26 April 2019

Burning 버닝

Lee Chang-dong successfully and faithfully translated Haruki Murakami’s beautiful, poetic prose to the screen. 

A slow-burn psychological thriller / character study that weaved an ambiguous narrative with haunting imageries. There are cats, jazz, running and even a sprinkle of magical realism, but all yet grounded in Lee’s reality of KPop, societal isolation, the desolation of youth and the dichotomy of classes. 

Three actors held “Burning” together, and although Steve Yeun and Jeon Jong-seo were great in their role, especially the latter who had a haunting yet magnetic presence, it really was Yoo Ah-in’s story that Lee was telling and Yoo was exceptional. He was emotive without being exaggerating, and sincere without being superficial. And through the film, we do end up caring about him and for him.

Burning was possibly one of the best Murakami’s adaptation and rewarding for both fans of Murakami and cinephiles.

Avengers: Endgame

One word: Epic. Two words: Fan Service. 

Nonetheless, kudos to the Russo brothers and Kevin Feige for crafting a fitting finale that never felt at all like it was 3-hours long. An unabashed fan service final film that daftly balanced character work, action/CGI extravaganza, emotional drama and physical comedy. However, as epic as Endgame was, it was surprisingly a tighter ensemble drama than Infinity War. There were emotional payoffs that felt earned, although ultimately the story - and the storytellers - lacked the bravery to have more consequential narrative beats.

The film was neatly divided into three acts and each act could easily have been a movie unto itself. This was good in terms of structure and storytelling. It was clear, objective and succinct, but then it also resulted in briefer and narrower character arcs that did not allow non-major characters to be anything more than narrative devices or plot contrivances. And it was this that made the film felt fan service-y. But, this film/franchise was for the fans...we cannot deny that or complain about it.

Narratively, there were a couple moments that zigged when you'd expect it to zag, and that was surprising and rather well done. Initially, the story never actually went where you'd expect it to go (especially, if like me, you had been absolutely spoiler-free). However, by the end of the first act, things got more predictable - still fun, but predictable. And that predictability stayed till the end which dulled some of the more emotional beats. As aforesaid, nothing truly consequential or unexpected happened in the end.

There were lots of hero moments, and my fellow theatre-goers were great sports! Lots of whoops, claps, and ooooohs. But the best kick-ass moment happened at the final climatic scene. Woo hoo!

And as for the final battle, it was well-directed, and every hero got a chance to shine but...back to the beginning...fun, epic, predictable and inconsequential.

The three leads were ostensibly Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth and this film was essentially culmination of their respective films and the end of their story for this Phase of the MCU (or as Marvel calls it, the Infinity Saga). They get the most screen time and the most significant character developments, and it really did pay off for the fans. Especially for Iron Man and Thor, the Russo brothers honoured their history whilst forging a suitable ending to their arcs.

The second tier actors would be Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and surprisingly Karen Gillan. Johansson, Renner and to a lesser extent Gillan carried the heavier emotional weight of the film, whereas Ruffalo and Rudd (and Bradley Cooper's Rocket) were more comic relief. And that was a great balance.

Speaking of comedy, Hemsworth’s and Tessa Thompson’s comedic talent should really make the new Men in Black worth a watch!

These last two Avenger films were clearly different from the first two Joss Whedon entries. They got larger in scale and more epic, but smaller in character moments. And although Endgame tried to address it, eventually it still became a big comic book-wide, universe-wide, battle against the bad guy. The first Avengers film was more about a group of heroes learning to work together to defeat an intergalactic threat; this last film was about a group of heroes already working together to defeat an intergalactic villain. That slight difference altered the tone and dynamics of the films. 

In all, the Infinity Saga was an exciting experience with a satisfying conclusion. It will be exciting to see how the MCU continues on after this. Who will be anchoring the next Saga?

PS: There are no mid- or post-credits scenes...at last!

15 April 2019

A Private War

This was the film and character that Rosamund Pike deserved to get nominated for an Oscar for. She should have been there along side Olivia Colman, Yerlitza Arpacio and Glenn Close (the other two - not naming names - not so much). 
A strong, ferocious portrayal of the equally strong and courageous Marie Colvin, Pike was magnetic. It was a vanity-free performance that was layered and nuanced and convincing. 
The biggest drawback however, was that director Matthew Heineman and writer Arash Amel chose to focus primarily on Colvin’s career and less on who she was and why she was how she was. Luckily, Pike managed to elucidate some of that of mystery through her interpretation and her performance, and we do get some sort of idea of the kind of person Colvin might have been in private. 
Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci rounded out the main men supporting Pike, and they all sparred with Pike to give her the moments to shine. 
Heineman’s film was tight, brisk and taut and Colvin’s story was told with little over the top dramatics or saccharine manipulations. But, nonetheless, the message of the film was clear. Thank you to all the journalists that do what they do. 
Thank you.

Vox Lux

An uneven film that was unsure of its purpose, does it want to be a satire about pop and celebrity culture or a family drama of two sisters or a social commentary about America and/or modern society? 

Director and co-writer Brady Corbet seemed to want to be experimental but the final product just ended up being unfocused. And was the Wilem Dafoe narration really necessary? Show, not tell...

However, Natalie Portman was magnificent! This was her film. 

Portman appeared in like a tornado in the second half and absolutely Black Swan-ed her way from start to end. With her, the film finally gained some momentum and even Corbet’s unnecessary and indulgent long takes were improved by having Portman owning the screen. 

Raffey Cassidy - as the young Portman and then her daughter - held her own in the first half, but she lacked the screen charisma of Portman. 

Jennifer Ehle, Jude Law and Stacey Martin rounded out the main cast. They supported Cassidy and the film in the beginning but were there really in service of the Cassidy’s character; with Portman, they raised their game and became proper characters and individuals. 

This was Portman’s film and truly one of her best performances. That finale, again unnecessary long by Corbet, was so brilliantly owned by Portman! She utterly deserved to have had some recognition for this phenomenal, alternative “A Star is Born” performance. If Lady Gaga could get Oscar noms, Portman and songwriter Sia were definitely snubbed. Unsurprising though, as this was a much harder film to sell and like.

Little Women

This was a good and entertaining film that was far from perfect. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, this film was anchored by great pe...