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....

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...