30 March 2019

Dumbo


A true family-film and crowd-pleaser. The first, proper four-quadrant winner of 2019. An absolute delightful mix of Disney nostalgia and Tim Burton aesthetics. Burton's storytelling was a perfect fit for Dumbo and this will surely appeal to children and also their Gen X/Y parents who still remembered the 1941 cartoon and Burton back in his heydays of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.

Gorgeously shot with beautiful visuals and a great score, this was Burton and Danny Elfman at their best...finally, again! Kudos to cinematographer Ben Davis who is doing better work here than he did for MCU. Maybe he should work with Burton more.

Dumbo was funny, touching, scary, exciting, tense, exhilarating, and most of all, simple. True, it was a bit too simple (but hey, we do not need to complicate it for children) and the screenplay by Ehren Kruger was the weakest link. Some of the heart and sincerity of the original's story telling got lost by expanding the film to nearly 2 hours. However, the simplicity of the story allowed Burton's visuals to shine through which it does and often eclipsed it. Burton expertly - and unashamedly - manipulate us with Dumbo's big, wide, expressive, fall-in-love-with-me-and-never-leave-me eyes. And those damn children.

Burton's aesthetics was a perfect fit for this retelling. From the gorgeous opening sequence to the nightmarish climax, this film was entirely, 100% pure Burton. He never shied away from tugging at the heart strings, but neither does he flinch from shining a light on darkness. There were so many outstanding sequences which really captured the magic of Disney and the encapsulates the power of film. You do feel like a child again.

That Pink Elephant sequence...outstanding!

Consequently, the acting played second fiddle to style and effects, but Collin Farrell, Eva Green and Danny DeVito more than held their own, with Michael Keaton chewing the scenery and Alan Arkin stealing his scenes. Nico Parker is a carbon copy to her mother, Thandie Newton, and I do hope that if she pursues this career will be as accomplished as her mother.

Elfman's score was the best he has done since 2003's Big Fish. It complemented the story, drove the narrative and punctuated the action but never ever got too distracting. Together with Davis' cinematography, they both brought Burton's vision of Dumbo to live.

But having said all that, Dumbo may not make big money in the end because Burton's style may not be for all. Ultimately, Dumbo was what it was - a simple, fun escape into the world of Burton's Disney.



22 March 2019

Us


The only reason to watch Us was Lupita Nyong'o's performance; it definitely was not for Jordan Peele's writing or direction, although granted there were some good directorial/cinematographic choices. However, overall, Peele's execution was left wanting. A great concept that had ambitious, lofty goals to examine themes of Consumerisms, self and identity, the American Dream and class conflicts (Us vs Them, the Have-nots vs the Have-lots), but ended up feeling scattered and unfocused. And way too much logic holes and gaps that interfered with the storytelling.

All good horror and sci-fi films either have some truth that ground the story or just be totally out-there, but Us could never commit to either. The result was a film that was flat and never really kicked into gear. As a horror film it was un-horrifying (even less so than Get Out) and un-terrifying; as a thriller it lacked tension and the pacing was awkward (most of the comedic moments felt out of place and really screwed with the pacing).

Us might have been better served as a pure satire or allegory or even fable and left the supernatural and mysterious alone without trying to explain it. Trust the audience, Peele.

Ultimately, the predictable ending just did not land nor was it well-earned. But, hey, there was Nyong'o who was fierce, engaging and charismatic and owned the screen. She tore into her role like a lioness and that penultimate scene - the supposedly - big showdown worked because of her despite the ridiculous storytelling and myth-making by Peele.

The two child-actresses, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Maddison Curry, were also standouts. Both were expressive and helped to sell the terror.

Winston Duke served as the comedic distraction and the role-reversal subject for Nyong'o. However, distraction is the operative word with the comedy, as aforementioned, not the strongest aspect of this film.

Elisabeth Moss was deliciously underused and loved that callback to her The Handmaid's Tale Offred.

The score was by Michael Abels which was typical of most genre/horror films, with the strings reaching a crescendo when necessary. Although the payoffs were usually not that at the end.

Mike Gioulakis lensed the film, and like the score, nothing imaginative was wrought, but the penultimate fight scene was beautiful.

It is highly doubtful that Us will garner as much awards and accolades as Get Out did, but who knows?


13 March 2019

Captain Marvel [IMAX]


Comparisons will be inevitable, so let’s just say that “Captain Marvel” ain’t no “Wonder Woman”, and Brie Larson did not have the screen charisma of Gal Gadot. But it definitely landed the ending unlike WW which petered and crashed out in the end. The film ran on first gear throughout and only untill the last act did it rock out. But that was awesome! And you know you are in trouble when the best character on screen is named “Goose”. Larson’s hero moment was worth it (and justified the IMAX) but getting there, the first two acts suffered a major dearth of emotionality or audience empathy. “Captain Marvel” can be best classified as a Buddy Cop Comedy meets Intergalactic Drama, but Larson was never really dramatic nor funny. She appeared wooden most of the time and constantly seemed blanked rather than confused/unsure (as good as “Room” was, Cate, Saoirse or Charlotte should have won that Oscar); and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson seemed forced. There were plenty of quips strewn around but most did not land. There were chuckles but no laugh out loud moments. The writers (all 5 of them! - and it clearly showed) definitely were no Josh Whedon or even James Gunn. It is always neater when the writer(s) and the director(s) are the same. Also the action sequences were uninspiring and the bit with No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” was no GOTG. As for the rest of the cast, every MCU film really ought to have Ben Mendelsohn and Annette Bening in it, and also Agent Coulson, they almost instantaneously make every scene better. Well, stay for the mid-credits scene, that tied into “Infinity War”, and also the post-credits scene which...(let it be a surprise).

If Beale Street Could Talk [SQ Inflight Entertainment]


What a beautiful film this was. Beautifully shot, directed, written and scored. And oh so heartbreakingly emotional. Such a shame that it was not more well received at the Oscars. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel was sublime. The main plot which was essentially a crime drama and a doorway to the racial-political theme was engaging enough but it really was the central romance that held the film together as it weaved in and out through the narrative like a framework threading tears along the way. It was tender and sincere and remarkably brought to life by Kiki Layne and Stephen James, especially Layne who will be a star to look out for in the future. Regina King absolutely deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her fierce, strong and powerful performance. It had a raw honesty absent from Emma Stone or Rachel Weisz in “The Favourite”. The score by Nicholas Britell was beautiful, stirring and emotive without being intrusive; the cinematography by James Lexton was evocative and tender at the same time. And, boy, Jenkins’ closeups were masterful. A heart-wrenching film that still managed to have hope. Beautiful.

Mary, Queen of Scots [SQ Inflight Entertainment]



On paper this film had so many things going right for it. A controversial historical character led by Oscar nominated lead actresses, but the execution was a mess. At times the film felt like a bad soap opera. The dramatisation lacked depth and substance and neither Queens had much characterisation beyond the superficial. Political intrigue gave way to sexual exploits for a simplistic historic retelling. Queen Mary really deserved a better biopic. Although I applaud director Josie Rourke’s choice of racial-blind casting, the decision for everybody to use their own accents was not a smart one as it added another layer of unnecessary distraction. And that heavy-handed focus on political correctness was absurd and too jarringly out of place. The costumes and make ups were gorgeous but pox-scarred does not make Margot Robbie anywhere close to Regina, Emma or Rachel’s calibre, though her showdown scene with Saoirse Ronan did show a sliver of Tonya-calibre acting. Ronan has a beautiful visage, but it was a pity that she was not given richer material to play with and not asked to do more than appear haughty and proud. Her talent was wasted. What we really need is another Queen Mary biopic with Ronan again as lead (or maybe Florence Pugh?) - perhaps as a prestige mini series - led by a stronger writer (imagine Daisy Goodwin or Peter Morgan taking charge) and director (like Stephen Daldry) giving Mary more agency, urgency, but still not losing sight of her feminine strength.

At Eternity's Gate


A poetic film that managed to illustrate Vincent van Gogh's life through a series of vignettes and moments that were largely absent of dialogue. Any dialogue present served only to illuminate the thoughts and mental health of this seemingly troubled genius, rather than furthering any narrative. Director Julian Schnabel assumed that the audience for this film already has an idea of van Gogh's life and his purpose is really to create a filmscape echoing an artist's search for perfection and for truth; film is Schnabel's canvas as painting was to van Gogh.

Willem Dafoe bore a striking resemblance to the van Gogh's self-portraits and he had an intensity to the role that vividly brought Schnabel's van Gogh to life. Rami Malek could learn a lesson or two on acting. However, his age was a distraction. Van Gogh died at 37 years old and Dafoe is now 63 years old. Granted living condition then, and the fact that van Gogh was possibly an alcoholic, it was possible that van Gogh looked older than 37, but over 60 is a bit of a stretch. Especially when Dafoe was paired with Oscar Isaac's Paul Gaughin and Rupert Friend's Theo van Gogh (who is only younger than Vincent by 4 years).

As the film was scarce with dialogue, music and sound played an important role and the score by Tatiana Lisovskaya was alternately soothing and jarring, in line with the mentality of van Gogh. But also kudos to the sound mixing, sound editing and film editing team, and the cinematographer for creating a film that tried to recreate the inner workings of a possible mentally ill genius.

A great performance by Dafoe in a challenging film which demands attention for which the reward is a satisfying exploration into what the mind of this tortured genius would looked like.

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...