Duo Review + Rant: Atomic Blonde, King Arthur, and Rotten Tomatoes Scores

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I missed Guy Richie’s latest action flick “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” when it came out in theaters.  Having finally watched it last night and thoroughly enjoying it, it brought to light this idea of movie critics grading on a curve as being shown on the film score aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.  That another action flick, “Atomic Blonde”, attained a surprising 75% rating while “King Arthur” managed a measly 28% shows that critics not only judge the film by itself, but also by trends in genre, and the filmography of the director.

I am not claiming “King Arthur” is a masterpiece, or even a much superior film to “Atomic Blonde”, but reading the tidbits from RT shows that those who reviewed “King Arthur” factored in the fact that there have been numerous films made about the medieval character in years past, and that Guy Ritchie, known for his manic pacing and stylish shots and editing, and crisp British dialogue, did not bring much to the (round) table.

If you look at (period) action films in the past ten to fifteen years, “300” stood out as a film loaded with stylized action and which many filmmakers tried to emulate since but failed.  Snyder took a comic book interpretation of history and made it his own, loaded with magical elements that clearly were not historically accurate but nevertheless fun.

Ritchie’s “King Arthur” is a slice of the same pie: it does not pretend to be historically accurate nor does it take itself seriously, what with a plot containing mystical mages and a character turning into essentially the Grim Reaper, but above all, the film was fun.  With a solid performance by Charlie Hunnam and good chemistry among the supporting cast, including a Jude Law who was clearly basking in fun playing Vortigen, without comparing it to previous iterations of King Arthur movies, “Legend of the Sword” is good popcorn entertainment.  The film probably would have received much better reviews if it came out a few years earlier, when this type of stylized action was all the rave.

In contrast, the action genre rave now lies with the hard-hitting, gritty martial arts action films such ala. the John Wick franchise, and “Atomic Blonde”, helmed by one of the co-directors of Wick, David Leitch, rode the popularity of the genre and made a film that contained John Wick-esque action scenes but an incredibly messy and unsatisfying plot.  The success of the film lied with Charlize Theron, who satisfied audiences by playing a dangerous assassin kicking some serious ass and looking super hot while doing it.

The upshot of my rant is this: When deciding whether you want to see a film, take not only the RT score but many sources into consideration, such the trailers.  And don’t be dissuaded from watching a film just because of the change in trends.  Against “consensus”, I will admit unashamedly that I enjoyed “Legend of the Sword” more than “Atomic Blonde”.

“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – 6.9 / 10

“Atomic Blonde” – 6.5 / 10

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Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

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An action-fest that, for better or for worse, sets up its MonsterVerse much better than “The Mummy” did for the Dark Universe.

Given the material, I wasn’t expecting too much acting chops out of the all-star cast, including the newest Academy Award winner for Best Actress, Brie Larson, who had little to work with besides looking shocked and jaw-dropped 90 percent the time.  The rest, including Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, are serviceable.  The lone shout out goes out to John C. Reilly, who was perfect as the quirky, oddball pilot.

The action scenes were exhilarating, especially those featuring Kong.  The CGI blended well with the characters and, similar to the fights in “Pacific Rim”, I felt the power of each throw down and punch.

The more you think about the plot, the less sense it makes.  So I’d suggest not thinking about it too much.  There are also tonal inconsistencies and character developments that feel cheated.

It’s worth a watch if you are looking for some epic action sequences and a decent kick off to the MonsterVerse.

6.8 / 10

Series Review: True Detective Season 1

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Richly-developed, eerily-haunting, and at times edge-of-your-seat gripping, the first season of “True Detective” was definitely a breath of fresh air, a near genre-breaking achievement in cinematic television with terrific performances and a slow-burning plot that contains a handful of effective plot twists.

From the opening sequence, paired to perfection with the Handsome Family’s “Far from Any Road”, we knew that the series would be dark with very little humor.  But the show never crossed the line from darkness into dullness, as the main characters, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, carried the darkness of the show with an enigmatic charisma that was always intriguing.

Cary Fukunaga directed the entire first season and did not return for the second (although Nic Pizzolatto did write both seasons) and it showed.  Season 1 was a showcase of excellent direction and cinematography.

The biggest regret I had with regards to watching this series was how much time it took me to finish it.  Not that the series was bad, just that I never got around to it.  The eight episodes probably took me about 6 months to finish.  I’m glad I did, though.  I’m sure if I had binged watched it, or at least watched it over a span of 3-4 weeks, that I might have enjoyed the show even more, particularly for its tone and atmosphere.  As it stands, “True Detective” Season 1 sits as one of my top 5 favorite television shows.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

 

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One of the best comic book movies in recent years, as well as one of the best film of 2017 so far, “Wonder Woman” is a much-needed home run for the DC cinematic universe, after the critically-polarizing “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”

The plot is nothing ground-breaking; it’s an origin story of a superhero who overcomes adversity, adapts to the new world she encounters, and overcomes her first adversaries.  But the execution of the story was near perfection, and, most note-worthy of all, was the female-driven elements throughout the film.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” elevates the female superhero, and female roles in films, to new heights..  Gadot portrays Princess Diana as an enigmatic and confused heroine as she struggled to comprehend the complexities of modern warfare during World War I.  Some of the best scenes of the film were those of when Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) explains the Great War to Diana.

The action sequences, many of which utilize the ultra-slo-mo methods made famous by “300”, takes the technique and improves upon it, making some of the most entertaining comic book fight scenes I’ve seen.  Note to “Man of Steel”: do you know make “having superheroes and villains throw and punch each other, and throwing large objects around while things explode” interesting? Watch “Wonder Woman.”

The film isn’t perfect: there are some plot elements that could have been explored further, as well as a villain that was fairly undeveloped.  But overall, “Wonder Woman” is an excellent film, and a must-watch for all comic book movie fans, as well as fans of entertaining films.

9 / 10

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

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A film carried by the charismatic performances of its two leads, by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, “The Nice Guys” boasted a strong first third and a solid third act, with a middling middle section that could have been at least 5 – 10 mins shorter.

The screen lit up when Gosling and Crowe are in it, but at the same time, it became a bit dull when they are not. It’s a very entertaining film overall.

7.8 / 10

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (7.8/10)

Warner Brothers has churned out three films from the DC Extended Universe thus far: “Man of Steel” (2013), “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which came out in March, and “Suicide Squad,” which was released in Hong Kong on August 4.

I had the most fun with DC’s latest entry, by far.  The film was gritty yet retained a sense of humor throughout (you know how some movies start off really funny but gets really serious in the third act? This one has little humor moments from start to finish.)

The Squad itself was definitely the highlight of the film, as chemistry flourished between characters.  Joel Kinnaman was well cast as the no-BS military leader Rick Flag, tasked with leading this team of bad guys including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) against, simply-speaking, a rogue villain.

Will Smith was… okay.  He did enough as the anchor of the Suicide Squad without hitting us with too many of his Will Smith-isms.

Also worth a mention is the Jared Leto’s Joker.  This is the first time ever where the Joker is featured in the film but is not the main villain / antagonist.  I think that is perhaps why I was not necessary underwhelmed, but left wanting more from that character.  I would definitely like to see more of him in feature films.

The standout of this film was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who packs just enough sexy and crazy into one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.  The film will likely be remembered for her performance, and I look forward to watching her on the big screen again.

The film could have been even better if it were not for a weak plot and a fairly CGI-driven third act (though some of the special effects were quite good).  I would really recommend this film as it shows the much-needed lighter side of the DC Universe.

Note* there is a mid-credit scene in the movie.

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (7.9/10)

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A thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish, “The Secret Life of Pets” boasts an interesting premise, exploring a question many of us asked as children, which was “what do our pets do when we’re not home?”  While interesting, I did wonder if the premise can sustain a feature length film.  The filmmakers succeeded in doing so by adding an adventure element for the two main characters,   Max and Duke, as they dash and tumble through New York City being chased by an array of sort-of villains including stray cats, anti-human animals, and animal control.

The film had plenty of laughs, and some of the visuals not necessarily the action animation, but the still frames, namely of the city skyline, were stunning.  I just might find a poster of it and make it my wallpaper.

The voice cast was very solid, with the main characters voiced by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, and a stand-out performance by Kevin Hart, who voices one of the support characters.

The film doesn’t have quite the social relevance / commentary displayed by  “Zootopia” or “Inside Out”, but I think adults could still enjoy watching this film.  One thing that did catch my attention as the film’s soundtrack and score, composed y the prolific Alexandre Desplat, which elevated the film up a notch with dashes of liveliness.

A brief mention should  be given to the opening Minions short film.  Perhaps the makers of this short discovered what was wrong with the feature-length “Minions” film and rediscovered what worked for the minions in the “Despicable Me” films, but this was pretty much what I would’ve wanted the feature-length film to be.  I know it’s hard to turn this goofy and hilarious short into something that’s 90 minutes long, but I think it’s doable.

For those living in the U.S. / Canada, I haven’t see “Finding Dory” yet as it is not out here in Hong Kong, but I would still definitely recommend it!