24 April 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2



A fun - and funny - film that lacked the urgency or the narrative drive of the first film, and despite the humour it was still, unfortunately, predictable and shallow. James Gunn may have great vision, especially in the cosmo-building of the MCU franchise, and an eye for imageries and great but as a director, and writer, he lacked depth, subtlety and the nuances. And therefore, this sequel will surely be a hit. 

The other thing that Gunn got right was the unabashed embracing of the utter cuteness that is Baby Groot. There cannot be too much of BG, and Gunn got that right. He even had a character voice that sentiment right out (see above re: lack of subtlety). Lucky BG is the definition of cute, although there were brief moments when it was dragged on a wee bit too much. But nonetheless, did I mention how cute BG is? 

And on the other spectrum, Gunn got the music so wrong this time wrong. Unlike the first film where the awesome music was organic to the story, this time round, almost every single kitschy music felt shoehorned in and contrived. Gunn took whatu was good in Vol. 1 and just ran amok with that idea with nary a thought to how it fits in. 

Then in between we have the titular Guardians. Sure, each actor were well suited to their character and they all have that familiar chemistry of a well-gelled cast. However, we barely got to know them any better this outing than the last. Gunn chose plot over character development and it was not as if GOTG2 had much to do with "The Infinity Wars". And as much flak as Joss Whedon got for "Age of Ultron", at least it advanced the characters that we are supposed to care about. 

Speaking of Whedon, Gunn's bantering still has not improved much. And, personally, I find Drax's attitude and quips about newbie Mantis bordering on misogynistic, even in spite of Drax being Drax and always so literal. Once or twice (to drive home a character point) was fine but continuing to do so despite admonishment was just poor taste and gagging for cheap laughs.

And that was another major problem with Gunn's writing. A lot of the humour were cheap. Cheaply earned and cheaply executed. A running gag (again see Whedon) only works well if it is not too on the nose and the audience do not see it coming a few beats, or even scenes, away.  

Then we have the villain. This time round the MCU gifted us with an amalgam of their previous Big Bads. An almost-amorphous gaseous/non-solid/energy-composite being that just want to destroy the world. I really think that after "The Infinity Wars", the MCU might want to do more films on a smaller scale. That was what made the Captain America and Iron Man franchises such bigger successes than Thor or GOTG. 

The old cast members were all solid in their roles but were kept apart far too long. It was their chemistry in the first film which helped elevate it and over here, although apparent in the beginning was lost in order to build new interactions. Some worked, like Rocket and Yondu, while others did not, looking at you Gamora and Drax. 

Zoe Saldana had much less to do in this film than the first and so it was hard to root for her and Chris Pratt's Peter. The barely had moments to develop much chemistry to speak (hah!) of. Gamora's relationship with Nebula (poor still barely recognisable Karen Gillan) was actually more interesting especially if given a chance to develop. 

A word about Pratt. He has gotten him is schtick as the adorable asshole down pat. But as a hero, or even an anti-hero - heck! or an unwilling hero - he still lacked that screen gravitas and charm. 

Also, the decision to have Mantis portrayed as she was in the film was in very bad taste. Mantis looked Asian - almost manga-ish - and is portrayed by Canadian-born Korean/French-Russian actress Pom Klementieff which is all good and fine, but must she act and speak like that? Almost like a bad caricature of a Japanese manga character.

Of all the new additions, Elizabeth Debicki was the best cast. And I really hope she will be back for GOTG3. Michelle Yeoh and Ving Rhames were surprise cameos and looks like they will too be back with the mysterious Sylvester-I-eat-my-words-Stallone in the next outing.  

Tyler Bates did the scoring and there were moments that I wished we had more of his scores than the bad song choices. Henry Braham lensed the film and he helped to gorgeously bring some of Gunn's visions to life. 

GOTG2 suffered from the usual sequelitis that affect so many projects, especially superhero franchises. Find what worked the first time and amplified it. Sometimes it worked (Groot) and sometimes it doesn't (the music). But always just distract the audience with more. More characters. More explosions. More at risk. More...more...more money. 



22 April 2017

Colossal


A black comedic sci-fi feminist allegory (yes, that is the best way to describe this genre-defying film) that was not only original in its story but also boast a winsome turn from Anne Hathaway that has been sorely lacking in her recent (Oscar-baiting) oeuvre. And no this is not just a monster-film. "Colossal" was refreshingly original and thoroughly enjoyable with its humorous black streak and feminist leanings. 

The originality of the story laid not only its premise but also in its execution. Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo kept turning left when you expect it to turn right and not once or twice but almost constantly through its 104 minutes; that is so rare these days. But of course there were also moments where the pacing slowed too much and strange interludes which seemed at odds thematically. 

The final climatic scene was exquisitely executed and the catharsis well-deserved. However, it was the ending of that moment that was disturbing but yet seemed so apt. Taking the film as an allegory made it relatively acceptable but the real life consequence continues to nag. And that really is the power of film. 

Hathaway - obviously and rather distractingly pregnant here - regained some of her charms from back in the days. After her recent more dramatic turns, she goes back to her comedic roots and reminds us that we really should not her internet-hate her that much. And she does show us some of the range that we know she is capable of.


Jason Sudeikis was a competent co-star against Hathaway, especially in the first two acts. But by the third act, he was more obviously outclassed by her and with the recently ubiquitous Dan Stevens in the cast, viewers familiar with Stevens' breakout hit "Legion" would feel that he would have been better cast in Sudeikis' role. 

21 April 2017

Get Out



As a horror film, "Get Out" was more B-grade than "The Visit" or "Drag Me to Hell", relying heavily on an overbearing soundtrack and jump shots to heighten the tensions and crank up the scares. But as a satirical film of the times, it was emblematic of the current societal and political conflicts within America. However, it does not translate as well - beyond an intellectual level - to an international audience, especially in a predominantly non-Caucasian market. 

Critically, director/writer Jordan Peele came up with a fresh spin to an otherwise unoriginal story, but the execution was neither innovative or genre-breaking. There were quite a number of smart lines and many moments where the tension was purely in the words. Although, much of it seemed to be due as much to the excellent delivery by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. 

Unfortunately, behind the satirical curtain the plot itself lends to a number of plot holes and contrivances. Many of which would have been easily resolved if somebody had taken more care to address the story rather than just advancing the narrative. For every ten smart writing, there was at least one moment of contrived logic. 

For the actors, Whitford and Keener were the standouts. Leads Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams had fleeting moments of chemistry but neither imbued their characters with much of a definition beyond the generic template. Through them, it seemed that Peele was more interested in telling a narrative rather a story. This was the same for most of the other supporting cast. And then we have the odd directorial choice to have Caleb Landry Jones to overact his scenes. 


Admittedly, expectations were high going into this film and I can see the merits of it. However, behind all the hoo-has, this was really just a mediocre thriller/horror film. 

3 April 2017

Ghost in the Shell [IMAX/3D]


We really do live in a time where we have so many choices in how we choose to consume entertainment and ideas. Unfortunately for Ghost in the Shell, what it chose to explore had already been done once, when the idea was still new and fresh, by the original anime and manga, and more recently and more superbly (and in depth) by TV's Westworld, Humans and even Dollhouse. 

Therefore, where it could - and does - succeed was in the technological (and monetary) front. However, there was only so much that souped up CGI can do to entertain and distract from the weak and uninspired plot. The screenplay was by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger and it spent too much time building the world and neglecting the characters, such that when it finally got to the characters, the audience already felt disconnected. But even then, they could never really fleshed out the complexities and the morality of the tech, nor the complexities and moralities of their lead character.

Save for a couple of moments of beautiful visuals and stunt choreography, director Rupert Sanders told a boring and predictable story - interspersed with beautiful shots - that tried to explore the deeper meaning of life, free will, identity and self but only barely scratched the surface. Other than a great prologue and opening sequence, there barely were any other set pieces that lived up to that standard. In that regard, it was such a disappointment where with the budget afforded, Sanders' vision could not even compare with HBO's Westworld or the Alex Garland indie-sci fi Ex Machina.

If you ain't got substance, at least have some style: see any-period Michael Bay or late-period Wachowskis. Sadly, neither was present here.

Scarlet Johansson must have felt the pressure of not only carrying the show but being accused of participating in the oft-quoted whitewashing, because she distinctively felt distanced from her character. That could have been an active choice on her part, and Sanders, as part of character development, but the alienation that Major felt was often not represented by Johansson.

And to be honest, her character being white does make sense in the context of the film, as her creators are white and she is a reflection of the underlying white supremacy. Now, that could have been the story.

Furthermore, if anything, what we should be more offended about is trying to pass Hong Kong off as Japan.

Damn it Hollywood, not all Asians (and asian cities) are alike!

As for the supporting cast, Juliette Binoche was so wasted. Pilou Asbaek was great in the role as Batou, but he and Johansson had no chemistry (as platonic partners). And poor Chin Han spots a ridiculous mullet. But at least we had "Beat" Takeshi Kitano to lend some gravitas.

Music was by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe, and it was rather distinctive that the score had two voices. The opening credits was great but the music through the film was often distracting.

This could have been a great TV series. The concept lends itself to be told in an anthology series. With the length afforded by TV and the prestige that now comes with it, so much better stories based on the franchise can be told.

IMAX and 3D were not necessary at all.

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...