Thursday, August 28, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Solder (2014)

[Slowly but surely. Very slowly.]

I wasn’t all that into the first movie, because there were a whole slew of origin movies at the time, and even though Steve Rogers was actually decent (and not cocky, brash and/or arrogant), it was still an introductory film to yet another comic book character.

So it was completely without much anticipation that I went to see Winter Soldier.

And I was taken aback at how not-boring it was.

Exploring how Steve settles into the modern world after his awakening and the subsequent battle of New York, shit immediately happens when the Winter Soldier (an assassin long thought to be Soviet myth) surfaces and turns out to be Steve’s best friend (thought to have died in Captain 1).

Throw in Hydra, which was thought (lots of thinking in this movie) to have gone done with the death of the Red Skull (also in the first movie), and with this, we have an (implicit) explanation why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been so freaking humdrum: because Hydra tends to be synonymous with Captain America, and they didn’t want to spoil the storyline for Cap’n 2.

[It actually makes sense that Agents exist to combat Hydra.]

Then you have Nick Fury faking his own death, a few people from past Marvel outings getting outed as Hydra molls (Jasper! Senator Garry Shandling from Iron Man 2!), and though it’s a lot to cram in and digest in a two-hour movie, it didn’t get draggy nor did I find it overcrowded.

I was also glad that Scarlett Johansson wasn't also there to perpetuate the film stereotype of male and female leads falling in love with each other and no one else. Thankfully, there’s not a trace of a blossoming romance between the Black Widow and Captain America.

[Because she needs to have one with Hawkeye!]

After the frankly-mild Iron Man 3 and the slightly better Thor 2 (setting up to gonna-be-good Thor 3), Captain 2 is a vast improvement over its first movie and, compared to its fellow Phase 2 movies, a much better entry to the MCU. Though the first one had heart, this one had also twists and turns worthy of an espionage film (you can’t have Robert Redford in a movie like this without giving him a meaty role like the bad guy. Poor Powers Boothe).

[Fun fact: Redford and ScarJo were in the horse whisperer a long, long time ago.]

Do, do watch. This was the movie that made me sit up and acknowledge that Marvel can not do any wrong.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Expendables 3 (2014)

I have absolutely no idea how to review this movie.

If I attempt this like an actual reviewer, there might be quite a bit for me to critique. But I don’t feel like doing that because I found this film a lot of fun, and though it’s not quite as fun as the second movie, I’m not disappointed either.

[Not like Spider-man 3.]

So, I’m just gonna go through this in listicle format (list + article = listicle. Yes, it’s an actual new word, and no, it hasn’t anything to do with ‘testicle’), with what I liked and what I didn’t quite like (in no particular order and with spoilers):

Liked:

  • Evident in this movie and the previous one, everyone looked like they were having a ton of fun hanging out together, shooting and blowing things up aside, which makes the audience enjoy the ride as well. It’s like the action movie version of Grown-Ups, all friends getting together, and that fact itself makes the whole endeavour far less pointless.

  • Wesley Snipes – Damn, I missed this guy. He doesn’t look a day older than he did in the Blade films (and that was a long while ago!), and I loved the part where the team asks him what he was doing time in prison for, and he says, “Tax evasion.” Ha! It was so much fun watching him.

  • Antonio Banderas – Him channelling a benevolent and even more chatty version of Assassins’ Miguel Bane. Despite him being the comic relief that never shuts up, the scene where he tells Sly what happened to his last team is one of the best in the film. It was a lot of fun watching him too, though he looks very emaciated; I hope he's alright.

  • Harrison Ford is actually a supporting character! I thought he was only cameo-ing, but he had far more screen-time than Bruce Willis ever would. That’s probably Sly one-upping his former(?) friend.

  • Kelsey Grammer is also a supporting character and not a cameo! Good on him! Maybe the next one he'll get to hold a gun.

  • “GET TO DA CHOPPA!” One of the reasons why I love the Expendables films is because of all the throwbacks to the actors’ respective past movies, although there’s far less references in this one than in Movie 2. There’re also sly nods to Willis’ falling out with Sly (Ford saying, “he’s out of the picture,” when referring to Willis’ character, Church), and my personal favourite, tax evasion.

  • Young vs old – By introducing the young team and still retaining the old, team make-ups in future movies (if any) would be on rotational basis, I believe. I think with what went down with Willis, it’s Sly’s way of saying that everyone (but him) is expendableinterchangeable. You might think that overcrowding the movie would affect the pace, but I found it fine to split the first half with the youngsters, have them get caught, and then having the oldies break them out and then fight and blow up stuff together. The movie itself is roughly two hours long.

  • Villain-wise, Mel Gibson is more menacing and threatening as an antagonist compared to JCVD and Eric Roberts (from past outings). He still looks good, despite that whole anti-Semitic rant and subsequent under-the-radar that happened some years back. The final fight between him and Sly was just okay, but you have to consider the fact that Gibson isn't an actor known for brawn.

  • Absolutely no romantical notions whatsoever. I don't like romance to distract from my action movie. Just because you have a woman in the show doesn't mean she has to flirt or fall in love or want babies with any of the guys around her.

  • Not liked:

  • Jet Li is out of the Expendables!! I mean, he may still be in future films, but he’s in Arnie’s team so I expect cameos. He didn’t even do any kung-fu this time around. I wonder whether he wanted out, or the other way around. I'm guessing the former; after all, he’s only there for the China market. I think Banderas is his replacement; he got third billing.

  • Not enough Dolph Lundgren!!

  • Terry Crews – I don’t get why he has to get shot (and in the ass too, it looked like). It just makes it look like there’s only quota enough for one black guy in the team (i.e., Snipes).

  • No Chuck Norris!! I enjoyed seeing Chuck Norris tell a Chuck Norris joke.

  • Ronda Rousey – Girl’s got moves, but unfortunately she’s not really good with her face. She looks like pouting, belligerent child whenever the scene calls for her to stare/glare people down.

  • Still not enough Lundgren!!

  • With the above, my take on The Expendables 3 is DO WATCH, if you loved the 80s and action stars that you haven't seen in a very long while. Of course, you can consider the first two outings as having seen them recently, but if you are me, the throwback movies themselves don't count.

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    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    R.I.P. Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

    I glimpsed the headline yesterday, while looking up random Sherlock crap. My heart just sank.

    I clicked the link, read the article, hoped it was fake, Googled, and finally, reluctantly, accepted it as sad truth.

    This is a guy I grew up on. Aladdin, Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, these are movies I watched over and over again as a child and never once failed to enjoy each viewing an ounce less.

    I knew him first as a comedic actor, but gradually relished seeing him in more dramatic albeit villainous characters. There's something unsettling and unnerving when he's in these roles, and it's not because a comedian is trying a hand at being serious, it's just that he does dark really well.

    It saddens me to think that maybe he did dark too well.

    I don't see him much these days, although there's so many Law and Order: Special Victims Unit re-runs that I've seen that one episode he's in at least three times. And occasionally I’d channel-surf onto The Crazy Ones. Every once in a while there’d be a slew of re-runs of his movies, but not recently.

    I've never did get around to thinking that people in showbiz are mortal just as we are, so even natural deaths (at really, really old ages) still surprise me.

    But something like this... never could I have expected that this is the way he would go.

    [The above picture is from JuicyJCosplay on Instagram, and I would’ve embedded the whole post but I can't get the putz of the embed code to work and I’m too depressed to Google for the solution.]

    Rest in peace, Robin McLaurin Williams. Hope you're in a better place now.

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    Thursday, August 7, 2014

    Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

    [“Hooked on a feeling…”. Mild spoilers.]

    I’ve been excited about this movie ever since I saw the hilarious first trailer. Unlike Iron Man, Captain America and Co., (whom I knew of either vaguely or from newspapers or Marvel Zombies), I've never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but because of said trailer and the usual Marvel-film hype, I went in with some level of expectation. First time ever.

    And I wasn’t disappointed. Although, I can’t say expectations exceeded, either.

    In brief, Guardians revolves around five escaped convicts who band together to claim a huge bounty on an item that one of them had stolen at the start of the film; an item, which the main villain of the film needed for trade with a larger big-bad in order for the latter to commit genocide. Through the course of the film, our convicts elude the main villain and other parties who also want the item, and become unlikely heroes as they try to prevent a planet from being massacred and defeat the bad guy.

    Un-blanding the paragraph (which wasn't at all easy to write in the first place) would mean writing out almost the entire plot, and that’s my main quibble of the film: there’s not exactly a coherent storyline to speak of. It’s very all over the place (character gets item everyone wants amidst geo-political warfare and probable genocide and there’s a guy who collects things), but the movie is just so much fun that you don’t notice how messy it is.

    [Unfortunately for me, I'm left with “something I can’t quite put my finger on”-itis.]

    Rooting its emotional core with Peter Quill (“you may know me by… Star-Lord”), pivotal scenes come with classic songs from the 1970s and 80s (including the awesome “Hooked on a Feeling”, which is also in the trailer), heard through his Sony Walkman and “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”-tape with all his mother’s favourite songs. Peter left Earth as a young child at his mother’s death, and listening to the mix-tape is his way of remembering his mother and reminding him of his home planet.

    After those poignant first scenes on Earth (its 8-10 minutes to me is almost at par with the opening of Up), the movie establishes its comedic tone by having Chris Pratt (who plays Star-Lord) strut and dance his way through alien ruins. Pratt fits the standard cocky, sarcastic hero mould that we’ve acquainted and re-acquainted ourselves with in each superhero movie, but he’s so freaking adorable (like a teddy bear! a giant ginger teddy bear!) that I didn’t even realise this (cocky sarcasm) until time of writing.

    As fitting as Pratt is as the lead, he has his movie almost stolen from him by two characters who are completely CG’ed: Rocket (Raccoon) and Groot. The pair (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) showed more humanity, emotion and compassion (this especially from alien wood) than all other characters put together. I’m surprised that Diesel got billing ahead of Cooper, who got in far more dialogue than expected, compared with “I am Groot”.

    After the wasted opportunity Green Lantern was, I was sceptical of another movie set in space, because how much time spent in space really depends on the production budget. I’m glad that in Guardians, we barely spend any time on Earth (only in the beginning), though we do spend almost a cumulative half-hour on the mostly-human-looking Xandar. Luckily, this doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the film.

    [People behind Green Lantern sequel or reboot, please take note. Two hours of Oa would be comparably better than one hour of Earth.]

    Guardians introduces an ensemble instead of just a solo act, so backstories for everyone but Peter are told via exposition. This I somehow noticed, which annoyed me for the rest of the film that I noticed. Thankfully, in all of that exposition is witty dialogue, and its very able actors and trip down nostalgia lane make the movie work.

    The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies tend not to deviate into the unknown (even Thor doesn’t really talk about other Realms), so it's great to see this film delve deeper into more obscure material, and, to quote another sci-fi saga, “it boldly goes where no (MCU movie) has gone before.” Unfortunately, I didn't quite find this movie fresh or original (as I hoped it would be), but it is a solidly entertaining new entry. Considering how the past few were tried-and-tested box office material (Iron Man threequel, Thor and Captain America sequels), Marvel Studios still has that magic touch, and I'm looking forward to seeing whatAnt-Man and Doctor Strange movies bring.

    This movie's end-credits doesn't tie in to The Avengers 2, but the find scene does tease a unexpected possible re-boot for a character long-dormant.

    I was so, so psyched with that last scene.

    Do, do watch this movie, and just laugh at everything.

    [Post-script: Galactic-outlaw version of The Avengers, anyone?
    - Group of people with nothing in common? Check.
    - Same group arguing and (almost) trying to kill each other at first)? Check.
    - Bad guy freaking working with Thanos? Check.
    - Come together to stop bad guy in second-half and save universe? Check.
    - Hulk-Smash-Puny-God moment? Check, although 1) he is Groot, 2) Ronan didn’t get smashed, and 3) no utterance of “puny god”.]

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    Sunday, July 20, 2014

    G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

    [I'd forgotten about this post until I re-visited my 2013 movie list to see how many I hit. That was early this year. I'm now in the process of finishing my 2013 movie reviews (for a movie about zombies, World War Z isn't exactly easy to write), and then I have to get started on my 2014 ones. Aside from The Lego Movie, I'm adhering to my watch list pretty well.]

    The Rock (or, the Batu--Malay for 'rock'--, as my mom and I affectionately call him) seems to be in a LOT of franchises these days.

    From the generally-unwatched Walking Tall (previously Kevin Sorbo), to the Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (previously Brendan Fraser), the Batu has now ousted Channing Tatum. I'd like to think that he also tried taking over the Fast and Furious franchise, but how can you go up against a dude named Diesel in a movie about cars?

    Anyway, over-exposed or no, I still like him, charm and mega-watt smile and all. I’m just surprised he doesn’t have first billing in the end credits.

    The sequel does away with the nanomites and almost all its characters from the first movie, except for the really cool ones and the President decoy. Duke bites the dust within 10 minutes of the film, and the Rock takes over as the franchise’s new hero and leads the remaining few Joes left (after the fake President declares them traitors and exterminates the lot) to save the world from total annihilation.

    Considering how much footage they give Lee Byunghyun, they should’ve called this movie The Rise of Storm Shadow. The scene in the trailers where ninjas hang off mountains? It is as awesome as it looks. That is just about the most impressive part of the movie. Interestingly, Storm is exonerated from the murder of his and Snake Eyes’ master, and Storm becomes a kind of anti-hero that doesn’t want to play with Cobra any more.

    Kinda makes you wonder what they are going to do with the third movie. Storm and Snake’s feud is just about the most interesting aspect of the film.

    Having Bruce Willis as the first ever Joe was gimmicky, but it worked. He’s in a million things these days, so much so I’m getting the feeling he’s phoning it in (Stallone giving him shade regarding the third Expendables movie didn’t help), but he was pretty okay in this film.

    In general, this movie is a step up from the first film, though reboots seem to be something very, very convenient these days because I don’t see the reason why everyone but the Korean and the silent one got axed.

    Oh well, that’s Hollywood machinery for ya.

    P.S. I wasn't really in the mood for a Joe sequel (even though I enjoyed the first movie), but watched it anyway because of the awesome music from the trailer. It's the Glitch Mob remix of The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army. Check out the live version here!

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    Saturday, July 19, 2014

    Not again.

    First, a plane disappears in the oddest and most unsettling way imaginable, with developments and red herrings like something out of the movies. It's still missing, and no one's the wiser about the 'why' of it.

    Now, this. Flight MH17 crashing in the Ukraine, presumably (though most likely) shot down by a ground-to-air missile.

    I mean, come on! 'Wrong place, wrong time' aside, it's uncanny how Malaysia (specifically our national carrier) keeps hitting global headlines for all the wrong reasons.

    [And in Visit Malaysia Year, too.]

    And of all the military accidents to happen (yes, I believe it was an accident), it had to happen to a plane full of civilians and not a drone.

    Rest in peace, MH17. Our prayers and thoughts are with you, and with your family and friends through this difficult time.

    [I still can't wrap my head around this. A missile? Of all things, a freaking MISSILE?! And shot down while flying over a country formerly of the Soviet Union, and is currently having secession problems with Moscow! Cold War, anyone?]

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    Saturday, May 3, 2014

    Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

    Not I! Especially if he comes bearing books!

    For (most probably, I'unno) the first time ever, the Big Bad Wolf book sale was in Penang, and I was totally excited as book sales in Penang generally mean "buy 1 get second one at 10%" or "members only" (which is 20%).

    Which is still quite disappointing because I'm never a member of anything.

    [And I would be disappointed as well if I were a member.]

    So I made time out of work to attend the sale, and it was like the warehouse book sales of old.

    Books laden everywhere, all (yes, all!) costing RM8, and I managed to buy three! Only, but it's more than my usual numbers, which are either one or zero.

    Because one of those books was A Memory Of Light, retail price RM110! Yes, I (well, my mom) found the hardcover, and I totally bought it for 8 friggin' bucks!!!

    BEST. BUY. EVAR.

    I'd also bought Hilary Mantel's Bringing Up The Bodies (couldn't find Wolf Hall) and Robert Ludlum's The Prometheus Deception, and am working my slowly through Mantel. Her writing style takes a bit getting used to.

    Blogger's note: Sale was two months ago, so this, as usual, is late-posted. Off-topic, early Happy Star Wars Day!

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