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.

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...