Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Image
Now this was how a superhero should be done. And not only that, how an origin story should be told. Easily the best Spidey since the first two Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films. It was fresh, it was exciting; it had heart and pathos and the courage to go into some dark corners with faith in its audience. Miles Morales was a hero in the making and like all heroes the journey is never smooth, and we connect with his story - his excitement, his anxieties, his fear, his courage and his convictions. The energy throughout was infectious and the plotting was efficient and tight, with an excellent cast (and voice-cast) and music that actually propelled the narrative. And of course, the animation was brilliant, effectively emulating the visual sensation of reading a comic but paired with a stunning palette and kinetic design.

At just under 2 hours, the film achieved all it set out to do. It entertained whilst it told a predictable story, incorporating life lessons along its way whilst not forgett…

Aquaman [IMAX/3D]

Image
This film was so painful to sit through. It was bloated and over-stuffed with unoriginal directing, unimaginative sequences, bad CGIs, poor acting and casting, and an atrocious soundtrack. Not even Jason Momoa's charm could save this film. Sitting through all 143 minutes, one could not help but think how much more superior Black Pantherwas in terms of world-building and rules-setting for Wakanda, and now I really cannot wait for James Cameron's underwater Avatar to show them all how an underwater adventure should be done(I could be wrong, but in Cameron we trust).

One of the biggest problem in this film, other than the fact that Amber Heard needs more acting lessons and has zero chemistry with Momoa, and that Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson were all horribly miscast (guess even stars need to cash a paycheck), was the absolute lack of originality and imagination in James Wan's directing. Other than a very few moments that showcased his excellent grasp of hor…

Bohemian Rhapsody

Image
Some films engage the heart and trigger an emotion reaction, whereas some film engage the brain and connect with the audience on an intellectual level. Great films win over both the heart and brain, but unfortunately Bohemian Rhapsody was not one of those film. What it did instead was that it totally won over the heart with its blatant emotional manipulation and re-writing of history for maximum impact, and all through the electrifying power (and nostalgia) of Queen's songs. If it were not for the songs, the film may not even be half as successful as it was.

Intellectually, the film was riddled with faults, other than the aforementioned historical untruths, it was undecided if it wanted to be a retelling of the story of Queen or a biopic of Freddie Mercury. This resulted in a film that had no depth or emotional complexity for its lead character who is surrounded by a cast of stereotypical supporting characters (other than Mary....ah Mary, the saving emotional grace of the film), …

Sorry to Bother You [SGIFF 2018]

Image
Boots Riley's directorial debut was an wholly original story that bit off way more that it could chew. It was ambitious and original and creative, but the execution lacked style, focus and discipline. At times the film got mildly excruciating to watch as we waited - albeit with some bated breath - for the conclusion which, despite its originality, still ironically felt predictable and unearned. Riley had too many ideas and they were all over the place, and a stricter, more disciplined director could have focused these themes into a biting satire. But instead now, we were left with an original comedy that had potential but just missed the mark.

The screenplay is a gem. It was unexpected and zagged when you would expect a zig. It juggled magical realism with social satire and black comedy, but it never fully explored any of these realms. This ain't Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami, and neither was it The Death of Stalin or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Ril…

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald [IMAX/3D]

Image
At over 130 minutes, this film was unnecessarily long. Someone should keep JK Rowling away from writing screenplays. Sure she has great ideas and stories to tell, but like her later books, she tend to sprawl and needlessly confound and confuse just to add padding. Other than some really good set pieces, a few exciting action sequences (and also a few messy ones), imaginative use of CGI/3D-technology (breaking out of the screen format was cool) and a great score by James Newton Howard, the film lacked the originality, spark and cast chemistry that led the first instalment to be such a delight. The cast expanded and we spent more time on Johnny Depp and Ezra Miller's characters - which were interesting unto themselves but they lacked depth and worthy companions to interact with - than the original foursome whose excellent chemistry fueled the narrative of the first. This film felt like a placeholder film, setting the pieces in motion, to the franchise and finale (maybe 5 films is t…

Beautiful Boy

Image
This was a problematic film. Ironically, it was simultaneously under-cooked with thin characterisation and a superficial emotional narrative, and over-baked with its heavy handedness and pedantic handling of an over-long and repetitive story. Someone ought to tell director Felix Von Groeningen that "show-not-tell" also extends to the music in the film, and not every song choice has to pointedly telegraph the expected emotional reaction he wants to illicit. Luckily the film was saved by a good - not great - performance by Timothée Chalamet (for great: see Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose) and also the under-rated Maura Tierney who stole her scenes with Steve Carrell with her quiet, restrained performance.

This film would have benefited from being adapted into a prestige, limited series. Over four to six episodes, it would have given time and space for the characters to be developed into rounded (and complicated) individuals rather than just paper-cut cliches (again, s…

The Wife

Image
Glenn Close was superb in this film. A first class display of nuanced virtuosity as her restrained portrayal of the eponymous wife had her emotions simmering just under the surface and threatening to implode her throughout the film. But it was all only until in the final act where it finally erupted out. Not in a volcanic, Vesuivian sort of way, but in a controlled, yet still fiercely fiery, explosion of emotions that ran the gamut. The film's narrative itself was interesting, albeit predictable, and quite probably problematic in this day of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Nonetheless, it really was Close's remarkable performance that held this film up. Jonathan Pryce too deserved some praise for being the actor that allowed Close to spar and shine, and he was good in his own right, just that he gets eclipsed here (the irony!).

Directed by Swedish director Bjorn Rung and adapted for film by Jane Anderson (off Meg Wolitzer's book), the film ran for a tight 100 minutes and it effectiv…

A Star is Born

Image
This was honestly a good film. It had its faults, but it was entertaining enough although ultimately it felt like an extended Lady Gaga music video with a love story thrown in between sets.

As a whole, the film felt indulgent, unfocused, superficial, and really could be shortened by 20 to 30 minutes. It only livened up whenever Bradley Cooper cuts to Lady Gaga singing. This was clearly a vanity project for Cooper and as a first time director he told a straightforward, albeit slightly misogynistic, story. The main flaw was he seemed conflicted as to whose story the film wanted to tell, Cooper's or Lady Gaga's or theirs? The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga was there but it never really felt elevated to that of two people deeply in love (although Cooper's self-loving was blatantly apparent). Gaga, although shortchanged as character, felt at ease in her role that seemed reflective of her and was truly alive when she sung. Speaking of which, her voice was the true star of th…

Shoplifters 万引き家族

Image
A simple tale of a family brought together not by blood but by choice that was understated in its naturalistic execution but utterly heartfelt and gut-wrenching in its execution. The emotions were absolutely well earned and the cast exuded a genuine sense of warmth and sincerity in their roles. A feel-good, brilliant piece of storytelling by writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda that give us hope, something so needed and lacking in films these days. It deserved all its accolades and the Palme d'Or award.
The story itself was straightforward, although I am sure some nuances were lost in translation. However, what was not lost was the performances of the cast. Those shone through, especially for the young ones, and Koreeda managed to coax a genuine performance and reactions from these newcomers.
Veteran actors like Lily Franky, Sakura Ando and Kirin Kiki anchored the narrative. And again, their acting felt naturalistic and unforced, and the relationships between them all felt real. 
Alt…

Madeline's Madeline

Image
This film was not for everybody. It can definitely be classified as an art-house film. Writer/Director Josephine Decker had created an unexpected film that weaved a well-known subject matter into an imaginative and experimental tapestry that felt original. The result of which was a film that was oddly disconcerting, strangely affective and hypnotically mesmorising. And most importantly, a star is born in Helena Howard who with her debut in this film becomes one of the most exciting new, young actor to emerge in recent memories. Imagine this film as Lady Bird with mental health issues, and Howard as the next Saoirse Ronan.

The narrative followed a rather straightforward path and Decker expects her audience to pick up the details on their pwn. There were no spoon-feeding of backstory or expository motivations here. Events unfold and you are expected to keep up with the psychedelic unknown and immerse yourself into the experience.

In the end, it was a bit like the nature of the what Mad…

Three Identical Strangers

Image
A truly fascinating true story of identical triplets separated at birth who found each other 19 years later. And then it veered off into a pseudo-scientific documentary into the controversial study of twins separation and the idea of nature versus nurture.

The first part, this documentary did very well. Ably telling the story of the central triplets and how the lives changed. However, film director, Tim Wardle, then decided to dive into the why they were separated, and that whole arm was messy, albeit interesting. Anybody with an inkling of scientific studies and twin-studies would find the exploration of the Neubauer controversial studies lacking in depth and purpose. It really seemed more sensational here rather than an intellectual exploration of the ethics and ramifications. Which would have made for a more interesting story.

With a title like Three Identical Strangers, the film makers really ought to have gone more in depth into these three people for us to get a better understa…

First Man

Image
This film had Damien Chazelle's fingerprints all over it. After Whiplashand La La Land, Chazelle has established a very distinctive visual and auditory signature. The film had a docu-realistic feel to it whereby the story was told through Neil Armstrong's POV, and with that, came along a detailed sense of intimacy, when we explored his home/personal life, and also a genuine sense of trepidation and awe when he was at work and in space. Those scenes set within a space/air-craft were utterly gripping and by-your-seat tense, and that final act was fantastic, albeit surprisingly epic. Ryan Gosling remained an acting enigma, is his brooding, hardened stare and pursed lips meant to be serious actor or just brooding? Next to Claire Foy, whose every look carried so much more weight, the difference was noticeable.

At 141 minutes long, you can really feel the length of the movie especially the slightly bloated second act. Although logically it was inevitable since we needed the failure…

Bad Times at the El Royale

Image
With this film, and after The Cabin in the Woods(in between was also the better-than-expected The Martianand the phenomenal The Good Place), writer/director Drew Goddard has officially joined the pantheon of writers and directors whom I would watch anything that they make.

This chapter-movie was seriously funny. It was witty, smart as hell, genre-eschewing, dark but not macabre and just littered with visual and literary puns and gags. And it was also so very well cast. A bottleneck film that trapped its character and had fun exploring their identity as the story twists and turns and flashbacks fleshed out the complexity of these strangers. Goddard weaved together a brilliant, intelligent, original film that not only entertained but also provided a subtext of social commentary. Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman stole the show, but Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Dakota Johnson all played their roles so bloody well!

As a director, Goddard had some great flourishes, with long …

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Image
Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant gave extraordinary performances in this otherwise rather light biopic of novelist/forgery felon Lee Israel. This dramedy lacked drama and emotional heft, and its lead character, although purposely unlikable, did not seem to have much sense. Nonetheless, it was McCarthy's against-type performance, coupled with great on-screen and comedic chemistry with a terrific Grant, that really helped to provide the laughs and tide through a seemingly too-long 107 minutes.

Director Marielle Heller made the stranger-than-fiction real life story into a straight-telling film that ran accordingly but lacked depth. Both in terms of character and narrative depth. Writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty ably adapted Israel's memoirs but unlike Israel herself did not seem to able to inhabit fully the character(s) they are writing for.

This film really hinged on McCarthy's star power and acting, and perhaps she may have a shot at an Oscar nomination for t…

Venom [IMAX]

Image
This was a fun-enough film that had two things going for it: Tom Hardy and a run time under 2 hours. Any time Hardy (or Venom as it may so be) was on screen, the film was infinitely better. Hardy had charm and charisma, he was funny, slightly irreverent and definitely was not taking the film too seriously. Eddie Brock's bromance with Venom was a clear highlight of the film. On the other hand, when he is not on screen, fellow cast members, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, did the best they could, but their clunky lines and superficially written characters did the film, and themselves, no favour. And at just 112 minutes long, the film zipped along after the dull and plodding first act. At least director, Ruben Fleischer, had two good action showcases - the racing scene was exciting enough and would have been better had he relied less on close-ups, and the final showdown was riveting enough to excite.

This film was clearly not by Marvel, and the title card said so as much - "In…

McQueen

Image
It was very telling that nobody currently working with/in the House of McQueen was interviewed in this documentary. Even current creative director, Sarah Burton, was nary more than just a toss-away mention and a footnote in the credits.

This documentary was at its best when it charted Lee Alexander McQueen's sensation/dramatic runway shows against his own personal emotional trials at those times. The rest, however, was nothing that could not be gleamed from reading Wikipedia. Not much insight was to be had from the interviews of old friends/colleagues and his sister (one of five other siblings, another telling sign) and her son - his nephew - which a cynical viewer might assume was more monetarily-motivated rather than a altruistic need to share.

There was no doubt that McQueen was a very talented designer - he was a personal favourite of mine - but a pity that this film only delved into his fashion/design talent only briefly. The filmmakers seemed to be more interested in his ab…

You Were Never Really Here

Image
Lynne Ramsay's 2017 Best Actor and Best Screenplay Cannes winner was a tightly paced and visually exciting psychological thriller that at a trim 90 minutes left scarcely any room to breathe as nary a scene was wasted and the action and narrative moved effortlessly along, only powered by the wordless, powerful performance of Joaquin Phoenix, Jonny Greenwood's cacophonic yet palpably accelerative score, and, of course, Ramsay's lyrical yet punchy direction and intelligent script that eschewed blatancy for smart subtle ferocity.

If this film remained in the social consciousness this Oscar season, it would definitely be a shoo-in for a number of above-line nominations, but oddly enough, it remained fairly under the radar still.

Ramsay's direction here was superb. She is an epitome of the "show, don't tell", trusting her audience to understand and follow. This film required attention and beautiful subtleties are rewarding. And like her previous phenomenal, an…

BlacKkKlansman

Image
Spike Lee's Grand Prix winning dramedy has a very serious message, and that ending was a gut punch and stark, brutal reminder that reality is shockingly really not that far from fiction. Lee effectively used a blend of comedy to highlight the truth of racism and used history to illuminate the sins of the present. The dramatic beats - especially two scenes of speechifying - could be a heavy handed but on hindsight, it was necessary, because otherwise many people (read: movie-goers) may never actually hear/be aware of them.

Without knowing the real story of Ron Stallworth - who wrote the book this film is based on - I cannot comment how accurate were the depiction of the events shown in the film, however, the crux of the message did get through. But beyond the obvious, Lee also used the film to highlight that passive inertness can be as guilty as overt racism. We - the audience - allowed racism to be. And that is a powerful message that could make the film uncomfortable to some.

On…

Juliet, Naked

Image
Based on one of my favourite books of the last decade, Jesse Peretz's Juliet, Naked updated the premise but retained Nick Hornby's wry humour and spot-on fanboy geekiness of the pre-millenial generation coupled with his usual lad-lit sensibility and oddly insightful observation of post-90s relationship navigation.

Per cine-nomenclature, this film was an effective rom-com with enough elements of the former to tug but not be overwhelmingly saccherine; and peppered with lots of the latter to laugh and smile throughout without feeling excessively dumb.

All three of the principle cast were perfectly suited for their roles, and in this case, the men outshone the lady.

Ethan Hawke, with all his 90s baggage, was the ideal star to play a washed up, former It-boy. He brought along an effortless charm together with a scumbro-esque attitude, but beneath those layers was an emotional core that could write alt-indie songs of love and heartbreak. He was a believable leading man. A man-child…

Kidding

Image
Episode 1: Green Means Go
Episode 2: Pusillanimous

Showtime's latest half-hour dramedy by Dave Holstein was an utterly depressing and yet macabrely funny meditation on death and change. It was charming, heartbreaking, sincere but as blackishly wry as death itself. Michel Gondry's direction was superb and hopefully the rest of the series can continue in his visual inventiveness. However, the main draw of this series has got to be Jim Carrey who reminds us why he used to be such a big star, and not because of his slapstick schtick, but think back to the trifecta of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show and Man on the Moon (and even the less seen I Love You Phillip Morris). Carrey once again reminds us that not only is he a great comedic actor, but also one that has an unfathomable emotional depth.

He is supported by a great cast including the indomitable Frank Langella, Judy Greer and Catherine Keener, all of whom helped to make Carrey's Jeff Prickles a fully…

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Image
Tom Cruise does not disappoint and this sixth installment of the franchise was an exciting and adrenaline-powered action flick that carried on the story from the previous Rouge Nation which set a very high bar for the series. And like all MI films - especially ever since Simon Pegg was involved - wry comedy was peppered throughout to help elevate the mood and break the tension. However, the film ran too long at 147 minutes with scenes that dragged, that looked cool but really unnecessary, and an over-complicated plot that relied on contrivances, made little sense beyond the superficial, and - after six installments - plainly predictable despite the relentless numbers of twists.Superman's Henry Cavill was a wasted presence and Rebecca Ferguson's role more soundly reduced.

This time round, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie placed Cruise and co. mainly in Europe as they continued their international spy-games, and the cities they go to, in particular Paris, oozed their o…

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Image
This was such a fun film! It definitely had flaws (lots!) and is nowhere as good as the 2008 film, and also lacked the insane energy and chemistry of the original cast, but it was such an irresistible, feel-good crowdpleaser. Great ABBA songs (though most of the big hits have already been used in the first film) with good actor-singers (Lilly James, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Skinner), kitschy choreography, a touch of sappiness and rom-com hijinks, Cher!, Meryl!, and just a general feeling of happiness and that all is right in the world. Pure escapism entertainment. All these despite the very obvious cheap sets/production values, a lack of a real plot per se - more like a collection of vignettes stitched together for 114 minutes - and Cher just phoning it in and blatantly edited into the scenes (but god-damn it! It's Cher).

James and Seyfried were undeniably the lead in this outing. James held the screen with an effortless charm and she continued to ease her way into major stardom.…

RBG

Image
Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG is a fascinating person, and if you were already on her side this documentary will surely reinforce the positive opinions of her: a feminist, a liberal, a dissenter, an equal-rights hero, a survivor and a democrat. However, if you never did support her nomination and/or political believes, then RBG will also do nothing to change your mind. As well made, and as riveting, as Judge Ginsburg's life is made out to be, this documentary failed to give a balance view of her. It did not show what the republicans not like about her and whether they had grounds in their believes.

Nonetheless, this film also excelled in illuminating Judge Ginsburg's private life which helped to round her out as a person. The intimate look into her youth and her relationship with her husband was truly more fascinating than her political beliefs. And just for that insight, the upcoming Mimi Leder-directed Ginsburg biopic On The Basis of Sex (starring Felicity Jones…

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Image
This film is not going to pass the Bechdel Test, but at least it had no illusion of doing so. Ultimately, this surprisingly topical sequel is a summer escapism that hung its allure on two brooding, macho leads speaking very little and doing very violent things. And if you go in not expecting anymore than that, then director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski capably carried the mantel over from Dennis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, respectively, to tell Taylor Sheridan's modern-western/mexican epic.

Sheridan, for all his faults in writing female characters, is a good writer for the male psyche and daftly managed to topically tie in the story with the current political mess. And the universe that he had created would not be out of place now as a prestige television series. Even the way the story is structured seemed suitable for an event series.

Josh Brolin continued his streak of playing tough strong men - see: Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War -  okie, maybe m…

Ocean's Eight

Image
This film ain't like the Steven Soderbergh/Clooney and Pitt franchise and it was not because of the ladies, but rather the execution. It lacked the fun - the joie de vivre - and the chemistry of the boys and the kinetic energy and mischievous style of Soderbergh and co. It seemed that the cast of this film was picked more for their diversity - white, black, asian, lesbian, british, american, australian - rather than their ability to be cohesive as an unit. Writer/Directory Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch did a competent job but the heist lacked danger or even the risk of failure, and the eventual outcome was an exercise in motion rather than a stylish-executed caper.

Of all the stars, Anne Hatheway gets the biggest laughs followed by the brilliantly cookie Helena Bonham Cutter. Cate Blanchett looked effortlessly cool and chic but essentially was just phoning it in As for the ostensible lead actress Sandra Bullock, she oozed charm but lacked the affable spontaneity that made …

Hereditary

Image
A terrific horror movie in the vein of The Witch, It Followsand Babadook. A tense vibe throughout with writer/director Ari Aster focusing on mood, atmosphere and music to ratchet up the suspense and horror, and coupled with a phenomenal performance from Toni Collette and the two younger stars: the surprisingly emotional Alex Wolff and creepily innocent Milly Shapiro. Also, pleasantly, the story progressed unexpectedly with some really good unpredictable turns.

There were scares peppered throughout but the best thing about this film was how untypical the scares came along. Aster smartly introduced the elements subtly and never bludgeoned the audience with scare jumps or quick cuts. He teases all the senses, making you doubt what you have seen and heard, and then when it hits you, the scene is over and you are left with a lingering doubt of fear. Brilliant.

Sure, the story itself per se was not the most original. It shared DNA with Rosemary's Baby and The Witch, but the execution w…

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Image
This film is unlike any other previous MCU films and that is a double-edged sword for the audiences, it was more of a straight-up action-comedy rather than an action-comedic superhero film. For one there was no clear villain and the characters that served as the main antagonists were so badly written and fleshed out that they were really just time-fillers for the A-plot.

Regardless, AM&TW was an enjoyable film albeit its predictability, lack of emotional complexity (or even plot-complexity) and absence of any conflict of worth. But where it succeed was in its actors - the effortless charisma and easy chemistry of both Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily - and the comedic chops of its supporting cast, especially Michael Peña, and Judy Greer, Bobby Canavale and Randall Park. It was fun watching the cast interact and that helped the 118 minutes move along.

Some of the action sequences by repeat director Peyton Reed were visually exciting and he definitely used 3D and VFX to good effect he…

Incredibles 2

Image
Pixar/Disney has another hit! A crowd-pleaser for all ages that was entertaining, funny, exciting and unrelenting in its pacing and action. However, writer/director Brad Bird apparently got lazy, the plotting was highly predictable and all sorts of tropes were thrown in with nary a sparked of originality. And it all led to a narrative that lacked the emotional weight that made the original such an insta-classic, but at least we some great action sequences/directing and Michael Giacchino’s best score in ages. 
As aforementioned, the story was highly unoriginal. Every beat of the story line was predictable and nothing was refreshing or given a new spin. That being said, most audience would still eat it up - especially the younger ones - but the laughs were not as big, there were not any standout lines/sequences and the emotional beats just seemed perfunctory and unearned. 
Some of the early action sequences were superbly directed by Bird and closely reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s fluid…