN RHAMBO, NONSO ANOZIE

DIRECTOR: GAVIN HOOD

SUMMARY: Orson Scott Card’s classic tale of a genius kid training for an alien invasion comes to life. Years after the Formic Wars, Earth prepares for another possible alien attack. Under the stern supervision of Major Hiram Graff (Ford), smart kids around the world train in a battle school. Ender (Butterfield), the third of the Wiggin children, is considered “the chosen one” – the one who will lead Earth against the enemies. Clever, talented and with a healthy disdain for authority, Ender’s impressive performance elicit equal amounts of awe, envy and concern from teachers and students. Despite the makings of a ruthless battle commander, Ender is a compassionate child with a deep love for his sister Valentine (Breslin), his closest friend and protector. This compassion, Ender believes is the key to defeating the aliens. If he finally understands his enemy, he’ll destroy them like how he decimates his battle school competition. However, he also knows understanding leads to love, a feeling that may prevent him from marshaling the necessary strength and cunning to win the war. How Ender balances his compassion and killer instinct, how he relates with authorities, how he deals with his subordinates and how he keeps his sanity in the face of overwhelming responsibilities are the keys to human survival.

  1. “Ender’s Game” is one of the most straightforward novels I have read. It never waxed philosophical but imparts readers some of the most inconvenient philosophies in life. It is also quite political. Though complex, these political views are never muddled. Each character has preferred means and desired goals which are organized and clear. Right off the bat, a reader will hate or root for certain characters until human emotions and rationale, complicate the black-and-white picture, turning it into a grayscale landscape. The more we learn about a character, the more we question ourselves. Yet, the story never strayed from its clear path. And when it reached its destination – in a most shocking fashion – we never knew what hit us. The mark of a great novel, for me, is clarity and complexity. A great novel should answer our immediate questions and question our long-held ideals and principles. Orson Scott Card did so in his masterpiece.
  2. The question, however, with the film adaptation is, did it do justice to one of the most beloved/reviled works of science fiction? I think the film is acceptable, appropriate and above average but still not the best screen adaptation. By leaving out the stories of “Locke and Demosthenes”, alter egos of Ender’s older siblings, Peter and Valentine, it deliberately shortchanged the audience. If “Ender’s Game” is a commentary on military, politics and international relations, surely, you’ll be asking, where are the opinion maker. “Locke” and “Demosthenes” are the opinion makers. As potent as Ender’s tactic in battle school, “The only way to gain respect is doing so well you can’t be ignored”; Peter’s belief, “That is what historians usually do, quibble about cause and effect when the point is, there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world” is equally puissant.  I think the stories of Peter and Valentine need to be told for their characters are as formidable as their kid brother. In my equation, Peter is the id; Valentine is the superego; and Ender is the ego. It makes more sense to see them as one functioning psychic apparatus.
  3. With a cast composed of some of the best and brightest young actors and a brilliant veteran support, the acting will rarely fail the movie. It is also commendable to see such a diverse group of actors. Now, of the entire cast, I am mostly fond of VIOLA DAVIS and MOSES ARIAS. DAVIS, whose mettle as a performer has been tested and enhanced through the years, once again lend her patented dignity. She is so dignified in all the scenes she is in, even when she is about to break from Graff’s teaching methods. ARIAS, whose performance as Bonzo Madrid and physical appearance is equally memorable is such a stand-out. Hollywood, you are looking at your next consummate character actor. I mean, he made me think of Peter Lorre and Steve Buscemi each time he appears on screen. As for the production and special effects, the battle room is a stunner and the final battle is decent. But is it just me or some of the set pieces look and feel inadequate. The planetoid Eros looks inferior. Yes, it is supposed to be “rough”, “uncomfortable” and “hopeless” but it did not come across as such. Pace-wise, “Ender’s Game” is brisk, too brisk for my taste. As I said, it left out some fairly important parts, which I never understood because the novel is short compared to other books adapted for films.
  4. Now, a moment of inappropriateness. (Butterfield delivers a well-acted, well-thought out performance. He is Ender. Moving on.) Lead actor ASA BUTTERFIELD, oh boy, apologies, but all I can think of whenever he is on screen is, “In about a couple of decades, he will bring Tumblr down to its knees.” He reminds me so much of Benedict Cumberbatch. Before the Cumbercookies howl in protest (which I believe will not happen), here me out. The Batch and the Butter both a) rock the tall (the kid stands 5’10”), slender Brit look b) possess enigmatic and memorable faces c)  talented and d) bear incredible names (Asa Maxwell Thornton Farr Butterfield). The. Batch. The. Butter. #fangirling
  5. “Ender’s Game” is brisk, clear-cut film adaptation with a fine performance from an accomplished cast. That said, it missed its chance to put forth a complete picture of Orson Scott’s powerful tale in omitting the stories of of Peter and Valentine. The book is controversial because of its ideas, as well as its depiction of authorities and children. However, Ender remains relevant in our times. These ideas need to be discussed and debated, not left out.

RATING: B-

02
Dec
13

Movie Review: Frozen

frozenCAST: KRISTEN BELL, IDINA MENZEL, JONATHAN GROFF, JOSH GAD, SANTINO FONTANA, ALAN TUDYK, CIARAN HINDS, CHRIS WILLIAMS

DIRECTOR: CHRIS BUCK AND JENNIFER LEE

SUMMARY: Sisters Elsa and Anna, princesses of Arendelle, were the best of friends when they were kids. An accident, however, forced their parents to separate the two from each other. You see, Elsa has a secret; she has the power to make snow and ice. And this power almost killed her beloved little sister. In order to avoid a similar incident, their parents decided to hide Elsa from the rest of the world. “Conceal, do not feel,” as her father constantly reminds her. When their parents died, Elsa had to assume her rightful place as queen. For the first time since “forever”, the castle was opened to the public in time for her coronation. Careful not to reveal her secret, she did her best to hide her powers until Anna made a major announcement that caused her to reveal her true nature. From conjuring simple snowflakes, Elsa left Arendelle in eternal winter. It is up to Anna, “ice man” Kristoff, and Olaf the Snowman to save their home from frozen damnation.

  1. 2013 is about to end and I have not seen a really good animated film. Studio Ghibli has released a couple but I have not had the opportunity to witness its latest magic. Ah, magic. I always believe animated films should be magical. It should encourage fascination and arouse imagination. Pixar, once an invincible institution, has shown surprising chinks in its armor. “Monster University,” though an above average production, still isn’t exceptional. Now Disney, it’s traditional mother, has been churning out exceptional animated films. The honor roll includes “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” (I still maintain “Wreck-It Ralph” got robbed in the Oscars because it is better, far better than “Brave.”) “Frozen” tries to extend its splendid streak. I just need to make an important point: “Frozen” is not joining “Turbo” in its terrible company. Car-racing snails?! Really people, really.
  2. In our anti-heroic era, a time of celebrating – not the virtues – but the untold stories of rascals and rapscallions, “Frozen” provides us a re-imagination of the Snow Queen. Gentle princesses still have a place in our modern culture, but in the meantime, we clamor for the misunderstood miscreant. Unlike traditional antagonists, Elsa  (Menzel) is not evil, for her powers though dangerous, were never meant to harm. She was forced into isolation by her own parents, a terrible fate if you ask me. Fear, not wickedness, unleashed her powers. This is rather a departure from the evil queens of movies past. Elsa is a complex character, especially when she balances her personal fears and love for Anna (Bell). I found myself rooting for her when she decided to let go of her powers upon realizing “the cold never bothered her anyway.” Great job.
  3. The rest of the characters pale in comparison to Elsa. Anna is the sweet kid whose memories of her sister’s powers were erased. She is the cheerful yin to her sister’s distant yang. I prefer not to discuss Prince Hans (Fontana) in order to avoid spoilers. Kristoff (Groff) is the one character I thought necessitates more fleshing out. Is he an orphan? Why is he always alone? Did he forget he has met the princesses when they were kids? Why does it feel Olaf the Snowman (Gad) has better chemistry than him? Ah, Olaf. He knows what to say in front of a girl. “Some people are worth melting for,” you perfect little snow creature. The voice actors were fantastic especially Idina Menzel and Josh Gad.
  4. As expected, the animation is brilliant. The magical construction of the ice castle and transformation of the Snow Queen is the best. However, the ice castle needed more architectural and interior intricacies. It fell short in its world-building. Compared to the video game world of “Wreck-It Ralph”, it is rather run-of-the-mill. Interestingly, if you look at the major characters, even the minor ones such as the reindeer, they look similar with the character designs in “Tangled.” It is rather safe to assume, the retelling of Rapunzel is the template for “Frozen.” (Look at the title: Rapunzel = Tangled; Snow Queen = Frozen). If Disney continues this trend, then the House of Mouse will most likely reach its Third Golden Age. As for the music, pop powerhouse “Let It Go” and the humdinger “In Summer” are stand-outs. The latter in particular, established Olaf as the film’s delightful scene-stealer.
  5. “Frozen” re-imagines Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of the Snow Queen. Despite a mediocre soundtrack and a second-rate world-building effort, it triumphs because at its heart is a beautiful account of acceptance and sisterhood. It is an affirmation that “true love” does not necessarily require a prince but rather people who have loved and respected you from the very start. Written and directed by a woman, the film puts forth a strong message on female bonding. I once read an article discussing why women will never rule the human race despite possessing higher intelligence compared to men. Scathingly, it dismisses women’s ability to cooperate with other women, hence its inability to rule. I still think the article is a reinforcement of the patriarchal system, a total dick move to reject our merits. Imagine if one day, girls the world over discover our shared sisterhood and make use of it.

RATING: B+

NOTES:

  1. After watching “Frozen”, I rated it as “B-“. A couple of days later, I changed my mind and upgraded it to “B+”. The story grew on me and realized its take on sisterhood is really heartfelt. (I am only child and so the idea of sibling relationship is pretty much alien.) The music also grew on me, especially “Let It Go.”
  2. “We clamor for the misunderstood miscreant” was almost written as “The Loki Effect”. I consciously resisted because it’ll lead to an entire unrelated paragraph extolling the politesse and fine bone structure of Tom Hiddleston.
25
Nov
13

List: 18 Times Top Movie Critics Fangirled over Tom Hiddleston

 

tom-hiddleston

Thor: The Dark World, in its third week, has outperformed the entire global output of its predecessor. There is no doubt the God of Thunder has cast a spell among moviegoers worldwide. However, among film critics, the reception is rather a mix bag. Some liked it for its lighter tone while some dismissed it as a mediocre sequel. Interestingly, these same hard-to-please critics offered nothing but slobbering love for Tom Hiddleston. The third Loki outing of the British actor has reduced serious film scholars into blubbering fangirls. Esteemed critic Richard Corliss summoned the poet in him and described Loki  as a “Hamlet among hunks.” Rolling Stone resident movie reviewer Peter Travers hankered “for more Loki.” Had there been a real-life Loki-led invasion on Earth, these film snobs will kneel and pledge allegiance to the God of Mischief in a snap of his treacherous fingers. It is safe to assume Hiddleston is the undisputed star of the Marvel films. With three films under his belt, an uninterrupted Loki appearance since 2011, the posh actor is without a doubt, the fan favorite. No other superhero villain has inspired an on-line petition for a solo film project. Of the numerous critical acclamation listed, the most fangirl-friendly came from Jeanette Catsoullis of the venerable New York Times. She mentioned Hiddleston’s hot role in The Deep Blue Sea and enthused over his fine bone structure. Mmm-mmm. You are not alone Jeannette, not alone.

  1. “As for Hiddleston, it is only a modest exaggeration to declare him the genuine star of the franchise. When he derides Thor as ‘a witless oaf’ or asks him whether he’s sure he wouldn’t rather ‘punch his way out’ of a difficult situation, there’s more than a kernel of truth to the jibe. So clever and conflicted that he seems barely able to tolerate himself, Hiddleston’s Loki is a hero for the antiheroic age of Don Draper and Walter White. (Perhaps the movie’s best moment is when Thor commands Loki, ‘no more illusions,’ and the latter reveals himself completely.) In this installment, Thor and Loki join forces in the battle against Malekith, though the alliance is, inevitably, an uneasy one. ‘I wish I could trust you,’ laments Thor. Trust, schmust: Love him for what he is, like the rest of us do.” — Christopher Orr/The Atlantic
  2. “Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, making his third appearance, has grown so comfortable in the role that he’s able to steal every scene in which he appears. Thor: The Dark World comes to life when Hiddleston is on screen and his interaction with Hemsworth evidences far more chemistry than the rather feeble spark evident between Thor and his lady love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). ” — James Berardinelli/Reelviews
  3. The one bright light in Asgard is its darkest soul, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who got all the brains in the Thor family but none of the virtue. He breezes along with an air of uneasy self-satisfaction, smug but not completely sure of himself, and thus more interesting. Actually, in character terms, Loki might be the only interesting person in the movie.” — Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle
  4. “To be fair, there’s stuff to like in The Dark World. Loki, for example — whom Thor must reluctantly team with in his fight against the Dark Elves — is simply fabulous. Hiddleston steals the show here, making wickedness and treachery look a heck of a lot more fun than virtue.” — Michael O’Sullivan/The Washington Post
  5. “Tom Hiddleston is entertaining once again as Loki, Thor’s evil brother.” — Joe Morgenstern/The Wall Street Journal
  6. “What few jokes there are belong to Chris O’Dowd, as Jane’s clueless suitor, and the incomparable Tom Hiddleston, whose value here cannot be overstated. As the debonair flyboy in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea, he gave that scoundrel a heartbreaking fragility, and some of that carries over to complicate his portrayal of Loki, Thor’s scheming brother. Dancing above a leaden plot and lumpy dialogue, Mr. Hiddleston moves his fine-boned features and graceful body, as if what he were doing matters; he seems imported from a quite different movie. Rewarded with the best lines and most flattering camera angles, Loki, the master of illusion, is a genetic anomaly in a bulked-up bloodline. He’s also the spoonful of sugar that helps this medicine go down.” — Jeannette Catsoullis/The New York Times
  7. “The more important and more effective — interactions are between Thor and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the latter imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons since his attempt to enslave the Earth in The Avengers. Hiddleston remains the single greatest asset at Marvel’s disposal, a complicated baddie played by a fine actor with a blend of wounded malice and impish glee.” — Ian Buckwalter/NPR
  8. “Just when yawning sets in and you think that Loki, Thor’s dashing, demented brother, will never show up, scene-stealing Tom Hiddleston rides in. Even in prison, Loki’s poison-tipped one-liners fly like arrows, especially at Thor and their Big Daddy, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). This Thor sequel is way funnier than any movie subtitled The Dark World has a right to be (thanks, Hiddleston).” — Peter Travers/Rolling Stone
  9. “But the god of thunder shrivels in character complexity beside Loki, the god of mischief, later promoted to the more imposing and accurate rank god of evil. The Marvel Encyclopedia instructs us that Loki stands 6 ft. 4 in. and weighs 525 lb. (to Thor’s 6-ft. 6-in., 640-lb. frame), but Tom Hiddleston incarnates him as a sinister sylph draped in black leather and chain mail, a Hamlet among hunks. Their brawn often seems puny in comparison with his scheming brain. Loki’s demeanor bears a hint of the gay outsider, an antidote to the solemn testosterone of most of the Avengers crew. Except for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, he is one of the few figures in the cosmology who looks to be enjoying himself. Without camping things up, Loki shows that it’s good to be bad.” — Richard Corliss/Time
  10. “There’s nothing in “Thor: The Dark World” that wasn’t done better in Thor, or a lot better in The Avengers. Except Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki, Thor’s evil adopted brother. Hiddleston continues to be the best thing about these films, his sneering confidence curdling into condescension. The universe and all its realms simply aren’t big enough for his ego. He knows it, we know it, the filmmakers know it, and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is never more alive than when Loki is on-screen. Ah, but Hiddleston. If someone somewhere isn’t dreaming up a buddy movie starring him and Benedict Cumberbatch, well, they need to be. Hemsworth suggests fun in his performance as Thor. Hiddleston has fun as Loki — big difference. And ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is a lot better than it would have been if he hadn’t.” — Bill Goodykoontz/Arizona Republic
  11. “However, it’s Hiddleston’s devious, dangerous Loki — who may be the key to Asgard’s salvation, or its destruction — who holds the scattershot plot together.” — Soren Andersen/The Seattle Times
  12. “And, as always, the most valuable player remains Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the trickster. Thought you’d seen the last of him in The Avengers? Foolish mortal. Know you not of the precious metal that can be mined, simply by having him return in film after film. Honestly, Hiddleston has the best part in the movie and although some of his tricks are really kind of cheats (at least as far as the audience is concerned) he’s a sly and consistent delight. (And you will love his quick Avengers joke.)” — Stephen Witty/Neward Star-Ledger
  13. Hiddleston saves this movie. He’s become one of those actors – like Benedict Cumberbatch and, at one time, Gary Oldman – who can completely change the direction of an otherwise mediocre film. In prison for his murderous rampage in The Avengers, Hiddleston grabs the second half of Thor: The Dark World and elevates it to the level of his talent. No one ever knows what’s motivating the sneering, sarcastic, patronizing Loki. He’s the greatest used-car salesman in the galaxy. You want to like him, you want to believe him, but he’s simply too smart and conniving to trust. His apparent emergence on the side of good this time allows for badly needed banter between the brothers that sets you up for a either a heroic transformation or a disappointing betrayal.” — Tony Hicks/San Jose Mercury News
  14. The secret weapon is Hiddleston. The best thing the film’s army of five screenwriters did is set the odd couple of Thor and Loki on a sort-of celestial road trip. Loki is puckish, malevolent, peevish, magnetic and, with his Rooney Mara-like pale skin and dark hair, the polar opposite of Hemsworth. Hiddleston’s villainous asides steal the show, and he brightens The Dark World when it needs it most.” — Joe Neumaier/Daily News
  15. “In a desperate attempt to head off this apocalypse, Thor ultimately has to set Loki, his villainous but inventive foster brother, free from the prison cell he has inhabited since the end of the last movie. These are by far the best scenes of the film, both because Hiddleston is a crack-up at almost every moment and because he makes this comic-book gloss on a mythological deity feel completely convincing. As in the actual Norse legends, this trickster Loki is an adversary of the gods who is also bound to them and sometimes helps them; Hiddleston actually makes you feel the anguish of a character who genuinely loves those he betrays, and who often wishes he could be better than he is.” – Andrew O’Hehir/Salon
  16. “Only when Tom Hiddleston is on screen, as Thor’s dark-souled stepbrother, Loki, does any real drama take hold. Loki has been imprisoned for his treachery, but it turns out that Thor needs his help to defeat the Dark Elves. Can he trust Loki not to betray him? Hiddleston, with pleading eyes and a mad-dog grin, plays Loki as a wounded sociopath who’s cackling at the world but seething on the inside. Which makes you realize he’s just about the only character in the movie who has an inside. ” — Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly
  17. “To save Life As We Know It, Thor seeks help from his duplicitous adoptive brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has been imprisoned for killing thousands of humans at New York. Hiddleston’s sneering Loki remains one of the finest Marvel antagonists, and – now with a starring role in three films – the franchise seems to value him (as it should) as much as his more heroic brother.” — Jake Coyle/Associated Press
  18. Nobody gives good sneer like Tom Hiddleston, back once again in the pleather leggings and goat-horned helmet to play bad guy Loki in Thor: The Dark World and pretty much steal the whole show. — Leslie Felperin/The Hollywood Reporter
22
Nov
13

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

catching-fireCAST: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, LIAM HEMSWORTH, DONALD SUTHERLAND, ELIZABETH BANKS, WOODY HARRELSON, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, LENNY KRAVITZ, SAM CLAFLIN, JEFFREY WRIGHT, JENNA MALONE, LYNN COHEN, AMANDA PLUMMER, STANLEY TUCCI, TOBY JONES

SUMMARY: After they were declared victors of the last Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) embark on a victory tour across the Capitol. However, the once scared and scarred contestant from District 12 has turned into, not just a symbol of hope, but a rallying point of a possible revolution against the Capitol. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is well aware of Katniss’s power and is out to suppress the flame. What happens next is a series of moves and counter-moves between the president and Katniss. That is until the Capitol, through the suggestion of its newest Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), decided to reap past winners of each district as contestants for its 75th Hunger Games or as it is also known, 3rd Quarter Quell. In a cruel twist of Capitol-dictated fate, Katniss has to pick up her bow and arrows to kill and survive once more. Unbeknownst, to her, the rebellion is closer to the Capitol than she realizes and she is the fire needed to lit it up.

DIRECTOR: FRANCIS LAWRENCE

  1. Sci-Fi Now, in its “The 50 Greatest Sci-Fi Icons” issue, ranked Katniss Everdeen at 41 with top marks in  the social impact and fan base criteria. The heroine from god-forsaken District 12 is listed alongside bona fide, time-tested icons such as Han Solo and James Tiberius Kirk. More significantly, she shared distinction with her female film ancestors, Princess Leia and Ripley. “Conceived by Suzanne Collins and brought to life by Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss was propelled to sci-fi icon status the moment she volunteered for Prim. Lawrence shot Katniss to stardom – and arguably, vice-verse, but its Collins’s character, and her bowstring, that grasped at our heartstrings, encouraging all to back the Mockingjay to the bitter end. After a stretched out era dominated by a certain Bella Swan, Miss Everdeen couldn’t have emerged at a better time. Finally, a Ripley-like protagonist had returned, giving us a reason to root for the lady lead once more. We haven’t wanted to master archery this bad since watching Legolas notch up an impressive orc death toll.” (Sci-Fi Now, “The 50 Greatest Sci-Fi Icons.” Imagine Publishing Ltd., 2013. p. 173)
  2. Before headlining double major movie franchises Hunger Games and X-Men, before the Oscar win, before she became Internet’s best girl friend, Jennifer Lawrence – to me – is Ree in “Winter’s Bone”. The tough-as-nails eldest daughter of a dirt poor family who will go to great lengths to keep her family intact. (Sounds familiar.) Lawrence delivered an unflinching performance, landed her first Oscar nomination in her first major movie. I decided to follow her and hoped she secure a film career deserving of her enormous talent. At that point, I have not read “Hunger Games.” When I heard she got the coveted part of Katniss Everdeen, I picked up a copy and found out Suzanne Collins’s heroine is similar to Ree. Doubts surrounding her capacity to take on the role, I said to myself, is unfounded. Two Hunger Games installment later, my faith in her abilities and sensibilities as an actor has remain strong. In “Catching Fire”, Katniss realizes the effect she has on the people of Panem as their rallying point  against the tyrannical Capitol. From the victory tour up to the last close-up scene, Lawrence demonstrated a range of emotions, only an acting thoroughbred like her can deliver. The development of Katniss from a innocent reaping volunteer to a symbol of rebellion is the meat and potatoes of the franchise. Lawrence is at the top of her game, it is not an overestimation, but her acting is flawless.
  3. How this franchise acquires a staggering talented cast is one of its strengths. No need to discuss the merits of WOODY HARRELSON, STANLEY TUCCI and DONALD SUTHERLAND, these actors hardly ever turn in terrible performances. LENNY KRAVITZ is sublime as Cinna and should take on more movie roles. Ditto for ELIZABETH BANKS as Effie Trinket. Her character developed better in this movie compared in the first one. She is more human than cartoon. As for the male lead characters, JOSH HUTCHERSON and LIAM HEMSWORTH, Peeta and Gale remain secondary to Katniss. There are more kissing scenes (and Peeta finally kills somebody), but the love triangle is still lukewarm. (I almost forgot about their characters in this review.) Newbies include PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Plutarch Heavensbee), JEFFREY WRIGHT (Beetee),  and JENA MALONE (Johanna Mason). (Shout-out: in the insufferable “Sucker Punch”, I felt Jenna Malone is its redeeming feature. Still correct.)  Of all the newbies, SAM CLAFLIN (Finnick Odair) has the burden of meeting fan expectations for he is freakin’ Finnick. Collins, in the book, described her as cross between a matinee idol/sex god of Panem. He has the required looks, charms, not to mention British blood but I felt his relationship with Annie was not fleshed out. Hence, I did not relate much to him on-screen as much as I did in the books. Despite his looks and fame, Finnick is a tragic character. Claflin has the chops to dish out memorable acting displays, let him loose in the next  films.
  4. One of the major changes from the first film is the director, hell, it is the biggest adjustment. Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), best known for “I am Legend”, not only filled Gary Ross’s directorial shoes snugly, he even outdone his predecessor. “Catching Fire” is darker, bleaker, and better. The movie is so self-assured in terms of production, action stunts, special effects and the over-all effect is a superior popcorn entertainment. The Cornucopia looks ridiculous, as ridiculous as how it was described in the book. The Quarter Quell challenges and handicaps look organic and seamless. Even the murderous primates and jabberjays look frighteningly real. However, the masterstroke of the director is keeping violence at a minimal. It is suggested but not presented, hence the PG-rating. Shout-out: best scene is the jaw-dropping “costume change” of Katniss on the eve of the Quarter Quell. As kids say nowadays, the feels.
  5. “The Hunger Games : Catching Fire” accomplished something only few films have done before; served as a terrific sequel, raised the bar of its genre and excites the moviegoers for its franchise conclusion. Despite exceeding more than two hours, the movie sustains the interest of the audience because of its compelling story and cast. But at the command control, the center that holds it all is Jennifer Lawrence. The brilliant actress is the biggest reason the franchise is in top form. In terms of talent, charisma, and authentic screen presence, no one comes close to Lawrence in her generation. Incredible as it sounds, she almost turned down her signature role. It is but proper humankind thanks her decision to lit up the screen as the Girl on Fire.

RATING: A

20
Nov
13

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

thorCAST: CHRIS HEMSWORTH, TOM HIDDLESTON, NATALIE PORTMAN, ANTHONY HOPKINS, CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, RENE RUSSO, STELLAN SKARSGARD, KAT DENNINGS, IDRIS ELBA, JAMIE ALEXANDER, ZACAHARY LEVI, RAY STEVENSON, TADANOBU ASANO

DIRECTOR: ALAN TAYLOR

SUMMARY: After his failed attempt to invade Earth, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is punished for his crimes. As the God of Mischief languishes in jail, his brother Thor (Hemsworth) cleans up his mess across the Nine Realms. Meanwhile, Jane Forster (Natalie Portman) tries to move on from the God of Thunder’s continuing absence. Just as things are getting normal, Foster stumbled upon a strange occurrence in London where an unknown energy possessed her. This brought back Thor once more to Earth. To understand the energy possessing her, he brought her to Asgard much to the chagrin of his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The findings, however, cannot be ignored: the mortal is the newest vessel of the all-powerful Aether. In the beginning of the universe, a race of elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) tried to revert the realms into darkness using the Aether. Odin’s father thwarted his plans and hid the Aether in a safe place. Malekith and his followers bid their time until Foster’s accidental discovery. Now that the Aether is calling its former master, the leader of the Dark Elves will stop at  nothing to get his hands on it and destroy Asgard in the process. It is up to Thor to prevent the impending distraction of his beloved home. In order to succeed, the God of Thunder has to trust himself, his friends and his alliance with Loki.

  1. Hot on the heels of the billion movie machine called Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World unleashes the power of the hammer once more to a world still infatuated with superheroes.  (I see no signs of fatigue.) Marvel has done the impossible, a blockbuster record of colossal proportions never before seen in movie history. Compared to recent superhero films, however, the Thor sequel is chipper and chirpier – despite the “dark” in the title. CHRIS HEMSWORTH returns as a more assured, more confident God of Thunder. NATALIE PORTMAN delivers serious slapping actions. KAT DENNINGS and STELLAN SKARSGARD shine in bigger roles. (I still chuckle whenever I remember “mew-mew”.) The over-all tone is SURPRISINGLY LIGHT, an atmosphere I approve. It is a bold choice, a  brave decision to avoid the morose and morbid trend of recent superhero movies. The filmmakers are quite dauntless in their preference that jokes are inserted in the middle of serious action, and it works most of the time.
  2. Director ALAN TAYLOR weaves his Game of Thrones enchantment to Asgard. The palace is grimier and grittier compared to the immaculate and impeccable appearance in the first Thor film. And braids. Even Thor sported one. Too much braids. Nonetheless, I can tolerate excessive hair art but not excessive computer manipulated images and special effects. Ugh. It is quite over-the-top that I experienced the dreaded special effects fatigation. In the first Thor installment, the best scenes are set on Earth. But in this sequel, even the Earth scenes were overdone with computer whiz and effects bang. Ugh. The Iron Man series worked because of the charismatic performance of one Mr. Robert Downey Jr. The Avengers succeeded because despite the incredible collection of superheroes, it is their bicker-and-banter moments that carried the film to entertainment loftiness.  Thor could do the same because it possesses a character with equal amounts of charm and pluck to bolster its entertainment value. More on him later.
  3. Poor Malekith. Poor CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON. Covered in white hair and make-up and speaking in Elvish, the central baddie of the Thor sequel  is one of the more forgettable superhero villains in recent times. It is not Eccleston’s fault; he is a brilliant actor. Villains, I  believe still need to retain a certain semblance of humanity in order to elicit affection from the audience. If people cannot relate with them, he’ll never be effective. Villains should either scares the sh*t out of or seduce us to adhere to their demented cause. Malekith was not able to do either because, again, he was hidden in make-up. It is hard to see his emotions and therefore, harder for us to connect to his ideals. Further, the development of Malekith is rather weak. In some instances, Algrim or the Kurse upstaged his master. He projected menace better than Malekith. Now, in superhero films, the villain should not, ideally, overshadow the hero. We should be rooting for the superhero because after all, he is all about saving Earth. However, once in a while, a special kind of movie miscreant comes along like The Joker in The Dark Knight –  a murderous lunatic of the first order. Or a leather and metal clad, adopted son of a god who desires nothing more than a throne.
  4. Ta-da, this brings us to TOM HIDDLESTON. In the first installment of Thor, I pointed out the scene-stealing performance of the British actor as a high point of the movie. A curious thing happened after, the planet noticed his pained and nuanced performance and soon enough, he is battling the greatest collection of superheroes in the Big Apple. Never has a villain, at least in the Marvel Universe, elicited such outpouring of affection and excitement from the audience. In the same manner RDJ is Iron Man and Iron Man is RDJ, Hiddleston in Loki and Loki is Hiddleston. The actor and the character are inseparable. Hiddleston incorporated his prodigious knowledge of Shakespearean drama and created a complex and complicated tortured character. That Loki has the funniest (a cameo of another superhero) and most painful ( broken and bloodied in a glass cell) scenes in the film are a testament to his complexities. It is also a clear indication of Hiddleston’s increasing reach and appeal to the fanbase. Or filmgoers in general. (Is it any wonder, the best scenes of Thor is when he is with Loki or when he is taking a page from his adopted brother’s trickster book?) If Heath Ledger’s The Joker, set the baneful bar for DC cinematic anti-heroes, Hiddleston did the same for Marvel. AND HAVE YOU SEEN VIDEOS OF TOM HIDDLESTON SINGING, DANCING OR SPEAKING FRENCH?! TOM HIDDLESTON IS THE PERFECT HUMAN BEING. I LOVE YOU TOM HIDDLESTON.
  5. Thor: The Dark World, though darker than its predecessors deviates from the recent spate grim of superhero movies. The film crackles with jokes and one-liners, a welcome respite from a soul-searching Superman and a post-traumatic stress disorder suffering Iron Man. Some people consider the light tone of Thor as its weakness, in my book, it is its strength. What bogged down the film though is its massive use of computer graphic images.  The God of Mischief is the true star of the film. He lit up scenes and breathed life to a mediocre plot. It is plain to see that Tom Hiddleston stole the thunder from Thor.

RATING: B+

NOTES:

  1. I will not discuss the delicious ending nor the end credit surprises because the Internet does not need another one. Check the Empire podcast episode; it’s one of the better sources of information on the aforementioned subject matters, out there.
  2. Is the statement, I LOVE YOU TOM HIDDLESTON, relevant in reviewing the movie? No. But it is just a case of CONSISTENCY. I wrote short reviews for his other films, WAR HORSE and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (check here) and I shamelessly fangirled over him. Watching both films on the same day is a huge mistake. The ovaries froze the moment he appeared as F. Scott Fitzgerald. And as he marched onscreen in full uniform as Captain Nicholls, the ovarian explosion commenced. These characters made me an official Hiddlestoner and Loki cemented the madness.
04
Nov
13

The Top 5 Movies I Like but Roger Ebert Hated

A Horirble Experience of Unbearable LengthFalling asleep inside a movie theater is a natural reaction to terrible films. I slept through three big-budgeted summer flicks in MY LIFETIME (I am quite patient): Fast and the Furious, Oblivion and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The last one in particular is embarrassing as I woke up as the credits rolled. On the other hand, I am relieve for not having to suffer from these trio of crass, commercial cinematic crap. It is also a source of personal pride that the late great film critic Roger Ebert also hated Dom Toretto’s fast and furious automobiles and Logan’s adamantium-fueled solo screen appearances. Not that I am insinuating shared cinematic tastes with the ONLY FILM CRITIC to win a Pulitzer because that is blasphemy. To prove a point, the much-missed Ebert in his entertaining book, “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies that Suck,” included certain films I found delightful. His contrarian opinion however, has not diminish the respect I have for Mr. Ebert. Seldom does he use movie jargon in his articles to hammer a point. Rather, he kept it simple; a habit some local film critics need to learn. The point is, film critics exist to share their opinion, nothing more.

It does not matter, however, if YOU ENJOYED a movie with one-star rating but YOU BETTER EVALUATE YOUR TASTE IF YOU ENJOYED X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Kidding.

No.

Not kidding.

IF

NUMBER FIVE: RED

EBERT SAID: “Red is neither a good movie or a bad one. It features actors we like doing things we wish were more interesting. I guess the movie’s moral is, these old people are still tougher than the young ones.” (Ebert, p. 268)

I SAY: Full disclosure: Helen Mirren in a form-fitting dress, combat boots and ginormous gun is the ONLY REASON I paid tickets for this movie TWICE despite a card that allows me to see films for free. Some of us appreciate arthritic action films.

Kick Ass

NUMBER FOUR: KICK-ASS

EBERT SAID: “Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find Kick-Ass morally reprehensible, and will I appear to have missed the point? Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A motion picture camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and this case it shows deadly carnage dished out by an eleven-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell all about context.” (Ebert, pp. 169-170)

I SAY: Some social scientists consider the proliferation of violence in modern pop culture provides an acceptable venue for people to release their primitive tendencies. Passed down from our ancestors, these primitive tendencis remain dormant characteristics in humans which require liberation from time to time.  I adhere to such justification and is the main reason I patronize films like Kick-Ass. Hit Girl is indeed a minor with a perverted outlook in life but there is SOMETHING INEXPLICABLY COOL about this mini purple-haired killer.

The Devil Wears Prada

NUMBER THREE: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

EBERT SAID: “The Devil Wears Prada is being positioned as a movie for grown-ups and others who know what, or who, or when, or where, Prada is. But while watching it I had the uncanny notion that, at last one of those books from my childhood has been filmed. Call it Andy Sachs, Girl Editor.” (Ebert. p. 59)

I SAY: Three reasons I like this film: Streep, Blunt and Tucci.

Mamma Mia

NUMBER TWO: MAMMA MIA!

EBERT SAID: “Streep’s sunshine carries a lot of charm, although I will never be able to understand her final decision in the movie – not coming from such a sensible woman. Never mind. Love has its way.” (Ebert, p. 195)

I SAY: Free from the shackles of epic dramas such as Sophie’s Choice and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Streep loosened up in her recent screen outings like It’s Complicated and Hope Springs. But no other recent Streep film rankled the sensibilities of critics (her usual worshipers) more than Mamma Mia. It is as if the greatest actor of all-time committed a capital crime. If belting out lines like “the winner takes it all/the loser standing small” with all her heart and subduing its inherent cheesiness in the process is a crime, then Streep is G-U-I-L-T-Y. Before hauling her to jail, please file charges against the millions of moviegoers who conspired in making Mamma Mia a global hit with an astounding $600-M box-office take. Vox populi is NOT ALWAYS vox dei but cut as mere mortals some slack in this case.

Thor

NUMBER ONE: THOR

EBERT SAID: “Superhero movies live and die on the quality of their villains. Thor has a shabby crew. The Frost Giants spend most of their time being frosty in their subzero sphere of Jotunheim and occasionally freezing their enemies. Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is dark-haired, skinny, shifty-eyed, and sadly lacking in charisma. He might as well be wearing a name tag: “Hi! I can’t be trusted.” (Ebert, p. 328) “Here is a film that is scoring 79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. For what? The standard for comic book superhero movies have been established by Superman, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and Iron Man. In that company, Thor is pitiful. Consider even the comparable villains (Lex Luthor, the Joker, Doc Ock, and Obadiah Stane.) Memoris of all four come instantly to mind. Will you be thinking of Loki six minutes after the movie is over?” (Ebert, p. 329)

I SAY: Scene-stealing ComicCon appearances, adorable impersonations, impromptu song-and-dance numbers, numerous Tumblr fan sites, humanitarian efforts and three Marvel movies later; the millions of Hiddlestoners are still thinking (or doing more than thinking) of the leather green clad, golden-horned God of Mischief. To be fair, Ebert and the rest of mankind NEVER SAW IT COMING. The “it” in question created a hashtag: #LOKIPOCALYPSE. Loki became the unexpected star of a blockbuster franchise despite boasting a collection of iconic superheroes. Genius/playboy/billionaire/philanthropist aside, the skinniest, shiftiest son of a Frostbite giant has ensnared the hearts and souls of fangirls. Mr. Ebert, I assume, never considered the power of a beautiful, charming British man with a pair of fine cheekbones. Huge mistake because no one should ever underestimate Tom Hiddleston.

NOTE: Ebert, Roger. “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies that Suck,” Missouri: Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC. 2012.

04
Oct
13

Movie Review: Gravity

gravityCAST: SANDRA BULLOCK AND GEORGE CLOONEY

DIRECTOR: ALFONSO CUARON

SUMMARY: Rookie specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and experienced spacewalker Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) is on a mission in the Hubble Space Telescope when the NASA station alerted them of a missile hitting one of the satellites. Since the trajectory of the satellite debris is not within their location, the astronauts continued with their work but were reminded to be aware of their surroundings. Miscalculating a possible chain reaction among satellites and probes, otherwise known as the Kessler Syndrome, the station noticed the increasing speed of the debris heading towards Stone and Kowalsky. It was almost too late to abort their mission as they found themselves alone in the vast space; their ship broken and their shipmates dead. Floating in isolation, their strengths and spirits will be tested

  1. Intense. Incredible. Impressive. Sublime. Superior. Sensational. The critics are correct. The accolades are merited. This film is one of the best. 
  2. ALFONSO CUARON delivered an grand and gripping tale of human survival in his latest work. Transporting the audience to space (300+ miles above our planet) and permitting us to experience the immensity of it is both ambitious and audacious. He has abundant moxie to let SANDRA BULLOCK take the driver seat instead of GEORGE CLOONEY. This does not mean, however, the lead male character has less to offer. Clooney, Mr. Hollywood himself, turned in a fine performance as the cool and cocksure veteran who stabilized the tenderfoot nerves of Bullock. It is rather apparent his charm  and humor still amplifies even in deep space. But Bullock is the heart of the film. Her transformation from a terrified astronaut to a triumphant survivor is splendid. Bullock is a formidable actress.
  3. I am not fan of special effects but a well-made, seamless and almost too real special effects deserve applause. Cuaron is a terrific director but his talent (and resources) has limits. Like the impossibility of shooting scenes in space, in actual zero gravity (Zero-G) space. However, this never hindered his cinematic vision. Zero-G simulation is impeccable – as I said – almost too real. It does not matter if it is a human, a pen, a Marvin the Martian knickknack or teardrops, how Cuaron manipulated effects to make them “drift in space” is a monumental feat. From the simplest props to the most elaborate set pieces, the action and the special effects will leave the audience breathless. (Personal pick: Bullock in fetal position with with ropes in the backdrop. Such a beautiful scene. The metaphorical umbilical cord is also present in one of the MOST RIVETING SCENES between the lead characters. Hint: LETTING GO.)
  4. The on-going debate is: has Cuaron’s Gravity dislodged Kubrick’s 2011: A Space Odyssey as the space film of all-time. Both are excellent movies and both directors are not tired to a single genre. The difference though is Kubrick’s masterpiece is science-fiction, one of the greatest and most influential and Cuaron’s latest is a thriller set in space based on real science. The former has stood the test of time and the latter is still being tested. INDEED TIME WILL TELL.
  5. Gravity is not a science fiction film but a superb thriller based on real science. It is also a fine human drama set in space. In his best film to date, Cuaron delivered the impossible, a beautiful, special effects-laden film about human survival. I had doubts on reviews trumpeting its high Oscar chances but these have been erased. I am a now a believer. The film deserves recognition not just for its brilliant actors and technical genius but for bringing back the magic of cinema. Modern technological developments in film-making produced a plethora of computer generated crap that has left audience jaded. Cuaron created something special and made me realize films can still be magical. 

RATING: A+

NOTES:

  1. Set in space. Set in ZERO GRAVITY SPACE. So how come the title is GRAVITY?
  2. Think about it: if YOU are an astronaut FLOATING HELPLESSLY in space inside a ship without fuel, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
  3. Go see the film to find ANSWERS.
  4. Or just look at the film title.



my read shelf:
Jowana Bueser's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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