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!

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...