Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Movie Review: Earth to Echo

Previous Review: Hercules
Next Review: The Teacher's Diary

In all honesty, Earth to Echo is not an original film. It has too many similarities with classic films like Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Richard Donner's The Goonies (1985) and J.J. Abram's Super 8 (2011) to the point it's considered a ripoff. It's basically the same children-alien family sci-fi adventure film, albeit a more robotic alien that's similar to Wall-E than E.T.

The story is pretty much the same, it's simple, straightforward and predictable: There are three kids (later on there's another girl) that only have a few days left before moving out of their neighbourhood. So, they thinking of starting an adventure together. During the journey, they discover a robotic alien, decide to help it to go back home and keeping it from the authorities. The main difference this time is the way they shoot the film. Many people would say that the film employs the 'found footage' technique, but I find it to be slightly inaccurate. To put it accurately, the film is an edited video recording of the kids adventure from different cameras own by one of the kids.

First and foremost, the kids they hired to act in the film did a great job in portraying their friendship on-screen. The interaction between the kids felt genuine enough for us to believe that they really share a special bond with each other. However, Echo, the central alien character, is very poorly developed (it looks very cute though). There's not much screen time for the alien for the audience to feel any emotional attachment to it. The movie tends to focus more on the kids and their night adventure rather than developing the unusual 'alien-human friendship' between Echo and the kids, which is supposedly the main theme of the film. It also briefly touched on child neglect and abandonment issues along the way, but without further development as well.

Personally, I find it difficult to have any emotions at all when the kids (especially Alex) gets very emotional when they bid farewell to Echo during the last scene. There's also some questionable plot logic issues in the film which hurts the film: How the kids manage to travel long distances with bicycles in just a few hours without feeling exhausted? (it's a several kilometres of open highway and they're just kids!) Why there's no cars on the highway at all? If there is, why no one hesitated to stop and ask why they're cycling on the highway in the middle of the night? Why these kids manage to easily walk or break into shops? Furthermore, the 'construction workers' (they're actually investigators or secret government officials) are not believable...the way they treat the kids isn't realistic at all.

Although I would say that the adventure is fun, enjoyable and entertaining for young kids, I would recommend this film only for those who never watched E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), The Goonies (1985) or Super 8 (2011). It's not a terrible film by any means, it's just that it's been done before...and it just doesn't offer anything new or provide any further improvements to the genre.


4.5/10 - The film lacks originality, it uses a plot concept that's done well in past films and offers no improvements at all.

7/10 - If you haven't watch E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), The Goonies (1985) or Super 8 (2011).

Previous Review: Hercules
Next Review: The Teacher's Diary

Monday, 28 July 2014

Movie Review: Hercules

In many ways, Hercules caught me by surprise. I can say that the film's unexpected take on the legend of Hercules might not appeal with certain audience groups. Basically, the film tries to tell us that the legend is not what it seems to be...it was fabricated to make people fear or respect the titular hero instead.

The story takes place years after Hercules’ 'legendary twelve labours' and the death of his wife Megara and their children. Now, Hercules works as the leader of a group of work-for-hire mercenaries - the knife-throwing thief Autolycus, the Amazon archer Atalanta, the spear-wielding seer/fortune teller Amphiaraus, the fearless, bestial warrior Tydeus and the storyteller, Iolaus, who is also Hercules’ nephew. They're all skillful and fiercely loyal to Hercules. Hercules tries to save up enough gold so he could retreat and get a quiet peaceful life by the ocean.

Everything starts to change when the group was hired by Lord Cotys of Thrace to assist him in defeating a powerful warlord who's into the dark arts and has a strong army of centaurs by his side. As the film progresses, we soon realise that things are not what it seems to be.

The story is quite straightforward with some slight twists to the legend. Each of the characters in the film has a distinctive personality, they were given slight backstories and sufficient screen time for the audience to get to know them. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson provides a decent performance as Hercules. He imbues his character with just enough charm and charisma to convince the audience that he fits the role perfectly. Moreover, his enormous physique shows his dedication to the role and he sure looks like the legend.

The film placed our legendary hero quite firmly in reality. The atmosphere does give a sense of realism to the film. But, the film does give an opportunity for Hercules to live up to his name and legend when the film gets to its third act. The battle scenes are well-choreographed and the battle formation strategies are both exciting and thrilling for the audience to watch. The Thracian army training by Hercules and his group of mercenaries was quite enjoyable as well. There's also some occasional funny moments in the film which provides some unexpected laughs to relieve the tension along the way.

Overall, the film is a successful realistic take on Hercules. The film does deliver an acceptable action spectacle that feels fun and entertaining despite the absence of fantasy elements that usually comes with the legend.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 14 July 2014

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Next Review: Hercules

Based on the popular romantic novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars is another story about a pair of star-crossed lovers who care immensely for each other but couldn't be together due to their unfortunate circumstances. I believe for those who have never read the book or watch the trailers would assume that this film to be the same as those weepy, sappy melodramatic romance, right? Well, not exactly.

Surprisingly, the film is a heartwarming and touching love story wrapped in exceedingly witty dialogue and memorable one liners, successfully preventing itself from making its way into melodramatic territory. The comedy and romance is well-balanced. The film is also slightly mature and wise in its content and character perspectives. There are quite a few philosophical questions from the film that's worth mentioning: What do you fear most? Is it oblivion? Is there any meaning or purpose in life? Can we truly outlast death by being remembered by everyone in the world? What should we actually seek in our short temporary life here on Earth?

The main female lead, Hazel, who suffered through cancer most of her life, doesn't anticipate much from her life, as her days are numbered. She is depressed and given up on her life. Out of nowhere, here comes Augustus, a surprisingly charming cancer survivor who's seemingly optimistic about his future. Augustus's charming smile and his relentless devotion of love for Hazel successfully captured her heart. They're both equally smart and the on-screen chemistry between Shailene (Hazel) and Ansel (Augustus) made their instant connection both believable and relatable.

Shailene and Ansel both provide convincing performances as a couple. The romance was subtle, it feels honest and realistic enough for the audience to be emotionally invested in them. Their affection for each other deepens as the film progresses and it's heartbreaking to see that this relationship doesn't last in the end. (I don't think I'm spoiling it, as we all know what we signed up for even before watching it). The film doesn't overly exploit the romance drama that's usually comes with the chronic disease, which is commendable. Rather than making it the typical depressing melodramatic tearjerker, the film has a bittersweet ending with surprising depth and meaning about life. The eulogies written by the main leads for each other is thought-provoking and heartfelt at the same time.

However, I have a few gripes about the film though...I would appreciate if the film adds more scenes about their cancer sufferings, just to show that having cancer is not a joke. The film seemingly gives an impression to the general audience that stage 4 cancer sufferers can still live and converse normally like many others without the repetitive, time-consuming treatments, countless hospitalization or dealing with severe side effects from drugs. The film does feel draggy a bit in some parts as well. Overall, despite a few minor shortcomings, The Fault in Our Stars is still undeniably a decent romantic drama comedy that's well worth your time and money.

Rating: 8/10

Note: Although the film didn't make me cry (but almost though), be sure to bring some tissues if you're an emotionally sensitive person. By the way, I just love the main song All of the Stars, by Ed Sheeran. Be sure to check out the music video at Youtube.

Some great quotes from the film:

"There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten, and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does." - Hazel's response to Augustus's fear of oblivion.

"Gus, I’m a grenade. One day, I’m going to blow up, and I’m going to obliterate everything in my wake. And I don’t want to hurt you." - Hazel

"Oh, I wouldn't mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you." - Augustus

"You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have a say in who hurts you." - Augustus

"I am in love with you Hazel Grace. And I know that love is just a shout into the void and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you. All of your efforts to keep me away from you are going to fail." - Augustus 

"Pain demands to be felt...Without pain, we could not know joy." 

"Life isn’t a wish-granting factory." - Augustus

Augustus likes having a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and he likes putting one in his mouth occasionally, but he never ever lights it.
"They don't kill you unless you light them...and I've never lit one. It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing." - Augustus

"Only now that I loved a grenade did I understand the foolishness of trying to save others from my own impending fragmentation: I couldn't unlove Augustus Waters. And I didn't want to." - Hazel

"You say you’re not special because the world doesn't know about you, but that’s an insult to me. I know about you." - Hazel

Please do not read the following if you haven't watch the film yet. The following eulogies are provided for those who wish to know what exactly did the main leads say to each other in detail.

Hazel's eulogy to Augustus:
"My name is Hazel. Augustus Waters was the great star-crossed love of of my life. Ours was an epic love story, and I won't be able to get more than a sentence into it without disappearing into a puddle of tears. Gus knew. Gus knows. I will not tell you our love story, because like all real love stories, it will die with us. As it should. I'd hoped that he'd be eulogizing me, because there is no one I'd rather have. I can't talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this. There is an infinite between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many days of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You have me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."

The letter wrote by Augustus to Van Houten for Hazel's eulogy:
Van Houten,
    "I'm a good person but a shitty writer. You're a shitty person but a good writer. We'd make a good team. I don't want to ask you for any favours, but if you have time- and from what I saw, you have plenty- I was wondering if you could write a eulogy for Hazel. I've got notes and everything, but if you could just make it into a coherent whole or whatever? Or even just tell me what I should say differently. Here's the thing about Hazel: Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That's what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease. I want to leave a mark. But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars.  (Okay maybe I'm not such a shitty writer. But I can't pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.)  Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we are not likely to do either. People will say it's sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it's not sad, Van Houten it's triumphant. It's heroic.  After my PET scan lit up, I snuck into the ICU and saw her while she was unconscious. I walked in behind the nurse and got to sit next to her for like ten minutes before I got caught. I really thought she was going to die before I could tell her that I was going to die, too. I just held her hand and tried to imagine a world without us and for about one second I was a good enough person to hope she died so she would never know that I was going, too. But then I wanted more time so we could fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar. What else? She is so beautiful. You don't get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her. You don't get to choose the ones you hurtin this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers. I do. I do, Augustus."

Next Review: Hercules

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After the 2011 sci-fi action drama hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is a reboot of the Planet of the Apes series, the story continues further in the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This film not only meet expectations, but exceeds them on many levels. It is not just an epic story about conflict between humans and apes, but it's also a gripping and emotional story that strongly reflects on our society and civilization as a whole.

The first act of the film is simply remarkable. 10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes where Caesar freed the evolved apes, we get to see how the apes form a colony. They established a society, much like us, but living in peace and harmony. They went on hunting together and communicate with each other mostly with their hands and sounds (sign language). On the other hand, humans are almost completely wiped out by the ALZ-113 virus spread (Simian flu) and become a minority. But, everything starts to change, conflicts start to arise when the humans accidentally found the apes during a small expedition to start up an old hydroelectric dam to re-power the city with lights.

The film shows how the two different cultures (man and ape) gradually clash...how a series of small acts of violence, betrayal of trust or personal acts of aggression can incite a catastrophic war in which neither side truly "wins". Rather than spoonfeeding the audience with heavy expositions, the film lets the characters draw you into the story, slowly in each moment until you begin to see the real world parallels that exist throughout the history of mankind.

The CGI with motion capture in this film is superb and top-notch. The motion capture actors (Andy Serkis as Caesar, Toby Kebbell as Koba, Karin Konoval as Maurice, Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes, Doc Shaw as Ash, Terry Notary as Rocket) provide fantastic performances and managed to imbue the apes with various emotions: anger, fear, happiness, regret, heartbreak, sadness, frustration, hatred, love, compassion, sorrow, etc. All of the apes look real and lifelike to the point that you think of them as characters with distinctive personalities. These apes live, breathe, think and feel, just like us.

Each main character in the film has strong, understandable reasoning for what they're doing. They all try to protect their own people, in their own way. Caesar, the wise ape leader who desires peace for his people, constantly tries to show strength in his leadership in order to achieve it. On the other hand, Malcolm, the human lead, tries to understand the apes, work out their differences without discrimination, in hopes that peace can be maintained. However, Koba, the film's antagonist, is different compared with the rest of the apes...he has seen the worst side of humanity (unlike Caesar, who has seen the good side of humanity). We can also see that Dreyfus, the human leader/antagonist (his shout "They're animals!") and many of his peers show their discrimination and contempt for the apes due to their own personal reasons.

The film tries to show different character perspectives from both sides...their own fears. The truth is no matter how hard both sides try to justify it, they are both wrong. They believe what they're doing is ultimately right...for the safety of their own people. The film shows how fear and hatred can lead anyone do the wrong things. Despite their best intentions and reasoning, these people and apes are easily corrupted when they have a gun placed in their hands (the power to control and take lives)...that is how dictatorships are born, which strongly echoes our actual history. It's a cynical depiction of human nature through apes. It eerily shows the horrors of our society that exist even today.

Throughout the film, Caesar constantly shows the best of humanity, but sadly his family of apes end up with the worst parts of human nature. By the end of the film, you can feel Caesar's regret, sadness and heartbreak...which is both moving and thought-provoking at the same time. In short, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is truly a cinematic masterpiece. It's a sequel that comes with a strong socio-political message. This film truly reminds us why we go to the movies. It's certainly one of the best films of the year! Two thumbs-up! Very highly recommended.

Rating: 9.5/10

Next Review: The Fault in Our Stars