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.

27 May 2016

Queen of the Desert


A beautiful, romanticised but tepid biographical drama film by Werner Herzog of an incredible figure. Gertrude Bell was brought luminously to life by Nicole Kidman in what may be one of her best performances in years.

Kidman aged and matured Gertrude through the film 128 minutes with such conviction. She had captured Gertrude's awe towards the desert and her sense of adventure and discovery, but through it all, Kidman's sense of Romance (and romance) is impeccable. Her love and heartache for the two men in her life felt real and genuine more so with Damien Lewis rather than the miscast James Franco. Robert Pattinson was surprising, yet well cast, as Gertrude friend T.E. Lawrence.

Herzog wrote and directed this film and his words (or perhaps those directly lifted from Gertrude's letters) were beautiful. The film had a languid pace and nary much (dramatic) conflict at all. Herzog was clearly more interested in exploring Gertrude's as a person rather than capturing the potentially more dramatic political conflict of the Middle East. And if not for Kidman's performance, this would have plodded even more heavily. Kudos also goes to the gorgeous cinematography of Peter Zeitlinger and rousing music of Klaus Bedelt.

24 May 2016

Preacher


Pilot: AMC and DC's latest graphic novel-turned television series is a bit of an odd hybrid. Firstly the source material is immensely popular amongst adult graphic novel readers, which admittedly is not a big population, but look where The Walking Dead is at now. Secondly, it is coming in at a time where comics are at a high in terms of movies and television, the latter of which is where DC is succeeding much better than Marvel. Anyways, style-wised, Preacher is a lot like Quentin Tarantino meets Alan Ball with a whole lot of Seth Rogen, i.e. stylised violence with some supernatural dark humour but in a cheesy, B-grade sort of way. However, they never really commit to one style unlike True Blood or Scream Queens (at least that horrific Ryan Murphy abomination had the balls and decency to stick to its ridiculousness throughout). The pilot chose to go with an origin story instead of starting the story in media res and because of that, the whole 60-odd minutes felt like one very long prologue where they ended up telling a lot more than showing. Pilots are already leaden with the arduous duty of being exposition heavy to introduce the characters, the story and the central conflict, but here nothing really happened till the 51-minutes mark. Everything before that was padding. The only really great moment was the introduction of Ruth Negga's Tulip. Joe Gilgun's Cassidy is still a mystery but yet the way he was introduced does not really make him that interesting a character (note to Seth Rogan: that whole Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street-esque sequence was such a sad, pathetic rip-off). Then of course we with Dominic Cooper's eponymous (anti-)hero. The ex- (or current) young Howard Stark has an annoying wavering southern accent and plays Jesse Custer so vaguely that we never really know who he is or who he thinks he is. And what's up with Lucy Griffith? After this pilot, I am intrigued by the premise to stay on a few more episodes to see how it goes, but that is mainly more because of the pedigree and the tease that it could be a dark horror comedy to fill the void that was True Blood.

23 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse


Looks like the X-Men franchise can't get away from the three-quel curse. A plodding mess of unoriginal, lazy storytelling that got lost in its own supposed grandiosity and forgetting that what made the first two films of the reboots such standouts were acknowledging and respecting the amazing amount of talent that the cast possessed. Even the humour here felt cheap, tired and inorganic. In the end, even the end-credits tease felt unearned. 3D definitely not required. 

The First Monday in May



A non-objective documentary that gave us only a superficial look into the planning of the Met Gala and unfortunately just a cursory window, albeit a gorgeous one, into the Met exhibition in question, the execution of which could have been a lot more interesting and in depth. 

Florence Foster Jenkins


Stephen Frears' newest comedy is a delightful and touching gem. Meryl Steep once again proves why she is one of the best actress of our time with an amazing, transformative performance that showcased her comedic talent and ability to inhabit a character totally. Hugh Grant was the perfect rom-com sparring partner and their chemistry drives the film; Simon Helberg and Nina Ariana brought the laughs.

Truth



James Vanderbilt directorial debut was really a showcase for Cate Blanchett more than anything or anybody else. Blanchett gave another fantastic performance as Mary Mapes as we followed her through the highs and lows as she investigated and reported on the Killian Documents. Unlike Spotlight which was a true ensemble performance, the rest of the cast: Robert Redford, Elizabeth Moss, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid truly were there to support Mapes/Blanchett. Vanderbilt's story and pacing meandered a bit here and there, and the focus always seemed a bit muddy - The Truth? Journalism? Dan Rather? Mary Mapes? Corporate greed? Nonetheless, it was a pity that Blanchett was overlooked at last year's Oscar for another astonishing work!

16 May 2016

Money Monster


Jodie Foster's first film since she more-or-less segue from acting to directing was a psychological/finance thriller that failed to really ignite the engine and go beyond cruise control. Banking on the star power of George Clooney and Julia Roberts, this played out like an anaemic episode of HBO's Newsroom meets Showtime's Billions with a splash of Blindspot/Quantico (or really any other TV series that involves the cops, bombs and guns) although perhaps the powers-to-be were aiming more for The Big Short meets Spotlight.

The screenplay by Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden were a pale comparison to what Aaron Sorkin,  Brian Koppelman and David Levian churn out from those above-mentioned series. The characters were all daftly one-dimensional as were the rumination on the wall street conspiracies and financial turmoil.

With two great movie stars like Clooney and Roberts who have undeniable chemistry together, it was an absolute error on Foster's part to put them apart for almost the entire film. Yes, their voices can convey some sort of intimacy but what they really have is a magnetic physical chemistry - the screen lights up when they are both in the same frame.

Foster has directed episodes of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and she is a competent director. Her last directorial film - The Beaver - was an underrated gem (partly also because of the whole Mel Gibson saga). She excels in the smaller and more intimate stories. When it comes to these big summer blockbusters/popcorn movies she is significantly lost. The film lacked urgency and tension. Scenes dragged on too long and momentums get wasted. However, where she succeeded, and was actually the best part of the film, was the unspoken subtext about American's, or ours, obsession with reality and tragedy, how we trivialise everything and anything for our own amusement and our blasé attitude towards what is really wrong with the world: if it doesn't affect me, I don't have to care for it.

Neither Clooney or Roberts turned in their best work. Clooney, as an actor, has always been sort of an enigma to me. There is no doubt that he is utterly charmless, but many a times, the characters he plays always seemed one-note and bland. He has never really went under the skin of a character to really convey any sort of realistic emotions. Even here, he plays a role but he is still George Clooney.

Roberts barely has much to do here other than shout orders or be the Clooney-whisperer. She did not even get to look good - make-up cost saved right there.

The stand out actor was actually Jack O'Connell. He has potential - although still rather unpolished (working with Angelina Jolie in Unbroken must not have helped much) - and his career should be watched closely. Hopefully his British sensibility will steer him more towards his talented countrymen like Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne and away from the starry, glitzy, popcorn millions.

Money Monster was a decent film but with cable TV offering so much better alternatives, Clooney, Roberts and Foster are the only draw.


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...