24 November 2014

How To Get Away With Murder

Pilot: First time really watching a Shonda Rhimes series, so am expecting much and yet also at the same time not expected to be blown away. And that was what I came away with after the pilot episode. The premise is interesting and the likely series-long mystery does seem intriguing, however the flash forward technique is getting more and more contrived every year we move away from Lost. Viola Davis is a fabulous actress but her character is such a contrived mess. There had better be a good back story to explain her character. None of the other main cast appear to be likable or relatable, not even the underdog, perhaps only Connor is mildly interesting because he turned out to be gay. Liza Weil is underutilised. The case-of-the-week structure so far is fairly interesting as it at least it involved the interns - whom we are supposed to be invested in - vying to get Davis' attention.

Episode 2, "It's All Her Fault": The case-of-the-week concept got a big boost here if Davis' clients are really always guilty. At least that would give it a twist from the other legal dramas out there. However, for a Shonda Rhimes series, I am still surprised how unlikeable the cast are and how I really do not care about their personal drama. At least the flash forward scenes are asking the "whys". Davis' character is such a cliche - poor Davis if she thought she was going to sink her teeth into a complex role. In the end, Annalise is just a stereotypical female - what a slap to the feminists. Bright side: they may have found their Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker) with Steven Weber.

Episode 3, "Smile, or Go to Jail": Poor Liza Weil, so wasted here. The main mystery finally goes into the fore here and this may be when the series finally get interesting. Although this episode's COTW was rather boring. Similar, the interns' drama is just as boring. Davis is really the only real draw here, but unless Annalise gets more real and interesting, this show ain't landing on the same-day watch list.

Gone Girl

Disclaimer: I really didn't like the book by Gillian Flynn. I could understand why people liked it - especially the concept - but I didn't like how the book/story was presented. 

Gone Girl is a typical David Fincher movie, i.e. smart (if you have never read the book), stylised and strangely sexy, but at the same time it is also a typical David Fincher movie, i.e. the style palette, directing and soundscape. Nonetheless, Fincher's hands definitely improved the telling of Flynn's story. 

Without ruining the plot, the story unfold closely to the book in terms of structure and was presented smartly and smoothly by Fincher.

For those who do not know the book, the movie was well paced, gripping and tense throughout its 2.5 hours run. 

Even those who knew the plot, the movie was still stylised enough to hold your attention. But then the faults become more apparent and jarring especially the music by Fincher's frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the rather strange - in my opinion - miscasting. 

Firstly, Rosamund Pike was surprisingly well cast. Yet at the same time also could have been cast better. Pike got the role down pat in the Third Act but was rather unconvincing in the first two, particularly the second. I see Naomi Watts or even Claire Danes in the role. 

Then we have Ben Affleck. He's too muscled up in this role - prepping for his role as Batman, perhaps? That's not how an impoverished writer "should" look. Neck up on the other hand, he has the all American good-guy look which is what the character ought to be. However, his acting here is unlikely to bring him much actual accolades come award season. 

Kim Dickens as Boney was great but I kept picturing Julianne Moore. Did the budget ran out or they feared Affleck will get out-classed? Neil Patrick Harris as the rich, over-entitled ex was too stiff and lacked any depth which made his character un-sympathetic at all. Carrie Coon as Margot was the only one that was well cast. 

Cinematography - by another frequent collaborator, Jeff Cronenweth - as usual was similar to all Fincher's other recent works: gorgeous and filled with door knobs and close ups. Music, as aforementioned, was distracting: more mood-accompaniment rather than mood/story setting.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Expanding the third book into two parts may be the best thing this series has done. With the increased length time, they are now able to tackle the more substantial issue of a revolution - giving it more depth and showing the broader country-wide social impact - rather then the slightly more juvenile - albeit more personal - survival game itself. This was also something that Suzanne Collins was not particularly good at when writing book 3, so kudos to writers Danny Strong and Peter Craig, and director Francis Lawrence.

All the old cast were great and were welcomed back like old friends especially Effie, Elizabeth Banks - who was not in the book. She was the definite comedic highlight of the show; even more so than in the previous installments where she tend to be too screechy. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson had smaller roles here but those roles were vital and showed what great actors they are. 

Liam Hemsworth, on the other hand, was not missed, and he did nothing outstanding in his expanded role here to be missed. Sure, Gale is vital to the plot but Hemsworth less so. 

Kudos to Joel Hutcherson on going all method. He definitely brought something of his own to an otherwise one dimensional Peeta and you can really believe that he and Katniss have a connection despite the separation. 

As for Jennifer Lawrence, she has grown more comfortable into the role, but as her star gets bigger, her persona outshines that of Katniss'. She is a good actress no doubt, but now it is time for Lawrence to find that next level of greatness. 

Julianne Moore is the best actor in the movie. She is the best actor to be cast in this franchise since Donald Sutherland, bringing gravitas and likability to an otherwise stale character. 

Cinematography by Jo Wilems was a mix bag: the wide-angle, outdoor shots were gorgeous but the close ups less so. Katniss' song was surprisingly catchy and haunting but the rest of James Newton Howard score was a generic adventure theme. 

17 November 2014

The Babadook

The best horror movie since Insidious and if only its Third Act could have maintained that level of creepiness, horror and originality, this would have easily been one of the best horror film in a long time.

Like Insidious, this movie focused its horror using old-school techniques of ratcheting up the tension, with the use of music and edits, and very, very minimal jump scares. The whole movie felt scary and the psychological terror that imbued in the audience was extremely effective.

Unfortunately, the final act fell apart. Not greatly, but still it felt flat compared to the excellent first two acts. It became rather generic and run-of-the-mill, and even then, because of the low budget, the run-of-the-mill-ness felt broken. Which was a real pity.

But nonetheless, the whole movie was definitely worth a watch for horror fans and even just the casual movie goer looking for a good scare.

Boyhood [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

Possibly the best movie of 2014 thus far, and this is saying a lot considering that it was out in Summer and I had only just watched it in Fall.

Amazing, epic and ambitious scope by writer/director Richard Linklater that was matched only by its heart and sincerity. Narratively, it was rather weak but taken as a whole it showed a rare heartfelt glimpse into the growth of a child.

Granted that character development was not significant for many of the characters of the show, but our titular hero was a boy who grew up (over 12 years) into a man and this movie was a depiction of that passage. In many respects this was like the Up series.

Patricia Arquette provided the anchor for the series as the main adult figure for which the parent-child relationship resolved, and she held herself well as we see the changes to her life over the 12 years.

Ethan Hawke was also present throughout the movie and his character gave the boy a father-figure to look up to and possibly even aspire. Again, we see how a parent-child relationship can mould a child's growth.

Ellar Coltrane was a breath of fresh air and his innocence, and the lost of that innocence, was a treat to watch in this real-time, time-lapse film. Similarly, Lorelai Linklater - as the elder sister - grew up in front of us over 2.5 hours, although her character was more generic.

I doubt both the show and Richard Linklater would be forgotten come Oscar time, but whether it will win over the more showy titles is anybody's guess.

8 November 2014


Interstellar is like the illegitimate love child between Gravity and Contact with The Hitchhiker Guide To The Galaxy and Space Odyssey 2001 both fighting to be its godparent. You know you are in trouble when the best thing about the movie is the wise-cracking robot a la Marvin from THHGTTG. 

Christopher Nolan has not made a good movie since The Dark Knight and even then his best movie still remained Memento. Perhaps responding to criticisms about Inception, this movie has been dumbed down exponentially definitely as a bid to wow all of Nolan's new found fans. But there is a difference between dumbing down to appeal to the masses and dumbing down to being outright stupid. For the former, see Michael Bay's Transformers; the latter - I can't even think of one now.

Jonathan and Christopher Nolan's script was filled with such bad writing. Clunky dialogue and heavy handed exposition. Poor line readings also did not help matter - will get into that soon. The robots had the best lines and their delivery were spot on. 

The concepts are great and interesting but the execution was horrendous. So many leaps of logic were necessary and even then one would even need to bend the whole space-time contiuumn to make sense out of it. Plots lines would just appear and disappear like wormholes. Just stay and accept the fact that things happen because the Nolans say so. 

Christopher's directing were also suboptimal. The pacing dragged and scenes stretched. Gravity has given all subsequent space-movies a new benchmark to hit and Interstellar unfortunately is too far down the new hierarchy. 

The movie lacked heart. The idea is there but neither the script nor the directing managed to bring it out. However, the fault would also have to lie on the actors. Without a good script some actors can still sell you the moon, but here we see Matthew McConaughey for what he can really do. There was no emotional connect between him and the audience not do we feel the emotional tie between him and his family. 

Anne Hatheway had the thankless honour of trying to sell the movie's clunkiest bit of dialogue. She did her best but the words failed her. 

Then we have Jessica Chastain. Suffice to say her younger self was more convincing than she was, but then again she did throw the most emotional punch of the movie. And she did that spectacularly. If I cared more about that relationship I might have teared. 

Hans Zimmer's score was also not the strongest. Ironically, at some points it was too strong and over-shadowed the movie itself. Hoyte van Hoytema lensed the film and there were some gorgeous shots but nothing too memorable. 

2 November 2014


Pilot: To be fair, I do not really know much about Constantine the DC comic that this is based on, and as for the Keanu Reeves movie back in 2005, I vaguely remembered that it was entertaining for a Keanu Reeves movie. Anyways, Matt Ryan seems like a good fit thus far, although surprisingly un-british enough: his Constantine needs to be a bit more sardonic and deadpanned (Johnny Lee Miller's Sherlock in Elementary comes to mind, but less eccentric). Thankfully, the show is losing Lucy Griffith's Liv. Unfortunately she really did not fit the show, seemingly awkward and lacking chemistry with Ryan. There were some good scares in this pilot - kudos to director Neil Marshall - and hopefully the show runners can maintain that level of creepiness. However, David S. Goyer remains one of the most over-rated writer in Hollywood. His script was the second weakest link (after Griffith) with pokey dialogue and clunky exchanges. The idea is there but the execution lacked polish. Hopefully it can remain watchable until Hannibal returns.

Episode 1 - 7: The show has steadily improved, and Matt Ryan is an engaging protagonist. He makes Constantine relatable but yet symptathetic. More back history would be fun, and the show really shines when they focused more on the "rising darkness" plot-line involving God and The First of The Fallen (a hypothesis). Angelica Celaya is a better match for Ryan, however her character needs more growth and history; similarly her powers needs to be more defined. Currently she is more there to move the narrative along. Same thing for Charles Halford whose character - Chas - is more interesting than Zed. Then lastly, we have Harold Perrineau's Manny who is underused and over-enigmatic.

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...