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Review 300 (2006): A beautiful and solid epic that delivers on action and spectacle.

genre: action, adventure, comic book adaptation, fantasy

A few days ago I bought the blu-ray of 300 and naturally I wanted to revisit the film that was a favourite of mine since I have seen it in the cinema. Well, younger me clearly loved it a whole lot more than older me. Read here what the thoughts of younger me were:

"300" is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen! This story based on the graphic novel is simply wonderful. The visuals are stunning. The music is great. The acting is superb. The drama is more than excellent. The action is epic. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you see this movie. When you look at the screen you know some things can't happen. But the way it is edited and filmed gives the impression that it is all real. "300" never gets boring! I never wanted this movie to end. It is a movie you can watch over and over again and enjoy every minute of it. This is a movie that should be playing in the theaters all the time. (Are you still here? Go rent or buy the movie already!). 

While I admire younger me's enthusiasm, older me is a little more reserved. For one thing 300 does lose strength after several viewings. It is therefore not a movie you can watch over and over again without getting bored. Perhaps it is the fact that we are spoiled even more spectacle wise and that we gotten used to bigger and better. Although I have to say that some of the visuals still hold up and look mesmerizing. Especially in HD. But to be honest it is not exactly the spectacle that I am critical of. For what it offers it's solid to grand. It's more the non action scenes that pop out more than before. Of course it is understandable that the surprise factor of many of those plot related moments is diminished. However I do distinctly remember being more involved and immersed with the main characters and the odds they had to go against. A lot of the dramatic scenes now were lacking intensity and substance. And I think it is because the films misses some memorable dialogue, stronger dynamics and background. Apart from the iconic quotes: 

"This is Sparta!" 

"Tonight we dine in hell."  

"A thousand nations of the Persian empire will descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun! Reply from Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade."

The excellent cast hide the fact they don't have that much to say or to express. Instead of showing us we are told by narrator Dilios (played by David Wenham) what the emotions are and where our sympathies should lie. Highly effective the first few times. But now after having watched the film more times the cracks are beginning to show. Is this is a bad thing? No, I don't think so. Although I had wished that 300 had a little more to offer next to the action and nice visuals. Still if you haven't seen this film yet then you will have a blast since the first time watching is splendid fun. It truly is like a comic book that has come to live.

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Review The Lego Batman Movie (2017): Fun overall although there are some issues!

genre: animation, comedy, action, adventure, comic book adaptation, super hero

The Lego Batman Movie starts out real good by parodying Christopher Nolan's Batman. Whether you are a fan of Christopher Nolan the jokes are spot on and funny. However then after 15 minutes or so the film loses steam quite a lot. So much so that I was getting worried it would never recover from it.
I even stopped watching it after 50 minutes. But when I got the chance to pick it up again the day after I was all smiles since The Lego Batman Movie does redeem itself.

For most this will be good news. But the more critical people might have issues with the 35 minutes not being on par with the rest of the movie. And to be honest I agree. It's not that those minutes are immensely bad. Although nothing worth wile happens in them that warranted my interest. I don't like it when films waste my time. If there is a point to it then I am very willing to be forgiving. Only in this case it very much seems like that there were just 80 minutes of story, jokes and references that had to be spread out over the entire duration. Too obvious and a little aggravating since most jokes and references come at you in light speed. So fast that most of them are far to easy to miss. Why not give the audience a chance to digest and process all the information? The jokes and references would have had bigger impact and you would not have filler content. All this extensive padding diminishes the viewing pleasure and I wished film makers would refrain from doing so.

Still I also have to compliment the people behind The Lego Batman Movie for making good use of the Warner Brothers property. For obvious reasons I can't divulge too much about what exact property I am talking about but you know once you have seen it. Let's just say that I love it when different worlds and characters of the past, present and future get connected somehow. You know crossovers and all that jazz. Apart from some well known DC characters making appearances others from other WB films show up and it made The Lego Batman Movie awesome. This is what DCEU films also should be doing. Suicide Squad would have been the ideal live action film to showcase all that DC goodness. But perhaps David Ayer felt too good to resort that kind of craziness. Every time when these pretentious directors come in to these projects, they often say how much they are a fan of the comics but then always do their best to ground their movies in realism. That is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. At least director Chris McKay understands this and it is what makes The Lego Batman Movie superior to any other DCEU movie currently.

Do give The Lego Batman Movie the benefit of the doubt since it does offer the fun you are expecting or hoping for provided you can overlook the generic 35 minutes of padding.

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Review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017): It's awesome!

genre: action, adventure, comic book adaptation, superhero

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.  is exactly the kind of sequel it should be. It assumes you have watched the original and that you are familiar with it's characters. I know that might come as a shock to some of you but that is the thing with sequels. Crazy how some filmmakers expect some investment on the part of it's audience?

Sorry for my sarcasm but I honestly don't understand the criticism this sequel has gotten. It's superior to Avengers: Age of Ultron in almost every way. I was massively underwhelmed with that one. With this I experienced nothing but joy and laughter. On top of that it hit me in the heart quite a few times. And how that ever could be conceived as something bad I will never understand. Guardians of the Galaxy expands on the characters we have learned to like and love. It's less about the bad guy and his evil plans and more about the interactions and relationships that have been formed. May I remind people that this is one of the best things that Marvel delivers on. One example are Baby Groot and Drax. They don't seem to like each other much. Especially Baby Groot doesn't hesitate to slap Drax silly whenever he can. But then in a scene later in the film we get to see that this dislike is just playfulness and more a sign of genuine love and friendship. This film is filled with those dynamics. In the middle of all the mayhem and chaos the guardians still find time to banter and crack jokes which is so much fun.

Action wise this Guardians film has a lot to offer as well. Maybe it doesn't feel like there is as much as stake as in the original but that doesn't automatically make it less epic. It is true that the focus of this film has been shifted from MCU verse. Although left and right you will be confronted with some references or easter eggs to remind you that this film is still very much part of that infinite Marvel Universe. Several other characters have been introduced to us in this part and amongst them is none other than Sylvester Stallone who plays Stakar Ogord. I honestly don't know anything about this character but the little I read on wikipedia seems to be quite interesting especially if this could mean that Stallone might return in other Marvel films. The prospect of more and more people joining MCU is mind boggling and exciting. How can you not be? Of course I do need to mention Kurt Russel as well. And the terrific CGI job they did to make him appear as his younger self. It was so convincing. Much better than they did in Tron: Legacy with Jeff Bridges. It's nice to learn that technology has evolved quite a lot. At the same time quite scary as well since could this mean that one day there would be no need for actual human actors?

Do I really need to mention that just as the first one the soundtrack is ace. This is how it is done DC. Guardians of the Galaxy delivers all the Marvel goodness you want and then some. Actually it's awesome!

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Review The Mummy (1999): Yep, it's a classic alright!

genre: action, adventure, fantasy

The Mummy is a movie I have seen several times in my lifetime and it is one that despite that still manages to entertain in the same spots it did the first time. Even knowing about all of the twists and turns the film remains a compelling and fun spectacle. 

I was surprised to find out how in places the film even succeeds in building up genuine tension and terror. But make no mistake it's the action that is the main draw and even after 18 years it is incredibly exciting. And while there is a lot of CGI effects in this film it never loses credibility. Perhaps because the actors do make it appear the dangers are real. Ít's also because of the fact that director Stephen Sommers very wisely so, has restrained himself from going overboard and focus on the basics like in that Indiana Jones franchise. Speaking of which. The Mummy feels very much like the Indiana Jones films. Most events are meant to be serious and dramatic but with a very healthy dose of humour mixed into it that gives the audience the much needed comic relief. John Hanna, Kevin J. O'Connor and Omid Djalili are the ones who deliver this throughout the film and it is one of the main reasons The Mummy is a lot of fun. 

Then you have Brendan Fraser and Oded Fehr. Both handsome and charming who are the dedicated heroes bailing out whoever need to be rescued. But wait that's not all. Rachel Weisz is the nerdy, charming and beautiful librarian who is their equal in every way and will not hesitate to do what it takes to achieve their goals. She is far from the usual and typical damsel in distress. Big baddie Imhotep played by Arnold Vosloo was brilliant also. Vosloo was clearly enjoying his role as the complex villain who has a purpose most of us can relate to. LOVE! 

The Mummy is old school adventure fun that does more right than wrong. Not that you are given time to notice the flaws since the film does move from event to event quite quickly. So do give this a watch. You won't regret it.

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Review The Invisible Guest a.k.a. Contratiempo (2016): The ending alone will make it worth your while!

genre: crime, mystery, thriller

The Invisible Guest is a good thriller for sure but it's not one that will put you on the edge of your seat. Unless of course you haven't seen many films of this type. Actually for the most part the film tries hard to embrace the clichés and therefore might seem it is going to be a predictable affair.

Except it's not. What this film does exceptionally well is play around with certain tropes and turn them around so that the outcomes might be slightly different from what normally occurs. And that is what makes this thriller stand out from the rest. There are times that it seems obvious what is going on especially since some of the characters behave like lunatics. Until it dawns on you that something is off. Next to this The Invisible Guest manages to surprise you in parts you wouldn't think it would be possible. Which is quite an accomplishment if you ask me. If you have seen as many thrillers as I have it is become increasingly harder to be genuinely surprised anymore. So kudos to director Oriol Paulo (Los ojos de Julia, El Cuerpo) for making yet another thriller that does this. 

The acting is solid but nothing extraordinary. Although one the cast outclasses everyone for reasons I can't divulge. You will know once you have finished watching this. But I do advise to watch this in it's original language since more than ever it is important to hear how the characters are expressing themselves. It has to be said that the one actor I was referring to does a lot with the eyes and that even if you don't quite understand the words you still will know what is going on. 

I do have to add that I personally was expecting more suspense and thrilling wise and that for fans of the genre like me most of the film could be a little underwhelming. However that is made up for with it's brilliant ending. So do stick with it if you are feeling the same way I did. 

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Review Stoker (2013): Some people might find this intriguing. I think it was alright!

genre: drama, thriller

Stoker is one of those films that exactly is what it seems like on the surface. It never truly surprises or engages you as you might expect from a thriller. Not that Stoker is boring or feels like a waste of time. Director Chan-wook Park made sure of that.

The cinematography is beautiful and the film is very stylish although compared to for example his Old Boy it's toned down considerably. On a technical level this film is perfect. But my main objections are the lack of good characterization and compelling story. Wentworth Miller (Prison Break, Legends of Tomorrow) wrote the screenplay which definitely touches upon an intriguing subject. However there have been many films and TV Shows already about the topic that I simply could not get invested in the tale as much as intended. I basically called it from the beginning how events would play out and was therefore disappointed that the film failed to surprise me or at least catch me off guard. I am sure that if you dig deep enough a lot more is going on beneath the surface with all kinds of psychological and sexual themes to keep you occupied. However I didn't care about those themes since to me the characters weren't compelling enough. They weren't as twisted enough as promised. It could also be the acting since most of the actors play their roles calm and composed. If by any chance you were hoping for some fireworks acting wise like for example from Nicole Kidman then I will have to disappoint you. While her role had a function she did not matter as much as she could have been. It almost fell like she didn't want to be in the film. But wikipedia implies that she wanted to be part of this project. Mia Wasikowska can do a lot better than she did in this one. Although one could argue that she was required to play her character like she did.

Secretly I was hoping that the name Stoker would mean more than it did and was a tie in to writer Bram Stoker and his Dracula. Unfortunately this is not the case. Wentworth Miller did admit that he was influenced by the book. Although in what way exactly you will have to figure out yourself. Not that this ruined it for me but it would have been a real daring thing to do if he would have linked the Stoker family to the writer and his haunting tale. I mean what if Bram Stoker's Dracula wasn't pure fiction? What if Stoker had some issues that would have a certain impact on his descendants?

I have seen what Chan-wook Park can do. His Old Boy was compelling from start to finish and I still remember most of what that film was about. My memories concerning Stoker already are starting to fade and it has only been a few weeks that I have seen it. Stoker is a decent watch but don't expect too much from it otherwise you will be heavily disappointed. If you have not seen Old Boy yet then go watch that one immediately. And I am talking about the original not the remake.

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Review Dead Calm (1989): Still holds up but flawed!

genre: thriller, horror

One thing you have to realize is that Dead Calm is not a thriller that is full of twists and turns. There won't be that many surprises. Instead it relies on events full of tension and dread. This is done so well that you will have fun throughout.

But that doesn't mean the film is without flaws. There are a few times you will scratch your head and is asked of you to suspend disbelief. I think most thrillers depend on that so for the fan this won't be much of a problem. Although that won't prevent you from shaking your head a few times. Especially when it comes to a certain furry fella. Let's just say that sometimes it is very warranted to slit throats. (Click on the show / hide button for more. Be warned though it contains spoilers!)

The acting is superb. All the actors take things seriously and is essentially what makes you buy the terror two of them are facing. Nicole Kidman as Rae is a character you are going to root for. And same goes for Sam Neill as John Ingram. One vital decision on his part seems illogical and a little convenient but it is necessary otherwise the film would be over in a heartbeat. The whole premise of the film would be destroyed and we can't have that now can we? Billy Zane as Hughie shows a versatility very much needed for his role. It's a shame that an actor of his caliber and talent is not recognized as such. (Nicole Kidman does look very different from now. Of course she is younger here and before she got subjected to the sickness that is plastic surgery.)

Dead Calm still holds up today and is a very good example of the magnificence that was the Eighties. and Philip Noyce's directing. He knows how to infuse suspense and tension without having to rely on crazy twists and turns. So do watch it if you have never seen it before.

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