Insurgent

Insurgent_posterInsurgent, the sequel to last year’s Divergent has far exceeded my expectations. As I found the first book in the Divergent series the best among the trilogy, the movie version of the second book surpasses the first movie in all aspects. It was more suspenseful, more action-filled, more faithful to the story, and more emotionally pulling. The visuals are better while the sound stands out more.

What I love about movie versions of the books that I’ve read is that the story lines that I got to read ages ago suddenly make a flashback in my mind. As great movie versions of the books that I have read unfold their scenes right before my eyes, the thoughts I had and the emotions I felt while I was reading the books where they were based come awesomely alive. This rang true with Insurgent.

The atmosphere created by a dystopian future of a city divided into different factions is still felt in this movie. Everything’s different, though, as a major shakeup is being made. Jeanine Matthews (cold-bloodedly portrayed by Kate Winslet) has succeeded to destroy the Abnegation faction and lead the Dauntless to take charge of the city. The divergent Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), her enemy # 1, is into hiding along with her boyfriend, Four (Theo James), as they, along with their friends, successfully evaded her invasion of Abnegation. Jeanine’s goal of eradicating the divergents is close to fruition. It’s up to Tris to find a way to defeat Jeanine and seek justice for those people who have been murdered including her parents and friends.

I liked every minute of watching the film. I found the actors more comfortable with their roles and it shows with their chemistry.  Shailene Woodley was so great here I can’t wait to see her in other roles. If I’ve said that she’s no Jennifer Lawrence in my review of Divergent, I can say that she’s getting there by now. Theo James still ably gave life to Four though he’s been overshadowed by the goodness that is Miles Teller. Teller is one actor that I have been loathing to see even if I have seen him in numerous movies before. But that changed with Oscar-winning film, Whiplash, where he performed impressively along with Oscar winner J.K. Simmons. That change continues with Insurgent as he effortlessly shows his butterfly tendencies in changing loyalties with factions for his role. Not used enough (or probably not given enough spotlight) in this film are  Octavia Spencer as the hospitable leader of Amity, Naomi Watts as the surprisingly young-looking leader of the Factionless and Ray Stevenson as the still assumed leader of Abnegation. I guess they’ll be given enough meat to chew on during the next Divergent movies.

Even though there are many action scenes that are deemed to be generic, they are still awesome as they remained just true to the spirit of the book. I mean, you can’t just pull out one too many great action sequences if they’re unnecessary, right? Anyway, the visuals are also impressive but they become more impressive because of the sound editing and sound mixing done to complement the scenes. Speaking of the scenes, there is not one boring moment in each and one of them. Thanks to the caring hands of director Robert Schwentke and  editors Nancy Richardson and Stuart Levy. Even though non-readers of the book where the movie was based might not get everything that is being said or done in it, they’ll still surely appreciate what was being screened from start to finish.

Insurgent’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5.

Cinderella (movie review)

Cinderella_2015_official_posterThis is how you make a movie version of a fairytale!

I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard that a live version of the beloved fairytale was in the works. It wasn’t a bad idea, but making Cinderella alive not with use of drawings or merely animation would be a hard thing to do if just to please any fairytale lover. But thanks to the cast and crew of this film, a great movie version of Cinderella has been brought to the silver screen.

Friends have been telling me that Cinderella is a good movie and so I have high expectations before watching it. And those expectations were definitely exceeded. What I saw was not a mere re-imagination of the beloved fairytale but a great re-telling of the classic. Needless to say, Cinderella is a must-watch especially for those who yearn that good and lovin’ feeling! Haha, just kidding. Kids and kids-at-heart will surely appreciate this movie.

All eyes were drawn to Cinderella when she entered the palace for the first time. Why wouldn’t they be? The actress who plays her role is a great beauty. In fact, the time she, the grownup Cinderella, made her appearance onscreen, you can’t help but just look at her. The person who portrays the beloved character oozes with charm and grace and that is no other than Ella James. I think I’ve seen her in a couple of episodes of Downton Abbey but she ‘s a revelation in this movie. She made me feel like there could be no one who could have portrayed Cinderella better.

Her chemistry with Richard Madden, her Prince Charming, is undeniable. Have you seen their dance during the ball in the palace? They seem to be making love! I don’t know if it’s just me but the grace in the way they moved and the intensity of the way they looked at each other made me feel like it. Can’t help but think that it’s the way you make a romantic pairing work!

Cate Blanchett proved that there’s no role that she couldn’t portray well. As the evil stepmother, she stared with hatred at Cinderella and acted like the latter’s someone to really be hated. She succeeded in both instances.

Famed British actor and director Kenneth Branagh helmed this wonderful film. Thankfully, he did because it was really good! The visuals were impressive, the editing was impeccable and the screenplay was very faithful to the spirit of the fairytale. The inspiring story of Cinderella was put into a life full of colors with this film.

Cinderella’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4.5 out of 5

The Imitation Game (movie review)

The_Imitation_Game_posterOne of the best films not just for the year 2014, The Imitation Game celebrates the distinction of being not normal. That is right -the extraordinary, the special one. From honoring the great mind of Mr. Alan Turing, the popular mathematician who broke Germany’s seemingly unbreakable code called Enigma (the movie is loosely based on the biography called Alan Turing: The Enigma, by the way), up to his love for what’s different; this movie has shown more heart, mind and soul compared to a whole other good movies that were screened last year.

“Think of it. A digital computer. Electrical brain.”

-Alan Turing

Alan Turing was a brilliant man. He also was a homosexual. The movie was quite honest with this truth right from the start with its remarkably beautiful flashbacks. These scenes showed how the math prodigy came to befriend and later on love another male student in his school. Meanwhile at the present time in the film, World War 2 was happening and the brilliant minds of Britain that included Mr. Turing were put together to solve a puzzle than no one ever thought could be solved: the Enigma code. The Germans used this code to pass on information as to what would be done to whom, where and when. It has gained victory for Germany for a while and the secret group led by Mr. Turing had to break the code for the Allies to win the war.

“Alan, I so rarely have cause to say this but you are exactly the man I always hoped you would be.” – Mark Strong

Benedict Cumberbatch takes his acting into another notch by playing the indifferent Mr. Turing. He combined the smart-ass attitude that he portrays in Sherlock with a heart of a closeted man who truly fell in love in this movie and it worked quite brilliantly. No other actor could have portrayed the enigmatic character that was Alan Turing better than him.

“They’re not going to help you if they don’t like you.” – Joan Clarke

I also love how the other actors of the film fared along Cumberbatch. Among them, I liked how Keira Knightley fit into the character of a very smart girl who was fond of Turing and whom Turing was also fond of. Their characters’ sapiosexual behaviors made for a great couple even though they won’t ever get to the romantic sides of being in a relationship. Things eventually turned out sour but in the end, their care for each other was still evident.

“I’ll work. You’ll work. And we’ll have each other’s company. We’ll have each other’s minds.That sounds like a better marriage than most. Because I care for you and you care for me. And we understand one another more than anyone else ever has.”

-Joan Clarke

The historic thriller could be passed on as a war film, and a very smart one at that. But ultimately it’s about a love story, which is said to be illegal and immoral. The movie’s making a testament that love is never bad if shared between two people, even if they’re of the same sex or gender. The oppression and discrimination that happened and continues to happen among the LGBT community were revealed here, especially towards the end. No one’s heart could be so hard that the film won’t be able to touch.

“Now, if you wish you could have been normal I can promise you I do not.”

-Joan Clarke

Congratulations should be given to Morten Tyldum for being able to bring out such a moving story with his direction. And congratulations for the movie’s writer, Graham Moore, for winning the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie’s accolades (8 nominations for Oscars and a whole lot more) justify what the movie really is: a great one that is not short of being classic.

“Sometimes, it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

– Christopher Morcom

The Imitation Game’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5

Mockingjay Part 1 (Movie Review)

Mockingjay Part 1Even before watching the movie, I already had doubts that Mockingjay Part 1 would be a good one. I really have reservations about movies being divided into two parts mainly because the studios wanted to earn more money. I have read the book and I can say that the whole story can be put up into just one whole movie. It’s unfair that the quality of movies like this would suffer just because it has been cut. Now let’s see if I am right with what I am saying.

I was somehow right, but also wrong in some ways.

It’s amazing how the director, Francis Lawrence, and the screenwriters, Danny Strong and Peter Craig, were able to turn the first half of the book of Suzanne Collins into a two-hour movie. You’d sense, though, that the script was really stretched out especially at the start but when the pace of the movie was established, you’d just carry on watching. The movie had its big moments and these moments were carried out well. The excellent camerawork was really something to commend on because it turned seemingly normal scenes into something exciting and thrilling.

Jennifer Lawrence once again impresses in this penultimate installment of The Hunger Games movie series. In spite of the havoc brought about by the leaked nude pictures scandal, she maintains to be likeable. More importantly, she delivers in the film as Katniss Everdeen, the face of the rebellion of the thirteen districts against the anarchic system of the Capitol. Katniss was asked to lead the propaganda against the Capitol, and even though she hesitated at first, she eventually agreed after seeing the destruction made by President Snow (aptly played coldly by Donald Sutherland) and his government. If Jennifer Lawrence was likeable, her partner, Josh Hutcherson was not… at least in the movie as Peeta Mellark. As one of the captives in Capitol after the Quarter Quell, Peeta was being forced to feed lies to the people of the districts and counter what Katniss was telling the citizens. Even though Hutcherson had fewer scenes in this movie compared to the previous movies, he made sure that his scenes, especially the final ones, were truly remarkable. Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s best friend and one of the top soldiers in District 13 was effective, though I hope he’d do better in the last film as his character plays a really big part in the Mockingjay book. The supporting cast that includes Woody Harrelson (reprising his role as Haymicht), Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket) and Julianne Moore (as the rebellion forces’ leader, President Alma Coin) was a pro in their roles.

Aside from the formidable cast, the movie’s biggest draw is its smart political overtones. Panem is at war, and the movie has shown how players in the warring governments do their work of planning and strategizing to gain victory. It’s been shown how propaganda works: the smarter the propaganda is, the better it serves its function. Moreover, the movie exposes that truth about war: it sacrifices a lot of people. It is never the best option to end conflicts as many, many people will die and be killed along the way. If there came a point when declaring one is the only option left (as presented in the movie), offering oneself for the greater good is justified. You’d just hope you’re on the right side.

The movie’s good but it lacked in one department where it should have really excelled: action. As a consequence of the trimming of the story to pave way for a two-part movie, the action scenes were sorely lacking. No good action scenes could justify the shortness of the action, considering this as a war movie. Producers should really think about giving up quality over the quantity of money that they’ll be earning. Shame on them.

Mockingjay Part 1’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 3.5 out of 5

Gone Girl

Gone_Girl_PosterMind tricks. Mind games. Mysteries. This movie’s going to trap you in its maze. And this is my kind of movie.

An adaptation of the 2012 book of the same name, Gone Girl is about the disappearance of Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike), a seemingly successful writer even as a child. Her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a journalist who has lost his job, is the primary suspect after she went missing. What happened to Amy? What did Nick do? Did he kill her? These are the questions that film will make you ask during its first part. The media frenzy ensues; the police work does its dues; and the story about Nick and Amy’s convulated love, complicated relationship and difficult marriage start to unfold.

Rosamund Pike, an actress whom I have heard a lot of times before but never made a mark on me, is a big revelation here as the titular character. If she’s been constantly overlooked before, watch out for her after she gets nominated and given accolades for this film. Clearly, she’s a force to reckon with. She’s able to embody that missing girl… who’s got a lot of secrets.

Ben Affleck impresses as Nick Dunne, the husband of the missing girl. It is really a wonder why he acted differently when his character’s wife started to go missing… until you learn his character’s story and hers. You will not root for him because you will hate him. But you will try to understand where he’s coming from. And that will make you like him. And hate him again for trying to do not the good thing but the right thing in the end. And nothing seems to be more complicated than that. Nick’s interview in a local TV show highlights the best of Affleck’s abilities in the movie: he made himself admit his mistakes as bait for his missing wife. His admission exposed what his character really is but the circumstance behind the camera is telling otherwise. That ability to embody the complexity of his character is what makes Affleck so great here.

David Fincher is a master of suspense. I liked The Social Network because of the thrilling sensation behind its smartness. I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of its breath-taking scenes and very memorable characters. But I loved Gone Girl. Just like my favorite Fincher movie, Fight Club, this movie is exhilaratingly good and fashionably intelligent. The characters are going to take you deep into their story.  Gone Girl is going to make you feel. More importantly, it is going to make you think. It is going to make you grasp for reasons why certain situations happen, how people behave and why some relationships have to end. The maze I was talking about a while ago would trap you. But it will eventually lead you the way out with satisfying answers.

The editing done in Gone Girl is slick and smooth. I love how the transpositions of the scenes are done: having Nick’s perspective of the story alternate with that of Amy’s during the first part. When everything in the story is exposed, the perspectives shifted to the reality. And the way these two stories are woven together is impressively good. Towards the last part of the movie, the suspense is kept at a level wherein you won’t be exhausted that much, just enough for you to still be exhausted on what’s about to come up next.

Perfectly casted (from the leads down to the very small supporting roles), brilliantly directed and beautifully filmed with notches of great sound and musical score, this movie deserves a perfect rating.

Gone Girl’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5

The Maze Runner

The_Maze_Runner_posterI’ve been disappointed a lot of times before after watching a movie adaptation of a book that I have read. However, I’ve never been this disappointed after watching The Maze Runner. Based on the first book in the young adult post-apocalyptic trilogy of James Dashner, The Maze Runner failed to capture the energy, the confusion and the atmosphere of the book.

The movie is about Thomas, a teenage boy brought into an isolated place surrounded by gigantic, moving walls called the Glade. These moving walls make up the seemingly unsolvable maze, which is plagued by deadly mechanical creatures called Grievers. Gladers, the other teenage boys who have stayed in the Glade for a month to a few years, have been running around the maze to search for a way out. Suddenly, things started changing ever since Thomas has arrived. Does this mean he will lead the way out for the Gladers, or instead bring them doom as the people who sent them finally want results, no matter what these may be?

In the book, Thomas started out and felt as a real outcast in the Glade. The other teenage boys displayed varying attitudes towards him, and it’s only after some time that he either made strong connections that grew into real friendships or did things that truly irate some of them. I was surprised to know that these did not really come alive in the film. Thomas and the other Gladers acted a lot different. It’s good to know, though, that they still managed to bring out the terms Gladers use that are unique to their place (e.g. Greenie, shuck-face). Moreover, the magnitude that entails having these teenage boys into a place where nobody knows and having no memory whatsoever of the past as felt in the book is lost in translation in the movie. Redundant dialogues plagued what could have been simpler and more thoughtful conversations between the characters. The emotions seemed too low, even when they’re being shown to be celebrating. Honestly, none of the actors really impressed in acting out their roles. Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf) may have done his best to live up Thomas but he’s not really able to show it well by embodying the gravity of the worsening condition of the Glade as he was supposed to. This should partly be blamed as well to the director, Wes Ball, who may have lacked a vision of how to run mystery suspense-thrillers like this. In O’Brien’s defense, I liked how he acted out in a lot of scenes especially that one standout scene towards the end. Ki Hong Lee who portrayed Minho failed to show the smartness and confidence of his character. Aml Ameen (Alby) and Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) are both forgettable. The two who are close to portraying what they are supposed to portray are Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the friendly Newt and Will Poulter as the angst-riddled Gally.

In all fairness to the movie, it is surprisingly fast-paced and because of this, it is far from boring. Moviegoers who haven’t read the book may have liked it just as it is even though a lot of changes have been done. To me (and probably the rest of the readers of the book), though, this fast pacing doesn’t matter because of the frustration I ended up having. Moreover, because of the lacking elements of the film (that extra punch, that missing tone and spirit), it seemed like it’s not entirely sure of what it is. Well, that’s pretty much like the book wherein the author seemed to be confused as to where his story was going or leading. The direction of the story seemed clear, but the steps on going there are blurred.

I’m still reading The Scorch Trials, the second book of the trilogy, but I do hope that its movie adaptation will not just be faithful but also be a lot better than The Maze Runner. I really don’t want to get very disappointed again.

The Maze Runner’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 2.5 out of 5

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes is fascinatingly awesome.

The movie continues several years after the conclusion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The smart, genetically-evolved apes led by Caesar went to the jungle and made their own colony. They grew in number and many of them were trained to fight to survive. Meanwhile, a few of the remaining people living in a fortified complex in what remains of the San Francisco City ventured into the jungle to fix the dam that provides power. One of them encountered two of the apes and shot one by accident. Caesar and the rest of the apes appeared before these people and warned them about the implications of going to their territory. Will this start the war between the humans (who have dwindled in number because of the virus tested to the apes more than a decade ago) and the smart, strong and talking apes?

The movie was full of surprises. If you think you knew what’s about to happen, think again. The struggles humans face in the movie’s virus-stricken world made it a lot harder for them to live. The sharing of work was still there, but their activities were certainly limited. This was in contrast to what the apes were up to. They’d been hunting, training hard and educating the young. Both humans and apes found each other a threat, and it’s up to a few good people to stop the impending war between them.

Hats off to Matt Reeves (whose movies include Conviction and Cloverfield) for brilliantly directing the movie. Imagine, if directing human actors on the set is hard enough, what more if they’re interspersed with visual effects to make it appear like some of the human actors are apes. The way he tells this saga about humans and apes is consistently good and really smart. He knew what to do with the story and it showed magnificently onscreen.

Andy Serkis ably reprised his role as Caesar, the leader of the genetically-evolved apes. The way he moved and emoted showed ease and control that his character possesses. Toby Kebbell almost stole the show with his portrayal of Kobo, Caesar’s brutal ape adviser. Meanwhile, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell (as Malcolm and Ellie, respectively) held well in portraying the humans who went to the jungle and created a bond with the apes.

Needless to say, this movie has superb visual effects. The apes in the film looked amazingly real. It would make people wonder how the production team was able to come up with a lot of apes interacting with humans in various scenarios. It’s like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (its superior predecessor) gone bigger and better. This movie was a testament on how well the technology used in films has advanced throughout the years.

The movie was filled with satisfying action scenes. The scenes depicting the war wrought by apes to humans were commanding of attention as they were excellently choreographed. Humans battling the apes looked good, but apes battling other apes looked better.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was outright dark right from the start. It’s got light moments and funny ones once in a while, but its atmosphere got darker as it progressed. When Kobo took power in the ape colony, the movie became hauntingly terrifying. The ante of suspense got higher and was thoroughly sustained until the end. In addition, Michael Giacchino delivered an intense musical score, making the scenes a lot more terrifying.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5