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An entertaining and dark Del Toro sci-fi.

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 16 August 2013 11:26 (A review of Pacific Rim)

Pacific Rim is a different blockbuster compared to many that audiences will see in 2013. Considering the fact that it served as Guillermo Del Toro’s first directorial feature in five years, it is also a film that is not a new franchise installment, a remake nor adaptation. The film’s director Guillermo Del Toro has always been a director of dark, visionary style to which he applied in his original fantasy and horror films as well as in adapted, mainstream Hollywood. Pacific Rim could arguably be his most prominent picture to date as it mixes his own roots with the grand, visual scale of Hollywood. It may have taken many narrative concepts from various monster films but Del Toro’s creativity and flexibility as a director enabled him to produce a feature film that was mind-blowing and an exhilarating thrill ride.

Pacific Rim is quite literally a combination of Transformers and Godzilla. So, on a visual scale and with visionary director Del Toro, Pacific Rim had the potential to be nothing more than an epic experience. However, films similar to Del Toro’s latest have often been critically demolished due to a high supply of visuals and lack plot and character creativity. Pacific Rim may still contain elements from other past films but the combination provided us with something unusually original. The majority of monster movies are incredibly corny but surprisingly, Pacific Rim was more realistic than expected. For example, Del Toro’s darker tone with striking cinematography, identical to Blade Runner, captured a surreal tone of science-fiction and seeing gigantic creatures called Kaijas from a dark world breaching and attacking ours would leave audiences emotionally threatened and drawn into the story. Del Toro has been impressive with capturing realism of dark fantasy and science-fiction cinema. So, he does another impressive job with Pacific Rim.

On the other hand, Pacific Rim was a grand visual spectacle. In some ways, it has a similar pictorial representation to James Cameron’s Avatar where the effects in Pacific Rim are the presentation with the plot serving as a background feature. The most stunning visuals were of the human-shaped Jagers, the ‘species’ of gigantic robots, fighting the aliens. It provided a touch of masculinity which we do not see often anymore in Hollywood. Supported by the dark tone, cinematography and that most of the cast are male, Del Toro highlights the Jagers as strong forces, ones more powerful than mankind, and the action sequences become very physical through intense sound effects. However at unexpected, strange occasions, there are incidents of attempted humour thrown in and because it is a dark, serious sci-fi, the humour just did not work.

To make Pacific Rim more original and perhaps different to other Hollywood blockbusters, Del Toro selected an ensemble cast of unknown actors. In the leading role was Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, a former Jager pilot who comes out of retirement to help take down the Kaijus. While Pacific Rim works on a scale of direction, visual effects and plot, it is the character development that became the biggest letdown. The protagonist must engage audiences from beginning to end as we are following him in this story but Becket not only had a thin personality but was severly underdeveloped and at times, underused. Rinko Kikuchi was pretty bland as Mako Mori as there was very little partnership or romantic connection between her and Becket. Meanwhile, it is Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky and Ron Perlman who make convincing appearances in Pacific Rim with decent performances.

If there is anything that Pacific Rim has shown, it is how breath-taking a visual experience in a cinema can be yet must have strong characters, performances in order to fulfill that. Guillermo Del Toro’s approach to dark fantasy and science-fiction worked in Pacific Rim but the characters and screenplay are what prevented it from being a crucial visual spectacle. Was it worth Del Toro leaving as director and co-writer of The Hobbit series to make Pacific Rim? On a visual level, yes, but financially and to retrieve more fans, no. If you are looking for a film to entertain you and to leave you thinking ‘wow’, then Pacific Rim is a solid candidate.

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A sequel that kicks ass!

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 16 August 2013 04:13 (A review of Kick-Ass 2)

The first film in what now appears to be Kick-Ass franchise surprised us all. It looked like a complete parody spoof of superhero films but the key to its success was its originality within plot and characters as well as creative and somewhat artistic visual style. It was entertainment at the highest standard and like many which achieve this, a sequel is irresistible to abandon. Judging from this sequel’s title, audiences were expecting exactly it suggests – superheroes kicking ass for a second time. Kick-Ass 2 proves itself to be just that and become a very enjoyable, hilarious and fun sequel. However, its biggest faults were that it lacks the smooth originality and tone which worked so impressively in the predecessor.

The majority of central crew members from Kick-Ass returned for this sequel but this time, we witnessed a new director’s angle on Mark Millar’s work. Matthew Vaughn crafted a simple yet visually artistic comic book adaptation with Kick-Ass in 2010. Jeff Wadlow, on the other hand becomes a convincing replacement as director of Kick-Ass 2. He individually wrote the sequel’s screenplay and successfully maintained the same hilarious, witty one-liners as well as further creativity within character and plot development. His screenplay was top-notch and as director, he fulfilled more traditional comic-book trends with more action and violence. On a similar note, it may have been extremely repetitive from its predecessor but that does not matter. It the sequel was less exciting, gruesome and funny, it would defeat the aim of the title and overall intention the film brings. In addition, its pacing and tone seemed somewhat unique at times as sequences kept jumping and further stories kept expanding. It appeared unusual to begin with but as the film continued, the pieces fitted.

The plot in Kick-Ass 2 becomes more serious than in its predecessor. Vaughn never aimed for the original film to appear emotional or tear-jerking but the implication of further dramatic concepts in Kick-Ass 2 added a sense of realism with morals behind them. This has often been the case with superhero sequels, such as The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2. Still, on a more emotional level, Kick-Ass 2 is a story of self-discovery as it focuses on the meaning of superheroes, differences between their ordinary selves and their alter egos, the consequences of becoming a superhero and learning about who they really are. Audiences have got to know the characters and we have witnessed them fulfilling their destinies as superheroes but now we’ve seen that, it goes more in depth. Therefore, director Wadlow provides a different angle to Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl etc and Kick-Ass 2 becomes more of a traditional superhero film than a parody.

Even after three years since the first Kick-Ass film, Aaron Taylor-Johnson still appears the same as Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass. As opposed to being a teenage geek in the first film, we see a Bruce Wayne/Peter Parker like Dave/Kick-Ass in this sequel. As previously stated, we follow Dave’s journey of self-discovery and once again, Taylor-Johnson delivers a great performance. Furthermore, after stealing the first film with her fantastic role as the foul-mouthed and badass Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, Chloe Grace Moretz succeeds in this sequel. However, this time we see both a different Moretz and a different Hit-Girl. In between the two films, she has transformed from a little girl to a hormonal teenager. Hit-Girl was a controversial character in the first Kick-Ass but now she’s growing up, the character and actress has not gone to that extreme level and has perhaps become a joint protagonist.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse is just perfect for the role of Chris D’Amico as he goes from a nerdy Red Mist to the supervillain The Mother F***er. This re-invention is the perfect spoof towards supervillains as he aims to cause chaos and get revenge but the path to achieve it is pure laughter. Finally, Jim Carrey makes a cool appearance as Colonel Stars And Stripes. Similar to Nicolas Cage in the predecessor, Carrey stands out in Kick-Ass 2 as the Colonel was his coolest character in years. However, at times his character felt somewhat underused and he could have become someone so much more.

Kick-Ass 2 is a kick-ass sequel to a kick-ass predecessor. It may have had pacing issues and a slight lack of originality but it still delivered as a film of pure entertainment. The humour and violence were still the same and was not any more or any less funnier or gruesome than its predecessor. Jeff Wadlow perhaps was not going to portray the more creative and artistic form of Mark Millar’s comic book like Matthew Vaughn did, but his work was still impressive. Finally, now that Mark Millar has released the comic book of Kick-Ass 3, it will only be a matter of time before that film adaptation comes around. Until then and after two impressive instalments thus far, excitement for the third and perhaps final addition to the Kick-Ass series will be even higher.

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An original, entertaining and hilarious surprise.

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 14 August 2013 06:57 (A review of Kick-Ass)

The aim of most superhero adaptations is to fulfill the excitement and expectations of comic book nerds in the breath-taking visual experience of cinema. Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass takes a uniquely creative detour as its story is told from the perspective of teenage characters inspired by comic books. However, due to this the film provides a brutal, violent, more realistic and thematically darker tone that opens a new style within the superhero genre. Mark Miller’s Kick-Ass comic book is different in general compared to, for example, MARVEL and DC Comics but amazingly, the Kick-Ass film adaptation becomes both a straightforward, exciting superhero film and a parody.

In many ways, Kick-Ass has parody and spoof all over it. Indeed, it is about ordinary, super-powerless people becoming superheroes but it often pokes fun at the whole superhero genre. It does this through its humour within key moments that jeopardize the invincibility of a superhero. For example, Spider-Man takes giant leaps across buildings but Kick-Ass, inspired by Spider-Man, almost attempts this but suddenly retaliates and gets terrified. While Kick-Ass still parodies from other superhero comics and films, it does get serious in its own unique way. It does not contain any dramatic concepts seeing as the humour and violence dominate, but the development and execution of the characters and plot initiate ‘ridiculous drama’. In addition, Kick-Ass get serious in terms of the violence and vulgar dialogue it bestows, particularly through the Hit-Girl character. It is nothing bad but the film prevails in being afraid or forced to take it to that extreme level. In fact, the mood Kick-Ass has makes all the extreme and arguably controversial incidents humorous. The characters have no powers and to have no violence would seal it as a spoof but the extreme violence redeems the superpowers that these character do not possess.

While Mark Millar's original comic-book and this Kick-Ass film adaptation is dark, the visual style is somewhat unique. Director Matthew Vaughn’s choice to give the film an ordinary colourful tone blends with the general aim - to transform ordinary people into superheroes within the real world. It works but at the same time, it is daft because its fictional, science-fiction style opposes the traditional visual representation of comic books. However, the film becomes focused on ordinary citizens but when we are introduced to all of them as their alter-ego, it becomes more comical while still using the same cinematography. In fact, Kick-Ass follows identical action, comical trends of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, particularly filming style, editing and visual effects.

While we saw a re-invention of comic book adaptations in Kick-Ass, we also witnessed the uprising of new young stars. First, Aaron Taylor-Johnson delivers his breakthrough performance in the role of Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass. Dave is an ordinary comic-book nerd who becomes influenced by superheroes to become one. Like most superheroes, we see Taylor-Johnson playing practically two characters and he shines as both a teenage geek and as a superhero fighting crime. Furthermore, Chloe Moretz’s role as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl is a total show-stealer. At 12 years of age, she went to the extreme through explicit language which highlights her early stardom status. Meanwhile, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is hilarious as Chris D’Amico/Red Mist, the geeky son of mob leader Frank D’Amico. On a similar note, Mark Strong is badass as Frank, a Guy Ritchie-like villain with a sinister but darkly funny nature and Nicolas Cage surprisingly shines and stars in his best role in years as Damon Macready/Big Daddy.

Initial expectations for Kick-Ass were mixed but its originality, character development and humour made it a surprisingly impressive success. The plot and characters serve as homage to superheroes through specific references yet the humour creatively parodies that. Kick-Ass is non-stop entertainment and exemplifies that it is often the simple, original films that become the greatest. It’s high supply of entertainment values worked at the highest level alongside its impressive visual and technical style, which occasionally signified it as a film of art. Nevertheless, Kick-Ass delivers the exact ambition of its title and leading character – to kick ass.

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Fun but disappointing finale to Cornetto trilogy.

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 26 July 2013 09:05 (A review of The World's End)

After their critically acclaimed comedy hits Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg present The World’s End - the ‘green-mint flavoured’ finale in their uniquely creative Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. Since its inception, the series has been recognised for its innovative twist on parodying specific genres. Judging from trailers and still images, The World’s End seemed to have the tone to display a giggling nod to science-fiction cinema and, therefore, conclude the trilogy on a satisfactory note. However, despite the high expectations, The World’s End was not on the same level as Hot Fuzz or Shaun Of The Dead in terms of creativity, humour or overall execution. Consequently, it was not the great finale to a fantastic trilogy as it should have been.

One of the strongest points of the two predecessors in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy was the style of humour through one-liners in dialogue, character situations and comical violence. In fact, that is where they have been such strong parodies because the comedy becomes as laughable as the plot and characters. However, while The World’s End features perhaps the most random, disconnected plot of the trilogy, it had a severe lack of laughs and merely became a straightforward sci-fi. That side of the plot is original but when you look at it that way, The World’s End is fun but it mainly disappoints because that was not its initial purpose because the minty taste of the Cornetto - the humour, should have been there. Furthermore, the pacing and execution was a shamble. The film started off very slowly with the group’s teenage background story, the reunion between them and small-talk dialogue in the pub. It lacked narrative momentum with nothing much to look forward to. That is until the film turns sci-fi where it becomes a crazy rollercoaster and unfortunately is ruined by the meaningless ending.

However, in light of The World’s End’s flaws, it maintained one allegiance that has made the trilogy so great – its technical and visual contribution to the British culture. The film often highlights key landscapes of the British countryside as well as the rural area within a small British town. Like its predecessors, The World’s End expresses a clear, civilized Britain but within a movie world; hence the tribute to styles within specific genres. In addition, it had some decent action sequences which director Edgar Wright handled rather well, but a number of them lacked that badass, comical and adrenaline-fuelled excitement that were in Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead. On a similar note, the script was a mixed bag. It is really not the best Pegg and Wright can do, especially regarding the humour, and they really could have gone the distance with the unusual interaction of the pub crawl and alien/robot ‘invasion’, but it was not to be.

Simon Pegg is different in The World’s End as he portrays alcoholic Gary King. Although the audience see Gary as the central character, he often serves as the antagonist. He is somewhat trapped in the past, clearly misses his teenage years and perhaps has some mental problems. However, the latter is not really developed enough especially when we see hints of why Gary is the way he is. On the other hand, Pegg appears physically dirtier and grittier than the majority of characters he has played before. He goes into straight into the role free and wild, making Gary King perhaps Pegg’s coolest character in the trilogy.

On a similar note, Nick Frost switches character type from the Cornetto predecessors as he goes from playing Pegg’s character’s oaf-ish sidekick to an individual with much more physically-sophisticated features. However, while Frost and Pegg almost serve as enemies in the film, Frost’s character Andrew Knightley was a seriously underwhelming, unsympathetic character. Admittedly, you can occasionally see that buddy connection Pegg and Frost have on-screen but it was not utilized enough and was not there. Meanwhile, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan make their presence known in satisfactory style as the remaining three members of the group aiming to finish the ‘Golden Mile’. It is also worth noting that Pierce Brosnan makes a decent cameo in the film too.

The World’s End does not in any way feel like a comedy with corny teen-based themes behind it, but it is a film about grown-ups telling a story about growing up. It is neither a love-letter nor a rip-off of science-fiction but it is like a mint-flavoured Cornetto without the mint. In many ways, it felt like Wright and Pegg had adapted narrative concepts of Shaun Of The Dead and applied it to The World’s End by making it more sci-fi. If it actually had the humour identical to the predecessors and had better plot structure, it would have superbly rounded the trilogy off. Nevertheless, it was a disappointing finale that could and should have been better but for an original sci-fi without the humour, it was still somewhat enjoyable.

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Hilarious, creative and original British parody.

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 26 July 2013 08:49 (A review of Hot Fuzz)

At the time of its release in 2007, Hot Fuzz became the unofficial second installment in the unofficial Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. After Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s impressive homage to classic zombie cinema Shaun Of The Dead in 2004, their next feature together Hot Fuzz is a contribution to buddy-cop action films. While it contains identical comedic themes, technical style and comical violence as its predecessor which pay off as references to its ‘predecessor’, Hot Fuzz becomes a more serious, original follow-up. For these reasons, it is an even stronger installment that has now become a modern benchmark in British comedy.

Hot Fuzz serves as a thumbs-up to action cinema in its own narrative style. It did this by adapting references from specific films to portray something that mixes originality and parody together. In fact, certain details about the police were included that both demoralizes their duties and reveals truth within the station. The whole plot is not in any way dramatic as the gags and nods dominate but from the characters’ perspectives within the fictional village of Sandford; it becomes serious for them which the audience will just find entertainment. It may be slow-paced on occasions and the real action does not take place until the third stage of the film, but the pieces within the narrative, including the laughs, fit together to produce an explosive, exhilarating thrill ride. Therefore, it redeems itself by building up plot, characters and laughs into the icing on the cake, which are the final action sequences.

Another key to Hot Fuzz’s success was how it highlighted the British culture behind the film’s parody tone and narrative style. It did this through mise-en-scéne locations, particularly the pubs, supermarkets and the general atmosphere of Sandford. The film often symbolizes the peaceful tone of the British countryside through director Edgar Wright’s camera techniques and the comical violence with progressively arrive supply moments of gags and creative ridicule. On a similar note, Hot Fuzz’s execution was remarkable on a technical level, particularly in terms of editing. All of the quick-cuts during the action scenes and extreme close-ups of specific props mix with sharp music to produce the exhilarating, badass tone the film bestows.

Compared to his role in Shaun Of The Dead, Simon Pegg becomes less idiotic but even more comical in Hot Fuzz as he portrays London-based ‘super-cop’ Nicholas Angel. Simon Pegg’s performance was a mixture of hilarious and serious as he fully blends into the character. He constantly sells the continuous jokes and delivers them brilliantly. Minus the meaning of his surname, Nicholas Angel is perhaps what one would call a perfect police officer like Sandford initially appeared the perfect village. However, the aim of the protagonist within the environment he is in is that perfection within society is impossible. Therefore, peace and safety becomes ridiculed and hilarious to see.

As proved in Shaun Of The Dead, Simon Pegg has such strong chemistry with Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz. Just when you see them on-screen, you can easily tell that they are friends in real-life and when their police-officer characters are not in uniform, they appear as themselves. Nick Frost’s role as Danny Butterman symbolizes a true action films fan who feels that Angel is his key to making that dream of car chases and gun fights come true. In some ways, their friendship symbolizes how a film inspires the audience. Meanwhile, Timothy Dalton gives one of his greatest performances in years as the sinister, scheming Simon Skinner and Jim Broadbent prevails in his role as Frank Butterman. It is also worth noting Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall’s appearances in the film as the two arrogant detectives who become the centre of many other laughs and almost do nothing but throw insults.

Hot Fuzz is an acquired taste in the Cornetto trilogy. Whether you would call it a homage or parody towards buddy-cop flicks, Hot Fuzz is a creative comedy and makes its mark as one of the greatest British films in the last ten years. It contains practically everything that an entertaining film should – it’s engaging, it’s hilarious, it’s exhilarating and it features a both deep and simple plot with colourful characters. Now that we have tasted the red strawberry Cornetto of Shaun Of The Dead and the original blue Cornetto of Hot Fuzz, there is only the final minty green Cornetto left of The World’s End to taste and experience that bitter end we are reaching.

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A solid prequel and a sign of hope for Pixar.

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 12 July 2013 09:36 (A review of Monsters University)

Back in 2001, Pixar worked their magic on Monsters Inc. and delivered a cute, thought-provoking, hilarious film which has since remained one of the most beloved family treasures ever. Following its success and worldwide fame, a sequel had been rumoured. However, Pixar go down a different route and instead produced a prequel. Prior Monsters University’s release, Pixar have been slowly slipping from their once ingenious status. In addition, Monsters University is an exercise to apply memory of cinematic experience and for many, to relive childhoods. Therefore, in order for Pixar to find their wake-up call and to fit in the pieces that will satisfy audiences, Monsters University had mountains to climb. Nevertheless, most of it paid off and it has consequently become Pixar’s freshest feature since Toy Story 3.

The idea of Pixar producing a prequel was unexpected and, quite frankly, a back-story explanation from Monsters Inc. was not essential. In fact, it was the opposite as the execution of the film’s ending desired an aftermath and left an unanswered question. Pixar could have done an entirely original film if they wanted to but they were going downhill and turned to one of their triumphs for an idea. However, Pixar are moving backwards with Monsters University, narrative-wise, to relive Pixar’s monster world and because it is about college students, for many to feel young again. So although Monsters University may be have been an initially pointless project, it’s execution in particularly story and characters have sealed its relevance and delivers meaningful messages about self-discovery, teamwork, friendship and living your dreams.

The most creative and surprising aspect of Monsters University was its originality. Considering that the film serves as a prequel and features specific reprising characters, Pixar successfully managed to embark us back into the familiar world but also introduce us to something new. The story is practically a teen-comedy and Monsters University beautifully executes it at a different angle. Even the teen-like humour worked in which adults and kids can understand. However, it is in that characteristic where Monsters University was slightly disappointing. Its predecessor is arguably the funniest film Pixar have ever done but this prequel lacked those similar laugh-out-loud gags when they were expected. In fact, that is where Pixar are still slipping and need to reinvent on again. Meanwhile, the animated effects just keep getting better with Pixar and as expected, Monsters University was a visual treat.

In Monsters Inc, Mike and Sulley were best friends and were as close as brothers but Monsters University explains and reveals how they became so. Their presence in Monsters Inc brought so much warmth and it was absolutely wonderful to see them back in this prequel. With Sulley serving as the protagonist and central character in the original film, this time we mainly focus on Mike and his quest to become a top Scarer. Mike as a character defines a young university student’s ambitions and the obstacles that lie ahead. Many of Monsters University’s audience are youngsters, they can experience others in a different world and those who watched Monsters Inc as a child as a child will be in a similar field to Mike and Sulley at university. Billy Crystal’s portrayal of Mike in Monsters Inc was one of the best voice-acting performances but it was great to see him and John Goodman back together. On a similar note, Steve Buscemi, John Ratzenberger and Bob Peterson reprise their supporting roles and make their characters known too.

While we get to see familiar faces again, Monsters University introduces a whole variety of new colourful characters that enlightened the film and broadened the monster world even further. Even these characters were categorized into types of teenagers, which include Mike and Sulley’s geeky student colleagues – the Oozma Kappa group, their tough opponents the Roar Omega Roar students and Dean Abigail Harscrabble, the headmistress of Monsters University - a character brilliantly voiced by Helen Mirren and portrayed as a similar antagonist to Ratatouille’s Anton Ego.

Although Monsters University is not the follow-up that we were initially expecting prior production, it has become the film that Pixar have needed in order for them to begin the restoration of their enchanting projects. While the film may lack humour and partially narrative pacing, there has not been a Pixar film since Toy Story 3 with more creativity, originality and heart. It is a sign of hope that they can go back to their masterful stage. Finally, if there is anything that Monsters University has taught, it is that animated follow-ups do genuinely work as long as there are both newly original and predecessor elements included. The real Pixar are coming back!

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A solid thriller with Alfred Hitchcock roots.

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 10 July 2013 09:11 (A review of Stoker)

Stoker marks director Park Chan-wook’s English language debut feature. In his home country of South Korea, Chan-wook has previously made thrillers with vicious subject matters with arguably the most notable example being Oldboy. Considering the alteration of language, location shooting and visual style, Stoker could be his career-changing or career-slipping project. Chan-wook enters Hollywood and goes off to a flying start as he provides us with a thriller that contains his trademark style of brutality but applies it at a more suspenseful level. In that sense, it is less extreme than what he has previously done. Consequently, Stoker is a fantastic first attempt at Hollywood cinema from Chan-wook and is a chilling film to watch.

While Chan-wook’s individual contribution to Stoker made it a success, the homage to Alfred Hitchcock played a huge part. For example, the plot follows identical trends to Shadow Of A Doubt as it focuses on the lives of a traumatized family that exposes dark secrets; not to mention one of the main characters from both films share the same forename. Stoker lacks originality regarding build-up of narrative structure but progressively with the aid of Hitchcock-like suspense, it becomes a newly creative and impressive climax. Furthermore, Stoker contains Hitchcock-like techniques through filming style, particularly editing. The film’s suspense is mostly down to the quick-cuts between multiple character shots which, therefore, create further entrapment for them as well as the audience. On a similar note, Stoker reflects a lot on psychoanalysis, like Hitchcock. The film displays psychological damage following troubled past and present incidents, which became another strong point.

Despite Stoker uses various Hitchcock methods and, whether this is relevant or not includes a little reference to Bram Stoker from the film’s title, Chan-wook’s work paid off and he displayed his own contributions to it. In certain incidences, Chan-wook pays homage to the horror genre and represents its traditional conventions. For example, Stoker is set in a large house outside a forest, which are the two prime horror locations, and they create a surreal, menacing touch. In addition, the mise-en-scéne, particularly the plain character costume design and atmosphere within the mansion, create an uncomfortable impression that they reveal a lot about the characters and in which the audience are waiting for something menacing to occur. The only issues with Stoker are that the pacing mid-way through the film seemed somewhat flat and slightly lost its chilling tone. Also, horror films are the centre of shocking plot twists but Stoker aimed to have one but unfortunately, it was clichéd and not very thought-provoking.

In some ways, Mia Wasikowska portrayed India similarly to Alice In Wonderland. Her character in Stoker is different but it is the approach that makes them similar. While Wasikowska’s pale, plain features did not work in Alice In Wonderland, they certainly did in Stoker. Over the years, we have seen multiple traumatised teenagers trapped within themselves and society. Wasikowska’s role as India was impressive as she added an even more chilling, bitter effect in a similar performance to Sissy Spacek in Carrie. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman portrayed India’s unstable mother Evelyn. Kidman, known for her role in past horror film The Others, appears both physically striking and cold but the character of Evelyn displays mental instability. In fact, Kidman has slowly been drifting off the Hollywood map but her performance in Stoker is her best in a while. Matthew Goode was convincing in the role of Charlie Stoker. The aim of this character was to appear charming with a mysterious, scheming personality. In fact, the message behind the characters is that anybody can become anything following a traumatic event.

Although Stoker lacks originality within plot, the implication of Hitchcock’s references worked in its favour and mixed convincingly. Horrors and thrillers in this era are becoming repetitive with level of suspense, plot and character types but Stoker genuinely mixes conventions of both classic and modern thriller. It is not a scary film as such but it is a suspenseful, gripping ride. Finally, Park Chan-wook’s English language debut has begun impressively and now that he has succeeded with Stoker, he deserves to produce more Hollywood features.

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A fresh, hilarious and moving sequel.

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 6 July 2013 02:41 (A review of Despicable Me 2)

If there is any genre that either succeeds or fails with sequels, it is animation. While the majority deliver, usually at an even higher level of visual effects, many lack the emotional warmth with imagination and meaning from their predecessors. In 2010, Illumination Entertainment made their feature animation debut with Despicable Me which instantly became a hit and consequently became recognized for the visual and emotional charm it bestowed. When a film like that delivers on so many levels, a follow-up is impossible to put aside. Now after three years of waiting, we have one and considering the hype surrounding it, Despicable Me 2 is thankfully a solid sequel. It is filled with almost everything that made the predecessor so successful, yet at the same time contains certain elements that made it a different.

Following in the footsteps of the first film, Despicable Me 2 is one of the greatest laugh-out-loud family comedies in a long time. While it is full of witty jokes and one-liners, the slapstick humour stands out the most and makes it ridiculously funny. Just by observing it, Despicable Me 2 follows traditional trends of slapstick comedies as it makes even the daftest stunts and scenarios hilarious to watch. In all aspects, the film is wacky but the implication of human drama provides thought-provoking depth like we do not see often. This is why both installments have been hits: because the target audience is everyone as demonstrating in the humour and the drama. It is a film that balances comical laughs that kids will love and is a heart-melting drama with morals which adults will understand.

In many animated sequels, there are certain narrative trends that follow from within the predecessor. In that sense, Despicable Me 2 has the same idea behind it compared to the first film but this time, it aims in a different direction. This time, it mainly focuses on Gru’s relationship with Lucy and whether his family will be complete or not. Admittedly, within the first fifteen minutes, it looked like the predecessor all over again in terms of narrative structure but impressively, it becomes a different story that becomes more dramatic and, quite frankly, more serious. However, despite Despicable Me 2’s overall execution is heartfelt and genuine like its predecessor; it was the rushed climax that slightly ruined the excitement.

Steve Carell returns to the role of Gru, a former super-villain turned family man, and once again proves that he is perfect in the role. The character of Gru is Carell in a nutshell when on-screen. Carell is known for playing funny, idiotic yet heartfelt characters and Gru is exactly that. In this sequel, we observe a different angle to Gru’s exposed sensitive nature from the three orphans now to his love life. Gru provides emotional depth as a father but also as a man with feelings in society. Hence, the character is loved from the audience. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig takes on the role of Lucy, an Anti-Villain League agent who collaborates with Gru but eventually melts his heart even more and becomes his love interest. On a similar note, the three girls Margo, Edith and Agnes once again melt the audience’s hearts. Finally, the Minions return and they’ve never been funnier as they were in Despicable Me 2. They are so idiotic that they are so loved. Although this sequel focuses on Gru, the film would not have worked without them. If they are going to be as wacky in the forthcoming spin-off next Christmas as they are in the two Despicable Me installments, then we are in for a real treat.

While Despicable Me 2 did have a mountain to climb against its predecessor and didn’t surpass it, this sequel is charming and is an impressive effort. It is a rarely successful follow-up that is not far at all among Toy Story 2, 3 and Shrek 2 as the greatest of its kind. After two fresh installments and that the sequel ended like a Disney fairy tale on a high note, there does not necessarily need to be anymore. Thus, Despicable Me 2 brings forth tingling anticipation for the forthcoming Minions spin-off, serves as a rival against Pixar’s Monsters University for the best family film of summer 2013 and most of all, has become a strong contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

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Welcome back, Superman!

Posted : 9 years, 5 months ago on 15 June 2013 11:28 (A review of Man of Steel)

Following previous mediocre instalments in the franchise, Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel is a much-needed reboot that followed identical trails to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The film revisits the origins of Kal-El where his home planet Krypton is on the brink of destruction, his transportation and childhood on Earth as Clark Kent and finally when he fulfils his destiny as Superman. It had already been told in the original 1978 version starring Christopher Reeve but Man Of Steel is a new instalment for a new generation. However, despite that it maintained originality from the first film adaptation and the comic books, Man Of Steel is a whole new reinvention of the Superman franchise on a visual and emotional level.

Visually, Man Of Steel is the most different Superman film to date. The film is a clear advancement on the series and an appealing visual director had to take charge of directing this reboot with a touch of sophistication behind it. Zack Snyder uses the same visually dim style from his previous films 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch and supplies it in Man Of Steel. These dark effects consequently added a more serious tone behind the film as opposed to almost every other previous Superman installment. On the other hand, Snyder had not delivered on dramatic terms and, was in need of a breakthrough. In that sense, Snyder was reinventing himself as a director as well as the Superman franchise. Consequently, the creative minds of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer provided Snyder with a solution that he is capable of adding emotional drama into his films and Man Of Steel displayed this.

However, while Man Of Steel reinvents the whole series and displays it for a new generation, there were certain flaws that did not entirely declare it as a masterful reboot. For example, the film begins with a marvellous opening sequence of Krypton’s destruction that builds up excitement for the remainder of the film, but after that point the film suddenly becomes rushed and occasionally jumps between scenes. Man Of Steel was all about reinventing Superman and the build-up to Kal/Clark fulfilling that moved a little too quickly. In addition, it became rather forced at times, especially when the second half of the film is like one massive climax. However, this does not necessarily mean that it was not enjoyable. After all, we have been waiting a long time to see Superman’s return and now that he’s back and has never looked better, the long action scenes and noisy sound effects did not ruin much for the film.

On that note regarding Superman himself, Henry Cavill literally swept away Brandon Routh’s portrayal of the character in Superman Returns. Let’s face it, Routh was clearly aiming to recreate Christopher Reeve’s timeless portrayal and it made no difference. However, Cavill was a much more convincing Superman. Like the film’s general visual style, the character’s costume appears darker compared to past ones, but Cavill’s portrayal adds a slightly less comical touch to Superman but more physically realistic. At the same time, director Snyder’s dark and visual style provided a new comical side to Superman and Cavill’s performance yet the tone grasped more believability. His masculinity really took its toll in Man Of Steel as he will clearly gain further recognition from female audiences but more importantly, his performance added a touch of warmth and emotional depth like Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Man Of Steel was a fantastic start for Henry Cavill in the title role and he deserves to play the character again.

Recent adaptations based on both Marvel and DC comics have now become more sophisticated regarding ensemble cast. The first Superman film starred highlighted actors and Man Of Steel maintains that allegiance. Four-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams portrayed Lois Lane with an impressive performance that, like Cavill over Routh, completely blew away Kate Bosworth’s role. Adams has almost always been a serious actress and her role as Lois was not Oscar level but that was beside the point. Her talent as an actress worked impressively in the role of such a famous character. Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod was absolutely fantastic! He was menacing, emotionally manipulative and physically terrifying. Furthermore, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane’s humane, humble roles as Jonathan and Martha Kent provided even more raw emotion to the film and symbolized love and family with morals behind them. Finally, Russell Crowe totally shines as Jor-El, Superman/Kal-El’s biological father, who becomes the striking hero again like he once was and gives Marlon Brando of all actors a run for his money.

Man Of Steel is a breakthrough in the Superman franchise and for Zack Snyder’s directorial career. He, along with the great Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer, have provided a highly entertaining, emotional and most importantly relevant reboot. It may contain similar concepts to The Dark Knight trilogy but Snyder’s work took over from Nolan’s; therefore, becoming his greatest and probably most successful film to date. Finally, Man Of Steel is arguably the best Superman film to faithfully portray the origins from the comic books and with this impressive reboot, we could be in for another adventure with Superman in the sequel and the Justice League adaptation.

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Another Baz Luhrmann let-down.

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 27 May 2013 05:47 (A review of The Great Gatsby)

Judging by the striking mise-en-scéne and effective use of colour from posters and trailers, The Great Gatsby is quickly identified as a typical Luhrmann film. It marks his first film since 2008 and only his fifth in total. Once again, like every other Luhrmann feature, The Great Gatsby consisted of large-scale production concepts featuring a story and a variety characters that has the capability to signify powerful, thought-provoking dramatic emotions. Luhrmann keeps going round in circles because the majority of his films have so much going for them but resulted with pure emptiness and leaves the audience with very little to reflect on. Unfortunately, that is what happened with The Great Gatsby and it was an overall let-down but still had certain positive aspects.

Although The Great Gatsby is an adaptation based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, it contains almost identical visual and narrative concepts to Luhrmann’s previous film Moulin Rouge! in 2001. In fact, The Great Gatsby is almost like a remake, particularly in terms of narrative structure and character types. For example, the film begins with voice-over narration by a supporting, emotionally-ruined character telling a story about an individual who played an important part in his life and a love story unveils. In a sense, this has revealed the type of stories that Luhrmann goes for and he clearly has a passion for romantic-dramas. There are filmmakers out there who have directed films of the same genre but have delivered something different but the plot behind The Great Gatsby is nothing short of flat and almost 140 minutes of no emotional engagement.

The Great Gatsby is a typical romantic-drama but it relies on added visual effects in order to make the audience feel more attached to it. In that sense, it is Baz Luhrmann’s most visual film to date. Practically every shot in the film featured at least a glimpse of colourful, striking effects. However, the main issue with the implementation of 3D and visual effects are that they were the only features that kept the film going, which raises the question – what were they worth? They were aiming nowhere with nothing to show, message-wise, and it could have done so much more. Furthermore, the inclusion of modern music felt out of place when it is set in the 1920s. It is debatable how much accuracy in the time-setting that The Great Gatsby was trying to aim at but it just did not connect.

To mix with his glistening visual style, Luhrmann usually selects the popular Hollywood stars. Leonardo DiCaprio reunites with Luhrmann after Romeo And Juliet in 1996 and delivers a good performance as Jay Gatsby. After over a decade, DiCaprio becomes a young, striking actor and goes back to the early days of his career yet at the same time, he appears wealthy. In that sense, he was a decent choice for the role of Gatsby. In addition, Gatsby is a complex character and DiCaprio has not portrayed many characters with psychological backgrounds but he was occasionally convincing in the performance. However, there were times in which he was not. For example, his pronunciation of “old sport” when talking to another character, that becomes repetitive and progressively becomes more annoying, which does not tell us much else about his personality.

His on-screen relationship with Carey Mulligan, who portrayed Daisy Buchanan, was somewhat flat with no moral meaning behind their love for each other. It is one of those relationships in which fate and love keep them together but is not really analysed enough. In fact, it is Luhrmann trying to provide a couple that appeared romantic but did not have any emotional connection. However, as an individual performance, Carey Mulligan was definitely the best from the cast in the The Great Gatsby. Like a rich woman in the 1920s, she wore glistening costumes and make-up and has attractive physical features. Mulligan fitted well into the role of Daisy and her performance was emotional.

Meanwhile, Tobey Maguire is possibly what mainly ruined the film. Maguire’s performance was flat and pretty dry, particularly the voice-over narration. Even the portrayal of the character was disappointing in The Great Gatsby because at the beginning, we follow his story but when Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan are introduced, he becomes overshadowed and ends up standing there in remaining scenes. Finally, Joel Edgerton’s character Tom is a typical rich but emotionally abusive husband and his performance was also pretty good but it was the emotional relationship between the two protagonists and narrative structure that was a let-down.

In many ways, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby follows down a similar route to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo with the inclusion of visual effects in a drama; thus, creating a magical experience. The problem with The Great Gatsby is that it had a serious lack of emotional connection with the audience despite the glistening production techniques. In fact, the high-scale of visuals and production design did not need to be included at all because they just did not connect with the plot. Thus, The Great Gatsby was not an entirely bad film but it had the same idea behind almost every Luhrmann film and could have been so much better.

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