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Saturday, 15 June 2013

"Man of Steel"

"Man of Steel" poster
What I liked:
  • The many flashback scenes – classic Americana with a touch of humanity.
  • God-like depictions of Clark Kent / Superman.
  • Personal moments between Superman and Lois Lane.
  • Fight scenes – really showed off Superman's strength and invulnerability.
  • Soundtrack.
What I disliked:
  • Dark colour tone of suit – Superman should be bright and cheery.
  • Too much property damage – Superman would know better to bring the fight to a less densely populated place.
  • Too easy for Clark to believe Jor-El after a lifetime of doubt.
  • Jor-El died before the destruction of Krypton – WWWWRRROOOONNNNGGGG!!!!
  • The rebooted militaristic / sci-fi origin – I personally detest the new Mark Waid / Geoff Johns version, in favour of the more classic John Byrne one.
  • Weak supporting characters – more focus on unknown military characters than classic Superman family (Perry White, "Jenny" Olsen).
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Monday, 21 May 2012

"The Avengers": How I would improve it

The Avengers
I finally got around to watching "The Avengers" last weekend, two weeks after it opened here in Singapore. It was mainly to avoid the crowds that would be expected for this blockbuster, and also to let the hype die down.

Before watching it, I had overheard from many people that it was a great movie. And the box office takings seemed to prove it. But for every 10 people who talked about the movie, there was always that one person who didn't rave about it.

After watching the movie, I think I'm one of that 10%. Yes, the movie was a visual feast and the characters were fun to watch on screen. But there were moments where I either felt that the movie didn't gel well, or huge plot holes that the Hulk could run through.

So here are three things that I would've done to make the movie feel better.

1. A more consistently heroic Hulk
The Hulk was truly well conceived here, much better than his last two solo movie outings. It was in part because Mark Ruffalo played him so easily. But it was also because the Hulk was depicted as a real hero instead of a Mr Hyde personality.

Well, he was a hero half of the time. The first time we saw the Hulk in "Avengers", he reverted to the role of villain. He smashed through the SHIELD helicarrier, chasing after Avengers ally, Black Widow. His main motivation was that someone had attacked him and he lashed out at the person closest to him, i.e. the Widow. This was in spite of her attempting to calm Bruce Banner down before he hulked out.

My improvement:
Bruce Banner still hulks out while Black Widow is trying to soothe him. But instead of fixating on her, the Hulk realizes that they are being attacked by Loki's forces. So he charges after them. Except that because he's a big ol' brute, he inadvertently destroys half of the SHIELD helicarrier in his rampage.

That still allows Loki to achieve his nefarious end of using the Hulk to cripple SHIELD. But it also depicts him as a hero. It also allows for Thor to go after him. Thor could be played as not knowing that it's Loki who's playing the Hulk. That would make Thor's distrust of Loki even stronger later in the film. Unfortunately, Thor attacks Hulk, and Hulk strikes back at Thor, and chaos ensues as shown in the movie.

But the Hulk still comes out as the mistaken hero. And it gives a chance for the two strongest Avengers, Thor and the Hulk, to reconcile later before the big battle against Loki and his Chitauri warriors.

2. SHIELD helicarrier swoops in to save the day
For a comic fanboy, it extremely exhilarating to see the SHIELD helicarrier rise up from the ocean. The helicarrier itself defies conventional logic. How can an aircraft carrier be airborne, carried aloft by giant propellers? And yet, there we see it on the big-screen. It is the moment when you believe that man can really achieve the remarkable.

And then the the greatest invention ever gets damaged by the Hulk. From then on, it just limps aimlessly, never seen again in its full glory. That was a huge letdown. The setup was there to show off man's greatest weapon… and it was left to lie idle.

My improvement:
To understand my improvement, you need to watch "Star Trek" by J.J. Abrams. During the climax, Spock is fleeing in his little ship with enemy missiles hot on his trail. It seems like all hope is lost and the hero is going to die.

Then out of nowhere, the Enterprise appears, guns blazing, destroying every single missile, allowing Spock to fight on. It is that moment -- when the Enterprise saves the day -- that brings the crowd to its feet, cheering loudly for the grand ship.

That's what should have happened with the helicarrier. During the battle in Manhattan, flying sea monster-like things flew in, smashing every building in their paths. They were immense monstrosities and the heroes looked outgunned.

It was at that moment that the SHIELD helicarrier should have made its grand entrance, guns a-blazing, missiles flying everywhere, and destroying these enemy flying machines. Nick Fury, at his console, would tell the Avengers that SHIELD has got the flying machines covered allowing them to focus on the real enemy, Loki.

I know that Joss Whedon needed to show the Avengers kicking alien ass. But he didn't need to make it a half hour super-hero slugfest. Especially when he had the ace in his sleeve, the SHIELD helicarrier. That was truly a wasted moment of human triumph.

3. Captain America's shield used to destroy the tessaract machine
There is one moment when Captain America is fighting the Chitauri warriors. One of them fires its gun at him. Cap instinctively raises his shield to protect himself. The weapon discharge ricochets off the shield harmlessly. Cap then has this look on his face that seems to say, "Holy shit, my shield can disrupt the enemy's weapon energies!"

And then he goes back to punching enemies and swinging his shield everywhere.

So either Chris Evans was a really bad actor or Joss Whedon didn't play through as expected. Captain America's shield is supposedly made of some kind of metal that can deflect almost anything. And he uses it simply either as a protective shield or a boomerang.

My improvement:
When Captain America realized what his shield could do, and when Black Widow needed to disrupt the energy shield surrounding Loki's tessaract machine, then that should have been the prime opening needed for American ingenuity -- as defined by Captain America's shield -- to win the day. After all, what is a more American weapon than the one used by the symbol of America itself?

But I guess Captain America needed to be shown as a warrior fighting with his fists, then as a brilliant field leader who knows when to employ the right tools for the task. And so the opportunity was wasted. Instead, the audience had to make do with believing that you need to fight fire with fire, i.e. use Loki's staff to penetrate the energy shield and destroy his own tessaract machine.

So those are the three things I would have done to improve "The Avengers". And if those three aren't enough, then here are two more that would have fleshed out the characters more:
  • Captain America and Iron Man could have bonded over Howard Stark. Tony "Iron Man" Stark had father issues with Howard, while Steve "Captain America" Rogers had Howard as his father figure. I think it would have been quite neat to see how the two heroes related over the same man. And I think that would be better than for them to bond over fixing a helicarrier propeller.
  • Maria Hill, Nick Fury's second-in-command, should've been shown as more of a leader than a soldier. A good second-in-command makes the decisions and gives the orders that the leader doesn't need to give. For example, when the helicarrier was failing from its damage, Maria Hill should've taken charge to direct the repairs, leaving Nick Fury free to concentrate on turning the situation to their advantage. Unfortunately, she was seen as simply taking orders from Fury all of the time. That was really wasted of her character.

Having said all that, "The Avengers" is still an enjoyable popcorn movie. And if nothing else, it is immensely satisfying to see the Hulk… smash.

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Review: "Immortals"

Immortals
Thanks to omy.sg, I had the opportunity to watch a preview of "Immortals" on Tuesday (it opened in cinemas everywhere on Thursday). We were treated to the 3D version of the movie at Lido.

Right after the movie, my first thought was "ugh". This show was truly a letdown in all of the important aspects - story, characters, acting, ending. Even Henry Cavill, in what was probably his first demonstration of what he will look like in the upcoming "Man of Steel", could not save the picture.

I didn't know anything about this movie before watching it. But I'm a fan of Greek mythology and thought it would be a good change from the usual modern fare. On the other hand, I was wary from "Clash of the Titans", which not only failed as a retelling of Greek mythology, but as a remake of the original classic.

And so I was disappointed by "Immortals" as well. It tells the story of legendary hero, Theseus, who rose from a lowly peasant (with great muscles and abs) to a warrior leader against the mad warrior king, Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke. Along the way, he gets to bed a virgin oracle, acted by Frieda Pinto, and becomes a spectator to a fight between the Greek gods and their opponents, the Titans.

All of which never really happened in the Greek mythology. Theseus didn't die in the battle, he went on to become king of Greece. There was no such character of Hyperion. The Titans weren't a bunch of nameless grey-skinned jungle warriors. And the Greek gods weren't killed in action.

Putting all of that aside, there was little else to like about the movie too. Henry Cavill showed us what we can expect Superman to look like next year, with his well-defined muscles and clean fighting style. But the character of Theseus was written in a shallow manner, where events seemed to fall neatly into place for him. Mickey Rourke, a fine actor in his own right, was as wasted here as he was in "Iron Man 2". The filmmakers could have replaced him with an animatron that spoke in guttural voices and still achieved the same result. And all that Frieda Pinto had to do was to look innocent with her big round eyes.

And the Greek gods... oh geez! When you have an entire pantheon of gods to use in battle, why settle for just five?? And they were so mild and nonchalant about events that it was difficult to like them. In truth, they and the Titans were merely sideshows to Theseus and Hyperion's conflict. These were not the gods that I grew up reading about.

If there was one thing that saved the movie, it was the special effects. The 3D effect wasn't the in-your-face type, with spears and stones thrown at the audience. Instead, it was used subtly to make foreground characters appear more clearly and life-like. It kind of reminds me of how Walt Disney achieved a similar effect with his cartoons. The other CGI effects were quite good too, including the fight scenes between the Greek gods and the Titans, which reminded me of Zack Snyder's films, "300" and "Watchmen".

But really, you don't pay good money to watch special effects. And that's why I wouldn't advise anyone to watch this movie. If you must watch Henry Cavill, wait for "Man of Steel" or catch him in the Showtime TV series, "The Tudors". If you must watch Frieda Pinto, watch "Slumdog Millionaire". And for Mickey Rourke, stick with "The Wrestler" and "Sin City".

Just forget about this show. "Immortals" is a film that will not be remembered forever.

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Friday, 18 February 2011

Invitation to launch of Shaw Premiere at Nex

Here's a short review of Shaw Premiere at Nex, the local cinema chain's entrance into the "luxurious movie-going experience" segment. (Disclaimer: I had been invited to this pre-launch event by Omy.)

Firstly, the tickets are already unique. Instead of the regular card stock, Shaw Premiere tickets are printed on silver-foil card stock. Unfortunately, the contrast of the black ink may not be clear enough if you've poor eyesight, but otherwise, it's a very noticeable indication that this is a different experience.

Dining area
At the second floor, there's a large dining area for Shaw Premiere customers. Here, you can have a casual meal before the movie. Ushers are at your beck and call.

Meal prices are about $10 or more. Snacks, like popcorn, are $5 or more. Drinks are about $4-5. (Prices are based on what I can remember.)

Cinema hall
An usher will also lead you to the cinema hall at the rear. I counted about 70 seats in neat pairs. The soft, comfortable, cushiony seats feature leather upholstery and reclining ability. Note: if you're 1.7m or taller, you should curl your legs up before reclining, otherwise your feet could get trapped!

There are also individual woolen blankets, like the type used in airplanes. These turned out to be really useful because the hall is quite cold. I felt very comfortable all bundled up.

Couples might be disappointed by the seats though -- there's a sturdy, non-removable arm rest between the seats. No hanky-panky allowed when under covers!

Cinema seats and table
You can also order food and drinks while watching your movie. Pressing a little button on the table will summon an usher/waiter.

The movie viewing experience itself was quite good. The movie we watched, "Rabbit Hole", wasn't in digital format, so I can't really tell if Shaw Premiere boasts a better film projector and screen. The sound quality was similar to that at regular cinema halls, though then again, "Rabbit Hole" didn't have a lot of explosive sounds, so the sound system wasn't put to the test.

After the movie, instead of being led to some non-descript staircase, you exit back through the dining area. Which is a good way to end a luxurious movie experience at Shaw Cinema at Nex.

(All pictures are from Shaw Cinema, because (1) we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the cinema hall and (2) I don't have a good camera myself.)

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Sunday, 26 December 2010

Review: "TRON: Legacy"

TRON: Legacy
I had the chance to watch "TRON: Legacy" on its opening day here in Singapore. Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch it, because all I knew about the show was about a guy who gets sucked into a video game (or so I thought).

Thank goodness I did watch it.

Firstly, yes, there's no video game involved. "TRON: Legacy" tells the story of a rebellious young man, Sam Flynn, who is pulled into the digitized world of The Grid and has to fight his way out without giving his enemy, CLU, the chance to break out as well. Along the way, he also has to rescue his father, Kevin Flynn, who has been trapped in The Grid for more than 20 years.

Not having watched the original "TRON", I had no idea of what happened before. Fortunately, the story in "TRON: Legacy" stands on its own. What happened before is filled in ably through flashbacks. Anyway, there's very little connection between this sequel and the original story, aside from the name.

(Incidentally, I watched "TRON" after this and thus have a better understanding of the relationship between the humans (or "user") and their programmatic creations, which appear as avatars in the digitized world. Oh, and I couldn't help laughing at the silliness of the original film.)

Naturally, computer graphics were used extensively in depicting The Grid, including the various action sequences. The Grid came across as a very dark, dystopian world, much darker than what The Matrix movies had. I thought that this went against the nature of Disney movies, which being family-friendly are usually very bright and cheery movies. But the darkness helped to accentuate the nifty lighting effects, whether in the characters' suits or in their lightcycles or even during the fight sequences. Also, the gloomy environment also served to illustrate the corruption of The Grid by CLU.

It was eerie to see Jeff Bridges look so young in the character of CLU. Thanks to the wonders of digital graphics, Bridges' youth was immortalized in CLU. Though CLU did seem plasticky at times, you could still tell that it was Bridges doing all of the acting and not some computer animation. Considering how much screen time CLU had, I really have to hand it to the computer whizzes for a job well done in this area.

The biggest disappointment had nothing to do with the computer graphics or other digital wizardry. Rather, it was in the ending. Tron, the title character, had a chance to redeem himself in the climactic fight. Instead, we had a deux ex machina in Jeff Bridges' Kevin Flynn, who channeled his godly powers to deliver the final crushing blow. In spite of the movie's title, the character of Tron never appeared aside from brief flashbacks. This was even though Tron was described as the ultimate good guy and "uber" digital fighter at the start of the movie. I think I wasn't the only one left the cinema hall scratching my head over Tron's absence.

But that about sums up this movie. It is filled with a lot of glitzy graphics and impressive action scenes, but the story was very flimsy, as if written by an amateur. I'd watch this again just to marvel at the advanced graphics and animation and see just how far the technology has come.

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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Review: "하녀 (The Housemaid)"

하녀 (The Housemaid)
Thanks to omy.sg, I had the opportunity to catch a preview of "하녀" (or, in English, "The Housemaid"). This was the first Korean drama movie that I was going to watch, so given what I knew about Korean shows, I expected something that was dragged out and emotional.

I was not let down. The pace was glacial compared to what I'm used to with mainstream Hollwood fare. There was also much less dialogue, though fortunately no intercut scenes of people staring at one another. However, the easy-to-understand plot and moments of humour helped to make the film very watchable, even for one who doesn't normally watch Korean shows. (The last Korean movie I watched is "Sex is Zero", if that means anything about what I know about Korean film.)

The film tells the story of a young and attractive housemaid who sleeps with the man of the house, resulting in dark consequences for her and the family. Apparently, this is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. Not having seen the original, I can only judge this modern interpretation of "The Housemaid" on its own.

As the sweet but naive housemaid, Jeon Do-yeon was believable in everything she did, from the way she fawned over the young daughter to her performing of the household chores. I could really feel pity for her when she succumbed to temptation. It's too bad then that the ending was both sudden and a headscratcher. After two hours of playing a traumatized young woman, we were left without seeing her really descend into her madness and subsequent tragic end, and instead "treated" to a 10-minute wrap-up.

On the other hand, I thought that almost all of the characters were plastic. Especially the wife of the family. She was written as very black-and-white. Her mother was supposed to be like an evil witch, but she came across as whiny. And the husband was, I guess, like any Korean man -- manly and detached. The use of money was also too convenient, which resulted in the lack of emotional depth in the story.

The only stand-out actress was Yun Yeo-Jong, who played the senior housemaid. We could see her journey from haughty "elder stateswoman" to a somewhat grandmotherly figure. She was also the one who was responsible for injecting most of the humour into this dark film. Her one nude scene had the amusing effect of making the audience cringe.

One thing that I was confused about had nothing to do with the film itself, but with its rating. For some reason, the Singapore Board of Censorship had slapped it with a R21 rating. However, there was only about five minutes' worth of nudity. The one sex scene was filmed in such close-up that you could only see the waist/butt area of both characters. There was no homosexuality, which in Singapore means an automatic R21 rating. Unless the censors count the scene where two women share a bed as homosexuality, which I regard as two people who have no choice but to share a bed because of their cramped one-room apartment. So I'm curious to know what warranted the R21 rating.

The rating aside, I'd say that this is an enjoyable movie if you're new to Korean films. The plot isn't too convincing, the actors are easy on the eyes, and the cinematography is gorgeous. But be prepared to squirm in your seat as you wonder when the pace will pick up (hint: it doesn't).

Friday, 17 September 2010

Review: "Hush"

Hush
As the credits rolled in the darkened hall after the end of this 22-minute short film, I had only one thought running through my mind:

"This was the worst $7 I had ever spent on a film!"

Though I'm a supporter of made-in-Singapore movies, there are some films that are as bad as any B-grade flick from Hollywood or Europe. And "Hush" is one of them (next to almost every Jack Neo movie ever made).

"Hush" is a locally made short film by Jeremiah R. Oh. It starts off with a family sitting down for dinner, but in the short span of time, you gradually realize that each member is keeping his or her own deep, dark secret. Well, all except the middle daughter.

What makes this film so bad is its failure to live up to its promise. It is definitely raunchy. But there's sex that helps to move a film forward, and there's sex that's there to tease the audience. "Hush" fell into the latter.

I walked away thinking that "Hush" was simply an excuse for Mr. Oh to indulge in watching naked Singaporean women perform for him. There was ample nudity to arouse the common man, but I felt that the short film could have done without it and still tell its so-called story.

The plot itself left me -- and the majority of the audience, judging by the talk that I heard around me -- thinking "What the f--k" in a disappointed way. There was, actually, no story. Instead, there were just bits and pieces of ideas flung onto film and hoping that they all stuck and came together to tell... something.

Also, the long silent panning scenes, which for some irritating reason seem to be a hallmark of Singapore movies, meant that precious film time -- and all the more precious for a short film -- was used up for no good reason, thus leaving the audience with a sense of loss and uncertainty.

I would recommend that you save your $7 for some other entertainment. "Hush" is simply not worth a single cent.