My snarky reviews of Movies, TV series, Food and other happenings...
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Lee Daniels' latest effort, after the Oscar winning "Precious" and the not-seen in Singapore's "The Paperboy", is a history film disguised under an Oscar-baiting sheen. But like History, in whatever context, perspective is key, and here, we end up with a rather schizophrenic movie: a distinctively White voice in a Black-handed movie. Through all that mess, the one bright, Best Supporting Actress spark is Oprah Winfrey. She brought a strong intensity interlaced with a feminine fragility in the one character that had any consistency amid the two male leads who were painted in broad strokes and had broad, sweeping changes which were barely touched on by the narrative. Yes, Winfrey's character may not have any "character growth" or "development" but at least she was arresting at what and who Gloria Gaines was; Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor and he did his best with what was given to him. The biggest problem laid with Danny Strong's script. It covered such a wide time-span but majority of the show was focused on a particularly short period, and in that period, both Whitaker's and David Oyelowo's characters had no character development. They were essentially one-dimensional portrayals of two sides of a coin. They were clean, dry and factual. Then, towards the end, time sped up and wham! a moment of clarity, a life-changing experience, and we dealt with that for barely 15 minutes and are supposed to accept some drastic character change. This would have been great for another HBO-esque mini-series, but I guess Strong got bored of winning Emmys. Now, it just ended up as being another excuse for a movie to pile on as many famous names on its poster and marquees as possible. That being said, most of these big names did work, albeit in their small roles: Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman. The others not so much. The main supporting casts like Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz and Terence Howard were not terribly memorable (although Howard did give out a rather intense skeevy vibe). The soundtrack was melodramatic and suited the mood of the show, however, it was too blatantly obvious a tool to manipulate the audience's emotion, also a pity they did not get Mariah Carey (who was on in the first 5 minutes) to do a (Gospel) song for the show. Throughout the show, we get a rather factual depiction of the racial situation in US in the past, the one outstanding scene was an early-years demonstration/sit-in. Subsequently, though it became rather dry and cold. And since, as foresaid, there was barely any character development at that time, it did feel like watching a History film. The White voice comes from the feeling that no blame is ever laid on the whites. The film daftly waylaid assigning blame for the situations, and on top of it, goes out of the way to show the empathy of the Big White Man (aka POTUS). But being "politically correct" they had to throw Nixon into the mix and under the bus. Similarly, the movie also obviously skipped out on Malcom X, Bloody Sunday and Martin Luther King's speeches, instead we have Eisenhower's, JFK's and Reagen's TV moments. And throughout all that, we know this is a Lee Daniels' movie, so what is this black man trying to show? If this is not a movie about Racism, then is it a movie about a butler? If so, why do we not feel like we know this butler anymore in the end then in the beginning? If this show is about exploring a Father/Son dynamics, then why do I not care that they grew apart, or got back together? If this show is a Family drama set against a backdrop of the civil rights movement, then where is the drama? And why is the civil rights movement more front and centre than the Family? If this show is about America, what about America is it trying to highlight? It lost a great opportunity when the show's MLK said how the butlers are bringing about change in the country through not their subserviency but through subversion. Fruitvale Station was a more complex and more provoking study of racism in America.
An absolute crowd-pleaser for the whole family. Pixar has done it again with a four-quadrant winner that resonated across generations and culture. It may not be as (pseudo)-intellectual as Inside Out but it definitely pack a great emotional punch especially in its third act, with a strong story line on the evergreen theme of family vs self and obligation vs passions that never turned schmaltzy. Great voice work all around in particular Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal, with great music and score from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the duo that gave us the hits from Frozen, and Michael Giacchino who is back - at last - with a mariachi-tinged score that delivered on the emotional journey.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, who also gave us the last real Pixar tearjerker, Toy Story 3, Coco continued Pixar's animation technological supremacy. The film was gorgeous to behold and tiny nuances like the translucency of the skin, the glow of candle light and the luminosity of the …
If nothing else, this was a singularly stunning, breathtakingly gorgeous, absolutely beautiful piece of film. Just give Roger Deakins his Oscar now! As for Dennis Villeneuve, the man is now five for five since his 2010 breakout film Prisoners, and he will surely be in the running for Best Director again this year. His film in itself - prior viewing of the 1982 original not necessary, but does inform the experience - was a surprisingly simple, yet layered noir/science fiction story that was effectively told despite its length (163 minutes) and also, ironically, satisfyingly unresolved. Ryan Gosling stood out and may get a nod but he is in danger of not breaking out of his comfort zone.
The IMAX experience was really worth it here. Not only as a canvas for Deakin's sumptuous cinematography, but also for the excellent sound design and mixing. So far, only this film, Dunkirk, Mad Max: Fury Road pioneer Avatar has really, properly utilised the capabilities of IMAX.
A competent film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" that tried to juggle too much including gender politics, LGBTQ rights, themes of love vs ambition and of freedom to love with a love story and a love triangle, and unfortunately, in the end, underserved all of them to the point that the actual titular tennis match was the most exciting moment of the whole 121 minutes. In a similar vein, the supporting actors, including the scene-stealing Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, and surprisingly nuanced Austin Stowell and Elisabeth Shue, were more interesting to watch than the leads: a miscast, albeit competent, Emma Stone (who had no chemistry with Andrea Riseborough) and a funny, but lightweight Steve Carrell. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris delivered a by-the-numbers story but may have bitten more than they could chew such that although the narrative moved forward, it moved erratically and without focus. Furthermore, with such a well known historical momen…