29 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

An entertaining and fairly exciting ride albeit predictable. Ron Howard capably delivered a summer popcorn flick that paid service to the franchise but not necessarily adding much new fans. Nonetheless, it still had its share of moments especially whenever the familiar Star Wars theme play up or when Chewie and Han have a moment. After his star-making turn in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, Alden Ehrenreich cements his leading man status here with an old-school, cinematic charisma and swagger that was highly reminiscent of a young Harrison Ford except for the annoyingly constant hands on hips/thumbs hooking pants, power-posing. 

The rest of the cast were all competent with Woody Harrelson again reprising the gruff, yet fatherly, mentor role (see: “Hunger Games”) and Emilia Clarke still coasting on her fame as Danaerys and trying to act beyond her emotional range (perhaps Ehrenreich’s much-buzzed about acting coach should have worked on Clarke too). Paul Bettany continued the Star Wars trend of having non-American actors be the villains and chew on the scenery, and then we have poor Thandie Newton who got short-changed in a thankless role (lucky we will always have Maeve). At least we have the scene-stealing Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Go. Watch. “Killing Eve”) and Donald Glover. These two deserve their own spinoff รก la Han and Chewie. 

The first act was rather relentless and exhilarating as Howard raced through one action sequence after the other, dumping exposition in media res as we go straight into Han’s formative journey aka the story. But then, the second act slowed, ostensibly for the narrative to breath. However, it was a long breath that dragged on saved for  the introduction of Waller-Bridge and Glover and the Millennium Falcon. That ultimately ended with an exciting chase and a ridiculous climax. Which then brought us to the final act that finally dovetailed this standalone into the greater mythology (fanboy moment) which really deserved to be explored rather than have it hanging. 

The score by John Powell carried John Williams motifs and served to complement the action; Bradford Young lensed the film and there were some visual similarity in the early scenes with his Oscar-nominated work on “Arrival” but otherwise there were not any standout scenes, not even the climatic moment at the end of the second act. 

“Solo” was a good standalone film and summer blockbuster on its own with nothing new to add other than introducing new actors (and characters) to the franchise and hopefully making bona fide stars out of some of them.

28 May 2018

Deadpool 2

For all its humour and meta self-referentials which entertained and brought the laughs, this Ryan Reynolds-fronted sequel lacked the spark of originality which made the first movie such a breath of fresh air in this superhero-saturated landscape. This was expected - and inevitable - with most sequels but this film really over-compensated its weak plot, lack of characterisation, and honestly, poor action sequences/CGI, with a constant barrage of sight gags and running jokes. It all got too thin and tiresome after the first act and glaringly too reliant on (or obsessed with?) Reynolds to the detrimental sidelining of proper storytelling (or movie spectacle). But, hey, at least they got Celine to help riff-off Bond.

The problem with non-Marvel produced Marvel franchises (especially Fox-produced ones) is that without Kevin Feige they do not understand, or know, what their fans (and fanboys and fangirls) want. Instead, they focused on the character without the respect to the complicated history and relationships to the MCU. Which made it a competent movie but one that felt detached from its genre despite its oft-mentioned to its history. 

Reynolds effortlessly re-inhabited the role and remained, front and center, the star of this film. But it might be time to spread the attention and humour around. It gets tiresome to keep hearing the same-y kinda jokes from him. A pity TJ Miller is currently persona non grata and Morena Baccarin has minimal screen time. 

Josh Brolin joined another Marvel franchise and he was a lot more emotionally effective as the CGI-ed Thanos than as live-action Cable here. Nonetheless, he was well-cast and sufficiently scary, imposing and gruff. A pity that the material handed him did not go beyond that and his backstory was just brushed through. 

Fan favourite from the first film, Brianna Hildebrand aka Negasonic Teenage Warhead, was relegated to a glorified cameo (to keep her from stealing the limelight from Reynolds?).  But at least she was replaced by Zazie Beetz’s awesome Domino although it was a wasted opportunity to not use her better. She has so many apt moments to utter zingers but no, we’d better keep it all for Reynolds. 

In the end, after 119 minutes, we only got one really cool action sequence  (or actually just half), tons of quips and sniggers, but no big laughs, a ham-fisted morality and a flicker of character growth. And even then, by the post-credits scenes, it kind of gets mooted. 

Speaking of which, other then the post-credits scenes, also watch out for the blink-and-you-might-missed-it cameos by the X-Men, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Alan Tudyk and a young David Heller aka Legion. 

27 May 2018

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s latest film is a The Little Prince-esque fable that will definitively entertain all ages. The young ones for its visual splendour and child-like allegorical storytelling of good triumphing over evil; for the adults, the visual allure of Anderson’s signature symmetry and colour-styling, and the dry, deadpan humour peppered throughout the vague, political satire. And of course we have one of Alexandre Desplat’s best score stringing the whole move along, and boy does he have fun with the Japanese influences. 

This was a Japanese dystopian derived from the mind of Anderson. It appeared typically how a non-native, familiar, yet still ultimately a stranger, visualises and imagines Japan to be. Is it offensive? Not really except for his decision to have a white, American to be the heroine. Must the radical be not from the society? Must she be the only one to see the truth? Maybe if it was not about Japan it would not have been so bad...say North Korea? Or Russia? There was no good possible plot point to have that character be white. 

But otherwise, the story was great. It was simple yet affecting with genuinely deserving emotional cues and moments. The ace voice cast definitely helped to sell the story both in its emotion stakes and the comedic beats. Standouts include Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray. 

This was one of Anderson’s best film. It was beautifully directed and well-paced, with a clear story and moral that was not didactic. The script was smart, the wit was wry and the eyes were moist. And surely more accessible than most of his live-action ones. However, it might not make it till Oscar season especially with the whole Asian/white-saviour controversy hanging over it. Which, regardless, will be a shame but hopefully it might still get some technical nods, and maybe a writing, directing and score recognition. 

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...