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.

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...