30 January 2015

Big Eyes


Big Eyes is a fun, lighthearted, feel good comedy that ultimately was just that. A lightweight Tim Burton outing that did not dig deep enough into its characters' psyche to give it much heft - or Oscar prestige - despite a good performance by Amy Adams.

Big Eyes reminds me a lot of the other Burton film,Big Fish, in that they both although outwardly seem atypical of Burton, but essentially, and undeniably, his stamp can still be found. The film floats along in its bright, breezy, palette but writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski never really managed to highlight the artistic struggle that Adams' character supposed goes through.

Also, we never really know Christoph Waltz's character well. His motivations: are they purely greed or driven by a deeper desire for acceptance?

Nonetheless, even with such lack of characterisation, Adams still managed to convey the struggle within Margaret Keane, especially when it came to the relationship that she has with her on-screen daughter. Adams still need to practice on maintaining her accents. Her southern accent drawled in and out.

On the other hand, we have Waltz, who gave Walter Keane such a maniacal energy throughout, that sometimes you wonder if Walter was possibly bipolar. Or at least with some sort of Personality Disorder. Thence, he was a difficult character to relate to.

The music was typically Danny Elfman in a Burton production. Whimsical throughout even in the darker moments.

An entertaining film that benefited from Adams performance, but ultimately too superficial and lightweight for her talents.

Inherent Vice


This is one of the weirdest and most fucked-up film that amazingly made sense in the end! Paul Thomas Anderson has given us an oddly intelligent, stoner-movie that is definitely not for everyone, but with patience, it really was rather engrossing. And Joaquin Phoenix was brilliant in it - he owned the role.

Anderson's latest film was a beautiful and authentic 1970s crime dramedy. There were some cleverly written lines and laughs, yet beneath it all, a certain noir emotional longing that kept it from descending to stoner-schtick.

The central mystery itself was also rather riveting and held the story together as Anderson's script meanders in and out of one weed-hazed scene to another. Each seemingly unconnected but yet, like all drug-induced epiphanies, slowly came together to make sense. Thence, an Oscar nomination for Anderson's adapted screenplay.

I cannot imagine anybody else other than Phoenix in this role. Throughout the 148 minutes, Phoenix embodied his character and all his many facets: the maniac doped out energy, the despondent heartbroken lover, the dogged investigator. Not once, did he really seemed to lose character.

After 2012's The Master (also with Anderson), 2013's Her and the criminally underwatched The Immigrant, Phoenix has given another starling performance that reminds us why he is one of the best actors of his generation. And yet, again, he was not nominated for the Oscars. But the likes of Bradley Cooper scored his third nominations in as many years.

Josh Brolin had the next biggest role, but unfortunately, his character did not require much out of him other than to be a typical Brolin-esque character. Owen Wilson and Benicio del Toro had supporting roles that moved the narrative along; Reese Witherspoon and Martin Short were more extended cameos, whereas Jena Malone and Maya Rudolph were really just cameos. Katherine Waterston: new girl, some potential.

Kudos to the production team, and hair/make-up and costume designers for a great job! Particularly Mark Bridges who deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Loved the 70s soundtrack that was peppered throughout, but that made Jonny Greenwood's music less memorable. Robert Eiswit had some great cinematography, but not enough to stand out too.

Never having read the novel, nor any of Thomas Pynchon's other tomes, I cannot say how closely the film followed the original story, but - weirdly - I can actually see how the book would be written like. It does kinda want to make me read it.

25 January 2015

American Sniper


Clint Eastwood's latest continues his trend of subpar movies. His, along with actor - and fellow producer - Bradley Cooper's vanity project is a Left politico film - bordering on propaganda -disguised as an unintelligent, appeal-to-the-masses, mediocre to poor war film/biopic that is all bravura with no soul.  

Eastwood's directorial downward trend started from Grand Torino, and cemented with Hereafter, but even Hereafter - for all its preposterousness - had more redeeming factors than this heartless, cold and uneven film. It is hard to believe it is the same director who gave us the brilliant and balanced war films Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. As a war film American Sniper pales in comparison to recent films like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan; and as a film exploring PTSD, it barely cleared the topsoil (catch Jim Sheridan's criminally under-watched Brothers starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman to see PTSD done right). 

There were some moments through the 132 minutes that Eastwood did do right, but mainly it was more in heightening the tension than anything else. And a great opening scene! However, all that good work was quickly erased by his persistent depiction of the enemies as one-dimensional stereotypes and the Americans as the archetypical near-invincible heroes. Yawn. 

Then we have narrative issues. For biopics, compressing the timelines become an issue and Eastwood and this year's Oscar-nominated writer Jason Hall gave us the war highlights but lost the continuation and, most importantly, the heart of the story. We neither get to appreciate the camaraderie between the men at war, or the emotional ties at home. For the soldiers, we barely even knew most of them so it is hard to care about their survival or their mission(s); and you know something bad is going to happen when Hall and Eastwood decides to let a bit of backstory in. Lazy writing/directing. And with things at home, we are told what's happening and not shown. Lazy writing/directing again. 

Like The Iron Lady or even this year's The Imitation Game, a great actor can make a lot of difference to a mediocre biopic. Putting it politely, Cooper - who is also a producer in this film - is not anywhere near that level, his two past (not very deserving, IMHO) Oscar nominations notwithstanding. A thousand yard stare does not a PTSD maketh. Jake Gyllenhaal was very definitely robbed! This is not saying that Cooper is not a good actor, there was one or two moments where he did do well, but just one or two. Moments. Not scenes. Even in the war zone, Cooper seemed to have only two modes: I am a sniper so I have to be calm and collected; and I am a fucking SEAL, see me go all Alpha shit. Yawn. 

Cooper and Siena Miller had no chemistry. Poor Miller, she really was just a pretty vase here in an effective, but perfunctory role. 

Tom Stern's cinematography had some good wide-angled landscaping shots but the urban and night warfare scenes were oddly lighted. Eastwood needs to stop meddling with the music of his films. 

American Sniper is unlikely going to win any of its six Oscar nominations, but it goes to show what's the demographics of the voting Academy is like. Even just taking it as a movie, without any political connotations, it's still only really just mediocre. 

19 January 2015

Whiplash


Disclaimer: Expectations are high going into this film since it had a whole year worth of raves and has been garnering awards/nominations the past few weeks; its five 87th Academy Awards nominations also helped to raise its profile.

A great crowd-pleaser, a cliche plot notwithstanding, that definitely lived up to the hype with a terrific - no, an electrifying - performance by J.K. Simmons. Whiplash deserved its Best Picture and Editing nominations, and Simmons is the one to beat for Best Supporting Actor (sorry, Norton and Hawke).

Damien Chazelle's film managed to engaged the audience almost throughout the 106 minutes, except for those scenes with ex-Gleek Melissa Benoist which really did not serve much purpose in developing Miles Teller's protagonist, despite its cliche over-arching plot. There were still moments where the audience were left in suspense for a bit, which was refreshing.

Chazelle's script had a few good laughs and is up for Best Adapted Screenplay which is a wise-choice since he would unlikely be able to unsurp any of the writers in the Original Screenplay category (with the exception of E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman's Foxcatcher which I have not watched as of this): Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Nightcrawler.

However, ultimately, the success of the film really laid on Simmons and his incredible portrayal of the mentor-from-hell. He was riveting, unpredictable, and totally convincing. He utterly made this character come alive and he owned it. Only Simmons could sell a line like: "that is not your boyfriend's dick, don't cum early" and not make it sound silly, juvenile or rude. 

Miles Teller may have finally found his breakout role (interesting to note that he will be the next Mr Fantastic/Richard Reed), however, he will still need a lot of brushing up on his skills, especially with the more emotional-heavy scenes. But otherwise, he got that determined-and-I-am-so-misunderstood artiste down pat.

Kudos also to editor Tom Cross especially in that final scene! Cross and Chazelle gave an energetic, tense, carthatic and riveting finale before the screen fade to black. However, he might likely lose out to the editors for Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The music was by Justin Hurtwitz, but it is really the jazz standards that really lightened up the screen.

Whiplash is a great little movie that was made awesome with Simmon's performance.




18 January 2015

12 Monkeys


Pilot: Syfy's new series is based on Terry Gilliam's now-20 years old sci-fi classic, and if you can remember that movie, then unfortunately, this series does not live up to it excellence. Kudos to the creative team in jiggering some plot aspects to make this a 13 episodes series, but unfortunately, it lacked the smarts and the grittiness of Gilliam's hit. With the luxury of time, more should have been spent on establishing the characters - which is one of the first mistakes of this show. None of the characters were believable/relatable; but perhaps the actors had such big shoes to fill: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe. Furthermore, the plot holes were a bit too far-fetched, and this is not even considering the timey-whimey-ness of time travelling - which at least they explained/set the rules here.

Episode 2, "Mentally Divergent": It is surprising how large a shadow Brad Pitt had cast with this role. Poor Emily Hampshire. The Dr Railly and (ex-)boyfriend subplot is tedious, as is the fight between Cole and Jones. Unfortunately, after 2 episodes of in, I think I'd rather go re-watch Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys".

17 January 2015

Cats


Cats was the first musical I ever watched - or at least clearly remembering having watched it - back almost 20-odd years ago, and this is the first time I am re-watching it since.

Sadly, it was much better in my memory than what was presented on stage. Apparently there was a live band, but there was no orchestra pit and the sound system did not sound like the band was live. Both the band and singing volume would increased simultaneously when the singing got more intense, and that consistently led to overshadowing of the already - often - poorly enunciated singers.

Perhaps it was just the poor sound system in Marina Bay Sand (Grand Theatre)?

The overall energy level of the cast was not high as it could be, and it always felt like the party was winding down rather in the swing of it. Thankfully the second act was an improvement or maybe it was just because of the more familiar songs, including the now-musical standard Memory. Which did send some mild shivers down my spine, and raised a few goosebumps, but it lacked the emotional hit of some other pros.

Kudos to the set design, though. Gorgeous set and lighting. Similarly, great costumes and makeup.

Choreography was good, but the dancers...let's just say if you have watched enough ballet then there wasn't much to be awed by. However the 10-minute Jellicle Ball dance sequence was awesome!

16 January 2015

The Normal Heart

In a nutshell: A good play but a poor movie. Ryan Murphy lost the impact of Larry Kramer's work and words through poor direction and cheap visual dramatics. Notwithstanding that, the acting from the main cast - Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch (surprise!) and Jim Parsons - stood out against what can only be described as blatant (gay) male (celebrity) sexploitation. 

Murphy is a talented producer. Without a doubt his mind has frequently captured the zeitgeist of our times. But as a director, and even writer, he is mediocre at best. He has no vision nor style. A copycat with ideas that do not translate. Robert's Eat, Pray, Love suffered tremendously because of that. So was surprised she agreed to this production - a juicy role no doubt attracted the talented actress. 

Murphy has a tendency to indulge in his fantasies and excessiveness, not knowing when subtlety is stronger than brashness. Even the sex scene between Ruffalo and Bomer ended up being unerotic and un-sensual. 

The other big fault in this production is that Murphy treat this movie as if it was a play. Onscreen scene transitions were mostly awkward as if stage lights shut off, actors transit, and stage lights back on. He directed his actors as if they were on the stage, and the camera got lost not knowing who or what or where to focus. Some scenes worked especially if there were only two characters or a wide-angled lens used. 

Unfortunately the cinematography by Danny Moder (Roberts' husband) did not help the visuals. Simple and basic with elementary use of lights and shadows that served no purpose. 

Let's talk about the affecting. 

Ruffalo is good actor. Here he was good. Not his best. His mannerisms were too affected and one could blame the director on that. He was at his best when he played opposite Roberts and Molina. Pity those scenes were far and few between. Bomer and Kitsch, unfortunately, could not parlay as well. 

Bomer gave the best work of his career - doing a MacConaughey. His love story with Ruffalo was equally sweet, romantic and touching, but the dramatic scenes lacked heft and sincerity - the irony! 

Kitsch was barely recognisable, and definitely made a lasting impression. But like his silver screen counterpart - Bomer - his acting was still not up to par with the emotional core of Kramer's words. Kitsch just need to choose his big screen projects more carefully. 

Roberts deserved her Emmy nominations. Her few scenes were all powerful and effective. Ever since her "comeback" in August: Osage County, Roberts has been on a roll, but one does miss her comedic and rom-com chops. Here, she and Ruffalo shared a more intimate relationship than Ruffalo and Bomer. 

Molina also gave a strong performance. His was the opposite of Roberts, with a more restrained portrayal as Ruffalo's onscreen brother struggling to accept and love him for who he is and not what he is. Their scenes together felt more staged than most others, but were effective as it was usually just two of them in the same shot. 

Lastly, Jim Parsons. Re-playing the character he played on Broadway, Parson was the comedic relief and also the true normal heart of the show. And the stage experienced definitely helped as Parson seemed most relaxed and natural of the lot. 

Angels of America still remained one of the best on screen (large or small) depiction of the AIDS epidemic and gay rights of the 80s. 

15 January 2015

Birdman


What a great film! Intelligent, smart and funny. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's black satirical comedy has got it all (almost; more on that later). Great acting from everybody, smart writing, brilliant cinematography, ambitious - and very well executed - directing (and editing), and a fantastic soundtrack. No wonder it had been sweeping up accolades, and if Boyhood took just one year less and more to tell its story, there would not be much competition against it from this year's crop.

Innaritu told a story that is beyond one man's struggle for self-worth. He satirised the entire world of showbiz - the actors, the critics, the assistants, the agents - and also the state of our humanity - the latter of which could be a bit too much on the nose, though.

However, Innaritu did something unexpected in the final act. It was an unexpected act in what could have been really expected but dramatic. And the open ending was refreshing.

Technically, this film was amazing! Almost the whole 119 minutes (minus about 2 scenes) had been edited to appear as if it was one long continuous take. Initially, for the more aware, this could have been distracting, but slowly you get used to it and appreciate the style. It literally does make you feel like you are in the scene with the actors - very fly-on-the-wall - so everything feels more visceral, and as you follow Micheal Keaton's character you get a very realistic experience on his feelings. Perhaps, we are the voice in his head? Or maybe we are all just observers during our brief time in this world?

Kudos to the writing team of Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr, and Armando Bo. The script was smart, witty and on-point. Humour was sprinkled liberally throughout the script, intelligent play on words, witty quips, dry, deadpanned, black, all sorts. The monologues felt organic and in character.

Keaton was superb. As our protagonist, he is in a lot of the scenes, and as aforementioned, most of the scenes were in one take (then edited together) and that puts a lot of demand on the actor. Keaton accomplished it brilliantly. He brings us into the mind of his character, such that in the beginning, we are not even sure if he is insane, schizophrenic, or truly super. And, that final act, was truly a tour de force moment. You could never really tell what was going to happen next.

So in this year's race for Best Actor, where does Keaton stand? Between Keaton, The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne, and The Imitation Game's Benedict Cumberbatch, Redmayne has the showiest role; Cumberbatch has the most nuanced performance; and Keaton had the most engaging. Keaton might still be the front runner against the Brits.

Edward Norton gave his best performance since Primal Fear. It was a vanity free performace that threatens to steal the limelight from Keaton in the first two acts. The scenes between Norton and Keaton were one of the best, but that said, Norton scenes with Emma Stone were a good counter-balance to all the craziness around.

Stone had one great scene, and she nailed it! That would be the scene that would nail her an Oscar nomination. (Although after that I could really appreciate the joke that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made of her during the 72nd Golden Globes Awards)

Naomi Watts did not have a showy role here but better her than anybody else. Zach Galifianakis was so much better in smaller doses, where he could actually be found to be funny. Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough rounds up the capable cast.

My utmost kudos and amazement to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. His work here was so more deserving of an Oscar than on Gravity. Now I just need him to work with Guillermo del Toro.

It is a pity that Antonio Sanchez's work on the soundtrack has been disqualified for the Oscars, but perhaps because it was almost completely improvised which made it quite good.

How do you differentiate between a director who had vision and one who was technically very skilled? Both had ambition which was more than met.

Similarly, how do you differentiate two films about two great stories?

In my opinion, the answer is: which one had the most heart. And in this case, Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Simple and visionary in its story, but sincere in its execution.

9 January 2015

The Theory of Everything


The subtitle says it all. This is a story of a marriage rather than a biopic, so do not expect to find out more about Stephen Hawking, or his triumphant breakthroughs in Physics. Instead, this story focused on the relationship between these two extraordinary individuals; both of which were brought to life by the award-worthy Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. 

Writer Anthony McCarten based his script on Jane Hawking's memoirs, so it is not surprising that we focused more on Jane and her relationship with Stephen, rather than Stephen himself per se. In addition, the Science was barely explained, nor how Stephen came about his theories; luckily, the observation of a marriage as unique as theirs was written much better, although it could have been explored a lot better especially since the timeline of the show spanned nearly 25 years. 

Thankfully, there were a few moments of genuine, heartfelt tenderness and silly, English humour. The Doctor Who jokes were great, and truly something I felt Stephen Hawking would understand.
Director James Marsh directed this film with a steady and polished hand, however, as the film progressed, there is a palpable sense that Marsh seemed to be losing steam in his storytelling. The first act was brilliant. It was filled with a myriad of emotions: joy, first love, bad news, despair, true love, discovery, etc. But as we approached the realisation that this was going to be an examination of a marriage, the pacing faltered and at times dragged.

This is of course not due to any fault of the two stars. Both gave riveting, awards-worthy performances.

Redmayne definitely had the more showy role, and he did it with aplomb. He managed to capture the mischievous wit and unbridled genius of Stephen Hawking in his mannerisms and speech, and later on, through his expressive eyes. It takes dedication to transform oneself like what Redmayne had done. However, credit must also be given to the costume and makeup team. 

The one thing lacking in his performance is actually the passion within the man. Both in terms of towards his work and towards Jane Hawkings (and their children). Oddly, he had more chemistry with his second wife as played by Maxine Peake.

It will be inevitable that Redmayne's performance will be compared to a fellow young Brit: Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Cumberbatch's performance was more fine and nuanced, with some great and weighty emotional scenes; Redmayne's was, as aforementioned, more showy and dedicated, but ironically, lacked the showy emotional dramatics that helped to show range. Nonetheless, both actors definitely gave the best performances of their young career, thus far.

Felicity Jones, on the other hand, had a more subdued character as the loving and long-suffering wife. Jones was really the heart of the film, and not surprising, since it was actually based on her memoir. We really do get a better understanding of Jane rather than Stephen in the 123 minutes, and this is testament to Jones' performance. Her English stoic-ness revealed few cracks, but when those cracks appear, she shone through the bleakness of the washed-out palette.

The score by Jóhann Jóhannsson was befitting to the film and a few key moments stood out, but otherwise, most of it was rather background.

There was a moment in the movie where the economic truths of a Professor with 3 children and suffering from ALS is brought home, and one cannot help but wonder if that was the case for Stephen Hawking approving this film.

Empire


Pilot: A strong pedigree behind Fox's newest musical drama/soap ensured that eyeballs will definitely be turning in for the pilot, but whether they will stay through the series is going to be hard to say just from this exposition-heavy pilot. Like all pilots, lots of time was spent introducing the main players and outlining their relationship. However, the one that is most interesting and riveting is Taraji P Henson's Cookie. Man, she is fierce, determined and a mixed bag of emotional baggage. Terrence Howard is intense but his character feels unoriginal: a mash up of Frank Underwood and King Lear. As for the three sons: they all feel so cookie-cutter. We have the ambitious first-born in a suit, the gay and anti-corporation middle child, and the favourite typical rapper-brat youngest. Yawn. Even their partners are similarly boring: white, equally power-hungry wife, sensitive, pretty latin boyfriend, and lots of sweet young things. Yawn again. Danny Strong and Lee Daniels have such impressive resume behind them, that I feel that given the time, these characters may really be fleshed out a lot more. I hope. One thing for sure, only they can have the balls and audacity to use words like "Negroes" and "Faggot" on primetime TV. Appropriate? I don't think so, but definitely controversy-worthy. And we need more Gabourey Sidibe. Lastly, with Timbaland as the Musical Producer of the show, we are definitely going to get some great tunes - and that was clearly evident in this first episode. However, unlike ABC's Nashville, Empire is unlikely to get mainstream audience tuning into more hip hop.

Episode 2, "The Outspoken King": Taraji P Henson is making a very strong case for a Best Actress nomination. Watch out everybody! Terence Howard too, but not so strong. The three children are such cliches - with cliche problems - especially the youngest. They really need stronger actors! Nashville got that part right, casting actors who can sing rather than the other way round. Lee Daniels and Danny Strong continue to direct and write, respectively, ensuring consistency in the look and feel and sound, but will they be continuing to do so?

Episode 3, "The Devil Quotes Scriptures": This series is slowly becoming the new guilty pleasure, and Taraji P Henson is giving Viola Davis and Julianna Margulies a run for their money. Like Nashville, it is also slowly exploring homosexuality and heteronormativity in a traditionally non-accepting society. The relationship between Lucious and Cookie gets more complicated, as Jamal's storyline finally gets off the ground, whereas the other two's are still cliche-ridden. But, however, all three damn boys really got to act better. And we still need more Gabourey Sidibe. The first episode not written by Danny Strong, and you can hear the difference.

8 January 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter


























Episode 1 & 2, "Now is Not the End" & "Bridge and Tunnel": What an exciting opening for ABC and Marvel's newest television venture. This would be what SHIELD wished it could have been when it first started out after Joss Whedon's pilot.  It had everything going for it: drama, humour, style, fashion, great cast that played well against each other, strong plot, overarching mystery and heart. Great opening moment which used footages from Captain America: The First Avenger to re-introduce Hayley Atwell's Agent Peggy Carter to the audience. Atwell really nailed it. She is the original Melinda May - kicking asses and looking fierce whilst doing it! Kudos to creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and pilot director Louis D'Esposito for getting the 40s down right: from the production sets, to the costume, the look and feel of it felt authentic. But most importantly, they got the dry, British humour down pat between Atwell and James D'Arcy's Jarvis (side note: they could not afford Paul Bettany eh? That would have been ace!). The other supporting cast were great too: Enver Gjokaj is always welcomed but his character seemed a tad extraneous at the moment; Chad Michael Murray looked different without his baby fat, but he did get that whole 40s chauvinistic dude look down right; Dominic Cooper is just a recurring star, but he does help to ground the whole MCU together. Would love to see more of him with Atwell. Also loving the other little things about the show: the old school spy gadgets, balancing feminism and chauvinism, and how Carter navigates through all that while being a single lady in the 40s. Let's hope the show creators will stick to a serialised format for the rest of this 8-episodes season.

7 January 2015

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them


























A romantic love story for the grown-up Gen X-ers. Brilliantly acted by all involved but narratively this felt a bit disjointed and I think the individual stories: TDOER: Him and TDOER: Her may be better in telling a more rounded story.

Writer/Director Ned Benson and editor Kristina Boden did a great job in weaving together this simple, yet character-ly complex, story, giving us an insight to the love story of the main characters from both points of view. However, in doing so, it may have lost a bit of the nuanced story-telling that would have had provided more insight to the characters and the choices they make.

Narratively, Benson did not really explore new grounds. The movie itself reminded me of Nicole Kidman's Rabbit Hole meets Ryan Gosling/Michelle William's Blue Valentine, both thematically and plot-wise.

Kudos to Jessica Chastain. She was mesmorising as the titular character. A fine performance as she navigated the tumultuous sea of emotions that her character goes through, and often in an introspective and internalised manner. But, Chastain managed to show all that internal struggle and emotions externally, so that, as audience, we are never really un-engaged with her.

Chastain scenes were mainly with the always-brilliant Viola Davis, and real-life best friend/underrated actress Jess Weixler. They both play brilliantly off her. William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert as the parents gave heart-wrenching scenes.

On the other side, we have James McAvoy. His character is a lot different from Chastain's. He is more reactive, externalised, and McAvoy was equally fascinating to watch.  He had less stellar playmates to spar with, but his scenes with Ciaran Hinds were quiet and reflective, which gave some insight to the man he is. With Bill Hader, on the other hand, it was more comic relief.

Overall, a different kind of love story for my generation that rang more true than idealistic.

Would love to watch Him/Her.

5 January 2015

Into The Woods [Moonlight Cinema]





Disclaimer: I have not watched the original stage production before but have heard enough about it over the years to know what it is about. 

An entertaining movie adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical with good laughs, great acting (and scenary chewing), great songs and above-average singing, but be warned that it has been Disney-fied and the dark edginess and humour of Sondheim's original has been watered down. Nonetheless, it still retained the original's core themes and wit - just more family-friendly.

Rob Marshall's directing was smooth and uncomplicated, and coupled with the beautiful cinematography of Dion Beebe, the end result was a visually sumptuous 125 minutes that did justice to Sondheim's classic masterful. 

The movie, like the musical, got into the plot quickly and efficiently. Introducing all the key players in a wonderful prologue. All the actors established themselves within moments of appearing and this really is a testament to Sondheim's amazing wordsmithery. The First Act moved along in a clipped pace, breezily and confidently, with humour and familiarity, but the Second Act was not able to keep pace as its family-friendly darkness diluted the emotional punch and the audience is left with more head scratching rather than heart wrenching. 

The leads are inobstensibly Emily Blunt and James Corden, both of which were great in their roles though a tad too young to make sense plot wise. Blunt had a pretty voice and was really fun to watch, but unfortunately fell prey to the Disney script. Corden got that earnest Baker look down pat. 

Meryl Streep gloriously chewed up all the scenary that she appeared in. She looked like she was having so much fun - a giddy mix of The Devil Wears Prada and Death Becomes Her. This may just score Streep another nom for Best Supporting Actress if they can overlook the weakness of the Second Act which Streep tried her best to overcome. 

Johnny Depp was really nothing more than a glorified cameo. At least he could chew as well Streep. 

Anna Kendrick had the second lead and she really does have the most beautiful/Broadway-like voices of the cast. Pity her Cinderella did not get as much dramatic/comedic moments for her to really shine other than her scene on the palace steps. 

Chris Pine definitely got Prince Charming down right. And Marshall deftly shot his and Billy Magnussen's "Agony" scene brilliantly: highlighting the comedy, as both princes gamely hammed it up, to cover up for the weak vocals. 

Christine Baranski is a hoot!!! She should sing on The Good Wife. 

Kudos too to the young stars Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone. The latter was also Gavroche in Tom Hooper's Les Misérables. 

A fun, enjoyable film for the whole family and when you are done, go home and watch the original stage production or listen to the original Broadway cast OST! 

Frank [iTunes HD]


A disturbing little film that started off funny, turned dark midway and ended off a little depressing, but always held together by the four main cast: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson and Scoot McNairy.

There are times within the 90-odd minutes run of Lenny Abrahamson's film where it dragged and you wonder what is actually (going to) happen, however, interspersed within these moments are heartfelt observations of Life, absurdist comedic slap-schticks and a satirical commentary about social media. 

Fassbender, despite that oddly charming paper mâché head, is compelling as our eponymous protagonist. His body language and tone of voice conveyed the complexities of this strange character, and you cannot help but feel drawn to him and his "condition". This was so much so that the success of the final act is directly because of Fassbender owning Frank, otherwise the ending could have been more ludicrous rather than depressing. 

Gleeson played the straight guy in the film, but as the film progressed, he slowly became a representative of modern society. In the first two acts, Gleeson's dry comedic chops were perfect foils to the rest of the madcap cast, but as the film got darker, Gleeson only got grayer and that fell short of the expectations of the story. 

Gyllenhaal is an exceptional actress - see The Honourable Woman - but she really excels as playing the strange/odd/quirky one. She, like her brother, often inhabits their roles. You can really believe that she is her character, and her character is her. This made her strangely relatable as the film draws to an end. 

Lastly, McNairy was brought humanity as the unexpected emotional core of the story. 

Frank is not for most movie goers, but an entertaining and rewarding trip for those who appreciate. 


3 January 2015

The Imitation Game


A good movie that lacked an uncertain quality that would have pushed it into the pantheon of greatness. Benedict Cumberbatch deserved all the accolades that has been bestowed on him thus far, but composer Alexandre Desplat is as equally deserving.

Director Morten Tyldum and writer Graham Moore have created a "prestige biopic" that checked all the right boxes: historically important, social injustice, underdog triumphs, LGBT relevant, a talented British cast and tragedy, but what is sorely lacking is a true heart admist all the filibuster. 

Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, and which was to be expected in any Hollywood biopic - a "prestige biopic" no less - these days, Moore and Tyldum did not really mine the rich, potential life of Alan Turing for any drama. Instead things just happen with a throwaway line or scene to justify. Irregardless of how ridiculously talented Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Kiera Knightley, Mark Strong or Cumberbatch are, drama still needs context and conflict within the words or between actors. 

The richest scenes are those that pit Cumberbatch against men of authority - Dance and Strong - and the two emotionally stirring scenes with Kinightley. Pity, they are far and in between. Instead, we are left with more  pseudo-comedic scenes of Cumberbatch being socially inept - which though shows off his acting capabilities, adds minimally to the story. 

Therein laid the biggest problem of this good movie: it lacked complexity. Complexity in terms of story telling as well as in its protagonist. Every moment on the screen seemed too calculated with each cog and wheel spinning as it should be. 

The way Tyldum chose to frame the narrative was also too distracting and, ultimately, served no purpose to the greater good of the film. 

As mentioned, one of the best thing about The Imitation Game was its amazing cast. Everybody was cast perfectly and acted with aplomb in their role. 

Dance and Strong excelled in their roles and a closer examination of Turing's relationship - fictional or otherwise - with them would have been more exciting. This again showed Moore to be lacking the finesse in exploring the relationship aspects of his characters. He can dramatise the historical aspects of the story but stumbles on the emotional blocks. 

Knightley is tasked with trying to carry the emotional weight of the movie, but her chemistry with Cumberbatch was superficial at most times except for the two most stirring scenes and one can't help wonder why didn't she tap into that well of emotional connectivity throughout?

Goode is "a cad" as one character described him. A very fine actor who was unfortunately saddled with an one-dimensional character, but at least he played the cad well. 

Then now we have Mr B Cumberbatch. A very finely, nuanced portrayal of a conflicted man who gave a lot more than what the script has for him and for that, it elevated him above the whole thing. A bit of The Iron Lady syndrome going on here. However, one thing that may dampen his chance of lifting the Oscars is that Cumberbatch lacked complexity. For all his finesse and nuanced-performance, Cumberbatch's Turing lacked layers and intricacies. He did better than what the script offered him, but in the end, the script itself betrayed  him. 

Alexandre Desplat is on a roll again giving another tremendously effective score after The Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, and the upcoming Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. The orchestra strings soared and hummed - an invisible bystander - as Turing's life goes through the ups and downs. Cinematographer Óscar Faura shot the scenes in Bletchley Park and prison beautifully, especially in his presentation of the Bombe "Christopher".

In the end, this was a good movie. One of the best of 2014, but it's far from great and is very unlikely to win for anything other than Best Actor, though multiple nominations are almost a sure thing. 


2 January 2015

Paddington


An absolute feel-good family entertainment for everybody in the family! From the cynical gramps to the romantic teenage girl to the all-loving matriache and business pops. You will laugh and cry, wring your hands in fear and anticipation and ultimately feel your heart swell in size.

Ben Whishaw was pitch-perfect as the voice of Paddington, infusing in him a childlike sense of awe and discovery tinged with a sort of grown up weariness of life. And as we follow him in his journey, we cannot help but feel a connection with him and that's an amazing accomplishment by director/writer Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl; and the animation team. 

The supporting cast were also perfectly cast. From Hugh Bonneville to Sally Hawkins as the Browns, Peter Capaldi playing against type and a deliciously evil Nicole Kidman who's much better here than as Mrs Coulter in "The Golden Compass". 

Excellent music by Nick Urata which aptly illustrated the inner world of Paddington.


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...