14 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Now this was how a superhero should be done. And not only that, how an origin story should be told. Easily the best Spidey since the first two Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films. It was fresh, it was exciting; it had heart and pathos and the courage to go into some dark corners with faith in its audience. Miles Morales was a hero in the making and like all heroes the journey is never smooth, and we connect with his story - his excitement, his anxieties, his fear, his courage and his convictions. The energy throughout was infectious and the plotting was efficient and tight, with an excellent cast (and voice-cast) and music that actually propelled the narrative. And of course, the animation was brilliant, effectively emulating the visual sensation of reading a comic but paired with a stunning palette and kinetic design.

At just under 2 hours, the film achieved all it set out to do. It entertained whilst it told a predictable story, incorporating life lessons along its way whilst not forgetting to have fun. It give the audience what they wanted and even managed to add dash of suspense and doubt.  Some films (see: Aquaman) could not even hit half of all that in 2.5hrs.  Kudos to the directors and writers, and of course Lego-producers Phill Lord and Christopher Miller whose Lego-esque fingerprints were clearly visible.

Ultimately, this was a superhero origin story for Miles Morales and the film never lost sight of that even as we get inundated with Spider-People. And boy, was that a joy to see all the Spidey-gang teamed up in the epic battle at the end. But through it all, we never forget that we are witnessing the journey of a teenage boy coming into his powers, and all the life lessons that come with that.

The benefit of animation is that storytellers can realise the story in almost however they wished it to be, and it truly is limited by one's imagination. They practically invented a new style of animation just for this. However, not all animations succeed to tell an effective story. Some, unfortunately, are just there to earn a buck. For every Pixar and Miyazaki, there are at least two Dreamworks, some Disneys and a few other. Lucky for us, Spider-Man falls into the former, but let us see how corporate greed will devolve the franchise into another simple, Sunday morning-esque trope.

The mid-credits scene was a touching tribute, and the post-credits scene was one hell of a whopper which did make a sequel seem like an exciting premise.

This film could easily be the film to beat Pixar's Incredibles 2.

Aquaman [IMAX/3D]

This film was so painful to sit through. It was bloated and over-stuffed with unoriginal directing, unimaginative sequences, bad CGIs, poor acting and casting, and an atrocious soundtrack. Not even Jason Momoa's charm could save this film. Sitting through all 143 minutes, one could not help but think how much more superior Black Panther was in terms of world-building and rules-setting for Wakanda, and now I really cannot wait for James Cameron's underwater Avatar to show them all how an underwater adventure should be done  (I could be wrong, but in Cameron we trust).

One of the biggest problem in this film, other than the fact that Amber Heard needs more acting lessons and has zero chemistry with Momoa, and that Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson were all horribly miscast (guess even stars need to cash a paycheck), was the absolute lack of originality and imagination in James Wan's directing. Other than a very few moments that showcased his excellent grasp of horror, almost every single significant moment was a poor copycat imitation of another - usually superior - film. We had rip offs from: Tron, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Descent, Pitch Black, Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Mummy, Indiana Jones, Skyfall, The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tintin, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Pacific Rim, King Kong....and the list could go on. Even the closing credits felt like a rip off from Game of Thrones.

Then we have the action sequences. The hand-to-hand combats with Momoa were actually good, in particular the final face-off. But once the scope got larger, or it devolved into a standard Hollywood gun fight, it was just a mess. A messy, cacophony of images, bad CGI and furious editing. That epic battle at the end, so reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, was boring, unimaginative and lacked the adrenaline-pumping excitement of something so grand.

Wan was like a spoilt, rich frat-boy with tons of money but no intelligence to spend it properly other than to realise his teenage comic/sci-fi fever dreams. Come to think of it, it was as if he was given the Book of Destiny by the Monitor and could only dream small.

It was so dreary and tiresome sitting through it all when visually there was nothing new or exciting. It was not like the screenplay itself was any more riveting. Three credited screenwriters, and it was, or perhaps because of, predictable and contrived with bits of juvenile humour thrown in to lighten things up. The dialogue was cringe-worthy and any exploration of character depth or nuance was as shallow as a puddle in the Sahara.

Poor Momoa. He has charm and does action well with a good comedic timing. But the film let him down and even he could not carry all 140+ minutes of this film. But boy, does he have nice hair. Definitely nicer than Heard's, who possibly has the worst red hair-wig/CGI since Marvel's Medusa from the Inhumans

Heard and Momoa had no chemistry, so on that front, their romance was a bust. Typical, expected, predictable and boring. You could see the creators trying to make her into something more than just a love interest, but ultimately they failed as Heard was simply there to support Momoa's Aquaman and drive the narrative and provide exposition.

Wilson was also badly miscast. There is no way Wilson can pass off as the younger brother of Momoa. Wan obviously let his sentiments for his frequent lead actor Wilson get the better of him. Other than it being s a distraction, Wilson's role was as cardboard as it got for a supervillain, And although there were obvious attempts to humanise him, neither the script nor the direction had the kahunas to delve further than a cursory brush off. Which makes one wonder why then a 143 minutes run time?

Then we had the prestige casting of Kidman and Dafoe who sadly were in it physically but not anywhere near even a tenth of what they can do. The bad CGI anti-aging did them no service, making both looked more like a Playstation game character than pseudo-real human beings. This ain't anywhere near Michael Douglas or Michelle Pfeiffer or Kurt Russell level of VFX magic from the MCU.

Kidman tried her best, but she was trapped by one of many bad, bad, ugly, kitschy, costume-designs of the film (oh...Wakanda!), horrid CGI, and plain bad writing. Granted the opening scene with her and Temuera Morrison was actually one of the best of the film, and she actually had chemisty with Morrison. Also, it was nice to see her kick ass, although obviously it wasn't her per se.

Dafoe really just snoozed his way through this. He was even more exciting back in the days when he was the Green Goblin.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the second villain could have been so much more, but obviously we are building him up for the sequel..cue eyes-rolling.

The music was by Rupert Gregson-Williams, and it was so bad. Distracting, jarring, incoherent and inconsistent. Perhaps the only moment where it worked was at the end.

Truly, this film only had two parts that worked. The prologue and the finale. It was dis-spiriting that  even with the prolonged period of post-production, they still could not get the film right.

IMAX and 3D were not worth it for this film.

Stay for the mid-credits scene, but do we really want a sequel to this, though it might be inevitable.

The DCEU cinematic universe is in trouble and one can only hope Wonder Woman 1984 can save them...again. Go watch the Arrowverse Elseworlds if you want good DCEU entertainment. That had humour, action, pathos, excitement and character growths despite its much lower budget and TV-quality CGI.

11 December 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Some films engage the heart and trigger an emotion reaction, whereas some film engage the brain and connect with the audience on an intellectual level. Great films win over both the heart and brain, but unfortunately Bohemian Rhapsody was not one of those film. What it did instead was that it totally won over the heart with its blatant emotional manipulation and re-writing of history for maximum impact, and all through the electrifying power (and nostalgia) of Queen's songs. If it were not for the songs, the film may not even be half as successful as it was.

Intellectually, the film was riddled with faults, other than the aforementioned historical untruths, it was undecided if it wanted to be a retelling of the story of Queen or a biopic of Freddie Mercury. This resulted in a film that had no depth or emotional complexity for its lead character who is surrounded by a cast of stereotypical supporting characters (other than Mary....ah Mary, the saving emotional grace of the film), and a narrative that appeared to be a series of vignettes stringed together with no depth or consequences.

And specifically with regard to Freddie, the glossing over of his discovery and exploration of his sexual identity, coupled with a cookie-cut villain in Paul Prenter and a misalignment in his HIV-diagnosis, left a bitter distaste and minimal understanding of Freddie as a person.

But it was not all bad through the whole 134 minutes. The final Live Aid scene was spectacular. It was not as immersive as Bradley Cooper's direction in A Star is Born, but the full scale of Freddie's charisma, Queen's magnificent discography, and the massive scope of a Live Aid performance, was absolutely brilliant.

Then we also have Rami Malek's transformative performance. Kudos to the former Emmy-winner for convincingly portraying - or imitating - Freddie Mercury. Mr Robot was lost within and Malek embodied the flamboyance and larger-than-life persona of Freddie. However, he was let down by the writing, and the emotional beats although convincing lacked authenticity. But again, bravo to Malek's dedication in that final Live Aid scene as he imitated - and successfully embodied - the charismatic energy of Freddie.

Of the supporting cast, only Lucy Boynton's Mary Austin was a standout. Boynton (one of the breakout stars from the under-appreciated Sing Street), reminiscence of a young Nicole Kidman - think Days of Thunder or To Die For - held the emotion heart of the film. Mary's relationship with Freddie deserved more exploration and they both had great chemistry together. More than between Malek and Allen Leach's Paul Prenter, and between Malek and the rest of the Queen members played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello and Gwilym Lee.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the The Greatest Showman of 2018. A fun, enjoyable musical film that had so many problems but, the heart seeks pleasure first, and its Queen-led infectious nostalgia was undeniable.

4 December 2018

Sorry to Bother You [SGIFF 2018]

Boots Riley's directorial debut was an wholly original story that bit off way more that it could chew. It was ambitious and original and creative, but the execution lacked style, focus and discipline. At times the film got mildly excruciating to watch as we waited - albeit with some bated breath - for the conclusion which, despite its originality, still ironically felt predictable and unearned. Riley had too many ideas and they were all over the place, and a stricter, more disciplined director could have focused these themes into a biting satire. But instead now, we were left with an original comedy that had potential but just missed the mark.

The screenplay is a gem. It was unexpected and zagged when you would expect a zig. It juggled magical realism with social satire and black comedy, but it never fully explored any of these realms. This ain't Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami, and neither was it The Death of Stalin  or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Riley's direction just lacked a cohesive tone and structure to really weave all these big ideas and scathing social commentaries. The amateurism really showed.

But then again, the strong original concept helped to maintain the audience's interest. We want to know how it all end.

Lakeith Stanfield was an arresting performer and he definitely held the attention. However, his struggle and internal conflict was less apparent. And this was either the fault of the script or a weakness in the actor's craft, or both. But he made for an interesting protagonist, only if he had been written better we would have understood him better too.

Also David Cross and Stanfield, a great match!

Tessa Thompson was the sole female in this film. Is she a feminist? Or is she the token female to advance the narrative, i.e. the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? I'd lean on the latter. That whole side plot with Steve Yeun was utterly unnecessary and resolved, literally, in seconds.

Speaking of Yeun, he is going to go places. Cannot wait to catch him in Burning.

Armie Hammer was a hoot, hamming it up appropriately.

Sorry to Bother You ran 112 minutes, and perhaps if it was just 10 minutes shorter with a more focused and streamlined vision, it would have been a more thoroughly enjoyable film. But for now, I applaud it for is originality and vision but not its execution.

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...