Sunday, December 21, 2014

Into The Woods Review: A Winsome Cast Makes for a Delightful Musical

I wore this bracelet to the screening. It was custom-made by Jenna of Book Geek Boutique. You can check out her fairy tale themed merchandise on Facebook and on Etsy.

A gift from Jenna, which I wore to the screening since it's the only fairy tale themed necklace I have. You can buy it here.

Let me first say that I am not overly fond of musicals, since being musicals, they tend to have too much singing and dancing for my liking. That being said, I was completely won over by the appealing cast of Into The Woods and had a jolly good time at the screening. Unlike the godawful Les Miserables, which I would have walked out of had I watched it in the movie theater, where the actors seemed to have laboriously delivered a tone-deaf rendition of the songs, in Into The Woods, the singing is all surprisingly very good and seem to have been pulled off almost effortlessly.

Meryl Streep, who plays the witch, is front and center in all of the movie's marketing and she seems to be having great fun playing a wicked character. However, it is actually her The Devil Wears Pradaco-star Emily Blunt's character, the Bakers Wife, who forms the true heart of the story, human fallibility and all.

Her husband is played by a very earnest James Corden, who was last singing in a movie as Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts in One Chance. Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella, and we already knows she is a good singer (see Pitch Perfect). And so, it is her romantic counterpart, Cinderella's Prince, played by Chris Pine, and Blunt who are the true musical surprises. Who knew they could both sing so well?

The rest of the main cast is rounded off by Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (of beanstalk fame), Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel and Billy Magnussen as her Prince. Lilla and Daniel as child actors are pretty good in their roles, while Depp brings his usual unique blend of quirkiness to a quirky role and thankfully doesn't outlive his welcome. Mauzy and Magnussen are decent in their respective roles, even when as their storyline form the most boring thread in this fairytale mashup and their performances are often overshadowed by that of their co-stars.

The first half of the movie plays like a wonderful greatest hits of Grimms' fairy tales, so it is a shame that the movie kind of loses steam on the second act when the characters find out that having their wishes granted don't really bring about the happily ever afters that they were hoping for.

As already mentioned, the entire cast is charming in this winsome musical, although none more so than Pine, who pulls the rug from under his more stellar co-stars and steals every scene he is in. His duet with Mauzy in Agony is the best and most hilarious song in the movie and almost worth the price of admission by itself. I don't think I ever laughed so hard this year, not even when I was watching 22 Jump Street, which as you probably know from Channing Tatum's recent leaked over-enthusiastic e-mail to Sony executives, overtook Ted as the second highest-grossing R-rated comedy (with The Hangover still in 1st place). Someone needs to put Pine in the lead role in a musical comedy quick. Director Rob Marshall of Chicago fame seems to be firmly in his element here after the musical dud that was Nine.

Fans of Stephen Sondheim's original Broadway musical, on which the movie is based on, will be relieved to know that most of the adult themes have remained intact, although the violence and deaths do tend to occur offscreen and some plot changes seem to have been made with the sole purpose of protecting the perceived purity of the Mouse's other fairy tale princess franchises. Personally I think both long-time fans and newcomers young and old will all find something to love and enjoy. Into The Woods is definitely something you can take your whole family to see come Christmas Day, which is probably what Disney wishes will come true.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Imitation Game: A Worthy Addition To The Prestige Pic Genre

The Imitation Game is a great movie that is a worthy addition to the prestige pic genre. You owe it to yourself to go watch this movie so you can learn about a man who not only was the father of the modern computer, but whose work was estimated to have saved 14 millions lives and shortened WWII by 2 years.

How did the British government reward his services to king and country? By forcing him to undergo chemical castration to "cure" him of being a homosexual. Alan Turing committed suicide after a year of enduring this "treatment", and we will never know what other marvels his singularly gifted mind could have created had his life not been so cruelly cut short.

If I have any minor complaints with the movie, it is that at times the movie feels far too neat, too pad, too tidy. War is messy. Real life is messy. The movie should reflect some of these truths instead of being so overly obsessed about hitting all the requisite high notes.

As usual, actor Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another terrific performance as Turing, and he is ably aided by a strong supporting cast that includes Kiera Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Mathew Goode, Rory Kinnear and Allan Leech.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies Ends The Hobbit Trilogy On A Surprisingly High Note

Wore this necklace to the screening which I got from Jenna's Jewelry Etsy store Book Geek Boutique. Alas Benedict Cumberbatch's dual roles as Smaug and The Necromancer amount to basically a couple of cameos in this movie.

If The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left me bored (I will never forget having to arduously endure 30 minutes in Bilbo's home watching singing dwarves toss dishes around the house), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left me desolated (, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies left me as satisfied as a hobbit sitting on his armchair in his cozy home reading a book and smoking his favorite pipe.

The last film of the Hobbit trilogy almost makes the 6 hour-slog of the getting through first two movies to reach the third movie nearly worthwhile, and is the only movie in the trilogy to ever reach some of the heights achieved by the original Lord of The Rings trilogy. 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review: A Mashing of Pixar and Marvel = A Superhero Story With A Big Heart

Big Hero 6 is more than just a North-American Japanese fusion movie set in the streets of San Fransokyo. It also feels like a collusion and collision of sorts between Disney's Pixar and Marvel division.

The movie tells the story of Hiro, a talented teenager who loses his brother Tadashi in a purported accident. Hiro's well of grief threatens to overwhelm him, and it is assuaged, oddly enough by an adorable extremely and huggable balloon-like nurse robot called Baymax, who/which was left behind by Tadashi. Hiro and Baymax's often laugh-out loud funny and at times touching interactions with each other rightfully form the heart and soul of the movie, and while Hiro's sorrow at his undeniably painful loss does occasionally get subsumed by the movie's louder moments, Hiro's loss still informs every emotional arc in the movie's storyline, which is as it should be.

If I have any complaints, it's that I wish that the movie did not abruptly switch gear for the third act and in doing so, quickly goes from heartwarming Pixar-infused story to full-fledged Marvel superhero story, which is something that moviegoers have seen ad nauseum in the last decade or so and is thus quite unnecessary here. This comes as a slight disappointment because the movie already has enough heart to narratively and commercially succeed without the need for big explosives and lots of wham-bam action to help propel it. Plus, it would have been nice if the other characters in the movie had been more well-developed instead of feeling like brief supporting character sketches inserted into the movie just to make up the numbers to fit the title.

I also wished that I wasn't assailed by feelings of deja vu at certain points in the film; the scene of Baymax and Hiro flying over the skyline of San Fransokyo, while undeniably breathtaking, already has its thunder stolen by Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and even Wall-E's intergalactic dance through space, while another flight scene over debris-filled space recalls a similar scene from last year's Star Trek Into Darkness.

Nevertheless, these quibbles are just minor issues which, while making Big Hero 6 less than perfect, doesn't take away the great enjoyment and fun that can be had while watching this latest Disney creation; I was vastly entertained and never once bored throughout the entire 102-minute running time.

My verdict: take yourself and your whole family to go see it, and I can almost guarantee that everyone will be in for a rollicking good time and will be thoroughly enjoying a movie that will have you laughing in utter delight throughout.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mockingjay Part 1 Movie Review: Even as Katniss is trapped in the role of the Mockingjay, the movie breaks free of its YA roots to take up the mantle of a mature adult war movie

I wore the bracelet and the necklace to the screening, with the clips adorning my bag. The Christmas ornament was a gift that came with my order. If you like what you see, you can ask Jenna from Etsy's Book Geek Boutique to make you a custom order or check out ready-made ones here or on her Facebook page.

Mockingjay Part 1 is not as good as its predecessor Catching Fire but that is to be expected because not only is it adapted from what many have agreed is the weakest book in the trilogy, it is also adapted from just half of it.

It also has many of the problems that all movies with "Part 1" in their titles have, which is too much simmering and too much buildup and just not enough payoff.

One thing that is going for this movie (or not going for it, depending on what viewers' different expectations are for the movie), is that It doesn't feel like a YA movie, it feels more like an adult war movie. And there are no victors, only survivors like Haymitch said in Catching Fire.

Katniss is a shadow of her former self as fans would well know from the book. Far from being freed as a Mockingjay, now more than ever it feels like her wings have been clipped and she is too often left to wait helplessly in the wings for events to unfold. Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as always, although she is not given enough to do. The scene from her trying to be convincingly arousing in a Propos is hilarious though, and her haunting rendition of the Hanging Tree song will leave audiences humming its tune days after they have watched the movie. You can listen to it here:

However, viewers' sympathy might switch more to her staged-and-now-real romantic interest Peeta. I have always kind of felt that Josh Hutcherson was miscast to play Peeta and I still stand by that assessment. It is nothing against Hutcherson, who is a good actor, although his performance is rather unexceptional here, made worse by the fact that the chemistry shared between Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss and his Peeta throughout the series seem more to be that of a sibling one than that of a romantic couple. Nevertheless, audiences be warned; scenes involving Peeta in this movie would be heartbreaking for fans of The Boy With The Bread.

Handsome Liam Hemsworth as Gale is left to smolder some but he's not really given much to do either. And Katniss is such a strong female character that it feels that she doesn't need a romance to define herself, unlike *cough* Bella *cough* from the terrible Twilight movie series.

Poor Finnick, who is played so winningly by Sam Claflin in Catching Fire, is made a cipher in this movie. The movie focuses on him only when Katniss is in a quandary and need some words of wisdom or advice from him to precipitate a change in her feelings to help prod the movie's progression along. In one of the rare moments when Finnick is finally given more screen time, his powerful speech is criminally ruined by the directorial decision to cross-cut his speech with a rescue attempt. Using a split-screen here would have worked way better and be far more effective.

The role of President Coin, played by Julianne Moore, gets expanded here, and she is made more sympathetic than she is in the book. Julianne Moore is good but not great. And so she continues the trend of casting A-list actresses to play antagonistic roles in YA movies, with Meryl Streep having played the Chief Elder in Lois Lowry's The Giver and Kate Winslet playing Jeanine Matthews in the Divergent trilogy (with the last book Allegiant to be predictably split into 2 parts just like Mockingjay to fatten studios' coffers).

Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as Plutarch Heavensbee as always, but like Lawrence, he is not given enough to do. It is however particularly poignant watching Hoffman embody the role of his character knowing that he just died tragically of heroine overdose not long ago.

Elizabeth Bank's role as Effie Trinket is expanded, although here it's mostly to provide what little comic relief there is in the movie. The other comic relief in the movie comes predictably enough, from Buttercup, Prim's cat.

I did not like Donald Sutherland's portrayal of President Snow this time. To me it felt like he was going overboard and overacting quite a bit. Maybe he was trying to go for unhinged deranged dictator but he never once came across that way to me in the book, especially not in the first half of the book when the Capitol actually has an upper hand over the rebellion.

I have also always felt that Woody Harrelson was miscast as Haymitch but I am finally warming up to his Haymitch. For me, Harrelson turns in a better performance playing a reluctantly sober Haymitch than he was when playing at being a drunkard in the previous two movies.

My favorite new character is the ever luminous Natalie Dormer as Cressida. The rest of her crew, Boggs and the District 8 rebel leader Paylor don't do enough to be really memorable. Jeffrey Wright's Beetee and Willow Shield's Prim are not really memorable in their roles either.

Overall, it feels like a lot of the weaknesses of the book basically just got transposed into the movie. And like the book, the movie is really quite bleak. The movies ends quite close to where I thought it would, but it is a downer of a scene. The ending will probably whet the audience's appetite but most likely will not have them leaving the movie theater on the high that I've experienced after watching Catching Fire on opening weekend a year ago, which is still the best movie in the entire series so far. We'll have to wait a year later until Mockingjay Part 2 to find out if that will remain so.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Week of Fairy Tales

This poem is inspired by the poem Monday's Child and the lovely bracelet pictured above, which was made for me by the amazingly talented Jenna from her Etsy store Book Geek Boutique. You can visit her store here.

Monday’s child is fair of face

With hair as black as ebony

An apple causes her agony

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

A maiden at night

At dawn she takes flight

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

For a pair of legs she gives up her voice

Alas sad sorrow is sown from her choice

Thursday’s child has far to go

Measured not in miles but in time

Slumber to a century's chime

Friday’s child is loving and giving

True beauty to love an ugly beast

A prince's true bride at a wedding feast

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

Shod with slippers made of glass

Weds out of the working class

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

Bounding through the forest in her red hood

Speaking to wolves outside her neighborhood


(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Dancing in slippers made of glass

A shoe fit test she does pass

(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

A dozen so fond of dancing

Daily their shoes do need darning

(Alternate version)

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Gliding through the lake at dawn

Turning to a swan again come morn

(Alternate version)

Thursday's child has far to go

Climbing up a giant beanstalk

Up in the clouds where giants walk

(Alternate version)

Thursday’s child has far to go

East of the sun and west of the moon

To save her bear prince from his doom

(Alternate version)

Thursday’s child has far to go

Past spring, summer and last of all fall

To free her friend from the Snow Queen's thrall

(Alternate version)

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

To save her very own skin

Straw into gold she must spin

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fury Movie Review: About As Solid As A War Movie Can Get

Equal parts thrilling and equal parts harrowing even if it does occasionally take off in baffling tangents that doesn't jive with the rest of the narrative, the movie evokes an old-school look and feel on the horrors of WWII.

The movie is as much about Logan Lerman's Norman Ellison character than it is about Brad Pitt's Staff Sergeant Don Collier character, as the audience perceives the narrative through Lerman's experiences as he tries to survive in a war he is totally untrained to fight in.

Critics who have been incongruously likening Pitt's role in this movie to his previous role as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in 2009's Inglorious Basterds are I dare say going way off track here; sure both characters share superficial similarities in that they are both army soldiers fighting on the side of the Allied Forces in WWII, but the roles and Pitt's portrayal of these two characters could not have been more different from each other.

While never reaching the heights of Saving Private Ryan, and despite the fact that as the narrative unfolds the movie seems to be unloading war movie tropes about as zealously as the characters go about collecting their grisly war trophies, the movie is solidly acted and solidly directed and basically about as solid as a war movie can get, which is about the best you can expect from a movie like Fury.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Book of Life Short Review

It's great to be watching a big studio release of an Mexican/Spanish culture-centric animation film after decades of watching Anglo-Saxon culture-centric ones (No, Dreamworks' Puss In Boots definitely does not count).

I'd say 20th Century Fox will have a really big moneymaker on their hands seeing as Hispanics are the biggest spenders when it comes to catching movies at the movie theater.

The visuals are trippy, kaleidoscopic and gorgeous to look at, which more than makes up for the rather obvious and slightly bland storyline. The music is decent but hardly memorable. The voice cast as a whole is rather good but I am kind of baffled by the incongruous casting of Channing Tatum as one of the main voice actors in this movie. 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Short Dolphin Tale 2 Movie Review: Its Parts Is Greater Than Its Sum

Sometime during the summer, I saw the trailer for Dolphin Tale 2 at the movie theater. It looked interesting and not cloying like I thought such a movie would be, so I went back home and watched Dolphin Tale. I was surprised by how much I liked it, which is how I find myself at the movie theater for Dolphin Tale 2.

The main cast is back, but the sequel has neither the magic nor heart of the first movie. The narrative is disjointed and episodic. There were some scenes that were really good, but these scenes were few and far between and were simply not enough the elevate the dull and boring script.

My thoughts about the movie were echoed by my fellow moviegoers. "The first movie was good, but this one is meh," said a lady to her friend. A kid told her mother: "The first part was good, then it got boring until the end when [a character] showed up."

It also doesn't help that the trailer for Dolphin Tale 2 does spoil the entire story, thus dissipating whatever tension the movie was trying to build up. Even if the trailer didn't, you would have known where this movie was going right from the start. Overall, very disappointing. I'd recommend you watch Dolphin Tale if you haven't yet and wait for the home video for this movie if you like what you see in Dolphin Tale.

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

If I Stay Movie Review: Superior In All Ways To The Fault in Our Stars In The Currently Popular Teenage Tearjerker Genre

From left: Liana Liberato (Kim Schein), Chloe Grace Moretz (Mia Hall), Gayle Forman (author of If I Stay) at the August 7, 2014 screening of If I Stay in San Francisco, at the AMC Metreon 16 movie theater.

An If I Stay inspired bracelet made by the ever talented Jenna from her Etsy store Book Geek Boutique, which I wore to the screening.

During a period when I ran out of books to read, I decided to check out books that were slated for a 2014 movie adaptation release, and that was how I ended up reading the beautifully penned Gayle Foreman novel If I Stay. Both the book and movie moved me like neither The Fault In Our Stars book nor its movie counterpart did. Unlike my movie experience of The Fault In Our Stars, where I felt like a total monster for being totally unmoved to cry when nearly the rest of the movie theater did, I couldn't help shedding a couple of tears during the final poignant moments of If I Stay, as I believe did many in the movie audience.

Surprisingly, who should pop up before the San Francisco screening I was at but Gayle Forman herself, along with stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Liana Liberato, to promote the movie. Chloe kept on exhorting us to go see the movie again when it gets released August 22, but I don't really know if I have it in me to go see it again, not because it's a bad movie, but because it not only moved me but also left me emotionally drained by screening's end.

The movie is mostly faithful to the book, and any changes that the moviemakers have made are understandable, although fans of the book will be disappointed when they realize that a madcap attempt by Adam to break into the ICU ward has almost been completely excised from its original book version. To have included it would have been tonally jarring to the melody of Mia's life that director R.J. Cutter is trying to compose on the big screen.

Chloe Grace Moretz carries this movie admirably by herself, and she is helped along by quite a strong supporting cast playing her family and friends. Jamie Blackley, who plays Mia's love interest Adam Levine is every girl's fantasy version of a near perfect boyfriend. He is therefore unfortunately the most unrealistic character in both the book and movie itself, although his many gestures of love to Mia are sure to set female teenage hearts aflutter.

For a movie that is mostly marketed in the trailer as a teenage romance drama, the most moving scenes in the film actually come from the interactions that Mia has with her family rather than from her scenes with Adam, which is quite a remarkably pleasant change from other teen movies I've watched before where romance is usually located front and center and backwards and sideways to the exclusion of almost anything else. In fact, the most gut-puncher of a scene was one between Mia and her grandfather, played by the ever fabulous Stacy Keach (Nebraska), which caused a few tears to involuntarily leak out of my eyes.

In handling such a difficult and delicate topic such as death, director Cutter is able to adroitly juxtapose scenes of happier times before with scenes that show the present tragic situation, so there are both laughs and tears to be had. Nevertheless, as with many movie adaptations, something is lost in between the translation from book to screen. In If I Stay, some of the more powerful feelings and emotions evoked from reading Forman's sparse simple prose, written in a first person Mia Hall narrative, unfortunately does not fully come through on the big screen.

Still, the movie is rather excellently and tastefully done and I definitely recommend catching this movie in theaters come August 22. If I have a few small complaints, they are minor ones. Personally, I didn't really like the songs that Adam sang throughout the movie; they just didn't resonate with me somehow and rather dispelled the movie's notion that he is supposed to be a rising rock star. I also felt that there were just one too many snogging scenes in the movie, one which I am sure the largely female-centric audience that will turn out for this movie would have no such issue with.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey Short Review: A Poor Man's live-action version of Pixar's Ratatouille

The movie is rather predictable and also slightly cheesy, but the movie's heart is in the right place. The romance between Manish Dayal's Hassan and Charlotte Le Bon's Marguerite is unfortunately rather bland and tepid, while it is fiery exchanges between Helen Mirren's Madame Mallory and Om Puri's Papa that really spice the movie up.

The movie's plot, its food pornography imagery and its script are all not as good as Jon Favreau's indie movie Chef (still showing in movie theaters), but it nevertheless still dishes up diverse and decent fare. The movie is also let down by a rather lackluster and anti-climatic third-act. A highly serviceable movie from Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose last food-themed movie is the luscious 2000 movie Chocolat, featuring a Johnny Depp-Juliet Binoche pairing.

3 and a half out of 5 stars for me

Friday, May 30, 2014

Godzilla Short Review: An Almost Complete Snoozefest

Most monster movies are able to successfully create enough tension and suspense to tide movie audiences until they get to see the monsters in their fully glory. Movies such as Steven Spielberg's Jaws and J.J. Abrams's Super 8 are able to achieve this feat. Not so Godzilla. For three-quarters of the movie, the movie is such a complete snooze, with such an exceptionally bland and uninspiring human lead in Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford Brody, that when the last half hour gives us the payoff of finally being able to watch Godzilla rising to save humankind, it is too little and too late to salvage the movie itself.

My recommendation? Don't waste your money on this; go see X-Men: Days of Future Past or Maleficent for a more compelling movie experience.

2 out of 5 stars for me.

Maleficent Review: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is Magnificent

Coming on the heels of the recent wildly successful Disney blockbuster Frozen, Maleficent will unfortunately be unfavorably compared with the former. Sure, Maleficent is hardly perfect, and while the movie does show visible scars from its many rewrites and reshoots, it is nevertheless a charming retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty story, one that gives a three-dimensional characterization to the most fascinating character in the 1959 Disney version, the self-proclaimed mistress of evil herself, Maleficent.

The storytelling is uneven, and the first act is so poorly constructed that it has to rely on the crutches of a narrator to prop up the story. However, once the story toddles through its clumsy first act, the movie soars on the magnificent portrayal of Maleficent by the always mesmerizing Angelina Jolie. Sure, the movie gives a rather weak reason for why Maleficent decided to curse Princess Aurora to die on her 16th birthday, and Angelina Jolie is made to do one too many gazing from the shadows in order to watch events unfold, but otherwise she truly shines and is the heart and soul of the movie, without which the whole movie would simply have collapsed on itself.

Sharlto Copley is somewhat miscast as King Stefan, and Elle Fanning, though a very talented actress (just watch her in Super 8 and you'll agree with me), looks and feels slightly demented here as a happy-go-lucky Aurora who cannot stop grinning like a maniac for no particular reason (I blame the fairy that gave her the gift of never feeling blue). Brendan Thwaites's Prince Philip feels more like a glorified cameo and his appearance seems more like an afterthought. The only vaguely interesting supporting character is Sam Riley's Diaval, who serves as Maleficent's raven shapeshifter and confidant.

As directed by first-time director Robert Stromberg, who was the visual designer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi's Oz The Great and Powerful, the visuals and settings are lovely to look at and serve as a enchanting backdrop for Maleficent to have her story told.

While today we consider Disney's 1959 Sleeping Beauty a classic, it is interesting to remember that when it was first released, the movie was such a critical and commercial disappointment that Disney subsequently abandoned making princess movies for the next few decades. Maleficent has received mixed reviews from critics, but I hope it does well commercially so as to encourage more retellings that would provide a more modern perspective of fairy tales, where the princesses are not just happy to sing and wait for their princes to bring them their happily ever afters, and where villains become full flesh-and-blood characters rather than just plot points to help prod these fairy tales along.

Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

3 and a half stars out of five stars for me. =D

Incidentally, I feel that the story of Sleeping Beauty is one of the fairy tale most ripe for retelling. If you be so interested, check out my short retelling of Sleeping Beauty here at: The Real Sleeping Beauty where Sleeping Beauty has to contend not with spinning wheels but the economic repercussions of spinning wheels being banned in her country.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

As a young girl growing up, one of my favorite superheroes was Storm from the X-Men series, a character I came to love not through the comic books, but via the animated X-Men television series and the video game X-Men vs Street Fighters. I've always loved the X-Men better than almost all the other superheroes out there (with the exception of Spider-Man, who I grew to love from watching -the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends television series, and Iron Man from Marvel video games). So, even though the Storm I love wasn't how I envisioned she would be, as portrayed by Halle Berry in the X-Men movie series (for some reason she has a tendency to use her powers only after she has been badly beaten up, which is utterly baffling) I still enjoyed the first two X-Men movies (as directed by Bryan Singer), X2 especially, and I was excited to see Singer return to helm X-Men: Days of Future Past so he can undo all the damage that Brett Ratner wreaked with his terrible X-Men: The Last Stand, a job which Matthew Vaughn had begun with his competently directed prequel X-Men: First Class.

And Singer delivers. While the movie was not as good as I had hoped it would be, what with the extremely high expectations I had that came from critics raving about the movie and it garnering a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it still does a pretty decent job.

X-Men: Days of Future Past combines the cast of both the prequel and the original series, and the movie does necessitate that you have watched at least most of the previous films in order to be able to understand what is going on. The movie mostly takes place in the past, and the gist of the story has James McAvoy's Professor X and Michael Fassbender's Magneto fighting for the soul of Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique/Raven.

The entire cast and crew does a commendable job here, and while the huge cast of X-Men means that most of the characters apart from the main cast get rather short shrift here, Evan Peters as Quicksilver does steal the movie despite a rather small appearance. Hugh Jackman has never been better as the gruff Wolverine with his usual laconic humor present to alleviate all the tension and seriousness of the movie. Peter Dinklage does a decent job as antagonist Bolivar Trask, but I wished he and Lawrence actually had more to do with their characters, though it is a quite a thrill to actually hear Lawrence actually speaking Vietnamese in the movie at one point.

As the first movie to officially kick off the summer movie season, the movie is far superior to the other superhero movies that have been released this year, the rather bland Captain America: The First Winter Soldier and the amazingly tepid The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Although X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn't top the greatness that is X2, it is rather well worth watching. so I'd recommend going to see it on the big screen this summer.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Ranking The X-Men Movies

1. X2

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past

3. X-Men: First Class

4. X-Men

5. The Wolverine

6. X-Men: The Last Stand

7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chef Review

It is a well-known fact that moviegoers can be a finicky bunch at times, and movie studios are forever in search of that holy grail of movie formula that will guarantee a box office success every time. What is supposed to be a sureproof move to reap in box office gold (Johnny Depp + Disney franchise = Pirates of the Caribbean-like box office plunder) can very easily end up as a bust (See: Disney's The Lone Ranger). What is supposed to look like business as usual can end up hitting the big jackpot in a huge and unexpected way. (See: Frozen and its billion-dollar plus worldwide gross)

I like to think that in the case of movies like Chef, we moviegoers can be easy to please as well. Give us good food, good music and a halfway-decent story, and we will walk out of the movie theater feeling so good that we are hard pressed to nitpick about a movie we know is clearly far from perfect. Instead we would be more than happy to spread positive word-of-mouth about it and encourage fellow movie lovers to go enjoy this cheerful flick, which can be a tremendous box office boost for an independently produced and distributed movie like Chef. (see The Blind Side and how positive word of mouth made it such a commercial success)

Like I said, the movie is hardly perfect. Some of the more clearly unrealistic parts of the movie include: a food critic who actually announces his visit to a restaurant he is planning to review (Most established food critics do not do that because they want to base their review an authentic dining experience instead of an experience especially catered to elicit a good review); Carl, as winningly played by Jon Favreau, actually having a rich ex-wife Inez, beautifully played by Sofia Vergara, who has a rich ex-husband Marvin, who, in a scene-stealing role by Robert Downey Jr, is available to help Carl out when things go south; A work colleague who is all too ready and willing to give up a job he just got promoted to in order to continue working with Carl; A hot sometime girlfriend for Carl in the shape of a sultry Scarlett Johannson who just seems to exist in the movie solely to slightly spice things up sexually and give Carl very life-affirming advice to pursue his dreams. All these hardly help the movie earn any real street food cred.

It is also not difficult to see how the food journey Carl goes through in the movie can very easily stand in for Favreau's real-life movie career in Hollywood. Favreau, having first successfully established himself in Hollywood with commercially and critically successfully movies such as Elf, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, failed with the critically panned and commercially unsuccessful Western-Science Fiction crossover Cowboys and Aliens. Now, having been slightly burned by Hollywood, Favreau is returning to his indie roots with Chef.

Chef does tread a rather well-worn and overly-familiar road in its storyline rather than try to be daring and break out of its well-established mold, which feels somewhat contradictory in a movie about a chef who doesn't want to keep on cooking the same creatively-unchallenging dishes and instead wants to keep things fresh by experimenting on something new and different.

However, there is real heart behind the movie, and the deliciously scrumptious and luscious scenes of food being lovingly cooked and eaten ("Food porn!" I whispered excitedly to my movie companion at one point in the movie, causing the lady beside me who overheard what I said to burst into laughter), all accompanied by catchy jazzy music, will make you happy enough to groove along for this food truck ride, no matter the slightly bumpy ride.

My verdict: Take a break from all those superhero movies you've been going to for the last month, and go see this charming little food comedy instead. It will cleanse your palate for the action-heavy summer movie schedule that is just a few school bell rings away.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Belle Short Review

Belle is indeed beautiful to look at in a Jane Austen period-piece sort of way, but viewers would be left disappointed by how the movie squanders much of the potential it could have achieved with its source material. While Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines as the titular character, oftentimes the script does not give her enough to do and she ends up giving one too many wide-eyed puppy-dog stares throughout the entire movie. Instead, the movie chooses to rely on the clunky pronouncements of love interest John Davinier, played by Sam Reid, to inject a dose of social consciousness to its narrative, which falls utterly short despite the movie's best intentions. Given that the movie is told mostly from Belle's viewpoint, it does feels slightly odd and rather sexist that the movie's main comic relief comes from Penelope Wilton as her spinster aunt. The presence of Matthew Goode as Belle's father, Sir John Lindsay, is keenly missed as soon as he leaves the picture. However, it is Tom Wilkinson, bringing a certain gravitas in his nuanced performance as William Murray, the Lord Chief Justice of England, who provides the balance that this movie sorely needs. 3/5 stars for me.

To find out more about the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the little that is known to us from history, you can check out this article:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Short Review

As unnecessary as it is lucrative, even the wonderful chemistry between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is not enough to save this sequel, with its over-bloated, disjointed narrative and overabundance of characters. 2 1/2 stars out of 5 stars for me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Neighbors Short Review

Neighbor's plot is incoherent and lackluster but then again what frat movie has or even need a coherent decent plot to work? Most of the frat humor didn't come across as funny to me since I am not really a fan of frat humor or frat movies in general, but there were really some nice laugh-out-loud moments even for non-frat fans, so it is still somewhat worth seeing. 3/5 stars for me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Transcendence Movie Review

Transcendence is the directorial debut of long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister, whose list of credits include Inception, Moneyball and The Dark Knight trilogy. The movie premise is an interesting one but unfortunately the script doesn't seem to know where to go with it, leaving us with a half-baked movie with a third act that was both baffling and a disappointing letdown.

Two and a half out of five stars for me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Released So Far

1. The Avengers (92%)

2. Iron Man (93%)

3. Captain America: The First Avenger (79%)

4. Thor: The Dark World (65%)

5. Thor (77%)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (89%)

7. The Incredible Hulk (67%)

8. Iron Man 3 (78%)

9. Iron Man 2 (73%)

The percentages listed in paranthesis are the scores these movies earned on the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Short Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was subversive alright, but its subversiveness doesn't really help to elevate the movie much. There was too much wham bang explosion as well, causing me to reach my action saturation point well before the end of the movie. It's better than Iron Man 3 though, which is not saying a lot since I hated Iron Man 3 and found it awful. I was never bored during the movie but nor was I fully engaged either. And the Winter Soldier in the movie title felt more like a subplot than anything else. I'd recommend waiting for the DVD release to watch it. 2 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Short Movie Review: Cuban Fury

Cuban Fury starring Nick Frost is a delightful little British film. The storyline was hardly original or inspired, but it was funny in parts and I love British humor, so I had a good time. 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Divergent Short Movie Review

It's a not-bad movie adaptation of a YA book, but it's not great either. Shades of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games abound, but the movie is infused with neither the wonder of the Harry Potter universe nor the sense of urgency and tension of the Hunger Games.

2 and a half out of 5 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

As madcap and whimsical as only a Wes Anderson film can be, this is a lovely, lovely little indie film. Not quite as good as Moonrise Kingdom but still delightful in its own right.

Three and a half out of five stars for me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Short Movie Review: Need For Speed: Even an episode of Top Gear has a better script and plot than this shoddy video game film adaptation

Just watched one of the worst movies ever. Seriously the scriptwriter needs to be taken out and shot. Even an episode of Top Gear has a better script and plot than Need For Speed. If you have any discerning taste at all please don't go see this movie. 0.5 out of 5 stars.