Wednesday, 27 August 2014

REVIEW: LUCY


The movie I am about to review came a little late to Malaysian cinemas. It was released in the United States mid-July and it is a film that was promoted quite anticipated, especially if you are a fan of French film director Luc Besson. For several decades, Besson has carved an illustrious film career in Europe with some box-office hits in his home continent and Hollywood. Some of the popular films he directed are Leon: The Professional (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), and Arthur and the Invisibles (2006). He has wrote many screenplays which usually centers around crime-action drama set in Europe. I am a fan of his working style and I was anticipating this film.

His next installment as director this year’s summer release titled Lucy. Playing the title role is actress Scarlett Johansson. She is supported by Morgan Freeman, Korean actor Choi Min-Sik, and Egyptian actor Amr Waked. The film was written by Besson himself.

How will his latest endeavor fare up to his body of work? Do read on…

Scarlett Johansson in the title role of Lucy
SYNOPSIS:
Lucy is an American woman living in Taipei. After one of her party nights, her boyfriend tricked her into delivering a package to a foreign national in a hotel. Reluctantly, she delivers the package to these foreigners and to her disbelief, discovers a drug crime syndicate. Against her wishes, Lucy is forced to carry the packaged drug to the United States by stuffing them in her stomach. While being held captive, Lucy is beaten and her stomach kicked repeatedly. This spurred a chemical reaction of the drug within her body begins to shape Lucy into a human being of enhanced mental and physical ability. With her new ‘powers’, she goes on a hunt for the drug syndicate while trying to unlock the mysteries behind her phenomenon.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) being held by her captors
SCRIPT:
Fresh and smart idea but messily structured’ It is one of those stories that we don’t usually watch in cinemas. I won’t consider it to be a script on a brilliance level but it is something new. The story takes a well-known scientific fact and enhances it to be exaggerated fiction. The story balances itself between two plots concurrently; Lucy’s determination to avenge the villains and Lucy’s constant curiosity of her bodily changes. At times, the story felt like it explained too much for me to digest and at times, certain scenes felt like they were unexplained. You have to pay really close attention to the dialogue. The story starts well in the beginning but became over-exaggerated towards the end.

 A new and 'enhanced' Lucy is trying to find out what is going on with her.
ACTING:
Scarlett Johansson shines in the title role of Lucy. She did a great job in playing every bit a fa├žade of multiple emotions effectively. For most actors, it is challenging enough to headline a film on his or her soldiers let alone having the movie’s title being the name of your character. Johansson did well in embodying Lucy and we do see a progression from what Lucy was before and what Lucy has the potential to become. Morgan Freeman as a scientist did reasonably okay since his role was more a supporting one. I would love the have seen more of Freeman. Korean actor Choi Min-Sik was at the top of his game portraying the villain. If he looks familiar to you, Choi was the villain in the hit Korean crime thriller I Saw The Devil (2010).

Korean actor Choi Min-Sik leads his band of baddies.
FILMING:
Director Luc Besson is known for his own unique stylistic brand of action. Lucy is no different than his other films. He blends both action and drama well. The cinematography was good when it came to capturing the colourfulness of Lucy’s adventure and the gloomy dark side of the crime underworld. At times, the visual effects seemed overdone but it was necessary to explain. However, I wish Besson would concentrate a little more on storyline as there were several plot holes within the film.

Director Luc Besson (holding camera) on set with Scarlett Johansson.
PACING:
The film starts well and builds towards a fairly decent climactic ending. However, when it came to explaining the scientific reasons behind Lucy’s problem, it felt a little draggy.

TONE (MOOD):
An innocent heroine is unwittingly thrust into strange circumstances and changes she doesn’t understand. While she endures this self-discovery, she has to battle bad people who are after her blood.

Morgan Freeman as Professor Newman who holds the answer for Lucy's (and the audience) 'abilities'.
DOWNSIDE:
The script is little heavy for my liking. I felt it could have a lighter mood to it.

UPSIDE:
Visual effects and Scarlett Johansson.

Another on-set photo of Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson
OVERALL:
By taking a scientific fact and expanding it into a story on film, it is quite fresh among the many films available today. I call this movie a combination of Limitless plus Salt (Angelina Jolie) plus The Matrix. If you liked all those films, Lucy might be your cup of tea.

RATING:

7 out of 10.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

REVIEW: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)


As the Hollywood summer box-office comes to a close, another movie franchise from the past is served up for movie-going audiences. This time, a beloved children’s favourite animation from the 1980s and 1990s gets a live-action treatment.

The movie is titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film is directed Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) and produced by famed directed Michael Bay along with Brad Fuller and Ian Bryce. The film stars Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg and featuring the voices of Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub. The script is Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec, and Evan Daugherty. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters were originally created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. There were previous adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1990, 1991, 1993, and a feature-length animated film in 2007.

Will another film adaptation do justice to the popular children’s characters? Do read on…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: (L-R) Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello
SYNOPSIS:
New York is being terrorize by a crime wave lately and hotshot television April O’Neil (Megan Fox) suspects that the mysterious Foot Clan is involved. One day, she stumbles upon on of the Foot Clan’s activities and discovers that there are masked vigilantes fighting against these criminals. She investigates the identity of the vigilantes and is shocked to discover four genetically mutated turtle with ninja skills named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michalengo. Together, they and O’Neil work together to bring down the Foot Clan who are led by a notorious leader named Shredder.

Megan Fox in the lead role as April O'Neil
SCRIPT:
Mediocre and predictable. Since it is a movie aimed at the much younger generation, it is no surprise that the plot is quite predictable. There was actually good characterization of the part of the human lead characters but very little on the hero turtles. It jumps back and forth too much on present plot and back stories which could be difficult to follow. The film’s dialogue was kept simple and not too complicated. There were some funny lines too but would have loved to see more. The ending was not so good for me as it was extremely anti-climactic.

Will Arnett as Vernon Femwick and Megan Fox as April O'Neil
ACTING:
This film does not showcase acting talents prominently but Megan Fox and Will Arnett did pretty okay. As usual, William Fichtner gave a good performance as the villain but the film focused more on the hero turtles rather than him. The hero turtles were performed using motion capture visual effects so I can really evaluate much. I would have loved to see more of Whoopi Goldberg’s character though.

Michelangelo provided the majority of the comic relief
                                                                                                                       
FILMING:
Surprisingly, the production was not too badly done. The action scenes were exciting and the visual effects were great. The ninja turtles were primarily created on film through the use of motion capture performance like the film Avatar (2009) and the visual effects were quite well made. I was hoping for more ninja skills and stunts to be on display though as they were done too quick.

Director Jonathan Liebesman on set with motion capture performers for the ninja turtles
PACING:
Not too bad. Good start, good middle, but it got a bit tiring towards the end.

TONE (MOOD):
A group of uniquely mutated animals with martial arts skills team up with a determined investigative reporter in order to battle mysterious enemies who plots a sinister plan of epic proportions.

Ninja turtles getting ready for action.
DOWNSIDE:
Predictable storyline and anti-climactic ending.

UPSIDE:
Good comedy and good visual effects. That is pretty much it.

April O'Neill (Megan Fox) in a scene with our ninja heroes
OVERALL:
It was just an okay movie. I felt the filmmakers could have at least make it more adult-oriented rather than focused primarily for kids. It was just a decent adaptation.
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RATING:

6.0 out of 10

Saturday, 2 August 2014

REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY


I am going to begin this review with writing a little bit of film history, in particular, Marvel Studios film history. For those who are unfamiliar with the studio’s history, it would be beneficial for your personal movie knowledge. Knowing a thing or two about the studio’s background would make it easier to relate to the movie I am reviewing in this posting. I will try to be brief as possible.

As with many comic book companies, the Holy Grail is to see their stable of characters be made into feature length films. In the 1980s, Marvel Comics tried several times with made-for-TV movies (airing on American television) of Fantastic Four, Thor, etc but without success. The notable success would be The Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno which some of you might be familiar with. In the 1990s, Marvel Comics (who now has a subsidiary called Marvel Films and eventually renamed Marvel Studios) commissioned the rights of their best-selling comic book characters to big name Hollywood studios; X-Men and Fantastic Four to 20th Century Fox, Spider-man to Sony, and The Incredible Hulk to Universal Studios. In this deal, the studios would profit from image rights of the characters and box-office receipts from distributing the films around the world. Marvel Comics only profits a certain percentage from these profits. Personally, I call this group of comic book characters, the ‘A-List’. These movies would eventually became a success financially for all business entities involved. As what any business company would do, the goal is always to maximize profit. Therefore, Marvel Studios attempted to regain back the rights to their characters which they commissioned to these Hollywood studios. And as what any business company would do, these Hollywood studios would not relinquish the rights back to Marvel. The only character Marvel was able to obtain back the rights was The Incredible Hulk.

Sometime in the mid 2000s, Marvel Studios made a gamble. They signed a distribution deal with Paramount Pictures in which the studio would share movie receipt profits and Marvel Studios would retain all image rights to any of their characters. Since their ‘A-List’ characters are distributed by Paramount’s rival movie studios, Marvel decided to bring other characters from their stable to the forefront. I call this the ‘B-List’ characters. Hence, the world was presented with film adaptations of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and other characters in various sequels. Let me remind you that these characters are not second-rated in the world of comics but in terms of sales, the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph are ahead. The gamble which Marvel Studios took eventually gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe where all their characters are connected in multiple storylines.

Marvel's The Avengers
From a financial standpoint, the gamble made by Marvel Studios paid off handsomely and they continue to find more comic book characters in their vault which has potential for a film adaptation. One such potential is the relatively new and unfamiliar to many (even to me) Guardians of the Galaxy, which was created in 2008 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and is also a remake of 1969 short-lived version of the same name.

Guardians of the Galaxy is directed by James Gunn who helmed another superhero-themed movie titled Super in 2010. The film is co-written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. The huge ensemble cast consist of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice only), Bradley Cooper (voice only), Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, and Glenn Close. As usual with almost all Marvel films, Kevin Feige serves as producer. If you have seen the trailer for the film, a character played by Djimon Hounsou quips “Who?” when confronting Star-Lord played by Chris Pratt. That was MY reaction when the film was announced. Maybe I am not as well-versed in comic book land but Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like an odd choice and a risky decision to be adapted into film.

Will another Marvel gamble pay off for the company and satisfy audience worldwide? Do read on…

Guardians (L-R, clockwise): Star Lord, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and Rocket Raccoon
SYNOPSIS:
A young Earth boy named Peter Quill is kidnapped by extraterrestrial beings from outer space and brought onto a spaceship comprising of thugs and renegades. He grows up to be like one of them and declares himself Star-Lord. While on a quests to steal an orb-shaped object, he encounters rivalry from another group serving under the villainous Ronan The Accuser. As Quill tries to investigate the importance of the orb, he comes across several odd-ball characters; Gamora the adopter daughter of Thanos and servant of Ronan, Rocket Racoon the wise-cracking bounty hunter, Groot the bodyguard of Rocket Raccoon in the shape of a humanoid tree, and Drax the Destroyer who is known for his menacing physique. Quill and his new-found band of ragtag misfits are constantly at odds amongst themselves but as Ronan gets increasingly close to obtaining the orb in their position, they must put aside their differences and safe all life forms as Guardians of the Galaxy.

Chris Pratt as Star Lord
SCRIPT:
Smart and fresh. As you may have read the opening paragraphs of these posting, the source material for this film is pretty new which makes establishing back-stories crucial. Since it is an ensemble cast of heroes, the focus zeroes in on the leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as its primary character back-story. As the movie progresses, we are introduced little by little into understanding more of who are the guardians and who are the villains. This is neatly done by writing their back-stories in passing remarks, humour, and brief monologues. Despite the film’s setting being in the far reaches of outer space and distant galaxies, the story occasionally harkens back to various cues (through music, humour, and set design) to remind the audience that Peter Quill is still an alien among other life forms in the galaxy. I think this is essential so we the audience can relate to what the lead character is going through. Each character is outlined with their own distinct ambition to succeed and slowly we start to like these characters. Another positive aspect of the film’s script is how the storyline manages to infuse several positive moral values in particular family and teamwork. Other ensemble superhero films do convey such values but with Guardians of the Galaxy, the feeling has much more impact. There are plenty of witty humour in the film and I dare to say the wit is almost at par with The Avengers (2012). You are bound to leave the cinema with some memorable lines of dialogue. The core of the film’s story centers around taking risks and making the best of any given opportunity.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora
ACTING:
Convincing and memorable. The choice of casting by the filmmakers could never have been better. Each guardian is given relatively equal screen time and every single actor portraying them gave top class performances. Pratt as the leader Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord gave both his dramatic and comedic sides pretty good balance. Saldana as the tough no-nonsense strong female lead Gamora, managed to hold her own against Pratt. The surprise package here is Dave Bautista as Drax. Being tough does not necessarily lead to being intelligent and Bautista carried that characteristic really well. We only here the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as Groot and Rocket Raccoon respectively. All I can say for both of the CGI characters, they brought their souls to life. The villains were slightly overshadowed by the heroes in the film. I would love to have seen more of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) becoming more bad-ass as his physicality and weapon gave such an advantage. Bautista as Drax is the surprise package her.

Dave Bautista as Dra
                                                                                                                        
FILMING:
When Marvel hired Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers (2012), it felt like a surprise choice. Whedon had only done one feature film prior, and the appointment of him was a huge gamble on the part of Marvel Studios. For Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios made another gamble in hiring a relative new director with 3 films under his belt James Gunn to direct and co-write the film. Just like the decision of Whedon as director, I too had my doubts of Gunn’s ability. And boy, I was again proven wrong. James Gunn is a genius! What Gunn brought to the table was keeping the story simple yet explainable while being surrounded by an action adventure atmosphere. The action sequences were reminiscing of Star Wars films and the cinematography captured it beautifully with various colour facades. The set designs, wardrobe, and make-up did a good job in creating other believable alien worlds. The Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) looked just convincing enough to give that alien world ‘look’. Somehow, I felt the CGI was a little too much and quite the overkill. However, this does not damage the movie entirely as whole. I have to give extremely high praises to the movie’s soundtrack. The soundtrack (not to be confused with background orchestral motion picture score) is a pure genius of a music compilation. Gunn utilized songs from the 1960s and the 1970s to enrich the story further by associating them at key scenes in the movie. The songs featured are very popular. I won’t be surprised if the music from the film becomes a talking point after the film.

Bradley Cooper voices Rocket Raccoon
PACING:
No complaints. Fantastic! The film gets increasingly interesting as the movie progresses. Almost every scene that comes along, there are 
more unexpected surprises for the audience to enjoy. What surprised me is how the film managed to balance between just the right amount of action, drama, and humour. These elements are juggled back and forth to avoid the film having a dull pacing.

VIn Diesel voices Groot
TONE (MOOD):
A group of reluctant anti-heroes juggling between revenge and redemption sets out to safe the galaxy they once had issues about. All done in a light-hearted and funny mood.

James Gunn directing his brother Sean Gunn who was the CGI double for Rocket Raccoon
DOWNSIDE:
A little bit of a CGI overkill. It doesn’t affect the story. A lot of ‘blink-and-you-will-miss-it’ moments so when watching it, you have to pay real close attention.

Before CGI...

 
After CGI...
UPSIDE:
Two words: Fun and funny. This film will surprise from all aspects; action, adventure, comedy, drama, and many many more.

This is one film that I can't wait to see them in a sequel.

OVERALL:
As you reached this section of the review, I thank you for reading all the way. It was a gamble to read such a long review. I mentioned the word ‘gamble’ a lot in this review. To me, it seems to have some sort of ‘theme’, not only in the production behind the film but also the story of the film. Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s greatest gamble and could potentially be Marvel’s greatest film.
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RATING:

9.2 out of 10