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: 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: X-Men Apocalypse (7.4/10)

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There are certainly things to like about this film.  From the introduction of the new X-Men (the new Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm, and an increased role for Quicksilver), to the powerhouse acting performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, to several memorable action sequences, it’s a 2 hour and 25 minute movie sprinkled with highlights.

Which is precisely where the flaws of the film lie.  The film often drags on exposition and side plots to the point of dullness.  Also, as good an actor as Oscar Isaac is, he was not exactly menacing as Apocalypse.  For a mutant who was supposed to be the very first of its kind, who is able to change elements at will and whose power supersedes that of Professor X, he did not strike a fear into the viewer.  I was not terrified of Apocalypse; rather, my thought shifted to wondering how the X-Men would be able to defeat him.

(As much flak as Marvel has received for its lack of focus on its films’ villains, I gravitated towards the charming yet dangerous presence of Ultron, in the short moments he was featured in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”  It was really a waste of such a great performance by James Spader.)

It’s only June and already four comic book movies have been released.  I’d ranked them in this order, with the first being my must-see and last being wait for home video release.

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Deadpool
  3. X-Men: Apocalypse
  4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

 

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: Zootopia (8.8/10)

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Brilliantly animated, incredibly fun for both adults and kids, “Zootopia” took me by surprise and currently stands as one of my favorite films of the year.

The story takes place in a world where animals have human characteristics, and interact with each other and handle themselves the way humans do.  This opens the world up for endless creativity, which the film absolutely capitalizes on.  This doesn’t necessarily have to do with the main characters or the plot, but the auxiliary things, so to speak,  the world creation.  From rabbit main character (Judy Hopps) wearing earphones that are actually placed correctly, in her bunny ears on the top of her head, to the little animals (squirrels?) having their own exit doors on the train, there is amazing detail being put into this film, from start to finish.

The plot is generic enough, almost vintage Disney, but it was so well executed that there was never a dull moment.  The color palette of the film was always vibrant.  And the comedy…  I’m not sure if I have ever heard a Hong Kong movie audience laugh this hard.  And not just the sloth scene that was in the trailer, either.

The voice talent was also very solid from top to bottom, with a cast consisting of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, and Jenny Slate.  And directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore definitely created something special that can spawn many sequels

I have to say though, the one shortcoming of this film is that the contexts within which some of these comedy scenes lie are quite mature-themed and rely on threats of violence. I glossed over it initially, but in retrospect, these methods ultimately placed this film below “Inside Out” in my favorite animated movies.

As the film has already grossed over $800 million worldwide, I’d imagine many people have already seen it.  I’d recommend it nonetheless.  Go see it!

Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (6.5/10)

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Talking about disappointments.

I walked into “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” hoping to see one of the best comic book movies of all time, a cinematic masterpiece by director Zack Snyder.  What I got instead was a film that was mediocre at best, and a director who clearly was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of setting up the DC cinematic universe.

The film clocked in at around two and a half hours, half an hour of which could easily have been cut out without diminishing the movie.  It’s almost as if they have no idea how to utilise two of the biggest comic book superheroes of all time, and that they have no comic book movies from which to draw inspiration (yes we know Warner Bros. wants to make the DC cinematic universe darker and grittier than Marvel’s but that doesn’t mean they can’t look to Marvel movies to learn how to make good comic book movies.)

This review would seem endless if I delved into spoilers and picked apart all the film’s flaws.  To summarise, the writing is sloppy and tedious.  Lots of pointless dialogue that does not further the plot.  The film even uses the same device twice to reveal things to the audience.  At certain points, scenes would seemingly build up to something exciting to amp up the audience, only to cut to something completely off tempo, leaving the audience frustrated.

Worst of all, for the most part, the film is just plain dull.  Not just the signature Snyder-saturated palette, but the tone of which the acting took place.  Speaking of the acting, there was a range of good (Ben Affleck was great as the new Batman, Gal Gadot was perfect as Wonder Woman, apparently also a woman of few words) and bad (my god that overacting from Jesse Eisenberg, did not work at all.)

Even the Snyder-isms were off.  This guy is known for using extreme slow motion to good effects (like in “300”, “Watchmen”, even “Sucker Punch”).  But here, he puts the slo-mo in all the wrong places, missing out on creating iconic cinematic moments in the process

There were moments of brilliance in the film, such as when Batman finally faced off against Superman, and the first DC Universe team fight against Doomsday.  But these were overshadowed by the salient flaws of the film.

I’d almost say it’s not worth seeing in the theatres, but there are a few redeeming points to the film.  It all depends on whether you want to spend that money and sit for two and a half hours for brief moments of coolness.