14 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Now this was how a superhero should be done. And not only that, how an origin story should be told. Easily the best Spidey since the first two Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films. It was fresh, it was exciting; it had heart and pathos and the courage to go into some dark corners with faith in its audience. Miles Morales was a hero in the making and like all heroes the journey is never smooth, and we connect with his story - his excitement, his anxieties, his fear, his courage and his convictions. The energy throughout was infectious and the plotting was efficient and tight, with an excellent cast (and voice-cast) and music that actually propelled the narrative. And of course, the animation was brilliant, effectively emulating the visual sensation of reading a comic but paired with a stunning palette and kinetic design.

At just under 2 hours, the film achieved all it set out to do. It entertained whilst it told a predictable story, incorporating life lessons along its way whilst not forgetting to have fun. It give the audience what they wanted and even managed to add dash of suspense and doubt.  Some films (see: Aquaman) could not even hit half of all that in 2.5hrs.  Kudos to the directors and writers, and of course Lego-producers Phill Lord and Christopher Miller whose Lego-esque fingerprints were clearly visible.

Ultimately, this was a superhero origin story for Miles Morales and the film never lost sight of that even as we get inundated with Spider-People. And boy, was that a joy to see all the Spidey-gang teamed up in the epic battle at the end. But through it all, we never forget that we are witnessing the journey of a teenage boy coming into his powers, and all the life lessons that come with that.

The benefit of animation is that storytellers can realise the story in almost however they wished it to be, and it truly is limited by one's imagination. They practically invented a new style of animation just for this. However, not all animations succeed to tell an effective story. Some, unfortunately, are just there to earn a buck. For every Pixar and Miyazaki, there are at least two Dreamworks, some Disneys and a few other. Lucky for us, Spider-Man falls into the former, but let us see how corporate greed will devolve the franchise into another simple, Sunday morning-esque trope.

The mid-credits scene was a touching tribute, and the post-credits scene was one hell of a whopper which did make a sequel seem like an exciting premise.

This film could easily be the film to beat Pixar's Incredibles 2.



Aquaman [IMAX/3D]


This film was so painful to sit through. It was bloated and over-stuffed with unoriginal directing, unimaginative sequences, bad CGIs, poor acting and casting, and an atrocious soundtrack. Not even Jason Momoa's charm could save this film. Sitting through all 143 minutes, one could not help but think how much more superior Black Panther was in terms of world-building and rules-setting for Wakanda, and now I really cannot wait for James Cameron's underwater Avatar to show them all how an underwater adventure should be done  (I could be wrong, but in Cameron we trust).

One of the biggest problem in this film, other than the fact that Amber Heard needs more acting lessons and has zero chemistry with Momoa, and that Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson were all horribly miscast (guess even stars need to cash a paycheck), was the absolute lack of originality and imagination in James Wan's directing. Other than a very few moments that showcased his excellent grasp of horror, almost every single significant moment was a poor copycat imitation of another - usually superior - film. We had rip offs from: Tron, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Descent, Pitch Black, Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Mummy, Indiana Jones, Skyfall, The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tintin, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Pacific Rim, King Kong....and the list could go on. Even the closing credits felt like a rip off from Game of Thrones.

Then we have the action sequences. The hand-to-hand combats with Momoa were actually good, in particular the final face-off. But once the scope got larger, or it devolved into a standard Hollywood gun fight, it was just a mess. A messy, cacophony of images, bad CGI and furious editing. That epic battle at the end, so reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, was boring, unimaginative and lacked the adrenaline-pumping excitement of something so grand.

Wan was like a spoilt, rich frat-boy with tons of money but no intelligence to spend it properly other than to realise his teenage comic/sci-fi fever dreams. Come to think of it, it was as if he was given the Book of Destiny by the Monitor and could only dream small.

It was so dreary and tiresome sitting through it all when visually there was nothing new or exciting. It was not like the screenplay itself was any more riveting. Three credited screenwriters, and it was, or perhaps because of, predictable and contrived with bits of juvenile humour thrown in to lighten things up. The dialogue was cringe-worthy and any exploration of character depth or nuance was as shallow as a puddle in the Sahara.

Poor Momoa. He has charm and does action well with a good comedic timing. But the film let him down and even he could not carry all 140+ minutes of this film. But boy, does he have nice hair. Definitely nicer than Heard's, who possibly has the worst red hair-wig/CGI since Marvel's Medusa from the Inhumans

Heard and Momoa had no chemistry, so on that front, their romance was a bust. Typical, expected, predictable and boring. You could see the creators trying to make her into something more than just a love interest, but ultimately they failed as Heard was simply there to support Momoa's Aquaman and drive the narrative and provide exposition.

Wilson was also badly miscast. There is no way Wilson can pass off as the younger brother of Momoa. Wan obviously let his sentiments for his frequent lead actor Wilson get the better of him. Other than it being s a distraction, Wilson's role was as cardboard as it got for a supervillain, And although there were obvious attempts to humanise him, neither the script nor the direction had the kahunas to delve further than a cursory brush off. Which makes one wonder why then a 143 minutes run time?

Then we had the prestige casting of Kidman and Dafoe who sadly were in it physically but not anywhere near even a tenth of what they can do. The bad CGI anti-aging did them no service, making both looked more like a Playstation game character than pseudo-real human beings. This ain't anywhere near Michael Douglas or Michelle Pfeiffer or Kurt Russell level of VFX magic from the MCU.

Kidman tried her best, but she was trapped by one of many bad, bad, ugly, kitschy, costume-designs of the film (oh...Wakanda!), horrid CGI, and plain bad writing. Granted the opening scene with her and Temuera Morrison was actually one of the best of the film, and she actually had chemisty with Morrison. Also, it was nice to see her kick ass, although obviously it wasn't her per se.

Dafoe really just snoozed his way through this. He was even more exciting back in the days when he was the Green Goblin.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the second villain could have been so much more, but obviously we are building him up for the sequel..cue eyes-rolling.

The music was by Rupert Gregson-Williams, and it was so bad. Distracting, jarring, incoherent and inconsistent. Perhaps the only moment where it worked was at the end.

Truly, this film only had two parts that worked. The prologue and the finale. It was dis-spiriting that  even with the prolonged period of post-production, they still could not get the film right.

IMAX and 3D were not worth it for this film.

Stay for the mid-credits scene, but do we really want a sequel to this, though it might be inevitable.

The DCEU cinematic universe is in trouble and one can only hope Wonder Woman 1984 can save them...again. Go watch the Arrowverse Elseworlds if you want good DCEU entertainment. That had humour, action, pathos, excitement and character growths despite its much lower budget and TV-quality CGI.


11 December 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody


Some films engage the heart and trigger an emotion reaction, whereas some film engage the brain and connect with the audience on an intellectual level. Great films win over both the heart and brain, but unfortunately Bohemian Rhapsody was not one of those film. What it did instead was that it totally won over the heart with its blatant emotional manipulation and re-writing of history for maximum impact, and all through the electrifying power (and nostalgia) of Queen's songs. If it were not for the songs, the film may not even be half as successful as it was.

Intellectually, the film was riddled with faults, other than the aforementioned historical untruths, it was undecided if it wanted to be a retelling of the story of Queen or a biopic of Freddie Mercury. This resulted in a film that had no depth or emotional complexity for its lead character who is surrounded by a cast of stereotypical supporting characters (other than Mary....ah Mary, the saving emotional grace of the film), and a narrative that appeared to be a series of vignettes stringed together with no depth or consequences.

And specifically with regard to Freddie, the glossing over of his discovery and exploration of his sexual identity, coupled with a cookie-cut villain in Paul Prenter and a misalignment in his HIV-diagnosis, left a bitter distaste and minimal understanding of Freddie as a person.

But it was not all bad through the whole 134 minutes. The final Live Aid scene was spectacular. It was not as immersive as Bradley Cooper's direction in A Star is Born, but the full scale of Freddie's charisma, Queen's magnificent discography, and the massive scope of a Live Aid performance, was absolutely brilliant.

Then we also have Rami Malek's transformative performance. Kudos to the former Emmy-winner for convincingly portraying - or imitating - Freddie Mercury. Mr Robot was lost within and Malek embodied the flamboyance and larger-than-life persona of Freddie. However, he was let down by the writing, and the emotional beats although convincing lacked authenticity. But again, bravo to Malek's dedication in that final Live Aid scene as he imitated - and successfully embodied - the charismatic energy of Freddie.

Of the supporting cast, only Lucy Boynton's Mary Austin was a standout. Boynton (one of the breakout stars from the under-appreciated Sing Street), reminiscence of a young Nicole Kidman - think Days of Thunder or To Die For - held the emotion heart of the film. Mary's relationship with Freddie deserved more exploration and they both had great chemistry together. More than between Malek and Allen Leach's Paul Prenter, and between Malek and the rest of the Queen members played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello and Gwilym Lee.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the The Greatest Showman of 2018. A fun, enjoyable musical film that had so many problems but, the heart seeks pleasure first, and its Queen-led infectious nostalgia was undeniable.

4 December 2018

Sorry to Bother You [SGIFF 2018]


Boots Riley's directorial debut was an wholly original story that bit off way more that it could chew. It was ambitious and original and creative, but the execution lacked style, focus and discipline. At times the film got mildly excruciating to watch as we waited - albeit with some bated breath - for the conclusion which, despite its originality, still ironically felt predictable and unearned. Riley had too many ideas and they were all over the place, and a stricter, more disciplined director could have focused these themes into a biting satire. But instead now, we were left with an original comedy that had potential but just missed the mark.

The screenplay is a gem. It was unexpected and zagged when you would expect a zig. It juggled magical realism with social satire and black comedy, but it never fully explored any of these realms. This ain't Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami, and neither was it The Death of Stalin  or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Riley's direction just lacked a cohesive tone and structure to really weave all these big ideas and scathing social commentaries. The amateurism really showed.

But then again, the strong original concept helped to maintain the audience's interest. We want to know how it all end.

Lakeith Stanfield was an arresting performer and he definitely held the attention. However, his struggle and internal conflict was less apparent. And this was either the fault of the script or a weakness in the actor's craft, or both. But he made for an interesting protagonist, only if he had been written better we would have understood him better too.

Also David Cross and Stanfield, a great match!

Tessa Thompson was the sole female in this film. Is she a feminist? Or is she the token female to advance the narrative, i.e. the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? I'd lean on the latter. That whole side plot with Steve Yeun was utterly unnecessary and resolved, literally, in seconds.

Speaking of Yeun, he is going to go places. Cannot wait to catch him in Burning.

Armie Hammer was a hoot, hamming it up appropriately.

Sorry to Bother You ran 112 minutes, and perhaps if it was just 10 minutes shorter with a more focused and streamlined vision, it would have been a more thoroughly enjoyable film. But for now, I applaud it for is originality and vision but not its execution.

16 November 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald [IMAX/3D]


At over 130 minutes, this film was unnecessarily long. Someone should keep JK Rowling away from writing screenplays. Sure she has great ideas and stories to tell, but like her later books, she tend to sprawl and needlessly confound and confuse just to add padding. Other than some really good set pieces, a few exciting action sequences (and also a few messy ones), imaginative use of CGI/3D-technology (breaking out of the screen format was cool) and a great score by James Newton Howard, the film lacked the originality, spark and cast chemistry that led the first instalment to be such a delight. The cast expanded and we spent more time on Johnny Depp and Ezra Miller's characters - which were interesting unto themselves but they lacked depth and worthy companions to interact with - than the original foursome whose excellent chemistry fueled the narrative of the first. This film felt like a placeholder film, setting the pieces in motion, to the franchise and finale (maybe 5 films is too much...).

Eddie Redmayne remained the star of the show. Well, he and the Fantastic Beasts...the Nifflers are back too!...but a pity that Rowling and director David Yates, have pivoted the intention of the story from Newt Scamander to the deep mythos of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, and so Scamander's adventures took a backseat. Although, Redmayne remained the lead, but his scenes seemed perfunctory to the greater narrative, and only driven by his romance with the criminally underused Katherine Waterston.

The focus on Depp's Grindelwald and Miller's Credence could have been better if Rowling and company had spent their time developing them as characters. Voldemort had the benefit of five books (and films) before we spent an entire installment on him, The Half-Blood Prince. And so, it resulted in two main characters who were driven and defined by exposition rather than complexity.

Similarly, because the story line was spread out amongst so many characters, almost all the newer characters also seemed to be just as similar thinly scratched.

Zoe Kravitz's Leta Lestrange is a Lestrange (!! of Bellatrix and Delphine!!) but she nary got a purpose other than to drive a strand of narrative. Her supposed relationship with the Scamander brothers were just as vague as her supposed standing in the wizarding community.

Speaking of Newt's brother, Callum Turner turned in a fine performance as Theseus, and he was one of the few new characters who seemed more thought out, but still rather pedestrian.

Depp was good in his role as Grindelwald. Better than he has in years with a reined-in performance that sold the menace but mercifully left out the camp. A pity they played down his character's history with Dumbledore, although it was not like Depp and Jude Law had scenes together.

Law's Dumbledore - like in the Harry Potter books - is again a central figure in the story and a master manipulator of young, impressionable men. Maybe we should start spending more time with him as a real character rather than as a deux ex machina device.

Fan favourites Jacob and Queenie (Dan Folger and Alison Sudol) got decidedly less to do this time round, although Sudol seemed to be getting a rather juicy arc which will be interesting to watch. Although it was the strength and chemistry between Folger and her that gave teh first instalment so much heart (and levity...which was so lacking here).

And lastly, about Miller. Fashion's It-Boy of the moment can act (see: We Need to Talk About Kevin), but here he just appears lost, stoned and adrift. Those characteristics described his character but it did not make him an appealing, or even an interesting, character to focus on. Hopefully things improve with the big cliffhanger, reveal.

Back to the plot, like aforementioned, Rowling can plot a good yarn and she obviously cares about her characters and have a deep knowledge about them. But sometimes, the plots just get away from her and she relies too much on twists to hook the audience in, hoping that she could blindside them into forgetting about the other trivialities of logic and narrative holes.

Yates' direction was efficient and he has a good handle on the use of 3D, although his directing of complicated action sequences still need work. The opening sequence especially, albeit exciting was still a tad messy and complicated. I guess, in that respect, it did kind of set the tone for the rest of the film.

This film, for all its flaw, was a delight to watch in 3D and in IMAX. It really used the technology to its advantage. Only thing was if it was really worth the price. And if only solely for the 3D and Howard's excellent score blasting out from an IMAX theatre, it would definitely have got an A, but as a whole, it was an expensive and tiresome way to spend 134 minutes.

29 October 2018

Beautiful Boy


This was a problematic film. Ironically, it was simultaneously under-cooked with thin characterisation and a superficial emotional narrative, and over-baked with its heavy handedness and pedantic handling of an over-long and repetitive story. Someone ought to tell director Felix Von Groeningen that "show-not-tell" also extends to the music in the film, and not every song choice has to pointedly telegraph the expected emotional reaction he wants to illicit. Luckily the film was saved by a good - not great - performance by Timothée Chalamet (for great: see Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose) and also the under-rated Maura Tierney who stole her scenes with Steve Carrell with her quiet, restrained performance.

This film would have benefited from being adapted into a prestige, limited series. Over four to six episodes, it would have given time and space for the characters to be developed into rounded (and complicated) individuals rather than just paper-cut cliches (again, see Patrick Melrose). The emotional bonds between them could also have been better explored especially the central father-son relationship. But instead, we were left with a heavy-handed and in-your-face depiction of their conflict.

There was definitely a worthy story to tell here, but with biographies like these, whereby the ending is already known, Von Groeningren did not manage to find a satisfying way to retell it. There was essentially a lack of urgency and narrative drive to engage the audience.

Cliches can work if there was emotional investment, but unfortunately not here, and we, the audiecne, were left with a repetitive cycle of tropes and cliches that felt empty and hollow. Perhaps, that was the point - to highlight the repetitive nature of drug addicts and recovery - but there sure could have been better ways to underpin that theme.

Chalamet was good here. But as involving as he was an actor, his performance lacked a transformative realism. We never really buy him truly as a drug addict. It seemed like he was perptually acting. No doubt that Chalamet will very likely get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor - they do love him - but thus far, even Sam Elliot in A Star is Born seemed more deserving to win it than him.

Carrell was ostensibly the lead in this film, but it never really felt like he owned the film. His relationship with Chalamet never felt genuine and it never felt like we really understood their dynamics. Sure, we know why, on an intellectual level, he behaved like that, but there was no complexity to his portrayal, and this was as much a screenplay issue as it was a character issue. Carrell, like Ryan Gosling in First Man, often mistakes the quiet, 100-yard stare, as deep, method acting, but at least Gosling adds a pursed-lip now and then, and eventually went beyond just that; Carrell never really did.

Tierney was the unsung star of the film with just a fraction of the screen time as her male co-stars. But with that one car scene (just like Elliot), she effused more emotional weight in the whole film than Carrell and Chalamet.

Amy Ryan rounded up the main cast, and sadly, she was underused. But her few scenes with Chalamet felt genuine and maternal. Definitely more so than Carrell's (although his scenes with the younger versions of Chalamet were more on point, albeit blatently emotionally-baiting).

One of the biggest distraction in the film was the music. Firstly, there was too much of it and secondly they were all too obvious in their telegraphing of emotions. Feel this! Feel that! Feel messed up!!

A Beautiful Boy was clearly an Oscar-baiting project, but the end result was a film that never achieve its potential. And this missed opportunity may likely not provide Chalamet the necessary forward momentum to win his Oscar (but I'm sure his time will come).




22 October 2018

The Wife


Glenn Close was superb in this film. A first class display of nuanced virtuosity as her restrained portrayal of the eponymous wife had her emotions simmering just under the surface and threatening to implode her throughout the film. But it was all only until in the final act where it finally erupted out. Not in a volcanic, Vesuivian sort of way, but in a controlled, yet still fiercely fiery, explosion of emotions that ran the gamut. The film's narrative itself was interesting, albeit predictable, and quite probably problematic in this day of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Nonetheless, it really was Close's remarkable performance that held this film up. Jonathan Pryce too deserved some praise for being the actor that allowed Close to spar and shine, and he was good in his own right, just that he gets eclipsed here (the irony!).

Directed by Swedish director Bjorn Rung and adapted for film by Jane Anderson (off Meg Wolitzer's book), the film ran for a tight 100 minutes and it effectively illustrated the feelings of Close's character which really did became clearer on hindsight. Little moments and acts throughout the first two acts which seemed trivial and unimportant, actually served to underscore The Wife's emotional turmoil and struggle, and coupled with Close's nuanced performance, it all did mean something; perhaps a second viewing may truly highlight Close's superb portrayal.

However, there were moments in the show whereby it all seemed too heavy-handed and obvious, especially when in contrast with such a brilliant, understated character-study of the main character. Case in point, Max Iron's son and Christian Slater's un-authorised biographer. Both these two characters lacked depth and existed seemingly to drive the narrative forward.

The backbone premise of the film could have been delivered more effectively with more subtlety or even via a different medium, a play perhaps. I would pay to watch Close and Pryce pitted against each other, live on stage as they struggle with recognition, fame, love, duty, respect and pride.

Although the one other thing that the film makers got really right, was the portrayal of the relationship between the central couple. A long-standing marriage that had obviously suffered multiple bumps, but yet there was genuine love between both parties that fueled their fights and conflicts. And, again, for that both Close and Pryce deserved praise.

This film will unlikely to get much love come Oscar time. It is too small and too topical for this time, but Close might surely get nominated. If not for an Oscar, at least a SAG and a Golden Globe.



18 October 2018

A Star is Born


This was honestly a good film. It had its faults, but it was entertaining enough although ultimately it felt like an extended Lady Gaga music video with a love story thrown in between sets.

As a whole, the film felt indulgent, unfocused, superficial, and really could be shortened by 20 to 30 minutes. It only livened up whenever Bradley Cooper cuts to Lady Gaga singing. This was clearly a vanity project for Cooper and as a first time director he told a straightforward, albeit slightly misogynistic, story. The main flaw was he seemed conflicted as to whose story the film wanted to tell, Cooper's or Lady Gaga's or theirs? The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga was there but it never really felt elevated to that of two people deeply in love (although Cooper's self-loving was blatantly apparent). Gaga, although shortchanged as character, felt at ease in her role that seemed reflective of her and was truly alive when she sung. Speaking of which, her voice was the true star of the show. It raised goosebumps, but sadly that only happened in the first act.

Cooper will definitely make a great music video director or even a live-concert producer. However, as a film maker, he threw many cliches and tropes onto the screen. Close-ups for the emotional moments (which really highlighted Gaga's expressive face but not her as an actress on the whole),  multiple edits within a scene to make sense. Have a villain and make him British! Focus on your female lead's breasts and make sure she have no female friends, but wait, she must have a gay bff! (insert eye-rolls).

There were also a number of in your face scenes that felt expository and betrayed the old adage of "show, not tell". It was like Cooper felt insecure that his audience had no idea what he wanted to say, so he just went,  "let us telegraph everything so nobody misunderstands me".

Then we had Gaga's character. We never really got a sense of who she is. It was all just superficially brushed out and when things happen we just ended up accepting it. That made it easy for Gaga to act but really did not give her much of a range or emotional depth to mine. Gaga had a natural ease for the character and a lot had to do with how similar she is to her. But, looking closely, there were times when Gaga felt like Gaga and not her character, and also times when Gaga was Acting. It is hard to imagine how she will be fare as an actress beyond this role (American Horror Story: Hotel definitely did not help, Golden Globes Award notwithstanding).

Cooper is a good actor. He has the nominations to prove it, but here he really went for it and chewed the hell out of the scenery, ostensibly refusing to yield the spotlight to Gaga who had the better character on paper.

Together, Cooper and Gaga felt like great friends. There definitely was love between them but it was not that of the deep, romantic, I-will-die-for-you kind of love. It was a co-dependency kind of love which, if you think about it, sort of made sense in the film, but then kind of goes against the narrative.

The songs were the highlights. Even Cooper's bits. Although Lady Gaga will surely get at least one, Oscar nomination, or two, for the original songs.

I felt that a lot of praise that has been lavished on this film was because of the initial lowered expectations from Bradley Cooper as a first-time director, and Lady Gaga as a first-time movie star. Consequently, with all the hype thereafter, expectations became a lot higher.

With all the hype surrounding it, I am sure it will get some love come Oscar time, but other than Best Song, any wins - at this moment - will seemed quite hollow.

Shoplifters 万引き家族


A simple tale of a family brought together not by blood but by choice that was understated in its naturalistic execution but utterly heartfelt and gut-wrenching in its execution. The emotions were absolutely well earned and the cast exuded a genuine sense of warmth and sincerity in their roles. A feel-good, brilliant piece of storytelling by writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda that give us hope, something so needed and lacking in films these days. It deserved all its accolades and the Palme d'Or award.

The story itself was straightforward, although I am sure some nuances were lost in translation. However, what was not lost was the performances of the cast. Those shone through, especially for the young ones, and Koreeda managed to coax a genuine performance and reactions from these newcomers.

Veteran actors like Lily Franky, Sakura Ando and Kirin Kiki anchored the narrative. And again, their acting felt naturalistic and unforced, and the relationships between them all felt real. 

Although it took a while to decipher the relationships between all the members of the family, it actually did not really matter. However, the final act really hit it home and tugged at the heartstrings. But not in an overly-saccherine way, or in a manipulative, This is Us-kind of way. One really did get immersed into the story.

At 121 minutes, it contained so many elements but yet was so simple and smoothly paced. This truly was a brilliant piece of story-telling. Honest. Sincere. Genuine. Hopeful. 




17 October 2018

Madeline's Madeline


This film was not for everybody. It can definitely be classified as an art-house film. Writer/Director Josephine Decker had created an unexpected film that weaved a well-known subject matter into an imaginative and experimental tapestry that felt original. The result of which was a film that was oddly disconcerting, strangely affective and hypnotically mesmorising. And most importantly, a star is born in Helena Howard who with her debut in this film becomes one of the most exciting new, young actor to emerge in recent memories. Imagine this film as Lady Bird with mental health issues, and Howard as the next Saoirse Ronan.

The narrative followed a rather straightforward path and Decker expects her audience to pick up the details on their pwn. There were no spoon-feeding of backstory or expository motivations here. Events unfold and you are expected to keep up with the psychedelic unknown and immerse yourself into the experience.

In the end, it was a bit like the nature of the what Madeline's Madeline was about. Is your life yours? Or is it the people's around you? Am I experiencing my now or experience your now?

With regards to the mental health issues of it all, Decker handled the subject matter in a matter-of-fact sort of way. It was not really the focus but neither was it swept under the carpet.

And it all culminates in a show-stopping finale that Howard absolutely owned. Just that penultimate scene alone could be her Oscar-reel.

Howard was supported by veterans Molly Parker and Miranda July who were really there to allow Howard to act off on, but they definitely held their own.

At just 93 minutes long, this film could feel a lot longer for some, but to me it just went on by as I found myself engrossed in the story and was kept wondering how will it all end. Riveting.

16 October 2018

Three Identical Strangers


A truly fascinating true story of identical triplets separated at birth who found each other 19 years later. And then it veered off into a pseudo-scientific documentary into the controversial study of twins separation and the idea of nature versus nurture.

The first part, this documentary did very well. Ably telling the story of the central triplets and how the lives changed. However, film director, Tim Wardle, then decided to dive into the why they were separated, and that whole arm was messy, albeit interesting. Anybody with an inkling of scientific studies and twin-studies would find the exploration of the Neubauer controversial studies lacking in depth and purpose. It really seemed more sensational here rather than an intellectual exploration of the ethics and ramifications. Which would have made for a more interesting story.

With a title like Three Identical Strangers, the film makers really ought to have gone more in depth into these three people for us to get a better understanding of them and their lives, and left the twin-separation studies more as an aside rather than a secondary focus which disrupted the story telling.

First Man


This film had Damien Chazelle's fingerprints all over it. After Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle has established a very distinctive visual and auditory signature. The film had a docu-realistic feel to it whereby the story was told through Neil Armstrong's POV, and with that, came along a detailed sense of intimacy, when we explored his home/personal life, and also a genuine sense of trepidation and awe when he was at work and in space. Those scenes set within a space/air-craft were utterly gripping and by-your-seat tense, and that final act was fantastic, albeit surprisingly epic. Ryan Gosling remained an acting enigma, is his brooding, hardened stare and pursed lips meant to be serious actor or just brooding? Next to Claire Foy, whose every look carried so much more weight, the difference was noticeable.

At 141 minutes long, you can really feel the length of the movie especially the slightly bloated second act. Although logically it was inevitable since we needed the failures to highlight the pressure and emotional toll it had on Armstrong eventually. However, we never felt the development of the other relationships Armstrong had to really feel the loss.

Having said that, Armstrong's relationship with his wife Janet was also not as focused as the mission-to-the-moon, but those little moments between Gosling and Foy were effective. Chazelle easily charted the changing dynamics between the spouses at the different phases of the mission. And a lot of it really had to do with Foy's compelling acting.

Gosling had his moments, but throughout the whole film there are times when doubt arises as to what was actually going on between those pretty eyes. Which was so contrary to Foy.

If Gosling were to get a Best Actor nomination, then Foy should at least get a Best Support Actress nod, or in the bare minimum, thanked by Gosling for lifting him up.

The other big player in this film was the music. Again, Chazelle enlisted best bud Justin Hurwitz. And again, it sounded a lot like Whiplash and La La Land in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The snare drums made frequent appearances as did the jazz. It worked mostly although slightly on the nose - I get it...it is like a ballet in space. Although that score that accompanied the Final Act was jarringly epic and different to what had preceded, and yet as the scene went on, it kind of eased into familiar territory that was oddly fitting. So perhaps, it might just get recognised for that moment.

This film was clearly an Oscar-bait but yet seemed a bit light-weight  to Chazelle's previous fares (yes, even La La Land). Although it may still get into many categories depending on how the rest of the season goes. A sure bet, however, will likely be at least Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations.


15 October 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale


With this film, and after The Cabin in the Woods (in between was also the better-than-expected The Martian and the phenomenal The Good Place), writer/director Drew Goddard has officially joined the pantheon of writers and directors whom I would watch anything that they make.

This chapter-movie was seriously funny. It was witty, smart as hell, genre-eschewing, dark but not macabre and just littered with visual and literary puns and gags. And it was also so very well cast. A bottleneck film that trapped its character and had fun exploring their identity as the story twists and turns and flashbacks fleshed out the complexity of these strangers. Goddard weaved together a brilliant, intelligent, original film that not only entertained but also provided a subtext of social commentary. Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman stole the show, but Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Dakota Johnson all played their roles so bloody well!

As a director, Goddard had some great flourishes, with long shots and live-singing (bravo Erivo!). It was a smart choice to divide the film into chapters because it not only clearly told the story but also allowed for different perspectives to be gleaned and then - wham! - turned it all on its head. The only slight downside to this film was its length. At 140 minutes, it could really have been a wee bit tighter towards the third act. Maybe a nice 120 minutes may have been better.

Erivo absolutely slayed! Here we had a strong female lead that absolutely carried her scenes. Even against Bridges and Hemsworth (and his abs), she commanded the screen. And boy, it sure made a lot of difference casting a Broadway singer to do the live singing! Amazing!

Then we have Pullman. This boy was a discovery and his arc was one of the highlights of this film. He could go far as an indie actor as he honed his craft. I would not be surprised though if he turned up on the small screen next and stole the show (again).

Bridges was solid and reliable. Hemsworth was a hoot and really ought to do more comedy after Thor: Ragnarok and his bit in Ghostbusters (his abs deserved a screen credit of their own). Johnson, like Kirsten Stewart and Robert Peterson, is slowing inching out of the franchise that made their name. Jon Hamm, on the other hand, seemed to be still channeling his Don Draper persona. Cailee Spaeny rounded up the main cast and she will also be one to look out for in the upcoming movies.

The music was by Michael Giacchino and was fantastic. Giacchino should really ought to get away from major blockbusters (except for Pixar) and get back to scoring smaller films where he could really play around and create more exciting new sounds.

Seamus McGarvey lensed the film and he gave us some really good angles and points of view.

In all, Bad Times at the El Royale, was a hoot that will not be for everybody. But for me, it was a damn good fun at the cinema.

14 October 2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant gave extraordinary performances in this otherwise rather light biopic of novelist/forgery felon Lee Israel. This dramedy lacked drama and emotional heft, and its lead character, although purposely unlikable, did not seem to have much sense. Nonetheless, it was McCarthy's against-type performance, coupled with great on-screen and comedic chemistry with a terrific Grant, that really helped to provide the laughs and tide through a seemingly too-long 107 minutes.

Director Marielle Heller made the stranger-than-fiction real life story into a straight-telling film that ran accordingly but lacked depth. Both in terms of character and narrative depth. Writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty ably adapted Israel's memoirs but unlike Israel herself did not seem to able to inhabit fully the character(s) they are writing for.

This film really hinged on McCarthy's star power and acting, and perhaps she may have a shot at an Oscar nomination for this. The film itself may actually soften her chances. Nonetheless, her transformation was commendable and she delivered the caustic, biting wit of Israel's perfectly. But it all seemed very superficial with just the occasional glimmer of emotional complexity, which seemed more of McCarthy's own doing rather than a writing/directing choice.

Grant, on the other hand, really deserved a Best Supporting Actor nod. His scenes were the highlights and his absence keenly felt, especially in the latter half of the film. His chemistry with McCarthy was perfect and there is a buddy-comedy somewhere between these two needs to be made.

The film would really have been better if we explored the person that was Lee Israel rather than making this a mish-mash of a biopic and a criminal/heist exploit.

10 October 2018

Venom [IMAX]


This was a fun-enough film that had two things going for it: Tom Hardy and a run time under 2 hours. Any time Hardy (or Venom as it may so be) was on screen, the film was infinitely better. Hardy had charm and charisma, he was funny, slightly irreverent and definitely was not taking the film too seriously. Eddie Brock's bromance with Venom was a clear highlight of the film. On the other hand, when he is not on screen, fellow cast members, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, did the best they could, but their clunky lines and superficially written characters did the film, and themselves, no favour. And at just 112 minutes long, the film zipped along after the dull and plodding first act. At least director, Ruben Fleischer, had two good action showcases - the racing scene was exciting enough and would have been better had he relied less on close-ups, and the final showdown was riveting enough to excite.

This film was clearly not by Marvel, and the title card said so as much - "In association with" - as it lacked the finesse in storytelling that Marvel seemed to excel in. The first act, the origin story, was clunky as hell. Even the prologue itself lacked urgency and tension. The film really only kicked into gear when Hardy discovered Venom within himself. And boy, did the bromance between these two characters take over the film. Actually, it would have been lots better if it really did.

And perhaps if Venom had gone the route of Deadpool and Logan, it might have scored better. In its totality, the film's action did feel like it lacked bite and Venom itself tended to sometimes feel a bit neutered/watered-down.

Hardy is the star of this film, and I really hope that the film does well enough to launch a franchise because his Eddie Brock was such a hoot (sorry, Topher Grace). But really, perhaps, the powers to be should considering letting Brock/Venom/Hardy loose and go for a R-rating. And the mid-credits scene definitely make Part II an enticing project to look forward to.

Williams did the best she could, and at least she kicked some ass and looked good doing it.

Ahmed's character epitomised every cliched trope a supervillian should be, and Ahmed just sleepwalked through it, effecting none of the depth or virtuosity last seen in his career-making performance on HBO's The Night Of.

Reid Scott remained unintentionally hilarious, a by-product from his time on Veep and Jenny Slate was underused.

Ludwig Goransson scored the film, as he did too in Black Panther, and there were some great music cues peppered throughout.

IMAX was not necessary for this film. A nice, big screen would have surely sufficed. And I doubt 3D would have made much difference.

Stay till the end for a post-credits scene. Not related to Venom or the MCU, but still a bit of fun.

17 September 2018

McQueen


It was very telling that nobody currently working with/in the House of McQueen was interviewed in this documentary. Even current creative director, Sarah Burton, was nary more than just a toss-away mention and a footnote in the credits.

This documentary was at its best when it charted Lee Alexander McQueen's sensation/dramatic runway shows against his own personal emotional trials at those times. The rest, however, was nothing that could not be gleamed from reading Wikipedia. Not much insight was to be had from the interviews of old friends/colleagues and his sister (one of five other siblings, another telling sign) and her son - his nephew - which a cynical viewer might assume was more monetarily-motivated rather than a altruistic need to share.

There was no doubt that McQueen was a very talented designer - he was a personal favourite of mine - but a pity that this film only delved into his fashion/design talent only briefly. The filmmakers seemed to be more interested in his ability to dramatise his shows rather than the drama behind the actual designing. A pity we had minimal insight into how he came up with many of his iconic designs.

Similarly, it would have been great if we could have explored more of Mcqueen’s personal relationships with others. The story between him and Isabella Blew would have been so intriguing.

Michael Nymen scored the music and it was one of the highlights of the film.

Amy remained the pinnacle of how a documentary of a (dead) icon/celebrity should be. McQueen laid somewhere between that at Lady Gaga's rather self-absorbed Five Foot Two.


16 September 2018

You Were Never Really Here


Lynne Ramsay's 2017 Best Actor and Best Screenplay Cannes winner was a tightly paced and visually exciting psychological thriller that at a trim 90 minutes left scarcely any room to breathe as nary a scene was wasted and the action and narrative moved effortlessly along, only powered by the wordless, powerful performance of Joaquin Phoenix, Jonny Greenwood's cacophonic yet palpably accelerative score, and, of course, Ramsay's lyrical yet punchy direction and intelligent script that eschewed blatancy for smart subtle ferocity.

If this film remained in the social consciousness this Oscar season, it would definitely be a shoo-in for a number of above-line nominations, but oddly enough, it remained fairly under the radar still.

Ramsay's direction here was superb. She is an epitome of the "show, don't tell", trusting her audience to understand and follow. This film required attention and beautiful subtleties are rewarding. And like her previous phenomenal, and under-watched film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, there was violence in the film, but despite no overt glorification of violence, it remained palpable and viscerally exhilarating and edge-of-seat.

The whole film was mainly wordless after the first act, and kudos to Ramsay, Greenwood and Phoenix for maintaining the tension and narrative propulsion.This was a team at the top of their game.

Essentially, the film had a very straight-forward plot and there was nothing complicated about it, A-to B-to C, but the execution of such simplicity was excellent. And surprisingly enough, despite its simplicity, there were layers not just in terms of Phoenix's character but also thematically. Nothing was wasted.

Phoenix turned in another great performance, not since The Master and Her, and here was a hero with all his troubled past on display, both physically and emotionally, but not verbosely or in your face, but through glimpses of flashbacks and the varied intensity of the brow-furrowing and eye-squinting.

This was really a showcase for Ramsay and Phoenix, and unlike Kevin, or even Nikita  or Taxi Driver, the film's spiritual predecessors, the child actor, Ekaterina Samsonov, did not get as much to do as Ezra Miller, Natalie Portman and Jodie Foster. A Henna-esque Saoirse Ronan would have been perfect.

Greenwood also re-teamed with Ramsay, since Kevin, to score this film and this might actually be better than his Oscar-nominated work on Phantom Thread. An effective score that propelled and complemented the story without being too distracting. Although his score for Paul Thomas Anderson was beautifully suited to that love story, it always felt more like a companion piece rather than, in this case, one with the film.

You Were Never Really Here was a great film, but ultimately, most likely relegated to art-house appeal and may not reach the commercial success that it deserves.


15 September 2018

BlacKkKlansman


Spike Lee's Grand Prix winning dramedy has a very serious message, and that ending was a gut punch and stark, brutal reminder that reality is shockingly really not that far from fiction. Lee effectively used a blend of comedy to highlight the truth of racism and used history to illuminate the sins of the present. The dramatic beats - especially two scenes of speechifying - could be a heavy handed but on hindsight, it was necessary, because otherwise many people (read: movie-goers) may never actually hear/be aware of them.

Without knowing the real story of Ron Stallworth - who wrote the book this film is based on - I cannot comment how accurate were the depiction of the events shown in the film, however, the crux of the message did get through. But beyond the obvious, Lee also used the film to highlight that passive inertness can be as guilty as overt racism. We - the audience - allowed racism to be. And that is a powerful message that could make the film uncomfortable to some.

On a cinematic-level, the film was an effective blend of cop drama and buddy comedy with both stars John David Washington and Adam Driver taking turns bringing the laughs, with the latter more through his deadpanned delivery and the former with a broader comedy. However, Lee failed to inject more of a danger to the main plot, to raise the stakes for our protagonists. Other than the initial phase of the operation, there was barely any doubt that they will fail to foil the KKK.

Speaking of "the organisation", Topher Grace, Ryan Eggold and Jasper Pääkkönen deserve praise for bringing their despised characters to life.

Unfortunately, this film failed the Bechdel Test and the sisters only had one representative in Laura Harrier, who other than being the mouthpiece of the Black Movement and the love interest of Washington, had nothing much else to do.

This was an important film. And like aforementioned, the ending was a gut-punch. It needs to be watched.

This was also a good film. Not without it flaw but we definitely need more films like this to reach out to the masses.

Juliet, Naked


Based on one of my favourite books of the last decade, Jesse Peretz's Juliet, Naked updated the premise but retained Nick Hornby's wry humour and spot-on fanboy geekiness of the pre-millenial generation coupled with his usual lad-lit sensibility and oddly insightful observation of post-90s relationship navigation.

Per cine-nomenclature, this film was an effective rom-com with enough elements of the former to tug but not be overwhelmingly saccherine; and peppered with lots of the latter to laugh and smile throughout without feeling excessively dumb.

All three of the principle cast were perfectly suited for their roles, and in this case, the men outshone the lady.

Ethan Hawke, with all his 90s baggage, was the ideal star to play a washed up, former It-boy. He brought along an effortless charm together with a scumbro-esque attitude, but beneath those layers was an emotional core that could write alt-indie songs of love and heartbreak. He was a believable leading man. A man-child that wants to grow up but has yet to.

Then we have Chris O'Dowd. He nailed the other spectrum of man-child. A fanboy that over analyses beyond the scope of intent and then becomes convinced of his own truth. O'Dowd was the comedic heart of the film and he is so funny only because there are truth in his performance.

Lastly, there is Rose Byrne who, in the vein of Renee Zewellger in Bridget Jones and Natalie McCutcheon in Love, Actually, played the pretty, but insecure, female love interest who has stupendously insight into her own life but just cannot seemed to externalise those thoughts. And of course, that gives the story its impetus to move forward, but it does not really do much for the feminism does it?

And in that respect, Juliet, Naked had always been more of lad-lit rather than a chick lit, and as a movie, it should be taken as nothing more than an entertaining rom-com. An escape from life and a reminder that Love exist. And you deserve it.


12 September 2018

Kidding


Episode 1: Green Means Go
Episode 2: Pusillanimous

Showtime's latest half-hour dramedy by Dave Holstein was an utterly depressing and yet macabrely funny meditation on death and change. It was charming, heartbreaking, sincere but as blackishly wry as death itself. Michel Gondry's direction was superb and hopefully the rest of the series can continue in his visual inventiveness. However, the main draw of this series has got to be Jim Carrey who reminds us why he used to be such a big star, and not because of his slapstick schtick, but think back to the trifecta of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Truman Show and Man on the Moon (and even the less seen I Love You Phillip Morris). Carrey once again reminds us that not only is he a great comedic actor, but also one that has an unfathomable emotional depth.

He is supported by a great cast including the indomitable Frank Langella, Judy Greer and Catherine Keener, all of whom helped to make Carrey's Jeff Prickles a fully-realised, complicated and, in the end, fascinating character. And if on screen and off screen talent were not enough, the brilliant puppet creations and oddly addictive sing-alongs were definitely icing on the cake.

Tears were shed. Laughters were had. And I can't wait for the next episodes! Who wouldn't want to know if Astro-Otter was a He or a She or just gender-fluid?!

29 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout


Tom Cruise does not disappoint and this sixth installment of the franchise was an exciting and adrenaline-powered action flick that carried on the story from the previous Rouge Nation which set a very high bar for the series. And like all MI films - especially ever since Simon Pegg was involved - wry comedy was peppered throughout to help elevate the mood and break the tension. However, the film ran too long at 147 minutes with scenes that dragged, that looked cool but really unnecessary, and an over-complicated plot that relied on contrivances, made little sense beyond the superficial, and - after six installments - plainly predictable despite the relentless numbers of twists. Superman's Henry Cavill was a wasted presence and Rebecca Ferguson's role more soundly reduced.

This time round, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie placed Cruise and co. mainly in Europe as they continued their international spy-games, and the cities they go to, in particular Paris, oozed their own character.

Like in Rouge Nation, the practical visual effects were the scene stealers. There is an undeniable, palpable and visceral excitement in seeing real stunts being done, with or without Cruise on camera. But McQuarrie obviously made sure that when it was Cruise we'd definitely know it.

McQuarrie's action sequences were slick, well choreographed and executed, with clear dynamics and a fluid follow-through that allowed the audience to track the action but also be involved in it. However, other than a few aerial scenes, nothing really stood out in terms of aesthetics, variety or excitement. They were good but not breath-holdingly, seat-grippingly, teeth-clenched tighyly kind of good.

Narratively wise, the plot depended way too much on twists up to the point where a) it becomes expected and b) it becomes predictable. And when that happens, the smart thing would be to pivot over to a character-driven storytelling but that was only kept to a minimum.

With regards to the use of Cavill's character, the idea was smart but either the writing failed or Cavill is a bad actor (which I think really ain't the case), but he was under-served as an actor. A pity though.

And same with Ferguson, who was such a refreshing heroine in her own right previously, but now reduced to some kickass moments and as Cruise's love interest.

Pegg was the comedic fodder and always reliable, and Rhames is Rhames.

Vanessa Kirby was the scene stealer this time round and her scenes were a delight. She played her White Widow with such allure, intrigue and glee that it was just so fun. And it is that sort of fun that the franchise need more of.

Angela Basset and Michelle Monaghan were also in the cast and yet with four starring ladies, this film still failed the Bechdel Test.

Cinematography and music were by Ron Hardy and Lorne Balfe respectively. No new grounds were broken by Hardy, but the aerial sequences and the final act were impressively shot. Balfe's score were propulsive and non-invasive which complemented the film.

MI: Fallout was a great - not the best - installment in this franchise and looks like MI7 will be inevitable. Bring it on!


26 July 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again


This was such a fun film! It definitely had flaws (lots!) and is nowhere as good as the 2008 film, and also lacked the insane energy and chemistry of the original cast, but it was such an irresistible, feel-good crowdpleaser. Great ABBA songs (though most of the big hits have already been used in the first film) with good actor-singers (Lilly James, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Skinner), kitschy choreography, a touch of sappiness and rom-com hijinks, Cher!, Meryl!, and just a general feeling of happiness and that all is right in the world. Pure escapism entertainment. All these despite the very obvious cheap sets/production values, a lack of a real plot per se - more like a collection of vignettes stitched together for 114 minutes - and Cher just phoning it in and blatantly edited into the scenes (but god-damn it! It's Cher).

James and Seyfried were undeniably the lead in this outing. James held the screen with an effortless charm and she continued to ease her way into major stardom. Her onscreen charisma with the three younger-Dads were believable, however the chemistry with her young-bffs paled in comparison with the wicked fun Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters had 10 years ago.

Seyfried, on the other hand, not only had less material to work with, she also had less scene partners to spar with. Her moments with Baranski and Walters only served to highlight how she ain't no Meryl.

As for Cher and Streep, there is a reason why "with" follows the former and "and" the latter in the poster...'nuff said.

Baranski and Walters were one of the highlights of the first film, a pity that they were under-served here. Who could forget Baranski's beach-side rendition of "Does Your Mama Know"?

As for the men, the oldies - Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellen Skarsgard - were still as funny as they were then, with Firth getting the most laughs. Pity - or lucky in Brosnan's case - not much singing from them. Then we have the young ones - Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan - who despite not bearing much resemblance to their later-selves were still very much like them. And they can sing.

In all, writer/director Ol Parker did a commendable job in continuing the story and maintaining the spirit of the first film despite a seemingly smaller budget and more limited song choices. Also, stay till the end for an end-credits stinger.


23 July 2018

RBG


Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG is a fascinating person, and if you were already on her side this documentary will surely reinforce the positive opinions of her: a feminist, a liberal, a dissenter, an equal-rights hero, a survivor and a democrat. However, if you never did support her nomination and/or political believes, then RBG will also do nothing to change your mind. As well made, and as riveting, as Judge Ginsburg's life is made out to be, this documentary failed to give a balance view of her. It did not show what the republicans not like about her and whether they had grounds in their believes.

Nonetheless, this film also excelled in illuminating Judge Ginsburg's private life which helped to round her out as a person. The intimate look into her youth and her relationship with her husband was truly more fascinating than her political beliefs. And just for that insight, the upcoming Mimi Leder-directed Ginsburg biopic On The Basis of Sex (starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer) sure became more interesting to look out for. Although her relationships with her children, and grandchildren, were surprisingly sparing.

Regardless of one's politics, Judge Ginsburg's work attitude and ethics is an inspiration. She survived two cancers, the death of her husband and yet she still finds the time to gym (and plank) and write her dissents for the things she believes in.

She really is The Notorious RBG.

14 July 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado


This film is not going to pass the Bechdel Test, but at least it had no illusion of doing so. Ultimately, this surprisingly topical sequel is a summer escapism that hung its allure on two brooding, macho leads speaking very little and doing very violent things. And if you go in not expecting anymore than that, then director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski capably carried the mantel over from Dennis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, respectively, to tell Taylor Sheridan's modern-western/mexican epic.

Sheridan, for all his faults in writing female characters, is a good writer for the male psyche and daftly managed to topically tie in the story with the current political mess. And the universe that he had created would not be out of place now as a prestige television series. Even the way the story is structured seemed suitable for an event series.

Josh Brolin continued his streak of playing tough strong men - see: Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War -  okie, maybe men is too rigid a term. Nonetheless, Brolin seemed to have embodied the gruff, all-american masculinity.

In contrast, Benicio del Toro exuded a distinctive masculine charm of another kind. The smooth, silent and deadly operator; speaks little and lets his actions carry the weight (Sheridan even highlighted this at one point to the extreme).

However, del Toro and Brolin had great bro-mance together and their scenes reflected the easy chemistry between them. And for a few moments, Emily Blunt was missed.

The score was by Hildur Guðnadóttir, a collaborator of Jóhann Jóhannsson in the first film, and she echoed his music here with the heavy use of strings.

Blunt needs to be back for the eventual sequel, for the series to work narratively. Ideally, Villeneueve and Deakins too which would make for a great production-narrative.

Ocean's Eight


This film ain't like the Steven Soderbergh/Clooney and Pitt franchise and it was not because of the ladies, but rather the execution. It lacked the fun - the joie de vivre - and the chemistry of the boys and the kinetic energy and mischievous style of Soderbergh and co. It seemed that the cast of this film was picked more for their diversity - white, black, asian, lesbian, british, american, australian - rather than their ability to be cohesive as an unit. Writer/Directory Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch did a competent job but the heist lacked danger or even the risk of failure, and the eventual outcome was an exercise in motion rather than a stylish-executed caper.

Of all the stars, Anne Hatheway gets the biggest laughs followed by the brilliantly cookie Helena Bonham Cutter. Cate Blanchett looked effortlessly cool and chic but essentially was just phoning it in As for the ostensible lead actress Sandra Bullock, she oozed charm but lacked the affable spontaneity that made her so funny in The Proposal and Miss Congeniality. Furthermore, Bullock and Blanchett had so little chemistry to propel the narrative. They definitely were no Clooney and Pitt.

As for the others, they barely had enough screen time to register as proper characters beyond their necessary skill sets. A pity Richard Armitage was no Julia Roberts.

The film ran just under 2 hours and it was just about right. The plot moved along steadily, from point A to B to C to D...with no distractions and no deviations. Some would applaud it for its efficiency whereas others may deride it for its simple mundaneness. Nevertheless, the story does progressed to its eventual conclusion although the final act may have taken longer than necessary.

With regards to a potential sequel, Ocean's Eight like the other female-led franchise starter Ghostbusters, may be better off if a creative revamp is put in place before production starts. Hollywood still has a long way to figure out how to make female-centric comedies.


Hereditary


A terrific horror movie in the vein of The Witch, It Follows and Babadook. A tense vibe throughout with writer/director Ari Aster focusing on mood, atmosphere and music to ratchet up the suspense and horror, and coupled with a phenomenal performance from Toni Collette and the two younger stars: the surprisingly emotional Alex Wolff and creepily innocent Milly Shapiro. Also, pleasantly, the story progressed unexpectedly with some really good unpredictable turns.

There were scares peppered throughout but the best thing about this film was how untypical the scares came along. Aster smartly introduced the elements subtly and never bludgeoned the audience with scare jumps or quick cuts. He teases all the senses, making you doubt what you have seen and heard, and then when it hits you, the scene is over and you are left with a lingering doubt of fear. Brilliant.

Sure, the story itself per se was not the most original. It shared DNA with Rosemary's Baby and The Witch, but the execution was refreshing. The film ran for 127 minutes, and it easily felt like only 90 had past by the time the credits rolled.

And then we have Collette. She. Owned. It. Her character's evolution throughout the film was superb, and boy did her face ever get a workout. She carried the film and sold it for all its emotional toll and fear factor.

Ann Dowd shone in her minor role, but she always does. Although her character was easily the weakest of the main cast.

Gabriel Byrne rounded out the cast and he had the unfortunate task of being the token skeptic which was written as is with minimal surprise or nuance.

Hereditary was easily one of the best films of the 2018 thus far. But, unlike Get Out, I doubt it will be remembered much come awards time, although Collete truly does deserve some love.

6 July 2018

Ant-Man and The Wasp


This film is unlike any other previous MCU films and that is a double-edged sword for the audiences, it was more of a straight-up action-comedy rather than an action-comedic superhero film. For one there was no clear villain and the characters that served as the main antagonists were so badly written and fleshed out that they were really just time-fillers for the A-plot.

Regardless, AM&TW was an enjoyable film albeit its predictability, lack of emotional complexity (or even plot-complexity) and absence of any conflict of worth. But where it succeed was in its actors - the effortless charisma and easy chemistry of both Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily - and the comedic chops of its supporting cast, especially Michael Peña, and Judy Greer, Bobby Canavale and Randall Park. It was fun watching the cast interact and that helped the 118 minutes move along.

Some of the action sequences by repeat director Peyton Reed were visually exciting and he definitely used 3D and VFX to good effect here. However, this film still paled to the first instalment which had heart, great laughs, and an effortless energy in the story-telling which was so lacking here. Edgar Wright's and Joe Cornish's influences are greatly missed.

Rudd is the star of this franchise. His effortless charisma helped connect the audience to his story. The only thing is that this film was marketed as Ant-Man and The Wasp, and although Lily is ostensibly the co-lead, her emotional arc is lacking despite doing lots more butt-kicking. And this had nothing to do with Lily who was equally charismatic on-screen and had good chemistry with Rudd. Maybe they ought to have a female writer amongst all five of the credited screenwriters. And this has nothing to

Peña again stole the film like in the first and he is definitely a side-kick worth recurring.

Michael Douglas added gravitas to the franchise and it is hard to tell if he is enjoying this role or not; and Michele Pfeiffer really needs a better comeback film ASAP after this film and Murder on the Orient Express. Laurence Fishburne deserved better.

And again, the music and cinematography here were both serviceable and forgettable.

One of the best scenes of the film was actually the mid-credits scene (and that is saying a lot). The post-credit scene was good for a chuckle.

IMAX was not really necessary for this, but 3D was fun.

In the end, AM&TW felt like a place-holder in the larger context of the MCU, but for what it is, it was an alright film - fun and entertaining enough for a summer, popcorn flick. If it did not have the Marvel weight hanging off it, this could have been a really good, almost Edgar Wright-esque action-comedy film.

17 June 2018

Incredibles 2


Pixar/Disney has another hit! A crowd-pleaser for all ages that was entertaining, funny, exciting and unrelenting in its pacing and action. However, writer/director Brad Bird apparently got lazy, the plotting was highly predictable and all sorts of tropes were thrown in with nary a sparked of originality. And it all led to a narrative that lacked the emotional weight that made the original such an insta-classic, but at least we some great action sequences/directing and Michael Giacchino’s best score in ages. 

As aforementioned, the story was highly unoriginal. Every beat of the story line was predictable and nothing was refreshing or given a new spin. That being said, most audience would still eat it up - especially the younger ones - but the laughs were not as big, there were not any standout lines/sequences and the emotional beats just seemed perfunctory and unearned. 

Some of the early action sequences were superbly directed by Bird and closely reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s fluid directing in “Tintin” and “Ready Player One”. They had fluidity and an unrelentless kinetic energy which really drove the action. 

However, when the action got bigger in the last act, that fluidity got lost and instead we were left with a big ensemble piece mashed with quick edits/cuts held together by Giacchino’s brilliant score. 

This was Giacchino’s best score in a long time. The Incredibles’ jazzy/uptempo score effectively carried the drama and the action, and bolstered the comedy and the tension. The final, end credits suite was such a delightful summary of the preceding 118 minutes! This will surely score Giacchino another Oscar nomination. 

The voice cast was mainly the same as 14 years ago and was again spot on. Holly Hunter - with her distinctive rasp - took on a bigger role, and Craig T Nelson effectively showed his undermined masculinity. Thankfully, they kept the teenage angst from Violet to a minimum while Dash’s personality still has not developed beyond “the kid brother”. And Samuel L Jackson is just Samuel L Jackson. 

But, the breakout star of this sequel was definitely Jack Jack, and maybe just because he does not speak and everybody loves babies. 

This animation was great fun but sentimentality may have had coloured the lens. Regardless, it was definitely one film for the whole family and may still get Pixar/Disney another Oscar. 

The short-animation film tagged to the front - "Bao” - was an odd little animation that seemed so different from Pixar’s usual. Not because of the character(s), but it had an oddly dark undertone which - this being Disney - never really came into fruition. 


Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

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