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)

pts_adv1sht5_rgb_0125_7sm2.jpg

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!

Short Spoiler Review: Game of Thrones S06E10 “The Winds of Winter”

As many have already provided in-depth reviews this very fan-service-filled, feel-good episode where one feel-good moment happens after the next, I’m just going to provide some general thoughts.

I really loved this episode, as it finally progresses the grander story line of the battle of Westeros.  Almost every story line showed progress, and many were linked together.  For example, the scattered story lines of the Tyrells, the Martells in Dorne, the Greyjoys were linked with the grand story line of Daenrys Targaryen and her quest to claim the Iron Throne.  The quips between all these characters, led by Tyrion, is definitely something to look forward to.

This episode, along with the previous one (as I mentioned last review), were both incredibly well shot, utilizing so many techniques to create suspense and pay off, from holding the shot of the window to witness Tommen’s suicide, to the cut from baby Jon Snow to the now-revealed Jon Snow-Targaryen, it was all very well made.

There are for sure many things to look forward to for season 7.  The Night King and his white walkers did not make an appearance the last few episodes.  Also, how will Bran contribute to the story arcs of Jon and Sansa to Daenrys? How will King’s landing function under the reign of Cersei? What of the Hound and the servants of the Lord of Light? How about Arya?

Wish season 7 would start today!

Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (3.5/10)

I went in hoping with extremely low expectations, hoping for just some silly Roland Emmerich signature disaster movie fun.  He’s done good (entertaining, at least) work before, including the first “Independence Day” and “The Patriot”, the latter of which I did not know was directed by him until I looked him up.

However, “Independence Day: Resurgence” definitely did not indicate a resurging Emmerich, but a perpetuation of the Emmerich of late, the Emmerich who directed corny cheesy disaster-fests such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.”, “2012,” and “White House Down.” All of these films, “Resurgence” included, suffer from the same Emmerich-isms, as I like to call them, such as one-dimensional characters, horrible dialogue, weak plot development, and a general lack of concern for detail.

But whereas “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012,” and “White House Down” were at least entertaining in the silliest sense, “Resurgence” just couldn’t even reach that point.

There were several moments during the big set pieces which were enjoyable, but they were few and far in between in this overlong movie.  There’s really not much to recommend about this film.

Spoilers Review: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 9 “Battle of the Bastards”

Call me a nerd.  I’m actually upset at myself sometimes for being able to predict movie plots and twists.  When I saw Aidan Gillen listed in the opening credits, I connected this with the knowledge that Sansa Stark wrote to the Vale to ask Peter Baelish (ie. Littlefinger) for help in the previous episode.  I knew that the knights of the Vale would come in at some point to turn the tides in the battle of the bastards.  The question was how late.

As late as possible, pretty much.

That aside, the episode itself was nothing short of incredible.  With a reported budget of over 10 million (I got the feeling that the producers saved much of the season’s budget for this episode, hence the dullness in some of the earlier episodes), the episode was well-shot, with almost-seamless CGI, greatly choreographed, and intense.  The moments when Jon Snow was being trampled felt incredibly claustrophobic, very well done by the cinematographer.

The battle at Mereen was entertaining, as well, with strong dragon CGI, and witty dialogue that were to the point.

One more thing about the Bastard’s downfall.  While other reviewers were expressing their enjoyment of watching Ramsey getting the shit punched out of him by Jon and the subsequent doggy death, I was clenching my fists thinking “stop! you’re killing him too fast! Don’t give him a quick death!”  Ramsey’s psychotic, murderous, raping, and ravaging path spanned over seasons, starting with the torture of Theon.  To have him die within a day was way too easy for him.  I would have liked to have seen them keep him prisoner and do to him some of the things he’s done to people.

Some are labeling this their favorite Game of Thrones episode ever.  I’m not too sure about that.  The episode lacked the emotional gravitas compared to the episode where Tyrion gave his epic speech at his murder trial, or when he kills his own father, or the one where Jon kills the whitewalker.  I’d certainly place “Battle of the Bastards” in my top 5.

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.