31 March 2018

BPM (120 Battements par minute)

A Tragic Romantic (yes, both in caps) set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic in early 90s France. And unlike the American (read: mostly Hollywood) interpretation of the subject, BPM was a less showy retelling of the brave actions of the ACT UP activists, mixed in with a dose of European sensibility and arthouse auteur-ness. However, of course it still did have it cliches and was an unabashed tear jerker, but at least the cliches served a purpose and the tears were well-earned. The film was long but it never really felt the full 140 minutes and director Robin Campillo has smartly intersected the film with breaks to give the audience brief breathers to reflect and ruminate and recollect. A superb cast all round and our two leads had great, palpable chemistry that felt honest and real, which was crucial to the inevitable - but yet still cathartic - climax. The music was apt throughout and the choice to close the credits with no accompaniment was apt. After that ending, it was more appropriate to sit and reflect. Perhaps on how the world has changed because of these brave people, the social minorities who refused to be forgotten and neglected. Or perhaps on how we have benefitted from their sacrifice. BPM was an emotionally draining film that deserved to be watched. 

30 March 2018

Ready Player One

An absolutely fun and excitingly nostalgic film that was very apt for Easter with lots of great (80s) pop culture references and laugh out loud moments. Although thinner in complexity and character development then Ernest Cline’s brilliant source novel, Steven Spielberg’s vision was richly drawn and thrillingly executed...except for the slightly drawn out second act. However, Spielberg’s version of the OASIS was as exciting as one would imagined from the book and he would be one of the few living directors who could get all the rights of the 80s throwbacks and pop culture references and put it on to the big screen in a way that worked and spoke to the audience. And obviously things would have to be changed when translating from the page to the screen, and some things worked (that whole homage to “The Shining”...so bloody good!!!) and some did not (why is the villain really after them again?). Tye Sheridan was well-cast as our protagonist but Ben Mendelsohn and Lena Waithe stole the show; Mark Rylance should just continue to work with Spielberg. Definitely worth it on the large screen!

26 March 2018

Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander is the only reason to watch this reboot although Vikander lacked the natural charisma and screen presence of her predecessor Angelina Jolie. In addition, Vikander's Lara Croft is a disappointment in this post-Wonder Woman era, with her Croft being a more reactive "heroine" rather than a pro-active, action star. This could have been an attempt by director, Roar Uthaung, and writers, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, to ground this video-game franchise in some sort of reality, however, there are better ways to write your central character, and the plot, without having to sacrifice realism. This origin story had a good, "grounded" first act, but the middle act was too dragged out with simple logic utterly abandoned, and ended with a short, Indiana Jones/The Mummy-esque fun third act and an epilogue that laid the groundwork for a - no surprise here - franchise. 

There were no memorable moments, action or CGI sequences, in this film unlike Jolie's gorgeous aerial acrobatics in the Croft Mansion that opened the first film. Vikander made for a realistic heiress thrust into the world of Hollywood-archaeology, and the Uthaung went out of his way to establish her lack of physical skills. However, the film's second and third act threw all that out of the window when Vikander suffered tremendous physical injuries relentless that would have made even Tom Cruise wince. 

And therein laid one of the film's biggest problem. The optics of having the main character be almost like a punching bag and be superior to the men around her only in terms of brains. 

Vikander did the best available to her and managed to be an empathetic hero, with a natural intensity and charisma; if only the film knew how to capitalise on it.

Kudos to the team for hiring Daniel Wu, an Asian actor in an Asian role who could actually speak fluent Cantonese and English. There are actually a lot of them/us out there.

Walter Goggins and Dominic West were the two patriarchal characters which totally dominated the second and third act. They were both overacting and underperforming and relegated the more charismatic Wu and Vikander to the sidelines. Especially the latter in her own vehicle.

A good reason for a sequel would also be to give Kristin Scott Thomas more screen time, and also Nick Frost and maybe Derek Jacobi.

Junkie XL wrote the music and it seemed like he was barely even trying

Tomb Raider was a decent film and a competent reboot of a franchise, but in its attempt to ground itself in realism, it lost sight of what made the video game itself  (and the Jolie's versions) so popular.

22 March 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising [IMAX/3D]

This was an entertaining, albeit highly silly, ridiculous and narratively incoherent, piece of fluff film that felt a lot more like a high-budget, Sunday morning entertainment  à la The Power Rangers or a live-action Voltron wannabe. It lacked the visceral action, visual panache, characters/actors chemistry and high-stakes value that made the original Guillermo del Toro film so memorable and, retrospectively, exciting (despite its also clunky plot). The over-pandering to the Chinese audience was also intrusively blatant and really affected the overall enjoyment. That is what you get when Wanda bought over Legendary.

The plot made sense in a very loose sort of way. This was one of those films where you just got to check your brains and logic and sensibility at the door, and just go with the flow. Take things as they come, accept the plot contrivances for what they are, and then it will be much more enjoyable. Don't question the logic. That is the simplest way to enjoy this film.

The presence of four credited writers was also clearly felt through. It was a mish-mash of tone and ideas that director Steven S. DeKnight tried to rein in, but ultimately failed.

DeKnight lacked the vision that del Toro has, but he still made this sequel unique in his own way. For one, everything is much brighter here. But with the brightness comes the glaring inauthenticity of the Kaijus and the CGI landscapes. The action sequences lacked clarity even in the daylight - which was something that del Toro mastered with the autueristic fight sequences in the dark. And with those lackluster sequences, it is hard to root for the heroes.

The one good thing DeKnight did was keep the pacing up. It was fast, things happen, and story ends. All in a sweet 111 minutes. No fuss, no muss, but also not much of an adrenaline kick.

There was humour in this film, mostly courtesy of John Boyega who, after stints in the Star Wars universe, offered audiences another glimmer to his wry sense of British humour which was so apparent in his breakout hit Attack the Block. However, in this instance, the humour, though present, mostly fell flat-ish. This was mainly because of his scene-partners. He had no chemistry either with Scott Eastwood or Cailee Spaeny.

Eastwood, he is an irony. He is perfectly cast as the pretty, all-American hero but yet his "acting" leaves much to be desired - and DeKnight sure loves to zoom up on his face! - although in this case, the leaden acting actually suited his poorly-written character. Oh well, just enjoy his face.

Spaeny was clearly set up to be a Kick-Ass-esque Chloe Grace Moretz. Let us just say that being a poor version of Moretz is a compliment.

Rinko Kikuchi was absolutely wasted. She should not have came back. Her presence made Charlie Hunnam's and Idris Elba's absence profoundly felt.

And then we have a slew of Chinese actors, who - to be honest - are in this film because the Wanda Group now owns Legendary.

Cinematography was capably handled by Dan Mindel, but like aforementioned, the film lacked the visual panache of the original which was lensed by Guillermo Navarro. Music was suitably rousing and provided by Lorne Balfe.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was an entertaining film, but it tried too hard to have continuity with the now-superior original, and was definitely not worth the price of IMAX or 3D.

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...