26 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War [3D/Atmos]


Well, that was...over. Avengers: Infinity War was a fun film but it was not necessarily the best film in the MCU. However, kudos to the Russo brothers for carrying it off and delivering a superhero / Marvel film that serviced the fans and was also a good summer/popcorn tentpole blockbuster. With such a large cast, they did actually manage to give the fan/crowd favourites the most screen time but yet not neglect the others.

Sure, they were a couple of scenes where logic fails (which was to be expected) and some moments that dragged on longer than necessary (inevitable with a 149 minutes runtime), however, one important aspect that A:IW had was an emotional weight that held the narrative together. The story had consequences. There was a cost and heroes do die, although the Russo brothers - and Kevin Feige - could have been more cruel and brutal, and also creatively braver. Maybe in the sequel.

Speaking of which, for once - and possibly due to the pending sequel - the MCU has developed a complex villain who is more than just a simple, one-directional evil-doer. Thanos commanded the screen and attention, and Josh Brolin nailed the emotional depth and sane-madness. This film could have been considered as Thanos' story more than The Avengers'.

On the other hand, one of the biggest downside to this VFX extravaganza was - sort of ironically - the lack of grandeur and spectacle. No one scene or action sequence stood out tremendously (this ain't no LOTR and Battle of Helm's Deep). And although there were a few hero moments - the introduction of fan favourites especially - the film failed to embrace its comic legacy: the full page (or even double-paged!) spread, often cutting off WOW moments a second earlier than it should. Such a shame.

In additional, a general sense of sameness - and oldness - pervaded the film which just made the film rather unexciting on a visceral basis. Also, with all MCU films after Joss Whedon's Avengers, the banter never lived up to that standard. Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnorak came close, and surprisingly Chris Hemsworth's Thor carried it through here, but Mark Ruffalo's Hulk was a disappointment.

Narratively speaking, the Russo brothers are efficient storytellers, but they are not really the best. The juggling of multiple scenes within the same time frame could have been done better with less interruptions in flow and continuity. Again, see Lord of the Rings. Maybe there will be an extended cut? The audience are carried on along a ride, but it felt more like a cruise in the delta rather than a boat ride down the rapids or across an open ocean.

That being said, A:IW sure was a fanboy pleaser! The crowd I watched with whooped and cheered enthusiastically. The film really does set up for a sequel which will truly be even more highly anticipated!

As for technically, unfortunately Alan Silvestri's score remained uninspiring and Trent Opaloch's cinematography was just serviceable. If only Marvel could invest more into these aspects of film-making. Imagine what a Roger Deakins' MCU film would look like, or how an Alexandre Desplat-scored MCU film would double down on the emotional heft.

3D was fun but not really necessary.

Refreshingly, there was only one post-credits scene, but it sure is a doozy! Bring on 2019!


5 April 2018

Annihilation


What a pity non-Americans do not get to watch Alex Garland’s follow-up to “Ex-Machina” on the big screen. But thankfully we have Netflix saving the day. Other than perhaps losing the sense of scope and sound design, “Annihilation” did translate rather well to the small screen. And, boy, fans of smart, intelligent sci-fi should watch this! 

This was definitely not “The Cloverfield Paradox”. “Annihilation” was definitely not dumbed down and was led by a quintet of smart, strong women/actress with nary a male in sight other than to play supporting, almost sexualised, roles. But at least, they cast Oscar Isaac, and his crazy-expressive eyes, who was great in his minimal scenes. 

If this film had the visual panache and style of Dennis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (read: budget), coupled with a more emotional-centric (read: Hollywood-esque) script, than it might have been more acceptable in the mainstream and not been relegated to Netflix. 

Natalie Portman definitely had the depth and range to handle her character, but perhaps the fault laid in Garland’s script’s over emphasis on the science and the brains, and neglected the heart. 

On the other hand, Garland as a director has shown an improvement since “Ex Machina” with the story moving at a good pace and the plot developed intriguingly despite the non chronological narrative. There were moments where it was truly tense, and that one scene near the end of the second act wrought more tension than the whole of “A Quiet Place”.  

Another problem most moviegoers might have with this film was the ending where nothing was really explained and an epilogue that gave us more questions than answers. But taking the film as an entity itself, it really did not need to explain everything. The story had closure. Although if you do want to find out more, then go read the trilogy because I doubt we will be having anymore of it unless Netflix decides to adapt the trilogy into a mini-series (please do!). 

The Square


Swedish director Ruben Östlund followed up his tour de force film “Force Majeure” with this biting - and Palme d’Or winning - social satire about classism, elitism, ageism, narcissism, prejudices, legacy, pretensions, disenfranchisement and bystander apathy. 

The biggest problem with the film is that Östlund tried to include too much into one, singular - albeit 150 mins long - film, such that at times the film felt like a string of vignettes or short films intermittently strung together by a thin thread of narrative. 

However, at least the film was anchored by Claes Bang’s strong and charismatic performance as a flawed protagonist, and many impactful visuals and moments. 

The dining room scene - where the image of the poster was taken from - was one of the most powerful scene to be seen on screen in a long time. Just those few minutes beautifully, and hauntingly, captured so many of the themes the film and problems with our society now. 

And then we also had scenes where Östlund basically hammered the issues out loud and the art of subtlety was lost. 

Watching “The Square” was like watching a performance art piece. It raised a lot of questions within oneself both while watching and after it had ended. It was at times uncomfortable and at times bitingly funny; there were moments of fear and tension, and also of laughter and warmth. However, regardless, it was an experience. 

4 April 2018

A Quiet Place


John Krasinski’s directorial debut had so much potential with its concept and Emily Blunt as the lead, but unfortunately the outcome was a moderately tensed monster-thriller/horror wannabe that was riddled with plot holes, contrivances and questions. Krasinski’s direction was amateurishly competent, the screenplay lacked intelligence and logic, and even the score failed to heighten the tension. 

The core concept was exciting, albeit not the most original, but if only more thought had gone into the plot. There were glimpses of what the film could have been. For one the opening prologue was effective in setting the story and it was a smart choice by Krasinski to begin in media res. Also, the middle of the second act could have taken a left turn but instead it was just a brief detour and then back into the expected and typical. What a pity. And annoyingly so.

Blunt was absolutely wasted and although the promotional materials put her front and centre, she was not and director/husband Krasinski decided that actor Krasinski should be the focus. Sadly, he ain’t in the same calibre as his wife. And the theme of parental love and sacrifice was wasted by laying more so on his shoulders than hers. 

However, at least Krasinski made the right choice to cast deaf actress Millicent Simmonds as the daughter and she was a bright spark although her character was such a cliche. Young Noah Jupe continues to impress, but here he has less of a showcase than in “Suburbicon” and “Wonder”. 


But, at least kudos to the ending, which not only ended as it started, in media res, but also gave us a final glimpse of what the film could have been. 

3 April 2018

A Wrinkle in Time


Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was one of the earliest books I read, and together with Douglas Adams’ “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” formed my childhood - and continual adult - fascination with sci-fi, quantum physics, time travel, mysticism vs religion and ignited my obsession with sci-fi/fantasy series. With that in mind, and the fact that the last time I read the source material was at least 20 years ago, Ava DuVarney’s version of it had the broad themes of love, acceptance and family in its heart but unfortunately her execution lacked the wonder and vision (and even horror) of L’Engle’s richly-imagined world, and also lacking was the emotional bond between its younger (main) characters and the familial bond of the Murrays. 

DuVarney excelled in the smaller and more intimate moments, especially in the first act, but once the story moved on, she was clearly overwhelmed by the fantastical aspects of the story, and consequently the CGI challenge in building a world (for comparison, see Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”). DuVarney was clearly a novice at this aspect of the film-making and it showed, whereby the world she created had a childlike wonder to it without the sophistication or polish to really ground the story. It felt like two separate entities: the story and the setting. 

However, where DuVarney really succeeded was the casting. This was a really, really strong cast and Storm Reid is a star in the making. As is Levi Miller. Deric McCabe had his moments, but his third act was perhaps a bit too much. Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey were superb and embodied the personification of the Mrs; and their costumes deserved an Oscar nomination come next year. Chris Pine seemed to be establishing a niche market for himself as the all-American, yet not really an alpha, male. Lastly, we have Gugu Mbatha-Raw, one of the more underrated actresses now. Reid may be the emotional heart of the film, but Mbatha-Raw was the soul, grounding the film with her honesty and luminosity. 

Having watched this film, I cannot wait to go and read the whole series all over again. 

2 April 2018

Love, Simon


Objectively, the cultural and historical impact of this film is significant. However, cinematically this was a slightly above average teenage rom-com. Under Greg Berlanti’s direction this felt like a higher production value Berlanti/The CW TV-movie than his usual DCEU TV shows. 

There was no large difference between this and a standard rom-com other than the main character is gay and the central romance is a same sex one. But where it failed was its lack of connection between the protagonist and the supporting characters. No relationships were properly established to deepen the “twists and turns” of the narrative and when things happen, we the audience do not really care. Similarly, in a teenager-centric flick, the relationship with the parental units are crucial - no matter how brief their appearance are (see: Call Me By Your Name) - and unfortunately Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel were mainly present as cookie-cutter, liberal accessories. 

Nick Robinson did his best as Simon and did manage to empatically engage the audience most times, but in the face of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it was a missed opportunity to cast a gay actor in a gay role. 

Yes, Berlanti is one of the more powerful gay man in Hollywood, but looks like he still has his limits. Not just in casting, but in various tone-deaf scenes/moments scattered throughout, especially the college flash-forward one. And it was a waste of the bigger-named Katherine Langford, who did show glimpses of deeper emotional range than Robinson. 

However, the biggest - and rather glaring -  problem of the film, was not the casting (thankfully we had Tony Hale but even his character was shoddily written in the more serious moments) or the characterisation, but the lack of representation. Simon’s struggles may be inherent in most gay boys, but he is an upper middle class, white boy who has no other life struggles growing up (unlike his black friend, another face-palm) and yet he claimed - repeatedly no less - that he is just like us (albeit it is in voiceover to his crush, but the intent was there).  

Love, Simon was a watchable film, a tad too long at close to two hours but deserves to be supported so that better stories can be told with the support of the industry. 

1 April 2018

The Death of Stalin


A black, political satire with a razor sharp intellect and wit that managed to straddle the line between all out absurdist farce and serious politico-social commentary. If you enjoy Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” and “The Thick of It” then you would definitely have a great time watching this which was pure Iannucci comedy led by an all star cast that delivered so many wicked laugh out loud moments. From sight gags to word plays, intentionally unintentional asides to broad comedy, and acerbically dry wit to bleakest of black humour, this film just delivered.  It truly was almost a laugh a minute...and it went on for 107 minutes, which was no mean feat for Iannucci and the writers. Every actor was spot on. It was also very smart of Iannucci to have the cast all speak in their native tongue for an all Russian narrative because it simultaneously separate the tragic truth of the reality and yet also highlight it; both making a commentary of the past and also the indifference of the present. I am sure there were historical inaccuracies aplenty, but the broad strokes were there and this film never claimed to be an historically accurate or factually based. The Death of Stalin was classically Iannucci and so may not appeal to a wide audience, but for what it was, it was smart, it was funny, and it held a mirror up to our society now. 

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...