Movie Review #374: Dredd (2012)

An Over-the-top, artsy-fartsy gore extravaganza

Shoot a guy in the stomach, cut the speed to half, then watch as bright red blood splatters and fills your screen. That’s what you’re going to get from Dredd, a hyper-violent, bloody hell of a film that delivers in stylistic action but loses its ground on character development. And that’s what you should expect – no more, no less.

What seemed to be a promising start ended up as a wasted opportunity; it had the right constituents for a great film and the futuristic setting looked very promising. But the movie lost me with poor interaction between the two leads Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and the so-so performance of Game of Throne’s Lena Headey. I just felt indifferent and didn’t seem to be interested much with what they’re doing. In fact the only saving grace that kept me hooked was the brutal action, which on an entertainment level, delivered. That prevented the film from becoming an utter mess and needs to be recognized. Aside from that there’s nothing more to say, other than be cautious when deciding to try it out.

GRADE: C

Movie Review #373: Shutter Island (2010)

Sometimes it’s gripping and sometimes it’s not

Shutter Island is an unrestrained, mindf*** suspense thriller by Martin Scorsese. However, it’s also convoluted, predictable, and somewhat tiring. I admire the attempt in creating an eerie atmosphere, beginning with the creepy score, up to the performances of the actors (DiCaprio, Ruffalo, Williams). The trio’s characters were twisted in their own little ways and that’s what made the movie fun.

The thrills didn’t really kick in until the latter half, however when it arrives it’s accompanied by dream sequences that grows old as time passes. The movie forces you to accept them and your reaction towards the scenes makes or breaks your perception towards the film. At times it’s tense and gripping, and the atmosphere really cranks up your mood. But there always seems to be a lingering feeling that what they’re presenting isn’t really as profound as what you want it to be. Nevertheless, the film is full of memorable sequences that turn it into a rather intriguing film.

GRADE: B-

 

Movie Review #372: Red Cliff 2 (2009)

Solid and never gets old despite its enduring span

In comparison, Red Cliff 2 is just as good as its predecessor. Without having to set up the back stories of some characters, you’re transported directly towards the middle of the action. But with so many things happening, sometimes it loses the viewer’s interest in the process. Spectacle replaces depth of story, making one feel detached. I didn’t feel enough emotion among the cast that makes me want to root for their victory. And the antagonist ends up being a shallow adversary that doesn’t even have any trick in his sleeve (or in this case, his robes) in moments where there could’ve been plot twists and surprises.

However, there are noteworthy performances, specifically Takeshi Kaneshiro playing Zhu-ge Liang and Tony Leung Chiu Wai (lead protagonist Zhou Yu). Both of them did considerably well, not really high-calibre acting but among the cast they pretty much stole the show. Of course what makes the film fun is its tactical planning and war strategies. But the action scenes were also spectacular and entertaining. Like its predecessor, it’s a solid historical epic that’s quite enjoyable and now I’m curious to see what else Chinese productions have to offer.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #371: Monsters University

Surprisingly great, Pixar still delivers

Despite the plot limitations set by its premise, Monsters University brings in tons of laughs that more than compensates. Honestly, I was ready to declare Pixar as finally treading towards mediocrity, but after seeing how they were able to pull off a seemingly unnecessary follow-up and turn it into a worthwhile prequel, I had to think otherwise.

Sully and Mike are back and they bring their usual one-two punch. Aside from them, several new monsters also add in to the fun and more often than not they provide a substantial share of the chuckles I shared with my sisters. The film’s ability to appeal to a broad audience impresses me, and there’s also a nostalgia factor for those who already viewed and loved the original. It’s by no means better, but while the story wasn’t as touching or memorable as when they were already working in Monsters, Inc, I don’t remember laughing as much in any other animated film in recent memory.

As a college student, I might’ve accepted the premise more positively than others. It might’ve disallowed the plot to stray away from the university, but they utilized their gimmick well enough to pull it off in a natural, seamless, and unforced way. Thanks to that, Pixar once again belches out a winner.

GRADE: B+

Movie Review #370: Red Cliff (2008)

A historical epic that stays true to its description

John Woo’s retelling of the last days of the Han Dynasty is powerful, masterfully-shot, and well-directed. The only problem is the plot’s tendency to create situations that reduce its believability. Whether it was his intention to present history in hyperbolic fashion I’m not sure, but overlooking the film’s tendency to stray towards fantasy I was delightfully pleased by its grandness and dedication to present the war in an artistic manner.

The battle scenes were just as good as the ones from American classics such as Gladiator. Asians have a different style in terms of choreography in action sequences, but both know how to please whoever is watching. I particularly enjoyed the planning of the war like it was a game of chess, with some references to Sun Tzu occasionally. I also liked the intricacy of the weapons used, as well as how it were used in battle. The climax leading to the beginning of the sequel truly was epic in scale and execution no matter how ridiculous it may seem. There could’ve been more focus in other key characters, but suffice to say nearly all of the cast were likeable and performed well. Simply put, it was a solid war movie that can challenge other international offerings in visual splendor and execution.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #369: Batman (1989)

Quirky, weird, uneven, yet one of a kind

With a more clear-cut comic book feel than most superhero adaptations, Batman emphasizes more on the characters in costume than the personalities underlying them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes one indifferent of what happens to them. Most of the time, the villains steal the spotlight from the masked caper himself played by the unconvincing Michael Keaton. Kim Basinger seems like your usual damsel in distress while the rest of the cast just was disposable (what happened to Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon?).

Despite that, Jack Nicholson keeps it interesting by portraying the maniacal Joker. He is way different from the Joker of the late Heath Ledger, but nonetheless entertaining and very fitting of the character’s psychological profile. If it wasn’t for him I would’ve lulled myself to sleep in the middle of it all. But I found a few ways to appreciate the film such as taking note of the differences between the 1989 and the 21st century versions. The plot was spotty and I just felt uncomfortable with the weird tone. It could be a case of a movie not aging too well, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s unique and unconventional atmosphere just isn’t my cup of tea.

GRADE: C+

Movie Review #368: World War Z

So good you’d want to see World War Zequel

I opted to see an original film a few weeks ago instead of a sequel offering. It turns out I made the right decision, as after catching World War Z I was immediately reminded of how good it feels to be presented with a fresh idea – and be absolutely entertained by it.

And thus I’ve become inclined to wait for a Zequel to be greenlighted. The film hooks you with its nicely-touted premise that can be thrilling, exciting, and sometimes even frightening. I don’t know what’s been happening around those reshoots and delays during production, but whatever they fixed was not only repaired but significantly improved. Another thing to point out is its outstanding CGI effects, whether it is zombies forming a human ladder or a wave of them running around the picturesque settings, I’m wowed by the realism and it didn’t seem fake at all. The makeup was quite great as well, and the extras playing the zombies did a wonderful job… being undead.

But of course, no effects could outshine the star of the show. Brad Pitt’s charisma oozes from the screen and he puts on a powerful performance only a few can muster. Even the cast benefits from his commanding aura and director Marc Forster and the writers were kind enough to make them feel essential rather than disposable. So many factors turned this film into a success, and I hope moving forward they could avoid drawbacks that would hinder a potential good follow-up.

GRADE: B+