30 September 2017

Ghosted


Pilot: There was an unexpected charm about this odd, paranormal sitcom that came through throughout its 22-minutes pilot and that could be attributed to comedic duo of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. Introductions are sped by, backstories paddled through and paranormal science accepted as facts, but yet the jokes are solid, the humour steady and not juvenile. How the series will carry on is still yet to be determined, but Scott and Robinson makes this an easy entry to watch.

28 September 2017

Logan Lucky


Ocean's 7-11 is an apt description of Steven Soderbergh's latest film. It shared a DNA with his Ocean's Trilogy, from the tone, the structure and the concept. All except that in this case, it all felt a bit more hillbilly, i.e. less class, less refined and less witty. The cast's chemistry though good, lacked the electrical excitement and easy repartee that was the highlight of the Ocean series. Nonetheless, this was a fun and easy ride that actually managed to wrangle out some real heart-tugging emotions at the end (boy, John Denver is sure having a moment). One thing for sure, Channing Tatum should stick with Soderbergh because he knows how to bring out the best in Magic Mike.

The screenplay is by Rebecca Blunt (hooray for her and Soderbergh) and although it was a competent script that made sense (at least movie-logic) and was filled with a number of witticism, the characters eventually lacked depth and were stock stereotypes. It could very well had been a fan-fiction of Ocean's Eleven for the redneck crowd polished up for Hollywood consumption by Soderbergh and co. It would be interesting to see if she can churn out something more original in the future.

Soderbergh's direction was typical of his style. Close-ups, side-swipes, and jaunty and catchy music to underscore the action. Reliable and effective and worked well for a heist film. So no complaints there, but neither will it be applauded.

Tatum stood out as the lead of this ensemble of known but not-super A-list stars. Although his emotional range still needs work, he has an easy bromantic-relationship with onscreen brother Adam Driver and also a relatable and believable father-daughter relationship with his young co-star. The latter of which was important when the heartstrings gets tugged.

Driver obviously can act, so hopefully his next outing as Kylo Ren will be better.

Daniel Craig should do more comedy, but not in an American accent. Or at least not in a southern accent. But other than that, it was quite hilarious to see Mr Bond doing the funny.

Elvis' grand-daughter Riley Keough has potential, but only time will time if she has the chops to breakout from the shackles of her heritage.

Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid played the roles of the Ocean's Malloy brothers (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). Does that mean that one day Gleeson or Quaid may eventually end up with a Best Actor Oscar?

Katie Holmes and Katherine Waterston were more of gloried cameos. As were the annoying Seth MacFarlene and underused Sebastian Stan.

Hilary Swank seemed to be there just in case a potential sequel gets greenlit. What a waste.

Music was by David Holmes who did the Ocean's trilogy so expect similar but with a bit of a southern twang; cinematography was by Soderbergh under his usual pseudonym of Peter Andrews (as like his previous films).

Logan Lucky was a fun heist comedy with a bit of heart, that although not highly original, was sufficiently entertaining and competently acted.

The Good Doctor


Pilot: From the creator of House, David Shore, comes another medical drama centred on a lead character who defies societal-norms. And in this case, instead of being a rude, cantankerous diagnostician/genius, we have a high functioning autistic savant/surgical resident. But what both series have in common is a brilliant lead actor who deftly created a character that was unique, distinct and memorable. The Medicine part of things was a tad too cringe-worthy from a professional point of view, and the CGI too in your face Sherlock-esque. The pilot focused on Norman...I mean Norma Bates...no, Freddie Highmore...who after years honing his skills on Bates Motel has finally arrived on Network TV and hopefully to a larger audience. Highmore has impressed ever since his star-making turn on Finding Neverland (much like Tom Holland in The Impossible), and it is gratifying to see this young actor grow and mature. Nonetheless, his character (and even his acting) overshadowed both the plot and the other characters, other than the indomitable Richard Schiff. In this exposition heavy pilot, Shore et al tried to cramp too much back story and over-focused on Dr Shaun Murphy's autism (his tics and all). That gave no room to establish the other characters other than flimsily sketched out relationships and character traits. The next two episodes will need to work hard to either establish a strong ensemble or a strong story for Highmore. One reason House worked because House was not restricted by the surgical discipline and as a diagnostician he gets to figure out all the rare diseases and syndromes; but the basis of The Good Doctor does not allow for that and so the showrunners will need to figure something out if it wants this medical drama to be as popular as the Korean drama it was based on (which will be hard to replicate outside of an Asian context) or even Grey's Anatomy or ER.

Episode 2: "Mount Rushmore"
The medical stuffs behind this is bad. Unrealistically bad. Highmore and Schiff remained the highlights of the show, whereas everybody else were annoying and boring with nary an ounce of dimension. As one character said, this might be better if Highmore was House (a diagnostician). However, there was a glimpse of potential in what this show could and/or should evolve to with the addition of the older, wiser nurse (a la Jesse in Code Black) and the sassy, kind-hearted pathologist/lab tech as his only friend in the hospital. That show might be better.

27 September 2017

Star Trek: Discovery


Episode 1 & 2: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars
This new Star Trek definitely has potential and its lead actress, Sonequa Martin-Green, is totally engaging to watch. If the quality from the first two episodes is any indication, and assuming it persists, audience will be in for a treat. The show has a gorgeous cinematic quality to it. From the top rate CGI (much better than most shows on TV) to the beautiful cinematography (by Guillermo Navarro) and great scoring (by Jeff Russo). Creatively, the showrunners (pity Bryan Fuller has left), took a bold risk to start the series off with a prologue-esque structure, focusing on a lead that was not a captain of a Starfleet ship. This definitely informs the character and establish a relationship between her and the audience that will likely shape the rest of the season. However, all shows - and especially a Star Trek one - are ensemble series, and we will have to wait for Episode 3 to see how the full cast get on together and essentially whether the cast can sell the show to non-trekkies. But from these two episodes, it might be worth the wait to check it out for a few more episodes at least.

Episode 3: Context is for Kings
Welcome to the second pilot. Or the official one. And welcome Jason Isaacs. He is an enigma isn't he? Do we trust him? Or do we not? Now that is great character-writing. On the other hand, Anthony Rapp just comes off as rude, stucked-up and condescending with nary a redeeming factor. Hopefully that changes, we won't want our first openly gay Star Trek character to be a stereotype now do we? But the breakout star - together with Martin-Green, who continues to impress here - is Mary Wiseman. She has a warmth and humour that did not seemed forced or scripted. Looking forward to more pairings between her and Martin-Green. Although after this episode, it does kind of look like this series might follow in the lead of Doctor Who, not just for the whole stuck in space / horror in space / alone in space concept. but it might jus be a case-of-the-week procedural type series with its central mythology weaved in and out. Rather than a straight up serialised sci-fi. Only time will tell.

26 September 2017

Stronger


An unabashed tearjerker that (mostly) eschewed the typical cliches and tropes of the genre to focus on a strong emotional core that carried the film to cathartic resolution, showcasing a strong and haunting, lived-in performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a great (and validating) post-Orphan Black turn by Tatiana Maslany. Gyllenhaal might be in the running for a Best Actor nod.

Director David Gorden Green's film ran for almost 2 hours but it did not feel that long. He and writer John Poliono had smartly chosen to have the Boston marathon bombing happen within the first 15 minutes, and with that inciting moment out of the way, Green could focus on the emotional journey of Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman. And not only Bauman's journey but also that of the people around him, particularly Maslany's Erin Hurley (his now ex-wife) and his mum, played by a fabulous Miranda Richardson.

The film successfully conveyed a tumult of emotions through not a deluge of words but just the minimal amount of well-chosen and well-toned words that carried weight just by its simplicity and honesty. Together with the strong acting by its cast, and the arresting chemistry between its two leads,  these emotions and complex feelings were effectively translated on screen.

The first two acts were its strongest moments, however somewhere between the end of Act Two and mid-way of Act Three, the film started to get saccharine and succumbed to some of the cliches of the genre. But luckily it only dipped its toes and did not get totally submerged and we were only very briefly in maudlin (read: Oscar-baiting) territory.

As mentioned, this film might not have worked as well if it was not for both Gyllenhaal and Maslany. Their chemistry was key to sell the emotional weight of the story, but at the same time not oversell it until it becomes unbelievable. Individually, they were both giving their A-game; but together, they were magnetic and should do more films together.

Gyllenhaal gave another superb performance. It was as haunting and as lived-in as his performance in the overlooked Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal has consistently been giving great performances, but he had always been sidelined come Oscar time. But with this performance, he should be due for some sort of recognition. He masterfully conveyed the fear, doubts, hesitancy, love, commitment that were required of him. The amazing CGI definitely helped too, but it requires real skills and commitment to act as a bilateral amputee (before the CGI was applied). So kudos to him. The only real fault in his performance was an off-tangent scene at the end of the second act that felt disjointed from the narrative of the story and also from the characterisation of Bauman. 

Maslany impresses with her strong performance, especially in the first two acts. In particular, in the first act where she had to carry the emotional weight. However, fans of hers (me included) from Orphan Black will already have known what a terrific actress she is. And hopefully with this role (and her Emmy win), a larger audience will recognise her talents. Although she is the co-lead, but like Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl she might benefit from submitting herself for a Best Supporting Actress, and depending on this year's crop of films, she may or may not have a shot. It is too early to tell.

Richardson also deserved a mention. Her role as the mother may be less showy and meaty, but what she brought to that character was both empathetic and sympathetic.

This was a great film. A strong contender for awards season for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, but a Best Picture nod is not unlikely.

24 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle


A fun, mindless romp with the usual Matthew Vaughn-styled, slow-mo, pseudo-one shot action set in a background of outrageous world-domination/spy espionage intrigue, and interspersed with PG13 humour. However, it dragged on a tad too long with too many blatant product placements and lacked the originality, heart and energetic spark of the original despite an unfortunate aborted attempt at a dark political satire. But at least we had Julianne Moore and Elton John! Moore was deliciously campy and Elton (lol!) was just campily vulgar and outright hilarious throughout. 

Vaugh and co-writer (and frequent collaborator) Jane Goldman had scripted a narrative befitting the series, i.e. outrageous enough to be plausible in the real world with a huge dose of suspension of beliefs, but where they went wrong was that the story got bigger than them and whilst negotiating from point A to B to Z they got lost in points U and S. 

<spoilers>
The idea of an American counterpart, the Statesmen, was definitely interesting and deserved to be explored as a parallel story and then perhaps brought in together à la "The Avengers". But in this film, they over relied on the big-name American stars and yet, paradoxically, under utilised them. Cost constrains? Which is either good or bad for Oberyn Marte...I mean...Pedro Pascal's ego who got the longest screen time. 
<end spoilers>

Vaughn directorial style remained consistent here as in "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" as did his favoured rapid cuts and quick edits action and fight choreography. But at least his use of slow-mo made sense unlike some over-exuberant directors. Unfortunately, no standout scenes this time round unlike the phenomenon church shootout in the last film, but the final big fight came quite close - and only because of Elton. 

Taron Egerton got less to do here because of the need to service the larger cast, but this role fits him. And he does bring a sort of roguish yet gentlemanly charm to Eggsy. 

Same with Colin Firth. Was he really necessary to be brought back? Even though he was crucial to the success of "Kingsmen: The Secret Service". 

Mark Strong remained the MVP. 

Moore was an absolute delight. She, like Samuel L Jackson before her, seemed like she was having so much fun being crazily evil. Or just plain crazy. She was, simply put, so much fun to watch and her scenes looked forward to. 

Elton. F***ing scene-stealer. Every. Single. F***ing. Time. Kudos to him for daring to make fun of himself. 

Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges deserved better and hopefully the supposed "Statesmen" spinoff will do them justice. 

No end credits this time round, but the epilogue looks like it was setting up Part Three. 

23 September 2017

Beatriz at Dinner


Give Salma Hayek an Oscar nomination! She gave a multi-layered and nuanced performance in an otherwise good-but-not-spectacular film that had a great concept but not the cajones to flesh it - and Hayek's character - out beyond pop-eco/psycho babble. John Lithgow capably and excitingly volleyed with Hayek, but the rest of the ace cast filled their roles ably but with less overall purpose. "Carnage" still sets the benchmark for dining table drama; "August: Orange County" would be a slightly distant second.

Mike White's script lacked bite. It had humour both dark and squirm-worthy, and light and breezy, but nothing actually said that was not pop knowledge and the arguments on either side regarding white-privilege, environmentalism, class divide, compassion and empathy were only superficially explored. It seemed as if White and director Miguel Arteta were afraid to antagonise or vilify Hollywood and/or their producers. 

Arteta smartly focused his camera on Hayek but unfortunately, and unsure if it was intentional or not, he has a predilection to focus on Hayek's buttock which really seemed at odd with the story's projection of an un-sexualised protagonist. 

The casting was great with each actor very appropriately chosen. However, the roles of Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny felt extraneous. So much more could have been done to give them - and the others - more purpose. See: "Carnage". 

The only consistent character was Lithgow's and he brought dimensions to an otherwise stock rich, white guy. And the added layers really gave Hayek something to work against and with. 

As brilliant as Hayek was - her best role to date since Frida Kahlo - she was let down by inconsistent characterisation and an unfortunate ending that chose to be less ambiguous and more blunt. However, the second act was totally owned by her and Arteta smartly chose to allow Hayek's nuanced acting to take over even in moments of prolonged silence. 

Connie Britton needs better roles and/or a better agent. Sevigny looked good and she has not had such glam roles in a while. And it's a pity Duplass and Amy Landecker did not interact more given that we know that have great chemistry on "Transparent". 

At 83 minutes, the film was short, sweet and to the point. Just that it lost depth in the bargain. 



22 September 2017

Patti Cake$


A fun and charming crowd-pleaser that was surprisingly touching even though it was an utterly predictable, underdog-triumphs-against-life-predicaments sort of film that ticked all the usual tropes, and it was due to the sincerity of writer/director Geremy Jasper and the endearing, and breakout star, Danielle Macdonald. 

The film would have benefitted from a tighter edit and cutting its runtime by about 10 mins. Nonetheless, it was still an easy digest and the extra minutes did help to further inform the characters, although it did not add too much to the main narrative nor the emotional catharsis sought by Jasper in the final act. 

Jasper followed a very strict three-act structure and that did give the film a backbone which helped the filmmaker to tell his story. The characters too were rote and stereotypical archetypes. But despite all that the film succeeded based on the sincerity of the story and the strength of Macdonald's portrayal. The infectious raps definitely helped too; as did Cathy Moriarty's cantankerous Nana. 

Macdonald's underdog drew us into her emotional stratosphere by sheer force of infectious charisma. She spits her rhymes convincingly and we want her to succeed. Even though her route to escape from her life was predictable, it was a testament to Jasper's skills and Macdonald's talent that we never stopped supporting her struggle and climb to success. 

Bridget Everett was the mother. The archetypical non-supportive single parent whom we know eventually will likely come to their senses and appreciate the talent of their child. Perhaps the additional minutes spent on giving her a more complete arc was to bolster the emotional climax of the parent-child relationship. But I did not think that it was absolutely necessary. 

The raps, and single song, were written by Jasper, and kudos to him for writing such catchy and infectious pieces. 


"Patti Cake$" was a refreshing, charming departure from the doldrums of recent films and a very pleasing placeholder till the fall/winter Oscar contenders. 

21 September 2017

Battle of the Sexes


A competent film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" that tried to juggle too much including gender politics, LGBTQ rights, themes of love vs ambition and of freedom to love with a love story and a love triangle, and unfortunately, in the end, underserved all of them to the point that the actual titular tennis match was the most exciting moment of the whole 121 minutes. In a similar vein, the supporting actors, including the  scene-stealing Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, and surprisingly nuanced Austin Stowell and Elisabeth Shue, were more interesting to watch than the leads: a miscast, albeit competent, Emma Stone (who had no chemistry with Andrea Riseborough) and a funny, but lightweight Steve Carrell. 

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris delivered a by-the-numbers story but may have bitten more than they could chew such that although the narrative moved forward, it moved erratically and without focus. Furthermore, with such a well known historical moment where the outcome was popular knowledge, the directors failed to capitalise on that foreknowledge and build up the drama to that moment. And none of the themes and storylines were developed beyond the superficial which was such a shame for such an important story about such an important moment. They, and writer Simon Beaufoy, should have focused on gender equality or LGBTQ rights and centered the lead up to and aftermath on the Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs match instead. 

Stone followed up her Oscar winning role in "La La Land" with another Oscar-baiting performance, albeit in a miscast role, that will keep her in the conversation but unlikely to garner her any awards. She never really lost herself in the role both physically - not looking like BJK or even a tennis player at all - and mentally (those eyes practically screamed "Look at me! I'm Emma Stone!"). 

Carrell was more appropriately cast although it was also unlikely he will repeat his "Foxcatcher" success. He brought the laughs and towards the end, ably brought a certain degree of compassion for his character. 

Riseborough and Stone had zero chemistry, and without that electricity it was so hard to sell the love story, the supposed identity conflict and the drama. Similarly, Stone did not spark with Stowell although from Stowell's end it was apparent that his Larry King cared for Billie Jean, but not vice versa. 

As aforesaid, Silverman might be the film's best chance for an acting nomination. Cumming, though delightful, was more for comedic relief. Stowell was a pleasant surprise and the ex-"Bridge of Spies" POW remained an actor worth keeping an eye out for. 

Cinematography and music were by Linus Sandgren and Nicholas Britell and both were decent with the former ably recreating the 70s look. Although Costume Designer Mary Zophres will be the main contender for a creative nomination. 


In the end, the film was decent but it told a story that most will already know without adding anything new; and if you never knew about the historic Battle of the Sexes then a documentary would have been more illuminating. 

20 September 2017

American Made


A fun and frothy, summer-popcorn Tom Cruise film that was one of his better recent outings and will surely entertain the masses. However, for all of director Doug Liman's kinetically-charged and docu-like storytelling, and Cruise's high-energy performance and undeniable charm, this film lacked depth and only superficially glossed through the incredible true story of Barry Seal. For those looking for more complex characters and deeper narratives regarding the Medellin Cartel, drug smuggling and money laundering, you would be better off tuning in to Netflix's "Narcos" and "The Ozarks". 

The film was consistently and constantly fun. Gary Spinelli's script was easy and breezy and littered with references to 80s pop culture. Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson also had the best quips which kept the story light. 

However, despite all that - the superficiality of the narrative and the humour - the biggest problem with the film is the lack of a central conflict. Without that conflict, there is no build up to any sort of climax or even a climax for that matter. But yet Cruise's innate charisma and Liman's unique style, managed to ably obfuscate the audience enough to just go along with the ride. 

Like most of Cruise's non-ensemble based films, the other players/actors - and theirs characters - do not really matter. Perhaps only Caleb Landry Jones stood out, and with his recent outing in "Twin Peaks: The Return" , Jones is really nailing the tweaker loser. Nonetheless, the film is all about Cruise and his maniacal energy efficiently carried the paper-thin plot through all 117 minutes and distracts us from the lack of characterisation of his Seal. 

The cinematography by César Charlone was gorgeous and beautifully recreated the Instagram filter-like look of the 80s. 

A likely hit for Cruise but will unlikely bring in new fans or be fondly remembered in a few years. But at least it proved that Cruise and Liman are a great team and that hopefully bodes well for the much-anticipated sequel to "Edge of Tomorrow". 

19 September 2017

God's Own Country



A tender and heartfelt coming-of-age love story by first time director (and writer) Francis Lee that was unequivocally sweet, charming and sincere. Comparisons with "Brokeback Mountain" will be inevitable but this film with its limited indie-budget and lesser known actors felt more visceral and more honest. 

As a first time director, Lee's showed a lot of potential but he definitely still fell prey to a couple of cliched tropes, some of which worked, but some did not. His pacing needed some work and some fats could be trimmed off that would not necessarily hurt the story. However, he excelled at the more intimate moments and managed to efficiently and successfully illustrate and evolve his complicated protagonist. 

Lead actor Josh O'Connor rose to the challenge of portraying the emotional walled off protagonist and it was rather beautiful seeing his defences slowly wear off as he embraced his future, his sexuality and the hand that fate had dealt him. 

Co-lead Alec Secareanu had the less flashy role but he brought a tenderness that did not seem forced and that really helped to sell the honesty of the relationship. 

An honest and tender film that wore its heart on its sleeve and forebodes a bright future for Lee. 

17 September 2017

mother!


A polarising and confronting film that on the surface appeared like a "Rosemary's Baby"-esque psychological, horror thriller, but on a deeper level, it can be construed both as a religious allegory and a socio-political commentary. 

This was a technically superb film-making from writer/director Darren Aronofsky that constantly challenges, deliberately confronts and purposely confuses; beautifully shot by Matthew Libatique throughout and Aronofsky and Jóhann Jóhannsson's unique decision to abandon all musical cues only served to highlight the unsettling unease. 

Jennifer Lawrence anchored the film with another captivating and award-worthy performance. Michelle Pfeiffer was a spot-on casting and Javier Bardem's choice of portrayal took a bit of getting used to, but made a lot of sense on hindsight. 

The film's overall real awards chances will all depend on how it is ultimately received. "mother!" is brave film-making and really deserved to be watch with no foreknowledge (even what was above might be too much information). You will either love it or hate it, and you will likely come to a conclusion before the film ends. 

One of the most polarising films in a long time. 

15 September 2017

Victoria & Abdul


A light and frothy, historical comedy of errors that was elevated by a fabulous performance from Judi Dench. Just like his previous film "Florence Foster Jenkins", Stephen Frears' latest was entertaining and fun with a superb lead actress that mined the depth of a superficial characterisation to give an illusion of prestige and complexity. 

Agreeably, Frears and Holland brought a little known bit of history to the forefront, but as much literary licence as one affords to such productions, we did not really learn much about Victoria. The main conflict derived from a relatively forced and generic class war, rather than on a personal or emotional front. Essentially, the story lacked bite and the 106 minutes run time was filled with gorgeous sets, witty English one-liners and put downs. 

Dench was, as usual, brilliant. In a vanity and make-up free role, she brought strength, grace and vulnerability as she commanded the screen. And Frears knew it with all the tight close ups and one-takes whenever Dench launches into one of her monologues that runs the gamut of emotions. She, like Meryl Streep in "Florence Foster Jenkins", might have a chance for a Best Actress nominee, depending on how this year's crop of actresses turn out. Although like FFJ, the film itself might also likely be looked past. 

Ali Fazal held his own as the charming Abdul and made him a protagonist likeable enough to root for against the snobbery of the English aristocratic delightfully brought alive by a well-cast Eddie Izzard and delicious Olivia Williams. But he ain't Hugh Grant. And the character of Abdul itself lacked dimension and was presented in such ambiguous terms that it appeared that Frears and writer Lee Holland had no clear idea how to present him or his relationship with Queen Victoria. Was he just a simple man in awe with his Queen? Or was he a devious schemer just in it for his own gains? But if it was the latter, then why did he not work harder? 

Cinematography was pretty and by Danny Cohen; music was by Thomas Newman experimenting with a hint of Indian folk but never really straying from generic Newman. 

A good film with a solid cast that was utterly entertaining but also easily forgettable come next year. Stay for Dench and a slice of history, and leave with a knowing smile. 

12 September 2017

The Beguiled


This film belonged to three women: the superbly nuanced Nicole Kidman who is on a red-hot streak this year, the restrained luminosity of Kirsten Dunst and brilliant writer/director Sofia Coppola who transformed a simple story into this gorgeous, tightly-paced, Southern Gothic/noir-ish and atmospheric film that focused on the characters rather than the more sensational aspects of the story.

Coppola's directed this film with a very assured hand. The story moved at a clipped pace and nary a scene was extraneous or longer than necessary. She captured the complexity of the women (Kidman and Dunst) and the innocence of the girls (especially standout actress Oona Laurence), and also the tumultuous paradox of a teenager (brought petulantly to life by Elle Fanning, the other named-actress who had decidedly much less to do than the publicity/marketing would suggest).

The film has two distinct acts and the change and evolution of Kidman's and Dunst's characters were fascinating to watch. They were definitely not one-dimensional characters but neither were they written, or portrayed as, stereotypical cliches. They were what Ryan Murphy would wish he could have written for Jessica Lange and his bevy of film stars back in the early days of American Horror Story. 

Actually, The Beguiled does have its sensibilities within the realm of AHS' reality but the difference is that Coppala effortlessly elevated the material above camp. And it would be fascinating, in this day and age of Peak TV, to envision Coppala and co bringing this to the small screen as a limited event mini-series. Four to five episodes to adequately flash out the characters, and maybe even add more layers to poor Colin Farrell's single white male Macguffin.

The lack of coloured characters was simply written off as "the slaves ran away", and I do not think it was as a big a deal as most made it out to be. It was logical. It made sense. Most importantly, it was not part of this contained, almost bottleneck-like, story, and neither would Coppala be the most appropriate director to tell that story.

Kidman commanded the screen. Her nuanced performance added layers to her character whom we never really fully understood, but so desperately wanted to find out more. Who is she?  Who was she? What is she really thinking? 2017 has really been Kidman's year. First we had Big Little Lies, then her scene-stealing performance in Top of the Lake: China Girl, and next up will be another team-up between her and Farrell in Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer and between her and John Cameron Mitchell in How To Talk to Girls at Parties. Whether any of these roles will win her any awards will be hard to say, but she is definitely on a streak/resurgence as her Botox wears off.

Dunst, like Kidman, is also having a resurgence of sort which can tracked back to her astounding performance in Lars Von Trier's 2011 Melancholia, which was then followed by her breathtaking turn in season two of Noah Hawley's Fargo. Here, Dunst was an epitome of restrained beauty. Despite not having being told much about her character's backstory, Dunst still managed, like Kidman, to imbue her character with so much mystery. And yet, when she breaks out of her usual confinement, it was not surprising, but seemed so entirely true to character. Bravo to Dunst and Coppola.

Farrell had much less to do here. But his charming Irish roots definitely helped to sell his character. However, Coppola obviously paid less attention in rounding out his character than her female cast, which is understandable given the limited length of a feature film. And especially in this case, where Coppola chose condensed brevity over indulgent expansiveness.

Like aforesaid, Fanning role though pivotal, was actually much less in comparison to Kidman and Dunst. And fellow actress, the standout Laurence (of Southpaw and Matilda fame) definitely had a meatier role than her.

Cinematography was by Philippe Le Sourd and was gorgeous. Coppola and Le Sourd chose to film much of the film with as naturalistic a light as possible, and the result was an intimate aesthetic. But yet, it gave the audience, so used to modern day lights and electricity an oddly contrary sense of unfamiliarity.

Music was by the french rockers Phoenix (frontman, Thomas Mars, is married to Coppola), and with an excerpt from Monteverdi's Magnificat. The result of which, was like the lighting, something familiar to modern audience yet juxtaposed in a foreign setting.

The Beguiled was simply a beautiful film to watch. Yes, it may be superficial in its scope, but in its simplicity and brevity (94 minutes in total), it engages and it challenges, and it very definitely entertains. Let the Oscar season begin!



8 September 2017

It


Disclaimer: Let's be clear about this upfront. I am a fan of the original 1990 miniseries. I had watched it at least four to five times, and unashamedly, TIm Curry's Pennywise is the personification of all my childhood - and adult-life - fear. I HATE clowns. Consequently, comparisons will be inevitable.

This 2017 remake was definitely not as creepy or scary as the 1990 mini-series and I doubt it will spark a new generation of coulrophobia. Without the breadth of a mini-series, the film lacked the time to properly develop all the characters and the central core identity of The Losers Club loses its depth and complexity. That, ultimately, led to a narrative that lacked urgency and empathetic investment. Pennywise v2017 was also designed (and presented) as clearly evil and monstrous, whereas the success of the original It mini-series could be heavily attributed to Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise as a benign-looking clown (an oxymoron!) with the evil/madness only bubbling beneath the surface...till the end.

Objectively, this film was a decent horror movie. A decent and typical Hollywood horror flick that served its scares through jump shocks and ratchet-up strings. It mostly eschewed mood and atmosphere for horror tropes and sets. That being said, there were two well-directed scenes that served up genuine scares and would have been even more effective had director, Andres Muschietti, followed it through with an eye for pure terror a la Hideo Nakata (Ring リング) or even James Wan (Insidious or The Conjuring).

The screenplay is credited to Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga - the original director of this remake, and it is hard not to imagine how his vision might have been instead - and Gary Dauberman, and the non-horror moments of the film served to propel the narrative, but again lacked depth and purpose. Themes of abuse, racism, ignorance, evil and loss of innocence were briefly prodded but never explored. Gender, racial and religious stereotypes, though not milked for laughter, was still apparent and attempts on subversion was futile.

Kudos to the young actors though. They were all great and inhabited their characters suitably. But as aforesaid, some of them got short-changed by the restrictions of film-storytelling. Nonetheless, our central quartet definitely stood out especially Sophia Lillis as Beverely. I can see Amy Adams as the adult version of her.

Bill Skarsgard looked terrifying in his makeup and he did imbue his Pennywise with a manic, diabolical energy. However, it lacked subtlety. We see his Pennywise as evil from the get go and something clearly to fear. The obfuscation of a friendly clown veneer was lost.

There was also an over-reliance on CGI which worked for some key moments, like the depiction of It's lair, but most other times, it felt distracting and lacked the visceral punch of practical effects.

This film was an update of the classic 1990 mini-series, but instead of making it fresh and updated, it just felt like a tired, modern retelling - with better CGI - of what most would have already known.

4 September 2017

Tulip Fever


The only thing that this film served up in the end was a desire to get some tulips for home. That was how distracted my mind was as I sat through 107 minutes of badly written dialogue, poorly conceived characters, unfocused directing, chemistry-less romance and narration; yes, let-me-tell-you-what-is-happening-and-what-will-be-happening-as-it-unfolds narration.

From the get go, we were introduced to a clunky introduction. If just based on the words themselves, by writers Tom Shepard and Deborah Moggach (also author of the book the film is based on), it would have been an impactful and mysterious prologue, but director Justin Chadwick chose to underscore that with heavy-handed, hit-you-on-the-head-with-a-sledge-hammer imageries, such that within the first minute or so, practically the whole plot is known. It was all downhill from there.

Furthermore, the insistence of having so many characters and subplots, but yet not adequately servicing any of them enough, made the plot paper thin and the characters under-baked. Things happen, accept it. Barely any moment was utilised to explore the motivations of these characters.

But at least the production value seemed high. And everybody looked good.

Tulip Fever was shot in 2014 and the reason why its released was delayed till now is abundantly clear: to capitalise on Alicia Vikander's post-Oscar fame. And here, Vikander showed why she was earmarked - and clearly destined - for bigger things. Pre-Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, Vikander brought a fragile vulnerability to her character that hinted at greater depths and complexity, not that Chadwick put that into much use.

Poor Dane DeHaan is not having a good year. Or even a great run of years. After his breakthrough role in Chronicles and a promising turn in The Place Beyond the Pines, he kind of made a left turn culminating in this year's duds Valerian and A Cure for Wellness. Interestingly, these dud were by respectable directors, who clearly see something in him, but sadly neither could bring it out of him. And similarly here, DeHaan barely had any chemistry with Vikander, and spent most of his time behaving more like an infatuated puppy dog than a man in love.

Holiday Grainger and Jack O'Connell rounded out the other pair of lovers in this tale. Grainger was lovely and perhaps her character should have been the lead. Maybe she was, but the edits and marketing, post-Oscar 2016, decided to focus on Vikander instead. O'Connell stood out in Jodie Foster's Money Monster, and like DeHaan, Hollywood still do not really know what to do with him.

Christoph Waltz was a delight. As was Judi Dench. But, inevitably, this film felt beneath them. Tom Hollander and Zach Galifianakis rounded out the supporting cast. With Cara Delevigne (oh, hey Laureline) and Matthew Morrison (Mr Shue!) in cameos.

There is a very good story, and possibly a great Romance, somewhere within this film, but perhaps we can find it in the book instead.

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...