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Showing posts from 2017

Blade Runner 2049 [IMAX/3D]

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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, DunkirkMad Max: Fury Road pioneer Avatar has really, properly utilised the capabilities of IMAX.

Villeneuve's di…

Kevin (Probably) Saves The World

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Pilot: A high-concept supernatural/religious comedy that feels like a touch of Joan of Arcadia meets Touched by an Angel and mixed in with a sprinkling of the cookiness of Wonderfalls. Nonetheless, Jason Ritter makes an affable doofus and it is easy to root for him. The pilot starts of slow, but the final act was when it really came together, once all the heavy exposition dump and character introduction is through. Even the initially annoying teenage niece was partially redeemed towards the end. JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Ritter has great chemistry together and siblings, and hopefully that will get explored more like when Ritter was back on Parenthood. Kimberly Hebert Gregory needs to be more than the sassy "warrior of god" from paradise. Ideally, this story would do well more as a serialised series rather than a save-a-soul-a-week schtick, and hopefully some sort of darkness/edge can creep in to the otherwise bland/typical/feel-good story.

The Mayor

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Pilot: A charming sitcom with a winning cast that exudes chemistry. The pace is snappy and the jokes, although not high-brow, is at least not low-brow and is consistent. Led by a charismatic Brandon Michael Hall, with a perfectly cast Yvette Nicole Brown and Lea Michele in a role that is less campy but at least allow her to flex her underrated comedic chops, this easy comedy is winsome and a welcomed distraction to real-life politics. Shout out to Bernard David Jones and Marcel Spears as Hall's best mates who round out this funny ensemble.

The Gifted

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Pilot: Well, this definitely ain't Legion, but Bryan Singer's directing - within the confines of a broadcast's budget - did help to elevate the action sequences and competently establish the world the show was built in and the central narrative. The CGI effects were good enough to sell the mutant powers, but ultimately, The Gifted lacked originality and save Amy Acker, most of the other cast members were not as strong in their role. Stephen Moyer is definitely not a vampire, and hopefully his storyline will afford him the chance to flex some acting muscles. Acker has the innate talent to hide her Illyria under her Fred no matter what show she is on, and she will be their greatest assets. The two kids - meh! The other mutants - interesting, good racial mix, but boring. Hopefully with the exposition-heavy pilot out of the way, the script and the banter can improve. Mutants-in-pursuit need not always have to be dreary. Again, see Legion.

Marvel's Inhumans

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Episode 1 & 2: Behold...The Inhumans and Those Who Would Destroy Us
You know a show is in trouble when the best thing about it is the sets and production design, and the best character is a fully CGI, oversized, teleporting bulldog that does not speak and spent half of the premiere asleep. It is hard to believe that Marvel actually allowed this to premiere on IMAX last month, and also allowed Scott Buck to create and run a show which after 2 episodes looks poised to be worse than Netflix's Iron Fist (which - in the end - was not too bad).

The casting of our Inhumans royalty was good...if based only on physical appearance. However, some of the cast's acting leaves much to be desired, but at least by the end of episode 2, it does hint that they will improve once they are free from the shackles of pilot exposition. However, the cast's chemistry is obviously lacking. Anson Mount as Black Bolt has got the dignity and command, but he (and his character) seemed to exist in a v…

Ghosted

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Pilot: There was an unexpected charm about this odd, paranormal sitcom that came through throughout its 22-minutes pilot and that could be attributed to comedic duo of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. Introductions are sped by, backstories paddled through and paranormal science accepted as facts, but yet the jokes are solid, the humour steady and not juvenile. How the series will carry on is still yet to be determined, but Scott and Robinson makes this an easy entry to watch.

Logan Lucky

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Ocean's 7-11 is an apt description of Steven Soderbergh's latest film. It shared a DNA with his Ocean's Trilogy, from the tone, the structure and the concept. All except that in this case, it all felt a bit more hillbilly, i.e. less class, less refined and less witty. The cast's chemistry though good, lacked the electrical excitement and easy repartee that was the highlight of the Ocean series. Nonetheless, this was a fun and easy ride that actually managed to wrangle out some real heart-tugging emotions at the end (boy, John Denver is sure having a moment). One thing for sure, Channing Tatum should stick with Soderbergh because he knows how to bring out the best in Magic Mike.

The screenplay is by Rebecca Blunt (hooray for her and Soderbergh) and although it was a competent script that made sense (at least movie-logic) and was filled with a number of witticism, the characters eventually lacked depth and were stock stereotypes. It could very well had been a fan-fiction…

The Good Doctor

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Pilot: From the creator of House, David Shore, comes another medical drama centred on a lead character who defies societal-norms. And in this case, instead of being a rude, cantankerous diagnostician/genius, we have a high functioning autistic savant/surgical resident. But what both series have in common is a brilliant lead actor who deftly created a character that was unique, distinct and memorable. The Medicine part of things was a tad too cringe-worthy from a professional point of view, and the CGI too in your face Sherlock-esque. The pilot focused on Norman...I mean Norma Bates...no, Freddie Highmore...who after years honing his skills on Bates Motel has finally arrived on Network TV and hopefully to a larger audience. Highmore has impressed ever since his star-making turn on Finding Neverland (much like Tom Holland in The Impossible), and it is gratifying to see this young actor grow and mature. Nonetheless, his character (and even his acting) overshadowed both the plot and the o…

Star Trek: Discovery

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Episode 1 & 2: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars
This new Star Trek definitely has potential and its lead actress, Sonequa Martin-Green, is totally engaging to watch. If the quality from the first two episodes is any indication, and assuming it persists, audience will be in for a treat. The show has a gorgeous cinematic quality to it. From the top rate CGI (much better than most shows on TV) to the beautiful cinematography (by Guillermo Navarro) and great scoring (by Jeff Russo). Creatively, the showrunners (pity Bryan Fuller has left), took a bold risk to start the series off with a prologue-esque structure, focusing on a lead that was not a captain of a Starfleet ship. This definitely informs the character and establish a relationship between her and the audience that will likely shape the rest of the season. However, all shows - and especially a Star Trek one - are ensemble series, and we will have to wait for Episode 3 to see how the full cast get on together and…

Stronger

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An unabashed tearjerker that (mostly) eschewed the typical cliches and tropes of the genre to focus on a strong emotional core that carried the film to cathartic resolution, showcasing a strong and haunting, lived-in performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a great (and validating) post-Orphan Black turn by Tatiana Maslany. Gyllenhaal might be in the running for a Best Actor nod.
Director David Gorden Green's film ran for almost 2 hours but it did not feel that long. He and writer John Poliono had smartly chosen to have the Boston marathon bombing happen within the first 15 minutes, and with that inciting moment out of the way, Green could focus on the emotional journey of Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman. And not only Bauman's journey but also that of the people around him, particularly Maslany's Erin Hurley (his now ex-wife) and his mum, played by a fabulous Miranda Richardson.
The film successfully conveyed a tumult of emotions through not a deluge of words but just the minimal …

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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A fun, mindless romp with the usual Matthew Vaughn-styled, slow-mo, pseudo-one shot action set in a background of outrageous world-domination/spy espionage intrigue, and interspersed with PG13 humour. However, it dragged on a tad too long with too many blatant product placements and lacked the originality, heart and energetic spark of the original despite an unfortunate aborted attempt at a dark political satire. But at least we had Julianne Moore and Elton John! Moore was deliciously campy and Elton (lol!) was just campily vulgar and outright hilarious throughout. 
Vaugh and co-writer (and frequent collaborator) Jane Goldman had scripted a narrative befitting the series, i.e. outrageous enough to be plausible in the real world with a huge dose of suspension of beliefs, but where they went wrong was that the story got bigger than them and whilst negotiating from point A to B to Z they got lost in points U and S. 
<spoilers> The idea of an American counterpart, the Statesmen, was de…

Beatriz at Dinner

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Give Salma Hayek an Oscar nomination! She gave a multi-layered and nuanced performance in an otherwise good-but-not-spectacular film that had a great concept but not the cajones to flesh it - and Hayek's character - out beyond pop-eco/psycho babble. John Lithgow capably and excitingly volleyed with Hayek, but the rest of the ace cast filled their roles ably but with less overall purpose. "Carnage" still sets the benchmark for dining table drama; "August: Orange County" would be a slightly distant second.
Mike White's script lacked bite. It had humour both dark and squirm-worthy, and light and breezy, but nothing actually said that was not pop knowledge and the arguments on either side regarding white-privilege, environmentalism, class divide, compassion and empathy were only superficially explored. It seemed as if White and director Miguel Arteta were afraid to antagonise or vilify Hollywood and/or their producers. 
Arteta smartly focused his camera on Hayek …

Patti Cake$

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A fun and charming crowd-pleaser that was surprisingly touching even though it was an utterly predictable, underdog-triumphs-against-life-predicaments sort of film that ticked all the usual tropes, and it was due to the sincerity of writer/director Geremy Jasper and the endearing, and breakout star, Danielle Macdonald. 
The film would have benefitted from a tighter edit and cutting its runtime by about 10 mins. Nonetheless, it was still an easy digest and the extra minutes did help to further inform the characters, although it did not add too much to the main narrative nor the emotional catharsis sought by Jasper in the final act. 
Jasper followed a very strict three-act structure and that did give the film a backbone which helped the filmmaker to tell his story. The characters too were rote and stereotypical archetypes. But despite all that the film succeeded based on the sincerity of the story and the strength of Macdonald's portrayal. The infectious raps definitely helped too; as…

Battle of the Sexes

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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…

American Made

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A fun and frothy, summer-popcorn Tom Cruise film that was one of his better recent outings and will surely entertain the masses. However, for all of director Doug Liman's kinetically-charged and docu-like storytelling, and Cruise's high-energy performance and undeniable charm, this film lacked depth and only superficially glossed through the incredible true story of Barry Seal. For those looking for more complex characters and deeper narratives regarding the Medellin Cartel, drug smuggling and money laundering, you would be better off tuning in to Netflix's "Narcos" and "The Ozarks". 
The film was consistently and constantly fun. Gary Spinelli's script was easy and breezy and littered with references to 80s pop culture. Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson also had the best quips which kept the story light. 
However, despite all that - the superficiality of the narrative and the humour - the biggest problem with the film is the lack of a central conflict. With…

God's Own Country

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A tender and heartfelt coming-of-age love story by first time director (and writer) Francis Lee that was unequivocally sweet, charming and sincere. Comparisons with "Brokeback Mountain" will be inevitable but this film with its limited indie-budget and lesser known actors felt more visceral and more honest. 
As a first time director, Lee's showed a lot of potential but he definitely still fell prey to a couple of cliched tropes, some of which worked, but some did not. His pacing needed some work and some fats could be trimmed off that would not necessarily hurt the story. However, he excelled at the more intimate moments and managed to efficiently and successfully illustrate and evolve his complicated protagonist. 
Lead actor Josh O'Connor rose to the challenge of portraying the emotional walled off protagonist and it was rather beautiful seeing his defences slowly wear off as he embraced his future, his sexuality and the hand that fate had dealt him. 
Co-lead Alec Seca…

mother!

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A polarising and confronting film that on the surface appeared like a "Rosemary's Baby"-esque psychological, horror thriller, but on a deeper level, it can be construed both as a religious allegory and a socio-political commentary. 
This was a technically superb film-making from writer/director Darren Aronofsky that constantly challenges, deliberately confronts and purposely confuses; beautifully shot by Matthew Libatique throughout and Aronofsky and Jóhann Jóhannsson's unique decision to abandon all musical cues only served to highlight the unsettling unease. 
Jennifer Lawrence anchored the film with another captivating and award-worthy performance. Michelle Pfeiffer was a spot-on casting and Javier Bardem's choice of portrayal took a bit of getting used to, but made a lot of sense on hindsight. 
The film's overall real awards chances will all depend on how it is ultimately received. "mother!" is brave film-making and really deserved to be watch with …

Victoria & Abdul

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A light and frothy, historical comedy of errors that was elevated by a fabulous performance from Judi Dench. Just like his previous film "Florence Foster Jenkins", Stephen Frears' latest was entertaining and fun with a superb lead actress that mined the depth of a superficial characterisation to give an illusion of prestige and complexity. 
Agreeably, Frears and Holland brought a little known bit of history to the forefront, but as much literary licence as one affords to such productions, we did not really learn much about Victoria. The main conflict derived from a relatively forced and generic class war, rather than on a personal or emotional front. Essentially, the story lacked bite and the 106 minutes run time was filled with gorgeous sets, witty English one-liners and put downs. 
Dench was, as usual, brilliant. In a vanity and make-up free role, she brought strength, grace and vulnerability as she commanded the screen. And Frears knew it with all the tight close ups an…

The Beguiled

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This film belonged to three women: the superbly nuanced Nicole Kidman who is on a red-hot streak this year, the restrained luminosity of Kirsten Dunst and brilliant writer/director Sofia Coppola who transformed a simple story into this gorgeous, tightly-paced, Southern Gothic/noir-ish and atmospheric film that focused on the characters rather than the more sensational aspects of the story.

Coppola's directed this film with a very assured hand. The story moved at a clipped pace and nary a scene was extraneous or longer than necessary. She captured the complexity of the women (Kidman and Dunst) and the innocence of the girls (especially standout actress Oona Laurence), and also the tumultuous paradox of a teenager (brought petulantly to life by Elle Fanning, the other named-actress who had decidedly much less to do than the publicity/marketing would suggest).

The film has two distinct acts and the change and evolution of Kidman's and Dunst's characters were fascinating to w…

It

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Disclaimer: Let's be clear about this upfront. I am a fan of the original 1990 miniseries. I had watched it at least four to five times, and unashamedly, TIm Curry's Pennywise is the personification of all my childhood - and adult-life - fear. I HATE clowns. Consequently, comparisons will be inevitable.

This 2017 remake was definitely not as creepy or scary as the 1990 mini-series and I doubt it will spark a new generation of coulrophobia. Without the breadth of a mini-series, the film lacked the time to properly develop all the characters and the central core identity of The Losers Club loses its depth and complexity. That, ultimately, led to a narrative that lacked urgency and empathetic investment. Pennywise v2017 was also designed (and presented) as clearly evil and monstrous, whereas the success of the original It mini-series could be heavily attributed to Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise as a benign-looking clown (an oxymoron!) with the evil/madness only bubbling b…

Tulip Fever

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The only thing that this film served up in the end was a desire to get some tulips for home. That was how distracted my mind was as I sat through 107 minutes of badly written dialogue, poorly conceived characters, unfocused directing, chemistry-less romance and narration; yes, let-me-tell-you-what-is-happening-and-what-will-be-happening-as-it-unfolds narration.

From the get go, we were introduced to a clunky introduction. If just based on the words themselves, by writers Tom Shepard and Deborah Moggach (also author of the book the film is based on), it would have been an impactful and mysterious prologue, but director Justin Chadwick chose to underscore that with heavy-handed, hit-you-on-the-head-with-a-sledge-hammer imageries, such that within the first minute or so, practically the whole plot is known. It was all downhill from there.

Furthermore, the insistence of having so many characters and subplots, but yet not adequately servicing any of them enough, made the plot paper thin a…

The Defenders

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The Defenders was absolutely bingeable and entertaining. When the team-up occurred, it felt natural and the cast had a genuine chemistry. The series expects the audience to know the backstory and did the story dove straight into the lives of our heroes. Catching us up on what they had been since we last saw them, and not really bothering to explain who they are to newbies.

The Defenders also really benefited from the shorter-than-usual series length. At eight episodes, we had less filler moments and the story momentum was allowed to flow naturally. However, the downside of this team-up was that each of the heroes had to have sufficient screen time which led to a sacrifice in character developments for them, the secondary characters and unfortunately, for our villain as portrayed brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver.

No doubt about it, Weaver was great. She elevated the material and was easily the most enigmatic and magnetic personality on screen. But as a character, she was just not given e…

The Big Sick

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What a great movie. Sincere, honest, touching but yet never schmaltzy and oh so funny. The fact that it was based on the true story/romance between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon (played here by Zoe Kazan) just made it all the more emotional and effective. Even knowing how it played out in real life did hardly impact the emotional investment of the audience, and that is the power of great storytelling by director Michael Showalter, co-writers Nanjiani and Gordon, and uber-producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mandel.

The biggest drawback to the film was the run time. Clocking in at 124 minutes, the film could have been even tighter if they had perhaps tighten it by 10 to 15 minutes. However, having said that, it must be said that the film itself was already very well paced with very, very few scenes that did not work, but then again some side plots could have been kept on the editing floor.

From drawback to strength, the five biggest strengths of The Big Sick was (one) the great chemistr…

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Valerian is The Fifth Element for the 21st Century: louder, brighter and just as audacious and over-the-top but sadly, without the melodrama or memorable sequences (Rihanna doing a burlesque/pole dance does not top the diva dance opera...not even close). Nonetheless, it was a fun, rollicking, space adventure that zipped from one adventure to the next with exciting visuals that were neither terribly groundbreaking or innovative, and populated with characters that we never really cared about.

Besson's vision for Valerian was clear. A space opera spectacle that was grand in scope and epic in storytelling. He was successful on the first count, with an impressive CGI-ed world and aliens that could only be made possible now. However, the time spent in these alien worlds were too short to be fully immersive or appreciative. Most of the plot wound up in generic space sets that neither excites or wows.

And with regards to the second point, generously one could say that Besson tried to tell…