Tag Archives: Action

Stan Lee's Romeo & Juliet: The War

6 Feb , 2012,
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The star-crossed lovers, from Romeo & Juliet: The War.

Romeo & Juliet’s been on the big screen. It’s also been adapted into an anime, and now, with comic legend Stan Lee’s sci-fi re-envisioning of this tale, it’s also a graphic novel.

Set against a backdrop of glowing neon, naked steel and harsh concrete, Romeo & Juliet: The War infuses this classic tale about star-crossed lovers with cybernetic warriors, genetically modified ninjas, and plenty of action splashed across 146 gorgeously painted pages.

The Montagues and Capulets are super soldiers – the progeny of two rival scientists charged with defending the Empire of Verona against its enemies – and while lasting peace has been brokered beyond the metropolis’s borders, the rivalry between these two factions run deep, and all it takes is a spark to ignite a new kind of conflict.

It is against this backdrop that The War unfurls, playing out the tragedy in three acts.

Check out the paneling for the fight sequences.

Nothing spells "love" quite like laser beams and explosions.

Skan Srisuwan and Studio Hive lend their creative talents to this volume, and the result is simply drool-worthy.

The futuristic city is rendered in brilliant detail, the character designs are exquisite, and the combat and conflict that exemplifies The War shines with fluid dynamism and a kinetic nature that synergizes perfectly with the invigorated art style and staccato paneling.

Mind you, if you’re hoping for a soppy love story in this rendition of Shakespeare’s classic, you’re out of luck. I can count the number of pages where the titular characters whisper sweet nothings to each other and kiss on one hand.

That is, of course, not to say that there’s no love in this epic space opera. After all, Romeo raids the armory and lays siege to a cathedral in the explosive finale, and all for Juliet. It’s a novel approach, to say the least, and I’m not ashamed to say that I found it vastly superior to what the Bard had come up with.

A really great read. Now, they just need to turn this into an animation or something.

Underworld Awakening

2 Feb , 2012,
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Underworld: Awakening - Poster Art.

You’d think that after 3 movies, the Underworld franchise would go to pot. After all, there’s only so much you can do with vampires, werewolves, and their perennial war in the shadows.

And then suddenly, humans come along, and you realize that hey, they’re really trying their damnedest to milk the franchise.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I appreciate Underworld’s latest iteration Awakening for all it’s juicy bits – the fluid choreography, the intense sequences, the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale as Death Dealer Selene – but like it’s earlier installments, this film remains mired in hackneyed World of Darkness tropes and a water-thin plot that only just manages to pass muster.

With the elders all but dead and all order crumbling, vampires and werewolves alike are hard pressed to fight against a new enemy – the humans they’ve herded and victimized for centuries.

The public has discovered the presence of the “Infected”, and their reaction is anything but friendly.

Selene and her hybrid beau Michael (played by a faceless extra this time) are caught in the resultant purges, and when the huntress wakes up from her cryogenic sleep, more than a decade had passed.

Breaking out from the medical facility where she’s held, she discovers that it’s a different world out there, that her erstwhile beau is dead, and that her only link to the past is Subject 2, the daughter she’d somehow conceived during her twelve-year torpor.

And get this, that’s just the setup. The next half of the story has, predictably, Selene doing what she does best – dealing death with twin guns blazing as she embarks on a quest for some answers.

Plot aside, the show manages to plod credibly forward thanks to Beckinsale’s powerful performance. It’s a shame Scott Speedman (who played Michael Corvin in Underworld 1 & 2) had to give this one a miss though.

Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein have to be commended for their aesthetic choices in the creation of this film. Awakening was decidedly gorier, darker, and more in keeping with the genre than it’s previous incarnations, and hopefully, that’s something we can expect in Underworld 5 (coming soon to a theater near you).

The way Selene tears through Antigen guards during her escape in the initial half of the show was bloody brilliant (pardon the pun), and it only gets better as the show progresses.

Ultimately, Awakening’s not all that bad if you watch it for what it is – a supernatural action thriller – and leave the grey matter at the door.

Old-school fangboys will also appreciate the fact that vampires and werewolves in this movie can actually kick-ass and kill stuff, and that’s always better than just looking pretty and sparkling in the sun, no?

The Three Musketeers

28 Oct , 2011,
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The Three Musketeers - Poster Art

Never mind what critics are saying.

It’s high time someone outta Hollywood gave Alexander Dumas’s classic The Three Musketeers a steampunk twist, and director Paul W.S. Anderson (who did Event Horizon, and a whole buncha Resident Evil movies)’s take on it is bloody brilliant.

I was already pretty impressed when I saw the movie trailer several months back (Airship! In 17th century France!), and by the end of its 110 minutes, The Three Musketeers had me completely sold.

The plot’s a fairly faithful rendition of the original, at least up to hickboy D’Artagnan’s encounter with the titular trio in Paris (if you discount the crazy awesome hijinks Athos, Porthos and Aramis get up to in the first 15 minutes of the film), but where it deviates, it does so in a good way.

In terms of casting, Milla Jovovich proved simply stunning as Milady, falling into the role of cunning temptress and witty rogue with easy grace, while Orlando Bloom was suitably slimy as Lord Buckingham.

It was nice to see him playing a decidedly unpleasant part for once, and he delivered it with panache, poofy hair and all.

I wasn’t entirely impressed with Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson)’s performance as D’Artagnan, but Matthew MacFayden, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans were great as the core three.

One thing that really stood out was the music. It was beautifully composed, and appropriately paired with the action on screen. And speaking of action, the sword fights were breathtakingly spectacular – it’s hard to describe the choreography in mere words.

Admittedly, calling it a steampunk film might be something of a misnomer. It’s at best steampunk inspired, if the airships and gadgets are any indication, but the real elements of steampunk – the fashion, trappings and stylistic elements were few and far between.

Still, that’s just one minor detail, and it’s a detail that’s easily overshadowed by everything else on screen. The sets – from the dank, underground vaults of Venice to the palace grounds in Paris – were designed to almost faultless perfection and the wardrobe, while not entirely suffused with cogs and gears, resonated with enough period chic to be charming.

A truly fine feat of film making, and great fun all round, especially if you’re a geek.

The Griff

11 Oct , 2011,
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The Griff - Cover Art.

What happens when the world goes to pot courtesy of a horde of ravenous flying lizards?

That’s the nightmare scenario Christopher Moore and Ian Corson paint in The Griff, a graphic novel that’s got all the hallmarks of an action-adventure movie.

In The Griff, aliens have invaded the Earth, descending from the atmosphere in a mothership that spews deadly… well death in the form of creatures resembling the griffins from folklore (they’re really more like wyverns, but you can’t always expect the writers to be big on D&D).

They’ve destroyed all civilization as we know it, leaving only scattered remnants alive, and this graphic novel charts their struggle for survival.

Thanks to Moore’s unique style and Corson’s film roots, this wonderful volume transcends what might have been an otherwise mundane plot.

Sure, it’s about a bunch of unlikely people (the male lead’s a sk8ter boy, and one of the supporting cast is a middle-aged chain-smoking  guy in a hamster suit) banding together against the alien threat, but hey, there’s plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep things fresh.

The characters too, while archetypal, grow as the story progresses. They’re not flat caricatures to say the least.

In terms of the art, Jennyson Rosero puts on a decent showing.

Nothing says "I love you" better than a BFG.

That's one ugly Griff.

Character designs are strong (I especially loved the goth programmer girl), and there are some really impressive full-page spreads in there.

I spotted some continuity issues however, and the art’s not always consistent in the more complex scenes, but those weren’t significant.

Simply put, it didn’t really detract from the overall appeal of the plot, and that was what mattered the most to me.

A great read for an independent title. Be sure to put this one on your reading list.

 

Real Steel

7 Oct , 2011,
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Real Steel - Poster Art

Seeing as how the reel robots in Transformers were a real letdown, it was hard for me to take Real Steel seriously.

The only names on the roster I could remotely recognize were Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Shawn Levy (who was responsible for a string of average comedies), and the premise (Rocky meets Rock’em Sock’em Robots) was kinda weak.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to discover that the film delivered on all counts. It had plenty of robot-on-robot action, the actors were proficient, and the story, while formulaic, had heart.

Real Steel is set in the near future, where boxing matches are fought between man-made machines.

Jackman plays Charlie, a down-and-out ex-boxer turned robot handler who gets a shot at turning his life around when he is saddled with Max (Dakota Goyo), the son he never knew, for the summer.

Max is mature and sensible, a perfect foil for the unreliable and sketchy Charlie. While the two get off initially on the wrong foot, they begin to bond over Atom, a scrapyard castoff they pick up and mold into a real fighter.

The movie’s finale comes in the way of a bout between the home-made ‘bot and Zeus, the World Robot Boxing champion,  and it’s an impressive finish, to say the least.

Though the robots and visual effects were impressive, it was the synergy between Jackman and Goyo that really stole the show. Goyo, especially, proved incredibly versatile for his age. It was a miracle, because the script wasn’t exactly inspired. Still, Levy’s touch kept it interesting enough that things moved at a decent pace.

Real Steel’s the sort of film that made no pretensions to be anything but good, old-fashioned family entertainment, the sort that comes with a moral at the end of the story (this time, it’s all about responsibility and dedication, and boxing robots) and ultimately, that’s what it manages to deliver.

An entertaining watch.

Transformers 3: Third time's a chump

30 Jun , 2011,
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Poster Art

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting  Transformers: Dark of the Moon to transform the franchise into anything more than spectacle, and I was proven right. T3 was pretty much the same movie as its predecessor, Revenge of the Fallen, from 2 years ago – loud, explosive, filled with shaky camera angles, canted frames and flying scrap metal bits, strung together without so much as a semblance of plot.

This big budget blockbuster plays like a music video (it’s not so much a movie) and serves up, in typical Michael Bay fashion, plenty of eye candy and little in the way of exposition.

Of course, that’s not to say that it’s a bad production. It’s actually pretty decent, if collateral damage, machismo and excessive visual effects is your kinda thing. If you’re looking for structured narrative, thought provoking dialogue, and some degree of cerebral simulation though, that’s gonna be a little on the skimpy side.

In a nutshell, T3 picks up where T2 left off.

Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebouf) is still a loser (but he’s got a medal from the President of the United States. Go figure.), still a mommy’s boy, and somehow still the protagonist.

He’s got a new girl though, and this hottie (played by model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) has been keeping Little Sammy entertained while Bumblebee and the Autobots are out doing covert robot stuff with the U.S. Army.

The inciting incident comes in the form of a not-so-subtle discovery. The Autobots chance upon information about an ancient Cybertronian ship that crash-landed on the dark side of the moon decades back. This ship, called the Ark, carried a potent device, and the ‘bots quickly set out to retrieve its contents before they could fall into the wrong hands.

Where does Sam, who’s got trouble landing a real job and QQing about his smarter-than-thou girlfriend in the first half of the movie factor into this, you might ask? Well, it soon becomes apparent that he’s being targeted by evil Decepticons, and without giving too much of the insubstantial story away, he gets dragged into the mess and has to save the world (he’s the boy of destiny after all) all over again.

As usual, Shia’s one-dimensional character is dwarfed by the supporting cast. And that’s saying something, since the characters are all walking tropes and cliches anyway. Look out for John Turturro’s Agent Simmons, which returns in decidedly flamboyant fashion, and Frances McDormand’s Intelligence Director Charlotte Mearing, who was the consummate bureaucrat.

From a visual perspective, T3’s got all the hallmarks of a $195 million production. There’s oodles of special effects oozing in every scene. In 3D, the CG is nauseatingly gorgeous. Expect glass and explosions to rain down on you from every other angle (since this is a Michael Bay film), and for the action sequences to jump (also because this is a Michael Bay film). Admittedly, I can’t say I was unimpressed with the character design for Shockwave or the tentacled monstrosity he rode in on, and my inner child actually embraced the explosions with a modicum of glee.

In conclusion, T3’s pretty standard fare where Hollywood blockbusters this century are concerned. Lots of explosions, lots of action, and hardly anything to take away after the fact (well, a couple, but I won’t spoil it for you).

It’s a passable film if you don’t care at all about story, and just want some instant gratification. Otherwise, well, there’s better things out there.

Well done, Your Highness

23 Jun , 2011,
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Your Highness - Poster Art

It’s campy, vulgar and absurd, but Your Highness – with its blend of Monty Python-esque comedy, grossly exaggerated Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) archetypes, and near ludicrous amounts of crass humor – is likely King of the Hill in this season’s geek flicks.

Directed by David Gordon Green (of Pineapple Express fame), and co-written by Danny McBride (also of Pineapple Express fame), this period comedy is an articulate romp through fantasy land that possesses a whole lot more depth than it’s initial presentation lets on.

It’s a clever subversion of Campbell’s monomyth, and as any fantasy fan worth his tropes would soon discover, an homage to everything sword & sorcery.

McBride plays Thadeous, a prince of the kingdom of Mourne. He’s a slovenly horn dog, a coward, and the polar opposite of Fabious, his dashing, golden boy brother (played by James Franco).

The ne’er-do-well’s something of a disgrace to his father, the good king Thallious, but he’s forced to man up when the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux) comes calling and spirits away ditzy Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), Fabious’s bride-to-be.

The two brothers embark on a quest to save Belladonna, and by association the kingdom, from Leezar’s evil, facing all manner of peril, including amazons, a hydra, and a minotaur. Along the way, they pick up Isabel (Natalie Portman) – a crazy warrior woman with an axe to grind – and after numerous trials and tribulations, Thadeous grows a pair and goes from leading chump to leading man.

It’s evident that the script was Your Highness’s strongest suit. The lines are tongue-in-cheek, and they come fast and loose, irreverently satirizing anything and everything about the genre. Simply put, nothing is sacred here.

That, coupled with the cast’s over-the-top presentation and hammy acting, lent further credence to the entire point of the movie – the director’s and writers’ aim was solely to entertain, and it does so without any pretensions or sensitivities.

McBride was every bit as goofy as he was offensive in his portrayal of Thadeous, while Franco’s Fabious oozed honest-to-goodness (and thus idiot) charm. Rasmus Hardiker, who played Thadeous’s spoony bard sidekick Courtney, proved surprisingly versatile, while Natalie Portman sizzled the screen with her intensity and delivery. She’s downright bloodthirsty, and doesn’t even blanch when she describes how she’d kill the ones that wronged her, and “wear their flesh as capes”.

In addition to it’s slap dash toilet humor, herpderp moments and implied homo-eroticism, the movie’s also full of geek references and Easter eggs.

Comic book lovers will notice the similarities between tubby mid boss Marteetee and the X-Men villain Mojo (as well as  his champion’s similarity to X-Men’s Longshot), while the unnamed Barbarian in a later scene  is an obvious parody of Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

There’s even a bunch of samurai in there, and Boremont’s metal hand, missing a convenient finger joint, sports a wrist blade a la Assassin’s Creed.

Ultimately, if you watch the movie closely and carefully enough, its true target audience soon becomes apparent.

Yes, it’s a movie by geeks. For geeks. And that, my friends, is Your Highness’s crowning achievement.

The critics and their highbrow sophistry be damned. Go watch this movie.

Your Highness demands it.

Haunters

7 Jun , 2011,
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Haunters - Poster Art

When it comes to movies, you just gotta hand it to the Koreans. Haunters, which opens in cinemas this week, is infused with the right kind of emotionally charged pathos, morbid comedy, and shades-of-grey that made it such a fascinating watch.

Also, despite it’s title, it has NOTHING to do with ghosts and horror, two things the Koreans are famous for, and is actually an urban fantasy tale.

Opening to a rain slicked street, Haunters begins with a glimpse into the childhood of Cho-In, a crippled boy with a sinister supernatural gift – the power to mesmerize and dominate people with his eyes. It’s a power he uses to kill his abusive father, and again to flee from his mother and eventually to survive in the world – a world that he feels rightly shuns him and what he is.

His unhappy circumstances are paralleled with those of Lim Kyu-Nam, best described as the idiot protagonist who, despite being hit by a bus, seems to have the resilience and survivability of a cockroach. He’s got reliable friends in the form of fellow scrap workers Al and Bubba, and when he lands a job at Utopia, a pawnshop of dubious nature, he thinks he’s set for life.

Enter Cho-In, who has managed to survive by stealing from such shops. He uses his power to freeze everyone, and is about to make good on his escape when Kyu-Nam shakes the compulsion off and confronts him, sparking a struggle that results in the death of Kyu-Nam’s boss. This becomes the catalyst for Kyu-Nam’s quest for revenge, leading to a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with rising stakes and increasing casualties.

Gang Dong-Won was exceptional as Cho-In – he fit the role as the tortured, angst-ridden villain perfectly, while Ko Soo, broad shouldered and bland faced, fit the bill as the would be hero of justice.

The script was stellar, the characterization of Cho-In and his motivations especially painted him out as less of a villain, and more of a victim of unhappy circumstance. By the end of the movie, I was rooting for him, rather than Kyu-Nam, who proved to be nothing less than a persistent disturbance with an overwrought sense of morality (and had clearly taken things a little too personally). The story was mostly serious, but there were enough light hearted moments (especially with the hero and his two stooges) in between, and at some points, there was even self-deprecating, genre bending humor.

Camera angles and visuals were beautiful. The opening was perhaps the most memorable, but there were just as many other scenes that were artfully constructed. The rain of human bodies in the apartment complex, for one, and the mass suicide of office workers in an adjacent building another. Even the final, requisite rooftop confrontation (yes, it’s always mandatory in any good modern tale) didn’t seem at all forced, and the sequence, despite it’s lack of combat, was balletic in its execution.

A definite must watch if you’re into Korean movies, especially one with an urban fantasy bent. I actually missed the Screen Singapore showcase of Paradise Kiss and May’n to catch this, and I don’t regret it one bit.

X-Men: First Class – Top of its Class

2 Jun , 2011,
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X-Men: First Class - Poster Art

After the third X-Men movie spiraled into the same dark oblivion that sucked in so many other movie franchises, I expected First Class to be the same.

The trailers were dull enough, characters appeared to be cookie cutter rip-offs, Professor X had hair (ZOMG ACTUAL HAIR), and Magneto looked like a lost lamb with issues (well, technically he is). It didn’t help that the posters and promotional materials plastered everywhere said a whole lot of nothing either, which was why I was really, really surprised that the film turned out to be decent, if not good.

It’s obvious that all First Class needed was a reboot, and not just in the story department. Matthew Vaughn, the director behind comic book hit Kick Ass and the big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, lent an air of skill and nerdistry to the production, while Bryan Singer, in his role as writer (rather than director), wove a tight enough script that, while formulaic, was mostly true to form.

X-Men: First Class retells the formation of the X-Men. Set in Cold War era America, it has Charles Xavier and Erik Lensharr chaperoning young mutants Havok, Darwin, Beast, Angel (later known as Tempest), Banshee and Mystique as they race to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis and to foil the machinations of Sebastian Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club.

The story is plain enough, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who portray Prof. X and Magneto respectively, shoulder the plot  and carry it along at a dignified clip. Their performance is arguably the most impressive, though Kevin Bacon, with his portrayal of Sebastian Shaw, comes close with the right kind of megalomaniacal intensity.

The supporting cast wasn’t particularly bad either. The casting, admittedly, wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, and it disturbed me that Shaw’s lackeys Azazel and Riptide weren’t really speaking roles (they had pretty kickass powers though) but hey, you can’t have everything.

Also, while First Class worked with only half the budget of the X-Men: The Last Stand, it was still a visual treat. Though the films color treatment with its muted colors had a ’60s look, the effects, especially with Magneto’s many hijinks, proved impressive and modern. There’s something to be said about freezing a volley of missiles in mid-air, and deflecting them, or levitating a submarine out of the oceans very depths.

I enjoyed the archive footage and inserts, and while it might seem ludicrous for the X-Men to be hunched over a television set, watching the news with trepidation, it was a scene that evinced just the right kind of feel that fit right in with earlier X-Men comics and the realities of that era.

So what’s on First Class’s report card? Me, I think i’s not quite an A movie, but it acquits itself well.

Generally, First Class is a great geek’s film with decent pacing, smart storytelling, and strong characterization. It’s pleasantly different from its predecessors, and deserves some top class accolades for the acting and directorial effort.

Now who wants to take bets that there’s gonna be two more sequels to this prequel, making X-Men the second film sextet of the century?

This Pirate Will Never Get Old!

21 May , 2011,
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Poster Art

With Hollywood franchises, especially something with a decade long shelf life like Pirates of the Caribbean, you’d expect its fourth installment to be all at sea. After all,  there’s only so much pirate-y dialogue, swashbuckling, and rum chugging you can stomach before it’s milked dry and the gags get old.

And that is why On Stranger Tides is strangely refreshing. With a new director (Rob Marshall, who did Chicago and Memoirs of A Geisha) at the helm, it baulks doing more of the same, injecting a fair dose of plot, some great character development, and *gasp* enough adventure into this tired ship’s sails to keep it seaworthy.

Picking up where Pirates 3: At World’s End left off, 4 opens in London, with the series’ iconic pirate Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, of course) traipsing through courtrooms, swinging from chandeliers, staring down royalty (well, King George), and generally careening from disaster to disaster before he gets shanghaied into joining the crew of Blackbeard’s ship, and suborned into leading the notorious pirate to the fabled Fountain of Youth.

Of course, it’s not much of an adventure if there’s nobody else after the macguffin right? That’s why we’ve got the Spanish armada, and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, powdered wig and all) after it too, resulting in more than a few hairy moments and roguish antics.

Depp’s performance this time is no less animated than in his previous forays. Cap’n Jack is still a scoundrel through and through, though there’s also a certain maturity, and a fair bit of tension with the introduction of love interest Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz). There’s a bit of sauciness going on between the two of them, and while things don’t ever get racy (thanks to this being a Disney production), naughty things are implied, making it the cheekiest Pirates yet.

Ian McShane, who played the black hearted Blackbeard, made for an intense villain, while Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey wasn’t half bad as a mermaid with some actual lines.

The movie had its flaws, but these came in the way of choreography and the overall presentation. The swashbuckling scenes were decent, but not stellar (and in fact, it was the chase at the very beginning that only really appealed to me), and the melee scenes, whether between Blackbeard’s crew and the mermaids, or the three corner fight at the climax, were cluttered and chaotic. Rob Marshall demonstrated better control with scenes involving fewer actors though, and his framing of tight close ups proved impressive.

The score was, as usual, impressive. Hans Zimmer had a hand in it, of course, so hey, whaddya expect? The script, adapted from a novel with the same title, proved fairly pedestrian, but then again, Pirates isn’t all about script. It’s about spectacle, and that’s what it manages to deliver.

Overall, Pirates 4 proved a mostly entertaining film.  It tickled my geek sensibilities, and if you’ve sat through all three Pirates movies and didn’t mind them, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Also, if you’re starved for fantasy or period fare till Your Highness comes out next week, Pirates 4 makes for something to tide you over.