Monthly Archives: June 2012

A new step in the ‘found-footage’ sub-genre.

https://i2.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3152841/140full.jpg“Yes, it was the black guy this time.”

The ‘found-footage’ sub-genre was popularised when The Blair Witch Project was released way back in 1999. There have been so many found-footage films in the horror genre that they’re actually starting to get boring. The thing that’s attractive about this sub-genre to many studios is that they cost little to make, yet rake in a lot of profit. One of the latest found-footage films to move into a new genre is Josh Trank’s Chronicle. This is sort of like a ‘super hero/villain origin story’, and it works really well. With a budget of $15 Million, it’s really surprising how well the visual effects fall in place with the story telling. Trank, who was 27 when he made Chronicle, impresses so much with his directorial debut, and the film does things that no other found-footage movie has done before, particularly with the camera.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a troubled but creative teen who lives with his sick mother (Bo Petersen) and abusive father (Michael Kelly). He is socially awkward and is often bullied at his high school. To record the hardships he goes through, he buys a handheld camera. When he goes to a party of one of the students at his school, he makes a discovery with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and class-mate Steve (Michael B. Jordan), that leads them all to acquire powerful telekinetic abilities. Their new found powers bring them closer together as friends, as they get into all kinds of mischief and develop their abilities. However, their intentions, particularly those of Andrew, turn for a sinister angle.

I’ll admit, it is hard to write a found-footage script (I’ve had a try of it). However Trank and writer Max Landis (the son of horror filmmaker John Landis) have come up with a story that transitions quite well into a screenplay. Personally, I found myself relating a lot to the character of Andrew. I’ll be frank; I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school and I did cop a fair bit of bullying, so I could relate to the pain he was going through. The characters here are terrific in that way – since they’re teenagers, many young audiences (probably the target audience for the film) will definitely respond to them. The humour has that hip, teen style to it, and it surprised how funny the film was. It’s largely thanks to the character of Steve, who may be seen as a cliché comic relief black guy, but he was likeable character. Also adding to the humour is the way the three friends decide to use their powers, mainly in the fun and games direction (we’ll get to the darker side later). They play football while flying and play tricks on people with their telekinesis. The mischievous tone was something I responded well to, and the film’s tagline, Boys will be Boys, is a perfect description of this.

Landis’ script takes time to develop the characters over the course of the film. Andrew becomes more threatening as he learns to use his powers, Matt learns to be a good person, and Steve starts actually spending time with Andrew (he never did before as he was popular student). These characters are likeable, and Landis does a good job of making the audience care about these friends. But the dark side of things plays into the whole teen angle beautifully. With Andrew living such an unfortunate life, there’s something understandable about his development to a darker personality. As teenagers, we are naive and don’t think things through. Hell, if I got powers seen in this film, I’d do all kinds of things I’d regret without thinking it through. I liked this theme the movie worked itself around of, and it allows the audience to be more invested with these characters. When Andrew starts using his powers in a negative way, that’s when the film takes a darker tone. There’s hardly any humour in the final act, but tonal shift wasn’t abrupt and had been set-up over time throughout the course of the film.

In most found-footage films, the acting is usually atrocious (first-time actors are often hired). However, in Chronicle, the acting is actually really fine. It’s definitely surprising as most of these actors haven’t been in a lot of roles. As Andrew, Dane DeHaan is excellent – he channels both the light and dark side of his character perfectly. His transformation from vulnerable teenager to badass super villain is fantastic. Meanwhile, Alex Russell brought a commendable performance as Matt, but Michael B. Jordan was terrific, having heaps of fun with his role which definitely translated into the audience. Michael Kelly (Dawn of the Dead, Changeling) is pretty much the only well-known actor cast in this, and as Andrew’s alcoholic father, he’s fantastic.

Chronicle has a truly unique style as opposed to most found-footage films. Instead of just one camera, the film cuts between different cameras, depending on the scene. For example, at the opening party scene, the film switches from Andrew’s camera to another one owned by Matt’s love interest, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw). Towards the climax though, this style has its ups and downs. There are moments where they’ll use surveillance cameras and other authoritative formats. However, there comes to a point where it gets a bit unconvincing, as the cameras will still capture what the characters are saying (also, Andrew’s camera is not in use during the conclusion). Speaking of the conclusion… it’s pretty awesome. It’s practically a big battle between two superhuman beings shot in a found-footage style – and it works! You can actually tell what’s going on, and it’s just riveting stuff. The cinematography throughout the film is quite creative, and allows Trank to move out of the typical found-footage look. As the lead characters improve on their powers, they begin to levitate the camera and move it in totally new directions. This allows action sequences to be shot really well, as the hero doesn’t even need to be grasping the recorder. The visual effects may not be top-notch, but this isn’t a big budget film. At the end of the day, the effects were fine – they didn’t bother me, and they were well-integrated with the action sequences.

I really do hope that this evolves into a franchise, because there’s so much potential here. It finally proves that the found-footage sub-genre isn’t a total gimmick after all. As a huge fan of superhero movies, it was refreshing to see one that wasn’t based on a comic book. Better yet, it was done in a style I never thought was possible for superheroes. While it’s shot in a handheld style, the film has a graceful look, and it delivers on everything you’d want a superhero movie – a hero, a villain, action sequences, sci-fi elements. It’s all here. Like I said, this is pretty much a superhero/supervillain origin story, and if we get more that are as good as this from studios like Marvel and DC, I’m gonna be a happy man.

9/10

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One hell of a good time at the movies.

“Yeah, thttps://i2.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3390769/200full.jpgakes us a while to get any traction, I’ll give you that one. But let’s do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and YOU, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off every single one of them.”

There’s never been a movie that’s had more hype than The Avengers. Since the first Iron Man movie, Marvel has been setting up a film adaptation of the popular comic book series, hinting at the audience with several post-credits scenes. There have been several Avengers set-up movies, with The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and a sequel to Iron Man. All of these films were a major success individually, and it was a no-brainer than movie-goers everywhere was excited for The Avengers, particularly fans of the comic books. Directed and written by Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind a list of popular TV shows, The Avengers didn’t live up to the hype for me personally, but I can’t stress how much fun it is. Whedon himself is a comic book fanboy himself, and he’s treated the subject matter with a lot of respect and love. This is an amazingly enjoyable summer blockbuster.

Loki (Tom Hiddelston), the evil brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has managed to acquire the Tesseract, the all-powerful energy source that was found at the bottom of the sea in Captain America: The First Avenger. He invades the Headquarters of Shield and manages to turn both Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to the dark side. Shield’s leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), summons together five heroic figures to help save the world: Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

At the end of the day, the plot for The Avengers is nothing special. The whole situation is just an excuse for Shield to bring The Avengers together, and I’m fine with that. What Whedon does that sets The Avengers apart from most of the mindless action movies we’ve seen this year is with his characters – he gives them depth. Although the characters have been established in the set-up movies, Whedon’s script actually explains more about them and shows to the audience who these people are. There’s also some great development with the character of Black Widow, who we never got see a lot of in Iron Man 2. We are shown the relationship she shares with Hawkeye, which has its ups and downs. While it gives some extra dimension to her character, it reduces Hawkeye to a plot device – I had a problem with him as a character, as he has hardly anything to do until the climax. But still, you get a good sense of heroism from the film, as Whedon takes the time to actually develop a few of The Avengers. The Hulk is finally given a chance to shine here, and Tony Stark finally starts acting like a nice guy (only slightly). With a fan of The Avengers at the helm, the depiction of these heroes is dead on – they are heroes, and you get that terrific vibe throughout the whole film.

There’s also great deal of character conflict, which definitely adds a lot of emotional depth to the film. While the middle of the film drags slightly, this is when all the conflict actually starts to emerge, as the heroes begin arguing – they don’t get along so well as you’d expect. The main thing, though, that I think fans will take away from this is Whedon’s witty dialogue. This is a tremendously funny film. What’s great is the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film’s not supposed to be grim like The Dark Knight – it’s got a completely different tone, and Whedon works with it. There are laughs scattered throughout the whole film, and each character has their own moment to deliver a hilarious line. The constant references are great, and you can’t get enough of Tony Stark’s snappy lines. With so many films now failing on the humour department, it’s great to see that a big action movie like this can still generate applause from the audience.

The cast is impeccable – there’s literally no one who bothered me. Robert Downey Jr. is always reliable to deliver his witty dialogue – his comic timing is superb. Having played the role of Stark in two movies prior to The Avengers, Downey Jr. pretty much knows the character so well that he can’t screw up the portrayal of that arrogant and spoiled attitude. Chris Evans brings a noble and likeable presence to his performance of Cap, and Chris Hemsworth still remains just as good as he was in the title role of the orignal Thor. Also kicking a lot of ass – Scarlett Johansson. Words cannot describe how hot she is in this film, and she definitely knows how to portray a badass convincingly. Jeremy Renner, though I wasn’t so into his character, still managed to bring an action hero vibe to Hawkeye, and makes me look ever so forward to his upcoming role in The Bourne Legacy. Tom Hiddleston still pulls off the same wicked and mischievous performance he gave in Thor, but I had a huge problem with the character of Loki in this film. He just didn’t seem like much of a threat – he spent most of the time getting his ass kicked. That being said, there is a moment between him and The Hulk that will guarantee applause from the audience. Speaking of The Hulk, Mark Ruffalo was excellent, bringing the best performance as Bruce Banner yet seen on film. As Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson was confident and in good form, while Clark Gregg stole all his scenes as Agent Coulson – he was simply hilarious. And last but not least – Cobie Smulders! While her character had very little to do, I just couldn’t stop staring at her. She was beautiful in the role, exuding confidence and a badass attitude thrown in for good measure. And she dons that black leather suit like a goddamn champ.

As an action movie, The Avengers is top-notch. I remember seeing the trailer in 3D several times, and what shocked me most that it didn’t look bad. The 3D was actually amazing in this movie, considering it was converted. There are several moments where it’s used to great effect, particularly during the climatic action sequence of the film. The last half hour is awesome. Reminiscent of the destruction of Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the climax is set in New York, as swarms of aliens wreak havoc upon the city. It’s filled with amazing long takes, heaps of explosions, and top-grade visual effects. The action is edited and shot well – you can always tell what’s going on, even with all the destruction happening on-screen. The creation of the aliens and their ships is to be commended, and Whedon was, surprisingly, able to integrate each of the Avengers into the climax. Everyone has their moment to shine in the action – even Black Widow, who doesn’t have a great arsenal as opposed to someone like Iron Man. Also pretty spectacular is the production design – the Shield headquarters is amazing to look at. The costumes, particularly those of Black Widow and Maria Hill, are sensational, and Alan Silvestri’s score is the very definition of epic, lending weight to that heroic vibe the film pushes for.

I won’t lie, I’m not as in love with this movie as most movie-goers are. I was actually expecting a 10/10 movie, but it still didn’t end up being a perfect movie for me. The Avengers has been stated as the best Marvel film to date, but I still must disagree. I enjoyed Spiderman 2 and X-Men: First Class slightly more than this, but I’m not saying it’s a bad movie. Hell no, this is so much fun. With so many mindless action movies being spit out by Hollywood these days, it’s refreshing to see an action film that has heart, humour, and some pretty mind blowing action sequences. The summer movie season has started off with a bang – get to the biggest cinema available in your area, purchase a large popcorn and soda, and enjoy the ride!

8/10

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Yes, it’s true. Channing Tatum can act.

https://i0.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3038690/200full.jpg“You are here because you some Justin Beaver, Molly Cyrus lookin’ motherfuckers.”

When the first trailer for 21 Jump Street hit the web, I thought it looked like garbage. My first impression of it was that it was a cliché high school comedy with Channing Tatum. After seeing it due to positive buzz, I can admit that I was an idiot. I loved the hell out of this film. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who previously made the animated masterpiece Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and written by Michael Bacall, who co-wrote Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 21 Jump Street was in the hands of true geniuses. I must say, I should’ve had faith in this film. Having never seen the original TV show, which I’ve heard is a lot darker than this reboot, I didn’t know what to expect. Shockingly enough, this ended up being an action-comedy, and an excellent one thrown in for good measure.

In 2005, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were high school students; Schmidt was clever academically but un-sporty and a miss with the girls, while Jenko was the opposite. Neither of them got to attend the school formal. Seven years later they’re rookie cops, so inept they can’t remember the caution they are supposed to give suspects when they arrest them. They’re assigned to an undercover unit run by sardonic Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), which is located in the Aroma of Christ Church at 21 Jump Street. Their first assignment is to be sent undercover to a high school to discover who’s supplying a dangerous new form of drug.

Jonah Hill and writer Michael Bacall came up with the story, and it’s a total far cry from the original TV show. At first, it may be hard to believe that a jock like Jenko could be best friends with a nerd like Schmidt. Well, the back-story is briskly explained to us in the film’s opening – Schmidt and Jenko initially hated each other in high school, but met yet again when they both enrolled into the police academy. They became friends as they started to help each other with the academic and physical side of the academy. This could’ve easily been a very shallow and superficial relationship, but Bacall takes time to establish that this friendship the two characters share is real and sincere. There’s a very sweet side to it, and it definitely adds an emotional side to 21 Jump Street, which is, for most of the time, a film that you can’t really take seriously.

Speaking of this, the humour is extremely self-aware to the point where you can’t really take a lot of the film seriously. There are laughs at every minute – this is a how a comedy should be. Bacall definitely adds that self aware humour that was so present in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to this. The film is pretty much a parody of buddy cop films like Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon, and makes fun of elements we see in these kinds of movies (for example, explosions). The film also made fun of itself several times. The satirical humour worked so well for me – there’s a moment where the film literally jokes about how it’s a remake of an old TV show. You gotta love a film that cracks a joke about itself. There’s so much satire here that I haven’t even begun naming half the things 21 Jump Street makes fun of. The change in era, the fact that Schmidt and Jenko look so out of place in the high school – there’s so much here that’s gonna make you laugh hysterically.

As Schmidt, Jonah Hill delivers the goods, and proves he can still be funny even when he’s not fat. Hill is a lot more fit now having lost a lot of weight. He previous played the fat obnoxious guy in films like Superbad, but he definitely brings a new side to him 21 Jump Street. He’s a lot more nerdy and respectable. Also impressing me was Channing Tatum. I was shocked at how convincing his acting was. Normally, he’s wooden, but he brought a good sense of joy to his role. His performance as both convincing and humourous, and he worked so well with Hill. Ice Cube brings his A-game after recovering from the dismal films, Are We There Yet? and Are We Done Yet?. I’m glad to see him in a role his comfortable in. Brie Larson is sweet and likeable as Schmidt’s love interest Molly, while James Franco’s brother, Dave Franco, fails to impress as a student involved with the drug dealing. There are also small cameos from some big movie stars, but I’m not supposed to mention it.

Lord and Miller know how to do comedy well. After Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, they tackle the high school comedy, and they add that same style that made Meatballs such a success. There direction is perfect, adding a retro and goofy vibe to the film, ranging from the editing and visual effects, to the pop culture references. The film also features a few badass action sequences – it is still a cop movie after. There are two car chases, which still have a great deal of humour thrown into the mix. With the addition of an R rating, there are a few gory and quite amusing shootouts, and the film’s climax is simply to die for.

I love this film. I simply LOVE it. As an aspiring filmmaker, these are kinds of films I love to make. I just can’t get enough of self-awareness. The goofiness, the hilarious action sequences, and the satire – this film is a total must see. It’s one of the best films of 2012 so far (I’d even say it’s better than The Avengers, and for any fans of comedy, this is worth the price of admission. I will definitely be picking this up on Blu-Ray. It’s that good.

9/10

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There are better fairytale movies out there…

https://i0.wp.com/i2.listal.com/image/3038745/200full.jpg“It’s important to know when you’ve been beaten. Yes?”

I’ll admit, when Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror received decent reviews from critics and audiences alike, my mind was blown. From the trailer, it looked like the silliest garbage ever made. I’d heard the film had witty writing, great acting, Oscar-worthy costumes, and truly beautiful visuals. Boy, why did I listen to these reviews? As you can probably tell already, I hated this film. I’m well aware that this isn’t a film made for me – it’s made for kids. It’s supposed to be a fun, over-the-top family film; a total re-imagining of the classic fairytale of Snow White. Mirror Mirror is completely different from the other Snow White film released this year, Snow White and the Huntsman, with the latter being a superior film. I understand this film isn’t for me, but there are so many better fairytale movies you could watch. Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t a family movie, I’ll admit that, but there’s another Snow White adaptation that’s perfect for the family – it’s called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!

The Evil Queen (Julia Roberts) has let her kingdom go to wrack and ruin after her husband the King, and Snow White’s father disappeared many years ago. Now Snow White (Lily Collins) is becoming a beauty in her own right, a threat to the Queen’s plan to marry the rich prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). Angered, the wicked woman orders Snow White to be killed. The Queen’s servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) was supposed to murder the young princess in the dark woods but he let her go, and that’s where she meets up with the seven dwarves.

Written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller, the screenplay plays itself on extremely cheesy humour for the entire running time. I respect the film for that – they stuck to their tone. Problem is, the writing isn’t that great. I read in a review that the dialogue was smartly written – that’s bullshit. The humour here doesn’t come from the dialogue, which isn’t witty in any way, but from the silly gags the film has going. Mirror Mirror features the most over-the-top moments that will entertain children, but will adults rolling their eyes. Let me give you a few examples – the prince is cast under a spell by the Queen to be act like puppy who is madly in love with her; Brighton is transformed into a cockroach; the Queen bathes herself in disgusting substances to make herself look prettier. I didn’t find anything funny about these gags, but I will admit, I am guilty of chuckling a few times at the character of The Prince. There are moments of banter that are good fun between him and Snow White, and while their love story is cliché, it does give the film at least a bit of humour. Also giving a slight bit of joy to the film are the seven dwarves, although I didn’t care for them in any way. They still have a mischievous attitude that adds to the humour.

The character of the Evil Queen is what really got under my skin and drove me nuts. She’s just not funny in any way, and the writers seemed to have been pushing for her to be the leading comical force. Sadly, her dialogue is just lame, and I ended up cringing rather than laughing out loud. Also, she’s not the most effective villain – in Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil queen was a dynamic force of villainy. In Mirror Mirror, she’s a bimbo to put it lightly. You get the feeling that she’s more bitchy and evil, and the way she lets her kingdom rot away doesn’t register a lot to the audience. However, her servant Brighton has moments to shine. From time to time, he will bring amusement to the film. Another character who has been handled in a pretty poor way is the heroine Snow White. At one point in the film, she’s supposed to become a leader and warrior for her kingdom – it’s not fleshed out enough, and to be honest, the character is extremely insipid. There’s no great deal of development, and the idea that she is the ‘fairest of them all’ doesn’t resonate at all.

I feel bad for the actors due to the crap they had to perform. To their credit, each one of them managed to keep a straight face and appeared utterly shameless. Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen annoyed the hell out of me. Roberts dives straight into the role with gusto, but her performance just feels irritating, and the accent she speaks in may be the reason. Lily Collins is a pretty girl, and she certainly looks the part, but makes no attempt to bring anything unique to the role of Snow White. Armie Hammer, who has proven to be an amazing actor in The Social Network, manages to bring slight joy to the film, as he essentially fits the role of the prince. He was really well cast in this, and actually carried most of the scenes with him and Collins present. Also worth mentioning is Nathan Lane, who like Hammer, steals most of his scenes.

I really don’t see the big deal with the costumes. Yes, they’re amazingly out-there and suit the film’s over-the-top tone, but they really didn’t register as Oscar-worthy in my opinion. To be honest, they all looked incredibly cheap to me. Same goes with the sets, which all looked small and miniscule. This film looks a like TV-movie, and although Singh is well-known for his visual style, the look of the film isn’t the most breathtaking I’ve seen in this kind of genre. However, cinematographer Brendan Galvin has framed most of his shots incredibly well, with precision and a sharp eye from Singh. The animated opening is impressive, and it was a nice way to introduce the characters we already know. When the film tries to be an action film, it fails dramatically. There are sequences of sword fights and acrobatic stunt-work, and while credit must be given to the performers, none of the action ever registered as exciting or suspenseful. The climax is actually a battle sequence with a monster. Yes, that’s correct – Snow White and her companions fight a ridiculous looking monster (which looks incredibly fake), which ends up being dull and joyless. The final scene is a Bollywood musical number, and although I understand Singh is an Indian director, it literally had no place in the film.

Overall, Mirror Mirror is as cheesy, over-the-top, and ‘cartoony’ as any fairytale movie you could think of. Again, I understand that this film isn’t made for guys like me, but there is a far better family movie based off the Snow White story – and I love it. Do yourself a favour and skip Mirror Mirror. If you’re looking for a truly sensational re-imagining of the story, go see Snow White and the Huntsman. If you want a family friendly version of the tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is worth a watch. Mirror Mirror is a film I simply can’t recommend, even to little kids.

3/10

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League of Legends review

Many people may find League of Legend players as basement dwellers, no lives or simply nerds. But… it is the truth. Once you’re addicted to LoL. You cannot stop, only wanting to play more and level up as fast as you can.

The gameplay in LoL is similar to its counterpart, Dota 2. LoL is a free online game, so no need to stress about the wallet. Gameplay at the start of matches are a bit slow, but when everyone reaches are high enough level there will be massive team battles that you would not want to miss. LoL is both strategic and heavily online based, not a good internet connection is needed to play LoL, but a good one would be preferred by your team mates.  LoL has a small number of different game types. The most popular are the 5v5 and the 3v3. The variety of champions is amazing, with 99 playable characters. Choosing the one character that you would play well with is hard. Many of the characters come in different classes, such as “tanks”, “support” and “assassins”. Trying to find that one character that would suit you would take some time.

Although the game has many positive aspects, there are equally as many negative aspects to the game. Many times when logging into LoL there would be updates or the servers are down. Making you want to smash your screen. LoL gameplay might be repetitive sometimes, as most matches are played on the same map. Finding matches is another major issue, finding a match that is free is hard and often takes 2-3 minutes. Also, as I stated before, finding the right type of character that you would play well as will take a long time. Matches last from 20min to sometimes 1 hour. So be prepared not to leave or you’ll be reported and called an “n**b”.

League of Legends is an awesome online game to play with friends or solo. This game has lots of potential so be prepared to face updates every few days or so. Overall I would rate this game an 8 out of 10. Purely because there are some small in game issues that can be fixed and there is more potential with this game. I would recommend LoL to people who have played Dota or other types of online games before taking on LoL.

Happy Gaming 🙂

JChong

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