17 November 2017

Justice League


An entertaining film that brought some laughs and some serviceable action, but ultimately felt like a wannabe Avengers. Although a definite improvement over the travesty that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was still far from the (overrated) high bar of Wonder Woman. The film rushed through its introduction of the new characters leaving most of the newbies as one-dimensional freaks with gifts, and the primary conflict itself suffered from a paper-thin villain and a drastic lack of urgency and gravitas.

Justice League also suffered from being tonally unevenly throughout its near 2-hours run, and it was clear that there were more than one pair of hands involved in the creation of this film. From the hyper-realistic and over-stylised shots of Zack Snyder to the oddly more intimate and less grandoise moments by (likely) Joss Whedon; similarly, for every zinger and witty repartee, there were ten equally eye-rolling clunkers and clumsy bantering.

Wonder woman remained the most interesting character with Superman a close second; similarly Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill were both very charismatic and embodied their characters, especially Cavill who should consider venturing into comedy more. Ben Affleck is better as Bruce Wayne rather than as Batman; Jason Momoa made Aquaman a film worth looking forward to. Unfortunately, Ezra Miller's maniacal, child-like, Barry Allen was made to be too much of a wisecracker and it bordered on being annoying (and after 4 years on TV, CW's Grant Gustin's The Flash somehow still seemed a better fit for the character), his lacked of backstory definitely also did not help; same for Ray Fisher's Cyborg who remained a cipher. I don't feel like I want to know more about the last two superheroes.

The action sequences were rather messy (very unlike Snyder) and were not as well shot or choreographed, but at least they did not drag on for longer than necessary. But even then, it lack the awe and spectacle that one has come to expect of superhero franchises (blame it on Marvel). Worse of all, the final fight lacked the money-moment where you would expect all the heroes to come together (preferably in a single frame) to defeat the villain (see: Avengers I and II). Which was a shame, as that is what fans wanted to see.

Danny Elfman seemed to have lost his mojo and turned out another lacklustre and unmemorable score. When was his last good score? 2006's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? 2008's Milk? Or  2010's Alice in Wonderland?

Fabian Wagner was the cinematographer for the film and he at least used a few interesting shots to capture the characters and his action. It will be interesting to see how he progresses from television work (albeit the cinematic Sherlock and Game of Thrones franchises) to the large screen.

I am glad I did not fork out the extra for IMAX or 3D and I am not sure if the latter will be actually worth it.

Stay till the end for both a cheeky, unrelated, mid-credits scene and a do-we-really-want-it? post-credits scene.

Justice League was better than expected, and despite Whedon having a hand in it, the DCEU is still unable to climb out of the doldrums of its own making. But at least Wonder Woman still slays.

15 November 2017

The Mountain Between Us


The seemingly impossible has happened. There was nary a spark of romantic chemistry between both Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Who knew that that would have been possible between these two gorgeous people. Coupled that non-chemistry with a survival-in-the-wilderness film that lacked realism and grit, this film ended being as frigid as the mountain our two leads were stranded on. 

The lack of chemistry between Winslet and Elba was not only in the romantic side of things, but also in general. The weak script left much to be desired as bantering gave way to heavy-handedness and Nicholas Sparks-ian dialogue. Unfortunately, as the main stars of the film, these two heavyweight actors did not work.

The first fifteen minutes showed potential, as director Hany Abu-Assad effectively set the premise, but from then on, the 112 minutes film just dragged on with many languid moments of waiting and longing and trudging through snow. Abu-Assad and writers Chris Weitz and J Mills Goodloe were egregiously guilty of telling way too much rather than showing. The stars' lack of chemistry, Ramin Djawadi's uninspired score and Mandy Walker's only occasionally beautiful cinematography (it definitely ain't near Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous snowscape in The Revenant or Roger Deakin's stark bleakness in Fargo) did not help to unleaden the bloated run time.

Abu-Assad's decision to not inject realism in this survival tale was extremely distracting and absolutely did affect the appreciation of the narrative and the characters' predicament. Winslet's silky billowy hair, and her near-flawless makeup throughout was unbelievable; as was the seemingly lack of visible physical changes in the stars' appearance (come on, the magic of CGI and hair/makeup?). 

All of the above really affected the urgency and realism of the film and the genre (look at the dedication of similar genre films like Everest, or even The Lost City of Z). The lack of urgency really just failed to ignite any sort of passion or empathy in the audience. 

All that together just made the events unfolding on-screen seemingly eye-rollingly unbelievable and ridiculous.

The unnecessarily long epilogue did not help to end the film on a bright note too.

It is unfortunate that both Winslet and Elba ended with such a dud. Winslet had moments - brief ones - where she showed glimpses of award-winning calibre acting; whereas Elba failed to excite anybody of his chances to be the next Bond or even Doctor.

This film could have been so much more if they had just embraced the poppy aspect of the premise, instead of trying to make it more elevated than it actually is. The film failed to excite me to want to read the original source novel.

13 November 2017

Suburbicon


A typical Coen brothers black-comedic opera that, unfortunately, under George Clooney's direction ended up being neither dark nor funny. What Clooney gave us was instead a messy juggling of a pseudo-murder mystery and a socio-political satire that lacked subtlety and finesse; the former being eye-rollingly ridiculous and the latter being narratively incoherent and irrelevant. Clooney even managed to mangle Alexandre Desplat's score with odd musical cues. The film was only saved by the brilliant - and only truly darkly comedic - Julianne Moore, who - yet again - beautifully embodied the persona of a 50s housewife, and also by the brief comedic turn of third-billed Oscar Issac.

Suburbicon, as a film, had nothing new to say. It seemingly wanted to comment on white-privilege, racial discrimination and maybe even political hypocrisy, but none of those messages were coherently translated on to the screen. Throughout the film, a big question mark looms over the whole narrative, begging the question "Why?". Why is this scene necessary? Why is this happening? Why are they so stupid? Why is Clooney doing it this way?

The problem is not that the characters are dumb or that coincidences conveniently deus ex machina everything, but in how the story unfolded. On more capable hands, such contrivances can work brilliantly, see the Coen brothers' own Burn After Reading or Fargo (or even Noah Hawley's terrific TV version). However, Clooney may have been overly ambitious and bit off more than he could chew with trying to make the plot seemingly more current and more political than it should have been.

Matt Damon - known best friend of Clooney - may not have been the best first choice to lead this dark comedy. His performance lacked the subtle maniac oddness that would have elevated the lead character. On the other hand, Moore fiercely embodied that campy madness and she stood out so much more for that role.

Damon and Moore were incompatibly matched, both in terms of oddball craziness and romantic chemistry. The one and a half scene between Moore and Issac, on the other hand, was sizzling and electrifying to watch as they both gleefully chewed - and chewed and chewed - on the scenery.

Young actor Noah Jupe was competent enough - and cute enough - but he was no Jacob Trembly in Room.

Desplat scored the film and, as aforementioned, the score throughout the film was jarring and annoying. And it was only during the end credits can you properly appreciate Desplat. Robert Elswit lensing gave the film an authentic 50/60s vibe but none of the scenes really stood out.

Suburbicon had potential and perhaps if co-writers Clooney and Grant Heslow (also a co-producer) left the Coen brothers' script alone, the outcome might have been tighter, cleaner and less muddled.

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...