26 June 2013

Monster University [3D]

Disclaimer: I don't really remember much about "Monster Inc.". The concept was refreshing but the plot was not very memorable. So I went into this sequel not really expecting much.

An entertaining animation with some chuckles and laughs, and gorgeous design, however just a tad long and lacking soul. Pixar's initial years of producing revolutionary, groundbreaking animations with amazing technical skills and refreshing plots seemed to be over the moment they merged with Disney. The storyline here was rather straight forward with nary a curveball nor unexpectedness. It was clearly aimed at the general Disney audience and the younger ones, rather than cater to the ones that loved the first outing and were interested in the characters' backstory. Some sequences were entertaining but most of the laughs were from sight gags rather than sequences. Helen Mirren stood out as the voice of the main antagonist, however Billy Crystal and John Goodman were distinctive but not memorable. Similarly so was Randy Newman's score. 3D was not necessary at all. Even the short film, "The Blue Umbrella", attached to the start of the movie suffered the same fate: cute, interesting, but undeniably, had with it a sense of deja vu. Although the use of photorealistic animation was an eye-opener. But nonetheless, still a rather pale comparison to last year's Oscar winning "Paper Umbrella". Stay tune right to the end of credit!

Under The Dome

Pilot: The book has always intrigued me but I just never had the time to read it. Fortunately, the power duo of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King has brought the book to its CBS premiere. However, despite the very fascinating premise, some interesting plot threads (in particular: What is the Dome? Who is Barbie? Why Chester Mill? Why are some of the kids seizing up and what exactly are they sprouting?) but like most King novels, there are too many distracting stories that may or may not link back to the A-plot. Cast wise, that creepy Junior is really creepy and freaky and not in a good way. But at least we have Vogel and Fahey. The other cast members are kind of dead blocks at the moment, although it looks like the young ones (Joe and Norrie) seem to be having the more interesting sci-fi storyline. Not sure, if I will continue watching this series. Maybe it will be faster and better if I just read the book. Let's see how next week will be like. I really dig that bisected cow though! More sci-fi less soap drama, please.

Episode 2, "The Fire": This show is really silly. I love the sci-fi element of it, the mystery of the dome, but many of the characters are just plain annoying especially that psycho Junior. His storyline, coupled with Alexander Koch's OTT acting, is just frustratingly juvenile. Then there's Angie, Britt Robertson, who for someone that seemed smart in the pilot, is just making stupid choices. She could have so easily manipulate Junior and gotten herself out. Also, that other deputy is just winding down to hysterical paranoia out of the blue, it's like small-town-panic-by-the-numbers. And they killed Fahey! One less person worth it to watch. Thankfully, Barbie/Vogel is still interesting and looks like he is going to be a clear cut, albeit conflicted, hero. Jim/Norris seemed poised to be the anti-villain (similar in concept to the anti-hero) of the series, and he sure does a mean "evil eye stare". So what is Chester Mill hiding? Linda/Martinez and Julia/Lefevre are still rather blank states with not much of a distinguished characterisations. Joe/Ford is sure one helluva smart kid and really goes against the buck of the usual sci-fi kid/annoyance.

20 June 2013

Hoshino Coffee

A rather crowded Japanese-inspired French/Italian restaurant (more bistro like though). The queue for dinner took 15 minutes on a weekday night, however service was prompt, efficient, and most importantly polite. You can decide on your orders whilst queuing, but they don't take it till you have seated inside. The wait for the food was a good 10 minutes. The Hot-pot curry rice looked pretty but it sure ain't worth $15. Maybe $1.50. One piece of generic sausage, a half-boiled egg, 2 small broccolis for garnishing, very al dente rice (or uncooked rice, depending on your view) in a cheesy, very mild curry that was too rich in MSG, overly salty and lacking in proper substance (meat pieces or potatoes) or anything. It just tasted awfully boring, and rather awful too. The vanilla souffle was supposedly made fresh on order, so the well-trained staff actually asked whether they could start preparing it while we were eating our mains. Nonetheless, like the main, it looked good with a nice cap (a bit short though), but the insides was a mushy, grainy mess! Tasted like custard. Too much butter, sugar was too coarse, not well beaten and the egg whites was not well meringued. The only saving grace is the very excellent, well trained, polite staffs. House rule: no entry until all guests have arrived. 

Verdict: Won't be coming back. 



19 June 2013

World War Z

A very high concept action/thriller film that started off really strong and riveting, with a fantastically fascinating premise, that ended with a tonally juxtaposed (the much-discussed) third act that, though great on its own, did not really match up with the first two acts of the movie. But still an engaging, pseudo-intelligent, movie nonetheless. This movie will be a great study in screenplay and script-writing. And come on, if you can accept sparkly vampires, what are fast moving zombies? I loved that idea. The beginning of the movie was excellent! Within 5 minutes you are lunged into the action of the movie and you are just as confused as the main characters. Backstory comes in between without slowing down the action, and not more necessary is given. There were many great visuals throughout, and that zombies climbing on top of each other to scale a height: WOW! Unfortunately, the star of the show, Brad Pitt, does not really shine, and was rather underwhelming, in this movie. Yes, he carried off the cliche role of devoted-husband-forced-to-revert-back-to-his-old-job-which-he-was-supposedly-really-good-at-but-gave-up-to-be-a-better-husband/father-and-to-abandon-his-family-to-save-them, but he was just present throughout, and was not outstanding at all. Mainly, also because he has no real stakes, and the audience are not given anything to stand behind him, to root him on. His connection with his family was barely explored, and the family was placed in a position where we did not really have to worry about them, so there was no impulse for us to want him to get the answers ASAP! There were hints of possible familial jeopardy but they never played out. Mirielle Enos' character was surprisingly interesting, and Enos was a good choice as the atypical strong, independent wife, but sadly, her character was not more fully developed. Marc Forster was an interesting directorial choice, and he excelled at the more intimate scenes. The action sequences and large set pieces of the first two acts were directed well, but the closed up action scenes sees him borrowing too much from Bourne's Paul Greengrass with all the shakey, handheld cameras and rapid editing (3D with that must be quite bad). But then comes the much fabled third act. Oh man, where to start with that? It was quite apparent that the script was written by more than one person, and distinctively the final act was different from the first two in terms of tone, settings, language and even, whether subconsciously or not, directorial style. Drew Goddard's typical penmanship was obvious, with a sudden increase in wry comments, snide remarks, "sidekicks" banter, black humour, dry wit and visual snarks. Damon Lindelof's imprints were over the "sci-fi" bits and the pseudo-science logic that he seemed to be so fond of. After all those huge, amazing, adrenaline-pumping set pieces in the first two act, the much quieter third act was an utterly jarring experience, and unfortunately did not carry on the momentum to bring the audience to an expected orgasmic climax. Instead, what we had was a "that's it?" moment, that in itself if taken on its own as a separate movie (perhaps written by Goddard, Whedon, Wright or even Anderson) is great. Marco Beltrami, who was last heard scoring for "Warm Bodies", had a similar sound piano-based score here that was not as memorable but rather fitting to the mood. At the end of it, this was an interesting concept that did not know how best to end. Perhaps it would have been better as a mini-series or a planned trilogy (which is too big a risk for the producers). It made me curious enough to want to get the books to read.

Man of Steel [IMAX] [3D]

[Disclaimer: I have never watched any scenes prior to the movie: no trailers, nothing, as per usual. The only sensed that I got before going in was that it made tonnes of money in its opening weekend, but was not as embraced by the critics]

This is a vast improvement over the previous entry "Superman Returns" and the retelling of the origin story does try to flesh out Superman more as a character rather than the caricature that he has become. There are two gems in this movie: Henry Cavill and Hans Zimmer. Cavill certainly carried the role of Superman off with aplomb, and for a British, he does convey a strong sense of the good ol'American that Clark Kent represents. In addition, he is a good actor. He may not be a very strong actor but definitely way better than Ken-doll Routh's portrayal. However, what he lacked in acting, Cavill certainly wins over with his charm, infectious smile and those blue eyes; certainly a more fitting descendent of Christopher Reeves' mantle. Physically, he may be too buff towards the end and that, I felt, was an artistic misfire by the team. Clark/Superman is supposed to represent the Regular Joe, but by making him so physically distinctive, it kinds of makes that synaptic link jarring. Then we have Hans Zimmer fantastically, epic score! Seriously, Zimmer has outdone himself here. His score carried the grandiosity and epic scope of the story throughout, from the the exposition-heavy, jarringly-edited prologue, to the climatic ending. And, in this case, as heard through the IMAX theatre sound system, it was heart-poundingly amazing! Some things did not work: Zack Synder directing tended to be overtly jerky (especially in the prologue) and his action sequences were too messy (this is where "The Hobbit's" HFR filming would have been beneficial; the screenplay by David S. Goyer (with story by his Batman collaborator, Christopher Nolan) was a brave retelling of Superman's origin that was (typical of the duo) filled with plot contrivances that lurch the narrative forward, but if the audience just accepts "things happen", then the problems are not as severe as their previous outings. However, to their credit, there were some good lines, one very good meta-self-mocking scene, some intentional, or un-intentional, throwaways snarks (visual or lines) on recent sci-fi flicks ("Prometheus", "The Matrix" and even "The Dark Knight"), and a general cohesion towards the end game. As for the rest of the cast, Amy Adams was an interesting choice to play Lois Lane, and as a character she did great (and this was one of the more significant change to the mythos), but opposite Cavill, they seemed rather mismatched and the chemistry is just not there. However, Adams did bring out the strong, independence, professional side of Lois without falling into the familiar trope of damsel-in-distress or trollop-in-love. Russell Crowe was surprisingly good as Jor-El and he played off well opposite Michael Shannon who has made a name as the go-to guy to play scarily normal psychopaths! Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Meloni, Diane Lane, Harry Lennix and Richard Schiff did the best they could but they aren't really the focus here, perhaps Fishburne will get a bigger role in the sequel. Two other issues with the movie was that the final third relied too much on boring purposeless CGI destruction for impact, and narratively Synder, Goyer and Nolan tried to cram too much big ideas into the movie, but none of them ended up being very well developed: Freewill and Choice, Nature vs Nurture, Heroism vs Heroics, Regular Joe vs Superhero, Self vs Others. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable 140mins buoyed by the score, Cavill's charisma and a genuinely interesting re-telling of a familiar story. 3D not necessary, but IMAX was great!

12 June 2013

The Hunt (Jagten)

Mads Mikkelson is astounding and mesmerising in this powerful and frightfully realistic, serious meditation of human nature and small town hysteria. And this is also why "Hannibal" is one of the best TV show on right now that no one is watching. Thomas Vinterberg has created a disturbing portrayal of humanity and even the ending paints the Garden of Eden as a place where treachery lurks within. The story is deceptively simple but the power behind its message is brought so vividly to life by Mikkelson, and also the supporting cast of Thomas Bo Larsen and Annika Wedderkopp. Thankfully Vinterberg does not dwell too long on the schmaltzy side of the story and seldoms explicitly explain the scenes to his audience, and for that he has given us an intellectual study, and not the typical Hollywood schlop. He allows the scenes and the actors to convey the themes and not have it drummed in through heavy handed repetitions or spelt out in a heroic diatribe. Mikkelson's brilliance in this film laid in his expressive eyes, subtle facial changes and altering body language. His presence engages our senses, and the scenes without him were notably flatter (although there was a powerful scene by his son only). The only downside throughout was the character of Nadja who does not really serve much purpose other than to give us a glimpse of Mikkelson's arse. A pity, like "Hannibal", most people will miss this.

6 June 2013

Now You See Me

A breezily entertaining crime heist movie with a very interesting concept that is best enjoyed if one does not think too hard about it. A typical example whereby plot triumphs over characterisations, and the actors are exchangeable. But having said that, the plot is filled with logic leaps (oh, the irony throughout) and holes and idiocies that obviously the writers, directors and producers (it's Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman again!) have decided were not important enough to warrant a more intellectual execution. Similarly, the whole plot line, twists and turns, were predictable and rather hamfistedly written. Louis Leterrier is a competent director with a flair for the action sequences and the large magic-related setups, however, outside of his comfort zones, the movie was rather flat. As I said earlier, some of the top-billing actors were really not that essential for the success of this movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco as "The Four Horsemen" were essentially supporting cast to the main 2 men: Mark Ruffalo (note the irony here again, with Leterrier as the director of the Eric Bana-starring "The Incredible Hulk", and Ruffalo, the most successful Hulk) and Morgan Freeman. As a group, the four of them were barely together for more than two non-staged scene and that showed. Eisenberg and Harrelson are teamed up again after the successful "Zombieland", but sadly their interactions here were far and in between, and kind of lacked the initial undead chemistry; similarly Fisher and Eisenberg were not sparking. The one bright spark was young Dave Franco, who after his memorable turn in "Warm Bodies", gave another memorable performance here as the youngest ingénue. He, like his big brother James, is someone to watch out for. Ruffalo tried his best but his performance was marred unfortunately by the flatness of the writing. Freeman, on the other hand, was great and you can never really decide which direction this snake is going to attack. Lastly, gorgeous Mélanie Laurent, is on screen to be nothing more than the red herring and as the romantic, strange female of the show. Regardless, of all the flaws, this was still an entertaining summer escapism movie that had way more fun that it really ought to have the right to be.

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...