16 December 2016

Rogue One [3D]


Rogue One was essentially an extended prologue for the original Star Wars - now with the subtitle A New Hope. And by golly! Disney and director Gareth Edwards sure ain't gonna let you forget that. And that was just one of the many problems plaguing this film.

Rogue One was also a space-set, heist film, but one without the thrills and the excitements. There never really was any risks of failure to make us care or worry about the heroes. However, most importantly, in a heist film, the core characters also absolutely lacked chemistry. There was close to zero emotional weight to the characters and it all felt highly impersonalised.

For a film that we already knew the ending, they sure took a long time (133 minutes) to get there. And that journey spanned many, many quick scenes that did not allow the story to breathe. It felt as though Edwards just wanted to rush through all the (character, emotional and narrative) build up to get to the big climatic battle. Which then was upstaged eventually by the final, shorter one at the end.

Edwards and co-writers Chris Weltz and Tony Gilroy delivered another fan-service film to the Stars Wars franchise that dug deep into the pre-existing mythology. But unlike J.J. Abrams' Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, where we at least cared and were curious about the journeys of Rey, Poe, and - to a lesser extent - Finn, Rouge One failed to even connect the audience with its lead: Felicity Jones' Jyn.

Jones' dismal, perpetual-pout acting and general lacked of expressions was a terrifyingly stark contrast to her strong, Oscar-nominated performance in 2014's The Theory of Everything. The absolute of chemistry with Diego Luna definitely did not help too.

Speaking of Luna, perhaps he is just more comfortable acting in his native tongue.

Alan Tudyk's android was the rare bright spark; Riz Ahmed was under-utilised but his character was written so lazily and messily it wasn't much of a shame.

Poor Mads Mikkelsen gets stucked in another thankless role in a big franchise after Doctor Strange

Only perhaps Ben Mendelsohn looked like he was enjoying himself hamming it up.

And there was so much cultural misappropriation throughout this film. Frankly, it was rather insulting. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen were clearly there to appeal to the Chinese market, serving no purpose other than to sprout oblique wise words. And provide humour. And poorly shot/choreographed kung fu.

Then we have the worst culprit of having the rebel extremists dressed up looking a lot like Middle Eastern terrorists shooting and blowing things up. Sure, we are in a desert, but we are also in another planet, do they have to look like that?!?! Jones even had her scarf up around her head in one scene. Carrie Mathison anyone?

Lastly, we have Michael Giacchino's overbearing score. Unfortunately, this might be one of his worst composition. The music was just too much. It seemed to want to force you to feel only in a certain way.

3D was definitely not necessarily.

Let's hope the next standalone will be better.



10 December 2016

La La Land


This film is an absolute crowd-pleaser! A feel good musical rom-com that hits all the right notes and beats. The chemistry between the winsome and enchanting Emma Stone and the charismatic old-school suaveness of Ryan Gosling was as electrifying as Damien Chazelle's superb directing! A serious award contender especially for Best Film, Chazelle (writer/director) and Stone (actress).

Reminiscent of the charms of The Artist and the insider-look of BirdmanLa La Land has a serious shot to be the first original musical to win the Oscar for Best Picture in a long, long time (Chicago - a Broadway transplant - won in 2006).

This is not to say this film is without it flaws. If Stone and Gosling could belt it out as well as they act then this film would be even better. But at the same time, their - especially Gosling's - thin vocals had been used by Chazelle to the advantage of the film to make the story that he is telling seemed all that more sincere, honest and raw.

As much as I applaud the originality of the musical, the lyrics could use a bit more polishing and finesse as compared to Justin Hurwitz delightful music. At times the songs sound like one of those television dramas, musical-episode moments. Paging Joss Whedon...

The pacing of the story was also a bit problematic, especially in the middle. After a terrific start , the film seemed to meander about deciding if it wants to be a full blown musical or a film with songs (think John Carney's Once or Begin Again). Thankfully, the brilliant acting and directing helped to distract from that.

Chazelle's directing was really fantastic here. And his love of Jazz is apparent and infectious, even more so than his breakout hit WhiplashThe use of long one-take single shots was superb and really helped to sell the vibrancy and energy of the musical. By choosing to tell the story in a musical-like style was both a bane and a boon (see the para above) but Chazelle kept the pacing tight, the emotions honest and comedy spontaneous and light. But yet, it still felt like this would have made a better stage production than film. Odd isn't it?

Stone was luminous. She is a serious contender for Best Actress this year. The only thing going against her is that her character lacked complexity. However, Stone brought an unexpected depth in an otherwise plain character with her expressive eyes and winsome personality that shone through. Stone made her character relatable. And that is not an easy feat to do, even in a rom-com setting.

Gosling, unfortunately, was overshadowed by Stone. His obviously weaker vocals did not help him too. But, what really worked for him was easy charm and affability, and that electrifying chemistry between him and Stone. Similarly, he brought a relatability to his role and an old school, James Dean-esque sincerity to win the audience over.

Justin Hurwitz did the music and his theme was spot-on, making him a strong contender for an Oscar for Best Score (although Johann Johannsson is a really strong contender for Arrival). Linus Sandgren lensed the film and shooting with cinemascope really gave the film a vintage look that was authentic and romantic.

The one biggest misstep was John Legend. Unnecessary interlude and stunt casting that really distracted from the leads. Legend can sing. And it showed how Gosling and Emma really can't.

<Spoiler> I loved the ending. I loved the bitter-sweetness of it all and the commentary that it echoes about Real Life and real life. Hollywood vs Reality. And yet, the film still felt good. One leaves the film feeling hopeful and positive and that really is the power of cinema. Kudos to Chazelle whom so effectively achieved it, while making it all seemed so effortlessly. </end Spoiler>

A fantastic film.

8 December 2016

Sing


A juvenile and definitely child-friendly animation with a thin plot stretched out to feature-length. The fun really start in the third act and the musical numbers were really the draw. Unfortunately, this was more Glee-like in its execution rather than a musical per se.

Coming out after the terrific Zootopia did not help it too, as comparisons between these two anthropomorphic-animals cartoons will be inevitable. Whereas Zootopia was surprisingly layered and nuanced, Sing felt more like a Sunday-morning cartoon. The characters were one-dimensional, the plot telegraphed from a mile away and there was nothing really original about it. Even the song choices were expected.

But like I said, children will love it - as from judging from my audience.

Matthew McConaughey is as lousy a voice-actor as Cate Blanchett was in How To Train Your Dragon 2. An inconsistent voice with his texan drawl creeping in and out. And if your lead character is a Koala, how hard is it to get an Australian actor for the role? Was Hugh Jackman or Chris Hemsworth not available? Imagine Jackman - and the voice on that man!

Of all the voices, perhaps only Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Saunders and seasoned-pro Seth Macfarlane nailed it.

But at least, thankfully, it was under 2 hours (should have been only about 90 minutes, 100 max) and there was one very, very good Beyonce-related snark thrown in that totally went over the head (and hair) of children but had me genuinely laughing out loud.

I'm not sure if 3D would have made any difference.

1 December 2016

Lion


The real life story might have been more interesting than what the film gave us. Other than an outstanding supporting performance by Nicole Kidman, the rest of the film paled in comparison to the true story behind the fiction.

Garth Davis attempts to emulate Slumdog Millionaire failed, as his version of India lacked the chaotic bustle and confusion to really sell the desperation and despair of a lost boy. There was way too much manufactured drama throughout the 129 minutes run time, such that the emotional climax fell flat. There was not enough exploration into the motivation and mindset of Dev Patel's character to really make us feel that the search was important and the eventual eureka-moment worth celebrating.

Then again, it was also Patel's general flatness and apathetic portrayal of the main character that failed to drive the film. There was an intellectual disconnect between what should be happening and what was happening. He lacked the depth and experience (and age) to dig into the psyche of Saroo.

What actually worked to provide the emotional resonance were the achingly honest sentiments behind the truth. And Kidman and the Indian actors Sunny Pawar, as Young Saroo, and Priyanka Bose, as Saroo's biological mother, Kamla, helped to project these sentiments across.

The varied accents throughout the film were also a misstep by Davis. Hollywood liked to talk so much about whitewashing, but where's the uproar when you have a non-Aussie Patel trying to fake an Aussie accent? Especially when his on-screen adopted brother has such a thick Tassy accent.

Pawar was a great choice to play young Saroo, with his wide-eyes and cherubic innocence. However, Luke Davis' characterisation of him did him no favour and Garth Davis was unable to ellicit deeper complications from the child actor.

Bose and Kidman were truly the heart of  the film and they both did so much with their little screen time. Bose easily exuded the tenderness and unbridled love of a mother, whereas Kidman shone with her honest and naked portrayal of the adopted mother who loves her son unconditionally.

Rooney Mara was just wasted. It could have been any other actress.

Music was by Hauschka and Dustin O'Halloran and was more generic than memorable. A shame they did not adopt a more Indian-influenced score. Greig Fraser lensed the film and there were some really great portraitures and landscape shots.

Lion was based on a fascinating story but unfortunately in this case, the truth seemed a lot more interesting than fiction.

21 November 2016

Arrival


Finally! A smart, intelligent, well-written and directed sci-fi film! Denis Villeneuve scored another hit with this tight, suspenseful and intelligent film, led by an achingly stellar Amy Adams, beautifully scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson and intimately lensed by Bradford Young. Possibly one of the best modern sci fi films in a long time! This is what "Prometheus" and "Interstellar" wished they could have been.

Nocturnal Animals


A self-indulgent, vanity project by Tom Ford which is the quintessential definition of style over substance. Even Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon could not save the emotionally hollow, pseudo-noir narrative. But, by golly, it sure was pretty to watch and the main theme by Abel Korzeniowski was on point.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [IMAX/3D]


A fantastic film! Fun, funny, exciting and wondrous. It's been a long time since a film had me in such childlike awe with its world building. Well done David Yates, J.K. Rowling, James Newton Howard and Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol! IMAX, 3D is definitely the way to go!

12 November 2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk


I am pissed that we do not get to watch this as Ang Lee had intended it to be (120 fps, 3D 4K HD). You can see that this film was filmed in such a way that flat, 2D just do not do it justice. Nonetheless, this was a good film - just not a great film. It was more Lee's The Ice Storm meets Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima  than Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker or Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.

Very strong supporting performances by Kristen Stewart and Garret Hedlund and a definite breakthrough role for newcomer Joe Alwyn.

Lee weaved a tight story, based off the script by Jean-Christophe Castelli, who in turn based it off the novel by Ben Fountain. A character driven study, rather than an action piece, the story required the main cast to really sell the emotional and satirical conflict of war and peace, army and civilian, family and comrades. Although Alwyn, Stewart and Hedlund managed to do exactly that, the rest of the cast and the script failed to hold them up. In particular, the ending really had to dumb it down to drill across its point which is insulting to its audience. Then again, this ain't really an indie. Is it?

Castelli focused too much on trying to make this film a satire that he actually missed what the novel was really about. Too many meta, in jokes (which not of it landed) on the film industry and not enough insight into the irony of war.

Lee and cinematographer John Toll obviously shot the film with the intention for the audience to experience the whole technology. Unfortunately, we could not. The POV shots made sense but I can also imagine it to veer towards distracting. Too much panning in the Iraq scenes was a distraction when watched at normal 24 fps frame-rate. And the actual war-scenes lacked viscerality, which may have worked with the POV moments if the audience was really immersed in the scene.

Another odd directorial choice by Lee, especially since you'd think that he would have some clout by now, was the purposeful avoidance of showing Beyonce Knowles, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland's face. It just became too distracting the longer he focused on the backs of the stand-ins.

Alwyn has a great introduction with this film. The boy has potential but as of now, still limited in range. It will be interesting to see his career trajectory. Will he go the way of Jack O'Connell or Sam Worthington?

Stewart continues on her path to differentiate herself from Bella Thorne, and she is doing a tremendous job thus far. Unfortunately, she was let down by the script although she did her best to elevate it beyond the obvious.

Hedlund was a revelation. Is this really the same guy from Tron: Legacy? Well done to him for making good career choices since then, and he was easily the highlight of the film. If his material was stronger, it would not be hard to actually make a case for him to get a Best Supporting Actor nod.

Vin Diesel was miscast. Steve Martin was miscast. Chris Tucker and Ben Platt filled their roles. Fellow newcomer Makenzie Leigh was unmemorable and lacked chemistry with Alwyn to convincingly sell her character.

This film had so much potential, and buzz, going in, but it failed to fully connect with the audience either intellectually, emotionally or viscerally. Maybe should just go read the book.

10 November 2016

Death Note: Light Up The New World


Absolutely over-acted, over-written, over-directed and over-long (scrap the unnecessary prologue and the extended epilogue), this film was unnecessary and utterly tarnished the franchise. It took itself too seriously and the actors tried too hard to emulate the effortless charisma and quirkiness of the original actors. It also lacked the smarts and intelligent to be an effective thriller/whodunit that characterised the originals. There is a germ of potential sowed in its final sequence and the film should have just gone with that idea in the beginning.

9 November 2016

君の名は。your name.


A typical Japanese seishun eiga anime that tugs efficiently at the heartstrings. With an atypical sci-fi premise, director Makoto Shinkai tried to be unconventional but ended up still being rather predictable and unsurprising, keeping in line with the genre

What worked was its portrayal of the main characters and the pacing of the story. The two leads were well-liked, albeit the scenarios that they were thrown into were cliched. In addition, the story established the premise quickly and set up the emotional baggage efficiently such that the audience gets involved fast.

Just accept that this is a YA anime and the logic that goes along with it, and it will be easy to escape into the story. The animation was gorgeous and really makes one want to go to the Japan.

29 October 2016

Doctor Strange [IMAX/3D]


First up, Marvel Studios has got some fancy new credits...

Doctor Strange was a thoroughly enjoyable film and a distinct departure from the usual MCU fare with a lot more (effective) humour and minimal bombastic action. And as per usual, Marvel scored in its casting, not only of Benedict Cumberbatch but also Tilda Swinton, regardless of her character's supposed skin colour.

The biggest problem, as with almost all MCU films, is the villain. Another wasted actor in Mads Mikkelsen, although by the end of the film, you do sense that Marvel is trying to correct that. Nonetheless, the MCU is still failing when it comes to character development as compared to the Marvel/Netflix franchise.

You know, I will pay good money to see Cumberbatch and Mikkelsen act on the small screen over 10 - heck! even 5 or 6 episodes - together! Sherlock Holmes vs Hannibal Lecter. One can only dream.

Director Scott Derrickson did a great job in visualising the multi-dimensions, but unfortunately it was not entirely original. Inception did it 6 years ago. Derrickson just multiplied it by 10. And with all that motion going on, the action choreography was a mess. 3D definitely did not help things on that end.

Although the 3D was absolutely great to give the depth and feel of dimension(less) in certain moments, and that really helped to sell the premise. However, other than those scenes, 3D was not really useful.

Screenplay was by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, and they definitely got the tone of the humour and paranormality right. Although I do suspect the key to selling the humour this time round was the undeniable Britishness deadpan comedic delivery by Cumberbatch, Swinton, Benedict Wong and Chiwitel Ejiofor.

Unfortunately, what they did not get right was giving Mikkelsen a more solid motive. Or Ejiofor a more genuine emotional/character arc.

And that climatic end. Go watch Doctor Who's Series 9, Episode 11: Heaven Sent. That is how it should be done. Smart, emotional and with a wallop!

Cumberbatch brings a hint of mischievousness to his Doctor Strange, but he does sell the origin story from arrogant, but inwardly cowardly, neurosurgeon to saviour of lives, Master Doctor Strange (lol!). He is a different sort of Doctor Strange from the comics but Cumberbatch makes it his own.

Swinton was a coup for MCU. Without her, I cannot imagine Marvel selling the role of The Ancient One. Swinton really is a class of her own and she imbued The Ancient One with so much wisdom but yet strength, mystery, tenderness and yes, humour. Swinton and Cumberbatch had great chemistry together and it was palpable. The film changes when they both share the screen together.

Rachel McAdams was the standout and with recent breakout performances in Spotlight and Southpaw, and being the only saving grace of season 2 of True Detective, McAdams is on a roll. This film definitely showcased her comedic timing. She should consider that next and dip her toes back into rom-com for a bit. A good rom-com can also be Oscar potential.

Mikkelsen. Wasted under all that make-up. At least it was less than Christopher Eccleston.

Michael Giacchino scored the film and there were moments, especially in the first act, that you think Marvel has finally gotten it right (see: The Marvel Symphonic Universe if you don't know what I mean), but eventually it just fell back into its usual MSU.

Similarly, nothing exciting from cinematographer Ben Davis except for some great landscaping shots of Kathmandu.

IMAX was not really necessary.

Mid-credits scene makes me really excited for Thor: Ragnorak. Post-credits scene tells me I can wait for Doctor Strange 2.

25 October 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


A thoroughly predictable but yet sufficiently entertaining enough Tom Cruise-type film as long as one accepts the plot holes and film logic. Cruise is his usual charismatic self although Reacher is a decidedly more stoic character than Ethan Hunt, Lens Grossman or Jerry Maguire.

Director Edward Zwick does a decent job in going through the beats but the film would have benefited from at least a 10 to 15 minutes trimming off its 118 minutes run time. And credit to the writers for at least trying to pass the Bechdel Test, but their attempts could have been a tad more organic to the story.

At least Colbie Smulders wasn't just a pretty eye candy and she had one good kick-ass moment. Also, Heroes Reborn alum Danika Yarosh was appealing enough and managed to elevate her character from being just another annoying teen.

Ultimately, this was an entertaining entry into another Cruise franchise but whether it gets a sequel or not is really inconsequential. Tom Cruise's action movies are usually entertaining.

3 October 2016

Westworld


Pilot: One of the best praises I can give Westworld is that I WANT MORE! The whole concept of it isn't original...not least because it was based on Michael Crichton's 1973 film. This was Dollhouse (Joss Whedon's most under-rated, yet truly fantastic, show) meets Humans meets Black Mirror. It was beautifully shot, superbly acted (kudos to Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris...the others like Thandie Newton and James Marden haven't really had a chance to shine yet), and very smartly written! By the end of the pilot, you kind of know what is happening but yet you don't really know...and you so want to know more! That mysterious tease is so rare these days in scripted drama. The biggest problem though is HBO senseless obsession with gratuitous nudity and violence. Although the latter did, admittedly, played a narrative function and hopefully - if I am right - a thematic one too. Just like Whedon's Dollhouse, sexual violence and exploitation served as a jumping board for deeper storytelling, but at least in Whedon's world, men were exploited too (remember Victor?). Nonetheless, bring on the next episode and hopefully we move on from the cheap, attention grabbing, ratings whoring tactics and stick with strong, smart and sexy writing! Oh, and music by Games of Thrones Ramin Djawadi is spot on and am loving the opening credits!

1 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


This film fits Tim Burton vast, creative imagination so well, with its scary creatures, paranormal happenings and Victorian-esque settings, Burton had created an imaginative gorgeous world that was filled with both wonder and fear. This was more akin to Burton's under-rated Big Fish than his seminal classics, e.g. Edward Scissorhands. Burton failed in delivering on the YA-aspect of the story and Asa Butterfield's and Ella Purnell's lack of chemistry did not help things. Although Eva Green was an excellent muse to play off of Burton's eccentricity and could very well be his next Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter. Vanessa Ives would have been proud!

Jane Goldman wrote the script and it was quite evident that she was more familiar with writing about, rather than of or for, the weird and paranormal.  Beyond that, her grip on charactersation and translation of the YA bits to the screen. was at best rudimentary. Most of her dialogue was clunky and the film succeeds more at times when Burton and Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (from Burton's Big Eyes) were left alone to tell the story through the pictures.

Creature designs were effectively scary for the monsters and wondrously exciting for the peculiar children. Nothing groundbreaking here like in in Guillermo del Toro's Pan Labyrinth, but yet there was an odd sense of creepiness in the familiarity. And the blend of CGI, stop-motion and live action was impressive,

Eva Green chewed her scenes with great aplomb. She looked like she was having so much fun and she really sold the idea that she could really have been Miss Peregrine! After Penny Dreadful, I do think that she is one of the most under-rated actresses at work now.

Samuel L Jackson played the same role he always played when cast as the diabolical villain, see: Kingsman and Django Unchained. He could do it in his sleep. Effective but unexciting.

Asa Butterfield has grown up, but this wasn't the boy from Hugo anymore. He had so much potential, so hopefully he finds it back soon.

Judi Dench and Terence Stamp lent some gravitas to the film in their extended cameo roles. There could be a whole fan-fic film about their two characters! That's a thought...

Music was by Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson, and not frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. And it showed. The music was fine but nobody really got Burton as well as Elfman through music, and the scored lacked the playfulness and eccentricity that so often marked their collaboration.

Miss Peregine's was a delightful film filmed with the curiosity of a child's eyes and imagination of the unknown. Time to go read the book....

29 September 2016

Deepwater Horizon


Paul Berg's disaster thriller was entertaining and surprisingly touching, with moments of  nail-biting tension. But as exciting as the main/climatic action sequence was - and the moments leading to the blowout was truly brilliant - the other sequences were less so, with the film unfolding passively and even confusingly sometimes.

Berg took his time to establish the scene and heavily, and clumsily, foreshadowed the events to come which was so unnecessary since we already know it is coming. That begs the question: what was the point?

In addition, Berg focused on Mark Wahlberg and neglected the rest of the cast, and that made relating to them as they navigate through the disaster very challenging. Especially since they were all dressed similar-ish on the rig,  It was good that Berg spent the first act laying the ground but most audience members would be unfamiliar with the layout of an oil rig. As such, without a clear idea of the design of the rig and how the space is arranged, there was less of an impact when the disaster struck because everything just got even more confusing.

Wahlberg was his usual all American, self-sacrificing, family-loving hero - the same type he had played before so many times. Kudos to Wahlberg and Kate Hudson for making their relationship believable. Their chemistry really helped to add a layer of emotional weight to an otherwise macho-adrenaline driven thriller.

Kurt Russell commanded the screen but of course he played second fiddle to Wahlberg.

And then we have Gina Rodriguez. Her character was written so badly. Initially she was introduced as a smart, resourceful and capable character but as the story progressed, she devolved into a pathetic whimpering, damsel in distress that needed to be rescue. Chauvinistic much?

The saving grace for the film was really the intense action sequence depicting the blow-out. After that, the film just could not keep up with the adrenaline and slowly petered out as we watched passively as the rig gets destroyed.

28 September 2016

Cafe Society


Cafe Society was a typical, run of the mill, predictable Woody Allen romantic dramedy. With a star studded cast, Allen again muses sardonically on love and relationships, albeit only superficially. The main cast, in particular Jesse Eisenberg, were individually good but lacked chemistry together.

The film, and its set design, were beautiful with an authentic 30s NYC/LA feel to it. Costuming did a commendable job too. While Allen kept a keen eye on the aesthetics of the film, his exploration - or musings - on love was a lot more superficial this time. With just a perfunctory circling on the dilemma of loving more than one person at a time and a cursory meditation on Tennyson's wise adage of  "'This better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all",

Eisenberg gave a strong performance here as he evolved his character through the film in both a distinctive physical way and a more subtle emotional growth. But yet, there were some nuances to his character that did not change which formed the bedrock of his character.

Kirsten Stewart veers away from her Twilight days and we do see a versatile actress beneath that luminosity. However, she did not have any chemistry with either Eisenberg or Steve Carell which made selling the underlying romance that tied the story together difficult.

Blake Lively is just there to be pretty. Parker Posey and Carell should be in more of Allen's films.

The annual Woody Allen film is almost an event unto itself and this film does not disappoint his fans, but to the casual moviegoer - or Allen newbie - it can be a bit blend and blah.

25 September 2016

Pitch


Pilot: Dan Fogelman's second pilot this season, after This Is Us, is another winner and one of the best pilots in a long time. The concept was clearly established, exposition quickly and neatly dealt with, main characters filled in and supporting cast sketched out, and ultimately a hook for audience to tune in next week. Fogelman and co-writer/creator Rick Singer wrote a smart pilot that was logical and plausible but yet has the potential to be so much more than just your regular sport-drama. Kylie Bunbury has the elusive star quality that makes her magnetic to watch, but whether she has the depth to carry out more emotionally heavy moments is still to be determined. Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays against type and yet somehow still remained the same, and that is truly fascinating, however his chemistry with Bunbury fleets in and out and please don't have them sleep together. Ali Larter - another Heroes alumni in a Fogelman show! - was great and her lines were golden. Also, Pitch definitely has a much more killer soundtrack than the current season of Empire. Miss Cookie Lyon, we need you here...STAT! Honestly, Taraji P Henson would fit right in here!

The Magnificent Seven


Antoine Fuqua's remake of a classic Western was a decent film, if albeit chauvinistic and racist. It lacked originality, authenticity, fun and an emotional core. Nic Pizzolato's story was more about plotting and moving the story forward rather than a character-driven narrative (more season two than one of True Detective). Denzel Washington was the only cast member to be able to exude a sort of old school/western charm with Chris Pratt being pushed too hard to be quippy and the rest being one dimensional stereotypes.

Fuqua reunited with Washington and Ethan Hawke, all three were last seen together in the excellent Training Day, and their chemistry was evident. Sadly, Hawke was let down by a weak character that had a seemingly interesting backstory but went nowhere.

On the other hand with Pratt, Fuqua and Pizzolato tried too much to bank on his comedic background, but as funny a guy as Pratt is, his one-liners and quips seemed out of sync with the whole film and the rest of the cast. It seemed to play more for the audience - a certain type - than be an organic part of the story.

The final climatic scene was the best moment/sequence of the film, but it lacked immediacy and danger in the way it was shot with every shot clearly framed, choreographed and executed. The lack of actual cowboy/western-esque stunts (see Alden Ehrenreich aka young Han Solo in the Coen Brothers Hail, Caesar!) really hurt this film's authenticity.

At least Fuqua et al set the scene and basis of the film early but it required seriously challenging "movie logic" to accept that these seven men will be part of the group with nary a discussion/objection.

And then that was where another major problem laid. As much as I applaud Fuqua for ensembling a racially diverse cast, and Pizzolato for moving the story out of the original's Americans-saving-Mexicans conceit, why didn't they have the courage to make it a mixed gender cast? The film badly failed the Bechdel Test; other than Haley Bennett there was no other significant female role. And just by having her tot a gun and shooting up bad guys, does not make the film any less chauvinistic, especially if what she did was to make another male character more of a hero.

Vincent D'Onofrio did his best with his limited character and gave his character a certain amount of depth. Byung-hun Lee should be insulted by his racist role - but I guess the paycheck is good. Hawke and Lee had an interesting story initially but that potential devolved by the third act and felt more Lone Ranger and Tonto rather than two equals. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier were the token racial-diversity deux ex machinas. Peter Saarsgard, hardly recognisable, needs a mustache to complete his villainy.

The late James Horner started on the score before he died, unfortunately he had not seen the film yet, and Simon Franglan's final product showed the schizophrenic result with a mostly distracting film score. Ennio Morricone this ain't. Mauro Fiore lensed the film and but as  gorgeous as the sunsets and wide-angled landscapes were, the overall effect was jarring and lent a further gloss of inauthenticity to the film.

In this day with Tarantino's The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained still so fresh in most people's minds, Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven comparatively lacked authenticity and originality.

24 September 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings


A simple and predictable fantasy fable that was wildly entertaining. Smart, affecting writing that did not dumb down the material brought laughter and scares, and an emotional sucker punch at the end that was not only surprising, but also well deserved. But most importantly, the stop-motion / CGI animation was downright stunning, and it has been a long time coming that a film's score had been so effectively used throughout.

Laika has done it again. The stop-motion maestros continued to astounding work with Kubo and the Two Strings. From the opening moments, the animation will leave you spell bound. Mixed that in with amazing origami action and seamless CGI background, and this is a real contender for best animation Oscar.

Of course, to be an Oscar contender the story itself is important, and the screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (with story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes) was well written. As simple - and predictable - as the storyline itself was, the way director Travis Knight engaged the audience with its simplicity was effective with stirring images and poignant silences interspaced between moments of physical humour and manga-esque action.

Nonetheless, the two biggest disconnect with the movie was the casting and the voice attacking.Other than Art Parkinson (aka Rickon Stark) and Rooney Mara - who were great in their roles - Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey were simply miscast and lacked vocal chemistry between each other and their character. It seemed like a shameless big-name, headlining-grab for some star power which kind of does reflect the lack of faith the producers have with the original material itself. And that is sad.

Dario Marianelli wrote the score for this film, and it is in one word: stunning. Absolutely beautiful and befitting score. It has been a long while since I last felt so attuned with a film's music. One of Marinelli's best score since Atonement and Anna Karenina.

I think this film - and the animation - would have been more stunning had it been watched in 3D. It seemed to lend itself very well, like most animation, to that technology.

23 September 2016

The Good Place


Pilot, Episode 2 "Flying" and Episode 3 "Tahani Al-Jamil": A very refreshing comedy that explore high philosophical concepts, albeit superficially, in a sitcom-esque format. Anchored by the ever-charismatic Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, The Good Place is good for a good chuckle but three episodes in, there were not any truly laugh out loud moments. Plot and story, and even twists, have so far been predictable, although by the third episode, the supporting cast got more established and relevant. However, like many shows with such high-brow concepts, the main concern is how would the show runners maintain the conceit beyond the first season. What happens once everybody finds out the truth, accepts the truth and move on from it?

Designated Survivor


Pilot: When Jack Bauer meets Clark Kent, you get Tom Kirkman. A by-the-numbers, political-thriller that seemed, at first glance, to be yet another variation of 24 or Homeland, but without the hook. Yes, the scenario is intriguing but a lot of what was shown in the pilot failed to address the potential fallout from such a scenario. Instead, we were revolving around Kiefer Sutherland who despite attempts to make himself seemed mousey and nerdy and non-intimidating - those glasses! - is undeniably very Jack Bauer still. The supporting casts all seemed bland, the child actors bring horrible flashbacks to Homeland's Chris and Dana Brody - remember them? Shudders! - and the plot itself does not seem capable to go beyond a limited series. And perhaps it is that last point that may keep the audience tuning in, because although Sutherland has charisma, but seeing how the show can sustain itself for a full season and beyond might be interesting.

Episode #2 The First Day: I'm bored. Designated Survivor has one of the clunkiest dialogue and it is just a mish-mash of possibilities and storylines. It seemed as if the showrunners are just throwing a bunch of ideas out there and see which sticks: political thriller? Political drama? Espionage thriller? The cast still do not have their beats in sync and only Sutherland looked comfortable in the role he is playing, and even then, it still looked like most times he wants to hulk out into Jack Bauer.

21 September 2016

This Is Us


Pilot: Fall TV has finally swung in and one of the first new series is NBC's This Is Us. It may be a bit early to declare it, but Dan Fogelman's new series has the potential to be the next Parenthood. The pilot was smartly written with authentic dialogue and acutely genuine emotions as the family drama unfolds and the emotions are wrung out of the audience. Of course, this would not have been possible if not for the great cast who were perfectly cast and embodied their characters so well. Milo Ventimiglia has come a long way since his days as Jess in Gilmore Girls and in Heroes; Justin Hartley is a handsome revelation and Chrissy Metz is an heartache. Sterling K. Brown gave a great performance but his character was still a bit of a cipher. As was Mandy Moore who did not get much to do this time. The ending gave us a little twist that was, in my opinion, kind of expected but it really does open up many exciting storytelling potentials! Looking forward to the next few episodes.

Episode #2 - "The Big Three": The show continues on on its charming, touching and downright heartwarming course as the framework of the series begins to take shape. The relationship between Kevin, Kate and Randall is very interesting and has so much potential for exploration. On the other hand, in the past, Rebecca and Jack's story seemed to be sacrificed and was presented as lean as possible. Nonetheless, Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia nailed their scenes. Ken Olin directed this episode (he is also the producer), maybe one day he will guest star in it too. Speaking of which, Katy Sagal and Brad Garrett slayed their moments! A word of caution though: This Is Us needs to stay clear of having way too many last minute, episode ending twists.

8 September 2016

Sully


Disclaimer: I have aviophobia, i.e. fear of flying.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first all-round Oscar contender here. Actually, just give Tom Hanks the Oscar now for Best Actor. Clint Eastwood will also almost definitely at least get a nomination for Best Director. Terrifyingly realistic and realistically touching without being overly schmaltzy or excessively melodramatic, Sully was smartly directed and superbly acted, hooking the audience in from the get go all the way to the end of its 96 minutes run.

After a few misfires with Hereafter and J. Edgar, followed by the fun, but lightweight and mismatched, Jersey Boysand the politically-charged American Sniper, Eastwood finally returns to form that saw him won the Best Director for Million Dollar Baby. 

Eastwood made a lot of smart directorial choices here and most importantly in how to tell the story. He smartly focused on the Captain Sullenberger and not the trigger event itself, and by doing so, when it finally happened, we become more invested in the characters.

And at the same time, Eastwood had also wisely chosen to stay clear of over-dramatising the situation, but yet he had wisely peppered a few moments throughout to bring out the human factor.

Eastwood presented the whole incident as calmly as Cpt Sully was in managing the situation, and with that he injected realism and removed unnecessary histrionics that would have otherwise marred the experience. And that experience was terrifying. Terri-f***-ing-fying (see disclaimer). Which really made the moment of rescue all that much satisfying, touching and believable.

Then we have Hanks. He really did topped himself here, digging really deep into the character and disappearing. Cpt Sully's fears, anxieties, pride and confidence all became his own. We follow him throughout the film and as we slowly get to know him, our feelings evolved with the film. Without keeping too much away, minor spoilers ahead, we loved him, we doubt him, then we root for him again. Brilliant!

Aaron Eckhart holds his own against Hanks and gave a confident performance, but unfortunately not in the same calibre as Mark Rylance award-winning performance last year opposite Hanks in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. Depending on the rest of the year, the Supporting Actor race may or may not have space for him.

Laura Linney (again we see her, after Genius...I really hope she is making a comeback) provides the emotional anchor for Hanks, and also the audience surrogate.

Then we have Anna Gunn and a few character actors, like Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan and Chris Bauer, maintaining the calibre of acting.

Not to say that this film was flawless. The screenplay by Todd Komarnicki had some moments of trite fictionalising dramatic trope, but the brilliant cast easily helped to mask it over.

The film was shot almost entirely in IMAX digital cameras by Tom Stern and it showed. It really ought to be watched in an IMAX theatre. The experience was well worth it.

A definite Oscar contender and a great start to this year's awards race.


Don't Breathe


Don't Breathe was not an original film. Neither in its premise or plot. And despite its short run time of 88 minutes, the final act just would not end. However, director and co-writer Fede Alvarez had some really great moments that really stood out and effectively notched the tension and fear up to 11. Just for those alone, the film redeemed itself from predictability. Sadly, nobody was brave enough to embrace an unexpected ending which would then really have elevated the film from the rest of the pack (looking at you Lights Out).

The biggest issue, other than predictability, was that none of the characters were really worth rooting for. They were not even anti-heroes (or anti-villains) which could have elicit some sort of audience sympathy or empathy. They were flat, generic and single-mindedly motivated. But then again, one does not expect too much going into a film like this and really just ought to accept things and move on. 

Once again, kudos to Alvarez for effectively using the minimal jump scares. But, also like Lights Out, the story seemed to work a lot better as a short film and stretching it out to feature-length just led to padding and staleness. 

The epilogue was unnecessary and a blatant sign of studio/producer/creator greed. 

And I cannot believe the Singapore f***ing censored it!

3 September 2016

Pete's Dragon


A lighthearted, feel good film that had the joyous exhilaration of How To Train Your Dragon, the wide-eyed wondrous awe of The NeverEnding Story with a large smattering of the trademark Disney family wholesomeness.

Elliott was a wondrous creation by Weta Digital and was deservedly a character unto its own.

Kudos to director David Lowery on his first big budget film. He managed to make a remake feel slightly original, yet paid sufficient homage to the original and the brand. Although ultimately it felt like a typical Disney film in the end, the process of getting there, especially in the first act was at least refreshing.

The child actors were good, but Oakes Fegley somehow lacked the innocent naivety required for such a role. And his interactions with the digital Elliott, though touching was even less believable than Neel Sethi's portrayal of Mowgli in Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book.

Oona Laurence continued to shine and she will be a talent to watch out for as she grows.

Bryce Dallas Howard was a miscast. She appeared too cold and her familiarity with the children too forced to make the emotional pathos worth it.

Robert Redford, on the other hand, just exuded gravitas and lent the film such weight with his presence.

Not much to say about the other male co-stars Wes Bentley and Keith Urban other than flat, one-dimensional and boring. Although Urban would make a great Gustav in a Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

The music was strongly country-themed but the cinematography by Bojan Bazelli was stunning. Especially of the forest in its myriad greens and lights and shadows.

Pete's Dragon was a family and child-friendly, Disney schmaltzy-aw shucks film.

1 September 2016

Sing Street


A charming, feel-good love-story/musical whose unbridled optimism about love, life and the future is as infectious as the original songs are catchy.

John Carney has written and directed another musical love story. Where Once was original, raw and full of passion, and Begin Again was polished, sleek and Hollywood, Sing Street presented the young and innocence of puppy love, full of optimism, hope and dreams.

Regardless of what Carney thought of Keira Knightley, she has screen charms and a magnetic waifish attraction that helped to push the illusions of the fairy tale that was Begin Again. But here in Sing Street, Carney's decision to cast unknowns - Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton - as the leads did not lead to the sparks and palpable chemistry that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova had in Once. As such, the focus of the story fell on the idea of the plot rather than its execution.

What would you do to win the girl (or boy, if we are being politically correct)?

The film definitely succeeds as a feel good rom-com, but beyond the catchy original songs, and the euphoric nostalgia of 80s pop (Ah-Ha! Duran Duran! The Cure! Hall & Oates! Spandau Ballet!)  there weren't much other substance in it. Although, at this day and age, who do not just want some happy optimism in their life? And there, Carney hit the mark.

But of course, it would have been better if we could have explored more of the romance, or the family situation, or even the bandmates who, though are each uniquely displayed, seemed like nothing more than props.

One of the best scene in the whole film was a quiet moment where the indelible Maria Doyle Kennedy was sitting in the sun, enjoying some wine and her papers, and her two children talking about her behind her back. That moment felt so authentic and sincere. Kudos to Jack Reynor for the delivery.

And that last scene absolutely ruined it. It should have ended about 2 minutes earlier with the quiet refrains of Adam Levin singing us into credits. But as Knightley said in Begin Again, and I paraphrase, Levin (or his character, some would argue) can't help but make every song into a stadium anthem. Carney is so guilty of overdoing it here in the end. My eyes just rolled back.

Sing Street was a movie equivalent of a sugar rush. It felt good but ultimately will still leave you empty and hungry.



Genius



A heavily sepia-tinged film that seemed a lot more suited to be on the stage but showcased a phenomenal supporting performance by Nicole Kidman.

Theatrically directed by Michael Grandage, especially in its scene transitions and blocking, and from a screenplay by the talented John Logan - who is known to string words together into beautiful sentences - the film and its undoubtedly brilliant cast tried to make the mundane process of editing into something interesting. Unfortunately, beyond the frantic montages of paper flying and red pencil scribblings they largely failed. The most interesting aspect of the film was its exploration of its main characters which felt underserved, but it was also those moments that elevated the film.

As talented a wordsmith as Logan is, he seemed torn in deciding on who his main focus should be on. Grandage similarly. Is the story of Max Perkins? Or is it a biographical adaptation of the life of Thomas Wolfe? Or is it the main focus actually the bromance between these two?

It was an odd choice for Grandage and cinematographer Ben Davis (he of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises) to shoot the whole film in sepia-tone. It definitely suited the mood and atmosphere of the times - which was gorgeous and beautifully recreated - but it also made the film feel heavier than it should.

Kidman gave a astounding performance - her best in ages! Although coming on screen occasionally as a supporting role,  but her every appearance was raw with emotions. Clearly reminding us once again that she is an Actor, damn it!

Jude Law gave one the best performances of his career and he really is on the second wind of his career (like Hugh Grant). However, he did tend to veer occasionally into over-acting which is so hard to avoid in this sort of role.

Colin Firth pseudo-American diction was distracting, but he oozed an understated charm and a quite sort of magnetism that draws the audience in to his mood. Pity that his Max Perkin's stoic calm was underwritten and over-shadowed by Law's maniac Wolfe.

Then we have Laura Linney. Where have you been Linney? We missed you. Your effortless poise and strength anchored the film and was the true heart of the story.

Genius is a prestige film and it would have been a very good play. But can it rely sole on its pedigree and star power, despite the ho hum story telling, to push it forward towards Oscar/BAFTA glory? Especially since it is a film  about a time in American history that is made by a largely British-Australian effort.

30 August 2016

Indignation


After watching a film adaptation of a book and if the film makes one want to go out to read the book, it generally means that either the film was good or had squandered its potential. And in this case, thankfully it was the former, especially since it was a Philip Roth adaptation.

First time director James Schamus also wrote the screenplay and he has elegantly presented the 50s onto the big screen. An era where American idealism was at war and the sexual revolution was at its precipice, Roth/Schamus' flawed protagonist comes of age as he navigates the complicated terrain of sexual awakening/exploration and collegiate life. We follow his journey and explored what is the meaning of indignation. Is indignation a sign of principled behaviour? Or a show of weakness?

Logan Lerman matured as an actor, from his days as Percy Jackson to being a Wallflower, however he still has a distance to go. He may be the anchor of the film, but he lacked the depth and conviction of the role and only managed to dig superficially to re-create Roth's complex, and complicated, Marcus Messner.

The luminous Sarah Gadon, on the other hand, lit up the screen, but beyond her beauty, Gadon managed to subtly capture the flurry of complex emotions that make up her fractured character.

Unfortunately, Gadon and Lerman lacked chemistry to effectively sell their love story. And especially so after having seen Gadon's beautiful chemistry with James Franco in 11.22.63.

However, the highlights were two scenes by two veterans actors: Tracy Letts and Linda Emond.
Both scenes, tonally opposite, were opposite Lerman, and they brought out the best in him. I would like to know how much of the dialogue were by Schamus and how much were Roth's words. Powerful words.

The score by Jay Wadley was reminiscent of early Philip Glass and Alexandre Desplat.

A beautifully made film that was well-acted and directed. It was a pity though that Schamus did not flesh out the supporting characters more and focused so intently on Lerman's character.That left the film rather flat at times and also led to a less effective, not ineffective, finale.

29 August 2016

Lights Out


A fairly enjoyable horror flick that relied more on jump scares and violin screeches to deliver the jolts rather than creating a tense-filled atmosphere. Nonetheless, the evil was suitably creepy albeit laden with an unnecessary, and utterly, generic backstory.

David F. Sandberg directed the film from a script by Eric Heisserer based on Sandberg's original short story. And it shows. The slim 81 minutes of run time barely had enough substance to sustain a plot, much less any sense of character development. Too much time was spent on trying to give the horror an unnecessary, and unfortunately thin, origin story,

Teresa Palmer did a commendable job as the lead but Maria Bello was the standout. Gabriel Bateman was inconsistent as the token child-under-threat-in-a-horror-movie trope. He was creepier in Outcast.

Some good scares in the short run time, but not enough elements to sustain a high interest throughout.


24 August 2016

Star Trek Beyond


This Justin Lin directed sequel was thankfully devoid of lens flare, but despite its more straightforward narrative and competent directing, signs of franchise fatigue was obvious: the jokes ran thin (mainly courtesy of co-writer Simon Pegg), there was minimal emotional investment in the characters and all the actors looked like they were just dialing in their roles (and cashing the cheques), even Idris Elba.

7 August 2016

Suicide Squad


This film was bad. Not Batman v Superman bad, but still it was the kind of film whereby you would actually enjoyed it if you checked your brain at the door. Incoherent plot, choppy directing and editing, flat and flimsy characters, and worst of all - for a superhero (or in this case a super-villain) film - it was funless.

Behind-the-scenes studio-involved shenanigans notwithstanding, writer and director David Ayers can be blamed solely on the failure of this supposedly subversive entry into the superhero genre. Ayer did try to inject some fun into the, thus far, dark and gloomy DC Universe with Suicide Squad. And he did succeed in the first third. With a fun introduction to the main characters, but the first signs of trouble were also apparent then with his mismatched choices of "fun music" (trying too hard to emulate Guardians of the Galaxy, DC) to preface the scenes.

It is sad when one of the best scenes is better known for Eminem's rapping.

With so many characters to service, it was not surprising that many ended on the wayside, however for those that he had chosen to focus on - Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and to a lesser extent, Diablo and Rick Flag - he failed to even provide them with decent characterisation. Subjecting them to rote, flat, boring, and uninspired backstories and inconsistent motivations.

The most erroneously treated character was The Joker. Firstly, Heath Ledger's performance was unique and in all fairness to Jared Leto, he will always have an uphill task in following up on that tour de force. Luckily, Leto managed to make his Joker different enough, but sadly he was a peripheral one-note character that only served as a comparison to Harley Quinn.

Speaking of Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie should be offended by her role and her character. I felt offended for her. She was blatantly exploited and  used as a sexist and misogynistic tool. Her maniacal craziness was too over-the-top and bordered on just plain crazy rather than sociopathic.

Will Smith should have just continued to stay hidden. He cannot commit to really being a villain can him? His story line really was just one big eye-roll.

And everybody else was just flat, one-note and boring. Quips were not funny and their banter was more like a line-by-line table read.

As for the villainest of the villains. Let's just say that Ayers obviously have been taking notes from The Green Lantern and Fantastic Four.

Viola Davis channeled her darkest Annalise Keating, but without the vulnerability and sharpness. Her role barely tapped into the amazing depth that she possess.

Then we have the directing. The whole film felt like bits and pieces of "moments" stitched together to form some sort of bare narrative cohesion. Ayers does not have an eye for action. This was one of the worst action choreography and directing. I could barely understand and follow the fight scenes. There was no big stand out set-piece at all, with no wow-moment or a real climax. Something to compensate for all the dreary blahness in the beginning.

And TOO MUCH slow-mo! Unnecessary slow-mo! Gosh, didn't Ayer learn anything from Snyder's BvS?

There could have been so much potential in this story, but yet it still felt like another stepping stone for DC before Justice League hits. Although with this, pressure definitely increases for Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash (hate the look!!!) to perform. But perhaps with reduced expectations, the outcome may be better.

Take a leaf out of the pages of The CW.

18 July 2016

Ghostbusters


A fairly charming and moderately entertaining comedy/horror that was surprisingly still sexist despite its much touted all-female lead.

The film, co-written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, and directed by Feig was uninspired and unoriginal. And if it was not for the nostalgic moments and Easter eggs that peppered the show, it was hard to be very interested in the Ghostbusters.

Sure, there were some funny moments and some good lines, but mostly the tone was flat with a lot of repetition and indifference. The best moments were too fleeting and you know you are in trouble when one of the best moments of the film is when the credits are rolling, with no audio..and the soundtrack over it.

Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy were undeniably the two leads - not necessarily the biggest stars - but their chemistry together were weak and tired (and tiring). Wigg plays the straight woman to McCarthy's kooky/eccentric one,  but at least Wigg understood comedy whereas McCarthy is, and always had been, an overacting, look-at-me-I-am-so-funny, hyper-loculating actress.

The core quartet did not have much chemistry with each other, but thankfully, there were pairings that worked, especially with Leslie Jones. And thankfully,  Kate McKinnon was the breakout star of this film. Chris Hemsworth stole the show though - a standout star and saving grace.

Stay tune for the mid-credits scenes and the post-credit scene definitely sets up a sequel that I might catch on a plane.








14 July 2016

Steve Jobs [Blu-Ray]


Such a pity that this film was largely ignored by audience and during the last awards season.

Aaron Sorkin's script was biting, fierce and sharp, and Danny Boyle's direction matched the electricity and fiery of Sorkin's words. Not that the whole film was all speeding-train fast. When Sorkin's script dialed down to bullet time, Boyle equally, and effectively, matched the tamping of mood and moment.

But none of all that if not for the excellent cast. Primarily the main duo of Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet. Fassbender gave one of his best performances, easily eclipsing Leonardo DiCaprio who won for The Revenant. Similarly, Winslet was brilliant - as (almost) always. She and Rooney Mara should have been the real contenders for Best Supporting Actress - Alicia Vikander's role in The Danish Girl was really more lead than supporting.

Eddie the Eagle [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


An unabashedly feel good, the-underdog-triumphs, sports movie that effectively embraced its own schmaltz-ness and inspires the audience that dreams can come true. The film's strength laid in that it never took itself too seriously with a healthy dose of comedy mixed in with the over-wrought drama to tide us through its predictable 105 minutes run time.

Taron Egerton plays the eponymous with such indefatigable pluck and optimism that it was truly hard to resist not rooting for him. And Hugh Jackman...he was just being Hugh Jackman - effective in this case - but not essential (they couldn't get a real American to play a fake American?...or is that a meta joke?)

Speaking of which, it would have elevated the film if it was actually more rooted in fact.

The Lobster [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


A deliciously black and wholly original satirical love story masquerading as a fairy tale by Yorgos Lanthimos. The plot is simple, but the journey to the end - is it the end? - is not in a straight line.

Colin Farrell has never been better and Olivia Colman stole the show whenever she is on the screen. Strong performances by Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux with the always reliable Ashley Jensen, John C. Reily and Ben Wishaw providing backup.

A piercing commentary on our current societal obsession with pairing up and the superficiality of dating apps and yet, simultaneously not excusing the absurdity of those who vehemently oppose such behaviour. But ultimately, The Lobster is still a hopeful romantic at heart.

As Phoebe Buffay would say, "She's your lobster!"

The BFG [3D]


A magical, family-friendly adventure fairy tale that will sure to delight children and the adults unfamiliar with Roald Dahl's classic.

For those who grew up mesmerised by Dahl's creations, this film is a potent mixture of nostalgia, masterful directing by Steven Spielberg, superb acting by Mark Rylance, magical music by John Williams and gorgeous cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, that will entertain and amaze through the 117 minutes.

Finding Dory


A fun, entertaining and worthy sequel that delivered the laughs, the drama and the emo-pathos. Finding Dory lives up to Pixar's legacy, but ultimately, it lacked the originality and wide-eyed, awe-inducing spectacle of the original and Pixar's best works.

Captain Fantastic



The first truly great film of 2016 (that I've watched)!

A familiar yet wholly original family road-trip dramedy that is a strange and wondrous brew of what a Wes Anderson-esque Little Miss Sunshine would have been like. A truly fantastic cast all around, including all the young actors, and bolstered by strong supporting turns by George MacKay, Frank Langella and Ann Dowd. But this film belonged to Viggo Mortenson who gave a career-best performance that was utterly sensitive and mesmerising.

Writer/Director Matt Ross gave us a charming, touching and funny film that ran through a whole gamut of feelings and emotions from joy to sadness to heartbreak to love. At times it was cringe-worthily embarrassing and at times just blistering funny. The amazing chemistry and bond between the casts - particularly the children - was phenomenal and really entrapped the audience into their world.

I think this indie gem will be a shoo-in come awards season, with Mortenson in the running for a Best Actor nom.





26 June 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence


Well, that was rather insipid?

A pale, nobody-asked-for-it, sequel that was as emotionally empty as the CGI was surprisingly bad and the destruction disturbingly bland. With only one truly good scene, the rest of the film plodded along with no real climax - both dramatically and emotionally.

Independence Day worked so well back then twenty years ago, because not only was "destruction-porn" something new, they had characters that we cared for. But in this case, although Roland Emmerich is back at the helm, these past twenty years of experience showed us that he had not learnt anything new in terms of visual storytelling or just plain storytelling.

The new characters were all so bland and generic and one-dimensional. We do not care about their fight or sacrifices. Especially since their chemistry together was barely existent. In the end, it was the alumni that really stole the show, but if only they had more screen time.

The product placements and Chinese endorsement were just too intrusive and in-your-face. Ching Han brought some gravitas to the role, but Angelababy (rolls eyes) is such a bad actress and utterly unbelievable in her role - almost all the time she was just mugging for the camera.

Liam Hemsworth can still be a leading man, but his role choices have been veering towards generic marquee, action heroes. He will need to start making bolder choices or latch on to a good franchise or he will still be forgotten. His chemistry with Maika Monroe was sorely lacking and that made their whole entire storyline moot, because I really do not care about them at all. It was actually his bromance with best friend, Travis Trope, that made the more sense and if only that was explored more.

Actually, the whole film really did feel like it was written by five separate screenwriters, with multiple plot threads starting but not going anywhere.

Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman were surely the highlights of the film, both reprising their roles with aplomb and gravitas. Fellow oldies Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and John Storey also provided the best laughs and heart - although they were so few.

At least Singapore had made it, with the destruction of Marina Bay Sands and the Art Science Museum.

And it looks like a sequel is being planned, if only Emmerich and co. had been willing to go bolder in the execution.


23 June 2016

Last Days in the Desert


A contemplative and meditative film that was more a family and morality drama rather than a didactic scripture lecture from writer/director Rodrigo Garcia, son of literary legend Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Absolutely beautifully shot by three consecutive-times Oscar winner for cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki. Ewan McGregor and Ciaran Hinds were outstanding in their roles, but Tye Sheridan was badly miscast. And how come no one is complaining about whitewashing in this case?

There is a joke somewhere there in the casting: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mance Ryder and Cyclops walked in the desert…

Garcia’s story definitely had traces of his father’s Magical Realism and really that could be the only way to tell the fictional story of those 40 days in the desert. Some parts were a bit too heavy-handed on the religious symbology, but Garcia effectively told a story that explored the themes of Family, Morality, Filial Piety, Self vs Others without alienating the non-Judeo-Christian audience member.

The epilogue will surely draw some debate. Initially I wished it could have just ended earlier, but that final scene really cinched the moment and made the epilogue worth it.

It took a while to accept that McGregor was playing Jesus, but McGregor’s portrayal of a lost son seeking meaning and self-reflection gradually roped the audience into his internal conflict. Having him play the dual role of The Devil was effective on paper, but on screen, it appeared more gimmicky than expected, with Garcia using the dual images of McGregor to re-enforce some rather heavy handed imageries.

Similarly, Hind’s patriarchal figure had moments when Garcia (and Lubezki) framed him to be more Old Testament than New.

Sheridan just stood there mostly, slacked-jaw and dulled eyes.


Lubezki’s cinematography was stunningly beautiful but at times it could be distracting. His favoured used of wide-angle lenses and shots of dusks and dawn are seemingly becoming his trademark.

9 June 2016

The Conjuring 2


A genuinely scary horror film that entertains despite it being familiar and predictable. Director James Wan succeeded in making a worthy sequel that had great scares and a horrifically tense atmosphere especially in the first act.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga had great chemistry together and the film/franchise really sold the premise based on these two actors. In particular, Farmiga anchored the film with her character's faith, love and strength. Frances O'Connor held her own as the mother-of-the-haunted-child, although she never really allowed herself to be totally immersed into that genre/stereotype - which can be good or bad depending on your attitude towards these films.

Pity the children were not scary. Similarly, neither was the "villain" which came across more Babadook than Puzuzu and lacked the horror that Wan so meticulously built up.

Running at 134 minutes, it was just a tad too long and the finale felt rushed. As effective as the first act was, it could have been shortened, but hey, that was where most of the good bits are - the haunting before the "experts" come to the scene.


1 June 2016

Outcast


Pilot: What a great pilot! Smartly written with a great hook and effectively establishing the creepy as hell tone from start to end. It feels like The Exorcist meets The Conjuring meets Preacher. Everything from the music (by Atticus Ross) to the directing and cinematography was top notch in making this feel scary and foreboding. Robert Kirkman's script wisely chose to start in media res and slowly tease out bits of information on the backstory which really gets the audience hooked. I can't wait to find out more about what the hell is really happening! The casting was spot on, and even though our leads were relatively unknowns, the benefit of them not having the burden of fame helped to sell the story. Patrick Fugit in particular seemed to be channeling Hugh Dancy from Hannibal. Gosh, that boy was scary! Can't wait for the next episode!

28 May 2016

The Angry Birds Movie


This was a film with ADHD and directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reily added on Ritalin and Adderall. It  moved along relentlessly in an riotous explosion of colours, sounds and juvenile gags. Aimed squarely at the young ones, this animation rarely raised above a slight chuckle as its three-act structure neatly checks off everything one would expect an app-turned-movie to do: prologue/background of the central premise and follow that with anything and everything from the game because that is what they expect the audience to want. Although, that ending was a bit of an emotional surprise which goes to show that regardless of all that mayhem that happened in the earlier 90 minutes, Red/Eyebrows is still an effective hero. Cute little mid-credits scene at the end.

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...