Guest Review: Why Him? (2016)

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After being underwhelmed by the last holiday comedy I reviewed (Office Christmas Party), I was not particularly enthusiastic about seeing another one- especially one written by Jonah Hill and starring James Franco. Not that they aren’t both talented, but the majority of their collaborations have been stoner comedies, which have never really been my thing. However, while this movie wasn’t comedic genius, I still enjoyed it more than I expected, thanks to a strong cast of genuinely funny actors.

Why Him? follows Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), along with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and their teenaged son Scotty (Griffin Gluck), on their visit to from Michigan to California to celebrate Christmas with their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) in order for her to introduce them to her boyfriend, gaming app mogul Laird Mayhew (James Franco). To say Laird is eccentric is a major understatement, and despite his best efforts to earn Ned’s approval, the protective father can’t understand what his daughter sees in him.

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While the film won’t be a classic by any means, it did get a lot of solid laughs throughout the screening. This is mostly thanks to a performance by a strong cast. The highlight for me was Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, Laird’s personal assistant/life coach-type person, who cracked me up every time he was on screen. The rest of the actors were great as well; Megan Mullally was hilarious as ever, Bryan Cranston brought not only plenty of humor to his role but also some genuinely heartwarming moments (due to some great father/daughter chemistry between Zoey Deutch), and even James Franco as Laird was likable in his eagerness and genuine excitement to get to know his girlfriend’s family, even if the foul-mouthed, loveably clueless character wasn’t much of an acting stretch for him.

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This movie’s problem is that the plot isn’t original-the “overprotective parents meeting the significant other who’s not good enough for their child” storyline has been done multiple times- and if a film is going to have a clichéd plot, it had better have either a new take on it or exceptionally funny writing, and this had neither. The ending was predictable, and while the writing wasn’t bad, I couldn’t remember a single joke or one-liner from it. Fortunately, the actors were able to work well with what they were given, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie entirely.

If you’re a big fan of any of these actors, Why Him? might be worth checking out; otherwise, I’d wait until it’s available at Red Box or on TV/streaming.

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Have you seen ‘Why Him?’? Well, what did you think? 

Double Reviews: Trumbo (2015) & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I generally love movies about making movies. Yes it’s like Hollywood taking a giant selfie and we all know there are no shortage of narcissists in the business. Nevertheless I enjoy watching movies about the tales of how a picture got made, especially set in the Golden Age of Hollywood where the behind-the-scenes drama is likely more intriguing than what’s on screen.

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These two films take place in a similar era and boast quite an ensemble cast. One is based on a true story and the other is a work of fiction that feels true, so I thought these two would make a perfect double review.

TRUMBO

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I was familiar with Dalton Trumbo’s story for some time but I never knew the details. As a huge fan of Roman Holiday, I knew he’s a great screen writer, but it turns out he was the best in the biz. At one point he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood and well-respected by studios and peers alike. The film started out in the late 40s with Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) at the height of his career, but then his life took a downward spiral when he’s subpoenaed for being a Communist, accused of using the movies to corrupt democracy and overthrow the nation. He’s later sentenced to a year in federal prison and the scenes of him being humiliated in prison is really quite heartbreaking.

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But what’s even worse than the jail sentence is that Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 writers were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, and not only that, they were kicked out of the Screen Writers Guild as well, which they themselves helped built. Now, I don’t think the film is all that political, it’s more focused on the character of this extraordinary talented man and his journey in Hollywood. But he’s also not perfect, obviously he’s an eccentric man who spent most of his writing in the bath tub and he practically ignored his family unless he needs help with delivering a script discreetly to the studios. The film is quite fascinating and kept my interest throughout, all the quirks of Trumbo and his friends & foes are played wonderfully by a great ensemble of actors.

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My faves are Louis C.K. as screenwriter & Trumbo’s BFF Arlen Hird, John Goodman as a B-movie studio honcho, both had some of the funniest scenes. Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas and German actor Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger are also pretty memorable here and O’Gorman whom I knew from playing the Fili in the Hobbit movies, had a surprisingly canny resemblance to Mr. Douglas.

I love Helen Mirren in general but here I didn’t think her performance was all that great, to be honest she made a better impression in the Hitchcock film which is of similar genre. Diane Lane is quite good as Trumbo’s wife though she’s not on screen that much, as was in that era, it’s the male cast that really got to shine in this film. In any case, the real star here is Cranston and I’m not surprised he’s nominated for an Oscar. I think his performance carried the film and made it worthwhile. It’s incredible how he captured the voice and mannerism of the real life Trumbo, but more than than, I think he captured his genius as well as his eccentric personality.

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Despite the serious subject matter, the film’s tone is pretty light and fun. There were dark moments to be sure, but director Jay Roach made sure it never lasted for too long. I don’t think it undermines the story however, especially the speech at the end that made you really reflect on the whole ordeal Trumbo and his friends went through. For a film about the greatest screenwriters, the script by John McNamara (based on a book by Bruce Cook) was thankfully quite sharp. The costumes, set pieces, cinematography, and especially the performances, really brought the story to life and made me appreciate Trumbo, and screenwriters in general, even more than I already do.

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Hail, Caesar!

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Now, when the trailer first dropped, I must’ve watched it half a dozen times in one day. It’s a satire of Hollywood big studios and their big stars, told in a day-in-the-life format of a Hollywood fixer called Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is a fixer who works for Capitol Pictures in the 50s, he’s the man tasked with cleaning up after the biggest names in the industry. Ruthless though he may be, Mannix is a tormented person, so ravaged by guilt that he goes to confession more often that the priest himself care to hear. The movie pretty much picked up when the studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set of one of a huge epic movie modeled after Ben-Hur (it even had the same tagline, A Tale of the Christ). Now, the set up promises a lot of intrigue and hilarity but in the end it only partly delivered.
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There are some genuinely hysterical moments, especially the exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (as an Laurence Olivier-type director) in a film set which had me in stitches. Despite being the least known actor in the cast, Ehrenreich actually had a pretty big part in the movie and he acquitted himself well here. Heck, I think he’s better than Clooney as I actually believed him as the character, instead of just an movie star basically just playing a variation of himself. Whitlock seems like a caricature instead of a real person. I’m not sure whether or not it’s because of Clooney’s own stature and star-wattage or the way the script played out. The plot about Whitlock’s kidnapping would likely amuse (or irate) the real Dalton Trumbo, though the twist played out like something out of an SNL skit.

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Brolin’s Mannix is the most-developed character in this movie and the only one with a real arc. Thankfully Brolin was good in the role and made me care for his plight, but the rest of the ensemble cast filled with the ‘who’s who of current Hollywood establishment’ wasn’t given much to do. I feel like the fun moments peppered throughout just didn’t quite gel as a cohesive film. Many characters came and went without leaving any mark, and SO many actors were underutilized, even Tilda Swinton who played a dual role. Jonah Hill is basically in a blink-and-you-missed-him role, he’s only on screen as much as he was in the trailer. Those who love Channing Tatum‘s dancing will be pleased with him here, but the musical numbers here don’t make much of an impression to me. Now, the Coens’ regular Frances McDormand‘s part is basically a cameo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable scenes.

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In the end the film seems too random and frivolous, and despite those hilarious moments, ultimately it’s a rather forgettable affair . Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a big disappointment as I’m actually not a huge Coens fan if I’m honest. I actually think this could be one of their most accessible films, and the light tone made it pretty enjoyable, it just lacks the gravitas one expect from the talents involved. The ending also felt anticlimactic to me, and the emotional connection is lacking overall. On a technical level, the film is gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ masterful craft, and the retro costumes are nice to look at. If you’re a big Coens fan, this one is still well worth a rent, just don’t expect this to be another one of their classic hits.

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So, have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

November Viewing Roundup + What I watched during my hiatus

NovRecapHello hello! Miss me? Well I’m not exactly back yet, I’m extending my hiatus probably until after Christmas. I’ve been diligently working on my script daily and I don’t want to lose momentum. I might still do a post here and there if I have time and feel like doing it, so don’t forget me 😉

Well, we’ve been watching a ton of great movies, both new releases and rewatches, thanks to the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Here they are in alphabetical order…

New Releases

  • Disney Short Films Collection
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    Worth seeing if you love Disney and short films. It’s a pretty eclectic collection and some of them you might’ve seen. The Little Matchgirl one got me bawling, it’s such a heartbreaking story. I remember seeing a stage adaptation of that as a kid and even that stayed with me for years!
  • Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
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    This was one of the craziest press screenings ever with thousands of people, mostly teens, lining up for hours at a local IMAX theater. But the movie was so ho hum, I could barely remember anything about it now and it was so darn predictable. It just reinforced me what a terrible actor Liam Hemsworth truly is and honestly I’m bored at seeing Jennifer Lawrence‘s face, which was practically in every single scene. It still pains me to watch the late Philip Seymour Hoffman though.
  • Legend

    If I were to review this movie, it’d just be a collection of pictures of how Bond-like Tom Hardy looked in most of the scenes, well when he’s playing Reggie that is. Ron, not so much. But he’s really the reason to see it, otherwise it’s a pretty standard gangster flick.

  • Mr Holmes
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  • Night Owls
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    A witty indie comedy/drama that takes place over a single night. The dialog is sometimes raunchy, but there’s a genuine chemistry between the two leads and the script is refreshingly honest and has a natural flow to it. Definitely worth a look. Stay tuned for my interview with writer/director Charles Hood on Wednesday!
  • Spectre
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  • Spotlight
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    This film about the uncovering of the sexual abuse scandal by Catholic priests in Massachusetts will certainly rile you up and stay with you for days. This fine ensemble cast certainly lives up to its stellar reviews. It’s a riveting, disturbing, and emotionally-gratifying from start to finish. Terrific script and top notch cast that’s thankfully NOT wasted. Definitely one of the best investigative journalism film of all time, right up there with All the President’s Men.
  • Trumbo
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    I LOVE films about Classic Hollywood and if you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, then it’s an absolute must-see. He’s electrifying as Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10 screenwriters who were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Theater

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I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus during a National Live Theater presentation at a local cinema last week. It was a powerful and mesmerizing performance from the Shakespearean actor. I wish I could’ve seen it live on stage, which would’ve been amazing to watch considering how intimate the Donmar Theatre was, it seats only 250!

TV Series

Man in the High Castle (season 1)

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I have to do a whole post on this series as I have a lot to say about this Philip K. Dick’s adaptation. But for sure Rufus Sewell is one of the highlights here, if only the producers realized that and give him more screen time in future seasons.

Rewatches

I rewatched a ton of movies this past month, which turns out to be quite an eclectic collection now that I think about it. Hey, I love the action stuff as much as the romantic love stories 😉

  • Anna Karenina
  • Batman Begins
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Cinderella
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Not Another Happy Ending

 


Movie of the Month

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Well, that’s my November update. What about you, what’s your favorite film you saw last month?

Total Recall – Double Review

Here we go again. The question of ‘is this remake necessary?‘ is ubiquitous once again. For some, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is regarded a classic. So naturally, people are crying foul when director Len Wiseman announced he’s doing a remake 22 years after the original’s release in 1990. So today, Ted and I are looking into this from two different perspectives: He loves the original and has read the Philip K. Dick novel, while I can barely recall the original and hasn’t read the book.

Ted’s Review:

First off I would like to state that I love the original version of Total Recall and I also read the short story by Phillip K. Dick which both films were loosely based on. For this review of the new film, I’m going to try my hardest not to compare this new film to the 1990 version or Dick’s short story.

The film opens in the future, they didn’t specify what year but according to the Sony’s official plotline, it’s set in the year 2084 and earth has suffered some sort of catastrophic chemical warfare and most of the planet are inhabitable except for two areas: a federation on the British isles and a colony which used to be Australia. You see the world has split into two societies, the rich lives in the federation and the poor lives in the slum looking colony.

Just like the original version, it begins with Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) having a bad dream and when he wakes up, he’s comforted by his gorgeous wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). We learned that Quaid is not satisfied with his life, again he’s married to a woman who looks like Kate Beckinsale or in the original version, Sharon Stone, yet he’s still not happy? Seriously, come on now! Oh sorry I didn’t mean to go off track there. Anyways, we also learn that Quaid is a factory worker who dreams of moving up the ladder at his company. But because he’s from the colony, the company refuses to promote him. So one day a new co-worker of his heard him complained about his mundane life and told him about a place called Rekall, there he can make his dreams come true. After a couple of beers at a bar with his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid decided to drop by Rekall and get an exciting memory implant.

Once he’s at Rekall, he was given a few life style choices and he chose to get a memory as a secret agent. Before he gets the implants though, cops stormed into Rekall’s office and killed everyone except Quaid who we found out could handle himself. Then the rest of the film became a chase, first Quaid didn’t understand why his wife is now trying to kill him and then later he ran into another beautiful woman named Melina (Jessica Biel) who told him he’s not who he is.

First let’s get the good stuff out of the way, the film was beautifully shot and composed. The special effects were top notch and some of the action sequences were pretty great; I really enjoyed the car chase on the highway of the future (looks way too similar to the highway in Minority Report) and also the fight scene in an elevator. I would like to thank Wiseman for shooting action scenes that we can actually see instead of the usual handheld shaky style that’s been popular lately in action films.

Unfortunately those are the only good things I can say about this remake. The film lacks originality, wit and humor. The futuristic world looks so much like other (much better) sci-fi films that came before it. I imagine Wiseman goes into a meeting with his production designer and visual effect guys and said “Look I want to copy every other sci-fi films, so make the cities look like they’re from Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Minority Report or i, Robot. Then make the robots, cars and jets looks like something out of Star Wars prequel.” Now I don’t mind people copying other films, so long as their story and characters are interesting. Well Wiseman failed on those areas too. Since I’ve seen the original so many times, I found the plot in this version to be boring and uninteresting.

I also didn’t care for any of the characters, I felt Ferrell’s Quaid was just running around trying to save his own ass and then Biel’s Melina was just the typical damsel in distress, yes she can handle herself but in the end, Quaid still has to come to her rescue. As for Beckinsale, well she’s way too hot for me to take her seriously as a killing machine. It was a mistake for the filmmakers to combined the characters of Lori and Richter from the original into one. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mention the main villain of the film yet, well to be honest he’s not worth mentioning. You don’t really know much about Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) except that he’s the guy in charge of the federation and he’s evil, plain and simple. I don’t blame the actors for not being interesting, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.

To me another mistake the filmmakers made was to do direct remake of Verhoeven’s film instead of reinvent the story. I mean they could’ve followed the original short story and maybe it could’ve been a much better film. Even though this remake has bigger budget and ten times better special effects, the film felt small in scope compare to Verhoeven’s version. Again I think it’s the filmmakers’ fault for not trying something new. Also, they took the material way too seriously, for a summer action film, I couldn’t find one single humorous scene in it.
I really wanted to enjoy this film but in the end I found it to be joyless, repetitive and not creative at all. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I was just bored with it.

If you’ve never seen the original version, then you might enjoy it. But if you ask me, I’d tell you to skip this one and see the original instead.

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Ruth’s Review

I always love a good sci-fi and truthfully, I think having seen the filmmaker and cast at last year’s Comic-con might’ve elevated my enthusiasm for this movie. So when my hubby got a 2-for-in deal from VISA, we though, eh what the heck.

Since Ted already covered the plot, I’m only going to talk about how I feel about the film. Well, there’s really not much praise I can say about this movie. It’s too bad as the premise from the great mind of Philip K. Dick offers soooo much potential. The whole notion that the earth is now barren except Great Britain (The United Federation of Britain or UFB for short) and Australia (The Colony) is quite intriguing. And visually it’s quite a feast for the eyes, the ‘downtown’ area of UFB looks convincingly gritty, yet the aerial view shows a sleek, futuristic city of the year 2084. It reminds me of Blade Runner, but much, much sleeker, obviously CGI technology has come a long way since 1982.

The transportation system called ‘The Fall’ that goes through the planet’s core to travel from the two main regions are pretty cool looking and so are those super awesome hovercrafts! I LOVE the hovercraft chase scenes, especially that part when Farrell’s character disengage the vehicle from the hanging track, causing it to plummet thousands of feet below. It doesn’t quite match the truck vs. batpod in The Dark Knight of course, but still it was fun to watch. But aside from a few fun action sequences, this movie is pretty darn boring.

Acting-wise it’s lackluster as well, and I blame that on the flimsy script as Colin Farrell is actually a pretty decent actor. Somehow he’s just devoid of charisma here, in fact, he’s much more memorable in his brief scenes chasing Tom Cruise in another Philip K. Dick’s adaptation Minority Report than the he is running around for 2 whole hours here. Practically the entire time I was watching this, I was plagued with this de-ja-vu-ish feelings that I’ve seen all this before in different sci-fi movies, but done in much more compelling way. Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman’s ultra-gorgeous wife, is only there for mere eye candy. I mean her character — a kick-ass cop who NEVER has a bad hair day in her life despite having to wake up in the middle of the night to report to work — is so absurd that it’s borderline comical. She can practically leap from building to building in 10-inch heels as if she’s some bio-engineered robots and even with my suspension-of-disbelief cap screwed on tight, it’s still hard to imagine she had been playing Quaid’s loving wife for seven years.

Believe it or not, the only person who provides a little bit of emotional resonance is Jessica Biel’s character Melina, who claims to be Quaid’s girlfriend before his memory implant. At least I sympathize a bit with Melina in her struggle to get her boyfriend to figure out his real identity again, though at times she does appears more like a damsel-in-distress like Ted pointed out. Cranston was pretty much wasted as a one-dimensional villain, and Bill Nighy fares even worse! I mean, he’s actually more memorable getting his vampiric face slashed in Underworld, I mean come on!!

Overall it’s just a bland and vapid adaptation that offers no redemptive value whatsoever. Even those seemingly frivolous Summer superhero flicks have more purpose than the protagonist in this movie. Quaid seems only interested to save his own behind while at the same time trying to prevent the evil bad dude Cohageen from invading the entire planet with his robot army.

So in the end, though I don’t have fond memories of the original, I still agree with Ted’s rating on this one. Good thing we’ve got a pair of cheap tickets to see this, as it’s only worth a rental at best. Now I can see why Ted lists Len Wiseman in his list of hack directors in Hollywood!

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Do you agree/disagree with our assessment of this movie? Let’s hear it in the comments!

FlixChatter Review: John Carter (2012)

This is one of those movies I just didn’t really care for from the first time I heard about it, and the trailer didn’t really convince me otherwise. But my hubby really wanted to see it and I must admit I became more curious after reading some positive reviews, such as this one from my pal Terrence.

Just as I enjoyed Hunger Games more having read the book, perhaps it would’ve helped me understand the film better if I had done the same here. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure novel was apparently massively popular and the story has inspired many filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. I heard some reviews that says the movie is ripping off Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, etc., when in fact, it’s really the other way around. Even the filmmakers themselves, even the creator of Superman, admitted that they were inspired by Burroughs’ work. Why they didn’t leverage that point in the film’s marketing is beyond me. This article even cited George Lucas describing described his Star Wars story as being set “in the grand tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.” 

It’s the kind of review where I have to turn to Wikipedia to make sure I get the details right. The story takes place in the late 1800. Former Civil War captain John Carter somehow ended up in a cave of gold whilst on the run from a group of Cavalry officers and Apache Indians. It’s there that he encountered a strange figure whose medallion accidentally teleported him all the way to Mars. In the intro, it’s explained that Mars (called Barsoom by the inhabitants) is not a “dead planet”, but rather a dying one inhabited by warring civilizations with great airships.

The various ethnic groups of Mars

There are the four-armed green Martians called the Tharks, a White Martian called Therns and the two Red Martians cities Helium and Zodangas whose natives are akin to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings in that they’re full of beautiful people (hello James Purefoy!), except they’ve got a natural tan. So basically John goes from one civil war on earth, to another epic one in a distant planet.

In the book, apparently John Carter is described as an immortal being. I can’t remember the movie depicting him that way but for sure he’s got some great powers due to his high bone density and the planet’s low gravity (not sure how the science works out but hey, it’s a fantasy film so certain suspension of disbelief comes with the territory). What I didn’t realize from the trailer laden with strange-looking creatures like the great white apes etc., is that John Carter has got a love story at the heart of it. John Carter meets Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a stunning but rebellious Princess of Helium who’s apparently also a scientist (take that Dr. Christmas Jones!) It’s utterly predictable that they both would fall in love, though of course they still have to banter with each other first (a la Princess Leia and Han Solo and Na’vi Princess Neytiri and Jake Sully in Avatar).

This movie was declared a major box office bomb even by Disney itself. I think having seen it now, I gather that poor marketing was largely to blame for it. Sure, the reviews weren’t stellar, but it’s not terrible either with about 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are far, far worse films have made way more money than this, just look at those Transformer flicks! So perhaps it’s just really poor timing that this movie came out after 50 years of similarly-themed sci-fi movies have been released, which makes it ironically derivative.

In any case, I actually quite enjoyed this film. Actor Dominic West (who played Zodangas’ leader) told BBC  that “… the story sometimes difficult to follow, but I don’t think it was boring.” I think I’d agree with him. Though there are some slow parts and the pacing could be much improved, there are a lot to appreciate here. The movie kept me engaged for the most part, and the action scenes with all the weird-looking creatures actually don’t dominate the movie the way the trailers make it out to be. The visuals are marvelous to look at, what with all the meticulously-crafted spaceships and other flying objects.The action sequences are pretty fun to watch, though very reminiscent of The Phantom Menace especially in the pod-racer scenes.

I’d guess that a lot of the $250-million budget goes to the set pieces as there isn’t any big-name actors in the movie. The world that director Andrew Stanton built are a dazzling technical achievement, but the main problem for me is the pacing, just like any piece of music relies on good rhythm. It’s too bad because the story itself is quite engaging, and no surprise there considering Stanton has written and directed Pixar’s masterpieces like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall*E.

Lastly, the cast turns out to be a pleasant surprise. I was quite harsh on Taylor Kitsch initially as I was unimpressed with his performance in Wolverine, but he actually makes for a pretty convincing lead here. He’s got the looks (and a nice, deep voice), as well as confidence to pull off a heroic role. Another Wolverine alum Lynn Collins is all right as the Princess, she’s obviously beautiful but can also be pretty bad ass in the action sequences. Both of them are not as experienced as the rest of the supporting cast but they’re more than serviceable I think.

The rest of the supporting cast are largely British except for the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston as the leader of the Cavalry that pursued Carter. Both Mark Strong and Dominic West are in familiar territory playing unsympathetic characters, but at least they do it well. Interesting to see James Purefoy and Ciarán Hinds revisiting their Julius Caesar and Mark Antony roles in HBO’s Rome as their characters remind me so much of the historical duo. Purefoy seems to have the most fun here, I just wish he had a bigger role in the movie.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I was able to catch this movie on the big screen before its last week of its theatrical run. I do think it looks marvelous visually and overall a pretty entertaining fare that’s worth at least a matinee price. Definitely check this out if you’re a fan of the fantasy sci-fi genre. I skipped the 3D though, and I don’t think it’ll add that much to the movie.
four and a half stars out of five
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Thoughts about this movie? Do you have a theory why it flopped at the box office?