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!

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.

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.

 

Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 1 Review (7.5/10) (Spoilers alert)

 

Entertaining as usual, the season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones thrusts us right back into where we left off in season 5, with several mouth-dropping and awesome events in its last three episodes (the battle beyond The Wall with Jon Snow and the White Walkers / the fight in the arena / Jon Snow’s death)

More so this time around than in previous lessons, it felt like the season premiere struggled a tiny bit in its balance between refreshing the audience on what has been going on in the many plot lines and advancing them them with interesting events.  While the longer scenes featuring Brienne and Sansa, Jamie and Cersei, and at the Night’s Watch, the scenes with the Boltons, Arya, Jorah and Daario, felt a bit like fillers.

The highlight of the episode to me was definitely when Brienne and Podrick fought Bolton’s men, which not only saw a reunion of characters but also capped off one of Brienne’s sworn missions to fulfil Catelyn Stark’s wishes to protect her family.

Overall, a solid premiere.  Now that this episode has done its job in bringing us up to speed, the next one should be much more enjoyable.

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (8.4/10)

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Very long, low on action, but nail-biting dialogue and intense scenes is my summation of “The Hateful Eight,” Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, and definitely one of his better ones.

If you walk into this film expecting action sequences like those from “Kill Bill” or “Django Unchained,” expect to be disappointed.  But the movie didn’t need much action at all, as the drama all takes place in the form of intense conversations between the characters.  As almost the entire film is set in a cabin with no rooms, there is a strong dramatic irony for the audience.  Because there is nowhere to hide, there is always the possibility of someone getting shot during any of the tense moments.

The acting by the large ensemble cast is fantastic, and the film is very effectively shot; I found myself leaning left and right trying to get a peek over things that are intentionally placed in the background or obscured.

Not sure if this is a resurgence, but lately there have been a few well-praised, ‘artsy’ films that are shot like plays, setting the film in a small space and relying on long takes to add life and tension to the shots.  Other films include last year’s Oscar winner “Birdman,” and this year’s “Steve Jobs.” It’s worked out for these films so far, but I’m not sure if this can be sustained.