18 April 2014

Mister John


A little indie-show that felt a bit disconcerting for a Singaporean to watch especially since at times it did not feel like I am watching the Singapore that I know on screen. Nonetheless, Little Finger...I mean Petyr Baelish...Aidan Gillen was great as we followed him through his journey of lost. And as depressing as that journey was to watch Gillen nailed it as the strangeness of this new land and its people come into conflict and strangely also complements the turmoils of his own personal life. Local actress Zoe Tay shone in her role as the widow and she should be proud of the performance that she gave - possibly her best in a long, long time. The biggest problem for the movie, from a Singaporean point of view, is how disjointing it actually felt to hear Irish-lilted English against a Singaporean-accented one, and how some scenes were not even in English. In addition, the depiction of Singapore felt jarring and not as authentic to a foreign viewer, not that its shady or seedy, but the settings were all rather left-field.

Transcendence


This is Hollywood's version of Her - meaning it is shallow and superficially deep, filled with pseudo-pop psychology. But worse than all that the acting was almost uniformly bad, the ending was a cowardly cop-out, the directing was a mess and the writing beyond illogical. Seriously, if I was harsh this is possibly the worst movie of the year so far.

First time director Wally Pfister was sadly in over his head and I won't be surprised if Johnny Depp or even Morgan Freeman was over-riding the director. These two were barely registering a presence. Freeman was just coasting through his scenes, and as for Depp, I will get to him soon. Pfister's direction was mediocre and the action scenes were like a poor man's Michael Bay - at best; even the narrative itself was poorly structured. The latter of which, writer Jack Paglen has to bear some - or even most - of the responsibility.

The whole script was a total superficial honky-tonk Hollywood schtick catered to the lowest denominator. Is that why Depp checked-out? The premise was good, the potential was there, but with such a common subject matter these days there needs to be originality to engage the audience. The potential for originality was there, but the execution was lame, became unoriginal, and then it could had at least be interesting, but Paglen and Pfister copped out at the end and it became...sickeningly Hollywood.

Now we come to Depp. When was the last time he made a good movie? Edwards Scissorshands? Pirates of Caribbean (the first instalment)? Scarlett Johansson was leaps and bounds, valleys and mountains, planets and galaxies ahead of Depp as an AI, and she was not even onscreen! There barely was any chemistry between him and Rebecca Hall. And in all seriousness, the lead actor should actually go to Paul Bettany both in terms of screen time, commitment to role and audience-engagement. Oh, and Kate Mara is in danger of getting pigeon-holed.

I am just thankful that I did not fork out for IMAX.

17 April 2014

The Other Woman


A silly, frothy rom-com that was loads of fun, filled with genuine laugh out loud moments with comedic gold from Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, especially the former. A great movie to enjoy, with the silliness and frothiness in mind, with friends of similar tastes. Pity that most of the funny bits were shown in the trailers (which is why I almost always never watch trailers), but there were still some gems that they kept away. There was even something for the boys with Kate Upton, although her anti-gravity shoot for swimwear illustrated was a lot more impressive.

Diaz has a gift for comedy. Especially physical comedy. She really anchored the comedic side of the movie. Mann started off annoying but towards the second act, she found her groove with Diaz and this is a duo that I would really love to see again.

Kate Upton is just so pretty. As is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. But at least Coster-Waldau could really act and who knew Jaime Lannister has such comedic chops.

An unabashed rom-com that has elements both for chicks and the guys, but the "com"-part was definitely a lot stronger than most others.

"Selfish people live longer." - Nicki Minaj

Enemy


Based on Nobel-laureate José Saramago's novel, "The Double", Prisoners' director Denis Villeneuve has given us another meditative/existentialist, slightly unconventional movie starring his previous lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal in an astoundingly restrained but completely absorbing dual-role.

Adapted from a rather famous novel by Javier Gullón, the unconventional plot and narrative forces the audience to think and debate the meaning of what they had just saw. Even with foreknowledge from the book, the writer and director had wisely chosen to bring their own version of this age-old tale of the doppelgänger/clones to the big screen, and throughout the slim 90 minutes run-time, we are left to wonder is this going to be a sci-fi, fantasy or a psychological thriller.

Villeneuve portrayed the city as a mirror to the mind of a broken man. But is this man broken? And if so, how badly? However, the over-abundance use of quick cuts and edits felt a bit too cheap and gimmicky, especially after his more sure-footed direction in Prisoners. This felt at times like an art/indie-student trying too hard to copy the signatures of his favourite auteurs - I get a sense of Wong Kar Wai here. In addition, the score was a very poor fit. It ended up being too distracting to what was happening on screen, and it seemed more to show the lack of confidence the director has with his directing and his stars. Although unless this discordant is purposeful, but even so, it does not eliminate the fact that it distracts rather than complements.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a brilliant performance. He is getting to be that rare breed of A-lister who is a looker and yet also a character actor. Without a doubt, some industry recognition would be coming his way soon. And in the same year that this movie was released, Gyllenhaal undoubtedly gave a more intense and more absorbing performance than Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

The rare film that makes you think, ponder and debate, and a great star that keeps you focused on the screen.    

5 April 2014

Limehouse




The first thing that strikes, and impresses, me was the deco of the place. A nice mix of Peranakan and Caribbean influence in an old-concept. The set lunch was priced rather attractively with either a 2-course or 3-course option.

The sweet potato soup (soup of the day) was thick, but lacked the inherent sweetness one would expect from sweet potato. Although the addition of the Caribbean spice to it did give it a nice tang.

Then we had an ala carte order of the fish cake. Chunky fish pieces reminiscent of fish tikka, although the one here had a similarly strong lime/spice Caribbean vibe to it. Pity then that the fish was a tad too chewy and overcooked.

The Jerk Chicken was the main course and it was rather tasty. The chicken was grilled very well with the meat retaining its juiciness and tenderness despite having a nicely charred and crispy skin. The Jerk BBQ sauce was unique in its spice and tang, and went well with the chicken. Although it was the same sauce they used for their steak too.

The macaroni pie was a disaster. Bland, tasteless and an awful waste of carbs. It was like a solidified baby food gone bad.

Verdict: Can actually come back to try other stuffs (am intrigued by the goat - if it's really goat) and like all the eating joints in this area, it seemed like a chill place to hang out.


3 April 2014

Noah [3D/IMAX]


Darren Aronofsky's retelling of one of the most famous biblical stories is an epic, CGI-assisted, apocalypse that featured strong performances from its cast, especially Russell Crowe who finally reminds us why he was an Oscar winner, and an outstanding score by Clint Mansell with the Kronos Quartet. However, a tad disjointed with the first two acts feeling like a major CGI tent-pole, and the last act like a typical Aronofsky indie-drama.

Aronofsky directing was similar to his previous films with many close-ups (and for while, I almost thought Russell Crowe is going to break out in a song á la in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables) and quick cuts. But throughout, you still get the feel of his indie-roots despite the big budget with many scenes shot on handheld cameras. He refrained from going too biblical on the audience but also held back on his atheistical beliefs although there was a moment where I thought he might sneaked in something. And I think that was a smart, commercial choice. Whether it was the correct artistic choice, I guess it would be best left up to himself to decide. However, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel had undoubtedly dug deep enough to portray Noah as simply a vessel of god. The story that they had created showed the possible complexities and dilemma that a man like him had to go through. But of course, with the Noah-chapters in the Genesis being as short as they are, many of the conflicts and dramas (particularly in the Third Act) may seem a bit too contrived and trite. The whole Third Act weighed the film down but gave layers to many of the characters and felt more like a typical Aronofsky drama rather than a big-budget CGI tent-pole. Perhaps what happened before just overwhelmed the audience for the drama, and the transition could have been better managed.

Russell Crowe gave the best performance of his career in a very long time! No, this would not gain him any awards, but it definitely reminded the audience that he was an Oscar winner once. His portrayal of Noah was as complex and deep as Aronofsky and Handel made him to be. His burly nature and those sad eyes really came to fore, and you can really imagine him to be shouldering the burden of god and debating within himself the decisions that he had to make. A believer tortured by his doubt on his belief.

Similarly, Jennifer Connelly - reunited with her Requiem for a Dream director - also showed us why she too got an Oscar on her mantel. She is not just a subservient wife as in the old days, but, like all female characters in Aronofsky's tales, a strong individual in her own right who has to make decisions that conflicts within herself. The protective nature of the mother against the loving devotion of a wife against the logical brain of the believer.

Ray Winstone was a formidable foe to Crowe's Noah standing up against him both physically and in presence. Anthony Hopkins too was well cast but these days Hopkins seemed to be just dialling in his performances.

Of the younger actors, Logan Lerman was a standout as Ham. After his standout performance as Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is a worthy follow-up and makes him an actor worthy to keep an eye out for. His co-star in Wallflower, Emma Watson definitely had one of the meatier roles of the young cast, and although Watson was good, one can still feel that she's holding back and her roles post-Hermione are slowly getting a feel of same-ness.

But my favourite part of the movie is the grand, epic score by Clint Mansell featuring The Kronos Quartet. One of Mansell's best score since the one he did for Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (Lux Aeterna is one the most outstanding cinematic theme of the 21st century). The score itself retells the movie and is listenable on its own. Lush aural landscape with all the complexities of the visual film itself.

A great movie to watch in IMAX but definitely not necessary in 3D for everybody regardless of believes. HFR would have actually been good here. Strange that it is NC16 though, the youth could do with some insight about Genesis.


The Wind Rises 風立ちぬ


Hayao Miyazki's final film continues his Studio Ghibli's tradition of using gorgeously sumptuous hand-drawn animation to tell a heartfelt emotional story about love, passion and following your dreams, albeit this time grounded very much more in reality - a true story no less - and less of the fantastical, magical elements that hallmarked his past few gems. However, fans would definitely recognise similarity back to his earlier works, before he gave us Totoro, Faceless and Howl's Moving Castle.

Miyazki is a gifted story teller and even without the melodramatic trappings he still managed to convey the romantic core of the love-story from courtship to death. Many times, words are not necessary, just the way he animates the characters, depicts the scene and the accompanied score by Joe Hisaishi is more than enough to tug at the heartstrings.

However, the romance is still secondary to the central plot. It was an interesting glimpse into an era of Japan where many non-Japanese, or even the young Japanese, may not be aware of. Hence, I can see why it did so well in its home country, and I imagine that the viewing experience would have been a lot different if I had watched it back in July 2013. There is a sense of nationalistic pride that pervades the film, but beneath it also lurks a shadow of military and sovereign pride over WWII. Although Miyazki had downplayed that angle, most would know what the Zero Fighters were really for. Nonetheless, it was stressed many times about how things of beauty can also be things of destruction. And looking at it from this angle, what does it really say about the direction that Jiro Horikoshi's life took and the sacrifices that he had made?

Like all good Miyazki's films, there are depth within the simplicity of his hand-drawn animations.

He will be sorely missed!

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...