Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Lone Ranger Review: Basically a Pirates of the Caribbean movie set in the Wild West

I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed with The Lone Ranger when I first saw the trailer. I also wasn't sure if there was going to be sufficient on-screen chemistry between Johnny Depp who plays Tonto, and Armie Hammer, who plays the titular character, to help propel the narrative along.

But then, being a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, though alas not the tepid 4th Pirates flick On Stranger Tides, I was nevertheless still intrigued by the movie. After all, the major players from the Pirates trilogy are teaming up once again to make what Disney hopes will become another huge moneymaking franchise à la Pirates of the Caribbean. Director Gore Verbinski, check. Actor Johnny Depp, check. Writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, check. Music scorer Hans Zimmer, check. I was really interested to see what was going to come out of their latest collaboration.

Armed with free tickets to see a preview in San Francisco, we couldn't get into Monday's screening but managed to nab great seats for the Wednesday screening. The narrative begins in San Francisco, 1933 (which, when the wording appeared, was punctuated with whoops and cheers from the San Francisco audience) where a young peanut-munching boy dressed up as The Lone Ranger meets an elderly Tonto who is displayed as the noble savage in a carnival exhibit. It is through this narrative device, an old Tonto recounting to the boy how the Lone Ranger came to be, that the story is framed, which unfortunately gets tired pretty quickly when the narrative is constantly being interrupted by the young boy contradicting some detail of Tonto's story.

Despite the rather lengthy screening time of 149 minutes, I was never once bored throughout the movie and had a rollicking good time. The movie was funny, violent and silly. At times my movie companion would hunch forward in her seat and cradle her head in her hands because she just simply couldn't believe how silly some of the stunts were, but the movie is silly in a good way. As in "so silly you can't believe this is happening but you are still enjoying it and going along for the ride silly". Not "please God when will this horrible shtick end" kind of silly.

For both better and for worse, throughout the entire movie I was almost consistently reminded of Pirates of the Caribbean. There is more than a hint of maverick Jack Sparrow in Depp's Tonto, and Armie Hammer's John Reid and Ruth Wilson's Rebecca Reid basically take the place of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Kiera Knightley's Elizabeth Swann as the requisite romantic couple. Instead of a scene-stealing monkey or parrot, here we have a scene-stealing white stallion. And when a minor villain who serves as a comic relief character cross dresses with bonnet and parasol, you'll go, "Hang on, don't we have a character just like that in Pirates of the Caribbean?" and you'll be absolutely right. Even the elaborate stunts in The Lone Ranger has the energy and vibe reminiscent of the stunts in Pirates of the Caribbean. And if it seems like I am punctuating every sentence with the phrase "Pirates of the Caribbean", it is because I was constantly reminded of it when I was watching The Lone Ranger. Does that make The Lone Ranger a bad or good movie? Well, that depends on whether you like the Pirates of the Caribbean triogy, and whether you actually care to see its antics reprised in the Texan desert instead of on the high seas.

3 and a half stars out of five stars for me. 4 out of 5 stars for my movie companion.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Superbly crafted and acted zombie flick

I am not a zombie fan, and the many production woes plaguing World War Z didn't exactly further entice me to see the movie. I'll have to admit upfront that my sole interest in seeing the movie was the glorious Brad Pitt. Even so, I was planning to wait for the DVD to come out to watch it, but events were to decide otherwise.

My movie companion and I were in San Francisco last Monday trying to catch an early preview of The Lone Ranger but couldn't get in, so we had to pick a different movie to watch. I wanted to watch World War Z, but my friend was squeamish and so we eventually decided to go see different movies, her off to the kid-friendly Monsters University while I went to see World War Z.

The movie is very much like Steven Soderbergh's 2011 medical thriller disaster film Contagion, though in the case of World War Z, the virus is spread by zombies, and rather than featuring an ensemble cast, Brad Pitt is front and center in this movie and surrounded by a supporting cast of mostly unfamiliar faces.

Pitt plays family man Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator. While sitting in heavy traffic with his family in Philadelphia, they are suddenly attacked by zombies. They manage to flee the carnage and hide out in an apartment building before being extracted by helicopter to the relative safety of a UN ship out in the sea. In return for ensuring his family's place on the ship, Lane reluctantly agrees to help investigate the source of the outbreak in the hopes that such findings would lead to a cure.

And so begins a globe-trotting mission for Lane. He first travels to South Korea, then Israel and finally Wales. Along the way Lane is able to observe how the zombies operate and learn more about them. As the audience, we see everything through Lane's eyes, and make the same connections he does.

Pitt, who is also produced the movie, originally wanted to make a more political movie but noted that the underlying social agenda became "too much for a summer blockbuster...We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be."

Nevertheless, there are several beautifully crafted moments interspersed through the film; a Hispanic couple who do not speak English selflessly taking in Pitt and his family into their tiny apartment, with the couple's bilingual son helping to break down the language barrier; a crowd of Palestinians and Israelis , overjoyed at being alive, singing together, only for the noise to attract the zombies and lead to their downfall; Lane being shielded and protected by female Israeli soldiers (such a strong female presence is so rare in summer blockbuster movies as to be virtually non-existent. Where else do you see a summer blockbuster movie hero being comfortable being protected by female soldiers instead of being the one rescuing helpless damsels in distress?)

What makes World War Z by far the best movie I've seen this year is that the filmmakers were able to create a very effectively scary and suspenseful film; throughout the movie I was at the edge for the seat, being really afraid for Lane and the other supporting characters. It is not something I get to feel when I watch summer blockbuster movies these days. Case in point: while watching Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3, I found it hard to care for any of the characters because at no point in the film did I believe that any of them were in any real danger.

It helps also that Pitt is really very believable as a family man, and that he is surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. Lane is very much the reluctant hero, with every action he takes grounded and motivated by his family's continued safety and survival. Again not your typical blockbuster hero, which is a refreshing change from snarky action heroes with their sarcastic one-liners. (I am looking at you, Iron Man 3)

I came into this movie skeptical that I was going to enjoy it. I left the cinema unable to stop raving to my movie companion, who mildly enjoyed Monsters University even with confusing it as a sequel to Monsters Inc (Monsters University is actually a prequel), about how beautifully crafted the entire movie was and how well acted it was. With the movie expected to turn a decent profit for Paramount, a sequel is in the works. When it comes out, I won't be waiting for DVD to come out; I will be one of those catching it on opening week.

4 and a half stars out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

10 reasons why Superman is the most boring popular superhero ever

1. He's not even human. He's an alien from the planet of Krypton. If his alien status was discovered, he'd probably be deported from American soil.

2. His real name is a mouthful. Kal-El. Strange doesn't even begin to describe this weird moniker.

3. He commits an unforgivable fashion faux pas. The man wears his underwear inside out, for Christ's sake.

4. He wears the worse disguise ever. Is just clapping on a pair of glasses supposed to be an effective disguise?

5. The man is out of his time. If he is living in the modern day, he would be out of a job and be joining the unemployment line. Journalism is a lowly dying industry and I doubt he would be able to get a job as a journalist.

6. His choice of changing room. The man changes into his Superman costume in a phone booth. Good luck trying to find one in today's day and age.

7. He's perfect and basically the Gary Stu of superheroes. I like my superheroes with real flaws and human frailities thank you very much.

8. His only weakness is Kryptonite, which is like the rarest substance on Earth, but for some reason his opponents always seem to have no trouble at all procuring.

9. Hs alter ego Clark Kent is the blandest person to walk the earth.

10. Too many superpowers. The guy can even shoot lasers out of his eyes. It makes him overpowered and always overmatched when he has to face off against his enemies, which makes watching him or reading about him an extremely dull affair.

That being said, despite having scored only a lacklustre rotten rating of 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, regular moviegoers seem to be having really enjoyed it, to the tune of over $200 million worldwide in its opening week. I am rather curious as to whether the filmmakers succeeded in making him a less boring of a character and how they managed to update him to resonate with today's audience. I won't pay to see it, but I'll most probably check out the DVD when it comes out. Plus, I've always liked Henry Cavill ever since I saw him in 2002 The Count of Monte Cristo.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

First look at Benedict Cumberbatch in Twelve Years A Slave

Caption from USA Today for the photo: Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his first owner Baptist preacher William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) maintained a remarkable friendship. Unfortunately, Solomon's time with Ford was relatively brief during his 12 years of slavery.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ruminations on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Teaser Trailer, in Which I Had Eyes for Only Two Characters. Bilbo Baggins who?

Nope. we don't get to hear Benedict Cumberbatch voice Smuag yet, but we do get a first glimpse of him. When I showed the image of Smaug to my British friend, he quipped that he could see certainly see the resemblance between Cumberbatch and Smaug. It must be those cat eyes of Cumberbatch he sees in Smaug's dragon slitty syes.

(Nope, I don't see the resemblance there. On a side note, you can check out this lovely story of Cumberbatch fulfilling the "Make a Wish Foundation-like wish of a girl with cystic fibrosis while he goes about studying lizards at the London Zoo for his role as Smaug:

On another side, okay maybe main note, lots and lots of Legolas in this trailer! Peter Jackson sure knows the way to a woman's wallet; more Legolas! I am sure that there would be many female fans of Legolas (mayhap including even moi) who would gladly pay to watch Orlando Bloom reprise his role as Legolas on the big screen at least once, maybe twice, and maybe even more times than that for some of his very rabid fans.

(International trailer, with a slightly shorter running time)

As for me, I'm just simply delighted to see so much of Legolas in the trailer, which should indicate that he will in the movie for a significant amount of time, maybe say twenty minutes to thirty minutes out of a probably 3 hour running time (we are talking about a Peter Jackson movie after all, the guy does have some serious editing issues...remember that 3-hour plus running time for his King Kong movie? The man gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "bloated movie"). All year long my British friend kept on reminding me of a rumor he heard that Orlando Bloom was being paid $2 million for just a 2-minute cameo and my uncle would smile and slightly shake his head every time I express hope that Legolas will be in the movie for at least 5 to 10 minutes. I guess this trailer most likely will prove both of them wrong. Ha! =D

No more having to make do with substitute hot dwarf archer Kili from the first Hobbit film (see image above), which in my shallow, superficial and unfettered female mind's eye was the loveliest highlight of the first Hobbit movie. (Yes, I never thought I'd come to see the day I would ever call a dwarf hot, but Peter Jackson is aware that he's got to have some Barbie Hollywood hunks amongst 13 dwarves or just simply lose our interest entirely, hence Fili, Kili and a very undwarf-like looking Thorin)

(Legolas comparing bow and arrow pointers with Bard the Bowman, played by Luke Evans)

Instead, we female Lord of the Rings fans will now have the original hot archer, the immortal elf Legolas in all his blond locks and blue-eyed glory to once again shoot cupid arrows of adoration into our fluttering hearts. Altogether now, Squeeeeeee! (sounds of millions of Legolas fangirls simultaneously squealing with unbridled delight upon clapping eyes on said Hobbit trailer)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Teaser of Benedict Cumberbatch's Short Film Little Favour

Bigger image here:

Photo courtesy of Adam Ackland, Producer of Litte Favour. Photo taken from his Twitter page.

Caption reads: Not a stunt double.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Musings on a second viewing of Star Trek Into Darkness 3D

1. The movie is too damn long. The first 20 minutes of the film could have been done away with without out taking much out of the story and making it less ridiculous, especially since because of what occurs in the first 20 minutes, Kirk is demoted and then reinstated within about 15 minutes of screen time later. Makes the Starfleet organization seem really messed up.

2. Not enough Cumberbatch. We only see glimpses of him in the first half of the movie and even then not enough of him in the second half. I really have no idea why Spock could rightly say that Khan betrayed the Enterprise. Poor guy is the one who has been shafted throughout the movie. First when he is woken and his crew held hostage. He then gets the crap beaten out of him even after he has surrendered. Later on he teams up with Kirk and Scotty only to have Kirk backstab him at the end. Khan just seems to be reacting to how he is treated. Not condoning what he did at Starfleet Headquarters and Section 13 or denying how savage he was aboard the bridge of the Vengeance, but are we supposed to just take it for granted he is the epitome of evil just because his name is Khan and Old Spock says so?

3. Kirk is an ass. He can't stop harping about how he saved Spock's life. What a prick. I wouldn't want him saving my life.

4. The plot holes become even more glaring on the second viewing, if that's actually even possible. Lots of physic holes too.

5. Didn't really appreciate Simon Pegg's Scotty enough the first time around. Appreciate him a lot more in the second viewing. Will be sure to check out more of his other films.

6. What's with all the weak female characters? Uhura basically serves as Spock's love interest. Dr. Carol Marcus's idea of disabling a live torpedo is just to rip the whole thing out. And she strips down to her undies for a flimsy reason. Even though there are a few female officers at Starfleet headquarters, you get the impression that there were only men present there. Guess women still haven't achieved equality even centuries into the future. *Sigh*

7. Just a tad disappointed that the scriptwriters actually recycled quite a huge chunk of Wrath of Khan for this movie. You would think that in the 4 years between Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, they would have come up with something more original, especially since they created an alternative universe in the first rebooted Star Trek movie to get away from the canon in the first place.

8. Magical blood, really? One finds it hard to care for the characters if we know that none of them are ever going to be in real danger.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch as Humphrey Bogart in an Electric Cinema trailer

Slight, Strange, Superficial Coming of Age Story

"It looks interesting, but I don't think it will be as good as The Way, Way Back," my movie buddy pronounced her verdict upon watching the trailer for The Kings of Summer.

At the end of the screening of The Kings of Summer at the lovely Embaradero Center Theater in San Francisco, her assessment remained unchanged: "[The movie] is okay, but I like The Way, Way Back better.

Both The Way, Way Back and The Kings of Summer premiered earlier this year at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Both are coming-of-age comedic-drama films airing this summer. And here the similarities end.

The Way, Way Back tells the story of 14-year-old Duncan who is forced to spend summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend and his daughter at his summer house. The awkward and introvert Duncan, who has trouble fitting in with this strange family unit, instead finds himself bonding with a group of oddballs running the nearby water amusement park and begins to find his place in the world while working there. Sort of like the 2009 Adventureland starring Jesse Einsenberg and Kristen. So, despite its indie roots, a very much conventional coming-of-age film.

The Kings of Summer, on the other hand, tells the less straightforward story of a couple of small-town suburban teenage boys. One summer, the two of them inexplicably decide to run away away from home and build a house in the middle of a nearby forest, where they can live like men and not be bound by the rules of their overbearing parents. At one point, Patrick, one of the two teenagers, compared the incoherent ramblings of his mother to that of Street Fighter II character Blanka, and I nearly died laughing.

Watching this movie as an adult brought moments of real nostalgia for the innocence of my adolescent childhood; as I watched these teenagers gambol around the forest with their swords hacking and slashing through the greenery, I was brought me back back to my video gaming days where I played the role of the swashbuckling katana-wielding heroes in various Japanese role-playing games like the popular Final Fantasy series.

These two teenagers, Joe and Patrick, are joined by an Italian weird kid Biaggo who decides to join for reasons unknown, although I suspect within the parameters of filmmaking his role is just simply to provide the main comic relief. His lack of a coherent and compelling backstory gives weight to this supposition.

At first, these teenagers enjoy their idyllic existence, having fun under the sun, free from all and sundry. They swim, swing their swords, and hold impromptu races on the grass fields. A hilarious failed attempt to hunt for their own food reveals that it is mostly rats and snakes which inhabit this urban forest, and so the boys improvise by foraging for their food at the nearby Boston Market. Sadly, such a carefree lifestyle cannot last forever, and when a girl comes into the picture, this predictably strains the friendship between the two best friends.

Here the movie's tone abruptly veers off into different territory. Left with no money for further visits to Boston Market, a hungry Joe kills, skins cooks and attempts to eat a rabbit. Shades of Lord of the Flies shadow this interlude, although there is a supericiality to it. Joe's desperation rings false; deep down he and in turn us, the audience, knows that he has a nice, secure safety blanket back in his father's house. His desperation is not one born of real need, a need that is seen in the movie Winter's Bone, where the protagonist Ree shows her younger siblings how to hunt and skin a squirrel because they have little, or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games hunting squirrels that she can exchange for bread so that her family will not starve (both characters incidentally played by Jennifer Lawrence) Also around this time, Joe begins to spot the look of a man with his carefully shaved facial, which for some reason reminds me of Casey Afleck's character Robert Ford in the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In that movie, Ford hero worships James and wants to emulate him, but it is not long before his adoration turns into disillusionment. Similarly, Joe here is in a rush to be his own man and it is not long before he becomes disillusioned with the harsh reality of trying to live without his family's support, because he is still clearly not ready for it.

Movie comparisons aside, to me The Kings of Summer is a quirky coming-of-age movie infused with many of the hallmarks of an indie comedy. It punctuated with funny unrelated skits that should derail the narrative yet oddly works and helps to gel the movie into an enjoyable and relaxed viewing on a slow summer's day.

Is The Kings of Summer better than The Way, Way Back? For me it was, because it was a less conventional coming-of-age movies than the ones I am used to watching and I laughed way more and much harder in this movie than I did while watching the latter.

My verdict, three and a half out of five stars for me.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cumberbatchweb Birthday Fundraiser for Myeloma UK

Reblogged from Cumberbatchweb

It’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday on 19 July 2013 and in honour of his birthday this year we will be raising funds for Myeloma UK.

Our fundraiser for The Teenage Cancer Trust last year was an extraordinary success raising over £10,000.

Myeloma UK is Benedict’s chosen charity for this year’s fundraiser. Myeloma is a rare type of cancer which arises from plasma cells which are found in bone marrow. Myeloma UK does sterling work raising awareness of the disease and raising funds for ongoing research as well as providing much needed support for those diagnosed with the disease and their friends and families.

You can donate to this year’s fundraiser via our JustGiving page here.

Any money donated via JustGiving goes directly to the charity. No funds go via me – it’s completely transparent. Anyone in the world can use it to donate and you can donate via credit card or paypal. When you go to donate JustGiving suggests some amounts but you can enter any amount you wish in the final box. Every donation is greatly appreciated.

And don’t forget to leave your birthday message for Benedict when you donate!

So if you’re a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch please do dig deep – every single penny counts and it’s a wonderful cause.