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G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Simple and enjoyable popcorn movie
The first GI JOE directed by Stephen Sommers was a joke; it didn't resemble the old GI JOE cartoons or anything related to the license. The action was weak, the cast was too unwieldy, it didn't even look like GI JOE and overall, a waste of money. The sequel/ reboot, thankfully, avoids all of these faults and gives a movie worth my time and money. It's everything the first movie should've been.
The tone of the movie was great. It may take place in modern times (you got touchscreen computers all over the place) but it still lives in the GI JOE universe (Firefly's entire arsenal of creative explosives speaks for itself). The successful combination of realism and imagination bleeds throughout the whole movie and it's part of what made the movie enjoyable.
The characters are fewer but better; now that the cast list has been cut to half its size in the first installment, there's more time for the writers to add what development they could to people based on an 80's cartoon. The characterizations weren't the best but they were more than something. Each and every single character was great, all of them having their own distinct personalities instead of being cardboard copies of each other or some other character. Whether Joe or Cobra, it wasn't hard to pick a favorite from each side.
A small problem with the cast, though, was that some of the characters didn't get the amount of screen presence they deserved, such as Duke and (especially) Cobra Commander. Characters from the previous movie aren't even mentioned and in the case of a certain big named GI JOE character, left forgotten. Now it was nice to see the effort put behind the movie's attempt to leave part one in the dust by removing half of the cast but it would've been nice if some explanation as to what happened to the other JOES was given.
The action was actually enjoyable this time around, with a mix of firefights, vehicle combat and ninja duels, all of which are done with a good eye for adrenaline. The camera was thankfully held in place and it made watching the action scenes a lot easier on the eye. some of the CGI looked too fake in some parts, but thankfully the CGI was used sparingly and only when necessary.
The main problem the movie had was the weak resolution and revelation of certain key subplots. I'm not going to spoil any of them but when a major subplot was introduced, it was abruptly ended in less than a few seconds when the movie was nearing its end. Loose ends were hanging by the end but this didn't cost the movie dearly; while it did leave me wanting some closure to the given problem, it didn't hinder the fact that I had a blast watching RETALIATION.
GI JOE: RETALIATION should serve as a lesson to future movies based on some old license; it's fine to have a reboot, it's fine to change the tone into a gritty one but never forget what made those titles popular in the first place: fun. RETALIATION successfully combined the limits of reality and the inspiration of the franchise to deliver a movie that doesn't only resemble the cartoons (only grittier this time around) but a simple action movie that can entertain both JOE fans and those who are new to the franchise.
Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)
A Video Game Movie Done Right
The first SILENT HILL (2006) was an exception amongst the video-game based movies out there; it was actually a decent adaptation of a well known property and it worked as a stand alone movie. I have the movie to thank for introducing me to the video game franchise so now armed with some experience in the games and a fairly good understanding of the SILENT HILL mythos, I went to the (delayed international) release of SILENT HILL REVELATION and I was not disappointed.
The movie does a good job of picking up years after where last movie ended without making it hard for anyone new to the franchise catch up. It's a simple story though it could get a bit too clichéd at times. Every now and then, the characters say some really cheesy lines which can make pretty much anyone who's seen a lot of movies either sigh or cringe. The romantic aspect of the film isn't really handled well, which was a waste since individually, the actors of Heather and Vincent were pretty decent but when they had to act like a couple, it always fell flat.
A major problem with the movie was the overlying feeling that it was rushed. I don't know if a good number of scenes were deleted in the scripts but it seemed that way. Many of the side characters were introduced only to be forgotten or unceremoniously killed off after maybe a minute of screen time and this was a glaring flaw for me. With acting talent like Malcolm Macdowell and Carrie Anne-Moss in the movie, it was a sad waste that their characters were given less than five minutes of screen time. The emotional factor of the first film was also lost due to the brisk take on the story, which is a large loss for the sequel. The movie would've greatly benefited if its running time was almost as long as the first movie (which clocked at nearly two hours).
Beyond these, the movie manages to make up for these flaws and deliver a fun horror ride of a movie that serves as both a good adaptation of a video game and a stand alone horror. The scares are spot on with the creatures never failing to either disturb or outright creep you out (coming from SILENT HILL this is to be expected) and the sets delivering the right atmosphere of the games. It's nice to note that the movie was done with a budget of almost $20 million only and also the fact that majority of the creature effects were practical ones; the crew behind the visuals of the monstrosities and the titular town deserve praise for making a nightmare come to life with a relatively small budget.
The cast, despite a few of the aforementioned flaws, pull of their roles pretty well; definitely not Oscar level but more than decent for a video game based movie. The story from start to finish is quite thrilling, just as it should be. While it does solve too many of its conflicts in a matter of seconds, it was done in such a way that it isn't that obvious. It takes you on a linear ride that doesn't choose to segway into too many subplots and the like and this was a good choice on part of the writers (with the amount of underused people, subplots may have muddled the pacing).
Video-game based movies are almost always destined to be bad but SILENT HILL: REVELATION manages to, like it predecessor, stay above the crap. It makes itself an exception amongst the others and even works as a stand-alone. The movie could've benefited from a longer running time for character development and investment in the story but it manages to keep itself afloat with good direction and decent story-telling. Whether you're a fan of the games or just someone out for horror movies, give this movie a shot. It's not the best of the lot but it's definitely worth seeing.
Decent and brutal look at the Prohibition Era
Save for a few, there have been very few movies that take place in the great crime wave that swept the USA during the Prohibition Era released in this decade. And close to none of them didn't take place in a setting that wasn't a big city; every Prohibition movie I know by far was characterized by big cities with gangsters swarming the place and shooting people. LAWLESS is a different take on this familiar subject; not only does it take place in the Southern parts far from the cities but it also presents a dark and brutal look at one of the most romanticized bits of history on film.
That's the strongest point of LAWLESS for me aside from its stellar cast. LAWLESS provides a new and dark look at a really popular subject for period pieces. It was a refreshing take on the whole gangster mythology since I doubt that the "Robin Hood" type gangsters were so perfect in the days even if they did do some charitable stuff. Here we have 1920's bootleggers who aren't opposed to respecting family values and swearing at nearly any given opportunity while delivering brutal punishment. Take note, the movie is a violent take on a familiar topic so if you're not used to that, prepare yourself.
The cast pulls off their roles very well; you can either hate or connect with each character throughout the movie's run time and it actually makes you care for their fates in the end. Shia finally shows off what talent he's got beyond acting alongside CGI robots; while I think he could do better in the future, this isn't a bad start for the young actor. The likes of Guy Pearce could've used a lot more screen time, though.
A problem I had with LAWLESS was its pacing. For some reason, the entire first half was slow and dragging. The exposition and introduction to the story's characters was done in a manner that took its time way too much. This could possibly alienate some viewers as it nearly did to me; I was almost convinced that the movie would end flatly since I couldn't get myself into the movie at first but the movie more than makes up for it by the second half all the way to the end. Things pick up pace and the story moves faster by the halfway point and this is where things begin to get interesting. The ending could've also used some working; for a dark tale, LAWLESS ends on a very clichéd note. I don't know if this was really based on real events and if some liberties were taken while writing the script but the movie ended predictably.
Definitely not the best period piece but one of the better ones made, LAWLESS does its job of telling a brutal tale set during the infamous Prohibition era. If you're the type of person who enjoyed PUBLIC ENEMIES and is waiting in anticipation for GANGSTER SQUAD (which unfortunately is going through a lot of reshoots thanks to the tragedy in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES shooting), you should definitely check out LAWLESS.
LAWLESS won't impress everyone, though; it's not a surefire hit like how something like GODFATHER was. Some may appreciate the new take on a familiar tale while others could be turned off by it. Some would be expecting an action piece while others will be satisfied with the drama involved but in the end, LAWLESS is a film that's definitely worth checking out no matter what your final verdict on it would be.
Hell Ride (2008)
A waste of time
There are movies that aren't what they seem upon first glance; some may look like generic crap thanks to a badly made trailer when in fact it's a masterpiece waiting to be discovered while others are movies with awesome poster art advertising a piece of crap and making it look nice. HELL RIDE is the one of the latter, and only when it's too late do you find out you were fooled into wasting money and time.
I really tried to like this movie but I just couldn't find it in myself to even appreciate one bit of it. The plot sounded promising (old bikers in what should've been an action-packed grindhouse style movie) but it never made any sense. I tried to understand just what was going on from the start but I ended up failing miserably; the movie's events were messily executed even for a movie that relies on a messed up timeline (ala PULP FICTION) and most of the movie's run time was a complete bore.
Many of the plot elements (especially the drugs sequences which were useless)and characters didn't make sense as they look like they were shoe-horned into the movie just to make a piece of crap look smarter or symbolic or both. The whole movie, by the end credits, was an incomprehensible mess that had something to do with revenge and the biker life.
The cast was a waste of so much potential; here, we have the likes of Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones just to name a few and while there are a number of cool character concepts, they were all wasted. Throughout the movie we're stuck with the incomprehensible Pistolero who comes across as a middle-aged fat man who's desperately trying to look cool instead of an aging biker gang leader with a dark past. None of the motivations the characters possessed are made even a bit clear just for the sake of comprehending the plot. What we get instead of interesting badass bikers are characters that waste time by spouting random trash dialogue that barely has relevance to the plot.
HELL RIDE is an exercise in waste; not only are a cool concept and a couple of interesting character concepts wasted but so is the viewer's time and patience. I was waiting, hoping that maybe at some point the movie will pick up the pace and redeem itself but as the minutes dragged on, I slowly realized my mistake in gambling on this movie. Don't waste your time; look for something better to watch.
Finally, some real horror
With posters and trailers promoting SINISTER as a movie from the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I had a lot of doubts about it, so many in fact that I decided to skip the theatrical release and just wait for the DVD. I skipped it, expecting the movie to be a complete dud as PARANORMAL was for me (there is no way you can justify video camera footage as horror) but I was gravely mistaken. What I got instead was a horror movie that actually worked because it was done right.
The story is relatively simple; a father on his way to writing a new book finds some home movies stashed up in the attic of his family's new house and said home movies have a lot of dark secrets contained in them which unleash an indescribable horror. Minus the whole part where the evil is unleashed through some old film reels, the plot is something that's been repeated in horror movies ever since something like EVIL DEAD. Even the scares are old fashioned, relying on genre staples (creepy kids, shock value, etc.) and a couple of high pitched chords played at the right moment to deliver the impact.
But these are not flaws at all; in fact, these are what made SINISTER a good horror movie. The thing with SINISTER is that it forgoes all of the new genre tropes that pretty much murdered the genre and opts to go back to old school horror tactics to deliver one of the best horror movies I've seen in recent memory. Even if some parts were predictable, the film never let up on the tension it managed to build up right from the start guaranteeing any scare (predicted or otherwise) to be a shocker.
For anyone who wants a good scare, check out SINISTER. It's a great addition to any horror movie collection as it goes back to genre roots, picks every single good bit that made horror movies the way they were in the day and delivers a good horror movie experience reminiscent of older horror movies while keeping things fresh for the new generation. If you've grown sick of the new "horror" meant for children that's produced en masse these days, look no further and pick up SINISTER.
I don't know how and why it took this long for the horror movie genre to recover but I am grateful to the crew behind SINISTER for reminding me why I fell in love with the genre. By the looks of things, the horror movie genre is going back to what made it great with some pretty interesting entries coming out next year (the EVIL DEAD remake looks promising; watch the trailer) and I guess it's thanks to an old school movie like SINISTER doing well at the box office. I'm thankful to SINISTER for reviving my love for the horror genre just when things were getting murky. I'll definitely be waiting for what these guys will be coming out with next.
Total Recall (2012)
Mediocre at Best
Due to a busy schedule, I was only able to catch TOTAL RECALL (2012) long after its release date and I was a bit surprised that the remake to one of my favorite Schwarzenegger movies wasn't the total failure I was expecting. But just because it managed to redeem itself doesn't mean that the movie was any good; rather, TOTAL RECALL the remake is one of the most mediocre films I've seen this year.
I wasn't expecting the most original Ridley Scott level sci-fi story from the remake but to call the storyline of the new RECALL as "cliched" is an understatement. The whole movie is a cliché-ridden mess; if you've seen enough sci-fi and action movies, you'll lose track of the number of clichés and tropes you could find if you were to try listing every single one of them down. TOTAL RECALL has every cliché you could think off, from the evil inhuman corporate executive right down to the bomb with a timer. Aside from that, the remake managed to turn the original simple but very entertaining action movie into a flat, cliché-ridden piece that made the fatal mistake of taking itself too seriously (the socio-political themes didn't work out one bit in this movie for me).
The action isn't even worth the price of admission; it feels too watered down(even for a PG-13 movie)to be impressive or even thrilling at the least. Bullets and punches may have been fired and thrown all over the place and car chases are abundant in the movie but never is the adrenaline of any good action movie felt.
The acting, on the other hand, was actually good for an action movie. Colin Ferell plays a believable worker thrown into a complicated situation and for this, TOTAL RECALL gets some points from me. But even if he and the rest of the cast were fairly competent in their acting, the lines that came out of their mouths were anything but that. Good actors can only show their skills well if the script they're working with is good but in this case, good actors were given a mediocre by-the-numbers action movie script. The lines came out as cheesy and forced most of the time (especially the ones that are supposed to make you "think") and almost all of the plot is spoonfed to the audience. You could see the twists coming a mile away since the movie wasn't even intent on keeping them secret; they were just told right off the bat.
Another positive element in the movie was its visualization of the future. While not the most original since almost every future looks like a BLADE RUNNER knock-off these days, at least some of the imagery was striking enough to be remembered. Problem is, though, not all of the scenes were impressive due to the lackluster CGI used. Despite a large budget, most of the scenes looked obviously and painfully fake due to the over-reliance on green-screen effects and the like. Thanks to this, the admittedly interesting future cities aren't engaging at all.
TOTAL RECALL is far from being a total failure but it isn't anything interesting. There are plenty of good sci-fi action movies out there that engage you in their respective universes and make you think/ reflect on certain things while at the same time entertain you with impressive action scenes; this rendition of TOTAL RECALL is not one of those. Watching the new TOTAL RECALL is the equivalent of watching your friend play a video game; it's fun too look at, it looks cool but you don't really care since you're not immersed in the world anyway. It's just eye candy, and not even good or entertaining eye candy at that.
The Old Ways are Indeed the Best
After a long four year wait for the next 007 film to come out due to MGM's financial issues, SKYFALL finally hit cinemas and it was more than worth the wait. It's obvious that the crew behind the movie took a lot of time and effort perfecting what could be considered as the best Bond movie in years. What unfolded before my eyes wasn't just a movie but an experience.
What made SKYFALL great was that it took everything that makes a James Bond movie great (exotic locations, action, a threatening villain, etc.) and improves every single one of them while at the same time adding new ones. SKYFALL finally returns the franchise back to its roots so no longer do we have the boredom and excessive BOURNE influence seen in the previous two installments; this is a James Bond film just like the old days where entertainment and story are balanced. The movie also serves as a love letter to the fans with the numerous references to the old Bond movies and its old-school style; anyone who's seen Bond since the start will love SKYFALL, all the way from the nostalgic theme song opening to the climatic confrontation at the end.
The cast fit their roles perfectly and redefined established characters in the Bond mythology. I have no doubt that Daniel Craig can be a great James Bond but it was only now that he was given a good James Bond script to work with; Bond is still the playboy and efficient MI6 agent but now, he's also a human being. The same goes for the rest of the cast; one of the new things added into the film which was rarely seen in previous Bond films was the complexity of the characters. They're still the usual mainstays of a Bond film (a terrorist mastermind, M, a bureaucrat, the Bond girl, etc.) but now they're all human beings with motivations that drive their actions. They don't rely anymore on simple politics but now they rely on personal issues to drive them. This addition only made the drama of SKYFALL more engaging and believable.
Another addition that I appreciated was the overlying theme of the secret service's relevance in the changing times. Such themes were mentioned off-hand and never fully explored in the Brosnan movies (especially GOLDENEYE) so now that it gets full focus, it helps the movie become more relevant in our time period. The problem with reviving old franchises is the task of making the aged characters work in a time period different from the one they were originally envisioned in; in the case of Bond, he was born in the golden age of espionage of the Cold War but now, in an age that relies more on a computer for intelligence information, those like him have close to no purpose at all. SKYFALL successfully overcomes the problem in a masterful way with its impressive dialogue between the old guard of espionage and the modern age believers. The dialogue between the characters is powerful enough to make even a James Bond fan (like myself) question the franchise's relevance now that the Cold War and the need for spies is long over; what makes the script great is not only in how it will get you involved in the story and its characters but it will definitely make you think and reflect a lot many other things.
My only complaint with SKYFALL was the CGI. The green-screen effects of some scenes were pretty obvious and while it doesn't dent the movie at all, it was a bit distracting and annoying to look at. Hopefully, in the next bond movies, the crew ditches or at least improves the CGI to make things look more realistic. I personally hope they go back to practical effects but that may just be me.
SKYFALL is the best thing that happened to James Bond in the new millennium. By far, this is the most emotional and exciting James Bond in recent memory and none of the drama in the storyline felt forced as everything worked well in the film's context as it did in CASINO ROYALE. Those who are worried that SKYFALL is only a James Bond movie in name will have no reason to fear. SKYFALL is an old-school Bond movie with all the improvements and additions the 2000's could provide and it works well, molding SKYFALL into a masterpiece in the long history of the James Bond franchise. It just goes to show that, indeed, (quoting Kincade in the movie) "Sometimes the old ways are the best."
Close to Action Movie Perfection
I've never read any of the JUDGE DREDD comics since they're so hard to locate in the country I live in and even if I only had a vague understanding about the Dredd character, I was still able to immensely enjoy DREDD 3D.
Any worries about it being as bad as the Sylvester Stallone vehicle way back in the 90's were all shot down in the opening chase scene. The story is simple and it fulfills its purpose as being the foundation for a good action movie. At least unlike most "action" movies of this decade, the plot doesn't waste time exploring too many character threads like romance or convoluted government conspiracies that slow down the whole movie. Karl Urban nailed the badass character very well and as others have said before me, Urban is Dredd. The rest of the cast do their job well though Ma-Ma could've used some more screen time.
But the main reason why this movie was enjoyable for me was because DREDD 3D is a B-action movie with all upgrades this decade could offer. One-liners, sarcasm, non-stop action, brutality... all of the elements that made the 90's actions movies so great are present here with all of the improvements one could hope for. It's as great a refresher as EXPENDABLES 2 was in a time of PG-13 "action" garbage.
From start to finish the action is as brutal as one could hope for, though it's a bit sad that there isn't enough of this stuff going around in the movie. Instead, what we have are admittedly great visualizations of the Slo-Mo drug but some of these shots were unnecessary even if they looked cool. The 3D effects weren't utilized to their full potential which was a waste since special effects wise, DREDD 3D has some of the best low-budget effects (estimated movie budget is around $45 million only) I've seen. I just wished that the crew behind the movie decided to use more shootouts than Slo-Mo influenced sequences.
DREDD 3D is not the best action movie ever made but so far it's one of the best one one I've seen this year (that and THE RAID). This is how action movies should be and this movie is a godsend. The sad thing is I doubt a sequel will ever be greenlit since by the looks of it, DREDD 3D is going to (at worst) tank at the box office since no matter how cool the movie is, a fanbase dedicated to what some could call a "cult hero" won't be able to salvage DREDD's income. Either that or people have bad memories of the Stallone JUDGE DREDD movie.
Do yourself a favor and watch this movie.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Grand Finale
Creating a sequel to THE DARK KNIGHT is one hell of a task even for Christopher Nolan and yet the man manages to finish his version of the Batman stories in what I consider one of the best trilogy/ franchise finales I've seen on screen.
The story is a new take on the cinematic superhero because the focus isn't even on Batman alone. An interesting thing with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is that it dedicates equal amount of screen time to all the characters, whether main or supporting. This works well in introducing a bunch of new people into the story alongside seeing familiar faces.
The emotional level of the film was also shocking in a good way, which is something I honestly did not expect from a superhero based movie. For once, you do care about what happens to that guy in the background. Even if they are characters derived or based from the comic books, an emotional connection on par with a serious drama movie is made. If THE DARK KNIGHT was a bit depressing, this one amps that all the way to the extreme. Batman here isn't just some superhero out to save the world from some super villain; he's a broken man who feels more than guilty after the events of the past two films and this helps make the overall story a different and welcome take on the superhero concept. This goes for everyone involved in the events that follow 8 years after THE DARK KNIGHT.
As usual, one can rely on Christopher Nolan to deliver heavy drama alongside great action scenes as he did before. The first half of the movie was a bit slow as it focused more on the characters (that's not a bad thing) but quickly builds up from there, climaxing in one hell of a second half that has the fate of the entire city of Gotham at risk. All the way till the end, the balance of emotions and adrenaline is maintained in such a way that you wouldn't even notice the 165 minute time span of the movie.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES managed to blow THE DARK KNIGHT out of the water. I'll admit that I felt that Bane, while very effective and intimidating, wasn't able to live up to the Joker but that does nothing to change my opinion on the film (and in Tom Hardy's defense, he did say he wasn't trying to outshine Heath Ledger as he just wanted to do his own thing). It is sad that THE DARK KNIGHT SAGA has come to a close but then again, all good things have an end. Through THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Christopher Nolan delivers a deserving finale to one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.
Imitation is said to be the greatest form of flattery and it shows in LOCKOUT. While it's nice to see a modern-day homage to some old movies, LOCKOUT falls short of becoming a great action film all on its own and ends up succumbing to becoming nothing but a pale shadow of the 80's movies.
I didn't care if the story was basically ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK PLUS DIE HARD IN SPACE; I was still willing to give the movie a shot since the trailers made it look like a hardcore action movie that homages the days of the 80's. In a time of too many superheroes, seeing one man take on a prison with nothing but a gun, his wits and his sarcasm looked promising.
The first half was actually enjoyable. It starts with a well choreographed (but poorly CGI-rendered) chase scene then quickly escalates into the mass break-out of the inmates of the space-bound prison MS-1. The hero, Snow, is presented as an all around badass and he serves as a great throwback to the days of John McClane and his introduction was executed well. His enemies really looked the part as the newly liberated hardened criminals aboard MS-1.
The second half, on the other hand, was a complete waste. The action was really flat, lacking the adrenaline of the opening sequence and the sheer brutality of the films it wanted to homage. The movie also seemed unsure of what genre it should stay in; one moment it's a jailbreak action movie and all of a sudden it shifts into awkward romance territory. At the hands of a better writer this combination of genres might've worked but that's not the case for LOCKOUT. At this point, Snow's witty dialogue gets more forced as the minutes drag on. From being a sarcastic hero, Snow ends up something more like a sitcom character who can't say anything that isn't supposed to be a joke. There was also that unnecessary subplot about government conspiracies that only hindered the plot from advancing at certain points.
And this may just be me, but for a movie set in a prison, the overall feeling was kind of soft. The dialogue implied that there's around 500 or so of the worst criminals from Earth detained in MS-1 and yet the movie only bothers to give focus on a small gang of 10 or something. I was expecting a lot more brutality in the prison but I only got a gang of inmates trying to get a ransom instead of an entire prison population of psychopaths trying to kill the hero.
LOCKOUT had so much promise and potential but sadly, all of this is wasted in this so-so action movie. At most, this movie only warrants a DVD rental to kill a boring afternoon more than anything else.