Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 131 minutes

Continuing on this spawn of superhero movies is the sequel to X-Men: First Class and prequel to the X-Men cinema franchise. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie and curious how they bring together the young and old mutant counterparts. I hoped it wouldn't suffer the dreaded "Avengers Syndrome" and have a more satisfying ending.

Fifty years into the future, the world is nearly devoid of life as the Sentinels has exterminated not only mutants, as they were originally designed to do, but normal humans with mutant genes. The last remaining free mutants join together to change the past and save humanity, mutant or otherwise.

A minor comment about the audience, but I had some concerns with the increasingly growing crowd with my mom. They seemed kinda rowdy, but all calmed when the movie began. I think there was a great bond between us all among the silent tension and exciting moments. Now for the movie...

In short, this was by far the best installment in the franchise. With X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine joining the top ranks. It has been a while since I've seen the older movies, so I am not discrediting them...excluding X-Men: The Last Stand.

For a movie that is over two hours long, it felt like your standard hour and a half which is a very good thing. Right from the start, the movie cinches you in and gives a straightforward answer to the conflict at hand as well as immediately tug at our emotions as humanity seizes to exist, mutant and non-mutant, and show us the horror of our antagonists, the Sentinals. They are brutal, heartless, and unbeatable. It almost seems like everything is over, but it is just a look into an already grim present.

The strengths of this movie lies within the great pacing, engaging story, and an effective main cast. There is a constant blur between good and bad which keeps things interesting among the wide range of characters. Everyone believes they are doing what is right for mankind, but not everyone can be right. The contrast of past and future selves are also a great catalyst and intriguing element to the story. Taking what we know of the future and before in previous movies are interesting to compare. It's like one of those what ifs of the past. The acting, of course, was superb. Reprising old favorites, refreshing our memories of their younger counterparts, and introducing us to interesting new characters. Whether major or minor, they all play an important part to reaching their ultimate goals of extermination, security, and unity. Trask is a brilliant intimidator, Xavier is a scarred struggling genius, Magneto still wants mutants to be recognized as a superior race, Logan wants some sort of neutrality between friends to create a better, brighter future, and Raven/Mystique is hell bent on revenge no matter the consequences.

Other quick things I enjoyed about this movie are the brief moments of what happened to the the previous mutants of First Class with effective spoken and visual exposition. Including a new batch of mutants and uniting them with old favorites. Quicksilver and Blink have become easy favorites of mine. The movie intertwines historical information with historical fiction such as Kennedy's assassination and Nixon as president. The visuals were mindblowing and the Sentinals were terrifying!

It's hard to say if this movie has flaws. They appear pretty minor in my eyes. Wolverine's flashback felt a little unnecessary to an already tense scene between Magneto, Xavier, and Mystique, but it didn't bother me too much. The stadium move felt the same, but I could also understand trying to contain the problem in one element. Some might've wanted more background information about the newer mutants excluding Quicksilver, but I think that would've cluttered the film. There are small continuity timeline errors, but I can also overlook them.

Overall, this was a fantastic and exciting film. The ending was satisfying and I'm pumped for the next installment. Tiny spoiler, I am still amused that this movie completely negates X-Men: Last Stand. "What third X-Men movie? *hides it under bed* That doesn't exist." If you haven't seen it, do it. Do it soon! It's really good and I wouldn't mind watching it at least two more times.

Rating: 4.5/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Amazing Spider-man 2

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Marc Webb
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 142 minutes

After seeing Captain America: Winter Soldier, I was ready for the next superhero movie of the year. The first movie was still fresh and I really hoped some improvements were made with the second installment since the initial reboot.

After the events from the first movie, Peter Parker finds himself struggling to balance himself and his life as Spider-Man. He continues to investigate the mystery of his parents and their disappearance and the promise he made to Gwen Stacy's father concerning their relationship. Reuniting with an old friend, Harry Osborn, a new foe reveals itself and the further Peter digs he realizes that majority of his problems lead back to Oscorp.

I must admit I had my worries about this movie. Along with the upcoming Superman movie, both movies were suffering from something some call "the after Avengers Syndrome" in which superhero movies try to cram as much content from the source material into one movie. It was a concern, but I was still looking forward to it. If you read my review for the first movie, you would know that I enjoyed it and acknowledged its many flaws. With this movie, I definitely enjoyed it more than the first, but...there are still problems.

Let's start with the positives! The major strength of this movie is the casting. I went into more depth about the cast in the first movie and even compared them to the Raimi cast. The sequel still has a great choice of actors and actresses. I enjoyed the interactions, the tension, and the chemistry, especially between our main characters Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. I loved watching them together the most. A lot of times romance can really bog down a story that isn't romance based and sometimes it can be a little annoying that I roll my eyes when they're on screen, but with them, I felt very invested and understood the struggle and passion between them. I also love the moments between Peter and Aunt May. The relationship between them also felt very genuine. Aside from the cast that carried over to the sequel, the new additions were intriguing. Harry Osborn had an alluring edginess to him that was different from James Franco in the Raimi franchise, yet just as interesting in most places. Lastly, Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Dr. Edward Nygma Max Dillon was fun to watch. From his unappreciated beginnings to his evil transformation, I was interested on which direction he would go. Outside of casting and characters, the story remained intriguing and I felt like the pacing was good. The visuals were still on par whether 2D or 3D.

Before I get to the negatives, I want to reiterate that I did enjoy this movie...but I'm not afraid to point out its shortcomings. I will try my hardest to avoid spoilers as well. Similar to the first, there were unresolved plot holes. Some of them carried over from the first movie unfortunately. We do get a little more backstory about Peter's parents and their disappearance. It was a great opening scene and brought something new to Peter's story that hasn't been touched on in cinemas. It gave him the extra push to continue on his path as a human being and superhero. Uncle Ben is not forgotten either or Gwen's father, unfortunately the movie continues to neglect Peter's real motivation for this double life: finding Uncle Ben's killer! I have a feeling the franchise will never acknowledge it and if they do it'll probably be sloppily done or a throw away which is quite sad. Maybe because we have Raimi's Spider-man, I felt like Harry's introduction was awkward and a little confusing. I'm assuming we're supposed to feel sympathy for his situation, but we're simply dropped in the middle with a clumsy exposition about his relationship with his father and Peter, his general background, and his personal dilemma. Honestly, his whole purpose is completely rushed throughout the whole movie. The movie simply introduces another useless villain, a few comic book easter egg, and a shameless plug for the movie's future spin off.

What made Harry's transformation so compelling, and maybe a bit heartbreaking, in Raimi's version is that the audience was able to witness his journey and development alongside Peter. We saw him interact with his father, his business, Peter, and Mary Jane. With Marc Webb's version, we get uninteresting exposition that we have to quickly digest, muster up some sort of sympathy, and ultimately feel conflicted in his opposition with his closest friend. That's a lot to ask for. I really wanted to feel something as I really enjoyed Dane DeHaan's portrayal of Harry, but the story and pacing sabotaged any chance of that happening. Max Dillon/Electro was kinda under utilized and his motivations felt weak. As mentioned jokingly before, he reminds me very much of Jim Carrey's character Dr. Edward Nygma/Riddler from Batman Forever. A guy with a passion for science, but receives little recognition, then gets noticed by the hero and instantly becomes obsessed with him. Something goes wrong, he turns evil, and tries to get revenge on society mostly and recognized by the hero. Senpai, notice me! It might sound silly in those words, but it can still be entertaining on screen. Sadly, Electro gets lost in the shuffle and we don't see him in action much. His dislike for Spider-man seems unbelievable and isn't developed very well. Which leads to the bigger problem of that Avengers Syndrome.

As far as villains are concern, I would've made the Rhino a minor obstacle and not bring him back after the first scene. He could have the suit or whatever or just cut him completely and save him for the spin-off. Next, stretch Harry's character so we can get to know him and his relationship statuses. Let him stay a good guy until at least the third, maybe even fourth, movie. Lastly, expand Aunt May's role and her relationship with Peter. Their interactions are just as interesting as his exchanges with Gwen. Minor technical complaint are the awkward camera choices during the car chase scene at the beginning.

With two Amazing Spider-man movies out, it seems like they're neck and neck with its predecessor. For a further comparison of the two franchises, check out the Nostalgia Critic's Old vs. New. For the most part, I agree with him. Maybe not completely, but there are some very valid points. To conclude my review, I still enjoyed it despite its imperfections. It was slightly more enjoyable than the first, but sadly suffers similar problems. I am looking forward to the spinoff and the third installment and still hold onto the hope that they'll do less and focus on closing plotlines.

Rating: 3/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: The Purge: Anarchy

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 103 minutes

If you haven't read it, I have reviewed The Purge last year and I thought it was alright. When I heard that a sequel was in the works, I was surprised. There was no allusion to a follow up nor much of a need for one in my opinion, but I was still interested in what the sequel had in store.

Once a year, the United States holds an annual purge in the nation. The purge is a 12-hour event where citizens have an opportunity to commit any crime without consequences, including murder. During this time, authorities and emergency services are suspended. Of course, not everyone gets involved in the purge activities. Eva is a single mother and waitress with some financial struggles that tries her best to support her daughter Cali and her sick father. Leo is a grieving police sergeant that is anticipating the annual purge to get revenge for his decease son who was involved in a car accident. Shane and Liz are a couple travelling to Shane's sister's home a few hours before the purge commencement to announce that they will be separated. These five individuals come across each other due to unexpected events once the purge begins and join together as the city of Los Angeles becomes a danger zone for the group.

For the longest time I didn't know what this movie was about until I read it on IMDb as the trailer really doesn't help. Simply judging from the trailer, all I could see was the consistency of the purge guidelines and chaos on the streets. I knew this would be more of an open world compared to the first, but that's about it. Then reading it I gathered we would be following more than one set of people this time around. There was a little concern that the movie would have a hard time balancing its characters and cluttering it with more violence that would appear more unnecessary than intentional. Nonetheless, I was curious what they were going to do.

The movie starts off very nicely by establishing the time frame moments before the annual purge and introduces us to our main characters without straightforward telling you. In the summary for this movie in the review is exactly what you get, and a little more, from just the beginning of the movie. These facts are shown in a simple way that keeps you engaged and established a basic emotion and understanding of our main characters. Too many horror movies and thrillers fail to establish main characters in such a way, so a very big plus. Once you achieve that basic understanding, it piques the curiosity of how these characters will meet and interact with each other. When that happens, prepare for a very exciting, tense ride.

Since this movie is more of an open world than the first, it adds more danger and the movie does a good job keeping tension consistent from both movies. Even though I did enjoy The Purge, the sequel surprisingly improves and adds new exciting moments. There are goals in place throughout the movie and there's constant danger lurking around every corner...almost quite literally. From an organized set of 18-wheelers to a mysterious gang hiding behind creepy masks to people you would think you could trust not to hurt you. You never know who is waiting to release their pent up anger on you. Something that I found interesting that was added to the sequel was the resistance group that pointed out everything I thought in the first movie with my friend. Also, I was very happy there was no rape involved. I was afraid it might happen in a certain scene, but thankfully it didn't. Despite the violence, there isn't a lot of gore, so it stays true to its thriller roots.

I will admit that this movie does have its flaws, but it doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment. At times, I did get a little annoyed with characters and felt they were dead weight. Since it was easy to slip myself into this situation, I found myself yelling at characters in my head, "Shut up! Please shut up!" and "You're on your own, you're slowing down progress". Also this movie is littered with cliches and predictable moments which almost adds to the enjoyment. You could easily make fun of it and at the same time find it an entertaining joyride of chaos and violence. I think this can be best explained by Brad and Jake's review. [Fyi, there are spoilers in said review]

Overall, this was a very enjoyable movie. There was never a dull moment and its flaws don't bring down its improvements and new additions. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a third movie either, although once again I am quite content with what we have now. Check it out if you want an entertaining, slightly intense thriller.

Rating: 3.5/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Oculus

Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 104 minutes

In the beginning, I was a little hesitant to see this movie. Horror movies have been struggling along in quality for a few years lately with a few shining gems in the theaters like The Conjuring and Sinister. So, does Oculus fall under those rare shining gems or does it continue to contribute to the downfall of the genre?

After being released from a mental institution, Tim Russell reunites with his sister Kaylie and return to their childhood home. Kaylie reveals that she had purchased an antique mirror that was once in their father's office and explains a theory that there's something unusual about it leading to the cause of Tim's childhood trauma. Tim is skeptical as they retrace fragment memories of their family's tragic past.

Due to an entertaining conversation with awesome people, I missed the first 15 minutes of the movie, but it fortunately didn't alter my experience. Also I would like to add that I never go into a horror movie to be scared. I go for the entertainment value like any other movie and I must say...I was entertained. Despite the whole evil mirror concept being done before, the execution was unique and engaging. It may be confusing upon first viewing with its parallel structure, but I think that it adds to its replay value, despite knowing the conclusion. The editing and structure is something I really enjoyed and commend. It paralleled and intertwined the main characters' past and present while expanding and developing them. It also made the concept more interesting. I also enjoyed the small cast. They were very believable actors and made me feel something for them. I miss rooting for the protagonist and feeling sadness when things go wrong. Lastly, the suspense was very satisfying. Not only did it have well executed build-up, it also gave an equal pay off for sitting on the edge of your seat. From time to time there was a good feeling of deception. Did what I see really happen or is it an illusion?

There are a lot of good things working for this movie, but there are a few flaws that I can't completely ignore. Since there is a small cast of characters in this movie, it is important to establish them enough for you to care about them and it does successfully accomplish this factor with the main characters that are part of the family, but I would've wished to see more of an interaction or relationship between Kaylie and her husband. I don't know if this is shown in that beginning 15 minutes that I missed, but it seems like his character is completely thrown in there for the sake of showing that Kaylie and Tim have contrasting futures from their unfortunate childhoods. Another small complaint I have with the movie is the reveal of the "monster". I thought the movie could've prolonged the reveal a little longer and when we do see it, it's a little disappointing. I also thought there were a few predictable moments, but I believe these flaws are made up by the structure and execution of the story being told.

I could be wrong, but from my perspective it doesn't seem like many people have gone out to see this movie which is quite a shame. Pushing all flaws aside, Oculus is a fresh movie for the horror genre and presents a unique and brave storytelling structure with parallel time frames. The small cast of characters gives the audience a better opportunity to connect and emote together throughout the movie. More importantly, the suspenseful moments and pay off are very satisfying.

Rating: 3.5/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quick Movie Review

Peeples (2013, USA) | Rating: 2/5

I remember seeing the trailer of this and thinking, "this is just Meet the Parents with black people". I had no real interest in the movie whatsoever, then one day I decided to give it a try. I must was exactly what I thought it would be except without the laughs. I probably genuinely laughed once throughout this whole movie. Acknowledging it is a bit saddening. In short, the movie is pretty standard and predictable. The little changes they made by having the father not be as perfect as you think he is and his family hiding secrets themselves does add a little freshness, but unfortunately it doesn't quite redeem this bland movie. If you feel the need to watch it, it's not terrible, but you honestly won't be missing out if you decide not to.

Byzantium (2012, UK) | Rating: 3/5

I only briefly heard about this limited release through Film Brain and what little buzz I heard elsewhere seemed pretty neutral toward the movie. While watching it, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to add it to my review list...until I got to the climax. This is definitely a different take on vampires and having two female leads was a big step up compared to the usual. The movie is a bit slow, but makes up for the pacing with intriguing characters and progressive dialogue moments that develop the characters further. Once the climax arrives, I felt myself shift a little closer to the action wondering what was going to happen next. The tension building is very subtle, but you definitely feel its existence near and during the climax.

This is the End (2013, USA) | Rating: 3/5

I did have interest in this movie, but I didn't feel too pressed to see it in theaters. Once I finally got around to seeing it, it definitely went a different direction than I thought. There's a lot of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic movies nowadays. They all have this bleak approach to it and an intense (or at least attempt of) sense of urgency. This was different. Sure, there were stakes up on humanity, but it wasn't robots, zombies, some random disease, or anything like that; it was the rapture. A concept not many mainstream movies would choose as a possible cause for the world's end. Some viewers may be put off here and there with the religious tidbits throughout the movie, but I wasn't personally bothered by it. I found it to be a bold choice more than anything else. The comedic moments ranged from the typical gross, perverted, and drug related humor which got a little annoying or simply boring, but I enjoyed watching these characters interact with each other during this unexpected event. I think it was more amusing that the actors practically made a caricatures of themselves and their relationships with each other in some way, then interlacing it with this religious apocalypse, especially the scene with Emma Watson. If you want a fun little rollercoaster ride with some hilarious actors, I would give this movie a chance.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, USA) | Rating: 1.5/5

I've been avoiding this movie since its release. As much as it should appeal to me as a gamer, I never had much interest in seeing it. With the overhype from friends and somewhat overrated cult status, I continued to avoid it until now. Well, I thought the editing was unique and exciting and the video game theme throughout the movie was amusing, but the story was very...lacking. Between each fight scene, I found myself not caring about the dialogue or character interactions in between, especially with Scott. Scott was annoying...very annoying. He's not very likeable, he's way too awkward, and I simply don't understand his character whatsoever. Some of the other characters were okay, but then there might've been a couple they didn't have much going for them. So, I don't understand the whole hype over this movie. Maybe it was the monotonous set up with the battle scenes and supposed character development or the fact that Michael Cera is kinda annoying.

Don Jon (2013, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

I believe this movie came out at the end of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt hype and that this was in limited release. The plot sounded interesting and a bit risque, depending on what direction he wanted to take with this whole "porn addiction" thing. I had some expectations with this movie mostly concerning Jon's relationship with Barbara and I was surprised that it took the slightly unexpected route. I wasn't completely blown away by this independent film, but I was impressed with the subject matter and how it was handled. Sure, there are some extreme elements to this typical situation of settling down and accepting emotions, but it didn't take away from the overall message. I will admit that Barbara's accent can be a little distracting at times, but for the most part I think it deserves a chance. I hope there is another movie in the future directed by Mr. Gordon-Levitt.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Quick Movie Review

Maleficent (2014, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

It was sad to see that another slow summer of movies were coming in this year. I've been so accustomed to having to visit the theater at least every, if not every other, weekend, but nothing too exciting is flooding the summer line-up. The reason I'm bringing this is up is because this is one of the few movies I've been looking forward to. Unlike most movie goers who were excited to see this live action adaptation of one of Disney's beloved, and perhaps one of the most feared, villains on the big screen, I don't recall ever seeing the retelling of Sleeping Beauty, so I had nothing to compare to. I know the basic storyline of it, but I felt like I was at an advantage not having that to draw back on as a couple reviews I've seen mentioned to not compare the two as they are completely different and this is more of a reimagining of sorts. Hopefully, if you haven't seen it yet, please keep that in mind. In short, I really enjoyed this movie. It had a simplistic fairy tale storyline that was easy to follow along and Angelina Jolie nailed the essence of Maleficent. The atmosphere of the movie didn't feel too much like Alice in Wonderland, which was a little fear I had. I could nitpick the story, but I don't feel like it deserves to be picked apart in such a way. Instead, I will mention that the graphics for the three fairies were a little out of place and the personalities were borderline too silly for me. Also, I thought Prince Philip was useless and devoid of personality. Aside from that, I think it deserves the praise it has received and recommend anyone who hasn't seen it to check it out!

Carrie (2013, USA) | Rating: 2.5/5

When I heard the news about this remake, I groaned and rolled my eyes at this contribution to the hundreds of Carrie remakes over the years. Although I haven't seen any of the other remakes, I was content with settling with the original reigning supreme. I picked a copy up from work, wanting to give this retelling a chance, and found nothing groundbreaking. It isn't a bad movie in the least, but compared to the original, it was very unnecessary. Most of the same elements are shown, but there is a shift in focus as well as slight tweaks to making it more modern day with cellphones and YouTube as well as personality traits to the characters. The movie is more brutal and a bit darker in color. The mother is still crazy religious but it isn't as in your face as the original, it is replaced with this awkward need to self harm throughout the film. Carrie ranges from being ignorant to the modern day world to knowing how things work. Either way, for an average film, it's clearly forgettable and a waste of time for everyone who worked on it.

The Bling Ring (2013, USA) | Rating: 1.5/5

From what I can see, a few commenters on IMDB compare this movie to Spring Breakers and I can understand why...a little. There is a common theme of teenagers participating in theft, but that's about it. This movie is based on a true event and it was an interesting film to watch. I came in with no expectations, so I wasn't susceptible to disappointment or overwhelming feelings. The way the movie started was interesting and I didn't know where it was going to go. I was excited to learn more about the main characters, but unfortunately Sofia Coppola only scratched the surface with the topic at hand. I barely know anything about these characters, therefore I feel nothing for them when they break into celebrities' homes or get torn away from their families while being arrested. It's all very superficial and surface based. The editing skims over situations as well and appears a bit too formuliac: characters look at celebrity events online, look up their address, break into their home, escape, insert achieve footage of celebrity, rinse and repeat. It's not that exciting and it's a shame as the characters seem very capable of being these real life people. So, if you want to compare Spring Breakers and this movie, I think Spring Breakers had more to offer.

One Hour Photo (2002, USA) | Rating: 4.5/5

Along with Insomnia, I've been meaning to see this movie with a more serious, perhaps villainous Robin Williams. I enjoy him and his humor, but it's interesting seeing comedic actors you enjoy being quite the opposite like Jim Carrey in The Number 23. Aside from excitement, I had no idea what to expect, which was a very good thing. After I watched it, I was very grateful I didn't watch this at 3 am the previous night because it was pretty disturbing toward the end. This movie is a good example of how to creep out your audience without using gore, blood, or anything like that that's plaguing horror movies now. The psychological elements are more than enough to make you unsettled, yet you feel conflicted with feelings of sympathy and fear as you follow the main character and antagonist (perhaps) Sy Parrish. The story isn't drawn out too long, timing in at a little over the hour and a half mark, and it delves into all the characters properly that you understand their motives, feelings, and so forth. This is a definite watch for you psychological thriller lovers and those who want a break from the blood filled horror films.

Now You See Me (2013, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

When this first came out, I didn't have much interest in this movie. I didn't think it would be bad or anything, just no interest. The first time I saw this movie was on TV when there was nothing on and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. So, I decided to watch it one more time and pay more attention to the movie than anything else. To sum it up, it reminded me of Ocean's Eleven with magic. The characters were interesting, but the main focus was the cat and mouse game between the Four Horsemen and the authorities. Learning how they pulled off their magic tricks and how carefree they went about executing their Robin Hood-like crimes was an enjoyable ride, especially when you get to the surprising conclusion. Sure, you might not get to learn too much about the magicians, but I can ignore that and recommend this as simply a good popcorn flick.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.