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?!

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...