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Showing posts from 2019

Booksmart

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A fun and funny, familiar yet fresh, raunchy but not rude, end-of-high-school buddy comedy that was well-paced and competently directed by first-time director Olivia Wilde albeit a tad over-tropey and predictable. 

Nonetheless, the excellent and natural chemistry of the two leads, Beanie Feldstein (who almost stole the show from Saoirse Ronan as the best friend in “Lady Bird”) and Kaitlyn Dever (an electric mix of a young Juno-esque Ellen Page and an Amy Pond-era Karen Gillan), drove the story and helped immensely to accelerate through the dull bits especially in the weaker second act. 

The film started strong but once the narrative got going, Wilde and her team of all-female writers seemed to have gotten lost in executing and obviously subverting the patriarchal tropism of the genre, which then, ironically, made those moments became less smart and just a bit more annoyingly preachy. 

Luckily, they all managed to craft a deserving final act; through the 105 minutes there were some chuckl…

Toy Story 4

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Even Pixar could not escape sequel/franchise fatigue, and although “Toy Story 4” was lots of fun - it had the usual laughs, action, heart and moral - but beneath all that beautiful, slightly unoriginal, storytelling laid a sense of fatigue and impatience especially for those of us who had been following the adventures of Woody, Buzz and gang for the past 24 (!) years. 

We are all now older but it seemed that the story never really grew any more older after that fitting end in “Toy Story 3” 9 years ago. This felt more like an attempt to relaunch the franchise for a new generation rather than a continuation for the original Andys (and Mollys). 

Nonetheless, this was a fun and absorbing film, maybe a little less heartbreaking/heartwarming, a little less exciting and a less laugh out loud, but like the previous three entries, it introduced new characters to the universe without ever feeling overcrowded, although the adventures of Rex and Ham were missed. But Tony Hale’s Forky was a delight,…

Yesterday

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Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis did a Magical Realism rom-com and result was a shiny, glossy, well-produced, excruciatingly Boyle-esque film that was shallow and empty with a pair of incompatible and boringly flat lead characters.

It coasted on the infectious nostalgia of The Beatles and with Kate McKinnon as the only other saving grace. And really, why Ed Sheeran?! Nothing against him or his songs (love them!) but he ain’t really an actor and to be featured in such a prominent role, it just felt extremely distracting. 

Although nothing was more distracting then the absolute lack of chemistry between Lily James and Himesh Patel. It was so hard to buy into their love story when we can barely believe that they are friends, much less lovers. James, we know, has talent but it barely shone here; and this was not a great introduction for Patel. 

This film had a great concept but the whole story seemed to only exist for one quintessentially Curtis piece of dialogue, but sadly the words were grea…

Wild Rose

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A feel-good, charming little film about dreams, life, responsibility, home, passion, family, friendships and country music. Uplifting and touching, this film was three acts and the truth with a star-cementing performance by Jessie Buckley (or star-making, if you didn’t catch her in the Tom Hardy series “Taboo”). 

Buckley was raw and passionate and honest, and the choices her character made was as hard to watch as it was satisfyingly resolved. Her journey was not easy, and us the audience was brought along for the ride, but the payoff was worth it.

Great direction by Tom Harper with a simple yet beautifully honest screenplay by Nicole Taylor. 

Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo were both also phenomenal. Okonedo brought a sincere warmth and humanity to an otherwise possibly bland and idealistic character; and Walters totally nailed the emotional challenge of a parent and she really delivered in that final scene. 

That epilogue...what a great bookend! Country music is really my guilty pleasur…

Parasite 기생충

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For 2 years in a row, the Palme d’Or has gone to two fascinating, socially-relevant, Asian family drama. “Parasite”, like last year’s “Shoplifters”, was an utterly riveting and emotionally-poignant film. It was smartly written and sharply directed by writer/director Bong Joon-ho and can be best described as a black comedic, scathing social satire/family drama. 

The story started out simple enough but it constantly surprises and zigs instead of the expected zags, and the emotional weight crept stealthily just beyond until it hits like a ton of rocks! The third act was not where one would expect the first act to end up. 

All the while, Bong peppered the story with genuine warmth, tightly tense moments and laughs - big laughs; like really big, laugh out loud moments. 

Only perhaps the epilogue was a bit too on the nose but then again, it would not be surprising if even that goes over the general audience. 

The whole cast was fabulous, from the main family to the supporting characters. Not on…

Spider-Man: Far From Home

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A fun, entertaining, easy-watching film that inevitably felt like a MCU-lite entry. Like the first film, it definitely felt more younger-skewing than the main MCU films, but also at times felt less a superhero film than a teenage, road trip comedy romp. 

The world-threatening and personal, emotional stakes felt low and empty throughout the film, especially since Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio’s introduction to the MCU was such a bungled effort. There was, distractingly, a constant sense that this film failed to live up to its potential given that fans would know what Mysterio is capable of which thus kind of negate the whole purpose of Act One; also by introducing Mysterio as from an - spoiler - alternate universe right after we had the phenomenal “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” but then not exploring that felt like a great big lie and cheat. 

Thankfully Tom Holland and Zendaya are still insanely charismatic and fit their characters to a tee. However, it was a pity that the Holland-Jaco…

The Lion King

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This was my third favourite iteration of the beloved, original classic. 

First, of course, is the 1994 original, then the Julie Taylor-directed 1997 musical spectacle, and lastly this 2019 CGI version. 

Technically, the almost-photorealistic, VR/AR and mo-cap technology used here were astounding, but aesthetically, it was highly distracting with its glaring artificiality (for one Pride Rock and the surrounds have absolutely no wind or even a slight breeze?!); emotionally, the near 2-hours film wasempty and soul-less, and rode along the goodwill coattails and nostalgic fondness of the original and/or the musical.

There were beautiful still shots interspersed throughout but the obvious directorial choices by Jon Favreau to absolutely minimise showing the animals directly speaking to the camera was annoying, frustrating, distracting and ultimately led to its emotional and dramatic emptiness. 

Narratively, this 2019 film was an amalgamation of the 1994 original and the 1997 musical with some …

Anna

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A fun, silly film that was an entertaining jaunt of escapism. At 118 minutes it was perhaps just a tad too long, but writer/director Luc Besson, for all his faults and same-ness throughout the years, knows how to tell a good story. Mix in an interesting narrative structure and the predictability of the unexpected became fun and engaging. Then again, Anna is no Leon, Nikita or The Fifth Element, but at least a step (or two or three) up from Lucy and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets(granted, the latter was campily fun).

But, as with any Besson films, stylistically you know what you are getting. The action sequences are always smoothly choreographed, clearly shot and exudes a sense of possible impossibility which makes it exciting to watch.

Whereas the story almost always certainly take on a secondary role and almost always cliched, overly-dramatic, falsely elevated stakes and misogynistically feminist. And therein lies Besson's genius, he populates his films with great s…

Men in Black: International

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This was another bland and uninteresting summer sequel. The only saving grace was the undeniable chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. And even then, director F. Gary Gray failed to capitalise on it, resulting in a supposed action/buddy-comedy that was lacking in both excitement and laughs.  The story, written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, was predictable, uninspiring and silly with such minimal stakes for a planet-saving organisation that the possible dire outcome never felt important or threatening. It started promising with the introduction of Thompson's character, but thereafter, the writing just got lazy.

Usually for such summer blockbusters, if they know the script is weak then they would obfuscate the lack of quality with lots of kick-ass action sequences and CGI extravaganzas. But strangely enough, even with the director of The Fate of the Furious, at the helm we had no adrenaline-rushes or awe-struck moments. That one chase-sequence felt unpolished and…

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

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When you go into a film with extremely low expectations, even a terrible film can be acceptable. And, boy, this was a bad film. 

The writing and directing, both by Simon Kinberg, were bad. They were not necessarily the worse ever, but really, it was amateurish. The screenplay was clunky and cringe-worthy, with so many bad lines that any chuckling was more from the eye-rolling hilarity of it all than genuine comic relief.

Then we have Kinberg’s directorial debut. Granted, it was a decent job for a first timer, but he lacked vision and an eye for details. Scenes and narrative moved along with no sense of purpose other than to reach the end; action sequences were messy and hard to follow. Not one scene in the 114 minutes really stood out other than the prologue (sadly, the rest of the film failed to maintain that level of showmanship). 

But at least Kinberg had the decency to keep the film under 2 hours. Then again, it cannot be too difficult when the film itself lacked a clear narrative ar…

Rocketman

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Disclaimer: I'm an Elton John fan. Actually flew to NYC to catch his Farewell Yellowbrick Road Farewell World Tour at MSG. He was amazing!

This was a fun film. As a jukebox musical, Rocketman was top-rate. Elton John's songs are iconic and catchy and really helped to hold the story together. It will really translate well to a stage musical. However, as a biopic - and dramatically speaking - it was weak. The emotional beats were absent and the actual narrative too thin.

Dexter Fletcher directed an energetic, if otherwise formulaic, musical film that was clearly an "authorised" depiction of John's public persona. In truth, there was nothing deep nor personal about John that was gleaned from the film.

Nonetheless, the execution was good. The costumes and music were brilliant, and the actors were great. Taron Egerton gave his best performance so far and did bear a close resemblance to John himself; Jamie Bell and Richard Madden were also perfectly cast. It was almost…

Aladdin

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Aladdin was entertaining and yet, inoffensively bland. There was nothing shining, shimmering splendid about the film except, surprisingly, for Will Smith's Genie, and Alan Menken's timeless score/music. Smith - as terrifying as it was to see him all in blue - both honoured Robin William's indomitable Genie and absolutely made it his own. He was a constant highlight.

Sadly, the rest of the film failed to deliver a fantastic point of view or showed us a a dazzling place that we never knew. The overall production value looked cheap, with CGI and production designs that would not looked out of place on network TV (too much budget spent on Smith's Genie?). Seriously, at times, it felt like I was watching a slightly glossier version of the late (and under-appreciated) Galavant.

Actually Galavant might actually have been more fun in total.

Guy Ritchie was an odd choice to direct this live-action musical. He excelled in the action sequences but failed to effectively capture th…

Godzilla: King of the Monsters [IMAX/3D]

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This film was the definition of bad writing, illogical plotting, over-acting - on top of bad acting! - and  terrible directing, but if you go in expecting all that, accept it and then embrace it, the monsters will make it worth it. The kaiju fights were spectacular, loud, exciting, dynamic - if only a touch messy (which could also have been aggravated by the 3D-induced dimming) - and actually satisfying. Take away the distracting humans and their nonsensical, boring storyline, cut the running time by 20% and it might actually give Pacific Rim: Uprising(not the original!) a run for its money.

Michael Dougherty directed and co-wrote Godzilla: KOTM and maybe they should have let Gareth Edwards, who directed the 2014 Godzilla, continued on the franchise. Dougherty, and his cinematographer Lawrence Sher, had some great shots, especially when they go wide, but otherwise, his penchant for extreme close-ups were bordering on comical and ridiculous. He ain't no Barry Jenkins.

And as the d…

Long Shot

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Long Shot was a light, frothy and entertaining rom-com, but they sure do not make rom-coms like they use do. It knows it is a rom-com but had a fear of committing totally to the genre. The film was littered with rom-com tropes but always toed the line of either going all meta and genre-parodying or breaking new ground and going against the expected. 
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen have great comedic chemistry, although their romantic chemistry was somewhat lacking. There were some really good laugh out loud moments, but they were more because of great, unexpected physical comedy by Rogen rather than smart, funny writing. The screenplay was the film's weakest link.. It was a bit too long, too uneven, too ambitious and unnecessarily political. If I wanted to watch a Trump-skewering political comedy/satire, I would watch re-runs of The Good Fight  or Veep.
Rogen is a good actor, but his character felt stereotypical and repetitive. He was a walking trope but he lacked the affable, sel…

Burning 버닝

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Lee Chang-dong successfully and faithfully translated Haruki Murakami’s beautiful, poetic prose to the screen. 

A slow-burn psychological thriller / character study that weaved an ambiguous narrative with haunting imageries. There are cats, jazz, running and even a sprinkle of magical realism, but all yet grounded in Lee’s reality of KPop, societal isolation, the desolation of youth and the dichotomy of classes. 

Three actors held “Burning” together, and although Steve Yeun and Jeon Jong-seo were great in their role, especially the latter who had a haunting yet magnetic presence, it really was Yoo Ah-in’s story that Lee was telling and Yoo was exceptional. He was emotive without being exaggerating, and sincere without being superficial. And through the film, we do end up caring about him and for him.

Burning was possibly one of the best Murakami’s adaptation and rewarding for both fans of Murakami and cinephiles.

Avengers: Endgame

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One word: Epic. Two words: Fan Service. 

Nonetheless, kudos to the Russo brothers and Kevin Feige for crafting a fitting finale that never felt at all like it was 3-hours long. An unabashed fan service final film that daftly balanced character work, action/CGI extravaganza, emotional drama and physical comedy. However, as epic as Endgame was, it was surprisingly a tighter ensemble drama than Infinity War. There were emotional payoffs that felt earned, although ultimately the story - and the storytellers - lacked the bravery to have more consequential narrative beats.

The film was neatly divided into three acts and each act could easily have been a movie unto itself. This was good in terms of structure and storytelling. It was clear, objective and succinct, but then it also resulted in briefer and narrower character arcs that did not allow non-major characters to be anything more than narrative devices or plot contrivances. And it was this that made the film felt fan service-y. But, this…

A Private War

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This was the film and character that Rosamund Pike deserved to get nominated for an Oscar for. She should have been there along side Olivia Colman, Yerlitza Arpacio and Glenn Close (the other two - not naming names - not so much).  A strong, ferocious portrayal of the equally strong and courageous Marie Colvin, Pike was magnetic. It was a vanity-free performance that was layered and nuanced and convincing.  The biggest drawback however, was that director Matthew Heineman and writer Arash Amel chose to focus primarily on Colvin’s career and less on who she was and why she was how she was. Luckily, Pike managed to elucidate some of that of mystery through her interpretation and her performance, and we do get some sort of idea of the kind of person Colvin might have been in private.  Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci rounded out the main men supporting Pike, and they all sparred with Pike to give her the moments to shine.  Heineman’s film was tight, brisk and taut and Colvin…

Vox Lux

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An uneven film that was unsure of its purpose, does it want to be a satire about pop and celebrity culture or a family drama of two sisters or a social commentary about America and/or modern society? 

Director and co-writer Brady Corbet seemed to want to be experimental but the final product just ended up being unfocused. And was the Wilem Dafoe narration really necessary? Show, not tell...

However, Natalie Portman was magnificent! This was her film. 

Portman appeared in like a tornado in the second half and absolutely Black Swan-ed her way from start to end. With her, the film finally gained some momentum and even Corbet’s unnecessary and indulgent long takes were improved by having Portman owning the screen. 

Raffey Cassidy - as the young Portman and then her daughter - held her own in the first half, but she lacked the screen charisma of Portman. 

Jennifer Ehle, Jude Law and Stacey Martin rounded out the main cast. They supported Cassidy and the film in the beginning but were there real…

Dumbo

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A true family-film and crowd-pleaser. The first, proper four-quadrant winner of 2019. An absolute delightful mix of Disney nostalgia and Tim Burton aesthetics. Burton's storytelling was a perfect fit for Dumbo and this will surely appeal to children and also their Gen X/Y parents who still remembered the 1941 cartoon and Burton back in his heydays of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.

Gorgeously shot with beautiful visuals and a great score, this was Burton and Danny Elfman at their best...finally, again! Kudos to cinematographer Ben Davis who is doing better work here than he did for MCU. Maybe he should work with Burton more.

Dumbo was funny, touching, scary, exciting, tense, exhilarating, and most of all, simple. True, it was a bit too simple (but hey, we do not need to complicate it for children) and the screenplay by Ehren Kruger was the weakest link. Some of the heart and sincerity of the original's story telling got lost by expanding the film to nearly 2 hours. Howeve…

Us

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The only reason to watch Us was Lupita Nyong'o's performance; it definitely was not for Jordan Peele's writing or direction, although granted there were some good directorial/cinematographic choices. However, overall, Peele's execution was left wanting. A great concept that had ambitious, lofty goals to examine themes of Consumerisms, self and identity, the American Dream and class conflicts (Us vs Them, the Have-nots vs the Have-lots), but ended up feeling scattered and unfocused. And way too much logic holes and gaps that interfered with the storytelling.

All good horror and sci-fi films either have some truth that ground the story or just be totally out-there, but Us could never commit to either. The result was a film that was flat and never really kicked into gear. As a horror film it was un-horrifying (even less so than Get Out) and un-terrifying; as a thriller it lacked tension and the pacing was awkward (most of the comedic moments felt out of place and really …

Captain Marvel [IMAX]

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Comparisons will be inevitable, so let’s just say that “Captain Marvel” ain’t no “Wonder Woman”, and Brie Larson did not have the screen charisma of Gal Gadot. But it definitely landed the ending unlike WW which petered and crashed out in the end. The film ran on first gear throughout and only untill the last act did it rock out. But that was awesome! And you know you are in trouble when the best character on screen is named “Goose”. Larson’s hero moment was worth it (and justified the IMAX) but getting there, the first two acts suffered a major dearth of emotionality or audience empathy. “Captain Marvel” can be best classified as a Buddy Cop Comedy meets Intergalactic Drama, but Larson was never really dramatic nor funny. She appeared wooden most of the time and constantly seemed blanked rather than confused/unsure (as good as “Room” was, Cate, Saoirse or Charlotte should have won that Oscar); and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson seemed forced. There were plenty of quips strewn a…

If Beale Street Could Talk [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

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What a beautiful film this was. Beautifully shot, directed, written and scored. And oh so heartbreakingly emotional. Such a shame that it was not more well received at the Oscars. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel was sublime. The main plot which was essentially a crime drama and a doorway to the racial-political theme was engaging enough but it really was the central romance that held the film together as it weaved in and out through the narrative like a framework threading tears along the way. It was tender and sincere and remarkably brought to life by Kiki Layne and Stephen James, especially Layne who will be a star to look out for in the future. Regina King absolutely deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her fierce, strong and powerful performance. It had a raw honesty absent from Emma Stone or Rachel Weisz in “The Favourite”. The score by Nicholas Britell was beautiful, stirring and emotive without being intrusive; the cinematography by James Lexton…

Mary, Queen of Scots [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

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On paper this film had so many things going right for it. A controversial historical character led by Oscar nominated lead actresses, but the execution was a mess. At times the film felt like a bad soap opera. The dramatisation lacked depth and substance and neither Queens had much characterisation beyond the superficial. Political intrigue gave way to sexual exploits for a simplistic historic retelling. Queen Mary really deserved a better biopic. Although I applaud director Josie Rourke’s choice of racial-blind casting, the decision for everybody to use their own accents was not a smart one as it added another layer of unnecessary distraction. And that heavy-handed focus on political correctness was absurd and too jarringly out of place. The costumes and make ups were gorgeous but pox-scarred does not make Margot Robbie anywhere close to Regina, Emma or Rachel’s calibre, though her showdown scene with Saoirse Ronan did show a sliver of Tonya-calibre acting. Ronan has a beautiful visa…

At Eternity's Gate

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A poetic film that managed to illustrate Vincent van Gogh's life through a series of vignettes and moments that were largely absent of dialogue. Any dialogue present served only to illuminate the thoughts and mental health of this seemingly troubled genius, rather than furthering any narrative. Director Julian Schnabel assumed that the audience for this film already has an idea of van Gogh's life and his purpose is really to create a filmscape echoing an artist's search for perfection and for truth; film is Schnabel's canvas as painting was to van Gogh.

Willem Dafoe bore a striking resemblance to the van Gogh's self-portraits and he had an intensity to the role that vividly brought Schnabel's van Gogh to life. Rami Malek could learn a lesson or two on acting. However, his age was a distraction. Van Gogh died at 37 years old and Dafoe is now 63 years old. Granted living condition then, and the fact that van Gogh was possibly an alcoholic, it was possible that v…

91st Academy Awards (Oscars 2019)

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This year's Oscars is genuinely rather exciting and unpredictable both for its nominations and also the production antics surrounding the event. Surprisingly, there aren't many locked-ins this year. The closest we have to a guaranteed win is "Shallow" for Best Song, and maybe Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor. We will be in for an exciting award show as the season finally comes to a close.


*Winners are highlighted in red


BEST PICTURE

BLACK PANTHER
BLACKKKLANSMAN
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
THE FAVOURITE
GREEN BOOK
ROMA
A STAR IS BORN
VICE
Who Should Win: Roma Who Will Win: Roma
Who Could Win: Green Book or Black Panther

Any film can win the big prize except Bohemian Rhapsody. Please. This year was really a toss up between Roma and The Favourite. Roma was beautiful, affecting and heart-wrenching in its simplicity and honesty. The Favourite was terrific, witty and an absolute delight to watch with riveting performance by all three ladies.


BEST DIRECTOR

BLACKKKLANSMAN Spike Lee COLD WA…