24 May 2013

The Deep Blue Sea (EUFF)

A hauntingly depressing movie that does not flood nor overwhelm the emotions thanks to the fleeting undercurrent of hope and fiery passion that Rachel Weisz's amazingly outstanding, powerful and emotionally resonant performance brings to the show. Terence Davies skilully adapted Sir Terence Rattigan's play to the big screen but often there was an undeniable sense that this would have been better on a stage, although flashbacks were employed very well here. The words throughout was a beautiful play on the English language that the British excel in, and more so when they are spoken out and given life by the amazing cast gathered. First, and foremost, is Rachel Weisz. She definitely gave one of the best performances of the career, and retrospectively, one of the best of the year (2011/2012). It was a gross oversight that she was not recognised by the award bodies (except by the New York Film Critics) for over 90-arresting minutes she easily commanded the screen and our attention. How Jennifer Lawrence even got nominated (and eventually won the 2012 Oscar for Best Actress) over Weisz is unbelievable. Perhaps, it laid on the fact that the film itself was a small, art house film, that did not gather much of an audience outside the film fest circuit. Nonetheless, Weisz portrayed the complexities of her character through those soulful eyes, be it staring out, staring in, pleading, scared, desperation, love, and it is through those eyes that we begin to understand this woman and come to terms with her choices. Simon Russell Beale was a dignified presence throughout and an amazing actor who lights up each scene that he is in, giving Weisz a worthy opponent to act opposite of. And their scenes together were simply the best. Quiet, poignant, powerful, where words and expressions triumphed over action and bombast. Lastly, Tom Hiddleston too brought his stage sensibilities to the game, and given the more intimate nature of the camera, we get a strong performance by him (and his eyes) in his comparatively few scenes. However, his character was less strongly defined and he was not given as much range to display: alternating between the rakishly handsome lover and the childishly self-centred veteran. Even to the end, he was a conundrum, just a catalyst in the story.


23 May 2013

The Great Gatsby

The best things about this movie has nothing to do with the film itself per se: I feel like picking up F. Scott Fitzgerald's book again (the best lines were his words) and give it another go ahead, I miss Amy Winehouse, Florence Welch has a very haunting voice and I really got to watch R+J again. The show is a mess! From the beginning to the end, and I already came in with lowered expectations. No wonder it was taken out of last year's award season. Someone really need to curtail Baz Luhrmann's penchant for excessiveness! Luhrmann has notate a good movie ever since his Red Curtains Trilogy. He has an epic vision but his execution fails to fully encompass the grandeur and scope, and thus missing out on the heart;"Australia" failed because of that and now so does "Gatsby". The smaller intimate scenes (with only two or three characters) were actually much better executed, but also sometimes it felt as if I'm watching an extended music video/Vogue fashion spread. Then came the atrocious, messy, simplistic screenplay that he co-wrote with Craig Pearce. Everything was painted in broad strokes with a total lack of depth in characterisation. Lack of depth is acceptable if there were even any perception of depth, but even Gatsby and Daisy were written flat. The one thing he did well was the curation, together with Jay Z, of an excellent soundtrack. That OST, not the score (by Craig Armstrong), was more memorable than the images on screen. At least they fit the scene. Then, the cast...oh my! They were all seriously miscast with the most egregious mistake being casting Carey Mulligan as Daisy Fay. As much as I adore Mulligan since her debut in "An Education", her portrayal of Daisy was a distraction and lacked the character depth as hinted by Fitzgerald's words. Tobey Maguire was flat as The Narrator and his wide-eyed naïveté ingenue seemed insincere and overtly childlike, and his character development was non-existent until the final minutes. He served as the audience's/reader's surrogate yet we are never as stupefied or as naive as him. Leonardo diCaprio: he's a conundrum. Obviously this show was meant to be an Oscar bait, but the poor chap was over acting three-quarters of the time. The quiet, pensive, introspective scenes reminded us of the good actor that we glimpsed during "Revolutionary Road" and "Django Unchained". But, fault definitely also lay on the Luhrmann's feet as the director who could not get the best out of his star. When diCaprio embraced his Romantic male lead, reminiscent of their partnership back in R+J, and forgo the vague attempts at instilling dramatic Sorcese-like eccentricities to Gatsby, which was laughable more than laudable, he was undeniably charismatic and engaging. Joel Edgerton tried but his character appeared comedically, flatly villainous. Finally, the thematic layers in the novel, as hinted throughout by Fitzgerald's gorgeous prose, had all been stripped off leaving only the bare bones romance angle. Class struggle, love vs. life, self-identity vs. societal perception, societal pressure and change, decadence and idealism, etc etc. Gosh, the book must be a treasure trove of literary discussions. Set design, costumes and make-up might have a chance for Oscar nomination. It was a visually spectacular movie that can be enjoyed if we ignore any pretensions of it (supposedly) being good.




17 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness [IMAX][3D]

An entertaining summer popcorn adventure flick that was unfortunately marred by its immense predictability and J. J. Abrams' ridiculous overuse of light flares, with the only great things about it were the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Giacchino's epic/heroic, and slightly space jazzy, score. The plot as written by Abrams' frequent partners, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof, were a master class in predictability, cliches and overwrought dramatics. The plot flows in a conventional straight line, with nary a side-step, as though the writers themselves were following a Writer's Manual 101. But, typical of these three, when it comes to serious talk/drama, the dialogue becomes clumsy and clunky, and also loopholes abound whenever it suits them, narrative continuity be damned. Although they did give the supporting cast some rather good quips. Other than his obscene obsession with light flares which are annoying at best, but downright distracting sometimes, Abrams handled the direction rather well. Some scenes were executed quite good, and messiness minimised, although editing was rather patchy and amplified in the IMAX. There weren't any big impressive set pieces and only one in-space sequence was truly gripping. As for the cast, they were seriously outclassed, out-acted by the British thespian Cumberbatch who skillfully managed to ellicit sympathy for his villain and his facial expressions and eyes are so much more telling then the clunky exposition handled to him. Chris Pine is a pretty face that recites his lines and run the action sequences, but emotionally a blank, his "growth" from Boy to Man (as per Manual 101) felt more like Child to Adolescent; Zachary Quinto is just, now, trying too hard and his Spock lacked the emotional complexity that his mouth hints at. Pine's and Quinto's bromance which was a highlight and cornerstone in the first movie, now feels tired and repetitive, lacking the initial chemistry that made them interesting. Zoë Saldana and Alice Eve were, like Pine, pretty faces and barely memorable, but thankfully, we had Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin to entertain us when Cumerbatch's not on screen. Lastly, from the opening strain to the final closing credits, Giacchino's score is the definite highlight, punctuating every scene and emotional climax with his bracing, rousing strings and horns. In between, you can even detect a slight jazzy undertone reminiscence of his "The Incredibles" work. IMAX and 3D not necessary.

8 May 2013

Evil Dead

Whedon's and Goddard's "The Cabin in the Woods" has totally ruined all subsequent cabin-in-the-woods horror genre movie for me. And this has the added pressure of following up to Raimi's cult classic. The concept is still the same and perhaps the effects here are a bit more updated, but at least there are enough differences here to keep fans of the original interested. Although it did not reach the cult greatness of Raimi's film, this was still an entertaining B-grade horror movie that was not truly scary nor campy enough. It seemed to be wanting to be more, but had it embraced its real genre it would have been better. There were some good scenes, some good setup, but in the end it bordered on the latest trope of torture-porn, with gratuitous amount of blood and gore aimed at the modern ?youth audience (at least when Whedon/Goddard employed copious amount of blood - the elevator scene - it was done for humour). And it is also the ridiculousness of some of these gore-fest scenes that ended up being  funny (to me, at least). None of the performances were really memorable but if Jane Levy was really the one under all that makeup, then kudos to her for giving some creepy stares and postures. The twist at the end was not really a twist if you paid attention to the thin plot. Stay till the end of the credits for a little bonus for fans of the original "The Evil Dead".

1 May 2013

Trance

Trance had a very good concept, a great beginning and First Act, and ended off with a bang and a satisfying/gratifying payoff. However, it suffers from the it-would-had-been-a-better-short-film syndrome: the whole Second Act just came to a screeching stop. Writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge just could not find enough interesting material to make it all engaging. The Intro and the First Act set up the main plot very nicely and quickly, and the intro was arresting and visually engaging, but then after that everything basically halts and everybody, audience, included is just waiting. Waiting...and waiting. Danny Boyle does a great job with the non-linear storytelling and the obfuscation to distract the audience attention. He uses some nifty angles, close-ups and edits to enhance the psychological aspect of this crime heist/psychological thriller. And if you pay close enough attention to the little acts that the cast do, the clues to the ending are abound, but also partially because of the lapse in attention span caused by the catatonic Second Act one just start picking up more things and the mind wanders back to the beginning to try to figure out who is the real con. Thankfully, the Third Act was a nail-biting, adrenaline pumping avalanche of reveals, twists, cons and double cons that culminated, together with Boyle's dizzying and fluid direction and a heart pounding score by Rick Smith, in a explosive ending. And thankfully the epilogue was not a retcon, but instead tied up some of the loose ends. The script also leads us to meditate on the meaning of evil, or to a lesser effect, what makes a man (or woman) good or bad? And James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson were admirable in portraying the various faces of their characters with aplomb. McAvoy's vanishing Scottish accent and Cassel's French-accented English were rather distracting, but other than that both men were great. McAvoy had a more complicated, not complex, character to play and he relayed the confusion, desperation, fear, anger, love and despair expressedly; Cassel, on the other hand, brought a certain warmth and charm to the rough rouge that he first appeared as and slowly wins the audience over. And then there is Dawson, in a revealing and brave role. She started off bland and a bit of an enigma, but steadily Dawson creates this character that seemed to be both vulnerable and a downright bitch. The middle section was supposed to showcase these transitional phases of the characters, but the plotting itself could have been better and the scenes crafted tighter.

Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

This was unexpectedly good. It was not Oscar-winning good, but it was a thoroughly entertaining horror-thriller. Kudos to writer/director...