Monday, May 30, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Movie Name: Kung Fu Panda 2
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber
Genre: Action, Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Following the huge success of "Kung Fu Panda", Dreamworks animation returns with the inevitable sequel. The sequel continues to follow the story of Po and the fantastic five, as their battle a new enemy, this time a peacock by the name of Shen. Shen wants to dominate China using canons that he developed. It's up to Po, to find his inner truth and peace, in order to battle his opponents and return peace to his country and small town.
Jennifer Yuh, has a career developed in the art direction department as a storyboard artist, and that comes across loudly in this film. As the previous film, this one is luscious in terms of the visuals and transitions - the film is incredibly dynamic, with bold colors and perfectly designed. It's a pure visual pleasure to see a film as rich as this one. The story, though nothing new, is also a perfect metaphor for the target crowds: growth comes with inner peace and knowing who you are. A good film worth checking out.

The Hangover Part II

Year of Release: 2011
Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung, Mason Lee, Sasha Barrese
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

After the disappointing "Due Date", director Todd Phillips returns, and like that effort, this is another film that delivers a lot less laughs than the original. The film follows the same group of friends from the original "The Hangover": Phil, the schoolteacher wanting to lead a wilder life, Stu, the dentist who is getting married after the crazy times in Las Vegas and Alan, the odd and socially awkward one who lives with his parents. Stu is getting married in Thailand, and they all decide to have a night of relaxation before the wedding - the following morning all of them wake up in Bangkok, with no recollection of what occurred the night before and missing Teddy, the younger brother of the future wife of Stu. They all panic and decide to trace what happened the night before.
"The Hangover Part II" is basically a remake of the first film, with a different location. The action has been transferred to Thailand, and there are some inserts of crude humor that are unexpected, but sadly, the humor is largely missing. What the original film had going for it, were the unexpected situations and the premise of this group of people tracking their own steps: these ordinary men turned out to be complete fish out of water in Las Vegas, and from that came the comedy. The sequel tries to capture that sense in Thailand, but it never feels original or in the case of a comedy, funny. All the actors try their best to bring some life to the film, particularly the always funny Ed Helms, but that's not enough. The film needed some originality and some bite, which simply isn't there. Avoidable.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Year of Release: 2011
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astride Berges-Frisbey, Richard Griffiths, Stephen Graham, Damian O'Hare, Keith Richards
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

The new "Pirates of the Caribbean" marks a depart in the hugely successful franchise: for the first time there's a plot that actually makes sense as opposed to gratuitous special effects that serve absolutely no purpose. The film introduces Captain Jack Sparrow in a situation where he has to save a friend from being hanged - Jack flees a possible capture, but ends up having to go with the malefic Blackbeard in pursuit of the famed Fountain of Youth. There are of course adversaries on his track, namely his old enemy Captain Barbossa and the Spanish Armada. It's up to Jack, this time with the help of an old love interest, Angelica, to outcome his enemies and get back to his old ship, the Black Pearl.
Rob Marshall, a director mostly known for his musicals (he has directed both the academy award winning "Chicago" and more recently "Nine"), has wisely chosen, to let the characters be the main driving point for the film. Whereas both "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" from Gore Verbinski, were hugely successful, the films were in itself mediocre, with plots that went nowhere, where the special effects overly compensated for an absolute lack of direction. Marshall creates an adventure film that owes and breathes from Michael Curtiz's  "Captain Blood": a film that is an action-adventure with humor and over the top characters. Johnny Depp continues to reign as Jack Sparrow. The character has become like a second skin for him, and he has plenty of fun with it. Penelope Cruz is as usual beautiful and intense, and Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush are fantastic. This is a good entertaining film worth checking out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Movie Name: Bridesmaids
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, Melissa McCarthy, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Lucas, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O'Dowd, Rebel Wilson, Ben Falcone
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

The new comedy produced by Judd Apatow, comes courtesy of the screenplay written by the wonderful Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, with Wiig also playing the lead role. The film follows the story of Annie and Lilian, best friends since both were children. Lilian gets engaged and asks Annie to be her bridesmaid, which Annie accepts, though her life is unraveling, with a bad job, bad housing situation and bad relationship. When Annie meets the remaining bridesmaids, she sparks immediately with Helen, the super competitive and super superficial new friend of Lilian. Through the arrangements for the wedding, from the choice of the bridesmaids gowns, to the bachelorette party, things always take a twist for the wrong turn, till Annie finally snaps, with unknown consequences for her relationship with Lilian.
The raunchy comedy from Paul Feig, who is also known for his acting work and directing episodes for TV Shows such as "The Office" and "Weeds", follows the path of a group of women trying to celebrate a marriage/wedding, but also tries to probe a bit deeper into to the bonds of friendship between such a disparate group. Kristen Wiig wrote a story that is filled with hilarious situations, mostly coming from the awkward times her character, Annie, just seem to find herself in. Annie tries to be so happy for everyone, though her life is a complete mess. There's a sadness at times in Annie, that really gives insight to the character and that makes her not just a uni-dimensional joke, but a person going through some hardship and real fears. The film does fall prey to some inevitable cliches, but the acting from Wiig and Melissa McCarthy make this a film definitely worth checking out.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Movie Name: Thor
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars:Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Kenneth Branagh has made a career of making interesting choices, both as an actor and as a director. His directorial debut, "Henry V", garnered fantastic reviews and award nominations, but since then, his output has been irregular: he has directed both the really good "Hamlet" and the really bad "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein", to name but a few. "Thor" adapts the Marvel Comics character, introducing the multiple dimensions/parallel universes that exist, namely Asgard and Earth. Thor and Loki are both sons of Odin, the ruler of Asgard - Thor the oldest is the one, chosen to rule after his father steps down, but he is a young man ruled by arrogance, impetuous and with a lack of consideration for others. One of his outbursts threats the peace of Asgard, upon which Odin sends him to Earth in order for him to learn the value of courage, humbleness and kindness. On Earth, Thor meets Jane Foster, an astrophysicist who teaches him the meaning of humanity, while Loki in Asgard prepares a macabre plan.
Kenneth Branagh had with Thor a lot of material to work with. The character has existed for years and the plethora of stories is immense. However, the screenplay opts to introduce the character on Earth and in Asgard, and how both realities exist simultaneously. The main problem with the direction of Branagh, is how he populates the story with cliches that are predictable and add nothing new to the storyline. And of course, as usual in all his films, he overdoes everything, from the soundtrack to the production design - the film almost crosses the line between an interesting aesthetic and kitsch. The actors try their best to do what they can with the meager material. Chris Hemsworth personifies the strong and muscular hero with a great energy, but his transition from arrogant to humble never really makes much sense. Natalie Portman has nothing much to do, the same can be said for Stellan Skarsgard and most of the supporting actors in the film. Tom Hidleston as the villainous Loki, tries to give the film some gravitas, but he's never really menacing, nor convincing. The film ends up living from the fantastic special effects, sadly that is not enough to recommend it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Win Win

Movie Name: Win Win
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Schaffer, Margo Martindale, David W. Thompson
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Thomas McCarthy is one of those rare actor/director cases, where his directorial efforts have all produced very interesting and accomplished films. McCarthy usually plays supporting roles in big budget films, such as Roland Emmerich's "2012", but in his directorial career, from his debut with "The Station Agent", through "The Visitor" and now "Win Win", he has always showed a rare insight and deft perception to showcase the life and interactions of people, not cardboard characters.
Win Win follows the life of Mike Flaherty, a small town lawyer who is struggling to make ends meet since he has very few clients. Mike also has a side activity as a wrestling coach, but much to his dismay, his team isn't doing so well. When one of his clients has to be placed in the care of the state, Mike sees that as an opportunity to make some extra money for himself. When his client's grandson shows up at his doorstep, a series of events starts to unravel, which will change Mike's and his small circle of friends and family lives forever.
Thomas McCarthy knows how to examine and probe the microcosms of life and of the relationships of everyday people. Mike Flaherty is simply trying to stay afloat and maintain the happiness and stability of his family. The film smartly interplays the humor and drama of every day life, something that adds an extra layer to the film, and makes all the characters the more engaging. Paul Giamatti is fantastic as always, creating a man who is struggling and almost overwhelmed by the difficulties of life, but who tries to do the right thing for the people he loves. The supporting actors are equally great, from Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey and the young Alex Schaffer. A very good film worth seeing.