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Showing posts from September, 2015

Black Mass

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With this movie, Johnny Depp has placed himself on this year's long list for Best Actor. However, despite a fascinating story of an equally intriguing character, Scott Cooper failed to really explore beneath the superficiality to uncover what could have been a complex character study.

Depp was really not very different here in this film than his last offerings. He has completely changed himself physically but the only difference now is that Black Mass is not a Disney film. He was creepy as hell, with an icy cold stare that would freeze even the White Walkers of GOT, and he really did inhabit the character - losing himself but without the caricature-tendency of Jack Sparrow or The Mad Hatter.

The story by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk was straightforward but as aforementioned, it focused more on the life of James Bulger rather than explore deeper into the man himself. What that resulted in was a missed opportunity to mine the rich relationship dynamics that existed between Bulg…

Everest [IMAX 3D]

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Disclaimer: I am so glad that after climbing Mt Kilimanjaro I have no further need to satisfy myself to scale any higher peaks.

This movie should be seen in the big screen and preferably in 3D. IMAX if possible. The cinematography is gorgeous and you need that screen size and the 3D depth to really appreciate the scale and the harrowing horror that mountain climbing can bring. Exciting misadventures notwithstanding, the narrative was ultimately as thin as the air up there, made worse by nagging inconsistencies and unrealism, and a Final Act that unabashedly dramatises the truth to milk your tears.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur did a great job in getting straight into the story. However, that ended up being a double-edged sword. We got great shots of the gorgeous landscape and was right there in the midst of the action as the mountaineers begin their track and acclimatisation. But we barely know anything about the characters which made the final act seemed unearned and false in …

Sicario

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A brilliant and exciting movie by Denis Villeneuve that had almost everything going right for it - great directing, excellent cinematography, fantastic music and a top-notch cast - except for a familiarly subversive, and slightly uneven story that really only worked because the protagonist was a female, and that female was Emily Blunt. And there was Benicio del Toro.

After Enemy and Prisoners, Villeneuve returned with a home-run that is Sicario. From the opening sequence on, this slow-burning drug/crime procedural did not let down on its pacing. The action sets were not big or showy, but Villeneuve's direction was precise and notched up the tension expertly. Buoyed by Roger Deakin's gorgeous cinematography and Johann Johannsson's sumptuous music (much better than his work on The Theory of Everything), this film was a visual and aural pleasure!

Using Blunt's character as an audience surrogate, we follow the story as blind as her, and slowly understand the larger pictur…

The Visit

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M. Night Shyamalan's latest is a decidedly smaller film than his previous outings, and was much better for it. Without much gimmicks, and with Blumhouse behind the scene, the focus was on the story and atmosphere which was effectively intriguing and unsettling. Although Shyamalan's reputation still cast a large shadow over the project, and the climax was expected and did not hit high enough a mark,

Using a variation of the found-footage technique, Shyamalan managed to make a horror/thriller story that was grounded more in reality and relied less - but not absolutely none - on jump scares but more on suspense and mood. Having said that, the "twist" itself was expected but at least not outrageous - it was not the trees!! - although the final climatic sequence could have been edited and shot a bit more creepy.

The child actors here were actually good, which was important since they were the anchors of the show, and they had good chemistry together as siblings. Neither …

The Assassin 刺客聶隱娘

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A polarising film that is very much typical of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien 侯孝賢; so in other words, it should not surprise those who are familiar with his works. However, it is a bit of a Western-misnomer to call this a wuxia film, when in actual fact, it really was more a political period piece. 
Hou won the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it really is not surprising that he did. Hou's favourite single-frame shots - whether tight close-ups or wide-angled landscape - are peppered throughout the film. As are long moments of silences and stillness. 
Hou is a master in the arts of show-not-tell. And he very seldom belittles the intelligence of the audience. 
The biggest let down were the actors. Most of them could not live up to the immense subtlety that is required of them amidst the stillness of Hou's direction. Eyes and body language become more important than speech and intonation. 
Shu Qi 舒淇 did a commendable job in an unflattering role, but her…

The Gift

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Joel Edgerton's directorial debut was a decent effort albeit one that was thematically and stylistically inconsistent, but a smarter-than-average pseudo-intelligentsia story with decent performances by Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Edgerton made this film an entertaining enough watch.

The story itself (which was also written by Edgerton) was rather straightforward, but Edgerton managed to slowly tease out the details and secrets such that the audience were more or less constantly guessing. However, there were times when the script was too smart for its own good.

The First Act was excellent, and then someway in the Second Act, Blum House Productions got control and it somehow morphed into a horror/slasher-flick cliche, and in the Third Act, the resolution felt rushed and unearned.

More time and effort should have been spent on developing the characters more fully. Instead, Edgerton spent his energy on moving the plot forward and left the characterisations to his actors.

Bateman …

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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A fun and uber-stylish crime/spy-caper from Guy Ritchie - expect nothing less! - with a dash of camp and noir. Unfortunately this time round, style beats substance, and the gorgeous men and women, well-directed action sequences, and nifty twists are not enough to cover up the fact that the plot is thin, the characterisations are two-dimensional at best, and the cast really did not have much chemistry.

Ritchie has not really made a great film since the double whammy of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After getting married, and then divorced, to Madonna and getting seduced by Hollywood to do RDJ's vanity Sherlock Holmes project and its eye-rolling sequel, there was hope that he could ignite his creative juices again.

UNCLE showed that Ritchie is a good director with an eye for action and comedy, and that he has a distinctive style. But he has lost that originality. Throughout the whole 116 minutes run time, the film felt like a mash-up of a Quentin Tarantino western …