23 June 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

A typical, mindless, over-bloated, all-out sensory assault by Michael Bay that although was just slightly more coherent than the previous "Age of Extinction", it was also less exciting and adrenaline pumping than an usual Bay fare which was very unfortunate since that was the least of all expectations. 

Like the past entries, the story here was a distant third place to CGI and action, with acting a pithy consideration. Even if all that was expected, the film would have benefited a lot more from being shorter. Maybe trim off about 20 minutes and skip the whole unnecessary prologue which served no narrative purpose other than for Bay to do an Arthurian ripoff. And maybe because dragons are wicked. 

Also we could have easily skipped the ridiculous "Stranger Things" homage too and the unnecessary child actor inclusion. 

This go round the main action sequences were more human centric and less Transformers-bases action. And even less Transformers vs Transformers one which is generally what most fans are looking forward to. We barely get a good full body shot of the dinobots or the damn dragon! 

There were some attempts at humour, mostly from the sidekicks, but most were lame and off-timed. 

Anthony Hopkins and Mark Wahlberg were clearly doing it for the pay checks. At least the surprisingly best parts were with Anthony Hopkins and his C3PO-ripoff manservant; those moments at least got a snide chuckle. As for Wahlberg, one would barely even remember he could be a half-decent actor. Even his action sequences here were phoned in with mostly faceless choreographs. 

The end credits scene teases another inevitable sequel and maybe it is time to watch this franchise out of the big screen. 

13 June 2017

The Mummy [IMAX/3D]

Generously speaking, The Mummy would have made for a good TV-movie and be better appreciated as a standalone film in itself rather than as a reboot of the Branden Fraser's 1999 hit.  Even Tom Cruise's innate charisma could not save it from its poor writing, mundane blandness and generally bad acting. However, having said that, there were four really, really great action sequences that were a lot better than anything in Wonder Woman, so there's that. But still, Penny Dreadful this ain't.

The potential of this Dark Universe, monster vs monster franchise is surely there, but director Alex Kurtzman and the whole team of writers basically just gave us a tone-deaf version of what could have been great (again, see John Logan's Penny Dreadful). And it all starts from the miscasting of Cruise. Or better put, the mischaracterisation of what a typical Cruise-character should be. To his credit, Cruise has an insane amount of charisma, but it plays much better when he portrays a character in-charge rather than as a passive stumbler of luck and contrivances.

Then we have the female companion. Annabelle Wallis was badly miscast. She and Cruise barely had any chemistry and she was utterly unbelievable as whatever her character meant to be. To make things worse, she was really a few steps back in the evolution of Cruise's female partner, i.e. a damsel in distress that needed Cruise to save. What happened to the strong, independent women like Cobie Smulders in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, or Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nationor Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow?

Next we also have the miscasting of Russell Crowe. Boy, is Crowe really desperate for work? Too many elements in this film distracted from the promise of an exciting premise.

Jake Johnson replays the wise-cracking sidekicks that often occurs in Cruise's films, but it was unfortunate - and blind of Kurtzman, et al - that Cruise's character was named Nick when Johnson is probably more well known for his role as Nick in TV's New Girl.

Lastly, we have the poor Sofia Boutella. So pretty but such a bland character.

The film ran for 107 minutes but yet felt as long as Wonder Woman need. The Dark Universe franchise has so much potential that I really do hope we get to see more of it. But better.

IMAX and 3D not necessary.

11 June 2017

Wonder Woman

As a DCEU film, Wonder Woman was definitely less dour and more lighthearted than the other Zack Synder entries, but Patty Jenkins still managed to make it take itself a bit too seriously and all amidst DCEU's usual gloomy palette; as a superhero-origins film, it delivered the heroics, the awe of self-discovery and also the extravagantly megalomaniac villain; but as a film in itself, it lacked a strong thematic cohesion, was saddled with a rambling narrative that could be at least 20-30 minutes shorter, multiple poor script choices with plot holes and contrivances, and beats telegraphed miles away, lackluster and often uninteresting - to the point of bland/boring - action sequences that relied on too much (bad) CGI, and bad banter. However, through it all, Gal Gadot was the absolute star and saving grace of the film and proved that her appearance in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice was no fluke.

With Jenkins at the helm, Wonder Woman definitely felt unlike any other previous DCEU films but it was a shame that she could not instill her voice definitively into the film. Synder's fingerprints were clearly visible in almost every scene. It was also a shame that this film was not used to explore deeper into the potential thematic quagmire of patrimony, unlike its comic books source. Furthermore, as the ending showed, Diana Prince ultimately fell prey to a chauvinistic view of the the world and heroism.

Kudos to DCEU for getting Jenkins to direct Wonder Woman, but maybe it would have been better if female writers had been writing for it too. Writer Allan Heinberg had ideas but a lot of it were not completely realised and his bantering was weak which seemed to suggest that his characters were not as well thought out as could be. In all, perhaps this is where MCU's Captain Marvel can improve on, with a all-female writing team and a female co-director. Then again, we do have Joss Whedon taking over the Justice League film (banter galore!) and his take on Batgirl to look forward to.

Other than the plodding narrative, the action sequences also left much to be desired. For one, the action sequences kept getting interrupted and Jenkins never really managed to reach a climatic adrenaline surge in any of the scenes. The action choreography was also sloppy with an over-reliance on rapid cut edits and poor CGI resulting in inorganic fight scenes especially in a film that relied much on hand-to-hand combat. The end result were action sequences that lacked the kinetic energy and adrenaline charge of more accomplished/confident action directors.

Lastly we had the villain. Without spoiling anything, the villain felt too generic and many times conjured up images of the way scarier Voldermort. That climatic fight scene could also have been longer and victory more hard-earned.

For all its faults, at least there was Gadot to save the day. She could be the Robert Downey Jr of the DCEU, in that I do not think anybody else could have played the role as well as she did. Gadot had charisma and charm. She could do humour effortlessly - that single eyebrow raise! - but yet also exuded a strong and fierce determination for justice that did not appear faked or false. Her solo, non CGI-ed, fight scenes were believable and should have been utilised more. With a better script, Gadot could really banter with the best of them. The only weak spot - which is more due to script issues - were the emotional beats between her and Chris Pine. Jenkins and co should have either left that out or just plainly allude to it.

Part of the problem above was the chemistry between Gadot and Pine. There were moments between them but much of it fleeting. Pine may be the superhero girlfriend-equivalent in the film but he definitely was not subjected to the usual feminist constrictions in a male superhero film. At times, his character seemed to overshadowed the more passive Diana. On his own, Pine was engaging and did imbue in his character a sense of righteousness and justice on par with Gadot's Diana Prince.

For the rest of the cast, only Lucy Davis was a stand out and a scene stealer as Steve Trevor's secretary. David Thewlis was a lot creepier and scarier in the current season of Fargo. Similarly, Robin Wright exuded more strength and commanded the screen more as Claire Underwood in House of Cards than as General Antiope. Ewen Bremner, Said Tagyhmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock were there simply as comedic relief and even then were barely effectively used.

Other than the main Wonder Woman theme, the rest of the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams et al (4 other credited writers!) was unmemorable and generic. Lensing by Matthew Jensen was also similarly unmemorable.

Wonder Woman was an entertaining film. It was fun for what it was, and a definite step-up from all the other non-Christopher Nolan DCEU films. However, for all its feminist leanings, Wonder Woman still remained a decidedly chauvinistic film and that is a shame.

2 June 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

This was a surprisingly fun and entertaining film only because there was little to no expectations of it going in. And that really is the key to enjoying Johnny Depp re-inhabiting, albeit still rather successfully, the tired trope that is Jack Sparrow. Otherwise, the best part of the film was hearing Hans Zimmer's familiar score throughout the film (now interpreted by his protege Geoff Zanellli). The rest of the film was a tired mashed-up of incoherent, paper-thin, un-inspired storytelling with lame humour, bland characters and an plot twists telegraphed a mile away. Although the end-credits scene does hold potential to a possibly meatier storyline. Though that could just be wishful thinking.

New franchise directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian duo that gave us the excellent Kon-Tiki, did try their best to reinvigorate the story and this was encouragingly apparent in the first act - after the prologues (two of them!). It was the most adrenaline-filled and theme park-like fun in the whole film even with the nonsensical plot and contrived narrative which was written by Jeff Nathanson (story by himself and Terry Rossio). And there was one genuine moment that was unexpected (in terms of execution) that was really just laugh out loud funny.

And once we hit the second act, things just slowed. Almost 15 - 20 minutes could have been trimmed from the story just to tighten things up a bit. And really, the love story between the two young things was both cliche and unnecessary, other than to set up for some sexual innuendo-laden punchlines. In addition, both Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, as pretty as they may be, had little to no chemistry. And that was a stark contrast to fans who remembered the rather sizzling chemistry and repartee between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

Lastly, the climatic showdown was a let down. From the sets themselves which looked like they ran out of budget and the eyes-roll inducing resolution of the conflict. It was as if everybody just ran out of steam by then and just wanted to quickly get those scenes shot and over with.

Depp reminds us once again why he got an Oscar nomination for this role. Although, undoubtedly Captain Jack Sparrow has been reduced to a caricature of himself in the sequels, Dead Men Tell No Tales see him in a slightly more restrained role. Depp effortlessly mixes the broad buffoonery with a tinge of heroism and heart. Sparrow remains his greatest creation this century.

Javier Bardem was terrifying as the main antagonist this time. But other than looking scary and sneering and lamenting about the past, he did not have much else to do. Although the CGI used to create him (and his crew....and also young Depp!) was brilliant.

Geoffrey Rush reprised his role as Hector Barbossa and his was the most human of all the characters. Rush has always been a reliable actor and his chemistry with Depp was apparent.

Thwaites was pretty, but boring, although at least he was not annoying; Scodelario was also pretty but succumbed to a failed subversion of the feminist damsel. Aussie and Iron Fist's alum David Wenham was barely recognisable. As was Paul McCartney's brief cameo.

The scenes set at sea (filmed in Queensland) were gorgeous but other than that the other set pieces were less impressive. Similarly, the CGI worked well only sometimes and in particular for Bardem and his crew (humans and animals).

Like aforementioned, Zanelli's score was a standout and mainly because of Zimmer's outstanding themes for the previous entries. Nonetheless, Zanelli did his own spin but wisely kept the spirit intact.  

Stay to the end for a post-credits scene that hints at a likely sixth instalment. Hopefully the powers that be can see in them to streamline the plot and trust the audience.

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...