Saturday, November 16, 2013

Movie Review: Thor- The Dark World

I was never raised on comic books and comic book characters (though I was aware of characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-man). However, that hasn't stopped me from enjoying the Marvel Avengers series that started several years ago. After seeing Iron Man 3, however, I grew a bit worried that perhaps the franchise was showing signs of dying in terms of quality, which made me a bit worried about Thor: The Dark World. Nonetheless, last night I went and saw it.


"Thor: The Dark World" picks up about a year or so after Thor has returned from Earth with Loki in chains and the Tesseract. Since the Bifrost is now repaired, Thor and his warriors have been busy putting an end to wars in the Nine Realms, but he still misses Jane. Jane, in the meantime, still misses Thor but is trying to move on. While in London, she accidentally finds herself transported to a mysterious place and possessed by an ancient evil weapon known as the Aether. Thor finds her and brings her to Asgard, where the Dark Elf leader Malekith (who had previously possessed the Aether and plans to use it to unleash darkness on the entire universe) attacks the world, looking for the Aether. When tragedy strikes, Thor reluctantly turns to his imprisoned foster brother Loki to help him destroy the Aether and save the universe from being destroyed.

The story was fairly easy to follow, but some of the scientific aspects were a bit off, which left holes in the overlying plot. Like where exactly Odin's father Bor buried the Aether and how Jane managed to find it. The idea of the Nine Realms converging every five thousand years was a cool one, but it didn't make sense in that how Earth managed to survive the last time the convergence happened. Despite a few issues, the writing was pretty good. Even though the story has a fairly dark tone, there was plenty of humor to balance it out; much like "Avengers" and quite unlike "Iron Man 3," the humor was well-placed, in-character, and memorable (I absolutely love the scene where Loki imitates Captain America).

The characters were generally well-done. Hemsworth did good as Thor, and Hiddleston was excellent as Loki; I liked their interaction in this film, as we never got to see a lot of direct interaction in their previous films together. I also liked the briefly expanded roles for Frigga (whose strong, motherly personality comes out more) and for Heimdall. Erik Selvig (who has gone crazy because of the events of "The Avengers") and Darcy (whose humor is still there) also have somewhat bigger roles. The only character I wasn't happy with was Jane Foster. I know Portman can act, but her role as Jane is not one of her better ones, and I don't think there's much chemistry between her and Hemsworth either.

Visually, this film is stunning. I loved the new look for Asgard and a more detailed look into its people and its Viking-esque culture; that and watching it get destroyed by Malekith made Asgard feel more real and less like a shiny, untouchable city on the other side of the universe. I enjoyed seeing parts of the other Nine Realms, which were beautifully done. The makeup and effects for the Dark Elves (not your Tolkien-esque elves) and other creatures were also impressive. And, not to mention, that it was nice to see another city other than New York get destroyed in the last battle of the film.

Oh, and a brief shout-out to Brian Tyler, who did the soundtrack for this film. It was amazing, and I am looking forward to listening to it again.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed "Thor: The Dark World," way more than "Iron Man 3." Even though its different from its predecessor, I found it memorable and believe it is a worthy addition to the "Avenger" movie series canon.

I give it four out of five stars.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Movie Review: The Awakening

Every year, my family has a tradition that on Halloween we watch a scary movie. Some years, it's been something like "Jaws" or "Ghostbusters," neither of which really classify as "scary movies." This year, thanks to instant Netflix, we decided to watch a movie called "The Awakening," which is a few years old, but it was new to me.


"The Awakening" is a film done by BBC and stars Rebecca Hall (known for her roles in "The Prestige" and "Iron Man 3") as Florence, a woman living in 1920's England who makes a living debunking the supernatural, like seances and houses that are supposedly haunted. Florence is approached by Mallory (portrayed by Dominic West), a teacher at a boarding school for boys who says that the place is haunted by the ghost of a boy who was murdered years earlier, back when the school was a house owned by a wealthy family. Florence, of course, believes science can explain it and goes, but she finds herself believing that something really is wrong. Meanwhile, she seemingly has her own demons to deal with.

The story had an interesting premise and could have been something good, but I found that it quickly grew twisted and was filled with red herrings. At first, it looked like your average ghost/ haunted house movie with the unexplained happenings like a ghostly figure running around the school or mysterious voices when no one seems to be around. Then, after the first night, things started turning a little strange. Like the mysterious hand in the pond (was it the ghost's or Mallory's?), the ever-changing scenes in the doll house, and then the scenes where it seems like Florence is going insane or the people at the school seem to be manipulating the situation. It seemed like the scenes were added for the jump/creepy factor but like the writers did not really have anything in mind as to what was really going on. Then some scenes didn't seem to fit at all, like when Florence is attacked by Judd; I was confused as to what was going on, and it didn't seem to add anything to the overall story. Then, as it is in most stories like this, there is a big reveal. A boy Tom that Florence has befriended turns out to be the ghost of her dead half-brother, the secretive maid Maude turns out to be Tom's mother and Florence's long-lost nanny who wanted her to remember what happened when she was younger, and the supernatural happenings were either Tom running around or Florence's repressed memories of a murder-suicide from her childhood. It was all rather strange and didn't make much sense. This is in sharp contrast to "Sixth Sense" and "The Others," both ghost movies that were far more cohesive and made sense by the end of it. Then you have the last scene in the kitchen (which did not fit in at all) and the last scene of the movie which was extremely ambiguous (and not like Christopher Nolan's films) and fell apart.

Another problem I had was a couple of scenes with sexual/partial nude content that had no real place in being in the film. This includes Mallory's scene in the bathroom where he tends to his war wound, that long scene with Florence in the bathroom (before the creepy events start happening), and then the unnecessary sex scene, which falls into the category of "worst times to have sex." Those three scenes could have been redone or outright deleted, as they did not add anything to the film. It felt like they were added to give the movie its R-rating.

The characters were ok, but nothing about them was particularly memorable. I'm a bit haunted by Imelda Staunton's creepy housekeeper role and will never look at Miss Pole from BBC's "Cranford" the same way again. One thing that confused me about the chars is that Florence supposedly had a lover named Robert who died in World War 1, and Mallory also has the first name (and he ironically becomes Florence's lover) of Robert and who also fought in World War 1. Was Robert even real? If he was, then it was sloppy of the writers to have Mallory and Florence's lover have the same name.

Now for two positive parts of the film.

The camerawork and atmosphere was well-done. It reminded me quite a bit of the BBC period dramas and definitely had the creep-factor. Some of the silent shots that showed off the landscape or the school/house were also pretty. The choral soundtrack also added to the atmosphere, and I'll never sing "Be Still, My Soul" in church again without thinking of this movie. Unfortunately, these two things could not save the film.

In the end, I was disappointed. I had hoped that it would be something like "Sixth Sense" or "The Others," but "The Awakening" felt more like a shoddy attempt to imitate those two and couldn't stand on its own two feet. Which was a shame, because it could have been something much better.

I give it 2 out of five stars.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z

This year saw several movies dealing with zombies or some kind of apocalypse, and so when I first saw the trailer for this one, I wasn't interested. Mostly because zombie movies tend to be rather gory and violent, and I don't like movies like that (a reason why I stopped watching "The Walking Dead" on TV). However, I heard that the movie was not that way, so I decided to watch it this evening.


"World War Z" starts off on an average day. Former UN investigator Gerry Lane (played by Brad Pitt) is living in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. While they're stuck in traffic one morning, the city breaks out into a massive panic, and Gerry realizes that people are being bitten and are turning into something that is not human. Gerry is practically blackmailed into working for the provisional US government to find the source of the mysterious "zombie" virus and takes an extended, action-packed trip to South Korea, Israel, and Wales, accompanied and aided by various soldiers and doctors and spending part of the time worrying about the safety of his family.

The story had a good concept though parts were poorly executed. My biggest beef was the abrupt changing in the last third or so of the movie. Gerry is originally sent out to find the source of the virus, but he soon changes his course of action to test out a theory of his that could help protect people from the ever-growing zombie population. So by the end of the film, we have a couple of suggestions of where the virus originated, but the thread is abruptly dropped. No cure is found either, though Gerry and the other doctors figure out a way to basically conceal people so that the zombies won't bite them and stop the spread of the virus. This left the movie feeling almost like a jumping-off point for future story lines, like it was just starting off a story but not finishing it. Another thing that bothered me was the zombie that happened to show up on the plane to Wales; the scene left me going "where the heck did he come from?"

Nonetheless, I liked the new direction that the writers took with zombies. Instead of the mindless, slow, cannibals of "Walking Dead" and popular culture, they're terrifyingly fast (but still brainless) and are merely looking to further spread the virus through biting other people. I also liked the whole "not biting people who would be too weak to transmit the virus" idea, but it does raise certain questions regarding the "virus" that the doctors created to hide people from the zombies (more precisely why they would inject themselves and then make their way to safety without dying of the illness, but that's beside the point). Another thing I appreciated is the lack of violence in the movie. While there is some, it's nowhere near "Walking Dead" levels or what I imagine to be normal for zombie movies.

The movie itself was fast-paced, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the time. I liked how the writers didn't explain everything at once (though if you've seen the trailers, you have an idea of what's going on) and that you learned alongside Gerry. In this sense it sort of reminded me of "Cloverfield," where you don't know what's happening but you get bits and pieces throughout the movie. Many of the scenes were rather intense, especially the nerve-wracking climax at the W.H.O. facility.

The characters were ok, though there was nothing too overly memorable about them. I appreciate the writers for not making Gerry into some kind of zombie-killing machine and for keeping him more innovative in getting out of tough situations. You feel bad when certain characters get bit or hurt in the zombie apocalypse, but very few characters survive the entire movie or are in it for very long.

Even though the story is a bit weak and raises questions at the end, I found this movie to be a good action-packed flick and something that I more than likely will watch again. If you don't like a lot of violence or gore and need an intense action movie, I recommend it.

I give it four out of five stars.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Nowadays I don't watch many new kids' films unless they get really high reviews or pique my interest. I really enjoyed the first "Despicable Me" and thought the trailer looked interesting, and so I went out and saw it with a friend last week.


"Despicable Me 2" takes place after the events of the first movie. Gru has given up a life of villainry and has settled down to being a full-time dad. He is not appreciative of his nosy neighbor's and his girls' attempts to find him a wife, as his girls want a mom. Gru is suddenly recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down the theft of a dangerous potion, and he and ditzy spy Lucy go undercover at a local mall and look for suspects. Meanwhile, several of Gru's minions go missing, and he must also deal with Margo's budding teenage romance with the son of a mall restaurant owner.

The story was a relatively simple one, but the writing was rather poor. For most of the movie, Gru is constantly suspicious that restaurant owner Eduardo is really a former villain who is believed to have been dead for over twenty years, despite the refusals of the Anti-Villain League to believe him. Then, after dropping several obvious and large hints, it is revealed that Eduardo is the villain; to me, it could have been a better build-up to that revelation instead of practically revealing that it is him the entire time. I was not overly fond of the romantic subplot either. There was little chemistry between Lucy and Gru, and it didn't help that she didn't soften him up or otherwise change him; that was one of the reasons why the original was so cute: because you have this gruff villain who softens up when he unexpectedly becomes a father. Another thing that was missing was all the villainous behaviors, mostly because Gru has given up his days as a villain, and it left the film feeling wanting without his scheming or planning and also largely with the loss of Dr. Nefario, who leaves Gru for another job because he doesn't want to make jams.

The characters were all right, but they suffered because of the poor writing. Eduardo/El Macho was not a memorable villain. Dr. Nefario also underwent a massive character change during the story, which came across as being very contrived; he first started off as aiding El Macho by experimenting on the minions to create evil versions of them, and then he suddenly turned against El Macho, saying that Gru and the minions were his family, something odd to say because he was the one who created the evil minions. Gru was not as memorable either because he is no longer a villain. Lucy was ditzy and to me not an overly likable character, except for her borderline obsession/respect for Gru's former work.

One of the things that made the first movie so funny and enjoyable was its spoof on villains. You have villains doing outlandish things like stealing one of the Egyptian pyramids or stealing the moon, having outlandish weapons and security defenses, and just wrecking havoc on people's lives (like Gru wrecking cars or how he got his Starbucks in the morning). There was none of this in the sequel, and the film suffered because of it. The humor also came across as being a little more crude than the previous film's, and it was not as funny. The minions were still humorous, but again they were not as enjoyable as the first film.

In the end, the movie had its moments, but it was not as good as the original "Despicable Me."

I give it two and a half-stars out of five.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek- Into Darkness

For the record, I was never raised a Trekkie. My parents were both familiar with the original "Star Trek," but my siblings and I were far more familiar with "Star Wars." So I admit my opinion about "Star Trek" is somewhat narrow and prejudiced because I was not raised on it compared to other people's. I greatly enjoyed J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot as a good, entertaining movie and still consider it my favorite out of what I have seen in the "Star Trek" universe (which, again, is limited). Last night, I went and saw J.J. Abrams' latest "Star Trek" movie.


"Into Darkness" opens up with the Enterprise on a planet that has a budding civilization on it. Defying orders to save lives, Kirk is removed from his post and becomes a first officer. After a tragedy in the form of mysterious Starfleet officer John Harrison strikes, Kirk goes off to capture/ kill him. However, he discovers that things are not what they seem, and he and his crew must fight for the lives of many.

The story itself was not overly complex. You have a conspiracy in the movie, but it makes sense and fits in with what you were given. The movie is filled with action, and it keeps you engaged the entire time. The only thing about the ending is that towards the end I kept expecting the end to come, but it seemed a bit dragged out. Another issue I had was roughly the last 1/4 of the film. I understand that Abrams has basically rebooted the series through the use of the black hole/alternate reality, but the last part of the movie was a bit too similar to "Wrath of Khan"; one could argue that the events of this story will replace the original, but I would have preferred them to be more different. Oh, and be prepared to laugh at this movie. There is plenty of humor throughout the film, and most of it comes from character interactions.

The characters were pretty good. The returning crew of the Enterprise seemed to have settled into their roles very nicely, and their interactions were great and felt real. Benedict Cumberbatch did excellent in his role as John Harrison/Khan, and it is making me excited for his role as Smaug in the upcoming "Hobbit" film. Alice Eve as Carol Marcus was only an ok character, and I personally thought she felt more like a tribute back to the original "Wrath of Khan" and not like she really added anything to the story.

The movie's effects were cool and memorable. I liked the little tributes to "Star Wars," "Inception," and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I also liked the fact that we saw more of the extended Star Trek universe in a visit to the Klingon home world (with some of their language thrown in) and of a budding alien culture.

In the end, even though the plot may have not been totally original, I found "Into Darkness" to be a fun and enjoyable film. It's making me look forward to what Abrams will do with the next Star Wars movie.

I give it four and a half out of five stars.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Ever since I saw "The Avengers" for my birthday last year, I have been excited about the upcoming "Phase 2" films, which include "Iron Man 3," "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "The Avengers 2." I saw the first film of Phase 2 last weekend.


"Iron Man 3" takes place some time after the events of "The Avengers" have happened, and Tony is mentally recovering from the stress of battling Loki's Chitauri army in New York City. Pepper is asked by Aldrich Killian, a competitor in the science and technology research field, to aid him in something called Extremis, which would enable anything to repair itself; but Extremis is not perfect and has glitches that need to be dealt with. After Happy gets caught in the blast radius of a mysterious bomb in Los Angeles, Tony begins trying to track down a terrorist known as the Mandarin, who is behind several bombings across the world, and he discovers that there might be a connection between Killian and the Mandarin.

The story's plot is a bit puzzling, and I think I need a second viewing to understand it better; the biggest part that confused me was Killian's motivation for creating the Mandarin. A few parts of the film seemed like a cop-out and not particularly strong writing, such as Tony's Iron Man army and the ending. The movie's ending reminded me a bit of "The Dark Knight Rises," though this one seemed less well-thought out and felt like it had more or less been thrown into the film. Also, in comparison to Phase 1 of the Marvel movies, "Iron Man 3" felt like an extreme standalone, which had very little to do with the extended universe, save for mentions of what happened in "The Avengers" and of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is quite a contrast to previous films, which helped in the big build-up to the end of Phase 1; even the first "Iron Man" introduced S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a big part of the story, and "Iron Man 2" introduced even more. So, to me, it felt like a let-down not to have anything to broaden the Marvel universe for future movies. Another thing that bothered me was that the writers dropped Tony's PTSD about halfway through the movie and never brought it up again. The trailers that I watched made it look like his mental state would be a fairly big part of the film, but it wasn't and was mostly used for humor in certain scenes. The writers also, in my opinion, did not do as good a job with the humor like it was in previous "Iron Man" films. The humor was poorly placed and, at times, seemed almost inappropriate, especially when it was used in a tense action scene; it made the humor feel unbalanced throughout the film (which I couldn't help but compare it to how well-done it was used in "Iron Man" and "The Avengers").

A final note about the film's plot. There is, as with all previous Marvel films, a little thing after the credits. In previous Marvel films, the blurb is usually used to get the moviegoers all excited for the next film in the Marvel series; like in "Thor," you had the revelation that Loki is alive, which sets up the events of "The Avengers." However, this blurb was pointless and added nothing to the film or to upcoming Phase 2.

The movie had several old characters and a couple of new ones. Robert Downey Jr. did good as Iron Man though his sarcastic humor, which was strong in previous films, seemed not as good in this one. Pepper Potts had what seemed like a smaller role, and I didn't think the chemistry between her and Tony was as strong as it had been in previous films. Guy Pearce is a good actor and played a good Killian, but again the confusion of Killian's motives threw me off a bit. Ben Kingsley is also a good actor, but it seemed like a letdown to build him up as the big baddie of the film, only to discover that he's a drug-addicted actor working for Killian.

The effects were cool, but for some reason the whole Extremis effects reminded me of a cross between a Terminator and Wolverine, which in the end felt a little silly. To me, the effects and stunts didn't feel like anything new or anything mind-blowing.

I have heard other reviewers describe this film as being better than "Iron Man 2." I thought "Iron Man 2" was only an ok film compared to the first "Iron Man" (which I still enjoy watching and which is still one of my favorite Marvel films), but I personally liked this one less than "Iron Man 2" though not too much because of the off-humor and the only-ok writing. Watching the movie has made me a little more nervous about the rest of Phase 2, and I hope that the new Thor, Captain America, and Avengers turn out better than this one. Needless to say, I was disappointed in this film and hope this isn't a sign of things to come in Marvel movies.

I give it three out of five stars.