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.

Ant-Man, It’s Fun!

I am a fan of all things Marvel. People around me though, have various reaction to my choice of movies. Like one day, inside an office lift, my colleague and I were chatting about the one topic worth chatting in less than a minute, on a Friday – what’s your plan for weekend? I told him Guardians of the Galaxy. He went huh? I skipped Star-Lord (and avoided who?) and replied Rocket Raccoon? He went … a raccoon?! He clearly doesn’t know his stuff and I had an invisible eye rolling moment.

Anyhow, this time round, inside the lift, I replied Ant-Man. My female colleague went, “Huh? It must be a guy thing.” I said solemnly, “Yes, it is a guy thing.”

Ant-Man, a movie.

The fun doesn’t stop here. When I asked my wife out for an Ant-Man movie, her first reaction was, “Will we be able to see the character?” It was her polite way to decline my date invitation. Too bad. Once you are married, any right to say no to a date has been revoked. As before, I have booked the tickets weeks in advance. Due to some technical glitches, only one theater was available for online booking. And the screen was very tiny and I would prefer a large one. When I told that to Dave and Zep – our two Marvel movie buddies – they had a good laugh on that (ants and small screen, yes?). They still do.

Now, onto the movie, I honestly have no idea what or who Ant-Man was had I not played Marvel Heroes the online game. On that note alone, I would think that it could be a pretty tall order for Marvel Studios to pull this off. Let’s first talk about character development, because it is important for a less well known hero.

We have the comedian Paul Rudd as the main character, the soon-to-be Ant-Man. A likeable actor that suits the overall mood of this movie – fun. Then Michael Douglas, whom I presume is the star power behind this movie, as Hank Pym. It is a bit odd to see him on the good side, although in the realm of Marvel Universe, the line between good and evil is often blurred out. Lastly, the charming Evangeline Lilly from Lost who plays Hope, the daughter of Hank Pym. They have done a good job in unfolding the story, just about.

This trio is definitely not your everyday heroes running around on the street of Manhattan saving civilians. Ant-Man is not one of those superhero movies. If the scriptwriters were to stick to the original comic book plot, this movie would have looked something like this as taken from Marvel Heroes the online game website (this also explained one of the ending scenes in the movie).

Though a brilliant electronics expert, Scott Lang had made his share of bad decisions. Having served time in prison for burglary, Scott would return to his life of crime in order to save his terminally ill daughter, Cassie. Stealing the Ant-Man suit from Hank Pym, Scott would use the suit to save Dr. Erica Sondheim, the only doctor capable of saving Cassie from her heart condition. Once he realized that Scott was only trying to do the right thing, Hank Pym not only let Scott keep the suit, but gave him his blessing as the brand new Ant-Man!

So here lies the real challenge with Ant-Man the movie. Stealing a suit to save one’s daughter doesn’t seem as big as a deal comparing to saving the world. How faithful should the script sticks to the original story? Some fans may be even rooting for Hank Pym as the Ant-Man. Fear not. I reckon there will be a Ant-Man Original one day. Another era, another reboot.

Meanwhile, did we enjoy watching Ant-Man? We do. It is fun and entertaining. Just when the scene becomes serious, one actor would crack some jokes and we laughed, in between tears and what not. The visual effect of Ant-Man shrinking and collaborating with his troop of ants is well made. The fight scene that takes place around children toys is hilarious. Just don’t expect Ant-Man as your usual save-the-world kind of superhero movie.

The Avengers Age of Ultron – More Than Action

My wife and I always look forward to a Marvel movie and catch up with our friends who also play the online game Marvel Heroes. This time round, Dave and Zep showed up. I booked the tickets way before the show, when the duo were still holidaying in Australia.

Avenger Age of Ultron

I must admit, since I am not actually a comic book reader, having played a Marvel game helps a lot in my understanding or rather a glimpse of what Marvel universe is all about. In that sense, this movie makes perfect sense to me. For those who may not have any background on Marvel, I would imagine that the storyline could be slightly confusing at times.

Here is a screenshot taken from the game’s login screen. Those who have watched the movie would immediately be able to relate this to the opening scene. This shows the effort Marvel has put in to promote their movies from all possible channels, including video games.

Age of Ultron login screen from Marvel Heroes

Back to the movie, it is a great follow-up to the first Avenger. Captain America, Ironman, Thor, and Hulk together with Black Widow and Hawkeye forms the Team Avengers. Ultron, the artificial intelligence is the villain. Then, enter the mutant twins Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. I like the black humor Ultron has. What I like most though is the side of vulnerability from all these heroes. Some sort of depth to the movie, and not just action and special effects.

This movie is long. 141 minutes. Each hero has given enough airtime to shine. Never a dull moment. I enjoy watching this thoroughly.

Jupiter Ascending – The Good, The Bad, And Everything In Between

Do The Wachowskis manage to recreate the success they have with The Matrix in Jupiter Ascending? The short answer is no. But if you are a fan of sci-fi, this movie can be pretty entertaining and exciting to watch in parts. Somewhere in the middle though, one dude fell asleep in the cinema and snored very loudly. I don’t blame him. Luckily I had a good night sleep the day before.

Yep, it is Jupiter Ascending.

The story is very promising. Three alien siblings together they own the galaxy through capitalism. They populate the planet with species and once the planet is overpopulated, they harvest the entire local inhabitants in order to manufacture an essence that restores youth for profit. Time is the currency most sought after at the pinnacle of technology. These enterprises are to be blamed for the extinction of dinosaurs in Earth. Who am I to complain?

The mother of the siblings – the queen of the galaxy – was murdered by one of her children long, long time ago. Millenniums later, she is reincarnated as an earthling named Jupiter Jones played by Mila Kunis. One sibling sends in agents to assassinate this new queen-to-be. Another sibling sends in a hunter played by Channing Tatum to protect or capture Jupiter, depending on how you see it. The third sibling sends in agents to kidnap her. In the mist of all these chaos, Earth is due for harvesting. Can Jupiter Jones who cleans wealthy households for a living save the world?

The movie started off OK with Jupiter Jones going about with her chores, very much like Neo in The Matrix. Very soon, audience are bombarded by over the top CGI effect that is very nice to look at, but with little soul in it. There isn’t much character development at that point. And when it does, without the CGI, the drama between each siblings and the main characters seems dull and low key. Audience are on the fence waiting for the next bang to arrive.

The last part of the movie is in fact pretty good. Now that the context is established, the CGI strikes an emotional core. This movie does end in a high note.

Onto the acting, Channing Tatum is doing well (also one of the reasons why I catch this movie). It is hard to fall in love with Mila Kunis’s acting though. Side by side with Channing, Mila doesn’t seem to be at the same level. Then again, it is relatively hard to fall in love with a character that starts off cleaning houses and there isn’t really a moment in the story for her to transform into someone great. She inherits the title of the queen of galaxy in a rather unceremonious fashion. Not to mention the character doesn’t have new-found ‘power’ (they should have expanded on the bee controlling thing). Jupiter Jones suppose to be witty. But the way she foils the evil plots of the siblings is just … elemental. It doesn’t demonstrate how smart she is. So, what is there to love Jupiter Jones the character besides those big beautiful eyes?

For what it is worth, the movies does tell me one thing. Capitalism is bad, for the galaxy.

X-Men: Days of Future Past Is Amazing

X-Men Days of the Future Past

A bunch of us who are playing this Marvel themed online game were super excited for a get together event to watch X-Men Days of Future Past. Some of us have not met each other before the show. But one passion binds us together – Marvel. So we met up. All of us were kind of surprised at how we look like in real life. For example, one best known as Iron-Man is actually pretty hilarious in person. And Dr. Strange is a lot taller than I thought. They in turn were marveled at my ‘multi-tone’ hair highlight and that I am much – shall I say – matured looking than who they think I am. What they don’t know is that my hair was having this special effect even during my younger years. It is just a matter of days of my present past. What do they think of Rocket Raccoon a.k.a. my wife? Err. OK. Next.

I did not like the previous X-Men movie back in 2011. But you know me. Short term memory. And I am always excited by what is to come. The story is set in the future, when the war between the mutants (and the humans that side with them) and the sentinels is almost over. Mutants are facing extinction. The future is bleak. What an incredible fight for survival these mutants have put up against the formidable foes. The amount of teamwork is amazing. Blink (Fan Bingbing) opens up portals at strategic places, Colossus goes in for the punch. Iceman and Sunspot tackle the enemies with ice and fire. Storm powers Bishop’s weapon and Bishop goes in for the kill at range. Even with such teamwork the mutants are not able to take down the sentinels. Because the sentinels manage to absorb and adapt to the mutants’ power. It is always Shadowcat (Ellen Page) sending Bishop back in time to warn the mutants so as to avert the attack (now, I had no idea that Kitty Pryde has this sort of power!). That breathtaking last moment between victory and total annihilation.

But the mutants are tired of running. Professor X and Magneto have decided to send Wolverine back into the past and prevent that one single event that led to where they are in the future – the capture of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Eventually her DNA was being studied and used to enhance the sentinels as the ultimate mutant killing machines.

The story is intriguing. Although it may not be considered as a true Marvel story – since it is common to have alternative realities when it comes to Marvel characters -I found the plot of Days of Future Past acceptable. It has also undone some of the unpopular movie endings in the past through time travel. So I am cool with it and am looking forward to more X-Men movies.

The casting is fantastic. Hugh Jackman is so perfect for the role as Wolverine. Both the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto have done well too. Key to the story is Mystique. I was unsure how our Hunger Game heroine Jennifer Lawrence would perform as a blue mutant. She has handled the multidimensional character well. Being someone strong but yet emotionally fragile, threading a thin line that separates the good and the evil. She has a decision to make. Can she change the future? This movie got me hooked from beginning to end.

Of Captain America The Winter Soldier And The Amazing Spider-Man 2

What a treat for Marvel fans this year. Earlier on, we have the follow-up movies for Captain America and Spider-Man. Later, we will have X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy. Some of us who are fans of the online game Marvel Heroes have already planned to meet up and watch the upcoming X-Men together.

Captain America 2 and Spider-Man 2

3 years ago, my wife and I have watched the Captain America movie. I love his personality being so close to people on the ground. 3 years later set in modern time, Captain America is on a mission with Black Widow. The plot I must admit sounded complicated initially. Had I not been introduced to the Hydra organization thanks to that online game I am playing, I would have been pretty lost because I don’t read that much comic. As far as the story goes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is infiltrated and no one can be trusted. It is up to Captain America in leading the people out of the crisis. The villain turns out to be Captain’s best friend and now called Winter Soldier. This film has plenty of action as well as good plot twists. Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson are both charming on screen. What I found missing or what I really wish to see was some romance in the story, which is none. That leads to the second movie my wife and I have watched – The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

It is hard not to love Spider-Man. He is agile and funny. And he is popular. Andrew Garfield is the perfect actor for this role. There is a vulnerable side of his. But also possess an inner strength and determination that I feel lacking in the previous incarnations. Spider-Man is a super hero after all and he has to be strong. I also happen to like Emma stone as Spider-Man’s love interest. Gwen Stacy is not portrayed as some girls who are helpless without her superhero boyfriend. Being a real life couple may have explained the amazing on-screen chemistry. Plot-wise, this movie is not as memorable as Captain America’s. But I was thoroughly entertained and enthralled by the story between Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy.

Both are good movies. I can’t wait to watch the next two!

The Hunger Game: Catching Fire – A Spontaneous Watch

The second episode of The Hunger Game.

In a rare occasion, I managed to have a decent eight hours sleep on Saturday.  I can count how many times that has happened in the past seven months with my one hand.  Jolly mood I was at, without having this wanting to fall asleep every other minute throughout the day, I made a list of suggestions on where to go for lunch.  My wife Cynthia has picked a Chinese restaurant in the airport called Crystal Jade, which is around 25 km from our home.  I was lunching at the same place the day before with my colleague June.  My wife asked if it was OK for me to dine in the same restaurant two days in a roll.  I am happy to.  June has planned to bring her family to Crystal Jade on Saturday for dinner.  Imagine her surprise if I was to tell her that I too have brought my family all the way to Changi for food.  The love we have for Crystal Jade, try not to underestimate.

I did not plan to return home immediately after our little excursion to the east side of Singapore.  After our sumptuous meal, I took out my tablet and secretly check out the movie schedule near our location.  The Hunger Game was showing in a cinema 10 minutes’ drive away from us.  I asked Cynthia if she has an appointment at four and she said no.  So I booked the tickets online and then told her that we were going for a movie.  Everyone loves a little surprise, once in a while.

It was the first time we visited the mall Downtown East.  If Changi – where I work – is far from where we live, Pasir Ris is even more remote.  I do not know what places of interest are in Pasir Ris.  Downtown East is one.  Pasir Ris Park – where we had our dinner later on – is another.

The mall looks different from the rest that we have seen.  We felt as though we were in Malaysia, or in Bandung Indonesia.  There is nothing too exciting inside the mall and the cinema only has four screens.  Perhaps that is the very reason why we still managed to get good seats so close to showtime.

Catching Fire is a two and a half hours movie.  It is a pretty lengthy movie, just like the first one.  At the end of last episode, both Katniss and Peeta from District 12 (I always thought he is ‘Peter’) have won the game – a first time in history to have two tributes surviving the game.  In this second episode, following the tradition, the winner or in this case winners have to make a tour through the districts and pay respect to the fallen tributes.  The concept is kind of odd to me.  I mean, there is this game whereby tributes against their will are killing each other in order to survive.  And in the end, the survivors visit the homes of the fallen ones to … I don’t know … to gloat?  To apologize?  To say, a battle well fought?  Only Panem can think of a sick tradition like this.

But here is the irony.  The movie has gone in great length dealing with character development that is lacking in action but essential in giving meaning to this meaningless game.  And then when the game finally came, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted it because it is so sick that I hate it.  I cannot pinpoint what I am attracted to.  Perhaps I wanted so bad to know how Katniss can beat the game again.  Other moral conflicts, I can deal with them another day.

When Katniss and Peeta are back in the game – think Survivor All-Star – the pace of the movie picked up tremendously.  It may not be as exciting as the first episode because I can more or less anticipate what is to come, it is still exciting to watch.

Like some other trilogies, Catching Fire being the middle episode sandwiched between a fresh beginning and a climatic ending is neither here nor there.  I wish the game was longer, the on-screen romance was more convincing and intense.  I can also understand that if it was so, it would look like a repeat of the first episode.  It is not quite an ending that concludes this second episode, but rather an opening for the third.  Since I am a fan of the franchise, Catching Fire is a must watch, for me.

After the movie, Cynthia and I have decided to have our dinner at Pasir Ris Park.  Long time ago, we used to frequent the place.  After the government has got rid of many of the eating places there (oh those BBQ chicken wings we so dearly miss!), we have stopped visiting.  On our previous visit, it was raining hard.  We still remember how all of us dinners squeezed into every last bit of shelter trying to have our meal without getting too wet.  The restaurant is by the beach and has an open area concept.  On Saturday, we have visited the same restaurant again.  The air was fresh.  Facing the beach in near pitch dark, it was rather romantic.  What a day.

Pacific Rim on 3D Dolby Atmos Is Quite Something

This is a good one!

It may be too early to call it.  But Pacific Rim is my favorite movie of this year, thus far.  Initially, I thought it was just another Transformer movie.  I am glad that I did not give it a miss.  My wife, our buddy, and I have watched this movie on 3D Dolby Atmos.  The special effect looks great.  How 3D technology has matured.  The soundtrack composed by Ramin Djawadi sounds good too.  I have enjoyed the director Guillermo del Toro’s work on Pan’s Labyrinth and was curious on what he could do with colossal sized robots and monsters.  The detail that goes into the artwork is mind blowing.  Each frame is a treat.  You know how it is like for other similar movies whereby the robot or monster looks bigger in one scene than the other?  The relative size of these giant robots and monsters against the environment appears to be consistent.  The action sequence chewed the living cells out of my brain.  I was holding onto my seat’s arms (or rather my wife’s hand) throughout the 132 minutes of tense action.  Wow, it was breathtaking.

I am a fan of giant robots.  I love the Japanese anime movie series Evangelion.  Pacific Rim pretty much reminds me of Evangelion.  In that movie, the main character pilots a mecha to protect the world from mysterious creatures known as Angels.  In Pacific Rim, two characters are required to pilot a Jaeger (the giant robot) to battle against Kaiju (the monster).  Because of the mental load needed to control a Jaeger, two pilots of a similar physical compatibility are linked at the neural level in order to share the mental strain.  While the two pilots are mentally linked, they share with each other their deep memory and innermost emotion.  Their moves are synchronized too (by and large) like a choreographed dance.  This unique concept has caught my attention prompted me to watch it in a cinema.

Where do these Kaijus come from?  The lore says that these aliens live inside the core of our planet.  Once in a while, a portal or a mysterious passageway is open for the Kaijus to emerge and attack the coastal cities.  These monsters evolve over time to be more powerful and humans from different countries pool their resources to create monstrous robots called Jaegers to counterattack.  Despite all the effort, the situation remains dire.  Humans have one last window of opportunity to turn the tide and attempt to avert extinction.  The story of the movies set in this final hour between humanity and total annihilation.  While the story may not have much depth, the suspense and the rather unpredictable plot makes up for it.

Two more worthy mentions before closing off this entry.  The opening theme Pacific Rim features Tom Morello (guitarist of Rage against Machine and Audioslave) is memorable, blending rock sound into an orchestral sounding.  I also like the song played during the end credits and a couple of others.  Unfortunately, these tracks are not included in the official soundtrack.  It is a joy watching Rinko Kikuchi’s performance.  She is probably the one who stands out as a better actor.  All in all, an enjoyable show especially on 3D Dolby Atmos.  My wife and I are already thinking of getting the Blu-ray when it is out!

Star Trek Into Darkness – I Wouldn’t Have Expected Anything Less

Into Darkness is a great follow up.

I am not a Trekkie.  But I have thoroughly enjoyed the reboot.  Hence, I have high anticipation of Into Darkness, also directed by J. J. Abrams.  Besides, the casting of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock is simply brilliant.  Before the movie, I was thinking to myself: How nice if I could see some Klingons.  The good news is, there were some Klingons.  The not so good news is that they did not last long.

So I lamented just a little bit with my movie buddies Cynthia and TK.  In a sci-fi movie like Star Trek, when human are exploring the frontier of the galaxy, should we not see more interaction with other alien species?  Like my favorite Klingons?

What we see instead is the conflict between the human in the future with the generically modified super-human in the past caught in the middle.  At first, I felt the villain Khan acted by Benedict Cumberbatch was a bit stiff and emotionless.  Then, when it is his part to shine, Cumberbatch delivers some of the memorable moments in this movie.  As for Kirk and Spock, the filmmaker has given them plenty of opportunity to showcase the unique characteristic of the two opposing figures.  Kirk who acts on his initiation versus Spock who is governed by logic and has chosen not to be affected by emotion.  In Into Darkness, both Kirk and Spock are being deeply challenged against their principles.  It is part of a learning journey for them to mature and take greater responsibility.  The filmmaker has nailed the character development aspect perfectly.

The ending plot is not without its loophole (or so I have observed).  Cynthia and TK did not notice until I have pointed it out.  It is like, why go into such great trouble to catch the one when there are plenty of stock back in the ship?  And if they have no idea how to unfreeze these stocks, why risk freezing the main character in it?  Anyway, that is minor on this pretty entertaining movie of late.

Iron Man 3 Is Fun!

Now, this is a pretty fun movie to watch.

Initially, I wasn’t sure if I should watch Iron Man 3.  I remember the Iron Man five years ago was great.  I did not like Iron Man 2 and could not remember what the plot was.  Not even a single bit.  Part one was memorable.  Part two was forgettable.  But since both my buddy TK and my wife were keen on part three, and the box office seems to do well, why not give one of my favorite actors Robert Downey Jr. another chance?

As it turns out, Iron Man 3 is fun!  It reminds me why I love the first installment.  There is this human factor as we get to see more on the vulnerable side of Tony Stark than a hero in suit.  Tony Stark as an engineer who is playful at heart and he loves to create.  The end products may or may not work as intended.  Loving it.  I am trained as an engineer and I can relate to this aspect of the show. Again, nothing really going on with the Pepper character.  There are some silly moments too, like assembling an anti-terrorists outfit and gear using common goods purchased from a local DIY store.  Or blowing up robots in order to create a firework.  But all in all, an entertaining movie.