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.