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All reviews - Movies (10) - Books (2)

Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted : 1 year, 6 months ago on 28 March 2016 04:54 (A review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)


When news came out of a Batman-Superman movie some two years ago, exalted fanboys have been given much more than their dream movies finally coming true, but of a much more titanic fight: Marvel vs DC. Marvel threw the first punch by launching a successful series of solo hero movies before finishing with a haymaker: The Avengers. DC responded with a planned Justice League movie. And it was on. But, Marvel wasn’t afraid much. Snyder’s Man of Steel was a lesson in excess and bad storytelling, add the furor over the Ben Affleck casting, and BVS became a ticking bomb that could either explode in brilliant magnificence, or implode on its own weight of expectations. The latter being the turnout, according to critics, made expectations grim.


So, the movie came out. Barring earlier reports that it sucked big time, like I always do, with a bucket of popcorn and a root beer, went to see the fight of the century. And to say with all honestly as a fanboy first and a critic, second, it wasn’t all that bad.


The story unfolds with young Bruce Wayne’s parents getting offed by a random hoodlum, and his transformation into a costumed vigilante that brands his victims with a bat mark. Something Batman has never done before. Batman is rightfully feared that even the sex trafficking victims whom he saved were calling him El Diablo behind his back. This Batfleck version is looking to be even moodier than his predecessors.


Meanwhile, Lois Lane is investigating a terrorist group in Nairobi, Africa when all hell breaks loose and Superman saves her. There are heavy civilian casualties that prompted the Senate to breath down Superman’s neck, he is a destructive force and he needs to answer for his actions. Even when he saved the world from Zod and his terra-forming machine, thousands perished and whether Superman likes it or not, is indirectly responsible. Superman becomes the hot topic of conversation with the heading, “Should there be a Superman?”


Lex Luthor proposes kryptonite as a deterrent weapon, while on the side, schemes to make the two superheroes mistrust each other, thus, sets the stage for the inevitable fight. Luthor’s Plan B should the fight not end in his favour, is genetically-engineered Doomdsay. Wonder Woman comes into the fray as Diana Prince in town to investigate Luthor that also reveals the existence of meta-humans (for more on meta-humans, watch the excellent Flash TV Series). The trio of superheroes takes on Doomsday to the finish.


Quite alright. The plot is solid and makes sense. And I’m not complaining about all the other sub-stories, like Lois Lane, who comes and goes as she investigates the ties between LexCorp and the mercs, via a found bullet in the desert. Or Luthor dealings with the government to import this huge Kryptonite when he could’ve easily just smuggled it. Even the guy in the wheelchair. Because, they are all needed in the story. But, much as I hate to say it, Zack Snyder’s storytelling again, is the kryptonite of the movie.


In the Senate hearing, Holly Hunter’s senator’s speech was interrupted when she saw the bottle of Granny’s piss peach tea. She was terrified and I was trying to figure out why. Then, I remembered the scene with her and Luthor where the peach tea was mentioned. And it was a long 40 minutes before, that I have already forgotten. Some scenes that connect, I’m afraid, were much too separated from each other. A problem of pacing? Or spacing?


Then there’s the overly dramatic musical score which was a destructive force throughout the movie (except maybe the big drums that heralds Wonder Woman’s entrance was kind of cool). But, really, do we need Lex Luthor to walk in slow motion on his way to the alien spaceship with a such music?


Dialogue, on the other hand, is a lesser problem. In fact, some of Chris Terrio and David Goyer’s lines of speech were memorable and fun. Lois Lane telling the terrorist leader that she’s a reporter not a woman jumped out immediately early in the movie. And lest we forget, the famous, “Do you bleed?” Golden. And the recipients of the best lines of dialogues came from the supporting characters. Laurence Fishburne’s wicked put-downs as White could’ve shut up J. Jonah Jameson, while Jeremy Irons’ Alfred’s lines were speeches delivered as if they were Oscar clips. However, there were moments where lines could’ve been more direct. Like when Bruce was telling Alfred that he was stealing the Kryptonite to kill the “sonofabitch.” He meant Superman, of course, but somehow, he kept referring to him in the third person and they were the only two people in the Batcave. Likewise, in the scene when Superman, begged Batman to, “Find him. Save Martha,” where he could’ve easily said, “Find Luthor, save my mom Martha,” could’ve made things easier.


True, Snyder has the visionary qualities to make a superhero movie. It even rivals the very best comic book creators’. Superman floating in the sky like a messianic god sprayed by sunlight is right out of the pages of Alex Ross’ work; Superman surrounded by painted faces in Juarez, Mexico; Him flying down to the Capitol. Synder gets it. He does. But, quite often his melodramatics gets in the way of the story. Dream sequences? Flashbacks? Flash forwards? The Flash? Since when did Bruce Wayne got diagnosed with having hallucinations of the most bleak kind? The allusions that Snyder were trying for slowed down the movie and created confusion most audiences weren’t ready for. And if these are the issues most critics are grilling about on behalf of the audience, then I am with them. After all, it is from the movie-going public’s pockets that make the profits.


There are other issues that I’d like to put out that only geeks would be hardcore about. Like Superman has the ability to hold his breath for hours, even days, and a second helping of Kryptonite gas would’ve been avoided. Or why Superman intervened when Batman was pursuing the mercs. Or why Luthor put a time limit to the match. Or why, since Lois Lane seems to have a direct line to Superman whenever she’s in trouble, shouldn’t Martha Kent have one too? But, these are little things. The fact is, I still enjoyed the movie. It’s not the best superhero movie by far, true. Not a Spider-Man 2 or The Avengers or Days of Future Past, but it doesn’t need to be. The movie’s tone shouldn’t be compared with that of the Marvel universe, where heroes have time to sit around for drinks and crack jokes. The DC Universe has taken on a dark, somber tone and this is it as far as Snyder is concerned. Isn’t it is entertaining enough just to see two of the most popular superheroes duke it out for the first time in movie history? And while a lot of critics have put the movie down, wrote it on their shit list, and say they can’t wait for Civil War, they weren’t actually saying you shouldn’t see it.



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MOVIE REVIEW: The Revenant

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 16 March 2016 12:28 (A review of The Revenant)

The whole experience of watching “The Revenant” could be summed up in two words. Natural lighting. Director Alejandro G. Innaritu borrowed God’s light with the aid of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and made a movie that will be discussed in film schools for years to come. “The Revenant,” his frontier revenge tale starring Leonardo DiCaprio is set against the elements and transforms his already mastery of cinema high art into science. The Mexican-born director is a modern warlock, a creative genius and pretty much, a show-off.


He kicks off the movie Terrence Malick-style, with the camera trained lowly on a flooded terrain, documenting the bountiful landscape, as hired tracker Hugh Glass and his half-Indian son hunt for food while the expedition party relaxes by the river. Then, almost instantly, Innaritu breaks the silence with a thrilling, eye-level, continuous shot as Indians crash the party and kills them “white” folks, duplicating a feat he did a year ago in “Birdman,” not in length, but in terms of synchronized madness. It is a symphony of glamorous massacre. One arrow after another towards a full-blown blitz. The heavenly score by Sakamoto Ryuichi and Alva Noto makes you worry none of them would come out of there alive.


The few that survived, some of them with arrows sticking out of their bodies, drift slowly down the river, with rifles still on guard. And as they ponder on their recent harrowing ordeal, we are given a who’s who of the lot: fair-minded leader Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), hard-assed John “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), and young, frontier break-in Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). This time, Innaritu channels Werner Herzog, as the survivors rethink their possible course of action while the characters clash, decide on a mountainside trail towards the safety of their camp, some hundred miles away. But, not before Glass gets severely attacked by a bear, that will leave him inches of death, and to only recuperate from it by drawing strength from his wife’s memories and in witnessing the murder of his son, which kept him awake and hungry for revenge. Thus, least to say, Glass became, drum roll, “The Revenant.”


This bear attack. Perhaps, the other two words that could sum up this movie. The CG-bear that Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t do without. A frighteningly 5-minute scene of man versus beast at its most brutal. Lou Ferrigno fought a bear once in a TV episode of the “Hulk.” But, not like this. This is pure, visceral, masochistic stuff. And honest to God, if you didn’t squirm at any time during which Leo got pounded, bitten, grated, and humiliated by the bear, there is something oddly wrong with you. But, its not only the ursine threat that Glass encounters in the movie. Michael Punke’s novel, from which Innaritu and Michael L. Smith based the screenplay from, painted the timeline as a harsh time to have existed and its hero as a survivalist of mythic proportions. So, Inarritu condemns Glass to a second life of trying to survive charging Indian hunters, battle an angry winter where he needed to cut open a horse’s belly to warm himself and further on, feed on uncooked fish. That, if he did get his revenge in the end, would be much, much sweeter having been served from the cold.


In retrospect, it’s a simple, straight premise. A revenge tale like any other revenge tales and they are very prominent in Western movies and literature. A lawless age of man where killing was rampant, and naturally, this revenge gig is sort of, the in-thing in those days. And Innaritu takes his revenge tale far beyond its limits, pushing Leonardo DiCaprio to give it his all as Glass. The extremities were there and he welcomed it, embraced it like he would the elusive trophy. He begged for it and Innaritu gladly obliged. It is by far, one of the most moving stories of a role finally rewarding an actor the accolade that he deserves. DiCaprio’s Glass becomes a benchmark of sorts for actors who have been perennially on the chase for glory.


The last scene shows Glass in the blistering winter, maybe dying from the cold, sees a vision of his dead wife. Could it be that his fate has already been written? And DiCaprio looks straight at us as if to say, I came back from the dead and this is nothing. I’ve already won. Then, Innaritu fades to black with the sound of whispering breath.



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MOVIE REVIEW: Spotlight

Posted : 1 year, 7 months ago on 13 March 2016 04:13 (A review of Spotlight)

    

       Before it was awarded the Best Picture Oscar, "Spotlight" was being touted as “All the President’s Men” all over again, but with a scandal most consider as even more taboo: the sexual abuse by Catholic priests on children. Normally, criticism about the Church is strictly policed. Protected by God-fearing politicians, who think its best just to look the other way. But, the days of misbehaving Catholic priests hiding behind God’s invincible barrier are over. Rogue, guerrilla journalism says they had it coming.

     But this is old news already. “Deliver Us From Evil,” directed by Amy Berg, a 2006 documentary on the subject was nominated for the Oscar and won the NY Film Critics Circle and Boston Film Critics awards. In it, there was no race to get the perpetrators to admit to the abuse, the truth was already on hand. The movie starts with a confession by one Father O’Grady. And in all fairness to Berg’s movie, it was already in on it before “Spotlight”, and more powerfully tackled the issue.

     That is why, seeing “Spotlight” didn’t really come as the big “revelation” to me, like most did, I suspect. And it was in seeing the documentary on catholic priests’ sexual abuse that a Hollywood movie with big-time actors, felt lukewarm. I even found it not as exciting as it should have been. As per the movie’s timeline, they were really in no hurry with their piece of story.

     Still, “Spotlight” is a good movie with inspired performances, most especially by Mark Ruffalo, who should have won by the way, and did what it’s supposed to do: educate everyone to the truth and with all daring, reveal the chink in the Church’s armor. A good movie by bringing back investigative journalism even though it is set in the late 70s to early 80s, making the issue even more period, further brought to my mind the question: why it took Hollywood this long to make this movie?



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BOOK REVIEW: The Shack

Posted : 3 years, 1 month ago on 3 September 2014 08:20 (A review of The Shack)

     After his young daughter is abducted and presumed killed by a serial killer, a father sinks deep into a private world of melancholic suffering. That he couldn’t understand why such a fate should befall his innocent child, devoid of all rational explanations, blames God and turns his back on Him.

     Years later, a message arrives. It’s from God. And He is pointing him in the direction of a rundown shack--the place his daughter was killed. And God would be waiting for him. A once-in-a-lifetime personal meet-up with the Almighty and time for some spiritual healing.

     The rendezvous with God isn’t enough, though, the father also meets the rest of the Holy Trinity: Jesus and the Holy Ghost as he is whisked to a place, a Heaven on earth paradise and there in an instant, his faith is restored. Who wouldn’t? In the course of his stay with the celestial beings, here, taking the forms of ordinary people and displaying a passion for life, even doing simple chores were all meant to impress the father as his many questions are answered, albeit too poetic.

     "The Shack" is a story that overwhelms and inspires---that is, if you're a devout Christian in need of an inspiring story and believes in the power of miracles. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are portrayed here as all-knowing and all-benevolent, and have the answers for everything. And you’d be a fool not to get carried away. The character in the story and YOU—the reader.        

     Sadly, the story overflows with an excess of spiritualism, that’s all too one-sided. The fact that the poor guy is sadly manipulated, his thinking bent, and even forced to forgive his child's killer, much with the help of a Fourth of July fireworks display. And all these, while God talks about free will.

     But William P. Young's intentions are good, his formula effective: many dose of hearty laughter and emotional one-on-one's, the story is movie-ready for consumption.



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MOVIE REVIEW: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows 2

Posted : 6 years, 3 months ago on 21 July 2011 02:14 (A review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2)

     Out of all the great, beloved series in movies, like “Star Wars,” and “Lord of the Rings,” the saga of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling’s unlikely hero, who is now probably the world’s most famous wizard, is neither the critical favourite, nor the awards winner. But, it has something that’s probably just as grand—the best standing ovation at its encore.

     That after everything, the long struggle to save Hogwarts and the world against Voldemort, things will go back to normal. That life will go on.  Except, it’s a life without Harry. A thought that is sadder than winter coming too soon, or Christmas getting cancelled. Harry had been so much a part of culture, and to a young child growing up, that he will be terribly missed.

     And so, we come to “Harry and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2,” the final insertion to the franchise. In the end, it was all about Harry. Hogwarts may burn; its towers may fall as frightened little wizards seem to be just running in circles; lovable characters may die as others fade in the background with a line or two; Dumbledore may be dead, but another guy with a long beard is still alive; Voldemort may get the ultimate wizard toy and all the power that goes with it, plus a place in the villain’s hall of shame; Snape may have made the ultimate sacrifice and the all-important, head-spinning revelation; Ron may get the girl; and the girl who played Hermione may get another movie career doing chick flicks, but it was all about Harry.

     In the future, a new generation of fans will discover Harry Potter, but for now, there’s enough time to enjoy, revisit and celebrate. There will never be another series like it, and it will never be forgotten. Harry Potter has put a spell on us.



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BOOK REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Posted : 6 years, 3 months ago on 12 July 2011 02:37 (A review of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)

     Historically accurate except for the vampire parts, Seth Grahame-Smith's morbid mash-up features an axe-wielding Abe Lincoln out to rid America of its bloodsucking menace

     From witnessing his mother’s death from sickness and the intervention of a vampire, to slaves being sold as vampire fodder, Abe turns to a vigilante life of vampire hunter, judge and executioner. And who knows where his talent for slaughter came from, the man, tall but sinewy, could very well paint the town dark with undead blood. As a precursor to Van Helsing and Buffy, Abe might even have written the book on vampire slaying.

     As a historical piece, it goes like this: All they taught you in school about Honest Abe, slavery and the Civil War left some finer, darker details in the history books of America’s schools and libraries--that of the important part played by vampires in building America. Vampires, apparently, were everywhere during this time in history, and even before that. Wielding power of aristocracy and influencing politics, society, even the cattle industry. Of course, after Abe became privy to all these, the once mighty and powerful vampire nation met a foe to be reckoned with. And reckoned he did, for decades on end.

     Enjoyable throughout with a narrative that grips the imagination, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is part history, part imagination, and all literature. The book also features stunning never-before-seen-photos of vampires walking in the 19th century. Some of these photos are quite familiar, really, but the vampires were edited out. Good golly, could it have been a conspiracy?



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MOVIE REVIEW: Nights of Cabiria

Posted : 6 years, 5 months ago on 4 May 2011 02:02 (A review of The Nights of Cabiria)

     Like most prostitutes in the streets of Rome, naïve Cabiria dreams nothing else in the world but happiness and security. But in hookertown, where women are even classified by the area they work in, these are but Faery Tale words.

     The story follows Cabiria’s nights of a thousand nights. Standing in corners, parading a ware that’s not much to look at: she’s spritely with a comical face; A tomboy if put beside glamour queens; the last one chosen in a school yard pick.

     So, it was like hitting the jackpot when Cabiria gets picked up by handsome moviestar Alberto Lazzari, (think Errol Flynn with an Italian accent), who is, at the time having a tussle with his beautiful main squeeze. Cabiria gets a tour around town in a roadster, admitted to a club she wouldn’t dream of setting foot in, and finally, in Lazzari’s suite, gets a taste of luxury. That good luck seems to be coming her way, especially, when she meets a kind, gentleman that proposes marriage, Cabiria becomes convinced that maybe, Faery Tales really do come true.

     What she doesn’t know is that, in a Fellini movie, there’s no such thing as a happy ending.

     This is one of Giuletta Masina’s grand performances wherein, she has armed herself with a hundred and one facial expression. Turning sweet to sour, jovial to mad, liberated and at the same time, chained to a vagrant life of the flesh, you name it. She is extremely a joy to watch. Taking it all with an attitude, like a female Chaplin—the Tramp! And her performance won her Best Actress at Cannes. This is her must-see movie.

     “Nights of Cabiria” also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957, back-to-back with Fellini’s “La Strada.



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MOVIE REVIEW: Paris, Texas

Posted : 6 years, 5 months ago on 27 April 2011 04:06 (A review of Paris, Texas)

    It’s one of those movie openings that immediately makes an impression: a man in an ill-fitting suit and red cap walking in the desert headed in a direction, he himself, is quite unsure of, holding half a bottle of water. Tired, with a desperation in his face that only means trouble ahead.

     He is Travis, whose once proud eyes turned humble and apologetic as he tries his best to reconnect with his abandoned son, a wife who abandoned him, and most especially, himself. Set in sun-drenched Texas, where everybody seemed to have left for the ocean, and those that remain have likely forgotten how to dream.

     Director Wim Wenders has captured the landscape Texas is known for: Rustic, dusty, all-American. To the tune of Ry Cooder’s blaring slide guitar, it almost felt like a Western movie of American consumerism, except it is not. “Paris, Texas” is a hauntingly beautiful personal drama of a wayward father whose personal suffering becomes his pillar of strength to overcome his grievances.

     Written by L.M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepherd and Wim Wenders, it stars Harry Dean Stanton in a stand-out performance. And 30 years since its release, Stanton never had another role that he is easily identified with, and celebrated in. In some way, it was also  co-star Nasstassja Kinski’s crowning achievement, though she only appeared halfway into the movie, there is no other Kinski role that could be listed nearly as artistic. Also starring Dean Stockwell, Hunter Carson and Aurore Clement.

     “Paris, Texas” won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. It is one of the best, important American movie of its era.



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MOVIE REVIEW: The 13th Warrior

Posted : 6 years, 5 months ago on 27 April 2011 04:03 (A review of The 13th Warrior)

     Based on Michael Crichton’s novel “Eaters of the Dead,” it is about an Arabian emissary Ibn Fadlan (played by Antonio Banderas) who joins a band of ultra-tough, Viking warriors led by Buliwyf in defending a small kingdom against a horde of supernatural barbarians.

     Sounds good enough for a medieval adventure movie? It is. John McTiernan, the man who sold Bruce Willis as an action hero to the world in “Die Hard,” directed this movie whose description can even get better: “Seven Samurai” meets “Night of the Living Dead” in a Mexican stand-off scenario. If that is not enough, “13th Warrior” is a retelling of the epic “Beowulf”legend. Reference to the great Norse myth darkens the tone more, to a point of hopelessness. But that is no surprise, Viking days are almost always that gloomy.

     One of the more unforgettable scenes that easily comes to mind whenever I recall the movie is the one where the Vikings share a common bowl of water to wash their face, gargle, spit, shoot and…well, you get the picture. You can easily smell Viking in the air. Yet, you’d be surprised that these Viking warriors possess the most perfect curls this side of Northern Europe.

     So, Ibn becomes the 13th warrior chosen by way of the casting of bones to answer the call of a neighboring kingdom besieged by an unholy horde that cannot be killed. There, he learns to band with his newfound brothers and witness courage prevail against insurmountable odds as they fortify themselves heavily that even they couldn’t get out. It is suicide and they cheer for its glory. The battle scenes echoing “Seven Samurai” are fought in the dark, in the mud and in caverns of death. McTiernan doesn’t let the sun shine until it is all but over.

     "The 13th Warrior" is standard action fare as far as hack and slash Medieval adventures are concerned, but its about Vikings and Norsemen warriors doesn't populate the movies much. If that isn't something, Omar Sharif is on it the first half of the movie.



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REVIEW: The Mist

Posted : 6 years, 5 months ago on 26 April 2011 02:45 (A review of The Mist)

     Stephen King has returned to his favorite town of Castle Rock. So loved this town that he intermittently likes to put it under attack by every imaginable unimaginable evil. And the people of Castle Rock return this love by not packing their bags, selling their house and moving out. Okay, so they’re a bunch of masochists.

     In this latest King story, the quiet town of Castle Rock is suddenly enveloped by a strange, mysterious mist that came from out of nowhere. And ordinary people, like happy family man David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane) react to it calmly at first, not until from out of the mist come gigantic, tentacled monsters and start slaughtering people, that he panics and tries to protect his family.  

     I haven’t read the book. Usually in a standard King story, character intros are long and detailed, but in this movie, director Frank Darabont doesn’t waste time. Soon David and his family get trapped in a supermarket along with other survivors and wait it out. But help is a long way from coming that they resort to gung-ho plans to survive. The monsters will get them eventually if they don’t brave it out and make a run for it. Now, these mist monsters kill people in the most excruciatingly horrendous, painful way possible that it is better to kill yourself than to succumb to the pain. And this very belief which will cause the biggest grief in the end—a twist that is so, should I say, really f**d-up.   

     Darabont has all of King’s character sketches to play with and they provide the myriad of emotions needed. But one character bugged me a bit---Marcia Gay Harden’s prophetic, bible spewing nuisance. And I thought with all the bad things that have plagued the town, a religious-fanatic like her would have been driven out of town by now. She wasn’t helping and with her call for human sacrifice to appease the monsters, she only made things worse.

    “The Mist” is horror/sci-fi movie about paranoia, survival, and the inevitability of doom. The movie also stars Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn and is also written for the screen by Darabont.



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