Movie Review: Money Monster (6/10)


For some reason, after watching the trailer, I was anticipating a major plot twist in the third act of this film that could have elevated this to the next level.  But it didn’t happen.  Perhaps this was why I was let down by the film as a whole.

The first two acts of the film were quite well made, with a few intense sequences and some suspense pertaining to the overall plot.  There was a conspiracy set up involving a large corporation which could have taken this film in the direction of a thriller like “The Constant Gardener”, or even “The Usual Suspects.”  But it felt as if the filmmakers, including director Jodie Foster, thought that they had delivered the film’s message through the first two acts of the film and just completely dropped by ball on the climax.

Performance-wise, while George Clooney was great during the dramatic portions of the film, he just didn’t sell me as the Jim Cramer stock-market-guru type.  Julia Roberts was solid, adding a lot to her platonic relationship with Clooney’s character.

It’s probably a good catch on Netflix or DVD, not worth going to the theaters.

Spoiler Talk: Captain America: Civil War (Spoiler Alert!)

I will be giving a detailed spoiler-ridden discussion in this piece.  You’ve been warned!

For my spoiler-free review of this film, click here.

This won’t be an analysis of the film from start to finish, but rather things I want to bring up in terms of what impacted me the most.

Wow, what an awesome movie.  I have never been so entertained by a film and the range of emotions that it brought was astounding.  I laughed out loud at the jokes; I clenched my girlfriend’s hand so hard during the final fight when Iron Man tries to 1 v 2 Cap and Bucky, and especially when Bucky seemed like he had the upper hand and punched Iron Man’s chest and was about to rip out his core, only to have his arm eviscerated.

The reason this scene was so powerful (iconic, even), as with all great action scenes, was because of the stakes.  Action sequences mean nothing if there are no stakes involved (hello, Transformers).  Upon the shocking revelation that the then-mind-controlled-Winter Soldier was the one responsible for killing Tony Stark’s parents, there was a legitimate reason for him to seek revenge, and wage ‘war’ on Cap and Bucky.  At the same time, Cap, despite having prior knowledge of this and deciding not to tell Tony, now has to stand by his decision, and to stand by his friend and fight Tony.

This brings us to the one shortcoming of the movie, which has been the Achilles’s heel of most MCU films: The villain of “Civil War”, Zemo, barely has any screen time, and his motivations for revenge against the Avengers makes him hardly a villain at all.  He has no desire to wipe out the human race, nor the Avengers; he has no ambition to rule the galaxy.  His entire family was killed as a result of the events of “Age of Ultron”.  It is perfectly understandable for someone like him to want to cause the Avengers to fight each other.

While the scene mentioned above was great, the one being touted as one of the best comic book (or just overall) action scenes of all time was the epic team fight at the airport.  I’ll let everyone else talk about how awesome that scene was.  In fact, I liked the action scene prior to that one, the one where Black Panther first appeared, just as much.  It was exhilarating to see Bucky fling around a motorcycle that was going at top speed and ride it.

Ant-Man’s introduction into this movie was a bit sudden, as he just shows up in a van at the airport, minutes before the big confrontation.  And, as expected, as soon as Paul Rudd appears, he immediately steals the scene with his charm and wit.  I wished there was a little bit more of him.  The additional run time of having more of Ant-Man would be offset by shortening the bits with Vision and Scarlet Witch.  While that storyline was fine in developing chiefly the Avengers story line, it dragged on just a tiny bit.

Despite all my praises, “Civil War” isn’t perfect.  Bits of establishing shots and set up scenes could have been trimmed down to shorten the film’s 2 hour 27 minute run time.

The introductions to the new characters, however, were perfect.  Both Black Panther and Spiderman were set up so that they were appropriately motivated to join the conflict.  In particular, Tony’s recruitment of Spiderman… that 5-minute conversation between Peter and Tony was a superior build up to the new Spiderman than the entire retelling of the origin story in the previous rendition played by Andrew Garfield.  We don’t need to see Peter Parker be bitten by a radioactive spider and discover his powers again; the scriptwriters knew this and found a perfect way to address it.

I will be writing a piece ranking all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  Suffice to say “Captain America: Civil War” will definitely be in the top 3.

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (9/10) (No spoilers)

“Captain America Civil War” was released in Hong Kong on April 27.

Easily one of the best comic book movies I have ever seen, and definitely one of my favorite films in recent years, “Captain America: Civil War” strikes all the right tones, and delivers on all my sky-high expectations, and more!

Against all odds of being labelled “The Avengers 2.5”, “Civil War” finds to distinguish itself from the other Marvel movies.  Despite the huge ensemble cast (featuring just about every Marvel character who has appeared before except Thor and Hulk), directors Joe and Anthony Russo made it clear that this was first and foremost a Captain America movie.  Even though attention was paid to each major character, the story still centers around Steve Rogers, played perfectly once again by Chris Evans, and his journey to redemption towards decisions he’s made, past and present.

Many had doubts as to whether the Russo brothers can create a movie that involves a legitimate conflict when future movies where the Avengers will undoubtedly reunite are confirmed (the Infinity Wars).  But the stakes were definitely high enough to warrant the title “Civil War”.   At the center of it stood Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, played once again by Robert Downey Jr.  Their conflict spawns from a fundamental disagreement on how to protect the world, and how the Avengers should operate.  There’s really no right or wrong; the subjectivity of the matter is what made it so powerful.

There were a number of set piece action sequences in the film, each unique and brilliantly choreographed.  The one that is shown in the trailer, which takes place at an airport, is being touted as one of the best action scenes in comic book movie (or just movie) history.  And just to have an idea of how good the action scenes were, that wasn’t even my personal favorite!

Other highlights include the great chemistry between the ensemble cast, including Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, and awesome additions to the MCU of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, and Tom Holland as Spiderman

Whether you are a fan of comic book movies or not, this is a must-see.  Absolutely blown away.


Movie Review: London Has Fallen (6.4/10)


Not as bad as I had expected, honestly.  As it currently sits at a dismal 25% at Rottentomatoes and generally panned by critics, I went in  with very low expectations.

I was made aware of the film’s potential xenophobia and I looked out for it.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought.  For those who think this movie is xenophobic or racist towards Muslims, I’d argue that within the context of this film, you could easily replace this group of antagonists with one originating from, say, Chechnya or North Korea (or America, for that matter), and it will have the same effect.

What surprised me the most was how well shot the film was.  Between the extended unedited shots and the long, sprawling establishing shots, director Babak Najafi and his crew showcased action scenes that were intense and comprehensible.  That’s a lot more than I can say about recent horrible action films.

The acting was what it was; Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart weren’t really taking their roles too seriously, and that’s what the film needed.

Yes, there was too much of the pro-American ra ra; some of the lines uttered by Butler, Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman’s character, were much better off replaced by silence.  But for a country that adores films such as “Black Hawk Down,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “American Sniper,” “London Has Fallen” is certainly a bit more fervent when it comes to its pro Americanism, but not by much.

It’s not fantastic by any means.  But if you compare this to other action bombs in recent years, such as “Taken 2” and 3, “Terminator Genisys,” “Jupiter Ascending,” “Point Break,” even “Chappie,” “London has Fallen” is no more worse, and sometimes better, than these films.

Movie Review: Birdman (The Best Film of 2014)


or: “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”

A good trait of a film is that it can hold the audience’s attention throughout its entirety.  When the opening credits appeared synchronized with the wickedly catchy soundtrack, I was glued to the screen.  The opening shot of the film establishes that this is going to be a drama that blends true human emotions with a tiny dash of fantasy.  The film feels likes a prime time Broadway play; its caricature of a man with an identity crisis, a man who is in conflict with everything around him, who struggles internally as well as externally, is told through a brilliant filming technique that immerses the audience in his world.

It was the best film of 2014 that I saw.  And my second favorite, behind “Whiplash.”  It is an incredible piece of film making, and it is definitely worth a watch.

Movie Review: Out of the Furnace


Boasting a truly star-studded cast that includes Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, and Forrest Whitaker, “Out of the Furnace” nearly overwhelms the audience with its sheer amount of good acting performances.  The film is also proof that intriguing premises or mind-blowing concepts aren’t always prerequisite for good entertainment.

The film is a drama set in the shadow of the latest Iraq War, in working class, suburban America.  It follows the life of Russell Baze (Bale), a hard working mill worker and his brother Rodney (Affleck), who struggles to transition back into civilian life after four tours in Iraq.  The drama that unfolds is gripping, and we care about what happens to these characters every step of the way.  We feel their pains, and their reliefs.  We experience the fear together with the main characters as the endeavor into the lawless and barbaric countryside.

“Out of the Furnace” doesn’t break new grounds, but it is two hours of solid entertainment, and it deserves more viewing and recognition than it has so far.

Movie Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier


In a somewhat surprising turn, the sequel to 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” not only tops its predecessor, but also outdoes the last two sequels released by Marvel, “Iron Man 3” and “Thor 2.”  While the plot of “Iron Man 3” is more of a character study of Tony Stark’s personal struggles since the events of “The Avengers”, and the plot of “Thor 2” focuses on the peace on a galactic scale, “The Winter Soldier” brings us back into Earth and continues the mission of keeping peace on our planet.

The stakes are never higher.  The plot and set pieces are well laid out and the audience is never confused as to what is going on.  The special effects perfectly accompanies the humanist story.  Finally, even with the obvious political undertones exploring the devastating potentials of state overreach, and laying the ground work for the next Avengers movie with the introduction of the Hydra organization and new villains, the film does not seem too preachy or drags along.

I chose to watch the film in IMAX 3D and it was worth every penny.  Every time the Winter Soldier punches Captain’s shield the theatre vibrated along with it.

As I mentioned, “The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel (by Marvel Studios) film probably since 2012’s “The Avengers.”  Definitely catch it before “Avengers 2.”

Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill


Arguably, the advertising campaign for this film falsely represents what the film really is, a daughter-father relationship drama / comedy intermittent with some action.  The film never builds itself up as an action film.  It could have, but it chose not to; an intriguing opening act featuring an international terrorist and a leather-wearing Amber Heard playing a top CIA agent gave way to Kevin Costner’s character trying to rekindle with his daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld, who he’d barely seen for most of her life.

Halfway into the film I almost forgot about what Costner’s character was supposed to do because it steered too far off course.  That being said, it wasn’t exactly too bad, as Costner, at this stage of his career, excels at playing the middle-aged father figure (as he did in “Man of Steel”, the 2013 Superman reboot).  The relationship between Steinfeld and Coster’s characters is surprisingly heart-warming, to the point where it almost became unnecessary for the action to kick back in.

It’s not a horrible movie.  It just struggled with its identity.  In a movie season that is starting to pick up as early as April, wait for this to come out on DVD.

Quick Review: 2 Guns


Summer of 2013 for movies was laden with big budget disasters like “R.I.P.D.”, “After Earth,” and “The Lone Ranger.”  (I actually liked “The Lone Ranger”, check out my review for that here.) Even the box office smashes such as “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel” felt grossly underwhelming.

In the midst of all the trash and mediocrity, we find “2 Guns,” an action thriller directed by Baltasar Kormakur with relentless style and efficiency.  It stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who sizzle on screen, cooking up chemistry that is sorely missed by the summer films that bombed.  Combine this with solid supporting performances by Paula Patton and Bill Paxton and it’s a movie that has you glued to the screen.

Halfway into the film you’ll realize that the plot becomes fairly irrelevant; there’s lots of gun fire, money goes missing, there’s crossing and double-crossing, etc.  At the end of the day, this becomes another movie where really cool actors look good doing bad-ass things on screen and the audience is brought along on the ride for the thrill of it all.

I was a bit surprised that the film did not do better financially, considering how entertaining it was.  Perhaps the R rating turned off some.  I also think that the theatrical release poster is a blunter, as Denzel looks like a stiff and in no way reflects his calm and calculated character.

It is everything you can ask for in a pop corn summer film: Funny, smart and action-packed.  If you missed this film when it came out in August, catch it on home entertainment (netflix, dvd, etc).

Movie Review: G. I. Joe Retaliation


What happens when you run a movie with an ensemble cast but the script doesn’t allow for any character development and the actors couldn’t do much with what was given? You get “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” and action-feast that will leave you so full of action that you’d wish the film was longer to allow for a sensible plot and a sense of emotion.

Some movies rely on one or two main characters to carry the film.  For example, “Iron Man 2” would have been ‘pretty good’ at best if it weren’t for Robert Downey Jr. and a standout performance by Mickey Rourke.  “Skyfall” would not have made over a billion dollars if it weren’t for a combination of good writing and a magnetic performance by Daniel Craig.

On the other hand, if you have an ensemble cast, then the dialogue between characters becomes the main source to spark interest for the viewer.  That’s what makes “Inception,” or a show like “Game of Thrones,” successful.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” had neither, and that made stale all the action sequences the film had to offer.

Whether or not it is a coincidence that all three recent gargantuan-budgeted, Hasbro-inspired franchises (“G.I. Joe”, “Battleship”, “Transformers”) turned out to be mindless explosion-fests is for the viewer to decide.  I happen to think that the source material don’t matter.  Better movies could have been made out of these toys or games.  The first “Transformers” showed promise.  Even “Retaliation”s predecessor, “Rise of Cobra,” was better.  Compared to the sequel, the first “G.I. Joe” was ripe with wit.

Despite what I said earlier, “Retaliation” isn’t unbearable.  You can actually sit through it and have a decent time.  In a snowy mountain-side scene that seemed separate from the rest of the film altogether, I experienced the first ‘wow’ feeling from the 3D technology in a long time, when a sword flew directly at my face and I swerved in my seat to dodge.  And it really isn’t that hard to film nice-looking fight scenes with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  The guy keeps on showing flashes of awesomeness on the big screen ever since “The Rundown.”  Come on man, find yourself a good script with a good director and become THE action hero!

If you have some time to kill in the middle of the day, and you’ve seen every other movie in the theatres, then go for “Retaliation.”  You might just find a few moments of thrill out of movie’s 110 minute run time.