Movie Review – The Predator

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EXPECTATIONS: An acerbic, self-aware action comedy that just so happens to be a Predator film.

REVIEW: Shane Black is back! A brand-spanking new film by renowned action-maestro the man himself. For those who don’t know, Shane Black is responsible for writing cult-classic 80’s/90’s films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Last Action Hero and The Monster Squad.

He knows his action films and all of its tropes. He made his directorial debut in 2005 in the neo-noir buddy comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an underrated gem that led Robert Downey Jr. to the role that got him back to stardom, Iron Man. And we got the underseen buddy-comedy The Nice Guys, which showed Ryan Gosling as a comedic force and put Australian actress Angourie Rice into the spotlight.

So when Black announced that he was going to make a new entry in the Predator franchise (in which he starred in the first film) with his collaborator Fred Dekker (whom he worked with on Monster Squad), people started to go ape.

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Then the bad news started. With news reports of drastic reshoots of the third act due to test screenings all the way to the incredibly stupid decision of Black hiring his friend/actor Steven Wilder Striegel to star in his film, without disclosing to anyone that he was a registered sex offender, resulting with Olivia Munn telling 20th Century Fox, who then swiftly cut out his scene with Munn. And Striegel was hired more than once!

So with the up and down expectations, will the hard work from the cast and crew of The Predator shine through despite the bad baggage that it shoulders?

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There are interstellar creatures called the Predators, who are hunters that travel from planet to planet to hunt. In this film, they are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from the top species of each planet.

When a boy (Jacob Tremblay) accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag motley crew of ex-soldiers (Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen) and an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn) can prevent the end of the human race.

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Wow, I am in total amazement of how this film came out. When it was said at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival that The Predator was a gory R-rated version of Monster Squad, they were not kidding. The Predator is an absolute goof that will probably enrage purists, but thankfully like Monster Squad, it is an entertaining, yet sloppily told goof. But unfortunately like Monster Squad, it has all the same problems.

The story is told incredibly fast and the exposition and drama are all free of fat and trimmed to the bone (thanks to editors Harry B. Miller III and Billy Weber). Which is quite good because it gets to the point which is the Predators kill a huge amount of people and lots of blood, gore and offal spray all over the place. And on that red note, The Predator succeeds.

The action is well-shot, well-lensed (thanks to cinematographer Larry Fong) and is thankfully free of detrimental quick-cutting and shaky cam. And unlike the lighting in the prior entry, Alien VS Predator: Requiem, you can actually see what the hell is going on!

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As for the story itself, the mythology and the story ideas (which will not be described in great detail) are so bonkers, that director Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker had to have treated all of it as a joke. There’s a scene in the film where Strahovski’s character provides a motivational speech (by going into detail on Holbrook’s character) for some of the characters due to their reticence. But Black and Dekker (Get it?) subvert the expectations of the audience, that it becomes funny.

And the entire cast and crew are all in on the joke. Even the musical score by Henry Jackman has orchestral cues that convey wonder and childlike joy, as if it was meant for a children’s adventure film. And children is the best way to describe all the characters (except Strahovski’s and Munn’s characters, who ground the film any time they can); in the way that they are all mischievous, rambunctious kids (they even call themselves The Loonies!).

Like all of the films that Black has written/directed, the characters are all acerbic and politically incorrect stereotypes (one’s autistic, one’s religious, one has PTSD, one has Tourette’s etc.) but all the actors gnash their way into their roles and they succeed, for the most part.

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And then we get to the problems of The Predator. There were news reports of third act reshoots earlier this year and seeing the final product, it shows. The CGI/green-screen is quite sloppy, the action is dealt with so swiftly that it ends anti-climatically and some of the resolutions of the characters are left unknown due to the fact that Black never goes back to them. Hell, the swift pacing for the overall film may exhaust some due to the sheer amount of action involved.

The character stereotypes will definitely offend some due to the cartoony and inaccurate portrayals of characters with serious afflictions and some of the jokes do land with a loud thud due to repetition or just come from unlikable character traits (eg. the homophobia). And last but not least, the film is not scary in the slightest, as the stealthy moments like in the earlier Predator films are all gone and replaced with action, which will disappoint purists.

But considering that the prior films have been doing the same thing many times already with five entries (including the Alien VS Predator films), it makes sense that Black and Dekker would change the formula up a bit, but they only intermittently succeed. It’s quite fun if you can get into the silliness due to the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously, but unfortunately, the lack of seriousness is its own detriment.

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This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski
Director: Shane Black
Screenwriters: Fred Dekker, Shane Black

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Movie Review – Teen Titans GO! To the Movies!

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EXPECTATIONS: Something as enjoyable as Captain Underpants.

REVIEW: The Marvel Universe and the DC Comics film extended universe. If one were to think about the incredibly savage conflicts involved in superhero fandom, the battle between these two isn’t a bad place to start.

Ever since the Marvel Universe was king, the DC Universe tried to one-up them in every single opportunity, with mixed results. Only one of their films was critically acclaimed while the rest were either polarizing or just cinematic kryptonite.

But sometimes during conflict, humour can be mined and the jabs between the two universes had started to come into fruition in a major way when Tim Miller‘s Deadpool came out. Ripping the Marvel Universe and DC Universe to shreds as well as subverting action tropes and conventional storytelling, it took Hollywood by storm.

Which leads us to Teen Titans GO! To the Movies, which has the same meta approach towards its superhero peers. With the TV show that it is based on, struggling to be a success in the eyes of television critics as well as the fans of the original Teen Titans cartoon show due to its meta approach to itself and its rambunctious attitude, the Titans finally have the major opportunity to prove themselves with their own feature film. Will they succeed?

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Based on the TV show of the same name, the film shows the adventures of its titular teen heroes, including Robin (Scott Menville), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong) and Starfire (Hynden Walch).

The story revolves around the efforts of the group, who are disappointed over not having starred in a superhero movie of their own. They start attempting to rectify the situation by convincing a famed Hollywood director (Kristen Bell) to develop one for them. Complicating their plans is the dastardly villain Slade (Will Arnett) and his scheme to conquer the world.

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For a family film to succeed, the film is supposed to provide satisfying entertainment for the entire family and not just for the children. Thankfully Teen Titans GO! To the Movies does exactly that, even with the inclusion of fans, and– You know what, I’m gonna go straight to the point here and say that Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is the funniest film of the year. An absolute blast from beginning to end that has a sense of humour that’s even more savage to superhero films than the Deadpool films.

One of the major reasons the film succeeds is that no subject gets away from a good skewering. Superhero films? You betcha. Superhero origins? Of course. The Hollywood industry? Why not. Family films in general? Throw them in there too! The Teen Titans GO! show itself? Bring it in! But even with the plentiful targets on display, the film never feels like it collapses under its own weight and that’s due to the incredibly fast pace and the delivery of the jokes.

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Blink-or-you’ll miss jokes are plentiful like seeing the movie posters like Aquamanatee or Detective Chimp: The Movie). Pop culture references and parodies are executed brilliantly like an inspired sequence involving The Lion King and another sequence involving Back to the Future.

Also, film tropes and conventions are subverted just right with catchy musical numbers like a song where the characters commit many shenanigans called…Shenanigans. Or an upbeat inspirational song about life called…An Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life, sung by a talking tiger voiced by Michael Bolton of all people!

And of course, the Marvel Universe and DC Universe get lampooned to maximum effect like how Slade is made fun of by the Titans for looking exactly like Deadpool, despite the fact that Deadpool is an actual rip-off of Slade. Or how the ‘Martha’ scene in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is parodied to amusing effect when their fathers are brought into the picture.

Even throwaway lines and offbeat casting are factored into the humour like the mentioning of Gene Hackman‘s real estate scheme or how Nicolas Cage is cast as Superman (when he almost played the superhero in a film by Tim Burton) and how his son, Kal-El Cage was cast as Young Bruce Wayne. It is jokes, gags and Easter eggs like that, which gives the film a lot of replay value.

And then there’s the adult-related jokes that will fly over the children’s heads but will startle the parents and fans into absolute hysterics. One joke involves a hit-and run while another involves the use of kryptonite against Superman in such a suggestive manner that I personally was in absolute shock. Other jokes involves time-travel and the way the characters change the origins of various superheroes will provides loads of laughs, mainly due to how dark and abrupt the jokes are delivered.

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But what makes the dark and adult jokes feel earned and non-provocative is the level of childlike innocence and sincerity these characters have when they are portrayed on-screen. The obliviousness, the enthusiasm and the lack of cynicism is what gives the humour the punch it needs.

The voice cast deliver on all fronts, including the original voice cast from the TV show, newcomers who clearly have experience working in animation like Will Arnett (Bojack Horseman, The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie), Kristen Bell (Disney’s Frozen) as well as off-kilter casting including Nicolas Cage, Halsey, Lil Yachty and even Stan Lee himself!

As for flaws, and there are very little, there are some moments in the film that could’ve had more development into the story as well as could’ve been mined for more humour i.e. how female directors like Slade Wilson are directing superhero films. And there will be some jokes that will irk parents due to how suggestive the jokes are. One visual joke that involves Superman as a baby will definitely put off some.

Exceeding this reviewer’s expectations, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is an absolute ball of a time with high-spirited animation, lovable characters, infectiously catchy musical numbers and a wonderful sense of humour that is either adorably innocent for its demographic and beyond; savagely meta towards itself and its superhero peers, ingeniously referential towards pop culture references and is hilariously inappropriate, thanks to the gags that will fly over the heads of children but will soar with adults.

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This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Hynden Walch, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Halsey, Greg Davies, Jimmy Kimmel, Lil Yachty, Dana Snyder, Kal-El Cage
Director: Peter Rida Michail, Aaron Horvath
Screenwriters: Michael Jelenic, Aaron Horvath

Movie Review – Mile 22

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EXPECTATIONS: A competent action film with Iko Uwais as a true stand-out.

REVIEW: Oh, look! We have another Berg-er joint coming in cinemas! Mile 22 is the fourth collaboration between actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after the three dramatic films that were based on true stories i.e. the biographical war drama Lone Survivor, the disaster film Deepwater Horizon and the crime drama Patriots Day.

All of them were solidly made, competently acted and received positive reviews during their time of release. Or they all could be seen as hero masturbation fodder for lead actor Mark Wahlberg, who has said that he could have stopped the events of 9/11, if he was on-board on one of the planes. No joke.

Moving on, for their latest collaboration, it marks a departure since Mile 22 is not based on a true story, as it is a basic story about transporting an asset from point A to point B, written by first-time screenwriter Lea Carpenter.

But with Wahlberg as the lead and a supporting cast who clearly have action pedigrees on their belts, including ex-UFC fighter, now current wrestler Ronda Rousey and martial arts extraordinaire Iko Uwais, it could lead to being something special. Does Mile 22 go the distance or will go off track and crash and burn?

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There’s really no point in doing a synopsis for this film, as it is a story that we’ve seen many, many times. But it is a well-worn plot that has resulted with effective films like Martin Brest‘s Midnight Run, George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road, Teddy Chan‘s Bodyguards and Assassins and Richard Donner‘s 12 Blocks.

Unfortunately, Peter Berg’s Mile 22 doesn’t rank anywhere near the quality of those films, as it is a chaotically edited, overblown and self-serious mess. Let’s begin with the positives. In an interview, director Peter Berg said the main reason he went on to direct this film was martial arts star Iko Uwais, and knowing his prior work, it’s not hard to see why.

Every time Uwais appears in a film, his on-screen presence and acting chops gradually improve and in Mile 22, he gives his best performance. Exuding charisma, an enigmatic presence and some welcome nuance (compared to the rest of the cast), if he keeps this progress up, he could eventually become an exceptional actor.

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Unfortunately, that ends the positives and we go down the rocky road of the negatives. Unlike Peter Berg‘s prior films (barring the sci-fi blockbuster Battleship), the editing is an absolute travesty, on a storytelling level as well as a visual level. The action (particularly the fight scenes, co-choreographed by Uwais) is so riddled with fast cuts and shaky-cam, that it stings your eyes like a bad implementation of 3D. Think of the editing in action films directed by Luc Besson acolyte Olivier Megaton and you’re on the right ballpark.

Along with the eyes, what also gets hurt are your ears, because the acting from all the major players (barring Uwais) is so overwrought and blatant that it becomes farcical, if not downright annoying for some. The character that Wahlberg plays is apparently super-intelligent and autistic ala Ben Affleck in Gavin O’Connor‘s The Accountant, and yet he does the same venomous arrogant scumbag performance like he did in Martin Scorcese‘s The Departed; and yet he’s the lead. On that note, it’s already difficult to engage and sympathize with such a character. Unless you count the audience’s derisive laughter directed at him, then that could count as engagement.

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To add salt to the wounds, Lea Carpenter‘s script gives him many monologues to deliver. Whether they are meant to show how intelligent he is or it is Peter Berg‘s way to add social commentary to the film via how the government is bad and military is good or it’s meant to be seen as character development, it never convinces because the delivery is executed in such a blunt-force fashion, it comes off as unintentionally funny, complete with bobblehead decorum of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In fact, Wahlberg’s character monologues so much, Malkovich‘s character actually tells him to stop monologuing. According to an interview on Collider, Wahlberg’s monologues were cut in half. Wow, the audience luckily dodges that bullet.

Speaking of dodging bullets, Lauren Cohan does a good job with the action scenes (under all that fast editing), but her character (as well as Rousey’s) do not come off as people you would associate in real life. Cohan’s character has a character trait that she is divorced and she is having communication problems with her daughter (no thanks to the scumbag ex-husband, played by director Peter Berg). But the way it is executed (through a family app called Our Family Wizard, which is features quite a lot) and Cohan’s high-strung performance, it just comes off as funny.

Ronda Rousey‘s talents are wasted here and her character (if you could call it that) is just a cardboard cutout that spouts quips and has very little screentime, which is a shame, as Rousey looks more comfortable on-camera than she has in prior films. And then there’s John Malkovich (who previously worked with Berg on Deepwater Horizon) cashing a paycheck while donning a Johnny Unitas haircut (toupee?), staring at monitors and barking orders (although he has the best line in the film) and we have Korean singer CL making her Hollywood debut, doing absolutely nothing to contribute to the film.

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Speaking of doing absolutely nothing, there is a twist in this film that appears in the final act. A twisty-twirly-swirly-curly knot of a twist that is so eye-gougingly obvious in its foreshadowing and appearance that it makes honking noises as soon as it arrives. In addition to that, it also honks out “sequel, sequel” and it also delivers a meta “joke” (delivered by Uwais) in reference to an SNL sketch about Wahlberg, which is amusing in retrospect because it’s the one thing in the film that is not funny.

And that’s all that Mile 22 has to offer: unintentional laughter and the presence of Iko Uwais. Don’t go into this film looking for quality action of Uwai’s earlier films or even Berg’s earlier films, since the action doesn’t go the distance. But out of the two STX studio films out in August, Mile 22 is far funnier than The Happytime Murders, so it definitely has that going for it.

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This review can be also seen at THE AU REVIEW. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich, CL, Peter Berg
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriters: Lea Carpenter, Graham Roland

Movie Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp

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EXPECTATIONS: Something as fun as light-footed as the original film, standing out positively in comparison to Avengers: Infinity War.

REVIEW: The superhero film boom continues! After the gloom-and-doom of Avengers: Infinity War, we now have the sequel to the miniature superhero franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Free from the shackles of predetermined disappointment after the absence of original director Edgar Wright from the first film, returning director Peyton Reed and lead actor/co-writer Paul Rudd truly have the reigns to go where they want to go.

With talented franchise newcomers Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins and others, will the film succeed in being as good as the fun, light-footed original, if not better?

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Set years after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is in a deep struggle with the consequences of his choices as both a towering(?) superhero and as a working father.

Approached by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Lang must once again don the Ant-Man suit and fight alongside the Wasp. The urgent mission soon leads to the quest of finding the missing Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is stuck in the quantum realm that Scott ventured in and out of.

But there is more at stake, when a new antagonist by the name of Ava aka Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) comes into the picture, wanting something from Pym that could destroy the chance for the heroes to reunite with Janet again.

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Does Ant-Man and the Wasp succeed as a sequel as well as an antidote to the grim feeling that came from Avengers: Infinity War? To stop people from getting antsy in the back, yes, it definitely does.

As sequels usually go, the stories get bigger, the characters become more plentiful, the action becomes more bombastic and of course, the money becomes greener (America-wise). But during the process, the filmmakers would often forget what made the original a success in the first place.

In the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp, it never forgets the novelty and nature of its premise, which is not size, but scale; it never forgets the funny interplay between the ensemble cast and it never forgets that people come to see the man in Ant-Man. Free from the Edgar Wright-size expectations that the original one had, director Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd were free to do their own thing and it really shows.

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One change in particular was to give the change the gender of the character of Ghost, permitting more female talent into the fray. Hannah John-Kamen, who’s known for her television appearances in Black Mirror and Killjoys, has been given very small roles in blockbuster films like Star Wars Episode VII: Force Awakens, Ready Player One (where she stood out regardless) and Tomb Raider. Finally given something substantial to do, she inhabits the role of Ghost convincingly, showing the torment and pain of the character as well as inhabit the physicality (the fight scenes in particular) with ease.

Evangeline Lilly (who was kept in the sidelines in the first film) is clearly having the time of her life, getting into the action and hi-jinks as The Wasp, and she predictably (in the best of ways), showing that she is clearly the better of the two leads. The Ant-Man films are essentially about a team but Lilly steals the spotlight.

Another change is that it’s not a rehash of the plot of the original. There’s no longer a heist plot in the story, but more of a wild goose chase (complete with a visually striking sequence reminiscent of Fantastic Voyage) and the gadgets are all used to maximum effect. Size counts here and anything that’s large will be small and vice-versa. Action scenes involving a kitchen fight to the introduction of Ghost that involves phasing into matter and a car chase that’s part-Hot Wheels, they are all just a hoot to watch and are very well-executed.

Considering all the plots, the action that happens and the many characters that the film keeps track of, Reed and the five credited scriptwriters (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barber, Gabriel Ferrari) keep the story on track efficiently, if not cohesively. Some plots like the Ghost subplot could have used more time to develop more, considering the potential drama behind it, but it feels quite perfunctory. But the mixed execution of the drama is easily compensated the comedy.

One particularly funny scene involves the Ant-man suit malfunctioning and his stature changes constantly, which becomes a visual treat as well as shows Rudd’s capable physical comedic chops, shown in films like Role Models and particularly, I Love You Man.

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Speaking of comedic chops, Rudd shows that he’s perfectly cast as Ant-man. Given more to do in terms of physical comedy, he succeeds in flying colors. And he fits the role of playing a flawed goofball hero as well as imbuing the character with enough humanity that the audience will still want him to succeed. His scenes with Abby Ryder Fortson (who thankfully is given more to do), who plays his daughter Cassie, certainly show that and are genuinely sweet and funny.

The supporting cast still give their all, with Michael Pena standing out once again (and he does the narration gag again with an amusing twist), Walton Goggins playing an amusing scumbag of a character, Laurence Fishburne doing more here than he does in the entirety of his screentime in the DCEU by providing a good foil to Douglas as well as solidifying the drama as well as he can in the Ghost subplot; and of course Michael Douglas actually has his own adventure subplot in the final act, which was quite satisfying. For those who expect Michelle Pfeiffer to own the spotlight will be disappointed, as she is more of a MacGuffin than an actual character.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a load of Marvel goodness, with enjoyably spirited characters, exuberant action scenes, character improvements (from the original) and a fun comedic edge that is sure to be an antidote to high-stakes drama of Avengers: Infinity War as well as make you antsy for the inevitable sequel…?

P.S – There are two credit sequences that one is an amusing stinger and another is one that references the prior films.

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenwriters: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barber, Gabriel Ferrari

Movie Review – Incredibles 2

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EXPECTATIONS: Something that doesn’t equal the original, but is a fun time nonetheless.

REVIEW: It has been a very, very long 14 years, but the long-awaited sequel that many were asking for is finally here. Toy Story 4 Incredibles 2 has finally arrived! The first film was branded as the Fantastic Four film that people deserved and it catapulted the career of director Brad Bird to new heights, including live-action ventures like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland.

And with the vast amounts of superhero films we have today and many more on the horizon, it is clearly a no-brainer for Bird to make the sequel. Will Incredibles 2 succeed as a sequel that stands on its own as well as a great superhero film in its own right?

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Incredibles 2 starts off where the first film ended, where the Parr family encounter the villain, The Underminer. Although, as a family, they have foiled his plan to rob the major banks, he escapes, leaving the Incredibles with a worse reputation than they already have from government officials.

It only gets worse when Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks, replacing Bud Luckey who sadly passed away) reports that the superhero relocation program is shut down, leading the family to dire straits. But hope comes into the picture when Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) informs Helen (Holly Hunter) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson) about Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), the CEO of a telecommunications company who’s also a superhero fanatic. Alongside her sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener) who is a technological marvel, the two want to bring supers back into the spotlight by changing the public’s perception of them.

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Since Helen is chosen for her light approach to saving the day (in comparison to Bob’s sloppy approach), she is out, doing all the work, advocating superhero rights while Bob is at home, as the stay-at-home dad, taking care of the moody Violet (Sarah Vowell), the hyperactive Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox) and the increasingly troublesome Jack-Jack, who’s experiencing his own super phase.

As the two adjust to their new change in lifestyles and as superheroes come back into the spotlight, a new supervillain comes into the midst, called the Screenslaver, who has the ability to use any screen to hypnotize and control people who look at them.

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Was Incredibles 2 worth the 14-year wait? Thankfully, it is, as it provides younger children a very entertaining respite from the high-stakes storytelling of other superhero films like Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. And no, Deadpool 2 is not for young children!

One of the best factors of the first Incredibles film is the integration of the family dynamic into the superhero genre and thankfully, it is kept intact in the sequel; the much-needed grounded feel that audiences can relate to. But this time, focusing on how Bob takes care of the family.

And it is because of that, it ends up being surprisingly funnier than the original. Bob’s reactions to mundane tasks like helping Dash with his homework or trying to put Jack-Jack to sleep are hilarious. Jack-Jack in particular, is the funniest thing in the film. His interactions with the family and a certain creature pay off with the biggest laughs.

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The action sequences, while not emotionally thrilling like the airplane set-piece in the first film, are still a lot of fun to watch, especially when one of them is similar to a set-piece in an infamously maligned sequel. It helps a lot when Bird comes up with new superpowers for the Incredibles to fight against eg. teleportation or hypnosis; or when he gives something new for the Incredibles to do eg. when Helen (aka Elastigirl) rides her motorcycle to scale and jump on tall buildings by splitting apart, similar to parkour.

Like all of Pixar films, they always choose actors who are right for the parts, and not just choose people with massive star power. All the cast members assembled are on point with their characters, including Bird himself as the hoot-and-a-half Edna Mode. The newcomers including Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush and Isabella Rossellini (just her appearance alone makes me laugh) all commit with ease and sound like they are having fun while they’re doing it. Bob Odenkirk needs to do more voicework, that’s all this I’ll say. And the biggest laugh for me is when Samuel L. Jackson (as Frozone) almost does a trademark of his. Almost.

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As for its flaws, it basically comes down to expectations. Since the film came out 14 years after the original, there would be a build-up of audience anticipation that may affect how people would feel about the film. It could easily had come out 2 years later, it’s possible the film would have a better reception.

Back to actual flaws, the film isn’t as emotionally stirring as the original, as the film focuses more on fun and less on stakes. And the motivation for the villainous scheme for what he or she (or they?) isn’t as involving as it could’ve been, particularly in comparison to the motivation of Syndrome, the villain in the first Incredibles film.

Overall, Incredibles 2 is a hell of a fun time for the entire family, providing lots of superhero antics that rival films in the MCU and DCEU, loads more laughs than the original film and the cast and crew all back in the height of their game. Don’t ever get get old, Jack-Jack.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic action scenes

Many, many hilarious moments

Keeps the compelling family dynamic intact

Many memorable side characters, including the villain, the Screenslaver

CONS

Not quite emotionally stirring as the original

Could’ve easily came out much earlier and not have the pressures of the long waiting time

The motive of the villain isn’t as good in comparison to Syndrome from the first film

SCORE: 8/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, John Ratzenberger, LaTanya Richardson Jackson
Director: Brad Bird
Screenwriters: Brad Bird

Movie Review – Believer

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EXPECTATIONS: A vastly different, yet satisfying remake of Johnnie To’s Drug War.

REVIEW: Everyone knows how I feel about remakes, being mostly unnecessary and the ones that stand out strive to be different and so on, yada-yada-yada. Therefore, I won’t be singing the same tune again.

In the case of Lee Hae-young’s Believer, it is a remake of Johnnie To’s stellar crime-thriller Drug War, a film that stood out due to To’s fantastic direction that not only makes thrills with its boilerplate procedural narrative but also sidestepping Chinese film censorship, which is no easy feat.

Believer doesn’t have those obstacles but just the elephant in the room; being that it is a remake of a critically acclaimed film. It can be a simple cut-and-paste of the original, or it will make a deviation from it and stand out from the crowd. That’s where director Lee Hae-young comes in.

Standing out with his directorial debut, the delightfully strange comedy-drama Like a Virgin, which involves a trans-woman who competes in Korean wrestling in order to win money to pay for her sex change operation. That alone already sounds like the type of director who takes the road less traveled. With a talented cast (including the late Kim Joo-hyuk) and crew in tow, will Believer be a remake that finally stands out?

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Basically following the framework of Drug War, the film follows detective Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong) who, to bring down the boss of Asia’s biggest drug cartel, conspires with a drug pusher named Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol) who is a lowly member of the gang seeking revenge against the boss, Mr. Lee, who has never been truly seen as many people out there claim to be him.

From the second the film started, it is very clear that Believer isn’t a straight cut-and-paste remake of Drug War. Taking a different approach in comparison to the almost laser-focused procedural pacing of Johnnie To’s film, Lee Hae-young’s film takes on a more stylish and cinematic approach, adding dimensions to the lead characters, utilizing more unorthodox shot placements (one used on the revolving platter), adding more gore and prurience and making the villains even more larger-than-life (courtesy of actors Kim Joo-hyuk and Cha Seung-won, as a new character not in the original).

In simpler terms, director Lee and scriptwriter Chung Seo-kyung (a collaborator for the acclaimed director Park Chan-wook) takes the framework of Drug War and puts a lot more “movie” into it. Cinematographer Kim Tae-kyung lenses the film stylishly with great results and the propulsive electronic score by Dalpapan adds a lot of energy to the proceedings.

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And on that note, Believer succeeds overall. Starting from the smaller details, the humour is more from the macabre variety, rather than the dark humour in Drug War, and it lends some ample laughs. Whether it’s a character that uses his tongue for more than just profane swearing or a particular use of gore that is reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the depravity is sure to startle and induce awkward laughter.

The characters are more overstated than in the original and the actors are more than up to the task in portraying them up to eleven. Last seen in roles like the perverted stepfather in The Handmaiden and the fiendish villain in A Hard Day, Cho Jin-woong fits into the role of Won-ho like a glove and while the script initially gives him an emotional throughline to play with via a character death, it’s largely forgotten until the ending.

Ryu Jun-yeol, fresh from the biggest Korean film of 2017, A Taxi Driver, is compellingly enigmatic as the taciturn Rak. Since the drama is pumped up, the relationship between Won-ho and Rak is put into the spotlight but unfortunately, it’s not developed very much beyond petty squabbles about mistrust and dependence on one another. It also doesn’t help that it’s overshadowed by the vast amount of quirky characters i.e. the villains. And it’s because of that, the contemplative ending, which is incredibly out of place with everything that proceeded it, falls flat.

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But the actors who play the villains do their very best to compensate and they are definitely the most entertaining parts of the film. The late Kim Joo-hyuk gives a spectacular performance as the deranged Ha-Rim, who can be set off by something innocuous as the noise of a LED light bulb. Park Hae-joon is entertainingly boisterous as Sun-chang, a lieutenant of Mr. Lee who can’t keep his mouth shut.

Others include Jin Seo-yeon, who is hot-headed as Bo-ryeong, Ha-rim’s eccentric and fanatical (of Lee Min-ho, of course) girlfriend, while Cha Seoung-won effectively plays Brian, a drug-peddling minister/estranged son of a dead industrialist with a bit of a screw loose. Best of all are Kim Dong-young and Lee Joo-young as deaf/mute brother-and-sister (unlike the two mute brothers in Drug War) drug cooks who are amusingly menacing in dirty clothing, firing off machine guns as well as bicker in hilariously exaggerated sign language.

But the majority of the female characters (apart from Lee Joo-young and Kang Seung-hyun as a member of Won-ho’s team) are portrayed problematically, including the character of Bo-ryeong. Whether they are meant to be leered at as eye candy or only serve as a plot device/character motivator, it’s a problem that not only brings down Believer, but other South Korean films, especially V.I.P.

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The action, which most of it is in the third act, is well-done and ferocious as many South Korean action films can be. Although none of the action scenes are immaculate as in Drug War, it relies on more of an extravagant approach (including scenes of hand-to-hand combat) that works. And there are scenes that are intensely gripping, the stand-out being an elaborate undercover scheme involving scripting and acting skills that shows ,like in Stephen Chow’s King Of Comedy, that undercover cops are the best actors.

And speaking of the best, Believer is the best we could’ve hoped for a remake nowadays. Retaining the framework of the original whilst going on its own path, the cast and crew all deserve kudos for their genuine effort, even if the destination is not as satisfying as the journey. And it serves as a substantial swan song for Kim Joo-hyuk, who steals the show with his towering performance.

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Quickie Review

PROS

The cast give good performances, especially Kim Joo-hyuk

Macabre sense of humour lends plenty of laughs

Quirky supporting characters add loads of fun

Well-executed action, gripping scenes of tension and good pacing

CONS

Problematic portrayal of female characters

Ill-fitting ending

Ineffective human drama between two leads

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Cho Jin-woong, Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Joo-hyuk, Kim Sung-ryung, Park Hae-joon, Cha Seung-won, Jin Seo-yeon, Kang Seung-hyun, Seo Hyun-woo, Kim Dong-young, Lee Joo-young, Jung Ga-ram
Director: Lee Hae-young
Screenwriters: Chung Seo-kyung, Lee Hae-young, based on Johnnie To’s Drug War

Movie Review – Re:Born

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EXPECTATIONS: A satisfying swan-song for Tak Sakaguchi.

REVIEW: If I heard someone told me that a movie star became famous because he was found by a director while doing underground street fighting, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that is the origin of the film career of the Japanese actor/writer/director/producer/martial artist Tak Sakaguchi.

From humble beginnings with short films with Yudai Yamaguchi, he got his first break with working with Ryuhei Kitamura on the zombie/martial arts/yakuza cult hit, Versus. And that started a fruitful collaboration where they worked together on many other films like Alive, Godzilla: Final Wars and Azumi.

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With other collaborations with martial artists and stuntmen like Yuji Shimomura, Seiji Chiba, he got a taste of going through the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking and became a director with films like Mutant Girls Squad, Be a Man! Samurai School and Samurai Zombie.

But in recent years, shocking news came about when he announced his retirement. Rumours of conflicts with film staff, family issues, health issues came about, but in a recent interview, the reason for his retirement was for him to focus more behind-the scenes, rather than being in front of the camera.

But now, he has come back for one last hurrah. Collaborating with regulars like director/action choreographer Yuji Shimomura, his ZEROS stunt team, fellow actors like Takumi Saito and Mariko Shinoda, he seems determined to make this a treat for his fans. Does Re:Born live up the the hype?

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A legendary covert soldier (Tak Sakaguchi) with a mysterious past now decides to once again unleash his beast inside of him to stand up for what he cares about when his adopted daughter is kidnapped, luring him out of his peaceful existence.

Well, that’s it for the plot synopsis because no one really watches these types of films for the plot; people watch these types of films for the action. And as the swan song of Tak Sakaguchi, Re:Born more than suffices.

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The action was formulated alongside Sakaguchi and Shimomura and fight choreographer Yoshitaka Inagawa to craft a style action fans have never seen, and the result is something called Zero Range Combat; which is basically a close quarters fighting technique, often involving small bladed weaponry, that uses speed and closeness to defeat opponents with pure efficiency.

And while that would sound very repetitive and quite frankly ridiculous in the context of action scenes involving a one-man army, Sakaguchi sells it, making the action scenes thrilling and quite believable.

There are action scenes of brevity that are just flat-out cool in their speed, like a sneak attack in the middle of a crowd that involves the ingenious use of a pen and a gun cartridge.

And there are one-on-one fight scenes involving the setting of a phone booth and a warehouse, one-man-army fight scenes in a forest (Sakaguchi’s favourite setting) but the stand-out one is a one-on-one fight scene between Ghost and the Abyss Walker (yes, really).

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Their movements, which are very loose and free-flowing, along with the dark cinematography by Tetsuya Kudo and composer Kenji Kawai’s imposing score, add a certain surreal and illusive feel, that it comes off as nightmarish. Or the free-flowing movements of the actors may come off as laughable, but it’s certainly one of the more original fight scenes that have come out in recent memory.

While the action of the film is great, how does the rest of the film go? Therein lies the rub. The supporting actors, which include Yura Kondo, Hitomi Hasebe, Takumi Saito, Akio Otsuka, all do what they can with their roles, trying to give the story a sense of credibility, but they all come off as superfluous; just means to an end, which is the action.

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The other cast members, who are involved in the action, fare better, including standouts like Mariko Shinoda, who obviously had a successful collaboration with Sakaguchi since working together in Sion Sono’s bonkers extravaganza, Tag; and of course Makoto Sakaguchi, the standout in films like Sion Sono’s rap musical Tokyo Tribe, as a sadistic soldier.

As for the story, it is simple in retrospect, but as told in the film, is needlessly convoluted to make it more important than it actually is, burdened with needless flashbacks, drawn-out scenes of self-introspection that drag the film a bit.

Overall, Re:Born is a more than sufficient entry to the action genre with Tak Sakaguchi and Yuji Shimomura doing what they do best: kicking ass and taking names, hundreds upon hundreds of them, with style.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic action scenes

Production values like the cinematography and musical score add to the film

CONS

Wasted supporting cast

Superfluous storyline

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Yura Kondo, Takumi Saito, Mariko Shinoda, Akio Otsuka, Orson Mochizuki, Kenta Akami, Masaya Kato, Rina Takeda (narrator)
Director: Yuji Shimomura
Screenwriters: Benio Saeki, Tak Sakaguchi

Movie Review – Ready Player One

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EXPECTATIONS: Flash! Bang! Reference!

REVIEW: Of all the literature out there that caters to geek culture like the sci-fi extravaganza The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the bonkers detective noir The Eyre Affair, very few of them are as controversial as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Although it is a best-seller and has some many popular reviews for it, many have said it is a major detriment to geek culture due to its pandering i.e. references, terrible prose and many claims of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

But like how life finds a way, the most terrible books can be adapted to become films. Critically acclaimed books adapted to be live-action films can result in critically acclaimed films. Sounds simple enough that you can assume that terrible books that are adapted to be terrible films. But can a problematic book be adapted to become a great film? This is where the director, Senor Spielbergo Steven Spielberg comes in.

All of Spielberg’s films can be fit into two categories, and it has been more apparent in recent years. In his filmography, he has The Post, Bridge of Spies, Munich and Lincoln; all films that have aspirations for gravitas and respectability. In other words, they are made “For Your Consideration”. And then we have films like The BFG, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Adventures of Tintin; all films that are made purely for entertainment value as well as being tentpole releases. In other words, they are made “For Your Money”.

Now we have Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, an obvious entry for the latter category where he clearly thought he needed a bigger boat budget since his last highest-budgeted film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With all his talent and filmmaking skill to back him up, will be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Or will it be like taking dinosaurs off the island like in The Lost World: Jurassic Park; that being the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas?

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The film is set in 2045 (in the future), with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse (like the present). But the people have found salvation in denial the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric Willy Wonka Steve Jobs James Halliday (Mark Rylance).

When Halliday dies (or does he?), he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg (not the chocolate kind) he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, starting a contest that entices everyone. And I don’t just mean a group of people, I mean what Gary Oldman yells in Leon: The Professional, which is EVERYONE!

Anyway, when a very likely young hero named Marty McFly Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, after witnessing his Aunt May Aunt Alice being assaulted by Uncle Ben her boyfriend (who is part of a long line of them), he is thrown into a reference-packed pop culture world filled with colour, fun and thankfully eventually, danger.

And of course, there is the evil megalomaniacal company IOI, headed by greedy CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) wants to get this egg to satiate his greed, all of which is linked to earning higher profits because money! Everybody likes money! That’s why they call it money! The race is on, like Donkey Kong!

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Does Ready Player One fix all of its problems of its source material to become a legitimately great film that belongs to the pantheon of Spielberg’s filmography? The answer is 42 no. Although there are some fun sequences and genuine wonder to be had, the film itself is a pandering, noisy, visual mess with a thin plot and even thinner characters.

Let’s begin with the positives. The veteran actors, Ben Mendelsohn and Mark Rylance have fun with their roles as the sinister villain and the creator, respectively. But they are basically performances that they have done before. Mendelsohn basically does the generic, villainous Mendo performance, where he attempts an American accent and grimaces frequently, while having Scooby-Doo aspirations. If you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises and Rogue One, you’ve seen Mendelsohn’s performance already. Same goes for Rylance, whose performance is similar to his one in The BFG, also directed by Spielberg.

Another positive is when Spielberg focuses on the wonder of film, particularly filmmakers that he admires, and this is when the film soars. In an extended sequence, the characters venture into a world of a particular horror film (which won’t be spoiled) and the reason the scene works not only because it is quite funny, it is one of the few scenes where it actually introduces the stakes for characters in a way that the pop culture references actually serve the story i.e. characters that know the film can survive the traps of the world while characters that don’t know the film will suffer.

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And now we get to the negatives, and like the horror movie the film references, this is where the blood flows. The characters (if you could call them that) are incredibly thin and boring, with no dimension or arc whatsoever, especially when the film is a hero’s journey. Tye Sheridan (who’s fantastic in indie films like Mud and Joe) comes off as bland while Olivia Cooke (who’s great in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Limehouse Golem) takes her role and lends it credence that clearly wasn’t in the script.

And the interactions between the two are pretty embarrassing and mildly creepy. Apparently, quoting pop culture references to each other quantifies as developing a rapport or a sense of chemistry. It’s quite reminiscent of Spielberg’s The Terminal, where Diego Luna’s character and Zoe Saldana’s character never meet, but they exchange messages to each other, much like Ready Player One, and in the end, they’re newlyweds, kind of like Ready Player One. It just comes off as forced and awkward.

And let’s not skim over the problem with the female characters, being that they can’t be seen as anything other than plot devices to serve the main character. Samantha (or Art3mis) has her own motivations involving her family but it only ends up being a means to an end, which is Wade. And of course in the OASIS, she’s an avatar with an attractive body, anime-like eyes and happens to be the person that actually likes Wade’s references. And she has a birthmark (Sure, Jan.) across her face that makes her vulnerable and she only gets over it when Wade does.

And there’s Aunt Alice, who’s a woman who’s been abused by countless lovers because that’s what all single moms do, like in Kingsman: The Secret Service. One of the challenges the characters must achieve in order to get the next artifact involves wooing a woman. Hell, the character of Aech can’t be taken seriously in the film because she’s in fact [SPOILER ALERT] a woman!

The rest of the roles from the heroes are interchangeable (apart from Lena Waithe, who’s amusing) and they come off as lame attempts at rekindling child roles from Spielberg’s prior projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Yes, I see you, Short Round 2.0! And even Simon Pegg (who’s a geek thanks to projects like Spaced) is wasted here. Not Shaun of the Dead-Winchester wasted, but his talent sure is.

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And let’s get down to the nitty, gritty and pithy part of Ready Player One: the references. Now, like I said in my prior reviews (yes, I’m referencing myself), in order to find comedies funny, you have to engage with the humanity of the film and the same goes with the references. Do they serve the story? Do they serve the characters? Do they add a sense of fun?

Other than the extended sequence that ventures into a horror film, they don’t add much to the film, apart from being visually splendorous and that it can make people go Ooh, there’s The Iron Giant! Ooh, there’s Freddy Krueger! Ooh, there’s Chucky! Ooh, there’s the DeLorean! Ooh, there’s King Kong! Ooh, there’s Kratos! If you thought that was annoying, try experiencing my Ready Player One review 140 minutes of it.

But even with Spielberg’s handling of the visuals, the camerawork and visual information is so dizzying and assaultive that it becomes blurry, exhausting and nauseating. There’s just so much references flying around, that the filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

And of course there’s the implications of the knowledge of the references in the film. Apparently, you’re seen as a bad person if you do not know what the references are, which is evident in a confrontation between Wade and Nolan. And it has the nerve to share lines of dialogue like how a fanboy can spot a hater. If this is the standard of how hero-villain exchanges go, then we’re kinda screwed.

Ready Player One isn’t a terrible movie but considering the talent (both in front of and behind the camera) and the potential from the novel (if not the execution) that could have been adapted, it doesn’t feel like anything like the OASIS in the novel. Instead, it should be thrown in the Boo Box in Spielberg’s Hook.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic visuals

Has moments of genuine fun and wonder

The cast do their best with what they got

CONS

Thin plot

Thinner characters

Overuse of pop culture references that come across as pandering

Problematic female character portrayals

SCORE: 5/10

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This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, McKenna Grace, Letitia Wright
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline, based on his book of the same name

Movie Review – Guardians of the Tomb

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EXPECTATIONS: A fun B-movie creature feature along the lines of Big-Ass Spider.

REVIEW: It is great to watch films that stimulate the mind and dazzle the eye through fantastic filmmaking chops and directorial skill, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch an unpretentious B-movie that simply exists to entertain. And one of the best genres to provide just that are creature features.

With recent films like Kong: Skull Island and Big-Ass Spider; or classics like Jaws and Alien; or even so-bad-it’s-good efforts like Troll 2 and Zombeavers, these are films that know what they are, achieve what they say on the tin and they do it well, with genuine effort.

But these types of films can go very wrong and it can be narrowed down to two reasons: putting in a bad effort and putting effort to be bad. Putting in a bad effort would result in films like The Swarm, which was ripe with potential, but ended up being boring. Or there are films that are deliberately terrible like Sharknado, which adds a sour taste of post-modernism and self-awareness that excuses bad filmmaking and shoddy skills.

So where does the China/Australian creature feature Guardians of the Tomb fit in? The film is directed by Kimble Rendall, who directed the goofy shark film, Bait 3D and it stars a mix of Chinese, American and Australian talent. So will it be an entertaining film for earned or unearned reasons? Or will it be a costly and incompetent bore?

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A team of scientists who lose a colleague in an ancient labyrinth while trying to make the discovery of a century. The group must battle their way through a swarm of deadly, man-eating funnel web spiders and discover the secret behind the arachnid’s power and intelligence.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Did I just copy that synopsis word-for-word from Wikipedia? Why yes, yes I did. At least in this case, I admitted it and I credited it where it’s from but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb, which steals from many, many films, it just comes off as lazy and stupid. To think that this film was credited to four writers. Four people wrote this thing!

You could make a drinking game out of it, pointing out things like this part is from Jurassic Park (the helicopter landing), this part is from Jurassic World (Kellan Lutz’s character), this part is from Aliens (the introduction of Eva Liu’s character), this part is from Psycho (the jump scare involving a corpse and a revolving chair), it just goes on and on and on. You can just hear the producers of the film high-fiving each other as they came up with this thing. Funnily enough, two of the credited writers are film producers themselves, so I guess it’s quite a fitting analogy.

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But first, let’s start off positively before an aneurysm might start off. The CGI of the spiders themselves is quite well-executed (yet jarring with the practical effects surrounding then) and Li Bingbing treats the film with utmost sincerity, as she seems to be the only actor in the film that’s actually trying to make the film good. Or it could be that her acting efforts (as well as her producing efforts) were made to make China look good due to news that she tried to incite propaganda about medical care in China and Australia. But that’s another story.

And that is it for the positives because Guardians of the Tomb is complete garbage. Known under many titles like 7 Guardians of the Tomb aka Nest 3D aka Funnel-Web aka Nest 3D and the Search for the Venom of Eternity, that alone shows that the filmmakers (or anyone really) had no clue with what they wanted to make.

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Let’s start with the actors. While Li Bingbing is fine, the rest of the cast are all either slumming it or clearly can’t act to save their life. Kellan Lutz, whom I have nothing against as a person, has always been a block of wood in films like The Legend of Hercules and the Twilight series, but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb or whatever the hell it’s called, he is saddled with a character that is clearly Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World. The entrance is the same, the costumes are the same and even some of the dialogue is the same, word-for-word. But clearly without the charisma or indeed the talent.

At one point, he introduces himself to Li’s character and he says to her to follow his rules because he’s the man. And it was at this point that I wanted Li’s character to punch him in the face for that chauvinistic, self-entitled attitude. And his character is practically drooled on by Stef Dawson’s character, which is just annoying, despite Dawson’s likable presence.

Shane Jacobson can be a good comedic actor with films like the mockumentary Kenny, but here he’s saddled with terrible lines of dialogue (involving Twitter and Willy Wonka of all things), but what makes it worse is that half of the lines are thrown in the film via ADR (additional dialogue recording) but it’s done so badly, it feels like leftovers from an audio commentary that was meant to disparage the film. And the other half of his lines are variations of “We should leave now.” Boy, did I regret not listening to him.

And then there’s Kelsey Grammer, who has a character that might as well have “I AM EVIL, PAY ME NOW!” tattooed on his forehead. He genuinely looks angry to be in the film and it becomes a waiting game just to see him let loose and when he does, it’s too little, too late. He does however have the best moment in the film where he explains his motives by actually yelling “I’M A BUSINESSMAN!”.

And of course we have Jason Chong, who plays a character that might as well be a cardboard cutout with a tape recorder attached to it, playing lines of plot exposition, because that’s all he spouts out, just in case the people in the back of the cinema can’t hear, understand or even care! And there’s Wu Chun, the pretty boy of the film who clearly can’t have his appearance ruined despite the fact that he has been lost over the course of many days in a nest of spiders.

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If you know your creature features and especially the working of the China-market, you can easily guess who is going to survive or die in the film. But honestly, all of these faults can be excused or even glossed over if the film actually had a sense of fun, but it never elicits any sense of thrill, suspense, tension or even unintentional laughter. It’s an absolute bore that believes that it’s delivering entertainment and characters worth caring for.

There are scenes that are meant to be dramatically involving, but they end up being incredibly tedious and overbearing with the point it is trying to make (Li’s brother, Wu Chun is lost out in the desert and it’s conveyed as a metaphor as their younger selves being trapped in a maze. Really?!). And the filmmakers are so intent on thinking that this would make us care for the characters that they repeat the same flashbacks over and over, that I’m sure that they take 20% of the total runtime. They even include dramatic flashbacks for Lutz’s character and integrate real footage of people dying in earthquakes. So not only does it make the film tedious, but it also make it tasteless as well.

The spiders themselves are just that: spiders. There’s no ingenuity or inspiration in the portrayal of them and the big spider of them all is as big as a turkey platter, meaning that it has no menace whatsoever. And the climax of the film, which is clearly meant to be some big battle, is so anti-climactic that people in the audience would demand refunds. There was no battle, there was no conflict, the film just stops, with a stupid jump scare that if you didn’t see it coming, you clearly fell asleep.

With films like this, The Dragon Pearl and Bleeding Steel, if this is the best the Chinese and Australians can do with their collaborations, then they should just cut ties because films like this shouldn’t be in the cinema. Guardians of the Tomb is a terrible, incompetent, cynical cash-grab that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Li Bingbing’s performance

CONS

Everything else!

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Li Bingbing, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Wu Chun, Stef Dawson, Shane Jacobson, Ryan Johnson, Jason Chong
Director: Kimble Rendall
Screenwriters: Kimble Rendall, Gary Hamilton, Jonathan Scanlon, Paul Staheli

Movie Review – The Shanghai Job (aka S.M.A.R.T Chase)

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EXPECTATIONS: Something unintentionally funny.

REVIEW: Christian Bale, Tim Robbins, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, David Carradine. What do all of these actors have in common in terms of their filmography? I’ll give you a clue: China-market. All of these actors have starred in films for the China-market with varying levels of success. Whereas Bale, Robbins have great box office successes with films like The Flowers of War and Back to 1942, some have been in box office failures like David Carradine in True Legend.

And now we have Orlando Bloom. More known for his looks and nonthreatening presence that makes him the perfect idol for teenagers, he has never been known for his acting prowess. Despite the kick-start to his career with the two franchises (Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean), he has been struggling to maintain his position in the spotlight with box office failures like Kingdom of Heaven, The Three Musketeers and Elizabethtown.

Now he’s gone into the China-market with his latest film, The Shanghai Job (known as S.M.A.R.T Chase in China). The film was a box office flop in China despite the well-known cast and the presence of Bloom, but box office takings do not indicate the quality of the film. Now that the film is released On Demand and DVD/Blu-Ray, will the film entertain and please fans despite the rough origins?

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Orlando Bloom stars as Danny Stratton, a washed-up private security agent, who is given the rare opportunity to escort a valuable Chinese antique (a Van Gogh painting) out of Shanghai, but he ends up ambushed en route, while he was talking to his girlfriend Lin Dong (Lynn Hung).

A year later, he has lost his girlfriend and his reputation has dwindled over time. When he gets hired to do another job, he sees the same people who ambushed him and now realizes that in order to get his reputation back, he has to steal back what was stolen with his Security Management Action Recovery Team members (Simon Yam, Hannah Quinlivan and Leo Wu) by his side. But little do they realize that they are about to step into a major conspiracy that will endanger them as well as the people they love.

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Does The Shanghai Job provide ample entertainment despite the dull synopsis and its reputation of its low box office takings? Unfortunately, not really. The film isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s just not any good at all.

The film is terribly routine with its storytelling and direction. There are no moments of creativity or inspiration whatsoever. Not with its action scenes, not with its filmmaking and definitely not with the acting. The cinematography is just neon lights, which has been done over and over since the films of Nicolas Winding Refn and the John Wick films. The director of the film is Charles Martin, who has directed episodes of Skins and Wallander, so it comes as to no surprise that the film feels like a pilot to a television series, which could explain the lack of cinematic inspiration.

Scenes that are meant to pump the audience up with thrills and tension are efficient enough, but the characters and storytelling are so dull that there really isn’t any of that. It becomes very hard to care about what happens on screen. And with the norm of action films, the climax should have a lot of impact in comparison to the action scenes proceeding it, but the climax ends with a whimper, as it just involves a few fisticuffs and a game of catch. No joke.

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With lines of dialogue like “love is an illusion” or many references to time (and if that doesn’t get to your head, we hear watches ticking constantly), it does become quite laughable at times and you feel a bit sorry for the actors who are saddled with this type of material.

The acting is a very mixed bag from all involved, but the fault with that is both equally theirs as well as the script. Orlando Bloom is fine as Danny Stratton, as he loosens up a bit to be charismatic and humourous in the role, but the script doesn’t do him any favours with the dull attempts at humour and the choice to dye his hair back to blonde again is misguided. Thankfully, he is committed to doing most of his stunts, as it is clearly him doing the fight choreography and jumping out of balconies.

Simon Yam is just Simon Yam as Mach, Bloom’s partner as well as Lin Dong’s uncle. He is professional enough to not to embarrass himself but again, does nothing to stand out with his character apart from one character trait where he has a inkling for cutting limbs off people for access.

And then there’s Leo Wu. Whether using his drone to provide support for his teammates (or providing lazy narrative shortcuts, you be the judge) or looking out for the girl that he likes (or stalking her, again, you be the judge), he comes off as bland. The only thing that makes him stand out is his handling of the English language, which is just hilariously bad and it ruins the urgency of the action scenes.

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On the female end of the ensemble, Hannah Quinlivan comes off as petulant as J. Jae, who annoys every time she shows up. She’s supposed to be a security agent but she comes off more like a overly privileged, rich person who suddenly didn’t get what she wanted.

Lynn Hung is fine as Lin Dong, as she handles her role with dignity and grace, but her role is essentially a damsel-in-distress and nothing more, which is a real shame. It also doesn’t help that she and Bloom share no chemistry whatsoever. And the same goes for Wang Ruoxi as Nana, who is literally a plot device that just happens to like pet names like Baby and again, there is no chemistry between her and Wu.

And then there’s Liang Jing as the villain. Immediately, we know she’s the villain because she has very long fingernails. And that’s about the only thing that stands out about her character. Jing tries to vamp it up but none of the actors seem to respond to her properly, making her scenes fall flat. And as her henchman, Shi Yanneng’s talents are wasted due to the filmmakers not realizing his true potential.

There really isn’t much more to say about the film so it feels suitable to end this review like the climax, by going out on a whimper. Despite having Orlando Bloom trying to branch out away from his image, The Shanghai Job robs any chance of that happening with its dull storytelling, cardboard cutouts of characters, tension-free action and lame attempts at humour.

You know you got a problem with your film when the best thing about it is the Katy Perry song “Roulette”, that accompanies it.

Quickie Review

PROS

Orlando Bloom tries his best

The song “Roulette”

CONS

Inconsistent acting

Dull characters

Suspense-free action

No creative inspiration in the filmmaking

Lack of cast chemistry

Mediocre storytelling

SCORE: 3/10

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Simon Yam, Leo Wu, Hanna Quinlivan, Lynn Hung, Liang Jing, Wang Ruoxi, Shi Yanneng
Director: Charles Martin
Screenwriters: Kevin Bernhardt