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Monday, December 31, 2012

[5.75/10] Tai Chi Hero (2012)

Tai Chi Hero (2012)

Brief review: After the recently released martial arts caper, "Tai Chi Zero", here comes the second installment in the franchise, that promises even more silly fun and crazy fights. Sadly though, the director obviously didn't save the best for last, because compared to its totally refreshing predecessor, "Tai Chi Hero" is a bit of a let down. The story about the origin of Tai Chi fighting style is even more unfocused and less action-packed this time around, and full not-so-interesting back stories, that muddle the plot even more.Also, its clever tag line says 'from zero to hero', but unfortunately, it's more like 'from goofy fun to unnecessary seriousness', which automatically makes this sequel less enjoyable than the wacky "Tai Chi 0". Having said that, the film still has its moments of cheeky humor and slapstick comedy, as well as video game references such as pop-up 'vs.' titles and cartoon-like special effects, plus, it kind of redeems itself in the final act, thanks to the final 'stair rail' fight sequence between Yang Lu Chan and the protector, which is executed to sheer perfection, as well as super-exciting and fun to watch. That being said, this extraordinary action scene is not enough to save the film from being average at best. Angelababy is pretty to look at, and Yuan Xiaochao continues to impress as the protagonist, but it's Tony Leung Ka Fai as Master Chen that gives the most charismatic performance here.

Overall summary: Neither as quirky, nor as funny, nor as inventive as the original, Fung's "Tai Chi Hero" has one true highlight, namely the astonishing final fight scene, but apart from that, this so-so sequel barely delivers the big fun and non-stop action its predecessor did.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

[6.75/10] Tai Chi Zero (2012)

Tai Chi Zero (2012)

Brief review: Self-proclaimed as a steampunk kung-fu flick, "Tai Chi Zero" is HK director Stephen Fung's latest film, shot back-to-back with the following sequel, "Tai Chi Hero". Right from the very beginning, particularly the hilarious back story presented as a silent, black and whine film, you could tell that "Tai Chi Zero" will be a quirky, goofy fun, and it turns out exactly that. Sure, it's a bit silly and the story itself is nothing special, but who cares, considering all the delightful craziness happening on screen. Visually,  "Tai Chi Zero" looks like a mash-up of styles and techniques, that feels refreshing and unique in its own way. It's like watching an authentic old-school kung fu film turned into a video game, with a hint of Western influence. The legendary Sammo Hung can do no wrong, and he proves that yet again with his fight choreography, which is imaginative without being too over-the-top. The videogame-ish action scenes are fun, edgy, smartly-executed and accompanied with an outstanding wire-work, and "King Fu Hustle"-like cartoonish special effects. "Tai Chi 0" also celebrates the acting debut of Yuan Xiaochao as the lead character Yang Lu Chan, and what a great debut it is. Although, he barely shines with any remarkable acting abilities, his strong screen presence combined with his enviable martial arts skills will make you rooting for his likable character. The rest of the cast is good too.

Overall summary: Slightly goofy and generally all over the place, yet entertaining and conceptually innovating, "Tai Chi Zero" never take itself seriously, plus, its clever visual approach and creatively-choreographed fight sequences leave you craving for the upcoming sequel.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

[8.50/10] The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [3D] (2012)

Brief review: Unlike the "Lord of the Rings' films the first installment in the  new "Hobbit" trilogy is way more light-weighted, brighter in tone, and definitely not as action-packed as its three predecessors, as it focuses more on explaining us everything we don’t know and need to know in a humorous and relaxed way, rather than providing us with non-stop spectacle. The first half is reasonably slow-moving and lacking in action and vigor, spending all of its time on setting up the following “unexpected journey”, but as soon as the journey starts, the pacing picks up quickly, and continues to flow smoothly throughout, injecting a dose of needed energy into the storytelling. Peter Jackson once again has chosen the most breathtaking filming locations in the beautiful New Zealand, and that combined with the first-class CGI work leads to a spectacular visual result, the majesty of which will leave you in awe. The use of 3D is spot on, if not the best, but on certain scenes it’s incredibly effective, and makes you feel part of what’s happening on screen. Aside from some pacing issues here and there, Jackson’s direction is hard to fault really. As expected, he displays a tasteful visual flair, and remarkable attention to detail. Bilbo Baggins is played wonderfully by Martin Freeman, the dwarves are fun to watch, Ian McKellen returns with a bang as Gandalf, but it’s Andy Serkis as Gollum, that absolutely steals the show.

Overall summary: Sure, it lacks the grim feel, and refined complexity that turned "The Lord of the Rings" into such a classic, but "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is still a truly entertaining, visually-sumptuous and masterfully-crafted prequel, that will leave you satisfied.

Click on the screen shot above or THIS LINK, and check out the extended version of my "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" review, written exclusively for White Cat Magazine. Comments are very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

[9.25/10] Life of Pi [3D] (2012)

Life of Pi [3D] (2012)

Brief review: Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" is the latest cinematic diamond from, arguably, the most versatile director in film history - Ang Lee. This fauna-dedicated story is touching, genuine, adventurous, full of life and truly absorbing from start to finish, and features one of the most engaging human/animal relationships ever put on film. Even though it's basically a fable, Ang Lee's powerful storytelling makes you believe every second of it. Yes, the film gets a bit too dramatic midway through, and the last minute story 'grounds' the otherwise magical experience quite quickly, but other then that, "Life of Pi" is an extraordinary fight for survival like no other. Ang Lee's refined direction features lots of diverse camera angles and impressively skillful camera work, and the special effects are flawless. The design of the animals, especially the Bengal tiger, is so amazing, you wouldn't recognize if those are CGI or actually real. The 3D is often sensational, and fully achieves its purpose to add an extra dimension to the visuals and make them look even more astonishing. There are also particular scenes, shot in a very artsy way, that will make your eyes pop out, particularly the stunning whale sequence. Suraj Sharma manages to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, thanks to his captivating and lively debut performance, and thoroughly charismatic character.

Overall summary:  Daring, captivating, beautifully-crafted, technically-brilliant, and completely extraordinary in every way, this nature-inspired gem of a film, "Life of Pi" is yet another winner from master of storytelling and visuals, Ang Lee, and one of this year's very, very best.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

[8.25/10] Frankenweenie (2012)

QuickRating: Paying homage to such classics as "Pet Sematary" and "Godzilla", Burton's "Frankenstein" inspired stop-motion horror spoof "Frankenweenie" is crafted with big love, care, and passion, and that shows through the lively, superbly-written and designed characters,  and darkly stunning black-and-white visuals. Although typically grim and Gothic in tone and look, this film has a truly endearing story that will melt your heart, as well as humor that will make you smile and cheer.

[7.75/10] ParaNorman (2012)

ParaNorman (2012)

QuickRating: Slightly scary for little kids, but great fun for the older ones (as well as adults) seeking for something different, and even softly chilling, "ParaNorman" may lack the creativity, complexity and slickness of "Coraline", but it's nevertheless an inventive, incredibly well-crafted and marvellously-animated stop motion feature, with smart script, dark sense of humor, unique visual approach, impressive attention to detail, and last but not least a climax with surprising emotional depth.

[7.00/10] Brave (2012)

Brave (2012)

QuickRating: The story about a rebellious tomboy princess is a bit too by-the-numbers and lacking in originality, and definitely not on par with Pixar's finest efforts, but still "Brave" is entertaining and thrilling enough to hold youngster's (and their parents) interest for about 93 minutes, thanks to the brisk pacing, joyous nature, engaging characters, and some magical moments, but above all the splendid animation, which is vibrant, rich in color and detail, and exquisitely-designed.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

[5.75/10] The Barrens (2012)

The Barrens (2012)

QuickRating: After last year's truly disastrous "11-11-11", Darren Lynn Bousman's "The Barrens" is a step in the right direction. The lack of decent budget obviously reflects on some of the films production values such as cinematography, props and practical effects, but thankfully the director makes up for that with an appropriate forest setting and eerie atmosphere, and even though the film is far from terrifying, it blends psychological and visceral horror in an intriguing and unique way.

[4.50/10] House at the End of the Street (2012)

QuickRating: The breakthrough star of 2012, Jennifer Lawrence, saves it from being a complete and utter failure, because she tries her best with the poorly-written character she has to play for cash, but "House at the End of the Street" is every bit as uninspired as its title suggests and has zero suspense, let alone decent scares, and that combined with the un-intriguing story, and ridiculously anti-climatic twist at the end, make it feel twice as long is it actually is.

[4.00/10] The Apparition (2012)

QuickRatings: Heavy on ominous sound effects, but light on scares, thrills and suspense, this may not be the worst horror movie you'll see this year, as it's pretty watchable for the most part, and even moderately entertaining on particular moments, but in the end, "The Apparition" fails to bring anything new to the table, although it constantly deceives its audience it will. Actually, the only good thing about it is the cool music score, which is creepier than the movie itself, and that says a lot.

Friday, December 21, 2012

[6.50/10] Grabbers (2012)

Grabbers (2012)

QuickRating: The idea of making a horror film about sea creatures allergic to alcohol-soaked human blood is clever enough in itself  to make it stand out, but when you add to that a witty, humorous script, likable, yet hilarious characters, an interesting, murky but beautiful Irish countryside scenery, spot-on CGI work, and an out-of-this-world sea monster, you get "Grabber". Well, it may be a bit too silly and pointless, and not particularly polished, but seriously, who cares really?

[4.75/10] Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

QuickRating: It's hard to believe that the director of the awesome "Wanted" directed this misfire of a movie. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" attempts to blend historical facts with fiction, but fails to do so, and on the top of that, it takes itself ridiculously seriously. Even though, the action scenes are nicely-done and full of great stunts, and the vampires are rather cool-looking, the storytelling is rushed, and the script is completely humorless.

[4.50/10] Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

QuickRating: While the '06 original movie was like watching your worst nightmare, and had a strong creep factor, the CGI-laden "Silent Hill: Revelation" relies on its mostly unimpressive special effects and dark spaces to evoke sense of fear in the viewer, which doesn't really work. The truly sinister atmosphere is all gone, the creatures aren't that scary, the thrills are cheap, and Adelaide Clemens' trying-too-hard performance doesn't help either.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

[5.50/10] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (2012)

QuickRating: It's still very cute, and adorably charming,  there are quite a lot hilariously awkward situations that will make you laugh, if not hard, and its vivid, colorful visuals suit well the film's sweet, yet quirky tone, but on the other hand, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" doesn't have the liveliness and vital energy of the previous two, probably because the kids starring in it have grown up, and for that reason alone, the whole thing is not that funny anymore.

[5.00/10] Bachelorette (2012)

Bachelorette (2012)

QuickRating: Neither funny enough to be a good comedy, nor dramatic enough to be considered a drama, this genre hybrid delivers in terms of acting, thanks to its talented and undeniably appealing female cast, particularly Kirsten Dunst and the always lively and amusing Rebel Wilson, but "Bachelorette"  fails to make a truly long-lasting impression, because of its witless script and unfocused , lazy narrative, plus, its sentimentally cheesy final act brings the movie down even more.

[4.00/10] Hit and Run (2012)

 Hit & Run (2012)

QuickRating: Arguably the most pointless movie this year, Palmer and Shepard's "Hit & Run" has a decent cast, and a couple of funny moments and exciting car chases, but in its core it's an idiotic piece of crap with an unpleasantly peculiar sense of humor, ill-fitting action bits, an annoyingly perky music score, unlikable characters, lackluster visuals, and trashy cinematography. In other words, it's neither witty, nor clever, nor pretty to look at, and not particularly entertaining.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[8.50/10] Argo (2012)

Argo (2012)

QuickRating: Over the last five years, Ben Affleck proved himself an extremely capable director, but he's really at the top of his game with "Argo" - a smart and thoughtful based-on-a-true story thriller, that is constantly engrossing from start to finish, and so tense and thrilling, it will keep you on the edge of your seat. Affleck's direction is precise, the pacing is taut, the performances are excellent, and the retro-ish tone of the film captures the late early 1980s feel phenomenally well.

[6.75/10] Red Lights (2012)

Red Lights (2012)

QuickRating: Unfairly overlooked, and insanely underappreciated for no reason, Cortés' "Red Lights" is a fairly gripping, intelligently-crafted, progressively intense, and highly original thriller with a supernatural twist, that succeeds because of its well-written script, brilliant cast and atmospheric visuals,  plus, it breaks many spooky cliches from horror cinema and real world alike, and although in the end it 'falls into its own trap', it does it with style and in a thoroughly effective way.

[5.00/10] Deadfall (2012)

Deadfall (2012)

QuickRating: It's nice to see Eric Bana playing the nice guy for a change (and he does it superbly), the rest of the well-picked cast do an excellent job too, and the snowy setting adds a chilling effect to the otherwise straightforward and not particularly interesting story, but Ruzowitzky's hit-and-miss "Deadfall" is way too moody, and way too slow-moving to be called exciting, and too lacking in gripping action to be called thrilling, therefore, it ends up being mediocre at best.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

[7.25/10] A Royal Affair (2012)

QuickRating: Rich, lush, beautifully shot and wonderfully-acted, if rather overlong, "A Royal Affair" is a spicy Danish period drama, filled with lust, royal intrigues, hidden emotions and manipulative characters, that is every bit as intriguing and engaging as it's visually-magnificent - the production design is first-class, the costumes are exquisite, and the cinematography is stylish, and adds lavishness to the already stunning imagery. Mikkelsen's performance is what makes it truly memorable.

[7.00/10] Amour (2012)

Amour (2012)

QuickRating: Honest, sincere, poignant, and genuinely sad, at times even devastating, the Palme d'Or-winning "Amour" is a quiet film that speaks through the emotions and struggles of his characters, and depicts what true love is, but not in the way we've used to. The heart-wrenchingly dramatic subject matter of the film is exalted by remarkable acting, and Haneke's gentle, if grim direction, consisting of long, dramatic camera shots.

[6.75/10] Teddy Bear (2012)

Teddy Bear (2012)

QuickRating: This Danish low-key drama about a lonely bodybuilder, largely repressed by his controlling mother, who tries to find love in Thailand may be easy to predict, and too straightforward, but it's also honest, heartfelt and deeply genuine, further elevated by the quietly brilliant performance from Kim Kold as the asocial, insecure middle-aged bodybuilder, who is unsure of himself despite his tough guy look and impressive physique.

Monday, December 17, 2012

[6.75/10] To Rome with Love (2012)

QuickRating: Typically quirky, but pretty light-wеighted compared to most of the other Woody Allen films, and definitely not as enchanting or original as his 2011's "Midnight in Paris", "To Rome with Love" is by no means sensational, but will please every die-hard Allen fan. Set in the eternal city of Rome, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and has a specific romantic vibe about it, plus, the performances from the cast are all fantastic, with Penelope Cruz stealing the attention.

[6.50/10] Hope Springs (2012)

Hope Springs (2012)

QuickRating: Delightfully awkward, emotionally  sincere, bittersweet on a moments, but always amusing, if far from exceptional, or particularly memorable, David Frankel's "Hope Springs" incredibly well-written, and features yet another very sensual performance from the one and only Meryl Streep, complemented by the terrific acting from another icon - Tommy Lee Jones, and it gives us a truthful and honest, yet humorous look at long-time marriages, and tough mature relationships.

[6.50/10] Not Suitable for Children (2012)

QuickRating: This finely-crafted Aussie dramedy is in the same vein as last year's "50/50", but definitely funnier, and less depressing and dramatic. While the film's premise sounds barely intriguing, Michael Lucas' smart script is actually quite smart, full of surprises and hilarious situations, and the rather awkward romance is absolutely hysterical. On the top of that Ryan Kwanten irresistible charm will make you for his struggling character.