Logan – Well Exceeded My Expectation

I am a fan of all things Marvel. For some strange reasons, I have not watched the previous installments of the Wolverine standalone movie series. But when I saw the poster, with Wolverine carrying a young girl against a sunset backdrop – how poetic by the way – I have got to watch this. My wife asked, “Who’s that girl?”. “She could be Laura,” I answered and then added, “X-23?”

Logan

Those who have read the Marvel’s X-Men series must have heard of X-23. She is Wolverine’s clone, with some subtle differences. An awesome character on her own. She is also the All-New-Wolverine. So yes. Being able to see her early years on screen is a big deal.

Unlike other Marvel movies I have watched, Logan doesn’t have those big budget explosion and city-wide / worldwide / galaxy-wide destruction. It isn’t drowned with special effects (sure, those claws ain’t real but you get what I mean). In fact, Logan doesn’t even wear his costume. I don’t recall anyone does. I get to see the characters’ expression all the time.

There is plenty of raw emotion. One could even shed a tear or two towards the end. It is good to be reminded that while special effects don’t usually leave a lasting impression, emotion and good acting often does. I am glad that my wife and I got a chance to watch this in a theater.

Rush – What An Experience Back To 1976 Formula One

Rush, a F1 movie

As a Formula One enthusiast, this movie Rush is a real treat. Unlike Senna (2010) – also another great film on F1 but in a documentary style – Rush is a movie based on a true story between the two rivalry drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  All the elements of the sport are there.  Classic tracks, ear-bleeding engine noise, the flamboyancy of a F1 driver, how the technical knowledge a driver can bring an advantage to the team, the politics within the sport, the need to fight for a seat, the danger involved, and the sacrifices that the drivers and their families have made for that podium, and to be crowned the world champion.  Most of us would only see the sport as fast cars going round and round in circle.  Rush is a rare glimpse into what this sport is truly about.  While Formula One of today is a lot safer than in the earlier days, much of what is seen in this movie is still relevant.

The drama of the 1976 season is intense and part of it can be so gruesome that my wife has to turn away from the screen in the midst of the show.  The determination of winning a season above all sacrifices and this constant satisfaction of cheating death – something it is hard to relate but to a F1 driver of that era, that was all that mattered.  This movie is moving for me seeing how the two drivers fought against each other against all odds.  In the end, one may wonder what all of this are for.  To go down in history as one of the legendary drivers I suppose.  Some do live and die for the sport.

Both actors – Chris Hemsworth (of Thor!) and Daniel Brühl – act equally well.  Even to those who are not familiar with the sport (like my wife and my buddy), Rush is entertaining to watch.  If you wish to read more about Niki Lauda (ranked 9th as F1’s greatest driver by BBC), check out the link here.

Fast & Furious 6 – Inconceivable, Cheesy-ish, But Cool

Yet another FF title!

There were moments during the show when I gasped deep and mouthed, “This can’t be possible!”  It was almost like the clip when Edward of Twilight saved Bella from a would-be car accident at school.  That superhuman power.  That moment, I did not see Vin Diesel as Vin Diesel.  I saw him as a demigod.  That powerful leap into midair, with razor sharp trajectory precision.  Something that parachutists might be able to do at terminal velocity.  Or maybe not.  I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was to jump out from a fast moving vehicle on a highway, grab a 60kg object that is thrown onto him, and then land on his back through the shattered glass, would he have survived?  Not a bone broken?

Vin Diesel is not the only invincible one here.  Those leaps between a plane that was about to take off and the cars below struggling to gain traction, wow!  One could take a multistory fall and land right onto a car seat OK.  That is incredible.  More incredible so is: How long was the runway exactly?  That airplane scene went on and on as though the runway was as long as two parallel lines stretching into infinity.

Actually, these things don’t bother me too much.  I knew what I was in for.  What really bothers me is that why would one of my favorite characters die when everyone else is given such superhuman treatment?  Puzzling.  Perhaps that character did not die.  Perhaps the answer lies in the future installments.  I can only hope.

I can imagine why Fast & Furious 6 is popular.  I like cars.  While taking the action to fist fighting, tank smashing, and plane crashing may seem too far off from the franchise, I still like the car scenes a lot.  Of course, I wish that the convoy on the final missions was the same make, same color.  Like some of the memorable scenes in the earlier installments.  That visual coherence would have radiated a stronger sense of teamwork.  I am a Formula One fan.  Those F1 like cars in Furious 6 are quite something.  They seem like working prototypes.  If the filmmakers manage to build those, in real life, I doubt any road car would be able to get close at all.

In a way, the franchise has grown up quite a bit.  It is not about street racing anymore.  It is like a mini-Expendables whereby the ex-criminals’ skills are required in saving the world.  Or saving a briefcase.  Some of the dialogues can be kind of cheesy.  But because most the characters – especially so for Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and The Rock – are so cool, I really don’t mind.  The exchange between Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson – also a musician – is hilarious.  Some parts of the movie struck my emotional core too.  Overall, an entertaining movie.

Looks like Jason Statham from The Transporter will be starring in Fast & Furious 7.  At least it looks so from the post-credit scene.  It is hard to visualize him as a villain though.  We shall see.

Gangster Squad – Pretty Gruesome, But Funny Too

I watched this for Emma Stone

Cynthia and I at times can be pretty business-like with each other, when it comes to movie outing.  After crawling through the usual Orchard Saturday traffic – which TK and us always forget and regret not watching a movie on a Sunday instead – at the basement car park lift lobby, I turned to Cynthia and asked, “Give me run through of what we are going to watch, would you?”

Her immediate response was, “No idea.  You like the girl and I like the guy.  That’s about it.”

True.  She picked Gangster Squad because of Ryan Gosling.  And I Emma Stone.  TK too insisted that he wouldn’t want to give this a miss because of Emma Stone.

I did not know what to expect.  This film is inspired by a true story set in the ’40s and ’50s.  LA was run by gangsters, many police officers were bribed, and the residents seemed cool with it.  It was a way of life until Sergeant John O’Mara (played by Josh Brolin) came into the picture.  As a WWII veteran and a war hero, he has no plan to yield to the gangster boss Mickey Cohen played by Sean Penn.  Unable to strike the gang as a police officer, John – secretly supported by the Chief – recruited a squad to deal with the gang.  The approach was controversial and the results could at times be hilarious.  Mickey Cohen was ruthless.  You have got to have a strong stomach for the crime he did against others.

Gangster Squad feels authentic, as though I was transported back in time.  Those hairstyles, and costumes.  Cynthia and I cracked every time when John took out a gigantic wireless phone radio (edit: Thanks to TK for the correction).  Sean Penn has acted exceptionally well in this movie.  There were moments when he appeared as spaced out, and uninterested; there were moments when he was as sharp as a fighter, so full of energy – verbally and physically.  Josh Brolin is perfect for the role, as an honest and no-nonsense officer.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are charming, despite having a rather small role in Gangster Squad.

For some strange reasons, this film reminds me of Al Pacino’s 1983 film Scarface.  Sean Penn and Emma Stone would be a good fit for Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer’s roles.  One particular line struck me as quite quote worthy:

To lose everything and win the war, that is a hero.  To lose everything but lose the war, that’s a fool.

Taken 2: Entertaining Albeit Less Intense Than Previous Installment

A group of us at Google+ – though not everyone has met everyone in real life – have at least two things in common.  We love the movie Taken and we live in Singapore.  So, when one of us suggested a Taken 2 movie outing, we have decided to make it yet another Google+ real life hangout.  It was fun.  We have a great time and followed through with an Indonesian dinner buffet.

I have almost forgotten how I felt about Taken until I read my post written three years ago.  Our movie buddy TK with his superhuman memory at the end of the show commented that Taken 2 has a slightly slower pace.  Now that I have read what was written, I agree.  But that doesn’t make Take 2 any less entertaining.

Initially, I was skeptical on this sequel.  In Taken, the daughter was taken.  Liam Neeson’s character has killed everyone in the story and saved her daughter.  In Taken 2, the parents are taken.  Relatives of the deceased are now seeking revenge.  What can an untrained daughter do?

Turns out that the daughter does have a role to play in saving her parents.  Clever script the film has.  Is that realistic?  I would say for someone who was been taken before, the survival instinct must have kicked in.  The backdrop of this installment is Istanbul.  To those who have yet to see the country, this backdrop looks exotic.

The challenge Taken 2 has is that there is little surprise when you have already watched the previous installment.  The only cliffhanger to me is that knowing Luc Besson, he may let the hero dies (like in Léon: The Professional).  The intensity then comes not from the would be surprises but the clever execution of the rescue mission.  To me, Taken 2 is a worthy follow up to the original movie.  It looks as though there will be Taken 3.  Now, it would be great if this Google+ real time hangout group continues to keep in touch and have a Taken reunion for the next installment.

Premium Rush – These Are Mad Cyclists!

I can’t quite pinpoint why I am not too hot about this generally positively reviewed movie.  Maybe I just don’t like to see Chinese getting beaten by a White guy throughout the movie.  Or the stereotype of Chinese again being the ones running illegal gambling joints and involved in all sorts of mafia related activities.  Maybe I just don’t feel right to see glorified mad cyclists risking their lives and the lives of others for something they enjoy doing.  I then ask myself: There are mad motorists in the movies too so why not mad cyclists?  I don’t know.  I have nothing against cyclists as I was one back in UK.  Here in Singapore, I have seen mad cyclists going against the direction of traffic (just like this movie), cutting through lanes in town during rush hours (just like this movie), and even diving into a slip road leading to a highway.  When the bad cop in the movie said to Joseph Gordon-Levitt the mad cyclist, “This whole city hates you”.  I wanted to leap up and cheer.  Momentarily, that zero is my hero.

Cynthia picked Premium Rush because she wanted to see Robin in action.  TK couldn’t remember who Joseph Gordon-Levitt was.  The Dark Knight Rises?  Inception?  (500) Days of Summer?  I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer.  From the acting performance point of view, Joseph did a great job in Premium Rush.  The bike stuns he performed are jaw dropping.  There is close to no romance in this movie.  The entire movie is about a couple of cyclists rushing packages from one end of town to another.  Timeline is altered backward and forward very much like How I Met Your Mother.  This keeps the plot interesting throughout the movie.  The bad cop – the only villain played by Michael Shannon – is pretty hilarious to watch, albeit borderline psychotically scary.  Some scenes are totally unnecessary (like the mobs towards the end) and the entire story from beginning to the end, to me, is rather pointless.  A bad cop has killed someone and that’s OK, no hard feeling.  He needs the money badly to pay off his debt so he has decided to steal from a woman.  A woman needs to transfer a vast amount of cash from point A to point B via an underground bank.  A few cyclists who are caught in the middle of all these strange activities.  Having said that, the story is rather original, told in a rather unusual way.  I can understand why some would enjoy watching Premium Rush.

The Expendables 2 – Now, That Is Entertainment

Watching The Expendables 2 has reminded me what I love about The Expendables.  Its non-stop entertainment value.  The big guns, loud explosion, over-the-top sequences, head-shots, enemies blown up into pieces, and more.  You name it, you have it.  And then, there is this casting full of stars.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger took a break from his day job and acted a few scenes in this movie.  I’ll be back.  I am back.  And more I’ll be back.  Yes, Mr. Governor.  We love the fact that you are back.

I did have one complain about The Expendables.  The lack of female presence in that team of mercenaries.  As though Hollywood has read my mind, in The Expendable 2, Jet Li is out.  As he jumped out of the plane for a permanent vocation, he promised, “You’ll find another minority.”  And so, the Chinese actress Yu Nan is in.  Now, what I found strange is that she is not credited on the posters.  Yet, she has played as big a part as Jet Li did on the previous installment.  I found Yu Nan charming.  Though my friend TK may not agree with me.  Beauty is only skin deep my friend.

There is not much point talking about the plot.  It is the Rambo style of blowing things up.  The lines are cheesy as ever.  But that is part of entertainment.  Hearing actors poking fun on each other, making references to their past successes, I laughed out loud throughout the movie.

The one-on-one fight between Stallone and Van Damme is exhilarating.  That is how men should fight.  I wish that scene lasts much longer.  I was so overwhelmed that after the movie, I said to TK and Cynthia, “Now, how I wish the fight between Batman and Bane is as epic as this!”  Both of them simultaneous gave me that you-are-an-idiot look.  I should have known better not to provoke a Batman fan.  Or two at the same time for that matter.  Interestingly, the filming of The Expendables 2 may have damaged the population of bats in one Belgium cave. It is a true story.  OK, that is totally random and unrelated.  Forget that I have mentioned the bats.

Rumor says that there may be an all-female Expendables.  Who would you like to see?  If I was the producer, I would want the following in my movie.

  • Carrie-Anne Moss
  • Uma Thurman
  • Kate Beckinsale
  • Angelina Jolie
  • Milla Jovovich
  • Scarlett Johansson
  • Lucy Liu

The Bourne Legacy – A Rather Average Film

I am not sure why this film is worthy to bear the Bourne title.  It is like watching a Spiderman movie without Spiderman.  Or Lord of the Ring without the ring.  Jason Bourne is nowhere in this movie.  OK, a photograph of his has shown up like a couple of times.  The beginning of Bourne Legacy is – if I remember correctly – the ending of Bourne Ultimatum.  Jason Bourne was swimming underwater.  That’s it.  If Jason Bourne has indeed left a legacy, I can’t find it in Bourne Legacy.

To give credits to the actors, Edward Norton plays a fine antagonist.  His primary role – I think – is to shutdown an operation by killing off their agents on the ground who rely on a regular intake of some super power pills to enhance their physical and mental ability.  Jeremy Renner plays the main character.  He looks like someone who is ready to take over the helm of 007.  Unfortunately, Jeremy Renner is no Matt Damon.  He just doesn’t seem to radiate the same level of mental intelligence like Matt Damon does in the last three Bourne movies.  When I look into Matt Damon’s eyes, I see a smart agent.  When I look into Jeremy Renner’s eyes, I see someone who is ready to fight instead.

If there is one thing that Bourne Legacy has exceeded the previous Bourne movies, that would be the on-screen chemistry of the main character and his love subject.  The 42 years old Rachel Weisz has bettered my expectation.  She has a better role to play too.  Her character as a scientist has some major contribution to the plot.  Not always the case for the previous installments.

This time, the scriptwriter of the previous movies, Tony Gilroy, has moved onto the director seat.  First 30-45 minutes of the film can be rather confusing and uneventful.  There seems to be a constant escalation of situation but I had no idea what it is or what it really does.  Had Bourne Legacy been a TV-series, it would have been a dead series.  But like some good storybooks that are utterly boring in the beginning, once passed the halfway mark, Bourne Legacy gets exciting.  Especially when the backdrop has moved to Manila.  It is action, action, and more action, without the shaky camera effect like the last Bourne movie.

The core of the story is about the blue pills and the green pills.  One boosts physical ability and another one boosts mental ability.  To keep the agents loyal to the agency, they have to receive a constant dosage throughout their missions.  Or they will face degeneration.  This idea does not sound original to me.  I have seen a similar story in Limitless.  There is a twist to this story too.  As in, there are ways to permanent lock the enhanced ability.  That is when the scriptwriter lost me.  It trivializes the entire plot making me wonder what they are fighting for in the first place.  I also found the need to separate the blue and green pills due to some plot twists rather unsatisfying.

A rather average film that would have done better had they lost the Bourne title.

The Raid: Redemption – The Sensational Bone Cracking Blood Spilling Indonesian Film That Is Popular At Home And In US

My Indonesian born now a Singaporean wife Cynthia has been asking me out for a movie date for the past three weeks.  She wants to watch the new Indonesian movie The Raid: Redemption that is very popular back home and in US.  Yet, five minutes into the show when a line of captives were brutally executed by the gangsters, I was not sure if she would stay till the end.  It is bloody.  The execution is so in-your-face such that at one point, even I had the urge to look away.  The opening scene has set the bar.  The audience is warned.  This is no child play.  Blood will be shed, in a big and realistic way.  Bone will be cracked.  People will die.  When it comes to urban warfare and close quarter combat, the key to survival is to eliminate your opponents.  The Raid: Redeemption is a 100 minutes movie that guarantees to entertain from the beginning to the end, if you have the stomach for it that is.  Surprisingly, Cynthia stayed till end.  And our friend TK did not fall asleep.

Here are a few interesting points to share, courtesy of my wife who understands the language and has been reading all the news on this movie.  I have added a few based on my research too.

  • The main actor Iko Uwais has won a National Silat Championship.  Silat is a traditional Indonesian martial art.  Iko is one of the two choreographers of this movie.  The other one is Yayan Ruhian who plays the deadly Mad Dog character in The Raid.
  • The Raid or Serbuan Maut as locally known was hugely popular in Indonesia during Cynthia’s recent visit to her birth town.  It has also gained popularity in US.
  • The translator has apparently taken the artistic liberty to spice up the violence of the movie by adding a lot more vulgarity than what is spoken in its original Bahasa Indonesia language.  I suppose that is to cater for the Western audience because violence is not really violence with a lot of swearing?
  • It is common to see a praying scene in an Indonesia movie.  After all, Indonesia is a Islamic country.  It should come as no surprise that those who pray will prevail.
  • The Raid is likely to have a sequel.

At the end of the movie, I felt utterly confused by the story line.  Maybe it is lost in translation.  So I asked Cynthia and TK for their understandings.  Looks like the three of us have a different version of what we think the story is.  Cynthia insisted that this is an Indonesian action movie.  There is no story.  We pay to watch the action instead.

True.  There are tons of action.  Twenty cops raid a 30-story building heavily guarded by a notorious crime lord and his gang.  The show starts with an urban warfare stealth mission that turns horribly wrong.  I suppose sooner or later, the characters would be out of ammunition.  Hence, I was not that surprised when halfway through the movie, it turns into close quarter combat with knives and fists and a rare usage of pistols.  The fight choreography flows beautifully (again, beauty in the context of violence).  The filmmakers must have involved quite a number of professionals for this show because the fight looks authentic and there are many different faces that appear for that few second of glory.  There is one old guy who cannot fight – as demanded by the plot I guess – and he stands out like a sore thumb.  It is through contrast like this do we realize how professional the rest of the actors are.

The Raid: Redemption is intense.  It is an entertaining, eye-opening movie provided that your heart can take the violence, blood, and more.

The Avengers – Is It Really That Good?

My life could be in danger if I meet Jason Johnson in person.  Mr. Johnson is a professional movie critic working with one of our local papers called The New Paper.  He said on air in The Backseat With Maddy & Cheryl that anyone who does not like The Avengers shall be thrown at by the stones or drown in the sea.  You either like the movie, or you shall die.  I am unsure if it is OK to make death threat on air in Singapore, even as a joke.  But I am scared.

Anticipation is a double edged sword.  Now, if I am to tell you that I am not that crazy over The Avengers, would you think that I am nuts?  One billion dollars, the film has made worldwide.  One user in Google+ wrote an article: Just how does piracy kill the film industry when The Avengers made a billion?  I do not know.  Since the beginning of time, men steal or cheat, especially when we know that there is no consequence to our action.  But, we are also willing to pay for an experience that worth the dough, especially when we cannot wait.  Complex creature men are.  Maybe the answer to privacy is advertisement.  And it may lead to this eventually.

The Avengers is a true feast to the fans of the superheroes.  It is like an all-star movie.  Some female viewers may drool on Thor the God of Thunder, who is played by Chris Hemsworth.  Can he really act?  It is hard to tell.  In a sci-fi setting whereby I presume actors are working with the blue screen most of the time, what is good acting when we are so overwhelmed by the mind boggling CGI?  Then we have the talented Robert Downey, Jr. who plays the Iron Man.  So much emphasis is on him and that is understandable.  His script is lively and humorous.  He is quite possibly the only true actor in The Avengers besides Samuel L. Jackson whose airtime is rather limited.  50 million is likely to be Downey’s salary with bonus when the rest of the actors get a single-digit million dollar check.  Contrast to Tony Stark’s carefree personality is Captain America who prefers discipline and has the general awareness of public safety.  Chris Evans is charming in his solo movie.  He is charming in The Avengers too.  I find Loki creepy so not much to say about the only villain in this movie.  Hulk has a new face, again.  For some strange reasons, I do prefer the new Hulk played by Mark Ruffalo.  All of a suddenly, we have a loveable, still scary Hulk.  I am still not convinced how those pants can fit the big green Hulk.  Our movie buddy TK said that those are stretchable pants.  Yet Dr. Bruce Banner was totally naked after waking up from a bad fall.

There are a bunch of noteworthy side kicks in The Avengers.  Canadian actress of How I Met Your Mother – Cobie Smulders – is Nick Fury’s assistant.  Maybe in my mind, Robin is a funny character in that TV series.  It is hard to reconcile how she can be part of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Nevertheless, Cynthia seems cool with that.  Hawkeye’s performance is a surprise to me.  Little did I know that Jeremy Renner has also acted in The Hurt Locker.  To be honest, I watch The Avengers because of Black Widow.  This character should have her independent movie title.  Why do we so seldom see female superhero films?  I don’t know.  Maybe it is a Western thing.  Are the heroines in The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, or Ultraviolet count as superheroes?  Is it just a Marvel thing?  Scarlett Johansson is attractive and she plays a deadly and intelligent agent.  I do not know what she means by too much blood in her ledger as I am not a comic book reader.  I could only imagine.

The Avengers lacks the pace and intensity of The Hunger Games.  And it is not as emotionally driven as, say, Daredevil.  Some bits of the story do not seem to make sense.  But, it is a hugely entertaining movie, a feast to the eyes – both in terms of CSG as well as star power.  Each superhero has his chance to shine and be useful to the plot, in their capacity.  The story is incredibly simple.  Part one is about superheroes facing off with one and another, which to me is silly.  Part two is about superheroes working together to fight off that one villain, which is exciting.  I don’t see any clever strategy in place.  The overarching story seems to be a continuation of Thor.  Like many superhero movies, I would probably forget this one before the month turns June.  There are some memorable moments though.  And the award goes to Hulk.