Thursday, 30 January 2014

Movie Review: The Monkey King (西游记之大闹天宫)

The Monkey King (西游记之大闹天宫, literal translation: Journey to the West: Havoc in Heaven) is a disappointing and terrible fantasy action epic adaptation of the classic Chinese literature Journey to the West (西游记). This film was said to be 4 years in the making and the end result is a terrible mess.

The script is weak and severely lack of content and depth. Character development is heavily absent in this film and the film expects the audience to know most of the characters that appeared on screen immediately without brief explanation of who they are. Although the film is filled with credible actors, but they're mostly forgettable cameo roles that doesn't make much impression at all throughout the film...they just come and go for the sake of the story.
Although Donnie Yen provides a decent performance as the monkey Sun Wukong (孙悟空), but it's ultimately hampered by the overall production of the film. The romance between WuKong and the fox spirit is unconvincing and awkward, the challenge between Buddha and WuKong were absent in this adaptation, the portrayal of God Erlang (二郎神) is extremely inaccurate to the point it's insulting to the people who worship or respect him.

Worst, the story is heavily altered from the original that it makes the expected outcome by the end of the film doesn't make sense at all. The climactic battles in heaven (the so-called havoc) is not as epic as the trailer might have promised, the action fight sequences were chaotic and difficult to watch in most cases, most of the deities of heaven are not present in the climatic battle and The four heavenly kings were swiftly defeated by WuKong as if they're nothing.

While the costumes and makeup were acceptable, the CGI effects for the entire film is extremely terrible and looks incomplete, as if the entire production was heavily rushed for Chinese New Year release.
This film proves that you can't make the entire film with only green screen in the background, you have to put some effort to build miniatures or real sets, or even find real, nice location for shooting the required scenes for the film.

This film is not reinventing the classic story that's been told many times before, but destroys it. This is a bad, bad film. It's a pain to waste money and time to watch it and I will certainly not watch it again.

Rating: 3.5/10

 The Journey to the West (1996 and 1998 TV series) from TVB 
remains the best iteration of the classic novel.

Movie Review: Robocop (2014)

The new RoboCop is a surprisingly good and entertaining sci-fi action thriller that appeals to the human heart by conveying emotions and the humanity side of Murphy, the main character who eventually becomes the titled cyborg law enforcer. The film ultimately wins for not trying to be the original 1987 version. The story of Murphy is similar to its predecessor (since it's a remake) but does its own thing to provide something new instead of retelling the same thing again. The film focuses more on the development of Murphy's character, his initial response to his cyborg body and relationship with his family, making the character more emotional and relatable to the audience.

The film delves into the meaning of humanity, family themes, media influence on public opinion, corporate greed ('evils' of capitalism), authoritarianism and corrupt law enforcement authorities. It provides a brief view of the struggles we might face with machines or digital surveillance of the future as well. It also briefly raises the question whether it's ethical or legal to eliminate the human factor in law enforcement to reduce crime rates by creating merciless cyborgs or robots to replace humans.

The action sequences are updated with a higher body count, with better CGI and sound effects, making them cooler, stylish and more entertaining than the original. The new black tactical design of Robocop is found to be acceptable and nice...the updated Robocop is shown to be more agile, flexible and stronger compared to the original. However, I personally find the right human hand to be slightly distracting. (I prefer no human hand at all, entirely machine except the face)
Surprisingly, there's quite a lot of credible actors in this film: Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, James Earle Haley, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson...they all providing decent believable performances to this remake.
Although it's hardly a ground-breaking film or a masterpiece, Robocop is a decent and satisfying remake that delivers on many levels. There's no plot problems, inconsistencies or plot holes found in this film at this time of writing this review and the pacing of the film is fine as well. So, it's good enough to recommend anyone to watch it.

The old 1987 Robocop design

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Movie Review: Her

Ever heard of a program speak of love? Most people would say no, arguing that it's a human emotion. All of us, regardless of our gender, age, social or marriage status...crave love, the feeling that allows us to find and connect with someone to spend our life with, to relieve us from feelings of loneliness. Her is a sci-fi romantic drama comedy film about an unconventional love story between an introverted, lonely writer named Theodore and an A.I. who calls herself Samantha.

Samantha, a self-aware digital consciousness created from an interactive operating system (OS1), has the ability to communicate in human language, able to learn new things and evolve through experience and self-reflection, is sentient and capable of loving, has a good sense of humour, attentive and responsive, has creative and artistic skills, is compassionate and able to comprehend other people's feelings. Though she only exists through an earpiece and a small, hand-sized computer, her presence is strongly felt, as if she is really side-by-side with Theodore as they go on a date or on the bed together.

As the film progresses, their relationship deepens and it raises some disturbing, thought-provoking questions: Is Samantha considered to be a conscious, living being? If she's not, could you name any single cognitive ability humans have that she doesn't? Other than that, the film also provides a thoughtful examination on human relationships in a not-too-distant future that's not that different from us. Is it true that technology can never substitute the authenticity of human interaction? How much of love is emotional and how much of it is physical?

Joaquin Phoenix provided a splendid convincing performance in conveying his character's loneliness, isolation and sadness, his new-found feelings of hope and love with a co-star who's not even there. His expression felt believable and authentic. The same could be said for Scarlett Johansson's performance as well. Although it's only a voice only role, she needs to convince the audience that her presence is felt throughout the film, to convey all her feelings, emotions and personality just by talking...which is not a simple task at all.

Overall, the film provides a deep look at what love really means and how it feels to be in love.This is a well-made great film to watch. Highly recommended.

Love is just a word. What matters is the connection the word implies..What you would give to hold on to that connection.

Rating: 9/10

"Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt." - Theodore

"you're mine or you're not mine." -Theodore 
"No – I'm yours...and I'm not yours." - Samantha

"I've never loved anyone like I love you." - Theodore 
"Me too. And now we know how." - Samantha

What was it like to be married? What does it feel like to share your life with somebody? 
While marriage was hard, there was something great about being able to share your life experiences with another person. Although relationships are about changing, improving, influencing each other, but it can be scary when you start to change and grow apart from the one you love...In the end, they changed too much...and you don't really know each other anymore.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Movie Review: As The Light Goes Out (救火英雄)

 As The Light Goes Out (救火英雄) is another HK-China fire-fighter action thriller film after last year's Out of Inferno (逃出生天).The film is mainly character-driven as it follows a team of fire-fighters being called upon to stop a small fire at a liquor warehouse. Things were fine at first, until a series of unforeseen events happen that causes the fire starts to spread again to a nearby power plant, threatens to plunge the whole of Hong Kong into darkness during Christmas Eve.
The film shows the brotherhood bond between the leads at first, provide sufficient back stories for mostly all the key characters for the audience to get to know them. It does a good job in balancing the drama and action. The lead and supporting actors provide decent performances in their respective roles as the film progresses. The action sequences in the power plant were quite intense and thrilling enough for the audience to watch. The film also does a good job in showing the real danger behind a fire - the thick smoke, not the flames, that kills. When a person is in a room filled with thick smoke, he/she will be unable to see, breathe or think clearly...constant smoke inhalation can kill a person within minutes.
However, the chaotic shaky camera style is irritating as it makes action scenes quite difficult to follow at times. The CGI smoke and fire doesn't seem to be realistic or believable enough as you continue watching the film. Furthermore, some plot events are questionable and the film suffers from a few too many convenient contrivances to convince. The eventual sacrifice of a key character at the end of the film is simply not convincing enough to be accepted (he could have just throw the cigarette and run towards the locker room). It's also quite challenging to identify who is whom when they're all suited up in their fire fighting outfits, helmets and oxygen masks.
The film is said to be dedicated to all the real-life fire-fighters out there. While it's not a perfect film, the film certainly delivers what is expected from it. Furthermore, there's another surprise cameo from another action star in the film as well.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: Delivery Man

Delivery Man is an American remake of the 2011 film Starbuck by Ken Scott, a story about a man who donated his sperms countless times in the past under the name 'Starbuck' and found out years later that his sperms fathered 533 children and 142 of them is looking for him.
Once again, Vince Vaughn is back with his likeable man-child persona again for this remake about fatherhood and family. Despite the fact that Vince's character is an irresponsible and unreliable person to be with, the film still remains entertaining due to its interesting plot concepts and the light-hearted nature of the film. Furthermore, Vince managed to provide enough charisma for the audience to accept his eventual personal growth near the end of the film.

His eventual decision to interact with some of his 142 revealed children: a troubled female teen with drug issues, a struggling street musician, a existentialism-driven geek, a swimming trainer, a disabled, wheelchair-bound son, an aspiring young actor-to-be, etc...searching some moments for random acts of kindness to help them is heartwarming, funny and entertaining at times as the story is told with good-natured sweetness in it.

Although the film offers nothing more than its premise, the film is not as bad as many would have expected it to be and has certainly delivered what it has promised.

Rating: 7/10  

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (恶战)

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (恶战) is another action-packed drama film from the legendary martial arts choreographer, Yuen Wo Ping and HK action legend, Sammo Hung. The film sets in Shanghai in the 1930s, where the city once attracted many youngsters from different provinces in China to find fortune and fame. The film has a simplistic and straightforward plot, a story about a youngster, Ma Yong Zhen, well-equipped with martial arts and possesses incredible strength on his right fist, together with an unshakable sense of morality, comes to Shanghai looking for an opportunity.
While it's nothing new here, the story is predictable as these sort of movies been done countless times before in the past, but this is a well-made stylish action film that reminds me of the HK martial arts films of the 80s and 90s with stories about the criminal underworld and Japanese infiltration in China. The film features a lot of impressive martial art fight scenes...the intensity and swiftness of the fights between the actors were just astonishing to watch. You still cheer the lead character, saying 'Serves them right!' when he puts down the bad guys in the climatic battle near the end.
Although the brotherhood and romantic love themes in the films are not properly fleshed out or developed, the plot still engaging enough to hold the action scenes together for the audience to continue watching it until the very end. It seems that Andy On and Phillip Ng are further establishing themselves as rising action stars other than the currently famous Donnie Yen. Not a bad movie by any means, this is still a decent Chinese film to watch for martial arts action junkies.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

 Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is another biopic drama film about one of the world's most revered leaders, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's remarkable life story, based on his 1994 memoir. Early in the film, we get to see his brief transition to adulthood, his job as a lawyer before joining the ANC(African National Congress) fight against South Africa's white oppressors, which leads to his imprisonment on Robben Island.
The film shows a passionate man who truly cares about equality and human rights and this dedication has taken its toll on his personal his first marriage crumbled because his wife couldn't take his long absences from her and how his second wife, Winnie ultimately suffered when she is taken and tortured by the authorities after Mandela's imprisonment. Furthermore, as a result of his arrest and conviction for those actions taken to defy the oppressive government, he spent 27 years away from his young family, unable to see his children growing up, unable to be with his wife or even attend his son's funeral. Not to mention, he received numerous abuse and unfair treatment from the prison guards when he's on Robben Island. We get to see some truly emotional heart-wrenching moments as the film progresses.
The Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960 depicted in the film is truly shocking. Without hesitation, the police force were shown to open fire on the crowd of ordinary people at that time, killing 69 innocent people. By 1948, when Apartheid has become a law in South Africa, we can clearly see that it's truly a violation of human rights when black citizens segregated from the white facilities and there's always a strong military presence around the black neighbourhoods to constantly monitoring them. This serves as a reminder for all of us about the atrocities committed by people to its own kind in the past...even now, racism is still prevalent in our world.
Throughout the film, Idris Elba managed to provide a good performance as Mandela in conveying emotions of regret in him for not being able to be with his wife and children all those years when in prison. However, his portrayal of the character is unconvincing at times due to his large, muscular body size. Another noteworthy performance in the film is Naomie Harris' portrayal of second wife Winnie, as we can see the gradual transition of her character from a gentle and loving woman to an aggressive, unforgiving, ideological opponent when he is freed from prison after 27 years.
While the film does a great job in showing Mandela's life history, the film lacks his insight, which is needed for the film to truly shine. The film doesn't provide the thought processes of Mandela in why and how he finally reach a decision to forgive the people who put him in prison for most of his life in the end. It is felt that more dialogues and further screen time between Mandela and Winnie are needed to further delve into the troubled relationship they experienced after been separated for 27 years.

While the film does have its faults, it's still a faithful appraisal of the man about his life, his failures and achievements in ensuring peace, forgiveness and reconciliation for an entire nation. It shows that one human, despite his flaws, can make a difference to the world.

Rating: 8/10

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” - Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” - Mandela

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Most highly anticipated movies of 2014

2013 has ended. 2014 has started. Now it's time to list down my most highly anticipated movies of 2014. Take note that these films are not necessary great and may end up being the worst movies of the year. There might be other silent films that proved to be better than all of the films stated here. But still, make sure you keep note of these films so you can watch them.

I choose not to put the release dates for the films because most of the films presented here don't have a fixed Malaysia release date yet.

Here you go (they're not in order):

The Wolf of Wall Street (Banned in Malaysia)
This supposed to be a 2013 film, but it's releasing in Jan 2014 for Malaysia. It is a film based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, an infamous New York stockbroker who involves in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s. Everyone knows Leonardo and Scorcese, so despite it's a 3 hrs long film, still want to watch it. Rating:8.5/10 - private viewing

Another 2013 film but releasing in Jan 2014 for Malaysia. A film about a man who develops a relationship with an AI (artificial intelligence). Interesting.  Rating: 9/10

 The Journey (一路有你)
From the success of Woohoo! 大日子 (2010) and Great Day 天天好天 (2011), this seems to be a very promising Malaysian film set for release during Chinese New Year.
"The Journey, is a heartwarming road trip movie. When an old man is set to follow the tradition of hand-delivered wedding invitations, his future Caucasian son-in-law takes him on a cross-country motorcycle trip together."
Rating: 8.5/10

All Is Lost
Another 2013 film set for release in Feb 2014 for Malaysia. This is a film about an old sailor's desperate attempt to survive in the sea after his navigation equipment and radio disabled and his yacht was damaged due to a collision with a shipping container at sea. Seems to be a promising survival film. Rating: 7/10

300: Rise of an Empire
A sequel/midquel/prequel to 2007's 300 (takes place during, before and after the film), a film about the Greek general Themistocles who battles an invading army of Persians, led by King Xerxes. 300 is a great action film, so I expect this to be good as well. Rating:7/10

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
This time around, Spidey have to struggle with his high school life, girlfriend issues and deal with 3 villains at the same time: Rhino, Green Goblin and Electro. Sounds too much and I'm not particularly happy about this sequel...From the trailers, the CGI looks dodgy and unrealistic. But nonetheless it's one of the highly anticipated films of 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Another Marvel Cinematic Universe film again, which continues the story of superheroes after Thor: The Dark World. The sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. Needless for me to say more, people will go watch it anyway.

Dawn of The Planet of the Apes
The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which continues the story of a group of genetically enhanced apes after they escaped and humanity mostly been wiped out by the deadly virus unleashed a decade earlier. The first film was great, so why not watch this one then?

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Known as one of the best comic book stories of all time, with an ensemble casts of the young and old characters and Bryan Singer is back once again as the director, I expect this to be one of the best films of 2013. Furthermore, there might be hints of a great villain of the X-Men in this film as well. Fans would know what I'm talking about.

Edge of Tomorrow
A sci-fi action thriller based on the book "All You Need is Kill", which stars Tom Cruise and Emily Brunt as Special Forces soldiers fighting a hostile alien race known as Mimics, with Tom continually returning to a fatal battle through a time loop.

The King of Monsters. The one who started the 'Kaiju genre'. The teaser trailer looks good and the film is filled with talented actors this time around. After the disastrous 1998 film with the same name, please don't screw this up. Make Godzilla great again.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Another new Marvel superhero film before 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's a film about a group of assassins/misfits team up together to save the galaxy of an impending threat. Would it be like a Star Wars type superhero film or not? We shall see.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Finally, a live-action TMNT film which stars Megan Fox as April. As of today, there have been no news about the CGI designs or rendering of the turtles appear online. So have to wait and see. Hopefully the designs are great enough for us to watch it.

Jupiter Ascending 
From the directors of 'The Matrix Trilogy' and 'Cloud Atlas', this is another sci-fi action thriller written, produced, directed by the Wachowskis.
"Jupiter Jones is an unlucky Russian immigrant who cleans toilets for a living. She encounters Caine, an interplanetary warrior whom the Queen of the Universe sent to kill Jupiter. Caine tells Jupiter that the stars were pointing to an extraordinary event on the night she was born, and that her DNA could mark her as the universe's next leader."

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Another sequel to a good animated film. I enjoyed the first one very much. It's a continuation of the story of Hiccup and Toothless on their adventures. So I expect this to be great as well.

The Wind Rises
Another 2013 film releasing in 2014 for Malaysia. It is the final film from the great Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro...), adapted from his own manga of the same name which was loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori. Will watch it.

The LEGO movie 
One of the world's well-known toy product is finally on a big screen.The film is about a LEGO minifigure named Emmet, who is mistakenly thought as the Master Builder capable of saving the LEGO universe. His quest is to stop an evil tyrant named Lord Business from gluing the LEGO universe together. Rating: 8/10

The film is a prequel and re-imagining of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, but shows it in the perspective of the villain, Maleficent instead of Princess Aurora, how she becomes who she is and her thoughts about the princess and kingdom. Could be a brilliant villain story or a biggest flop of the year.

Based on the biblical story of Noah in the Old Testament, who is given a mission from God to build an Ark to protect his family and countless lives before the Great Flood. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Russell Crowe, expect this to be an epic film to watch.

Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, American Gangster) and stars Christian Bale, the film is based on the biblical story of Moses in the Old Testament, from his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharaoh and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement. Expect this to be another religious epic film to watch.

A New York Winter's Tale
A fantasy romantic drama film based on the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, the film is about a burglar named Peter Lake who falls for a dying heiress of one of the houses he tries to break into. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her. From an ensemble cast starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe and Will Smith, this might be a great film to watch.

A reboot of the classic action film of the same name, the story is about a police officer named Alex Murphy, who is seriously wounded in the line of duty but later revived as a superhuman cyborg by the multinational empire OmniCorp. It's nice to see Robocop finally comes back to the big screen after so many years. Hopefully the film is good as well. Rating: 7.5/10

Transformers: Age of Extinction
A sequel to Dark of the Moon, the film continues the story of Autobots and Decepticons on Earth. With new sport cars, robots, and human characters, expect to see more explosive robot action in this film. It features the Dinobots as well. Not so fond of Optimus' new look, but will watch it regardless. It's the most highly anticipated action blockbuster of the year.

Directed by Wally Pfister, the cinematographer for mostly all Nolan's films (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Insomnia, The Prestige,etc), produced by Nolan himself, with Hollywood's most anticipated screenplay, which stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, this could be one of the best films of 2013.
"Dr. Will Caster is an artificial intelligence researcher who strives to create a machine that possesses sentience and collective intelligence. Extremists who oppose technological advancement target him, but their actions drive him toward his goal. Caster also wants to become part of the new technology, and his wife Evelyn and his best friend Max Waters, also researchers, question the wisdom of this drive. Caster's goal to acquire knowledge becomes one to acquire power, and he seems to be unstoppable."

Gone Girl
From the director of Fight Club, The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, based on the best selling thriller novel of the same name, the story is about a woman who mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary and his husband becomes the key suspect. This could be a great thriller to watch.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The sequel to the impressive Catching Fire, the film splits into two parts (where part 2 will be released in 2015) and continues the story of Katniss Everdeen and the rise of rebellion against the Capitol. This is a must watch for all.

This may be the most highly anticipated sci-fi action thriller, co-written, produced, directed by Christopher Nolan himself. As of today, the story is mostly shrouded with mystery and no one really knows what is it about other than it's about time travel and alternate dimensions. But, rest assured, because of Nolan, I'm confident that this will be the best film of 2014.

"When a wormhole is newly discovered, a team of explorers and scientists embark on a voyage through it to transcend previous limitations on human space travel."

The Hobbit: There and Back Again
The 3rd and final movie of The Hobbit Trilogy, a continuation of Bilbo's epic adventure before The Lord of the Rings. Expect some epic dragon fights and the great Battle of Five Armies. Any LOTR fans would love this.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Great Kyoto Fire
(るろうに剣心 京都大火編)

Rurouni Kenshin: The End of a Legend
(るろうに剣心 伝説の最期編)

One of this year's highly anticipated films, based on the famous, highly popular, best-selling Japanese manga of all time, they are two-part sequels for the first film, both were being filmed simultaneously for release in 2014.

The story takes place during the early Meiji period in Japan and follows a former assassin from the Bakumatsu, named Himura Kenshin, who becomes a wanderer. This time, he must face the greatest threat to the future of Japan and restore peace once and for all.

Watching the image of Makoto Shishio and Juppongatana just makes me giggle and excited for the sequels. Can't wait!

What's more better when Japanese mangas adapted and directed Japanese themselves? Guaranteed won't be as awful as Dragonball Evolution!

Into The Woods
Big Hero 6
As of now, there are no trailers or sufficient production photos for these two films as they're set for release in late 2014. Although these films are more likely to be pushed to 2015 for release in Malaysia, it's still worthy of mentioning as these are big budget films. Big Hero 6 is the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel superhero characters and Into the Woods is a musical fantasy film set in a world of Grimm's fables (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel,etc) about a childless couple, who set out to end a curse placed on them by a witch.

That's all folks! This is my list of the most highly anticipated movies of 2014.