Tuesday, 27 December 2016

What I Like/Dislike about Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed is the best video game film adaptation ever made, which isn't saying anything. Video game adaptations has been going through a very bad streak of mediocre productions throughout the years. (No, Resident Evil is absolute shit! It has nothing to do with the games except the names.) With Assassin's Creed, everyone was riding on hope that it would break the curse of bad film adaptations down the years, the casting was some of the best of the year (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons lead the star-studded film), but despite the actors' best efforts, the movie still suffered.

However, even the worst of the worst films have its moments. There are always some positives here and there in Assassin's Creed, but it never came into full package. As a big fan of the video games, I would like to offer what went wrong with the film, and what went right.

What I Like

Assassin's Creed Lore
With the movie came from inputs of the developers themselves, the thing that got it right is the universe itself. The feel of the secret war of the Templars and Assassins, the leap of faith, hidden blade, Abstergo, costumes and many more are on point in this film. The period of 1400s during the Spanish Inquisition was probably the best part of the film, the colour palette was right, the setting was immersive. It makes me want to experience the Spanish Inquisition.

Stunt Works
The stunt works in the film is great, you can see obviously the choreographers put up great effort to make sure the parkour, leap of faith and the fight scenes are very well planned. It feels like the video games where the player is doing all the actions of the main character, but at a much frantic pace than the game, which is a good thing.

What I Didn't Like

Too Much Modern Day Jargon
Ask any Assassin's Creed fan on what's their favourite aspects of the game series, 90% of them would say visiting the history with unique characters interacting with key historical figures. Producers of this film must be thinking, let's go learn about the present day story more. That's the part of the game where players are itching to go back to the past! Yes, the modern day sci-fi setting is worth exploring, but not 70% of the whole damn movie! The audiences don't need to be constantly reminded by Dr. Sofia Rikkin about finding the Apple of Eden and Modern Templar Order wanting to find it.

Underdeveloped, or Never-Developed Characters
The game universe has featured some great characters, Ezio Auditore, Desmond Miles, Lucy Stillman, Altair, Edward Kenway, Leonardo Da Vinci. However, the film has no good characters, almost all of the characters are basically single-layered, which is kinda sad really when you have talents of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cottilard, Jeremy Irons leading the faces of the movie. They are some of the great actors of modern cinema, but somehow their talents are underused in this movie. Not to mention the ancient Assassin Maria, barely spoke and the audience hardly knew her, kinda amazed that Ubisoft actually bothers to give her a name even though she hardly featured.

Supplement to the Games Formula
As this movie is set in the Assassin's Creed games universe, so this obviously meant that the audiences need to understand the whole Assassins vs Templars war. However, it is poorly executed, some of the details left some audiences in my theatre gasping "Why the hell did they do this or that?!" the whole freaking time, even though me and my friends, who played the games, have no problems with the understanding of the movie. Then, there are moments where some of the characters giving pointless full exposition of their motivations and characters regarding some of the film plot. This makes the movie unsurprising and lack of any good mysteries to explore.

I am a huge fan of Assassin's Creed, I have played almost every single Assassin's Creed games released on consoles thus far. I enjoyed moments from the movie, but as the whole package it falls apart. I was hoping Assassin's Creed would give video game franchises a proper respect. I mean, Assassin's Creed has such a big potential for film adaptation, good premise, interesting characters and good twist to human history for the audience, yet it still doesn't hold up. The film itself certainly has the recipe right, but it did not mix them well. I'm pretty sure there are some ways video game adaptation could work. I guess The Last of Us and Uncharted are the next beacon of hope.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

Then, the sudden appearance of a random planet without a traditional opening crawl signalled a different Star Wars from the traditional Skywalker saga. For the traditional Star Wars film, they are about heroes' journey, Anakin's fall to the dark side, Luke's path to a Jedi Knight and Rey looking for her own identity. In Rogue One, it's a war film where a criminal is entangled in a war between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, marking the Galactic Civil War.

For the premise, this movie is based of the original opening crawl, where Rebel spies going to a mission to steal the Death Star. Criminal Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is tasked to work with Captain Cassian Andor to retrieve the Death Star plans from Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker) and her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Joining along the ragtag team of Rebels are reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), defecting Imperial pilot (Bodhi Rook), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

Rogue One is a war film, but it is still Star Wars in its core. Director Gareth Edwards has injected a different feel to it. It's bleaker, dirtier and grittier than other Star Wars before it. In terms of execution, Rogue One is great. The film is able to explain its existence by showing the beginning of A New Hope is because of a big war that occurred before the film started. Before that, we only understand from the opening crawl, now we've seen how the Rebellion goes to war. It is also able to address some of the plot holes from the original trilogy, such as the exhaust port, the lack of Rebel Alliances, and etc. What is so well done about the movie is that, it is able to tell its story so well without breaking any continuity, some things the prequel not managed to do so.

Like Godzilla, Gareth Edwards excels at bringing in scale into his movies. Looking at AT-ACT from Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus ground perspectives felt huge and the odds are against them at every turn. And Death Star looming over Jedha before the weapon test is a beautiful sequence to show the menace of the Imperials. In terms of effects, the film will bring out the 70s sci-fi look of A New Hope, matching the aesthetics in the timeline. Rogue One is also able to inject the 'war' into Star Wars, with a killer final act showing the Rebels going toe to toe with the Empire in an big scale skirmish.

Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, is a nostalgia piece to Star Wars fans, but in a different way. There are so many fan service and easter eggs throughout the film, fans will be pleased to see the references towards the other characters and films. Darth Vader is the most prominent fan service in this film. His time in this film is incredibly short, but when he appears, his presence was an effective reminder of why he is one of the greatest villain in film industry.

However, Godzilla's weaknesses is also Rogue One's weaknesses. The film felt sluggish in the second act where at certain times it felt like a drag. The film also suffers from the usual movie tropes whereby the first act felt rush to introduce multiple characters at once to a point you can't relate to them. While all the characters is great, especially K-2SO, Chirrut Imwe, Cassian and Jyn are great new characters, but they are not really good while they're in a team. They don't feel like a team in this, but individually they are great.

Soundtrack is another weakness of Rogue One. Michael Giacchino's music is a test whether we can live without John Williams in Star Wars. Despite Michael Giacchino's efforts, the soundtrack of Rogue One felt underwhelming. There are still piece that reminds us that Rogue One is a Star Wars film, but the others are forgettable. The Force Awakens, was John Williams' weakest Star Wars soundtrack, but it is still better than Rogue One.

Rogue One is a solid entry of the Star Wars saga, it proves that there are good stories outside the Skywalker family and it can be interpreted into different genres. A prequel is effective when it is able to explain the original story with care and be able to cover up the original's flaws, Rogue One did just that.  For fans, it's a great way to re-explore the old stories. For non-fans, it can be treated as a standalone just fine. And as for newcomers, you can watch Rogue One as the first film, then treat A New Hope as the sequel. The Force Awakens reawakened my love for Star Wars, Rogue One made me trust the future of Star Wars.

Score: 4.25/5

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Grand Tour Premiere

The time with Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear abruptly ended a few years ago, with the host punching one of the producers during a break, audiences around the world were shocked to see their favourite trio getting off the show. Due to the incident, Jeremy Clarkson was fired from BBC, while James May and Richard Hammond left the show soon after, followed by some of the staff (including executive producer Andy Wilman). While I think Jeremy Clarkson should get some sort of punishment following the incident, but the whole situation was poorly handled by the BBC.

Following the fracas, the trio struck a deal to bring their show to Amazon Prime Video, an online streaming platform rivalling Netflix. It has become one of the most anticipated shows in 2016, despite the limited availability of Amazon Prime Video. Amazon was hoping shows like The Grand Tour would bring their brand & services to the limelight. For me, the premiere didn't disappoint, not a bit. It's everything I hope the show would be.

The Grand Tour started off directly off the abrupt ending of Top Gear, with Jeremy Clarkson seemingly left an office building, suggesting the BBC office, then took a flight to California for the new show. Driving to the location with Richard Hammond & James May in modified Ford Mustangs, followed by a horde of modified vehicles driving through the desert, a la Mad Max Fury Road style. That 10 minutes is a showcase of how big the show is going to be and showing that is "Top Gear Unchained". It's really grand.

Episode 1 basically covers what are they going to do in the show, a new track, new car review segment and leaderboard. All of which are pretty much the same from the old Top Gear, just that the format is twisted so they are able to avoid any legal troubles from the BBC. This episode also settled one of their previous argument about which car is better, LaFerrari (Ferrari The Ferrari), McLaren P1 and Porsche 918, "The Holy Trinity". The quality of the cinematography for "The Holy Trinity", BMW M2 review and the intros are all astounding.

However, the key to all of the awesomeness of the show, is all down to the hosts themselves. Did the Top Gear legal issues and past controversies changed them at all. Not at all. What can we learn from all these is that, the hosts make up a lot of the points on whether a show would be good or not. You can put as many expensive cars as possible on the show, but one thing that makes Jeremy, Richard and James good bunch of mates on a TV show is themselves. The show might be scripted, but it's the banters between them that makes the old Top Gear great, and it can't be solved by just putting on several funny and car people on a show.

The Grand Tour premiere is very much a preview of the future of the show, while settling on some of the old gripes. I am pretty sure the show will still undergo some changes throughout the season. However, the first episodes is a very positive start with Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond being themselves again is a joy to watch. The first episodes started off with a big band, with even bigger show still to come. It might be under a different name, but The Grand Tour is basically Top Gear on steroids, and I love it!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

REVIEW: Doctor Strange

We've reached a point where the film market is full of comic book/superhero movie adaptations. With DC Comics joining the fray this year full on with Batman v. Superman & Suicide Squad to compete with 20th Century Fox & Marvel franchises, not to mention Sony is planning to branch out after the collaboration with Marvel with its Spider-Man franchise, we're definitely will be bombarded by the endless amount of similar movies for the meantime.

There are discussions this year, whether audiences have starting to feel weary with the increasing frequency of comic book adaptations hitting the screen. In some ways, the audiences do feel tired with the comic book adaptations as they have been dominating cinema for a few years now. So, the next few releases has to be really, really good. Enters Doctor Strange, Marvel's latest entry to the MCU.

Before the actual review, let me state something, I am not a super comic book fan, I do read one or two comics but not at the scale of knowing all the characters. Hence, sometimes I don't mind the adaptation stray from the source material as long as the film itself is good.

Doctor Strange is a film that feels very different from other MCU movies before it, yet it feels very similar in terms of executions. The premise of the Doctor Strange is strikingly familiar with the original Iron Man, a cocky genius who is good at his work, ends up in a life threatening situation. The said genius has to learn to be humble and respect his powers. Yet, the setting is vastly different from Marvel's other entries. Heck, the journey of Strange travelling to Kamar-Taj to learn his powers feels like Batman Begins.

In its core, Doctor Strange is a superhero origin story. With Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learns to be a sorcerer and master the power of mystic arts, under a guidance of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and faces a villain who is a mirror image of him, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). Doctor Strange also features a strong female lead who is also his lover (usual Marvel trope), fellow doctor, Dr. Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

What's so well executed about Doctor Strange is that Marvel did not stray much from other existing Marvel's films, yet it feels so different when viewing it in person. The subtle tweaks in terms of setting, theme and message ensures the movie feels different in its own way. If you watch Iron Man and Doctor Strange side by side. The storyline progression is almost identical.

The casts' performances are stellar, with Benedict Cumberbatch excels in his role as the Sorcerer's Supreme, I also like the performances of Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton in this movie. However, I am disappointed with Rachel McAdams portrayal of Doctor Palmer, not because she is bad, she just there for the sake of being there. Then, there's the Achilles Heel of Marvel films, the villain.  Kaecilius is just forgettable, just like many Marvel movie villain. With the casting of Mads Mikkelsen, who is so good as a Bond villain and Hannibal Lecter, you'd expect the villain in this film will be so much better, you're wrong.

In all, Doctor Strange is a solid entry to the Marvel's franchise. Although it is basically the same premise, the subtle tweaks and Benedict Cumberbatch's excellent performance have ensured it feels slightly different than the others. However, the visual effects might not hold up years later and the villain is just another forgettable villain in the franchise's stable. Doctor Strange is, surprisingly, my favourite comic book movie adaptation this year.

Score: 4/5

Monday, 11 July 2016

REVIEW: Independence Day - Resurgence

I actually can't believe the original Independence Day is already 20 years, and it actually took Roland Emmerich 20 years to make a sequel to a beloved sci-fi alien invasion movie. However, is it any good? Not really.

Basically, Independence Day: Resurgence take place after the event of the original, where humanity is at peace globally and alien technology influenced human innovation. However, the aliens are lurking in the dark prepare to strike back and take revenge for the second time. This is pretty much the repeat of the first Independence Day plot in premise, only bigger in scale (literally) and more technological advanced, but the execution of the sequel pales in comparison in almost every single way.

First thing, the good of the movie, Jeff Goldblum. He's an incredible actor, and well-established in the acting arena as one of the good actors in the past and he still got it in Resurgence. He is the only actor in the movie that actually showed enthusiasm and fun to be a part of the movie. His comedic timing is perfect and most of the time him being the classic Goldblum is just fantastic.

Now, the bad ones. The movie is never fun, it was complete dull throughout. The sequel tried to grittier approach compared to the original, yet tried to keep the wittiness ended up being flat and incredibly boring through the entire run time. I had some laugh with some jokes and that's it! I never feel like cheering for humanity and the characters when they are taking on the alien invasion.

It seems like the charisma of Will Smith is really lacking here, as his character is replaced by his character's forgettable and sleep-inducing son (I don't even remember his name!). Besides him, even the former president is never engaging enough. Basically, almost every damn character besides Jeff Goldblum ones felt extremely flat.

The plot, what do I say about this? As the plot of the first movie was extremely dumb, I can't really criticise Resurgence being dumb, that would counter my own argument. However, the addition of [SPOILER ALERT, highlight the words to see it] another alien race to aid the Earth is incredibly dumb. Independence Day is about the celebration of humanity's strength against foreign foes, that's the lesson, adding another alien race just dampens the mood. Not to mention the ending, of wanting to setup another sequel really makes me groan. Hollywood, please, focus one movie at a time!!!

In conclusion, the original Independence Day was dumb but it was exciting and fun to watch. The sequel, however, is just as dumb but it lacks the charm and fun, it was an incredibly boring and joyless. It was not really terrible, but not really decent either. Look at the clip below of the originals to show you what's missing.

Score: 2/5

Saturday, 26 March 2016

REVIEW: Batman v. Superman

The long awaited on-screen clash of The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel is already here! This film is directed by Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel & 300, and it stars Henry Cavill as Superman, Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. It takes place 18 months after the event of Man of Steel, the world is both cheering and questioning the existence of Superman on Earth, whether he should be a hero or be restrained.

To me, the movie was okay. I was definitely excited about seeing Batman and Superman on screen together for the first time, duking it out, sounds so excited. After the movie, my feelings are mixed. Part of me love this, part of me dislike this film. This definitely feels like a Zack Snyder's films, but it is not hard to think that it is time for someone else to sit on the director's chair to take this franchise into new direction.

Let's talk about what I like about Batman v. Superman.

First of all, the castings. I think Batman v. Superman has one of the best casting lineups in recent summer blockbusters. Henry Cavill is solid as Superman, Ben Affleck proved his doubters wrong and Gal Gadot got her Wonder Woman right. Plus, there are Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne & Amy Adams are great actors too.

Ben Affleck is a really great Batman, not the best, but a really great one. I was on the fence about his casting when the news was announced, but after the movie, I am impressed by his performance. Gal Gadot, despite her lack of screen time did convince me that she can be a great Wonder Woman in the future. Alfred, played by Jeremy Irons, is a different interpretation, but a amazing performance nonetheless. Jeremy Irons' Alfred is smart, knows his stuff around the tech around him and timing of his sarcasm is really spot on. All of them are spot on.

Similar with other Snyder's films, action set piece takes centre stage in Batman v. Superman. The action sequences are mightily impressive and the visual effects are dazzling. Seeing all the characters going all out is a great cinematic experience and exciting to watch. Batman facing off Superman are impressive and believable, it feels immersive.

Now, move on the things I dislike.

The film lacks cohesiveness. Throughout the movie, me and friends think that the movie doesn't know where it wants to focus more on. At one moment it feels like Man of Steel, Batman origin at another, Lex Luthor the next, Justice League movie right after. There are many scenes that felt like it should be left out so that the relevant plot points have room to grow. I wish that they focus more on the continuation of Man of Steel, where the world wants Superman to face the repercussions of destroying half of Metropolis while fighting General Zod, but this story was never mentioned again in the second half of the movie.

The movie really feels like a movie made just to introduce the audience to the Justice League world. Whilst focusing aspect of Batman v. Superman, the Justice League somehow felt like an afterthought. I'm not trying to spoil anything, the way the film trying to tie in other characters from DC Comics felt so forced and shoehorn that it felt unnecessary. I would rather remove that scene and trade for more Man of Steel and Batman moral aspects of the movie. Not to mention that the movie forgets to challenge Batman's moral code with no remorse. I don't mind the killing, but there's no justifications.

Despite its stellar castings, some of them were bit off. Jesse Eisenberg was unconvincing as Lex Luthor, his performance was constant overacting on almost every aspect of the movie, very unnatural and cringe worthy. The movie also doesn't know how to balance out Amy Adams' Lois Lane. at one moment she is a strong character, and after that she's a damsel in distress. Some of the scenes don't really need her presence really.

Overall, Batman v. Superman is a mixed movie. In one hand, it is an absolute visual treat to the audience. It was dazzling seeing these heroes duking it out! On the other, the movie itself lacks cohesiveness and consistency to tell a good story, as there are too many major plot points felt forced and rushed. It's such a shame really, this material has potential. It's really a Zack Snyder's movie, a very good visual director, but he is very inconsistent in telling stories. If DC and Warner Bros. want the Justice League movie have a great layer of depth, Zack Snyder might not be the person to bring the franchise forward. However, they have another good director right in front of them that worth considering, Ben Affleck.

SCORE: 2.5/5

Sunday, 31 January 2016

10 Favourite Movies of 2015

Well, 2015 came to an end few weeks ago and it has some great films. The films shown in 2015 are generally better than 2014 as I enjoyed a lot more dramatic movies and better blockbuster offerings all round. I still couldn't be able to watch Creed, Steve Jobs, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and The Big Short as some of them are not even released in Malaysia yet, so this now I am going to rank the movies I watched as of January 2016, with a small summary on why I put it in the list. Please do take note that this is my personal Top 10 and it does not reflect anyone else's opinions.

Here we go:

1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Is this any surprise to anyone? Probably not. Ever since 2012 when the movie was announced, I was really hoping Star Wars would be exciting again, after the inconsistencies in recent years and the abomination of Attack of the Clones, The Force Awakens really met my expectations in every way imaginable.

A good cast, entertainment, humour, and basically Star Wars going back to basics to where it mattered puts Star Wars back in the map. While there are certain parts of the movie I wished it could be better, The Force Awakens is the best cinema experience I've had in years. I watched it during first screenings, I was laughing, cheering and clapping along with every other fan in the theater. When John Williams' score kicked in and the opening crawl started scrolling, it was the biggest cheer ever in cinema, and we all stayed till the credit finished.

Despite watching it three times already in cinema, I always want to go back again, and again. Episode VIII and Rogue One, bring it on!

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

In the age where action movies are over-complicating themselves, Mad Max: Fury Road is a breath of fresh air in the action genre. This post-apocalyptic pic starring the titular character is a fairly simple movie, yet the execution in terms of visual effects, cinematography, audio and picture quality are excellent.

Besides that, the core element of action movie, the action sequences, are top notch. It makes you grip on the edge of your seat as the brilliant set pieces really gets the adrenaline pumping from the start of till the end of the movie.

3. The Martian

I went into cinema expecting The Martian to be good, and I am not disappointed. It is good.

What I'm surprised about The Martian though, that it was funny. "A man stranded alone on Mars while a group of scientists figuring out ways to send out rescue team" never sounds like a funny thing to me. Well, at least Golden Globes did. The Martian features a great cast, strong direction and execution that  makes The Martian one of the strong films in recent years.

4. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise + action movies = perfect

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is another strong entry to the Mission Impossible franchise. This is probably due to Tom Cruise, who insists on doing all or almost all of the stunt works himself, which I seriously impressed and respect. It makes the film feels genuine and gets the adrenaline pumping.

5. Inside Out

Pixar in recent years have been slow, Cars 2, Brave and Monster University by Pixar's standards, have been 'meh' at best. With Inside Out, they are back!

Inside Out looks like Pixar, sounds like Pixar, felt like Pixar. Those ingredients alone made Inside Out a fantastic film.

6. Bridge of Spies

Like Pixar, Steven Spielberg have been slow too. He put more of his focus on being producers of other films lately and his recent film just not to my personal liking.

However, Bridge of Spies is my kind of Spielberg's film. The historical drama focus on a less talked about part of the Cold War, the prisoner exchange behind the scenes. While Bridge of Spies did elevated some of the elements that made the film more intense than the history depicted but Spielberg arranged it really well. It is a well-written and well thought out film.

7. Marvel's Ant-Man

At first, I prefer Age of Ultron. However, after second viewings of both films, I think Ant-Man is a better superhero film.

This is due to the charm of the film. As an unknown outside Marvel's fandom, this movie could have flopped, but people flocked into cinema nonetheless because Disney did really well with the Marvel universe. In many ways, Ant-Man played out like the original Iron Man, feeling wise and script wise, where we all never expect it to be good, yet turned out really well. Plus, the casting of Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas really helps Ant-Man to develop into one of the year's proper blockbusters.

8. Ex Machina

At first, this movie looks really, really weird. I mean, a futuristic sci-fi movie in a middle of a jungle?? The movie is, to me, pretty slow at first.

Once I get used to the pace, the movie ends up pretty great for me. The writing, pacing, acting and the theme centred around the film is top notch. The interactions between characters of Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander are top notch. This movie questions human's compassion and aggression towards artificial intelligence. After watching this, I was really looking forward to Oscar Isaac in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he was brilliant!

One of the highlights of the year.

9. Kingsman: The Secret Service

A film that knows what it is and its intended target audience, a James Bond movie for the younger demographics.

It really has the elements from the famous British spy, the cast is British, action set pieces, high tech gadgets, exotic locales. Surprisingly, the casting was on point with the characters, who would've thought actors like Colin Firth and Mark Strong could be humourous. The movie feels a lot more playful and less intense, as it never takes itself too seriously, that's why this movie is so fun to watch.

10. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Despite not being as good as the original Avengers, Age of Ultron is still an entertaining film on its own.

With all of the characters returning on saving the world from the evil AI Tony Stark created, the team's chemistry, interactions and banters with each other is getting better and much more natural than the first one, that was the reason the movie is so entertaining. The set pieces and visual effects are so well made, that it makes you rooting for your favourite hero to kick the villain's ass.

Despite all that, the movie's plot and the characters did not grow that much from the first Avengers. The superheroes are basically the same people from the last scene of Avengers, despite the fact that most of them have their individual adventures elsewhere.