Review #468: Transformers – Age of Extinction

A hundred minutes of entertainment and an extra hour of junk

I’m at a loss. I left the theater feeling I got my money’s worth, but I can’t get over the fact that Age of Extinction lasted two hours and forty-five minutes. In this day and age no one has the free time – or patience – to sit through a blockbuster that long. But it wasn’t boring at all. It was just too damn much.

It’s a shame, since the franchise’s fourth installment possessed some legitimately great moments, but any ounce of momentum it had heading into the finale vaporized once it became clear that the apparent ending was in fact, just the conclusion of the second act. By the time the real climax arrived, I was too tired to even care.

Yes, Michael Bay has delivered the ultimate studio offering that will please enough people to keep the series going. The effects are top-notch, as expected from a Michael Bay film. The action sequences are fresh enough and the writing more solid than before (the previous films set a low bar though). In addition, Mark Wahlberg is a huge improvement over Shia Labeouf. He has that machismo that adds a certain degree of believability and maturity to the Transformers universe. Can’t say the same for Nicola Peltz though; between her and Megan Fox the latter is the better actress. And that’s an understatement.

Bing Bings are taking over Hollywood. So which one do you prefer, Li Bing Bing (above) or Fan Bing Bing (Blink in X-Men Days of Future Past)?

But, don’t expect it to be anything other than a Transformers film. It’s better than the second, but no greater than the first and third (if you still remember them, I can’t blame you if you don’t). The scenes in China featuring the feisty Li Bingbing kept things fresh (she’s was actually good), but if I were the one calling the shots, I’d much rather cut an hour of it  than witness a marathon of chaotic Bay-splosions over Hong Kong.

GRADE: C+

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Mini-Review #467: 22 Jump Street

Occasionally funny buddy comedy with a high degree of self-awareness

There will always be summer movies like this each year: outrageously self-aware, filled with ad-libbed moments and offensive quips. What ultimately makes or breaks such a film is the chemistry between its leads. In 22 Jump Street’s case, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have undeniable rapport working together, and they fire up the jokes on-screen at the right moments.

Still, I had a feeling I’ve seen all this before. Oh yeah, I have…in 21 Jump Street! But at least they’re not hiding the fact that they’re doing the same thing all over again. And when you get to the end credits you can convince yourself that you had a good time watching it. For maximum laughs though have some friends along with you, as the saying ‘the more the merrier’ applies here.

GRADE: C+

Review #466: Edge of Tomorrow

Previously titled: All You Need Is Kill

A definitive summer action blockbuster

The marketing says it all: live, die, repeat. They play that line over and over until you get used to it. Great, you just got spoiled with the plot – no point in seeing the movie then, eh? Well, that’s what I thought. You’d think these ads would ruin your experience in the theater. It does actually, at least for the first 15 minutes. Beyond that though, the events become tougher to predict. Soon enough you’ll be hanging by the edge of your seat, anxious to see what happens next.

That’s how the movie gets you. It hides itself within a smokescreen of mediocrity, but once it clears out you begin to see its true greatness. It’s not a dumb actioner, nor is it a sci-fi pretending to be intelligent. It’s a summer blockbuster that ironically favors substance over style, and boy is it more entertaining than watching stuff blow up for no reason!

Edge’s story is centered on Cage (Tom Cruise), an officer that unwillingly becomes stuck in a time loop during a war with an alien race. Short of options, Cage repeatedly lives and dies in order to find a solution to his problem. Fortunately, he meets Rita (Emily Blunt), an excellent soldier that may just be the key to make everything back to normal.

Get ready for Emily Blunt’s heart-pounding push ups…wew!

It doesn’t hurt that the actors you’re feeding the lines to are stars with a fairly high amount of charisma. Aside from Cruise and Blunt’s great showing, Bill Paxton does an excellent job as the hard-headed, no-nonsense Master Sergeant Farell. Christopher McQuarrie’s (Jack Reacher, MI:4) brilliant writing is magnified by their performances. It also gave room to some tongue-and-cheek humor that’s hard to pull off in a serious blockbuster.

Like I said, the movie relies a lot on the story and characters, which I enjoyed. The plot’s repetitive nature isn’t even a problem as each new day brings forth new and exciting experiences for Cage. However, the effects and action is nothing spectacular. That’s about the only reason why it didn’t completely amaze me. Edge of Tomorrow is much like a classic action game crammed into two hours: compelling, fast-paced and incredibly fun. You die again and again, but it gets better each time.

GRADE: B+

Mini-Review #464: Maleficent

Light and unintentionally funny at times, but by no means terrible

Let me declare Angelina Jolie as the one true savior of this film. In fact without her and her multi-scene-stealing cheekbones, Maleficent would just be a CGI-fest devoid of story, emotion, and character development (in other words, Oz: The Great and Powerful). Surprisingly, she was able to pull everything together, transforming an otherwise lifeless film into an amusing retelling of a classic Disney tale. Aside from Jolie and Elle Fanning, there aren’t many noteworthy subjects to talk about. You could applaud the visuals, but I found it to be rather sloppy and poorly edited at times. And you couldn’t say much about the plot either, because it’s just the same tale with a slight twist. Those didn’t bother me though, there’s enough magic and charm in there to make it a crowd-pleaser. Surely it won’t disappoint most people, but will it turn out to be a definitive reboot? Probably not.

GRADE: C+

Review #465: How To Train Your Dragon 2

An animation that soars to new heights

The bar has been raised once again

They did it. DreamWorks Animation has pulled off what I thought was impossible. As if it wasn’t hard enough meeting people’s expectations because of its A-class predecessor, How To Train Your Dragon 2 barely overtakes the original but flies past all other contenders in recent memory to become my new all-time favorite animated movie!

It is a usual trend within the studio system to make sequels bigger, louder, and more bloated. Typically it translates into a film with less heart and genuine moments, but DWA avoided all the snares and instead remained focused on improving the things that made the franchise universally acclaimed in the first place: the animation, the story, and the characters. Thus, not only do you have a follow-up that’s more breathtakingly beautiful and action-packed as ever, it’s also a more emotionally satisfying experience than before.

Hiccup: then and now

Set five years after the events of the first movie, HTTYD 2 reintroduces us to a more mature Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), son of the Viking chief of Berk, and his world filled with dragons of different types and sizes. Among them is Toothless, a Night Fury (whose breed is akin to a legendary Pokemon) that accompanies Hiccup in his quest to discover new horizons. As they explore uncharted territories and struggle through obstacles along the way, we also delve deeper into their relationship and it’s apparent that their level of trust for one another only grows as the story progresses.

Sometimes, we just want to spend more time with our pets than other people

The bond between humans and creatures remain pleasing to watch, and the same can be said for Hiccup’s interactions with his friends and family (old and new). His moments with his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) particularly are some of the most enjoyable scenes, they’re probably the cutest animated couple out there right now!

The best G-rated love story out there

Apart from the voice acting and animation, much of the reason why it works is attributable to the dialogue, which is still cleverly-written and funny like last time. And who do we have to thank for? Writer-director Dean DeBlois of course! Give that man a pat in a back, a hug, or simply more money so he can make more of this incredible stuff (he’s already working on a third film, hooray!).

I’ve seen the first HTTYD about four to five times in the theater (when ticket prices back at my hometown were a measly 40 pesos or less than a dollar) as proof of my love and support. Back then it was an under-appreciated gem and it took excellent word-of-mouth for it to be discovered by others. Now let me tell you that you should definitely watch this film for it deserves more than just a single watch. Despite the high price of admission, I’d be glad to shell out my savings to catch it again. For this is an example of a rare sequel that transcends a franchise to excellence – much like what The Dark Knight has done to the Batman series. And I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is much more to learn and love about this film, and to ruin your experience with spoilers would be an absolute disgrace on my part. It’s hilarious, entertaining, touching, and incredibly well-directed. So don’t worry about being disappointed and do not fret, because this film delivers immensely and you shouldn’t expect anything less.

GRADE: A+

Review #463: X-Men – Days of Future Past

The most ambitious, if not the best X-Men film so far

To create an amazing follow-up is one thing, but when you’re also simultaneously correcting past mistakes, that’s unheard of in a franchise. ‘Days of Future Past’ is not a direct sequel to First Class, at least for me. It’s an entry that stands on its own, the glue that allows all the X-Men films to co-exist, while at the same time creating a new past that wipes out most of the maligned events in X-Men: The Last Stand (X3, if you’re counting).

The film’s story was tightly-written, knowing that a change in history could cause several continuity problems. Indeed, director Bryan Singer and his writers deserve so much praise for making it all work. Not only does X-Men 7 repair the past, it rejuvenated the franchise completely. I for one will no longer be treating X-Men: Apocalypse as just another sequel.

Dealing with time and time-travel has its problems though. There’s bound to be some plotholes and DoFP is not exempted. Questions will arise such as how the old Professor X was able to survive after his apparent death in The Last Stand. Avid fans would point out the end credits scene in X3, but after 8 years I can hardly recall it. But in the end, does it really matter? No. In fact these are questions you’ll more likely raise AFTER watching the film as you’ll be too caught up with what’s going on with the mutants.

This leads us to the stars. You can’t go wrong with a cast as awesome cast as this. An amalgamation of the past and present elevated this project to a higher level. Both actually play on equal footing, with Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender proving they’re just as good as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Other actors impressed as well, such as the returning Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and newcomers Evan Peters (Quicksilver) and Peter Dinklage (Dr. Trask).

I won’t be able to mention every mutant (Blink, Storm, Beast, etc.), but I enjoyed their appearance just as much. Having so many people involved surely made the action much more exciting, and it never went over-the-top. For every second of action there’s a corresponding moment of exposition. The narrative is just as intriguing as the effects, and that’s what makes this superhero film different. It has everything balanced out and once you embrace its ambitious intentions the more you will enjoy. It may be the best X-Men film yet, I think. And even if it isn’t, it’s still an incredible film on its own.

GRADE: A-

Review #462: Godzilla (2014)

The monster blockbuster that crushes it

When Ken Watanabe says Guh-zilla will save the world, you better believe him. Don’t think that he’s the man of the hour though; in fact most of the human characters in the film are largely inconsequential despite the pool of talent portraying them (Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston). Their main purpose is simply to bring the story forward so that we could witness an epic showdown between ravaging monsters inside a city, pulverizing buildings and cars that block their path like it were bugs. An amazing sight to witness in the theater indeed!

Godzilla unequivocally steals the spotlight. He’s hard to miss ‘cause he basically covers the whole screen. I haven’t seen the 90’s version but it’s safe to say that this modern retelling benefited from technological breakthroughs in cinema of the past decade. It’s quite difficult to create a CGI beast that can invoke some kind of emotional reaction within a moviegoer, and I couldn’t help but root for the monster as he crushes anyone or anything that gets in its way. As a spectacle I believe this blockbuster delivered exactly what it was supposed to, but taking into consideration some unique action scenes and surprisingly good cinematography, this film is far from being generic and is truly a worthwhile summer blockbuster.

GRADE: B