Thursday, 27 March 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Previous Review: Divergent
Next Review: Transcendence

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the third film in Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (after last year's Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World). Compared with the mighty giant green monster, the hammer wielding Norse thunder god or the 'genius, philanthropist, billionaire, playboy' armour man, the Captain was never quite as appealing as the rest of the 'Unusuals'. Steve Rogers is portrayed as an old-fashioned, straightforward, honest, courageous, sincere, patriotic superhero. This makes him a less-interesting, boring character in the eyes of the audience. Moreover, as Tony Stark said before, which pretty much sums it up about him, "Everything special about you came out of a bottle!"

Most film-goers would know that Marvel films are famous for its bright, fun and not-so-serious approach to its storytelling, together with some catchy, witty dialogues. This film is a game changer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time around, Marvel made a bold move and decided to take a different approach on things: To make a Captain America sequel with a more serious, darker plot development and more face-to-face close-range hand combat fights. What should have been a typical superhero film, now becomes a conspiracy-espionage thriller.

The film sets two years after the events that happened in New York city and the Captain still struggling to adjust himself to the modern world, with no apparent social life or love interest, which is why Natasha/Black Widow tries to introduce or recommend him some cute girls in S.H.I.E.L.D. for him to date with. However, he is shocked when he found out that the very governmental organisation he is working for is not what it seems to be, which leaves him in doubt on who to trust, as the Cap said in the trailer, “This isn't freedom. This is fear”. Soon, he finds himself entangled in a conspiracy that puts millions of innocent lives at risk.

The film produces well-choreographed action sequences: thrilling car chases, gun fights and close-range combat. Although the cinematography is a bit dodgy due to the shaky-cam techniques used for depicting the chaotic moments, the fight scenes between the Winter Soldier and the Captain is still fantastic and serves as one of the film's highlights. The audience finally gets to see how the Captain's shield is utilised effectively in both offensive and defensive combat situations. It also good to see again how Natasha kicks ass in the film.

All actors delivered decent performances in the film. Once again, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johannson proved that they fit their roles well, adding more depth to the characters they portray in the film. Sam Wilson/Falcon is another welcome addition to the Marvel franchise and hopefully he will appear again in the Avengers sequel. Unfortunately, despite the film's title, the winter soldier is not a complex villain and doesn't appear much in the film. It's such a shame to just show him as a formidable physical fighter who's capable of challenging the Captain, when he could be so much more than that.

The film is well-scripted and filled with suspense. It highlights some important socio-political issues such as government surveillance, corruption and control in its storytelling. Although the twists in the film is fairly easy to predict, the sequel is still a marked improvement compared to its predecessor, Captain America: The First Avenger. The story unfolds gradually and has huge implications for the franchise. Marvel Cinematic Universe is not going to be the same again. What's going to happen next? How the story is going to progress in Avengers: Age of Ultron, after what had happened in this film? Interesting.

Rating: 8.5/10

Be warned. This is not the typical fun, 'not-so-serious', entertaining Marvel film that you used to watch in the past. You might like it or find it a bore. In order to recognize some of the characters in the film, you need to remember some of Marvel's Phase One films. Most importantly, you need to watch Captain America: The First Avenger before watching this to understand the plot.

Note: Guess you don't need me to remind you to stay for the mid-credit and post-credit scenes. It foreshadows what's going to happen next by introducing a lesser-known supervillain and two new characters, 'Miracles' (another name for 'mutants' because of screen rights issues) which going to be in the Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron. It further confirms that one of weapons depicted in The Avengers is indeed one of the six infinity stones.

Previous Review: Divergent
Next Review: Transcendence

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Movie Review: Divergent

Previous Review: American Hustle

After the tremendous success of Twilight, Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, Hollywood film studios have made several attempts to repeat the success. But, many have failed to capture the hearts of fans and general audience alike. Now, here comes another young adult sci-fi action drama thriller series...The Divergent Trilogy. Will it succeed and remembered as one of the good young adult series? Time will tell.

Adapted from Veronica Roth's first book, it is a story about the conflict between individuality and social conformity...the dilemma of being different, not fitting in with the society and the fears that comes with it. It raises the question on why people in general, submit to social conformity (obedience and unwillingness to change), without any resistance. Is it really deeply rooted in our genes? Why individualists are mostly frown upon by society and feared by the authorities?

The film offers an interesting world with strong characters, an engaging plot enough to captivate the audience for its long running time (140 minutes). In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the people are divided into a five-faction social system, enforced by the authorities to maintain peace and order after an unspecified catastrophic war, based on their primary distinct personalities: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence) and Dauntless (courage). The film starts out with the lead female character questions her place in society, but later on, she starts to question the fundamentals of the society itself.

Much of the film's running time is dedicated to develop the characters enough for the audience to know them, by showing what they're going through and what they've become by the end of the film. The lead actors, Theo James and Shailene Woodley, delivered a solid performance in their respective roles and have a convincing on-screen chemistry between them. Kate Winslet, despite her short screen time (only about 20 minutes), manage to solidify her presence throughout the film, hinting that we'll be seeing her more in the next two films. Moreover, the ideas and concepts behind the psychology aptitude tests to determine which faction the characters belong or join are commendable as well, as they show the inner fears of the characters and why they possess the personalities mentioned in the film.

However, some parts of the film feels rushed, especially the third art of the film, due to its heavy world-building, plot and character development in the first and second act. The fans of the books might complain about the missing parts, but from a person who haven't read the books (me), it seems fine and acceptable to me. I believe the film gets the essence of its source material right, despite the complex nature of its source material.

Regardless of what the critics or fans said, the worlds and characters of Divergent and the Hunger Games are very different. Each stands on its own and shouldn't be compared with one another. The film has a good start. By the end of the film, I'm interested to see how things will be unfolded in the next sequel, Insurgent, which is releasing next year and how the story concludes in Allegiant, which will be released a year after Insurgent.

Rating: 8/10 

Note: The film board of Malaysia's censorship is incredibly inconsistent and nonsensical to the point that it annoyed the hell out of me...What's the point of cutting a kissing scene and retain the next one later on? Why cut an important scene in the film which disrupts the audience viewing of the film? What the heck man?

"Individualism promotes personal freedom and achievement. Individualist culture grants social status to personal accomplishments such as significant discoveries, innovations or great artistic achievements. Unfortunately, this threatens to those in power, the survival of a population of conformists that specifically adhere to well-defined rules and principles. So, the ones who are capable of thinking differently than others are usually rejected or deemed as outcasts in society. This creates a constant, endless struggle between individuality and conformity throughout the history of mankind."

Previous Review: American Hustle

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Movie Review: American Hustle

Previous Review: The Beggar Hero
Next Review: Divergent

American Hustle is a loose retelling (as stated at the beginning of the film, “some of this actually happened.”) of the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s that led to a few bribery convictions which involved a U.S. senator, six members of the House of Representatives, a State Senate, members of the Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, and an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The story is about two con-artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who was forced to cooperate with an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to arrest 4 high-flying con artists so they can be pardoned from their crimes. However, what initially seems to be an operation that targets stolen property trafficking eventually lead to a huge, elaborate public corruption investigation, which goes out of control and involved the mafia as well.
Sounds interesting? It seems so, on paper. In film, to commit a con job normally requires heavy exposition, to explain the elaborate plan without failing to engage the audience along the way. The film failed at doing that.

Despite its unexpected plot twist, the film suffers heavily due to its pacing and length. It's overly long and filled with constant, ceaseless dialogue-heavy scenes, with literally no action to provide the thrill factor, which most general audience will find it to be boring. It's all talking, talking, and talking. Acting, acting, and acting. It goes on and on...The film drags too long until when something unusual happens (the point where the operation starts to go beyond control), it's a little too late as many would have lose interest by then (fortunately not me, but quite close though).
Most of the actors done their utmost best, delivering their award-worthy, charming performance to the film, which is mostly the reason why the film received such critical acclaim upon its release. But, don't believe the hype. This film was no better than any of the other Oscar award-nominated films of 2013.
The film does provide a few occasional laughs here and there, there's some witty dialogues delivered perfectly by actors on-screen, but that's it.
Overall, it's not a bad film, it's just not a solid entertainment and not nearly as much fun as you would expect it to be. It would certainly benefit the film if the director is willing to cut some of the unnecessary scenes in film.

Rating: 7/10

If you're interested, there are some information regarding the operation and the people involved, which can be found here:

  • How much of American Hustle actually happened?
  • Fact vs. Fiction in American Hustle?

Previous Review: The Beggar Hero
Next Review: Divergent

Movie Review: The Beggar Hero (丐世英雄) 2014

The Beggar Hero is a bad, awful, terrible, boring low-budget film. (Is it even a film??) Despite the inclusion of some credible actors such as Wayne Lai (黎耀祥) (3-times winner of Best Actor in TVB annual awards show) and Singaporean actor, Henry Thia (程旭辉),  the film is a poor jumbled mess. It was filmed entirely on the streets of Penang.

The film sucks. It suffers due to poor film editing, bad script, bad production design, non-existent action choreography for the action sequences, poor dialogues and most of all, poor direction. No one seemed to know what they're doing or should be doing during the shooting of the film. Despite half-way through the film, nothing really happened. Most of the actors overacted (with the exception of Wayne Lai) in the film. None of the production team treats the movie seriously.
None of the characters make any lasting impression or memorable at all. There's no proper character development, no catchy one-liners spoken by any of the actors, or hardly any funny scenes. The film fails to inspire with its "Nothing is impossible" motto, which is 'believed' by the trio, which is shown to be taken from a Malaysian property developer company on the streets.
Overall, it's a waste of time, effort and money to watch. One of the worst films of 2014. Although it's too late now, please, for your sake, DON'T think of watching it like I did. Just when The Journey raises hope and shine some light to our Malaysian film industry, this one comes and knocks it down. It doesn't live up to expectation at all. A horrible local Chinese production.

Rating: 2/10

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

 The Great Gatsby a visually stunning, captivating, intriguing age-old classic tragic love story originally written as a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It tells a story which sets in the Roaring Twenties before The Great Depression...about New York society and the decadence of that era, the wild excesses and emptiness (the Prohibition and bootlegging of alcohol), the glitzy and glamourous parties and plot twists that shows that after all these years, the current generation still facing the same social problems like their predecessors in the 20s.
The cinematography, makeup and costume designs were brilliant. The film succeeds in portraying every manner of Gatsby’s extravagance. The sets are great, the music is amazing and the costume and fashion style depicted in the film seems to reflect the 1920's. It seems to show how two individuals, not from a wealthy background can easily be deceived by the empty lie of self-gratification.
The film also carefully depicts how obsession and wealth can also blind individuals in love: Gatsby's obsession with Daisy and Daisy's obsession with wealth and status despite his love for Gatsby. As Gatsby’s true identity and intentions finally revealed in the second half of the movie, one can't help but to sympathize with the hopeless is his passion, false optimism, hope and undying love for Daisy which ultimately leads to his own demise.
Gatsby has led his entire life in trying to earn and win the love of Daisy, but Daisy is just too afraid to lose the kind of life she has grown up with, to love the one guy her heart calls her to...even though she knows that her husband is cheating on her. It is deeply heartfelt to watch as Nick was unable to stop the dreadful chain of events that he eventually feels responsible for.
Once again, Leonardo DiCaprio proved himself as a credible actor by delivering a charismatic, heartbreaking performance as Gatsby. He's done a wonderful job in personifying the character’s insecurities, despite his stylish and charming outer appearance. The scene where Daisy and Gatsby reunite together again at Nick's house after 5 years is both awkward and hilarious.
I haven't read the book, which is considered a classic literature by many...and I'm not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, therefore I'm reviewing the film based on what I've seen on screen. In my opinion, it is a film that I would recommend others to watch.

Rating: 8/10

SPOILER ALERT: The following character map shows the relationships between the characters and what happened throughout the film:

Short Movie Review: Flipped

Flipped is a sweet, charming, moving, lovely, well-acted coming-of-age romantic drama comedy film.

While the plot offers nothing new in particular (as with mostly all rom-com films)...the 'girl meets boy' mixed with 'the not-your-typical girl next door' story, but the storytelling is slightly different.
Adapted from the book with the same name by Wendelin Van Draanen, the film is presented in a rather unique 'he-said she-said' style, through the eyes and thoughts of the male lead, Bryce and then again through the eyes and thoughts of female lead, Juli, alternately presenting their views and perspectives on a shared set of events.

Nearly every single event that happened in the film is told at least twice, although it seems repetitive, but surprisingly, it never feels boring or annoying. It's actually fascinating and insightful to be able to see into the thoughts and feelings of people in general. Things are not really what it seems and there's always more than meets the eye. As the film progresses, you are so emotionally invested in the characters that you actually begin to eagerly anticipate what the other side of the story might be, how the other person feels the way he/she does.

The film also gives a feeling of nostalgia, even for those who never lived in the era (the story is set in 50's or 60's suburban area) or experienced the same events as the two leads. It feels authentic and relatable nonetheless. Juli might appear as an ordinary girl, but she's a sweet, kind, beautiful, daring girl at heart once you get to know her.

The two lead stars are perfect in their respective roles. Most of the characters in the film have sufficient character development for the audience to understand them. Flipped is a period young love story, told in a simple and heartfelt manner. A rare cinematic gem.

Rating: 8/10

"A painting is more than the sum of its parts. A cow by itself is just a cow. A meadow by itself is just grass, flowers. And the sun peeking through the trees is just a beam of light.But if you put them all can be magic.You have to look at the whole landscape to see its beauty."

"Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss; but every once in a while, you find someone who's iridescent, and once you do, nothing will ever compare."

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

 The Wolf of Wall Street is a satirical drama comedy film that's based on Jordan Belfort's autobiography of the same name, a story about a young and promising New York stockbroker who runs a firm that engages in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s.
First and foremost, it is to say that the film is not everyone's cup of tea for sure, due to its moral ambiguity, sexual content, vulgarity, presence of drugs and alcohol. We are shown, through Belfort, the dark, 'fucked-up' side of the world, in all its glory.
Jordan Belfort is a smart crooked bastard. His depravity knows no bounds. Armed with an amazing 'gift of persuasion' in sales and a mind filled with various illegal financial strategies that allows him to earn huge commissions on selling useless penny stocks, made millions upon millions during his day in the 90s, which leads him to a life of extravagance, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes.
He constantly speaks about money and the power it buys, the 'American Dream', his seemingly noble ideals, but the truth is that he is as vain, greedy, superficial, materialistic as they come. The film glorifies the excessive lifestyle it depicts, yet it is disturbingly fun to watch his indulgence in doing drugs and women in broad daylight, divorce his first wife who stood by him in difficult times for the seductive Naomi and his constant yearning to possess more money.
Despite his terrible personality, Jordan still manage to win you over, due to Leonardo DiCaprio's charming, powerful and magnetic performance, who effortlessly unleash a kind of on-screen charisma that's proven to be quite difficult to hate.
The casting of Margot Robbie as the sexy, gorgeous and vivacious Naomi Lapaglia, Jordan's second wife was perfect, especially the scene when Naomi spreads her legs open and tells Jordan he won’t be getting sex any time soon, with Jordan seemingly begging to want it, only to learn that she is in full view of a security camera in the end, is simply awesome.
The running time of the film is close to 3 hours, the movie does feel a bit stretched despite its brilliant pacing, good story and character development.

Overall, while some people will disagree with me on this, The wolf of wall street is an awesome film...a masterpiece of its own. It is a film that shows how easily, quickly and thoroughly the path of dreams can be corrupted beyond reckoning.

Rating: 8.5/10

The real Jordan Belfort

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire serves as a companion piece or a combination of 'prequel, midquel and sequel in one film' for 300. The film provides a cast of new characters, with Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Artemisia (Eva Green) as the new leads, as well as a brief backstory for Xerxes, the 'God-King' of Persia.

The Battle of Thermopylae in 300 where King Leonidas and his Spartan warriors fight to their death against King Xerxes' Persian army happens when Themistocles, Greek general is leading his army against Artemisia, Persian Navy commander on a naval battle. The film further expands the 300 mythology, provides a deeper understanding of what really happened in its entirety.

The film does a good job in capturing the over-the-top, yet distinctive, slow-motion style of the first film. The violent 'slo-mo' battle scenes looks spectacular, seemingly allows the audience to indulge themselves in the mayhem, but the technique is overused many times in recent films that it doesn't feel as exciting as before, which is 7 years ago. Furthermore, the special effects team seems to overdo the CGI blood squirt to the point that it feels artificial on screen.

The male lead character in the film is rather 'weak'. The character of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is rather bland and lacks the iconic look or screen presence of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). The loud cry by Gerard Butler's Leonidas: "This is SPARTA!!!" while delivering a kick to the Persian messenger to fall in a bottomless pit in 300 still remains the most iconic scene in the franchise. Although the Greek general managed to employ some clever battle strategies to outwit the Persians, but it's nothing we haven't seen before...Anyone who's interested in war battle strategies should watch Red Cliff (Part 1 & 2), which is based on the Battle of Red Cliffs from Records of the Three Kingdoms of China.

On the other hand, Eva Green provided a superb performance and lasting impression as Artemisia, who dominates whenever she appears on screen. Overall, the film does not exceed expectation. It's just delivers exactly what's expected of it. The open ending suggests another sequel to conclude the mythology of 300.

Rating: 7/10


  • (For girls) The Greek men in this film are not as perfectly ripped and muscular as the Spartans in 300
  • Unfortunately, scenes with sex, rape or female nudity are censored by the film board of Malaysia. It seems that the board thinks that letting 18++ audience to see female naked body is far worse than gory violence involving decapitation or dismemberment of human beings with blood spurting around on screen... 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

 Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob & Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is an intriguing, compelling, thought-provoking and intense South Korean sci-fi action drama thriller with credible English-speaking casts: Chris Evans (Captain America), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), John Hurt (V for Vendetta), Tilda Swinton (Narnia), Ed Harris (The Truman Show) and so on.
The film sets in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a global-warming solution has gone horribly wrong, plunging the world into another ice age, killing off most life on the planet. The only survivors are left endlessly travelling around the globe in a super-train powered by a perpetual-motion engine that never stops. Over time, a class system was formed with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the back of the train. A revolution starts to happen with an attempt to seize control of the engine.
The film succeeds on so many levels: the attention to characters, fantastic world-building concepts, stunning visuals, good pacing, avoidance of melodrama (normally found in many Korean films), the unexpected turn of events and a surprising twist near the end of the film. Above all, this film highly respects the audience’s intelligence by allowing them to sit and follow through the 'presentation' while leaving some meaningful 'breadcrumbs' along the way for the audience to 'pick' up, instead of delivering everything on a silver platter.
As the film progresses, it carefully examines the social class system formed in the train, from the most basic labour working class, right up to the elite, in perfect order. As the revolution starts from the back end to the front end of the train, each successive train carriage reveals a shocking aspect of this grotesque, self-sustaining socio-economic system...We get to see the evolution of civilisation from simple beginnings to science, education, quality of living, luxury, then hedonism, extravagance and eventual demise, in an exact order. It reflects the various aspects of our current society from within, providing great insights about the nature of humanity throughout the film. Moreover, Snowpiercer is filled with stylistic gritty violence...the brutality of the elites against the low-class commoners are shown vividly in the film.
This film is definitely better than many of the similar-themed films like Elysium or In Time, in terms of plot, script, pacing and cinematography. I would highly recommend anyone to watch it.
Due to unknown reasons, this film only available in TGV cinemas, not GSC in Malaysia and this film is not released in the US yet.

Rating: 8.5/10