Archives for July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America PosterRating: ★★★½☆

The early 1940’s represents tough times. A horrible war is being fought, and Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) strongly believes that sweet victory will be embraced by the side that places more confidence in men than in weapons.

The United States of America needs the best soldiers they can find, and in comes a young man with an unparalleled desire to serve his country. His name is Steve Rogers. He is an asthmatic and weighs less than a hundred pounds. If he’s also missing half a toenail, then he’d remind me of myself five years ago. At home, he is constantly bullied, bad-mouthed, and beaten up.

Steve may not have the muscles that are required for the ideal soldier, but he has the heart. Thankfully, Doctor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees the goodwill in Steve and offers him an opportunity no 90-pound asthmatic could resist. You see, the military has developed a special technology that, once inserted in the body, could permanently alter human cells and make you much meatier without having to go to the gym. Sounds like super steroids to me, but what the heck. Let’s continue.

Steve is buckled inside this chamber where the transformation is to take place. Teams of scientists operate it while military officers observe from a safe distance. One of them is the pretty Peggy Carter, someone who may have romantic feelings for Steve, and vice versa. Buttons are pushed, levers are pulled, and knobs are turned. The chamber is opened and out comes the new Steve Rogers. Why, he now looks exactly like Chris Evans! All of Steve has gotten bigger. This includes his pants because this movie is rated PG-13.

Steve Rogers

While Steve adjusts to his changes, Johann Schmidt, a Nazi officer, works on his evil schemes. We know he’s badass because he’s trying to outdo Hitler. His success is dependent upon a puzzling cube that possesses unlimited energy. Because of its immense powers, my guess is that it isn’t man-made, which is supported when Schmidt says that the item is “the prize of Odin’s treasure room”. And though that line of dialogue actually complicates the item’s identity even more, there’s a later sign that it will further be explained in connected films.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is one of many comic book movies in 2011 that tells the origin of its heroes. This is the one that got it right the most. It is highly disciplined in how Director Joe Johnston was not distracted by the movie’s potential for action sequences. He shows great interest in the story. All of the characters are necessary for the plot’s advancement, unlike most of the young mutants in “X-Men: First Class”. The hero, Steve Rogers, has moments of sincere emotions, unlike Thor, who will be remembered more as an action figure. “Captain America: The First Avenger” strongly believes that sweet victory will be embraced by movies that place more confidence in story than in special effects.

 

Note: It’s rather frustrating how I missed around three minutes of the movie’s dialogue because the theater I was in had a defective sound system. I write this so you don’t have to experience such an unnecessary nuisance. The bad theater can be found in one of the SM Supermalls. The SM Supermalls can be found in the Philippines. (U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!)

Teeth (Quick Review)

Teeth PosterRating: ★★★☆☆

“Teeth” is a movie about a set of teeth that is not located inside a mouth. It is also a movie where an exploitive gynecologist finds four of his severed fingers on the floor after they are brutally bitten off of his hand. And if you know what a gynecologist does, then you may have already discovered that the preceding occurrence is the work of a vagina with teeth.  This will be identified as shocking for most of its viewers, but even more so for the stubborn men who try to take advantage of a pretty, slightly-mutated girl named Dawn.

Multiple castrations are performed to strip men of their masculinity, but we must understand that this particular crime is passive in context. Do we ever see Dawn’s genitals creep through the night and mutilate men while they’re alone in peace? No. We realize that Dawn’s “additional teeth” only attacks when it is first attacked, that it only causes violence when it is first violated.

“Teeth” is a movie that’s bloody from the waist down. It targets men with impure and selfish motives against women. Those with methods more vicious than others are suggested to abstain not in respect, but in fear. In a scene where a man cries in pain in exchange for his perversity, the least he could hope for, with thoughts of reconstructive surgery in the future, is that Dawn’s additional teeth is only there to bite, and not swallow.

17 Again (Quick Review)

17 Again PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

The first minutes of “17 Again” are proud to present a shirtless and sweaty Zac Efron. Now observe yourself. Observe yourself, real hard. How did that first sentence made you feel? Did it excite you? Discouraged you? Made you laugh? Anything? I ask you this because that feeling will most likely stay with you for the rest of the film.

Now girls, calm down. I can explain the negative rating. You see, I’m one of the guys. How would you feel if you watched a movie about Vanessa Hudgens with nothing to be about except to remind you that it’s starring Vanessa Hudgens?

Priest

Priest PosterRating: ½☆☆☆☆

Bear with me. This shouldn’t take long.

A long, long time ago, there was a war between the humans and vampires. Those fanged bloodsuckers happen to be very strong, and mankind was forced to retreat within the protected city of the Church. In come the Priests, a group of specialized warriors who can slay the vampires so fast and easily, they could have arrived before mankind was threatened to extinction.

Before I continue, I feel that I must inform the younger generation that these vampires neither sparkle nor lust after a woman who can be described by rearranging the word “lust.”

Anyway, the Priests don’t kill all the vampires. For some reason, they think it would be wise to keep them inside prisons they call “reservations.” Reserved for what? These security centers are complete with underground cells so the vampires could plot their comeback without having to worry about the scorching and fatal sunlight. The engineer who designed the reservations may have a hard time getting hired for future projects.

Priestess

Flash forward. We continue the story in a futuristic time where motorcycles are now fast enough to outrun speeding trains. (Either that or trains must be really slow this time of year.) So our hero is one of the Priests. His name is, uhm, Priest. Later, we meet a female Priest named, uhm, Priestess. Curious about the names of the other Priests, I checked out IMDb. There’s Brave Priest, Strong Priest, Bold Priest, and my favorite, Flashback Priest. Hey, either that or IMDb is lying to me.

Priest, who is portrayed by Paul Bettany, is a hero so typical these days I’m surprised Jason Statham didn’t play him. And oh, the villain is Black Hat. We call him that because he wears a.

And oh, there’s this one scene where Priest and another character too boring to mention passes through a few deserted buildings in the middle of nowhere. Not the best choice for business, I know. Must be the work of the same engineer responsible for the reservations.

Snatch

Snatch PosterRating: ★★★★½

So there’s this stolen 86-carat diamond stone that has recently gone missing. And you can bet that there are quite a number of people who will risk their life and threaten lives in order to acquire this precious stone once news gets out. Except perhaps for one weird gypsy who just wants a brand new caravan for his mama, but that’s a whole other story.

In fact, there are a lot of whole other stories in Snatch. They may not be clear to you at first, and they may not still be clear to you by the end, but who cares? This is a film that is very fun. It is without a boring minute, and it contains dialogue that gives a worthy salute to, dare I say it, “Pulp Fiction”.

Okay, now the stone’s on the loose and people are wearing their ski masks, loading their guns, and hiring their bounty hunters to get it.  Complications arise, adjustments required, deals are made, deals are broken, pigs are starved, pigs are fed, and Vinnie Jones delivers a hilariously unsettling scene where he compares a trio of amateur criminals to male genitalia.

Like I’ve said, this is very fun, and its director, Guy Ritchie, knows how to maximize it. In a span of about a minute, we are introduced to the main characters to this film. I lost count at eleven. After that, things get going, and they get going really fast. These characters are divided by different points of views, and every issue, stake, solution, and their inevitable clash are all squeezed in a running time of just over 100 minutes.

People who didn’t like “Snatch” seem to have a mutual agreement that GuyBrad Pitt as Mickey Ritchie might have overdone his swift style of movie-making. They make a valid point. The fast pacing of the plot makes the movie hard to follow and the great amount of characters just makes things even harder. Plus, a lot of logic was sacrificed in order to arrive at certain situations. I am not a fan of these errors, but today they are tolerated.

For all I care, one can sacrifice all the logic they want as long as they come up with some mighty entertainment. And in Snatch, you won’t just get entertainment; you’ll get to hear Brad Pitt vocalize an accent I won’t even attempt to describe. I’m just gonna say that it’s an accent where one wishes for them subtitles.

Black Swan

Rating: ★★★★½ Black Swan Poster

Nina Sayers wakes up in the morning and shares the marvelous dream she had with her single mother, Erica. She was on stage, performing the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s ballet masterpiece, “Swan Lake.” Other hard-working female ballet dancers also dream of this role, and with great reason. To star in an event of this magnitude is not only to share your love for this art. It also provides an opportunity on the grandest scale to finally show the world the passion that you, for so long, spent years to perfect.

The ballet company that Nina occupies is starting a new season, and its director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), is looking for a new star. Nina is eventually chosen, but the preparations will not be easy. She is required to play two characters of opposite nature, the White Swan and the Black Swan. Disciplined, controlled, and performing according to technique, Nina is a candidate who is more than ideal for the White Swan. But she lacks the qualities that are essential to embody the Black Swan, which demands her to follow feelings, and not methods.

Nina’s responsibility indeed asks much of her, but ballet in itself is a grueling practice. It’s ironic how the graceful gestures and elegant movements that ballet creates are achieved through continuous punishment of the body. Those who master this craft withstand tremendous pain until they adapt to actions the human body was never designed to do. Such training could damage the mind as much as it could hurt the limbs, and we slowly and fearfully learn how badly this has affected Nina herself. Things are only about to get worse.

“Black Swan” evolves to a horrifying account of a woman’s obsessive quest for perfection that is punctuated with a psychological thrust. One could be perfect from his or her own eyes but cannot feel absolute satisfaction until recognized by the perception of others. And the few people that surround Nina are ones of high standards. Her mother, Erica, was a ballerina herself, and did not make it far when she became pregnant with Nina. Erica’s career was ended, and now she sees Nina’s life as a continuation of it. The tension that Nina encounters at home erupts with a sexual connotation stimulated by Thomas. The Black Swan needs to be seductive, which is a characteristic that was never called for in Nina’s ballet-centered life.

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers

Earlier, we meet a newcomer on the company named Lily (Mila Kunis). Lily, at first, wanders in the background. When she approaches the center of the story, we discover that Lily has everything Tomas is missing in Nina: a natural gift of reflecting her sexual persona into her dancing. Already suffering from the pain and pressure, Nina is faced with a threat. Her health and sanity starts to tremble, and ignores it.

Surely, we arrive at the premier of the “Swan Lake”, which is a climax that is all at the same time harrowing, twisted, wonderful, unforgettable. Audiences are treated with a final act of resounding beauty and hidden insanity. This is where Natalie Portman, as Nina, establishes herself as an actress with capabilities far above the reach of others. When she sets foot on that stage, just like the one in her dream, we remember where her character started, and what it had become, and what caused it to be that way. What happens in this event is not my job to tell, but for yours to experience.

Director Darren Aronofsky took us to a disturbed mind, and for a significant, unsettling amount of time, he left us there. He trapped us inside of Nina’s collapsing psyche.  He used elements of horror and combined it with great artistry. He succeeded.

We begin to confuse reality with insanity when Nina begins to confuse reality with insanity. It’s a frightful and invigorating test. We sit and we wait in the midst of this nightmare, hoping that Nina takes us with her when she wakes up in the morning.

The Mechanic (2011)

The Mechanic PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

“The Mechanic” is an entirely enjoyable action flick if you’ve only seen three or four other action movies, which is about equivalent to half a Michael Bay film. It considers the expectations of its audience. Guns are shot, stunts are pulled off, and cars are thrashed all over. But the real joy in movie-watching usually comes from the unexpected, which is a fact that this movie is either too lazy or too ignorant to recognize.

The film stars Jason Statham as Arthur Bishop. The more movies he makes, the more I question his versatility as an actor. Like many of his past roles, Statham plays a character who is a “professional” at his field. His line of work must be illegal, because it’s more fun that way. Would The Transporter’s story be as exciting as it is if Statham delivered pizzas instead of… “packages”?

However, Arthur Bishop doesn’t deliver any illegal packages. No. He is employed by a secret company that pays him to kill people who are frowned upon by society. Hm. Is this company actually doing the country a favor? During the start, the movie showed signs of a slightly interesting story. It was ready to ask: “Is it, ‘less wrong’, to commit murder if you do it to the bad guys?” But as it drew longer, it strayed far from that question and closer to the guns, stunts, and cars.

I’ve been dismissed by friends as a person who can’t appreciate action sequences. This can’t be true, for I’ve really liked both “Shoot ‘em Up” and last year’s “The A-Team.” I am grateful of long and loud action sequences that involve craftsmanship, context, and humor, which are things that none of “The Mechanic” possess. The choice of having Jason Statham as the star makes things worse. Not much is required of his roles in most of his films, yet he insists of repeadetdy portraying them.

Jason Statham

Most Statham characters must wear expensive clothes, have superhuman abilities, and speak in a guarded, monotone voice. When he does not speak, he simply must strike a pose and appear cool, which shouldn’t take much effort if you have the looks of Jason Statham. I’ve grown rather tired of seeing him in roles that only reminds us of his past ones.

What’s holding Statham back from leaving his comfort zone? Maybe it’s a fear of self-embarrassment? Yeah. That makes perfect sense. I mean, take a look at Dwayne Johnson. Unlike Mr. Statham, he tried out something totally different, and ended up playing The Tooth Fairy.

The Ward (Quick Review)

The Ward PosterRating: ★☆☆☆☆

Kristen is an attractive young woman, and if this damn ghost would stop bothering her, she could pretty much land a career in modeling. But no, she also has to be confined in a ward for the mentally unstable. This is very unfortunate. Things are already going bad for poor Kirsten, but the worst part is that she has to share the movie with supporting characters suffering from “No Personality Disorder”.

Poor Kristen meets some of the other patients. Employees in the ward disappear for no reason so the group could run around and investigate. The ghost makes an appearance every now and then. Sometimes, it kidnaps one of the patients and murders them. Other times, it literally does nothing except to show us its ugly face. Do you really want to know what happens next?

“The Ward” is the first film for John Carpenter in ten years. His choice to direct this bad film may be an indication that his standards have lowered. How disappointing. His lead actress isn’t helping his reputation either. The 25-year-old Amber Heard has a filmography that has established herself as an actress who looks pretty in a bikini. Did she agree to star in this film to broaden her scope? If yes, then she has succeeded. Now we know that she also looks pretty in a straight jacket.

Megamind

Megamind PosterRating: ★★★½☆

A city without a hero is indeed a bummer, but for the villain, it could be a catastrophe. Why formulate a nifty plot that will overtake the world if no one out there is good enough to challenge it? Where’s the fun in building an enormous, vicious, dancing machine if no man of equal awesomeness will stand up to it? Megamind (Will Ferrell) knows this feeling all too well.

When he was just a little infant, with skin as blue as an Avatar’s and with a head as large as a papaya, Megamind (Brad Pitt) was sent to earth by his parents right before their planet was obliterated by a natural calamity. Just as we humans are about to complain again about the typhoons and global warming in our planet, we see theirs get sucked into a black hole.

A neighboring planet had the same idea, and a second infant, soon to be famous as Metro Man, travels with small baby Megamind. The two aliens grow up to be rivals in Metro City, and battling each other has become an almost outlined routine. Villain kidnaps the girl. Hero shows up. Beats up villain. Sends him to jail. When villain inevitably escapes, the cycle is repeated. Each citizen seems to enjoy this, except for TV reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey), who is reasonably tired of the clichés.

Roxanne’s response to all this reflects the tone of the makers themselves. “Megamind” both spoofs and salutes the superhero genre with an endless supply of joy and jokes. Superhero and Supervillain politics are executed with self-awareness and innocuous mockery, but things quickly change when the movie allows the villain to taste victory when Megamind was able to make Metro Man disappear.

Superhero Politics

With only one side left standing, a portion of the film shows Megamind in a humorous and oddly thoughtful existential dilemma with himself. “The Incredibles” has already done many great things for this genre, but “Megamind” also delivers some useful insights expertly wrapped in slapstick. The people at Dreamworks specializes in silly humor, which we can find here, but it’s funny how their most acclaimed project, “How to Train Your Dragon”, is the one with the least jokes.

Another signature move from Dreamworks Animation is the hiring of high profile actors. And, as far as opinions go, the cast in “Megamind” is my current favorite. Tina Fey makes more of her Roxanne, which is a role usually used only as an accessory. Besides being pretty, Roxanne is smart and funny, and has a notable influence on our beloved aliens.

Will Ferrell doing the voice of Megamind should surprise no one, who is, as always, over-the-top. When Ferrell finds the right roles, he could be priceless. What does surprise me though, is the man in charge of Metro Man, who is Brad Pitt. We appreciate that Pitt lets out his goofy side that we all loved in “Snatch” and “Inglorious Basterds.” To have seen this as live-action would be interesting. To have seen Ferrell and Pitt as mortal enemies would definitely be interesting.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers 3 PosterRating: Zero Stars

I spent almost two hours of my life waiting in line to buy a ticket for this darn movie. That was a much better experience than watching this darn movie. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the worst American movie I have ever seen since I saw “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Like murder and adultery, both movies have no right to exist.

For the third straight film, the Autobots and Decepticons are once again on a race for the possession of… something. The Autobots must find it before the Decepticons… or else. Let me ask you something. Does it really matter what they’re after? Would it make much of a difference if I told you they were fighting for a washing machine? Not really, because its only purpose is to provoke these robots to pound each other relentlessly until one of them lose their head. That last sentence might sound like the entire blueprint for “Dark of the Moon”, but I assure you that there’s actually a plot this time. *wink*

Before we get to that, I must first state the obvious fact that Megan Fox’s Mikaela has been replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly. Different characters, but both are just about as irrelevant. Now how can I describe Carly’s role in one sentence? We get a long and carefully planned shot at her panty-covered butt before we get to see her face.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

Anyway, the year is 1961, and a space ship has crash landed on the moon. The U.S. military has kept this information as a secret from all mankind. But when Optimus Prime learns about it, he rushes to the moon and finds the unconscious Sentinel Prime.

Meanwhile, Megatron has been hiding somewhere in Africa since the last movie ended. His head is missing a massive chunk, which might explain why he’s so grumpy all the time. I know what you’re thinking: “Why in the hell is Megatron hiding somewhere in Africa?” Maybe Michael Bay thinks that no one could ever possibly see him there? After all, he’s only a giant alien robot. Also, he’s wearing some sort of cape. We can’t really judge him for this fashion statement. Have you ever spent years under the hot sun preparing your next evil plan to conquer the universe while managing a splitting headache?

Anyway, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is trying to find a job. For about half an hour, we watch him reach for employment while his Mom releases a second joke in this franchise that involves Sam’s… penis. None of these feel important, you would think, if the universe is once again in danger, but Michael Bay disagrees. If this is his response to “too many explosions”, then all is lost.

Guns and Explosions

Soon, but not soon enough, Sam re-teams with the Autobots. In this reunion, he learns about Sentinel Prime, who is revived by Optimus. Thankfully, Sentinel speaks fluent English like all the other giant alien robots, and he explains to us that they must race for the possession of… pillars… which are eventually used by the Decepticons to summon lots of fellow Decepticons from the moon.

The final act of the movie features a climax so unendurably long, so unbearably agonizing, and so undeniably stupid, only a man of Michael Bay’s legacy would dare film it.

Hundreds of Decepticons have overtaken Chicago, and the central pillar that controls all the other pillars must be…? It is publicly displayed on top of a Chicago building, just waiting to be shot at. The ones assigned to take it down are a group of soldiers with a bazooka. Yes, a transformer could have easily destroyed it, but no worries. Our soldiers leap from helicopters and soar down the city through wingsuits. They use those wingsuits so well we wonder why they didn’t land close to the target. Oh well. They walk the rest of the way.

Yeah, the previous paragraph is a little unproductive, but at least we finally discover the weakness of almighty Optimus Prime: Steel Cables. Yes. Prime, who was so badass in the climax of the last movie, seems a little rusty here. He flies directly to a set of steel cables that were just, oh you know, hanging around. While Optimus literally rests in the clutches of those darn cables, a bombardment of inconceivable action sequences plague the screen.

It’s rather difficult to distinguish the bad robots from the good robots, especially during scenes when Carly’s cleavage dominates most of the framework. So, Michael Bay has invented an ingenious way for us to tell those robots apart. The Autobots are color-coded, while the Decepticons are always either grunting, salivating, or shooting at innocent civilians.

Shockwave and Pet

Am I forgetting something here? Oh yeah. One last thing: There’s also this Decepticon called Shockwave. What Shockwave does is that he commands an enormous, worm-like, drill-happy transformer while he stands still and tries to look threatening. We see him in an earlier scene before the hundreds of Decepticons arrive from the moon. The logical thing to assume here is that he was hiding, or resting, during the two movies that came before “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” So where was he hiding? Not in Africa for sure. Megatron was there first.

I enjoyed the original “Transformers” for what it had to show. What I don’t understand is how we are asked to find enjoyment in a louder, longer, and dumber version of the same mechanical carnage. An auteur like Christopher Nolan and a newcomer like Duncan Jones show great trust in their audience by making movies that are both tremendously entertaining and intellectually challenging. Michael Bay forcefully and sloppily combines frames, scenes, and sometimes entire stories of incomprehensive randomness and just hopes that we’re stupid enough to miss his strokes of unforgettable idiocy. Michael Bay isn’t simply just a bad director. He’s quite an asshole, too.