30 January 2017

Riverdale


Chapter One: The River's Edge: The best thing about the CW's latest pretty people/murder mystery is the eschewing of the expected, Betty-Veronica rivalry. Instead, what the pilot presented was a strong friendship between two beautiful and smart women. Then again, at least they would have a better reason now...Archie got hot! Hot but still simple and annoying and flat and indecisive. The supporting cast are less well-rounded. Jughead was interestingly reimagined but otherwise an enigma (although what happened between him and Archie?); Cheryl Blossom was too much a mean girl to be anything else but annoying; Kevin is the stereotypical gay bff (but at least Moose is in the closet); and Reggie was one-note. Separately, the parental units are not as cookie-cutter as one would imagined. Looks like Riverdale will essentially be focusing on the core trio with Jughead at the periphery and Cheryl as the nemesis. So why is Josie a regular? Only time will tell. As for plot wise, nothing really new emerged that we have not seen from this genre. Banter is passable with too much pop culture reference veering towards trying-too-hard. Feels a lot like Pretty Little Liars meets Wayward Pines influenced by Glee and Veronica Mars and paying homage to Twin Peaks.

Chapter Two: A Touch of Evil: The second episode confirms that Betty and Veronica's friendship is the best part of this show, and that the silly Archie and Ms Grundy's relationship was the weakest, lamest and silliest. The murder mystery also needs more traction and intrigued to really propel the narrative. The Jughead and Archie relationship also needs more of a boost. But at least they have not forgotten about the sexiness appeal of their ridiculously good-looking cast. The adults are actually quite well-played too and they are definitely hiding something.

23 January 2017

Hacksaw Ridge


An absolutely brilliant film. One of the best films in a long time, and the best war film since Saving Private Ryan,  It was also Mel Gibson's best film and showcased Andrew Garfield's best performance to date. The film had heroics, pathos, drama, comedy, romance, bromance and emotions, lot of emotions.

Gibson told one of the best stories of the year and he had assembled a strong cast and crew to bring it to the screen, Other than Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffith, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer and Luke Bracey were all outstanding. The music by Rupert Gregson-Williams was stirring and heroic, and really pumped up the action and tension, but yet also uplifting and romantic when the scene required it. Simon Duggan lensed the film and he did an extraordinary job.

However, this film truly belonged to Gibson and Garfield.

Gibson has crafted an anti-war and anti-violence film without the preachiness and holier-than-thou that affect most such film. Yes, there was still violence - and that battle scene was superbly and realistically filmed - but Gibson managed to have the positive morality and spiritual integrity of Desmond Doss' conscientious objector permeate throughout, uplifting the dire tragedy of war. Gibson also smartly juxtaposed these opposing themes and scenes to reinforce his views and propel the story forward.

But, none of that could be so strongly achieved, if not for Garfield's phenomenal work. From his cherubic innocence in the beginning to his obstinate strength in his faith to the terror of war and selfless heroism, Garfield shone in every scene he was in. One could strongly believed in his portrayal of the extraordinary Doss not because he was extraordinary but because of how ordinary he was.

Palmer and Garfield had enough chemistry to sell their romance; Weaving should be in contention for a Best Supporting Actor (but that field sure is crowded this year); Vaughn was an unexpected standout, was was Bracey; and Griffith is reliable as always. The other big-name star, Sam Worthington - taking a break from Avatar? - was well-cast but boring.

This film will definitely be in the running for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Picture. La La Land has an edge because it was more winsome and charismatic, but Gibson has a more sure hand in the amazing directing of Hacksaw Ridge compared to Damien Chazelle's more innovative and showy direction.

18 January 2017

Passengers


This film had so much going for it on paper. A great cast, reliable director and an exciting script. But the end result was something so formulaic, so ho-hum and so typically cliche that the feeling of disappointment and let down hit hard.

Somewhere within this Hollywood, sci-fi trope was a genuinely exciting, courageous story about morality and love. Glimpses of it could still be seen throughout, especially in the first act but by the time the third act rolled in, we have already went full blown Armageddon-esque as everybody raced to tie up the loose ends and complete the story.

Just like Interstellar before it, Passengers could have been so much more if the people involved in its creation had the audacity - and balls - to commit to something more than just popcorn fillers.

That is not to say that there was nothing good about the film. Ignoring the thematic flaws - and hence also character blindness - this film is a reliable Hollywood, sci-fi film. It was entertaining as it was predictable. Director Morten Tyldum (of The Imitation Game) was capable and had a few scenes that were beautifully executed - that one swimming pool shot of Jennifer Lawrence was movie-magic.

Lawrence and Chris Pratt had great chemistry and were wonderful together. However, when it came to more serious moments, Pratt faltered whereas Lawrence shined. Perhaps it would have been better if the roles were reversed. How feminist!

Michael Sheen was also a consistent bright spot in this film, adding some comic relief beyond Pratt's initial shindigs.

As for Laurence Fishburne. One word: wasted. Three words: deux ex machina.

Go watch Moon, Duncan Jones' 2009 one-man film with Sam Rockwell if you want a smarter, more courageous and much better executed existentialism sci-fi film.

Queen of Katwe [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


A heartwarming, true-life story that is so typical of the Disney brand but very effectively brought to the big screen by Mira Nair. Setting it all in Africa lent the film a sense of authenticity and the script by William Wheeler neatly, albeit formulaic, brought this unlikely underdog story to life.

Strong performances by David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o, but definite shout-out goes to newcomer Madina Nalwanga who truly embodied her character and made you root for her success in both the game and in life.

The Birth of a Nation [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


A powerful film about the dark period of American history. Effectively directed, written and acted by Nate Parker, it is a pity that Parker's personal tribulations and scandal had marred the narrative of this film.

Nonetheless, this film should be watched for what it is, although undoubtedly, Parker's past will colour how a key - fictional, no less - scene is perceived.

This film is what Django Unchained wished it could be and what 12 Years a Slave would most likely have been without the distraction of star wattage and sentimentality.

9 January 2017

Manchester By The Sea


Kenneth Lonergan's latest was a difficult albeit realistic and honest film to watch. Strong, complex and layered characters aptly brought to life by a strong cast especially Casey Affleck in his strongest role yet. Kudos too to young Lucas Hedges. However, it really was Lonergan's nuanced script and tight directing that held the film aloft.

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...