22 February 2016

Brooklyn



John Crowley's historical Romantic drama showcases Saoirse Ronan in the role of her life (thus far), and she hits it out of the park, reminding us why she had always been an actress to watch since Atonement.  

The film itself was simple enough as we followed a typical story of the transformation of a simple village girl to a city lady as she finds love, deals with lost, and ultimately discovers herself. Although her growth were only shown in quick sketches by Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, they were enough to establish a believable timeline and honest to the characters to make it acceptable. That showed the strength of the script and the vision of the director. 

However, in all romantic dramas, the core strength - regardless - will lay in its core couple (or couples). And here, Ronan and Emory Cohen held court. Their love story was sweet, yet not saccharine; romantic yet not mushy. They are in love and it was believable. 

However, the latter half was a bit disappointing. Crowley and Hornby ought to have spend more time on Ronan's character's growth and change rather than just making it happen so. Although Domhnall Gleeson (he really is having an ubiquitous moment) and Ronan has a spark, it was not as palpable as Ronan's with Cohen to make it believable. 

Ronan was spectacular in her role. An emotionally charged performance from start to end but a lot more restrained with less histrionics that could have made her more Nicholas Sparks than Nick Hornby. Voters would likely give Brie Larson the win come Oscar time, but Larson was let down by the second half of Room which really diluted her performance. Ronan, on the other hand, had a great character from start to end and maintained it. Just like Rampling in 45 Years

Julie Walters was a hoot with all the best lines, and Cohen definitely brought out a sincerity and an old school charm in an otherwise straightforward role. 

A smartly written tale of Love, Romance and Self-discovery that entertained and tugged at the heartstrings without ever being overly dramatic or self-indulgent. 

45 Years



Andrew Haigh's follow-up to his under watched, yet sublimally honest Weekend, is a quietly powerful and emotionally poignant examination of love and relationship, anchored by the extraordinary performances of Tom Courtenay and the brilliant Charlotte Rampling.

Haigh uses a simple narrative and a very naturalistic style to convey the complexity relationships. And in this instance, he found in Rampling a face that speaks a thousand words, and it was in the quiet moments that both the film and Rampling stood out. Words were truly not necessary, and even inferior, to the describe the complexity of emotions and feelings that Rampling's character goes through. 

Rampling is utterly deserving of the praises for her nuanced, thoughtful performance. It's not showy like Brie Larson in Room or Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, neither was it overtly transformative like Cate Blanchett in Carol or emotionally-wrought like Saorise Ronan in Brooklyn. Here, Rampling simply inhabited her role. She was her character as her character was her. You never really, for one moment, think that she's acting a role. 

Equal praises should, and must, go out to Courtenay. He was a brilliant partner to Rampling and their chemistry was natural and electrifying. But in this film, he really was more a supporting actor to Rampling's story. 

A beautiful film for the matured-thinking audience who likes to be challenged rather than pandered to, with an ending that throws up more questions than answers, but yet utterly satisfying and appropriate. 

17 February 2016

Deadpool


A welcomed distraction to all the seriousness of the year-end glut of Oscar nominees. Deadpool, and Ryan Reynolds, was a R-rated, irreverent entry to Fox's Marvel Cinematic Universe that was fun but never really laugh out loud funny, violent but oddly gratuitously un-goresome, and towards the end, way too overly self-referentially meta to be effective anymore. The best praise for the film will be that the concept itself would have made for an excellent Netflix series!

T.J. Miller is a competent director and the film went along speedily through it 108 minutes as Rhett Reese's and Paul Wenick's script weaved through time to present an origin/love story for the eponymous character. You know you are in for a different sort of MCU movie when you hear the word "mutant" being uttered (instead of "enhanced" or "inhumans") and when you see your first blood splatter.

Although Miller's opening sequence set the tone for the title character, it also unfortunately set his unoriginal directing style. An over-reliance on slow-mo for the sake of slow-mo with an over-contrasted palette reminiscence of  300. Also, the initial fun and hilarity of having Deadpool breaking the fourth wall slowly became repetitive and annoying, but at least the meta-jokes worked better. Even the use of 80s-era pop songs over key scenes - a la Guardians of the Galaxy - got overbearing towards the end. At least the last song was not "Don't You (Forget About Me)". That would have been too much!

The film strongest element was its cast. And the believable chemistry between Reynolds and Morena Baccarin.

Reynolds, and his voice-acting, really, finally found a franchise worthy of  his dashing good looks and brilliant comic timing. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Reynolds, as a character, Deadpool was only superficially explored and Miller et al did not really plunged into his madness and angst. The result was Reynolds coming off as more of an insecure wimp with a motormouth rather than a mad psychopath with a broken heart.

Baccarin was a highlight of the film and the mad love affair between her and Reynolds was actually believable. Her heartache was much more palpable than Reynolds', It is a pity then that she winded up as nothing more than a plot device/damsel in distress.

Ed Skrein has a great screen presence and poses as an intimidating villain, but like almost all MCU villains he came across as one-dimensional and over-simplified.

With such rich characters and backstory, and with such a resounding success from Netflix's Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Deadpool and Ajax would have made for great TV. What a shame!

Stay till the end for the end-credits scenes!


12 February 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


A ridiculously bad film that remained watchable only for the sheer novelty of its concept, otherwise, it largely squandered the potential of its source material - and its source material's source material - and its cast. With the exception of Matt Smith who provided the best laughs with his bumbling buffoonery as Mr Collins, everybody else were literally dead on their feet with nary a spark of chemistry between the cast.

Written and directed by Burr Steers, this film was more a zombie-apocalyptic film with Austen-esque beats, rather than Pride & Prejudice with the undead. Steers screenplay was undecidedly un-Elizabethean and when he tried to shoehorn dialogue into Austen's prose, it just stucked out like a sore thumb. Even his characterisations of the beloved characters - updated as it were to this version - were off kilter and sorely superficial.

There could have been so much potential in the storyline if Steers just kept truer to the novel, but instead he padded it out with juvenile fantasies and recycled trope. Austen's novels are famed for their pro-feminist leanings, so having Elizabeth Bennet to be the heroine is nothing new in this genre even if she is a sword fighting/gun welding/zombie-slayer. However, there are some moments where it worked - especially when the Bennet sisters bust out their moves - however they were sorely lacking beyond the first 15 minutes.

The poor direction, poor fight choreography, messy editing, bad lighting, generic score (flashes of a Mozart in the Jungle scene where some orchestra members were scoring a B-grade horror/slasher flick) and ghastly CGI made everything worse.

But the absolute worst, and unforgivable, sin of this film was the total lack of chemistry of between Lily James' Elizabeth Bennet and Sam Riley's Mr Darcy (I refuse to call him "Colonel"). They are the central characters of the story - in whatever form - and even if all else fails, we have to believe in their relationship, their love and that they are meant for each other. I just wished him dead.

Riley is perhaps one of the worst Mr Darcy ever. He only has one mode: brood. And he could not even brood as well as James Norton in War and Peace (the broody Prince Andrei to James' exquisite Natasha Rostova). Steers could not even bother to give the audience the equivalent of Colin Firth's Pemberley lake scene.

James can do so much better. If any prove is required that she is an actress worth keeping an eye out for, watch BBC's War and Peace, where she transformed from an innocent naïveté to a sexually-awoken young woman to a tormenter self-hating wreck and finally to ... let's not spoil it here.

Lena Headey and Charles Dance were just wasted; Matt Smith was a fantastic Doctor.

There is a post-credit scene which hints at a possible sequel, but I doubt - I hope - it never gets made. Go read the book instead.


The Revenant


Alejandro G. Iñárritu's bid for a consecutive Best Director and Best Picture win is a revenge drama that was as beautiful as it was violent and cold. Despite a ferociously committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, a finely nuanced villain in Tom Hardy, as well as Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography, the film's screenplay was just too skeletal to be stretched out over 156 minutes with Iñárritu sacrificing characterisation and authenticity for spectacle, shock and gimmicks.

The first thing that comes into mind in comparison with this film was how like Park Chan-wook's The Vengeance Trilogy this felt like. Like the trilogy, this was a violent tale of revenge, but unlike the Korean films, there was a lack of emotional resonance in its characters. Also, the ending was too heroically unrealistic and Hollywood-esque which robbed the film of the authenticity that Iñárritu and DiCaprio tried so hard to achieve.

Iñárritu definitely knows how to tell a story, but unlike last year's Birdman, The Revenant's lead character was under-characterised and although sympathetic, was hardly relatable. That was mainly because of the increasingly difficult situations that he encountered, and survived. There seemed to be some sense of un-realness and inexplicability.

However, there were a number of scenes that stood out, although over time, Iñárritu's long takes are getting more gimmicky than anything else. The bear-fight scene was possibly one of the most harrowing moment on screen, and the final fight scene was beautifully choreographed.

DiCaprio, without a doubt, really wants that Oscar! And based on this year's nominees (with the exception of Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs), it will surely be his. He gave a highly committed and silently eloquent performance throughout. That sort of dedication deserved to be rewarded. However, if based solely on "skill of acting", then DiCaprio loses out to his fellow nominee Hardy.

Hardy gave a superbly nuanced performance as the main antagonist of the story. And realistically, his ending should have been a whole lot different. Nonetheless, Hardy's story was actually equally as riveting as DiCaprio's portion despite not having to endure as much hardship. That is a testament to his ability as an actor. And perhaps, the members of the Academy may reward him (together with his impressive 2015 body of work - Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend), although he definitely faces steep competition in Mark Rylance, Slyvester Stallone, Mark Ruffalo and Christian Bale (in that order).

Domhall Gleeson is really having a great run of films, although it seemed that his ginger-hair is getting him typecast. Young Will Poulter would have made a terrifying Pennywise.

Lubezki will almost surely get his third consecutive Oscar for Best Cinematography for his utterly gorgeous lensing of the wild winter hinterlands. At times it almost felt like watching a National Geographic moment. Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight) and Roger Deakins (Sicario) are his closest competitors.

Surprisingly the music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (with addition music by Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto) was not nominated. In a largely silent film, Sakamoto's score was haunting and resonant, although there were times that it was too on the nose and became distracting from the beauty on the screen.

The Oscar race this year is still as open as ever. The Revenant will score a win for DiCaprio for his committed performance, and maybe score Iñárritu his second Oscar for this technically challenging shoot, but either The Big Short or Spotlight may triumph over it for its overall story. Then of course there is the black horse in the guise of George Miller and his superb Mad Max: Fury Road.

6 February 2016

The Dressmaker


A delightfully light and fun romp that may have just ran a wee bit long and was a bit overly melo-dramatic, but anchored brilliantly by Kate Winslet with scene-stealing turns by both Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving. And who can forget the coustumes?! The Haute Couture out in the outback!

This was a rather simple story by writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse, and as the tagline goes, about: love, revenge and baute couture. It feels almost YA-like in its plot, from the central mystery to the love story to the tragic twist and lastly to the comeuppance. But yet, it was not YA-enough to wrought the melodramatics nor heavy enough in its themes to really feel Oscar worthy. Lucky for it, it had many glorious laugh out loud moments.

However, what it lacked in narrative depth, it more than made up for it with the acting and the costumes. By golly, the costumes were stunning! It is a crime that Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson were not nominated for an Oscar. Read this to find out more about the amazing costumes!

With all due respect to Winslet, the age-difference between her and Hemsworth was rather distracting, and it should have been somewhat addressed. The main issue was not that she was older, but that Hemsworth looked too young. Winslet looked stunning and rather age-appropriate for her character of about low-to-mid thirties. Nonetheless, Winslet was - as always, like just a handful of actors - a delight to watch. A delicious femme fatale with a strong yet fragile heart.

Davis and Weaving stole the show whenever they are on. The former, an acting legend who goes toe-on-toe with Winslet, electrifying their scenes and injecting a tenderness beneath the craziness; the latter was just a hoot with his flamboyance and loyalty.

Hemsworth was much better here than in The Hunger Games franchise, showing us a certain depth that Gale Hawthorne never allowed him to. And it was a wicked inversion casting him as the love interest, contrary to Hollywood's usual older man/younger woman trope (older brother Chris, who though more age-appropriate, was likely too expensive). Good for you, Kate!

The music was by Australian David Hirschfelder and befitted the film very well, and lensing was by fellow Aussie Donald McAlpine and he made rural Australia looked oddly inviting.

The Dressmaker was light, fun and extremely entertaining and an enchanting distraction from the seriousness of the Oscars-nominated movies. It deserved all the AACTA love and awards it got!


3 February 2016

The Hateful Eight


No doubt about it that this is a Quentin Tarantino film. Not only in terms of over-top-violence, but also the humor and style. However, unlike his more recent outings, this film was actually smaller in scope but yet more immediately entertaining. But then it also presents another dilemma in that it was shallow at its core. Essentially, it boiled down to being an Agatha Christie-esque Taranatino-styled Western whodunnit, all mystery and thriller without any sort of central theme. It would make a great stage play in the vein of Mousetrap, but The Crucible this ain't.

Although by golly, the score was seriously amazing as was the gorgeous cinematography. And for once, at this stage, I can safely say that Ennio Morricone deserve to get the Oscar for this utterly visceral work. The score was a palpable creature onto itself throughout the film and it really set the tone, and gave the film an almost frightening vibe - Roman Polanski's Rosemary Baby kept springing to mind throughout.

Similarly, Robert Richardson's lensing was superb. The use of Ultra Panavision 70 and 65mm film really gave this bottleneck story a sense of intimacy and space although most of the film was set in just one room. Richardson definitely have a shot at the Oscars here.

Despite a flawed second act that felt rushed through and was stylistically different from the first act, this was a good whodunnit screenplay. So it was surprising that Tarantino did not get any love from the Academy this year. Not even at least for Best Original Screenplay. I guess his spot must have been taken by the scribes of Straight Outta Compton.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, on the other hand, absolutely deserved her nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She was a total standout and the best player of the bunch! Barely recognisable and bordering of psychopathic, she was a hoot to watch from start to finish. Whereas others like Samuel L Jackson was interesting in the beginning and then became farcial and ended up boring. The rest of the hateful eight were rather one-dimensional and flat. Even at the big reveal they still seemed like caricatures. Bruce Dern was the only one that really got interesting.

The Hateful Eight was a Quentin Tarantino film through-and-through albeit one of his lighter fares but surprisingly entertaining nonetheless.



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...