Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street






Release Date: Dec 25, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey.

Money may not buy you love but it sure can buy you a heck of a lot of other things, as seen here in "The Wolf of Wall Street," the latest collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Baring semblance to "Boiler Room," which was inspired by the same events, the film focuses on Jordan Belfort, an American stockbroker convicted of fraudulence. DiCaprio plays Belfort with impeccable arrogancy, commonly breaking the fourth wall to speak of his extravagance. Whether cavorting with prostitutes or in a drug-induced coma, his apathy towards wealth is entertaining, if oddly compelling. It's when the partying gets repetitious that the limelight fades away, revealing the repugnancies of his misdeeds and others out there like him. Scorsese bears no qualms in throwing it all out there, a masterful composition of obscenities506 to be exact. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is loud, belligerent and excessive, much like any power-hungry mogul, and for that it's indifferent of how obnoxious it can be. Yet the audacity of it all is the real reason for its allurement, demanding undivided attention til the last forsaken minute. Clocking in at three hours, it's taxing to say the least, with a bloated plot line that just as easily could've been two. But Wall Street takes no weaklings as neither does Scorsese. It's go big or go homepreferably with some money.

Rating: 4 stars

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty






Release Date: Dec 25, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 54 min. 
Director: Ben Stiller 
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Sean Penn.

Sometimes the smallest of adventures entail the greatest leaps of faith, and for "Walter Mitty," it's all about taking the plunge. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller in the role, it's a loose adaptation of the short story by James Thurber. When we first meet Mitty, he's a habitual daydreamer, fantasizing about ventures of heroic feat. But when his job at Life magazine nears to an imminent end, it's up to him to salvage their last issue at the risk of his wariness. A story about taking chances and living life to the fullest, it's an adage we all strive by in our everyday existence. Augmented by picturesque backdrops and artful motifs, the film's an unexpected turn for Stiller as director. As someone who's mainly focused on outlandish comedies, it's an experimental gamble that graciously pays off. As a result, it's less about the whimsy than having a positive sendoff, which is further enhanced by a memorable soundtrack. That's not to say the film is free from adversities, as it slows and simmers when it's not indulging in fantasies. Kristen Wiig's character lacks any form of substance, primarily standing in as the love interest of our protagonist. Though Stiller's Mitty is no stretch for the actor, he still encompasses the qualities that make him relatable. As we follow him on his quest for self-confidence, it's when we discover our own need to break free from the monotony. Wiig's character sums it best by saying, "life is about courage and going into the unknown." In time, Mitty does learn to let go and explore his potential, giving us a feel good movie that's as simple as that.

Rating: 3½ stars

Monday, December 30, 2013

Her







Release Date: Dec 18, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara.
 
Love is a complex emotion. It excites, it aches, it angers...it swallows you whole. We as humans are capable of such sentiment, but can a machine do the same? Can it feel? From the mind that brought us "Being John Malkovich" and "Where the Wild Things Are," comes a modern day love story unlike any other. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombly, an introverted man searching for companionship. He finds it in the most unlikely of places, an operating system named Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Together they embark on a fascinating journey – of finding love, seeing the world, and learning what it means to be 'human.' Phoenix gives a mesmerizing performance as a person who wears his heart on a sleeve. Through his endeavors, he experiences a gamut of emotions, which are seamlessly conveyed by just a flick of the face. Though Johansson's character is solely heard through her voice, her presence is genuinely felt in its corporeal entirety. Her personality and warmth emit incredible depth, making this reputably her best role to date. Much like Samantha's curiosity of the world, we as an audience can't help but feel enamored by their love and their ever-evolving relationship through the advancements of technology. Jonze, for his part, creates a subtle future, dismissing flying cars and teleportation in lieu of simpler effects. While the story can be viewed as fantastical and highly improbable, its the relevancy of it all that makes it that much conceivable. With all our hi-tech gadgetries and yearn for connection, who's to say we aren't, in someway, 'in love' with our devices?

Rating: 4½ stars

Sunday, December 29, 2013

American Hustle







Release Date: Dec 13, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 9 min. 
Director: David O. Russell 
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence.

What elevates a film not only relies upon the director but the very actors that bring his or her vision to life. It takes a team collaboration to periodically reel in success but another to assuredly materialize the script. Thanks to a topnotch cast of heavy hitters, that's exactly what we get in David O. Russell's "American Hustle." Loosely based on the sting operation that took place in the late 70's/early 80's, the film centers on a couple of con artists who get duped into advising the Feds. As one of the few directors who adheres to familiarity, it's no surprise to see stars from Russell's prior productions. Starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, just to name a few, it's a convocation of nominees set out for award show resurgence. Bale miraculously transforms himself again for another physically-altering role, a true testament to his dedication as a method actor. Hardly recognizable under his misshapen toupee, his ever-changing appearance is just a fragment of his already prolific career. 2013 has been a big year for Lawrence and Adams, both playing prominent roles in a handful of pictures. That said, they compete admirably here in a battle for female dominance – Lawrence being another standout as the highly impulsive (or crazy) Rosalyn Rosenfeld. If there's one category this film is destined to win, it's for its stellar ensemble cast, unmatched against its fellow competitors. But aside from that, there are other noteworthy qualities: the hair, the fashion, and of course, the soulful music. It's a step back into time as dutifully shown by the old production cards, all of which conjure memories of Hollywood's past. As the film winds down, the main message is clear. Everyone hustles for something, whether it's love or truth. But in the end, we all share one commonality: we all hustle to survive.
 
Rating: 4 stars

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues






Release Date: Dec 18, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min. 
Director: Adam McKay 
Cast: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Meagan Good, James Marsden, Kristen Wiig.

Nine years ago, one man changed the face of broadcasting. He read the news, he did it well and he looked good doing it, too. His name was Ron Burgundy, the pride of San Di-a-go. Lover of scotchy scotch-scotch and a friend to Baxter, he had it all: the woman, the hair, the fame. But all legends must gradually come to an end, and regrettably, the time has come for this well-coiffed anchor. Be it, having fan expectations after a lengthy hiatus, it's hard to look past any indicative flaws. The comedy, for one, is surprisingly unsteady, choppy and incoherent even for its outrageous nature. Sure, it has its moments of nostalgic restitution remnants of the first film that are lovingly unforgettable. But these in no way outweigh the inescapable bad forced dialogues of humor as awkward as Brick's ability to think. The extension of characters (Marsden, Good, or Wiig) offer no further consolation, albeit cameos run a dozen in the latter half of the film. One cameo in particular, for which I'll purposely leave unnamed, should stick to their day job if only for the betterment of this world. The story, moreover, is not that different from the first, although it does call upon other stereotypes, ie. race, in the workplace. The great thing about the first "Anchorman" was its incessant staying power, getting better with each viewing and, therefore, more memorable. Maybe in time the sequel can simulate to that effect, but for now it's best to just forgive and forget.

Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug






Release Date: Dec 13, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr. 40 min. 
Director: Peter Jackson 
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry.

When we last saw Bilbo (Martin Freeman) he was endlessly on the run, from dangers lurking at every corner. And it's where we continue this much-prolonged journey, not far from where we initially left off. Part two of "The Hobbit" is a filler sequel at best, bridging the gap between the first film and the climactic finale. Equally long and thoroughly detailed, it's a feat on its own considering the brief source material. But where there's a will there's a way and Jackson makes due, offering another engaging chapter in this Tolkien trilogy. Hobbit, Dwarves and Orcs return for this hightailed adventure in action scenes a plenty filled with tension and banter. Furthermore, the inclusion of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is a welcome sight to see, giving nods to the future, or rather, what has already transpired. Yet perhaps the most anticipated arrival is Smaug himself, the elusive dragon voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. His deep-set tone effectively personifies the role, as he majestically breathes to life through the help of sleek CGI. Smaug's encounter with Bilbo is easily the high point of the film, with the exception of the barrel roll scene that is notably amusing. Jackson spares no expense when it comes to visual prowess, regularly topping himself with each new installment. But the use of 48fps is still far from appealing, appearing more like a video game rendering than actual movie. At any rate, "Desolation of Smaug" is a gratifying sequel, however stretched it feels to get to the inevitable cliffhanger. The delay is nothing compared to the whole year ahead of us, when "The Hobbit" returns with "The Battle of the Five Armies."


Rating: 3½ stars

Friday, December 6, 2013

Frozen







Release Date: Nov 27, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 48 min. 
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk.

A great, animated Disney movie usually possesses three decisive qualities: memorable songs, lovable characters and invaluable lessons. They're what reinvigorates our childhood and induces excitement – a simpler time when life was sung by melody. With claims boasting this latest as Disney's best animated feature since "The Lion King," it's a tall order to fill thanks to heightened expectations. But "Frozen" deftly performs above and beyond, and is one of the most charming films to release in recent memory. Similar to "Tangled," it's a modernized fairy tale, based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Snow Queen. Lighthearted and sweet, and filled with toe-tapping numbers, it's impossible to watch without a smile on your face. Kristen Bell leads the voice cast of Broadway regulars, including Idina Menzel of "Wicked" fame. Though Bell fits the mold well of Disney standards, Menzel feels miscast in the voice of Elsa who appears not much older than Anna (Bell). Gifted with an incredible voice, she almost seems too 'old' for the role and therefore too powerful. This may be attuned to the given song choices, which sound decidedly younger and somewhat 'pop-pier.' Josh Gad provides the comic relief, as the magical snowman Olaf who brings a majority of the laughs. He's just one of the many gems found in the novelty of "Frozen," and that's in addition to the gorgeous animation. Disney has come a long way from 2D renditions and their 3D has only gotten better. One can't help but get lost in the beautiful, arctic landscapes, especially when paired with the catchy tunes. Though gone are the days of classic animation, it's nice to see the continuance of boundless imagination. Case in point: make sure to catch the short film (only in 3D) before the feature presentation. 

Rating: 4½ stars

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oldboy






Release Date: Nov 27, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 58 min. 
Director: Spike Lee 
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, James Ransone, Samuel L. Jackson.

It's one thing to remake a movie and another to remake a cult classic, especially one as revered as "Oldboy," the ground-breaking Korean film based on the Japanese manga. Highly provocative and morally vexing, the original bore no limits when it came to glorifying the violence through the twisted mind of Park Chan Wook. Nevertheless, Spike Lee attempts to brave the impossible and inevitably suffers the common case of déjà vu. In both versions, "Oldboy" tells of a man imprisoned for many odd years only to be released inexplicably to track down his captor. A story doused in mystery and suspense, it's a gripping tale of revenge with an unexpected ending. And here lies the problem that hinders the remake, any element of surprise gone which belittles its sole purpose. Though some details are spared to adapt to a new audience, not much has changed or, more importantly, been improved upon. What made Park's adaptation so arrestingly poignant was its graphic nature and inclusion of metaphors. Lee, on the other hand, has little else to offer, other than a multi-floor hammer scene that still feels inferior. The casting, fortunately, is its only saving grace, as Brolin has epitomized tormented souls for what feels like half of his career (ie. "No Country for Old Men" and "True Grit.") Sharlto Copley continues his turn as villain, mirroring the soft-spoken tormentor played so brilliantly by Yoo Ji Tae. Together they strive towards a resolute ending, each with their own goal and provocation. But in the end it all feels anticlimactic, even with the alteration that perceivably gives some closure. Maybe to unbiased viewers the film will have its merits but to loyalists who were doubtful, there's really not much to see.

Rating: 2 stars

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire






Release Date: Nov 22, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr. 26 min.
Director: Francis Lawrence 
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz.

It only takes a spark to start a fire but a girl to ignite a revolution as seen in "Catching Fire," the much anticipated sequel to "The Hunger Games." Following the victory of the 74th annual games, Katniss is now the new symbol of hope for a war-torn nation on the brink of upheaval. But with such fame comes tribulations far beyond her reach and once again she must battle enemies on both sides of the arena. Jennifer Lawrence shines as Katniss Everdeen, an unwitting heroine with a mind of her own. Already pegged as one of Hollywood's favored stars, it's oft forgotten how young Lawrence is with her accomplished demeanor. Yet here she delivers another incredible performance, pushing her to the limits of irrepressible emotions. Also returning are other notable characters, Katniss' support staff and members of the Capitol. Banks and Tucci are as bubbly as ever, with the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman whose intentions remain ambiguous. Josh Hutcherson plays less of a wounded bird, settling comfortably into the role of friend and savior. Though the story is nearly identical to the first "Hunger Games," the stakes are much higher in the second go-around. With challenges both mentally and physically debilitating, it's a taut thrill ride with greater intensity and prolonged impact (ie. the ending.) Taking over for Gary Ross, director Francis Lawrence faces obstacles of his own, expanding upon Panem and the murderous arena. Fortunately for him, to quote, 'the odds are ever in his favor' and the film is better and bolder as any sequel should be. Flaunting grandiose surroundings and improved special effects, "Catching Fire" should leave fans happy, that is until the epic 2-part finale. As "Mockingjay" isn't set to release until November 2014 and 2015 respectively, it'll be a long wait for those suffering from "Hunger Games" withdrawal. In the meantime, there's always re-reading the book.
  
Rating: 4½ stars

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor: The Dark World







Release Date: Nov 08, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 51 min. 
Director: Alan Taylor 
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba.

With Marvel's Phase II now in full effect, there's a perceptible difference between the past and present in their sequential features. More specifically, what happened 'before New York' and 'after New York.' But whereas "Iron Man 3" failed to acclimate to the change, "The Dark World" conforms better, if not for some flaws. Alan Taylor inherits duties from previous director Kenneth Branagh, carrying on the fantastical tale of the mighty Norse god. Set after "The Avengers" and the world-altering events, Thor is now tasked with bringing peace to the realms via his home in Asgard. Chris Hemsworth returns as the hammer-wielding hero having matured progressively since the first film. His confidence is now refined by self-awareness, no longer the selfish boy who only dreamt of acquiring the throne. Beside him, though reluctantly, is his conniving brother Loki, played effortlessly by Tom Hiddleston. There is no one better suited to fit this role, as proven time and time again by his multi-faced egos. Hiddleston shines in being manipulative and his enjoyment is clearly shown through his mischievous grin. This time around the kingdom of Asgard is further displayed, though less stylized and vibrant than Branagh's initial vision. As a result, the scenes don't appear as dimensional as they could be, especially for a world as unique as this. Editing is another issue that plagues the film, jumping from serious to comical without a transitional thought. Scenes feel disconnected and oftentimes choppy, relinquishing a sense of purpose or reasoning. But if there is one thing that is lacking in the first "Thor" film, it is the presence of big action sequences that engulf "The Dark World." With character introductions (other than the Dark Elves) out of the way, Taylor has free reins to grander schemes, whether it's destroying London or teleporting through space. Any form of logic is purposely cast aside because at the end of the day, it is a comic book movie. While "The Dark World" may not surpass its predecessor, it's still a fun entry in the ever-expanding Marvel universe. Next up: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Rating: 3½ stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Captain Phillips







Release Date: Oct 11, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 13 min. 
Director: Paul Greengrass 
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener.

As the year winds down, the awards' season is merely ramping up, for the ultimate showdown of talents and films alike. At the forefront is Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips," based on the Maersk Alabama hijacking back in 2009. Recalling the attacks by Somali pirates and the courageous action of the crew, it's a tense, dramatic thriller worthy of review. Starring Hanks as the titled hero opposite a cast of unknowns, the film takes an objective approach to looking at two sides of the story. Alternating between the crew and the Somali pirates, the contrast of motives is intriguing and highly insightful. Disparately, the buildup is slow and long, adding to the runtime and delaying the onslaught of anxiety. But the last 40 minutes are a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, with the last 10 affirming why Hanks is still one of the greatest. His experienced turmoil is deeply compelling, bearing down on the soul and eliciting powerful emotions. With "Gravity" gaining momentum and a slew of high caliber films coming down the pipeline, "Captain Phillips" will be have plenty to compete for in the upcoming months. But if the past is any indication, Hanks will have his fighting chance. After all, he's been lost at sea before.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gravity







Release Date: Oct 04, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 31 min. 
Director: Alfonso Cuarón 
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney.

Space. Infinite...awe-inspiring...and utterly terrifying. It's the fabric to Alfonso Cuarón's highest achievement yet, and one of the most ground-breaking films in cinematic history. Known for his unique dexterity of single-shot sequences, Cuarón delivers another stunning masterpiece that defies the laws of physics. The first 10 minutes alone will leave you breathless with sweeping views of Earth followed by heart-pounding suspense. The singularity of perspectives, moving in and behind the helmet glass, is truly remarkablefully immersing you in the environment as well as the mindset. Sandra Bullock gives a phenomenal performance as first time mission specialist, Ryan Stone. Her vulnerability and fears are captured in range, whether careening through space or confined in a capsule. Using visual metaphors to embody humans' resilience and will for survival, Cuarón sheds new light into the blackness of space and depths of despair. The cinematography is one to be savored, further glorified in IMAX and even 3D. Accompanied by a moving score by Steven Price, each scene is as enrapturing as the first and seemingly tangible. Though Cuarón has only directed a handful of films, "Gravity" may just be the push he needs to get his Oscar nomination. Til then, experience space like you've never experienced it before.

Rating: 5 stars

Don Jon







Release Date: Sep 27, 2013  
Runtime: 1 hr. 29 min. 
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt 
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza.

Sex, love...or something like that. Marking the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a (not so) romantic comedy about relationships and its abject complexities. JGL stars as Jon Martello, a womanizer and church goer who's addicted to porn. When the woman of his dreams catches his eye, his once orderly life gets thrown into disarray. Having starred in a variety of films much to critical acclaim, Gordon-Levitt proves again his prowess as a skillful chameleon. Going full-on guido for the role, and convincingly so, he plays a dislikable character who must mend his ways. Stepping behind the camera, he seems like any seasoned pro, showing off his artistic flair and knack for creativity. The interjection of scenes with bursts of erotica is visually stimulating and striking, if not somewhat overpowering. That being said, the repetition of frames can get dull at times, though it does lay the framework for which the story aligns. Humor is key to any good relationship and "Don Jon" is clearly no exception. Highly entertaining and intermittently relatable, it's a non-stop riot, especially in the woes of dating. While the film objectifies sex and fixates on stereotypes, the satirical nature is key in keeping it leveled. Bringing freshness to an industry overrun with veterans, the career path looks bright for this rising, young director.

Rating: 3½ stars

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The World's End







Release Date: Aug 23, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 49 min. 
Director: Edgar Wright 
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan.

They say old habits die hard and for a group of five friends it may just be their demise. Marking the conclusion to the "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy is "The World's End," a buddy comedy with an extraterrestrial twist. Reuniting Pegg and Frost alongside director Edgar Wright, it's a rousing good time for the comedically bonded trio. Pegg leads the pack as Gary King, a recovering alcoholic still living in the past. Ever longing for the elusive 'Golden Mile'12 pubs, 1 night he gathers up his old gang to finish the feat. Joining his quest is a handful of British actors, many of whom starred in previous collaborations. Comparable to a high school reunion, it's fun while it lasts until disillusionment kicks in. The story itself is predominantly entertaining, mixing intoxication with 'robots' in a bizarre amalgamation. It's this offbeat humor that makes it wildly distinctive, even when the ending feels long and strangely concocted. The bromance between Pegg and Frost is incontestable as they've faced more trials and tribulations in any given situation. From zombies in "Shaun of the Dead" to cops in "Hot Fuzz," there's no shortage of satires that these guys can't handle. Though this may be the end to one enjoyable series, we can assume they'll be back, one pub or another.

Rating: 3½ stars

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Elysium






Release Date: Aug 09, 2013
Runtime: 1 hr. 49 min. 
Director: Neill Blomkamp 
Cast: Matt Damon, Alice Braga, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Diego Luna.

Gone are the days of a utopian future, where teleportation and hovercrafts are a commonplace luxury. Welcome instead to widespread poverty, where only wealth buys you refuge and a ticket to salvation. From the director of "District 9" comes a grim look at society, and the division that befalls the citizens who inhabit it. Matt Damon stars as ex-con/industrial worker Max Da Costa, living amongst the poor left on decrepit Earth. When an accident leaves him debilitated and at death's door, his only hope lies in Elysium, a haven a world apart. Following the success of his first feature film, Blomkamp attempts to repeat it again, in this smart sci-fi thriller that's emboldened with symbolism. Examining the caste system between the rich and the poor, it's another example of his proficiency in cultural relevance. But while the idea is sound and duly enlightened, the execution is less so in eliciting excitement. Moving languidly with buildup and interspersed with violence, the film feels devoid of tension or compassion found in "District 9." The characters, for one, are mostly disposable, neither giving nor deserving of any real-life empathy. Jodie Foster, in particular, is a questionable enigma, with an accent that's suggestive of an identity disorder. And though Damon is admissible as the anti-hero, it's Sharlto Copley that revels in spotlight glory. Going from meek to sinister at the flip of a switch, it's interesting to see what he'll do next in Spike Lee's "Old Boy." With a handful of sci-fi and dystopia behind us, it's hard to imagine what our true future will hold. For now, here's to wishful thinking.

Rating: 2½ stars

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wolverine







Release Date: Jul 26, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min. 
Director: James Mangold 
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen.

"X-Men" introduced us to the world of mutants: individuals with remarkable powers and secret abilities. But out of the throng, one superseded the rest, resulting in two spin-offs with altering outcomes. Whereas "Origins" failed in honing the character, Mangold succeeds in giving it new life. What's always been fascinating about Wolverine is the complexity of his naturedriven by rage but tormented by painin his road to self-redemption. And while prior films have scratched the surface of his past, it's the latest that digs deep into his empathy, separating animal from human. Following the events of "Last Stand," Wolverine is now a nomad in the wilderness, filled with remorse over the death of Jean Grey. But where this familiarity begins, it quickly diminishes, as the film is unlike other "X-Men" adventures before it. Set mostly in Japan, it's a noticeable departure, with yakuza and ninjas in place of mutants. The only consistencies remain with the claws and the omniscient presence of Famke Janssen. Though staying close to the comic book series, "Wolverine" is more of an action flick than not with battles on top of bullet trains and samurai blades. Given that Jackman has reprised this role several times before, it's a much-needed change of scenery for the ever-growing franchise. Where the film mainly stumbles is in its confined second half, throwing love story and hero into one predictable ending. Stuck with a bland villain (Viper) and weak supporting characters, Wolverine is left to fend for himself in his battle for immortality. Nonetheless, the film is a vast improvement if only for the Easter egg. The future looks to be bright in "Days of Future Past."

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pacific Rim







Release Date: Jul 12, 2013
Runtime: 2 hr. 11 min. 
Director: Guillermo del Toro 
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman.

From visionary mastermind Gullermo del Toro, comes the ultimate summer blockbuster in retro glory. Channeling classic 'robot anime,' commonly referred to as 'mecha,' "Pacific Rim" is a reverent homage to never growing up. In a future where Kaijus (Japanese: monster) are rampant in number, Jaegers (German: hunter) are built to fight brawn for brawn. Operated by pilots via what's called a 'neural bridge,' man and machine must become one as the last line of defense. The sheer breadth of these battles are simply astounding, pitting robot versus beast in the depths of the Pacific. Darkly stylized in perpetual rain, del Toro spares no expense in embracing the ambiance. With such focus on appearance, character back-stories are sidelined, offering glimpses of memories as collateral substitution. While this makes the film shallow in terms of development, it's generally what's expected for this type of genre. Charlie Hunnam leads the cast of mismatched characters, from the ever-serious Idris Elba to comic relief Charlie Day. Though representing the last stance of the stricken human race, they're no more than tiny figurines in this colossal-sized picture. Charged by an electrifying score by Ramin Djawadi, "Pacific Rim" is front and foremost about Jaegers and Kaijus. Action-packed and visually stimulating, they're a manifestation of any kid's (or adult's) fantasy that's larger than life. Granted, this isn't del Toro's greatest masterpiece, it ranks high in this summer's go-see movies.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Despicable Me 2







Release Date: Jul 03, 2013 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 1 hr. 38 min. 
Director: Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin 
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand.

Turn the world's nefarious villain into a stay-at-home dad and you get "Despicable Me 2," Minions take two. In the sequel to the surprisingly successful picture by Illumination Entertainment, we find Gru, newly reformed and adjusted to parenthood. But when a mutating chemical compound is stolen by an unknown entity, it's up to the former villain to step in and save the day. Far less despicable than its aptly named predecessor, the follow-up is kinder, having grown softer at its core. Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is irrevocably changed, no longer the hardened criminal that made him so engaging. His Minions, on the other hand, are as unruly as ever, stealing most of the prime lightfor better or worse. In spite of their own spin-off due out next December, the film gives early indication of the tumult that is to come. On the plus side, the addition of Kristen Wiig is wholeheartedly welcomed, her character of Lucy Wilde being as fervent as she is. Her chemistry with Gru/Carell is undeniably salient, making their next onscreen collaboration all the more enticing (hint: anchorman). Whereas the story is inviting and the animation is on par, it's the characters that make it worth it, particularly little Agnes. Seeing as there will probably be another sequel in the imminent future, for now it's up to the Minions to carry on the torch. 

Rating: 3½ stars

Monday, July 1, 2013

World War Z






Release Date: Jun 21, 2013 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 1 hr. 55 min. 
Director: Marc Forster 
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Fana Mokena, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, David Morse.

We've seen the world decimated in a multitude of ways but not nearly as frequently as the zombie apocalypse. Based on the popular novel, albeit loosely, of the same name, "World War Z" recounts the deadly epidemic and its global repercussions. Unlike the source material, the film is deliberately whittled down, solely focusing on a former UN employee as he investigates the outbreak. Pitt as Gerry Lane is what you've come to expect, a family man with heart and altruistic values. The fate of mankind rests essentially in his hands, though the answer to why is not fully obtained. Likewise, the origins of the disease is another mystery in itself, initially looked into but never resolved. For a film plagued by rewrites, it fares better than mostheavy-handed in action and laced with suspense. The adrenaline-pumped zombies are a new breed of terror, granted the CGI can get cumbersome when overexposed. While the story could have strengthened by additional perspectives, "World War Z" is still a thrill ride more often than not. With more battles lost than actually won, a sequel is ripe for another assault.

Rating: 3½ stars

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Monsters University







Release Date: Jun 21, 2013 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 1 hr. 42 min. 
Director: Dan Scanlon 
Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn.

In 2001, Pixar revealed what goes bump in the night, with the ingenious narrative titled "Monsters, Inc." Remarkably inspired and heart-touchingly funny, it told the story of two monster employees who scared for a living. Now 12 years later, our favorite 'Scarers' are back, this time living the glory days at their beloved alma mater. In this dubbed prequel, we follow Mike and Sully as inexperienced freshmen, as they tackle the intensive challenges of collegiate life. But despite the mature context of "Monsters University," it's determinedly more kid-friendly than customarily expected. Missing the adult wit that's made Pixar so enjoyable, the plot is simple at best and effectively unimaginative. It goes without saying the animation is superb, enlivened with color and enriched with detail. Each monster is unique in his or her own way, as we get introduced to new characters while fraternizing with old ones. But one face you won't see is the adorable little Boo, who doesn't appear until after Mike and Sully become MU alumns. It's a small sacrifice for the sake of chronology, but one that's sorely missed for sentimental value. As the story spends a great deal of focus on imitating Greek life, it feels less like an animated feature than it does a college tutorial. But faith has not been lost on the animation powerhouse, as Pixar's planned sequels seem especially promising. "Finding Dory" is already set for a 2015 splash, while "The Incredibles" is still hopeful for a heroic return.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Man of Steel






Release Date: Jun 14, 2013 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 2 hr. 23 min. 
Director: Zack Snyder 
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne.

Superheroes come and go, but there is none quite as emblematic as the man with the letter "S." Representing a symbol of hope and morality, Superman has long been considered a hero of immeasurable standards, universally and in the comic book world. So it's with rapt anticipation that we dive into the newest chapterin a saga that has only just begun. While this is certainly not the first storytelling of the Last Son of Krypton, it is alternately a much somber portrayal than is usually conceived. Akin to the "Dark Knight" series by Christopher Nolan, his involvement here is perceptible even as executive producer. Together with Zack Snyder as anointed director, they bring an ominous feel that's light years apart from what we've seen in the past. Krypton, in shades of gray and steel, is majestically altered to fit into a contemporary new world. Whereas Snyder's cinematic style is utilized to its fullest, it's his aptitude for action that duly precedes him. Perhaps more enthralling than the film itself is the score composed by Hans Zimmer who never ceases to amaze. The escalation of strings and percussion create a rousing energy, accompanying each scene with a force as powerful as its lead. Henry Cavill is solidly cast in the role, compassionate yet tenacious as both Clark Kent and Superman. Previously personified by the late Christopher Reeve, it's no less playing a hero than replacing an icon. Not to be discounted, Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" was an affable attempt, but it never gained the popularity it was meant to attain. Like all superheroes, there entails some weaknesses, and "Man of Steel" begs no different in its quest for greatness. Thoroughly dark and less cheesy than before, humor is noticeably absent for the majority of the film. On the flip side, destruction takes its toll on the city of Metropolis, bordering on excessive in scene redundancy. Nevertheless, "Man of Steel" takes a large stride towards the rumored "Justice League" moviea rumor that is this much closer to becoming a reality. As fans wait patiently with abated breath, it seems DC has proven to rise again.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This Is The End






Release Date: Jun 12, 2013 
Runtime: 1 hr. 47 min. 
Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg 
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride.

This is chaotic. This is absurd. "This Is The End"the best comedy of 2013. Written and directed by the wacky minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film centers on a group of actors trapped in the midst of the sudden apocalypse. Starring Franco, Hill and a handful of stars, it's like a fraternity for the rich and famous...if they smoked weed everyday. Like all of their films combined, there's no shortage of laughter, from gut-busting dialogue to hilarious cameos. Michael Cera, for one, breaks free from his stereotype, playing the most perverse version of himself in ways unimaginable. And that's the general thematic of "This Is The End," actors trying to one-up the other in humoristic fashion. One scene in particular will have you rolling in stitches, as McBride takes on Franco in the verbal match of the century. At the core of the film is the estranged bromance between Rogen and Baruchel, both longing to reconnect with the other before the impending Armageddon. It's what keeps the story grounded during all the craze and mayhem, as things only get more demented with each passing second. Contrary to appearance, there are some horror elements as well jumpy scenes that can catch you off guard, much like Jonah Hill's studded earlobe. But through in through this is a comedy that won't easily be forgotten, as quotable punch lines are expected for many years to come. At least until the end of the world, that is.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fast & Furious 6





Release Date: May 24, 2013 
Runtime: 2 hr. 10 min. 
Director: Justin Lin 
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Luke Evans, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Gina Carano.

If you've seen it once, you've seen it all; at least, that's what you would expect from a franchise running on fumes. But tinker with it enough and you might get something completely refurbished, and "Furious 6" affirms to do just that. 'All roads lead to this' seems appropriate as the tagline, as it took the culmination of all five films to get it to its best. While "Fast Five" was the turning point in rebranding the franchise, it was merely a stepping stone to create something larger on a global scale. As the cars and techs have evolved, so have the characters, forming a tight-knit family that has grown over the past decade. And that's fundamentally the basis of this ongoing series, the crew against the world in life or death situations. Fittingly, the opponents this time around are equally matched, nearly clones of Toretto and his car-wielding gang. Luke Evans as Owen Shaw is by far the most interesting villain, more calculative and cunning than just another drug lord. This makes for exhilarating chase scenes and explosive stunts, one of which includes a speeding aircraft on a never-ending runway. So much so that it's sensory overload from beginning to endaction locked and loaded. That's not to say these exploits are even remotely plausible, going from wild to kitschy in a matter of milliseconds. But director Justin Lin does have a flare for mobility, as camera movements and angles place you right in the action. As for the story, it gets kudos for tying it all together, relating back to the fourth film (a la Michelle Rodriguez), as well as another (hint: end credits.) If what they say is true, you save the best for last, and the finale should be nothing short of spectacular. But knowing how this industry works, the end may not be so near.

Rating: 4 stars